Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Seabird Research Activities in Central California, 61892-61896 [2019-24668]

Download as PDF 61892 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 220 / Thursday, November 14, 2019 / Notices khammond on DSKJM1Z7X2PROD with NOTICES by the advent of ‘omics tools (a suite of advanced methods used to analyze material such as DNA, RNA, or proteins), the NOAA ‘Omics Strategy provides a framework to advance the application of ‘omics to address mission priorities. The strategy leverages NOAA’s current organizational structure to more effectively implement ‘omics through improvements in computational and analytical capacities, targeted research, technology transition, workforce proficiency, and partnerships across NOAA’s lines, federal agencies, and extramural research and commercial communities. Cloud Strategy: NOAA’s robust experience with cloud applications are already beginning to demonstrate significant improvements in performance and skill in areas such as satellite data products and services, numerical weather prediction, ocean models, and big data analysis, storage and dissemination. Cloud services will be further leveraged to expand benefits, such as: (1) Accelerated timeline to acquire new computing resources, (2) increased security posture, (3) more accessible and monetizable NOAA data to customers, such as academia and industry, (4) reduced transition time from research to operations, (5) scalable infrastructure that supports scientific and high performance computing requirements, and (6) a more agile and innovative culture. After completion of these strategies, NOAA will develop corresponding Strategic Implementation Plans (or ‘‘Roadmaps’’) that define detailed action items, deadlines, and responsibilities. In the meantime, these NOAA S&T focus areas are already improving performance in our economically impactful missions and setting the course to strengthen our renowned environmental science and technology leadership for the coming decades. Through the four strategies, NOAA will be better positioned to achieve our top agency priorities to regain global leadership in numerical weather prediction and sustainably expand the American Blue Economy. Dated: November 8, 2019. David Holst, Chief Financial Officer/Administrative Officer, Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. [FR Doc. 2019–24753 Filed 11–13–19; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–KD–P VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:47 Nov 13, 2019 Jkt 250001 https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/permit/ incidental-take-authorizations-underNational Oceanic and Atmospheric marine-mammal-protection-act without Administration change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address) RIN 0648–XR055 voluntarily submitted by the commenter Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to may be publicly accessible. Do not submit confidential business Specified Activities; Taking Marine information or otherwise sensitive or Mammals Incidental to Seabird protected information. Research Activities in Central FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: California Amy Fowler, Office of Protected AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Resources, NMFS, (301) 427–8401. Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Electronic copies of the original Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), application, Renewal request, and Commerce. supporting documents (including NMFS ACTION: Notice; incidental harassment Federal Register notices of the original authorization; request for comments on proposed and final authorizations, and proposed Renewal. the previous IHA), as well as a list of the references cited in this document, may SUMMARY: NMFS received a request from be obtained online at: https:// Point Blue Conservation Science (Point www.fisheries.noaa.gov/permit/ Blue) for the Renewal of their currently incidental-take-authorizations-underactive incidental harassment marine-mammal-protection-act. In case authorization (IHA) to take marine of problems accessing these documents, mammals incidental to seabird and please call the contact listed above. pinniped research activities in central SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: California. These activities are identical to those covered in the current Background authorization. Pursuant to the Marine The Marine Mammal Protection Act Mammal Protection Act, prior to issuing (MMPA) prohibits the ‘‘take’’ of marine the currently active IHA, NMFS mammals, with certain exceptions. requested comments on both the Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the proposed IHA and the potential for MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) direct renewing the initial authorization if the Secretary of Commerce (as delegated certain requirements were satisfied. The to NMFS) to allow, upon request, the Renewal requirements have been incidental, but not intentional, taking of satisfied, and NMFS is now providing small numbers of marine mammals by an additional 15-day comment period to U.S. citizens who engage in a specified allow for any additional comments on activity (other than commercial fishing) the proposed Renewal not previously within a specified geographical region if provided during the initial 30-day certain findings are made and either comment period. regulations are issued or, if the taking is DATES: Comments and information must limited to harassment, a notice of a be received no later than November 29, proposed incidental take authorization 2019. is provided to the public for review. Authorization for incidental takings ADDRESSES: Comments should be shall be granted if NMFS finds that the addressed to Jolie Harrison, Chief, taking will have a negligible impact on Permits and Conservation Division, the species or stock(s) and will not have Office of Protected Resources, National an unmitigable adverse impact on the Marine Fisheries Service. Physical availability of the species or stock(s) for comments should be sent to 1315 EastWest Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910 taking for subsistence uses (where and electronic comments should be sent relevant). Further, NMFS must prescribe the permissible methods of taking and to ITP.Fowler@noaa.gov. Instructions: NMFS is not responsible other ‘‘means of effecting the least for comments sent by any other method, practicable adverse impact’’ on the affected species or stocks and their to any other address or individual, or habitat, paying particular attention to received after the end of the comment rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of period. Comments received similar significance, and on the electronically, including all availability of such species or stocks for attachments, must not exceed a 25taking for certain subsistence uses megabyte file size. Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in (referred to here as ‘‘mitigation measures’’). Monitoring and reporting of Microsoft Word or Excel or Adobe PDF such takings are also required. The file formats only. All comments meaning of key terms such as ‘‘take,’’ received are a part of the public record ‘‘harassment,’’ and ‘‘negligible impact’’ and will generally be posted online at DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE PO 00000 Frm 00025 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 E:\FR\FM\14NON1.SGM 14NON1 khammond on DSKJM1Z7X2PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 220 / Thursday, November 14, 2019 / Notices can be found in section 3 of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1362) and the agency’s regulations at 50 CFR 216.103. NMFS’ regulations implementing the MMPA at 50 CFR 216.107(e) indicate that IHAs may be renewed for additional periods of time not to exceed one year for each reauthorization. In the notice of proposed IHA for the initial authorization, NMFS described the circumstances under which we would consider issuing a Renewal for this activity, and requested public comment on a potential Renewal under those circumstances. Specifically, on a caseby-case basis, NMFS may issue a oneyear IHA Renewal when (1) another year of identical or nearly identical activities as described in the Specified Activities section is planned or (2) the activities would not be completed by the time the IHA expires and a second IHA would allow for completion of the activities beyond that described in the Dates and Duration section of the initial IHA. All of the following conditions must be met in order to issue a Renewal: • A request for Renewal is received no later than 60 days prior to expiration of the current IHA. • The request for Renewal must include the following: (1) An explanation that the activities to be conducted beyond the initial dates either are identical to the previously analyzed activities or include changes so minor (e.g., reduction in pile size) that the changes do not affect the previous analyses, take estimates, or mitigation and monitoring requirements; and (2) A preliminary monitoring report showing the results of the required monitoring to date and an explanation showing that the monitoring results do not indicate impacts of a scale or nature not previously analyzed or authorized. • Upon review of the request for Renewal, the status of the affected species or stocks, and any other pertinent information, NMFS determines that there are no more than minor changes in the activities, the mitigation and monitoring measures remain the same and appropriate, and the initial findings remain valid. Although their request was not received 60 days in advance, issuance of the Renewal is still justified, given the effective dates do not extend beyond one year from the expiration of the initial IHA and all of the other qualifications were met. An additional public comment period of 15 days (for a total of 45 days), with direct notice by email, phone, or postal service to commenters on the initial IHA, is provided to allow for any additional comments on the proposed VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:47 Nov 13, 2019 Jkt 250001 Renewal. A description of the Renewal process may be found on our website at: www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/ marine-mammal-protection/incidentalharassment-authorization-renewals. Any comments received on the potential Renewal, along with relevant comments on the initial IHA, have been considered in the development of this proposed IHA Renewal, and a summary of agency responses to applicable comments is included in this notice. NMFS will consider any additional public comments prior to making any final decision on the issuance of the requested Renewal, and agency responses will be summarized in the final notice of our decision. National Environmental Policy Act To comply with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) and NOAA Administrative Order (NAO) 216–6A, NMFS must review our proposed action (i.e., the issuance of an incidental harassment authorization) with respect to potential impacts on the human environment. This action is consistent with categories of activities identified in Categorical Exclusion B4 (incidental harassment authorizations with no anticipated serious injury or mortality) of the Companion Manual for NOAA Administrative Order 216–6A, which do not individually or cumulatively have the potential for significant impacts on the quality of the human environment and for which we have not identified any extraordinary circumstances that would preclude this categorical exclusion. Accordingly, NMFS has preliminarily determined that the issuance of the renewal IHA qualifies to be categorically excluded from further NEPA review. We will review all comments submitted in response to this notice prior to concluding our NEPA process or making a final decision on the IHA request. History of Request On June 28, 2018, NMFS issued an IHA to Point Blue to take marine mammals incidental to seabird research activities in central California (83 FR 31372; July 5, 2018), effective from July 7, 2018 through July 6, 2019. On August 20, 2019, NMFS received an application for the Renewal of that initial IHA. As described in the application for Renewal, the activities for which incidental take is requested are identical to those covered in the initial authorization. As required, the applicant also provided a preliminary monitoring report (available at https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/ marine-mammal-protection/incidental- PO 00000 Frm 00026 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 61893 take-authorizations-research-and-otheractivities) which confirms that the applicant has implemented the required mitigation and monitoring, and which also shows that no impacts of a scale or nature not previously analyzed or authorized have occurred as a result of the activities conducted. Description of the Specified Activities and Anticipated Impacts Point Blue plans to monitor and census seabird populations, observe seabird nesting habitat, restore nesting burrows, and resupply a field station annually in central California. The planned activities occur on Southeast Farallon Island (SEFI), An˜o Nuevo Island (ANO), and Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS). Point Blue, along with partners Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge and PRNS, have been conducting seabird research activities at these locations for over 30 years. This research is conducted under cooperative agreements with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in consultation with the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. The seabird research and monitoring activities planned by Point Blue are identical to those analyzed in the initial IHA issued by NMFS, described in detail in the Federal Register notice of proposed IHA (83 FR 20045; May 7, 2018). Presence of researchers has the potential to disturb pinnipeds hauled out at SEFI, ANO, and PRNS. As in the initial authorization, NMFS anticipates that take, by Level B harassment only, of California sea lions (Zalophus californianus), harbor seals (Phoca vitulina), northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris), and Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) could result from the specified activity (83 FR 31372; July 5, 2018). Detailed Description of the Activity A detailed description of the seabird research and monitoring activities for which take is proposed here may be found in the Notices of the Proposed and Final IHAs for the initial authorization (83 FR 20045, May 7, 2018; 83 FR 31372, July 5, 2018). The locations (as described in the Specific Geographic Region section of the initial IHA), timing, and nature of the activities, including the types of equipment planned for use, are identical to those described in the previous notices. The proposed Renewal would be effective from the date of issuance through July 6, 2020. E:\FR\FM\14NON1.SGM 14NON1 61894 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 220 / Thursday, November 14, 2019 / Notices Description of Marine Mammals A description of the marine mammals in the area of the activities for which authorization of take is proposed here, including information on abundance, status, distribution, and hearing, may be found in the Federal Register Notice of the Proposed IHA for the initial authorization (83 FR 20045; May 7, 2018). NMFS has reviewed the monitoring data from the initial IHA, recent draft Stock Assessment Reports, information on relevant Unusual Mortality Events, and other scientific literature. The 2018 Stock Assessment Report notes that the estimated abundance of California sea lions has decreased slightly, however, neither this nor any other new information affects which species or stocks have the potential to be affected or the pertinent information in the section Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of Specified Activities contained in the supporting documents for the initial IHA. Potential Effects on Marine Mammals and Their Habitat A description of the potential effects of the specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat for the activities for which take is proposed here may be found in the Federal Register Notice of the Proposed IHA for the initial authorization (83 FR 20045; May 7, 2018). NMFS has reviewed the monitoring data from the initial IHA, recent Stock Assessment Reports, information on relevant Unusual Mortality Events, and other scientific literature, and determined that neither this nor any other new information affects our initial analysis of impacts on marine mammals and their habitat. Estimated Take A detailed description of the methods and inputs used to estimate take for the specified activity are found in the Federal Register Notices of the Proposed and Final IHAs for the initial authorization (83 FR 20045, May 7, 2018; 83 FR 31372, July 5, 2018). Specifically, the expected number of survey days, and marine mammal occurrence data applicable to this authorization remain unchanged from the previously issued IHA. Similarly, the stocks taken, methods of take, and types of take remain unchanged from the previously issued IHA, as do the number of takes, which are indicated below in Table 1. As in the initial IHA, the take estimates are based on historical data from the previous five monitoring reports (2013–2014, 2014– 2015, 2015–2016, 2016–2017, and 2017– 2018) to generate 95 percent confidence interval maximums (assuming normal distribution) using STATA, a generapurpose statistical computer package. Takes recorded in all previous monitoring reports were based on occurrences that are consistent with Levels 2 and 3 of the three-point harassment scale (see Table 2). khammond on DSKJM1Z7X2PROD with NOTICES TABLE 1—POPULATION ABUNDANCE ESTIMATES, TOTAL PROPOSED LEVEL B TAKE, AND PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION THAT MAY BE TAKEN Stock abundance Species Stock California sea lion ........................................... Northern elephant seal ................................... Harbor seal ..................................................... Steller sea lion ................................................ U.S ................................................................. California breeding stock ............................... California ........................................................ Eastern U.S .................................................... Description of Proposed Mitigation, Monitoring and Reporting Measures The proposed mitigation, monitoring, and reporting measures included as requirements in this authorization are identical to those included in the Federal Register Notice announcing the issuance of the initial IHA (83 FR 31372; July 5, 2018), and the discussion of the least practicable adverse impact included in that document remains accurate. The following measures are proposed for this renewal: To reduce the potential for disturbance from acoustic and visual stimuli associated with survey activities Point Blue will implement the following mitigation measures for marine mammals: (1) Slow approach to beaches for boat landings to avoid stampede, provide animals opportunity to enter water, and avoid vessel strikes; (2) Observe a site from a distance, using binoculars if necessary, to detect any marine mammals prior to approach to determine if mitigation is required (i.e., site surveys will not be conducted if fur seals are present; if other VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:47 Nov 13, 2019 Jkt 250001 pinnipeds are present, researchers will approach with caution, walking slowly, quietly, and close to the ground to avoid surprising any hauled-out individuals and to reduce flushing/stampeding of individuals); (3) Avoid pinnipeds along access ways to sites by locating and taking a different access way. Researchers will keep a safe distance from and not approach any marine mammal while conducting research, unless it is absolutely necessary to flush a marine mammal in order to continue conducting research (i.e., if a site cannot be accessed or sampled due to the presence of pinnipeds); (4) Cease or delay visits if the number of takes that have been granted are met, if a species for which takes were not granted is observed (e.g., northern fur seals and Guadalupe fur seals), or if pups are present; (5) Monitor for offshore predators and do not approach hauled out pinnipeds if great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) or killer whales (Orcinus orca) are present. If Point Blue and/or its designees see pinniped predators in PO 00000 Frm 00027 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Total proposed level B take Percentage of stock or population 32,623 239 304 43 12.7 0.13 0.98 0.10 257,606 179,000 30,968 41,638 the area, they must not disturb the pinnipeds until the area is free of predators; (6) Keep voices hushed and bodies low to the ground in the visual presence of pinnipeds; (7) Conduct seabird observations at North Landing on SEFI in an observation blind, shielded from the view of hauled out pinnipeds; (8) Crawl slowly to access seabird nest boxes on ANI if pinnipeds are within view; (9) Coordinate research visits to intertidal areas of SEFI (to reduce potential take) and coordinate research goals for ANI to minimize the number of trips to the island; and (10) Require beach landings on ANI only occur after any pinnipeds that might be present on the landing beach have entered the water. Point Blue will contribute to the knowledge of pinnipeds in California by noting observations of: (1) Unusual behaviors, numbers, or distributions of pinnipeds, such that any potential follow-up research can be conducted by the appropriate personnel; (2) tag- E:\FR\FM\14NON1.SGM 14NON1 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 220 / Thursday, November 14, 2019 / Notices bearing pinnipeds or carcasses, allowing transmittal of the information to appropriate agencies and personnel; and (3) rare or unusual species of marine mammals for agency follow-up. Proposed monitoring protocols for Point Blue will include the following: (1) Record of date, time, and location (or closest point of ingress) of each visit to the research site; (2) Composition of the marine mammals sighted, such as species, gender and life history stage (e.g., adult, sub-adult, pup); (3) Information on the numbers (by species) of marine mammals observed during the activities; (4) Estimated number of marine mammals (by species) that may have been harassed during the activities; (5) Behavioral responses or modifications of behaviors that may be attributed to the specific activities and a description of the specific activities occurring during that time (e.g., 61895 pedestrian approach, vessel approach); and (6) Information on the weather, including the tidal state and horizontal visibility. The lead biologist will serve as an observer to record incidental take. For consistency, any reactions by pinnipeds to researchers will be recorded according to a three-point scale shown in Table 2. Note that only observations of disturbance noted in Levels 2 and 3 should be recorded as takes. TABLE 2—LEVELS OF PINNIPED BEHAVIORAL DISTURBANCE Level Type of response Definition 1 .......... Alert .................................. 2 * ........ Movement ......................... 3 * ........ Flush ................................. Seal head orientation or brief movement in response to disturbance, which may include turning head towards the disturbance, craning head and neck while holding the body rigid in a u-shaped position, changing from a lying to a sitting position, or brief movement of less than twice the animal’s body length. Movements in response to the source of disturbance, ranging from short withdrawals at least twice the animal’s body length to longer retreats over the beach, or if already moving a change of direction of greater than 90 degrees. All retreats (flushes) to the water. khammond on DSKJM1Z7X2PROD with NOTICES * Only observations of disturbance Levels 2 and 3 are recorded as takes. This information will be incorporated into a monitoring report for NMFS. The monitoring report will cover the period from January 1, 2019 through December 31, 2019. NMFS has requested that Point Blue submit annual monitoring report data on a calendar year schedule, regardless of the current IHA’s initiation or expiration dates. This will ensure that data from all consecutive months will be collected and, therefore, can be analyzed to estimate authorized take for future IHA’s regardless of the existing IHA’s issuance date. Point Blue will submit a draft monitoring report to NMFS Office of Protected Resources by April 1, 2020. A final report will be prepared and submitted within 30 days following resolution of any comments on the draft report from NMFS. If no comments are received from NMFS, the draft final report will be considered to be the final report. This report must contain the informational elements described above, at minimum. Point Blue must also report observations of unusual pinniped behaviors, numbers, or distributions and tag-bearing carcasses to the NMFS West Coast Regional Office. If at any time the specified activity clearly causes the take of a marine mammal in a manner prohibited by this IHA, such as an injury (Level A harassment), serious injury, or mortality, Point Blue will immediately cease the specified activities and report the incident to the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the West Coast VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:47 Nov 13, 2019 Jkt 250001 Regional Stranding Coordinator, NMFS. The report must include the following information: (1) Time and date of the incident; (2) Description of the incident; (3) Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility); (4) Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 hours preceding the incident; (5) Species identification or description of the animal(s) involved; (6) Fate of the animal(s); and (7) Photographs or video footage of the animal(s). Activities will not resume until NMFS is able to review the circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS will work with Point Blue to determine what measures are necessary to minimize the likelihood of further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. Point Blue may not resume the activities until notified by NMFS. In the event that an injured or dead marine mammal is discovered and it is determined that the cause of the injury or death is unknown and the death is relatively recent (e.g., in less than a moderate state of decomposition), Point Blue will immediately report the incident to the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the West Coast Regional Stranding Coordinator, NMFS. The report must include the same information identified in the paragraph above. Activities may continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS will work with Point PO 00000 Frm 00028 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Blue to determine whether additional mitigation measures or modifications to the activities are appropriate. In the event that an injured or dead marine mammal is discovered and it is determined that the injury or death is not associated with or related to the activities authorized in the IHA (e.g., previously wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced decomposition, or scavenger damage), Point Blue will report the incident to the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the West Coast Regional Stranding Coordinator, NMFS, within 24 hours of the discovery. Point Blue will provide photographs or video footage or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to NMFS. Activities may continue while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. Public Comments As noted previously, NMFS published a notice of a proposed IHA (83 FR 20045; May 7, 2018) and solicited public comments on both our proposal to issue the initial IHA for seabird research and on the potential for a Renewal, should certain requirements be met. All public comments were addressed in the notice announcing the issuance of the initial IHA (83 FR 31372; July 5, 2018). Below, we describe how we have addressed, with updated information where appropriate, any comments received that specifically pertain to the Renewal of the 2018 IHA. E:\FR\FM\14NON1.SGM 14NON1 khammond on DSKJM1Z7X2PROD with NOTICES 61896 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 220 / Thursday, November 14, 2019 / Notices Comment: The Marine Mammal Commission (Commission) requested clarification of certain issues associated with NMFS’s notice that one-year Renewals can be issued in certain limited circumstances and expressed concern that the process would bypass the public notice and comment requirements. The Commission also suggested that NMFS should discuss the possibility of Renewals through a more general route, such as a rulemaking, instead of notice in a specific authorization. The Commission further recommended that if NMFS did not pursue a more general route, that the agency provide the Commission and the public with a legal analysis supporting our conclusion that this process is consistent with the requirements of section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA. Response: The notice of the proposed initial IHA expressly notified and invited comment from the public on the possibility that under certain, limited conditions the applicant could seek a Renewal IHA for an additional year. The notice described the conditions under which such a Renewal request could be considered and expressly sought public comment in the event such a Renewal were sought. Further, since issuance of the initial IHA NMFS has modified the Renewal process to provide notice through the Federal Register and an additional 15-day public comment period at the time the Renewal IHA is requested. NMFS also will provide direct notice of the proposed Renewal to those who commented on the initial IHA, to provide an opportunity to submit any additional comments. We appreciate the Commission’s suggestion that NMFS discuss the potential for IHA Renewals through a more general route, such as a rulemaking. However, utilizing the public comment process associated with IHAs is more efficient for the agency, while still providing for appropriate public input into NMFS’ decisionmaking. Further, NMFS’s recent modification to the Renewal process (i.e., soliciting additional public comment at the time of a Renewal request) should alleviate the Commission’s concern about the lack of additional public comment and need for a more general rulemaking. For more information, NMFS has published a description of the Renewal process on our website (available at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/ national/marine-mammal-protection/ incidental-harassment-authorizationrenewals). VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:47 Nov 13, 2019 Jkt 250001 Preliminary Determinations The seabird research and monitoring activities proposed by Point Blue are identical to those analyzed in the initial IHA, as are the planned number of days of activity, the method of taking, and the effects of the action. The potential effects of Point Blue’s activities are limited to Level B harassment in the form of behavioral disturbance. In analyzing the effects of the activity in the initial IHA, NMFS determined that Point Blue’s activities would have a negligible impact on the affected species or stocks and that the authorized take numbers of each species or stock were small relative to the relevant stocks (e.g., less than 13 percent of all stocks). The numbers of marine mammals proposed to be taken in this authorization are identical to those authorized in the initial IHA. The mitigation measures and monitoring and reporting requirements as described above are identical to the initial IHA. NMFS has preliminarily concluded that there is no new information suggesting that our analysis or findings should change from those reached for the initial IHA. This includes consideration of the estimated abundance of the California sea lion stock decreasing slightly. Based on the information and analysis contained here and in the referenced documents, NMFS has determined the following: (1) The required mitigation measures will effect the least practicable impact on marine mammal species or stocks and their habitat; (2) the authorized takes will have a negligible impact on the affected marine mammal species or stocks; (3) the authorized takes represent small numbers of marine mammals relative to the affected stock abundances; (4) Point Blue’s activities will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on taking for subsistence purposes as no relevant subsistence uses of marine mammals are implicated by this action; and (5) appropriate monitoring and reporting requirements are included. Endangered Species Act Section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA: 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) requires that each Federal agency insure that any action it authorizes, funds, or carries out is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat. To ensure ESA compliance for the issuance of IHAs, NMFS consults internally, in this case with the West Coast Region Protected Resources Division Office, PO 00000 Frm 00029 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 whenever we propose to authorize take for endangered or threatened species. No incidental take of ESA-listed species is proposed or expected to result from this activity. Therefore, NMFS has determined that formal consultation under section 7 of the ESA is not required for this action. Proposed Renewal and Request for Public Comment As a result of these preliminary determinations, NMFS proposes to issue an IHA Renewal to Point Blue for conducting seabird research activities in Central California, provided the previously described mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements are incorporated. A draft of the proposed IHA can be found at https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/permit/ incidental-take-authorizations-undermarine-mammal-protection-act. We request comment on our analyses, the proposed Renewal, and any other aspect of this Notice. Please include with your comments any supporting data or literature citations to help inform our final decision on the request for MMPA authorization. Dated: November 7, 2019. Donna S. Wieting, Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2019–24668 Filed 11–13–19; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P COMMODITY FUTURES TRADING COMMISSION Sunshine Act Meetings 10:00 a.m., Thursday, November 21, 2019. PLACE: Three Lafayette Centre, 1155 21st Street NW, Washington, DC, 9th Floor Commission Conference Room. STATUS: Closed. MATTERS TO BE CONSIDERED: Enforcement matters. In the event that the time, date, or location of this meeting changes, an announcement of the change, along with the new time, date, and/or place of the meeting will be posted on the Commission’s website at https://www.cftc.gov/. CONTACT PERSON FOR MORE INFORMATION: Christopher Kirkpatrick, 202–418–5964. TIME AND DATE: Authority: 5 U.S.C. 552b. Dated: November 12, 2019. Christopher Kirkpatrick, Secretary of the Commission. [FR Doc. 2019–24808 Filed 11–12–19; 4:15 pm] BILLING CODE 6351–01–P E:\FR\FM\14NON1.SGM 14NON1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 84, Number 220 (Thursday, November 14, 2019)]
[Notices]
[Pages 61892-61896]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2019-24668]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XR055


Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; 
Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Seabird Research Activities in 
Central California

AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.

ACTION: Notice; incidental harassment authorization; request for 
comments on proposed Renewal.

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SUMMARY: NMFS received a request from Point Blue Conservation Science 
(Point Blue) for the Renewal of their currently active incidental 
harassment authorization (IHA) to take marine mammals incidental to 
seabird and pinniped research activities in central California. These 
activities are identical to those covered in the current authorization. 
Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, prior to issuing the 
currently active IHA, NMFS requested comments on both the proposed IHA 
and the potential for renewing the initial authorization if certain 
requirements were satisfied. The Renewal requirements have been 
satisfied, and NMFS is now providing an additional 15-day comment 
period to allow for any additional comments on the proposed Renewal not 
previously provided during the initial 30-day comment period.

DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than November 
29, 2019.

ADDRESSES: Comments should be addressed to Jolie Harrison, Chief, 
Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, 
National Marine Fisheries Service. Physical comments should be sent to 
1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910 and electronic comments 
should be sent to [email protected].
    Instructions: NMFS is not responsible for comments sent by any 
other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the 
end of the comment period. Comments received electronically, including 
all attachments, must not exceed a 25-megabyte file size. Attachments 
to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word or Excel or 
Adobe PDF file formats only. All comments received are a part of the 
public record and will generally be posted online at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/permit/incidental-take-authorizations-under-marine-mammal-protection-act without change. All personal identifying 
information (e.g., name, address) voluntarily submitted by the 
commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit confidential 
business information or otherwise sensitive or protected information.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Amy Fowler, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, (301) 427-8401. Electronic copies of the original 
application, Renewal request, and supporting documents (including NMFS 
Federal Register notices of the original proposed and final 
authorizations, and the previous IHA), as well as a list of the 
references cited in this document, may be obtained online at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/permit/incidental-take-authorizations-under-marine-mammal-protection-act. In case of problems accessing these 
documents, please call the contact listed above.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Background

    The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) prohibits the ``take'' of 
marine mammals, with certain exceptions. Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) 
of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) direct the Secretary of Commerce 
(as delegated to NMFS) to allow, upon request, the incidental, but not 
intentional, taking of small numbers of marine mammals by U.S. citizens 
who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing) 
within a specified geographical region if certain findings are made and 
either regulations are issued or, if the taking is limited to 
harassment, a notice of a proposed incidental take authorization is 
provided to the public for review.
    Authorization for incidental takings shall be granted if NMFS finds 
that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or 
stock(s) and will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the 
availability of the species or stock(s) for taking for subsistence uses 
(where relevant). Further, NMFS must prescribe the permissible methods 
of taking and other ``means of effecting the least practicable adverse 
impact'' on the affected species or stocks and their habitat, paying 
particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar 
significance, and on the availability of such species or stocks for 
taking for certain subsistence uses (referred to here as ``mitigation 
measures''). Monitoring and reporting of such takings are also 
required. The meaning of key terms such as ``take,'' ``harassment,'' 
and ``negligible impact''

[[Page 61893]]

can be found in section 3 of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1362) and the agency's 
regulations at 50 CFR 216.103.
    NMFS' regulations implementing the MMPA at 50 CFR 216.107(e) 
indicate that IHAs may be renewed for additional periods of time not to 
exceed one year for each reauthorization. In the notice of proposed IHA 
for the initial authorization, NMFS described the circumstances under 
which we would consider issuing a Renewal for this activity, and 
requested public comment on a potential Renewal under those 
circumstances. Specifically, on a case-by-case basis, NMFS may issue a 
one-year IHA Renewal when (1) another year of identical or nearly 
identical activities as described in the Specified Activities section 
is planned or (2) the activities would not be completed by the time the 
IHA expires and a second IHA would allow for completion of the 
activities beyond that described in the Dates and Duration section of 
the initial IHA. All of the following conditions must be met in order 
to issue a Renewal:
     A request for Renewal is received no later than 60 days 
prior to expiration of the current IHA.
     The request for Renewal must include the following:
    (1) An explanation that the activities to be conducted beyond the 
initial dates either are identical to the previously analyzed 
activities or include changes so minor (e.g., reduction in pile size) 
that the changes do not affect the previous analyses, take estimates, 
or mitigation and monitoring requirements; and
    (2) A preliminary monitoring report showing the results of the 
required monitoring to date and an explanation showing that the 
monitoring results do not indicate impacts of a scale or nature not 
previously analyzed or authorized.
     Upon review of the request for Renewal, the status of the 
affected species or stocks, and any other pertinent information, NMFS 
determines that there are no more than minor changes in the activities, 
the mitigation and monitoring measures remain the same and appropriate, 
and the initial findings remain valid.
    Although their request was not received 60 days in advance, 
issuance of the Renewal is still justified, given the effective dates 
do not extend beyond one year from the expiration of the initial IHA 
and all of the other qualifications were met.
    An additional public comment period of 15 days (for a total of 45 
days), with direct notice by email, phone, or postal service to 
commenters on the initial IHA, is provided to allow for any additional 
comments on the proposed Renewal. A description of the Renewal process 
may be found on our website at: www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/incidental-harassment-authorization-renewals. Any 
comments received on the potential Renewal, along with relevant 
comments on the initial IHA, have been considered in the development of 
this proposed IHA Renewal, and a summary of agency responses to 
applicable comments is included in this notice. NMFS will consider any 
additional public comments prior to making any final decision on the 
issuance of the requested Renewal, and agency responses will be 
summarized in the final notice of our decision.

National Environmental Policy Act

    To comply with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA; 
42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) and NOAA Administrative Order (NAO) 216-6A, 
NMFS must review our proposed action (i.e., the issuance of an 
incidental harassment authorization) with respect to potential impacts 
on the human environment. This action is consistent with categories of 
activities identified in Categorical Exclusion B4 (incidental 
harassment authorizations with no anticipated serious injury or 
mortality) of the Companion Manual for NOAA Administrative Order 216-
6A, which do not individually or cumulatively have the potential for 
significant impacts on the quality of the human environment and for 
which we have not identified any extraordinary circumstances that would 
preclude this categorical exclusion. Accordingly, NMFS has 
preliminarily determined that the issuance of the renewal IHA qualifies 
to be categorically excluded from further NEPA review. We will review 
all comments submitted in response to this notice prior to concluding 
our NEPA process or making a final decision on the IHA request.

History of Request

    On June 28, 2018, NMFS issued an IHA to Point Blue to take marine 
mammals incidental to seabird research activities in central California 
(83 FR 31372; July 5, 2018), effective from July 7, 2018 through July 
6, 2019. On August 20, 2019, NMFS received an application for the 
Renewal of that initial IHA. As described in the application for 
Renewal, the activities for which incidental take is requested are 
identical to those covered in the initial authorization. As required, 
the applicant also provided a preliminary monitoring report (available 
at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/incidental-take-authorizations-research-and-other-activities) which 
confirms that the applicant has implemented the required mitigation and 
monitoring, and which also shows that no impacts of a scale or nature 
not previously analyzed or authorized have occurred as a result of the 
activities conducted.

Description of the Specified Activities and Anticipated Impacts

    Point Blue plans to monitor and census seabird populations, observe 
seabird nesting habitat, restore nesting burrows, and resupply a field 
station annually in central California. The planned activities occur on 
Southeast Farallon Island (SEFI), A[ntilde]o Nuevo Island (ANO), and 
Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS). Point Blue, along with partners 
Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge and PRNS, have been conducting seabird 
research activities at these locations for over 30 years. This research 
is conducted under cooperative agreements with the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service (USFWS) in consultation with the Gulf of the 
Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. The seabird research and 
monitoring activities planned by Point Blue are identical to those 
analyzed in the initial IHA issued by NMFS, described in detail in the 
Federal Register notice of proposed IHA (83 FR 20045; May 7, 2018).
    Presence of researchers has the potential to disturb pinnipeds 
hauled out at SEFI, ANO, and PRNS. As in the initial authorization, 
NMFS anticipates that take, by Level B harassment only, of California 
sea lions (Zalophus californianus), harbor seals (Phoca vitulina), 
northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris), and Steller sea 
lions (Eumetopias jubatus) could result from the specified activity (83 
FR 31372; July 5, 2018).

Detailed Description of the Activity

    A detailed description of the seabird research and monitoring 
activities for which take is proposed here may be found in the Notices 
of the Proposed and Final IHAs for the initial authorization (83 FR 
20045, May 7, 2018; 83 FR 31372, July 5, 2018). The locations (as 
described in the Specific Geographic Region section of the initial 
IHA), timing, and nature of the activities, including the types of 
equipment planned for use, are identical to those described in the 
previous notices. The proposed Renewal would be effective from the date 
of issuance through July 6, 2020.

[[Page 61894]]

Description of Marine Mammals

    A description of the marine mammals in the area of the activities 
for which authorization of take is proposed here, including information 
on abundance, status, distribution, and hearing, may be found in the 
Federal Register Notice of the Proposed IHA for the initial 
authorization (83 FR 20045; May 7, 2018). NMFS has reviewed the 
monitoring data from the initial IHA, recent draft Stock Assessment 
Reports, information on relevant Unusual Mortality Events, and other 
scientific literature. The 2018 Stock Assessment Report notes that the 
estimated abundance of California sea lions has decreased slightly, 
however, neither this nor any other new information affects which 
species or stocks have the potential to be affected or the pertinent 
information in the section Description of Marine Mammals in the Area of 
Specified Activities contained in the supporting documents for the 
initial IHA.

Potential Effects on Marine Mammals and Their Habitat

    A description of the potential effects of the specified activity on 
marine mammals and their habitat for the activities for which take is 
proposed here may be found in the Federal Register Notice of the 
Proposed IHA for the initial authorization (83 FR 20045; May 7, 2018). 
NMFS has reviewed the monitoring data from the initial IHA, recent 
Stock Assessment Reports, information on relevant Unusual Mortality 
Events, and other scientific literature, and determined that neither 
this nor any other new information affects our initial analysis of 
impacts on marine mammals and their habitat.

Estimated Take

    A detailed description of the methods and inputs used to estimate 
take for the specified activity are found in the Federal Register 
Notices of the Proposed and Final IHAs for the initial authorization 
(83 FR 20045, May 7, 2018; 83 FR 31372, July 5, 2018). Specifically, 
the expected number of survey days, and marine mammal occurrence data 
applicable to this authorization remain unchanged from the previously 
issued IHA. Similarly, the stocks taken, methods of take, and types of 
take remain unchanged from the previously issued IHA, as do the number 
of takes, which are indicated below in Table 1. As in the initial IHA, 
the take estimates are based on historical data from the previous five 
monitoring reports (2013-2014, 2014-2015, 2015-2016, 2016-2017, and 
2017-2018) to generate 95 percent confidence interval maximums 
(assuming normal distribution) using STATA, a genera-purpose 
statistical computer package. Takes recorded in all previous monitoring 
reports were based on occurrences that are consistent with Levels 2 and 
3 of the three-point harassment scale (see Table 2).

 Table 1--Population Abundance Estimates, Total Proposed Level B Take, and Percentage of Population That May Be
                                                      Taken
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                   Percentage of
                Species                           Stock                Stock      Total proposed     stock or
                                                                     abundance     level B take     population
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
California sea lion...................  U.S.....................         257,606          32,623            12.7
Northern elephant seal................  California breeding              179,000             239            0.13
                                         stock.
Harbor seal...........................  California..............          30,968             304            0.98
Steller sea lion......................  Eastern U.S.............          41,638              43            0.10
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Description of Proposed Mitigation, Monitoring and Reporting Measures

    The proposed mitigation, monitoring, and reporting measures 
included as requirements in this authorization are identical to those 
included in the Federal Register Notice announcing the issuance of the 
initial IHA (83 FR 31372; July 5, 2018), and the discussion of the 
least practicable adverse impact included in that document remains 
accurate. The following measures are proposed for this renewal:
    To reduce the potential for disturbance from acoustic and visual 
stimuli associated with survey activities Point Blue will implement the 
following mitigation measures for marine mammals:
    (1) Slow approach to beaches for boat landings to avoid stampede, 
provide animals opportunity to enter water, and avoid vessel strikes;
    (2) Observe a site from a distance, using binoculars if necessary, 
to detect any marine mammals prior to approach to determine if 
mitigation is required (i.e., site surveys will not be conducted if fur 
seals are present; if other pinnipeds are present, researchers will 
approach with caution, walking slowly, quietly, and close to the ground 
to avoid surprising any hauled-out individuals and to reduce flushing/
stampeding of individuals);
    (3) Avoid pinnipeds along access ways to sites by locating and 
taking a different access way. Researchers will keep a safe distance 
from and not approach any marine mammal while conducting research, 
unless it is absolutely necessary to flush a marine mammal in order to 
continue conducting research (i.e., if a site cannot be accessed or 
sampled due to the presence of pinnipeds);
    (4) Cease or delay visits if the number of takes that have been 
granted are met, if a species for which takes were not granted is 
observed (e.g., northern fur seals and Guadalupe fur seals), or if pups 
are present;
    (5) Monitor for offshore predators and do not approach hauled out 
pinnipeds if great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) or killer 
whales (Orcinus orca) are present. If Point Blue and/or its designees 
see pinniped predators in the area, they must not disturb the pinnipeds 
until the area is free of predators;
    (6) Keep voices hushed and bodies low to the ground in the visual 
presence of pinnipeds;
    (7) Conduct seabird observations at North Landing on SEFI in an 
observation blind, shielded from the view of hauled out pinnipeds;
    (8) Crawl slowly to access seabird nest boxes on ANI if pinnipeds 
are within view;
    (9) Coordinate research visits to intertidal areas of SEFI (to 
reduce potential take) and coordinate research goals for ANI to 
minimize the number of trips to the island; and
    (10) Require beach landings on ANI only occur after any pinnipeds 
that might be present on the landing beach have entered the water.
    Point Blue will contribute to the knowledge of pinnipeds in 
California by noting observations of: (1) Unusual behaviors, numbers, 
or distributions of pinnipeds, such that any potential follow-up 
research can be conducted by the appropriate personnel; (2) tag-

[[Page 61895]]

bearing pinnipeds or carcasses, allowing transmittal of the information 
to appropriate agencies and personnel; and (3) rare or unusual species 
of marine mammals for agency follow-up.
    Proposed monitoring protocols for Point Blue will include the 
following:
    (1) Record of date, time, and location (or closest point of 
ingress) of each visit to the research site;
    (2) Composition of the marine mammals sighted, such as species, 
gender and life history stage (e.g., adult, sub-adult, pup);
    (3) Information on the numbers (by species) of marine mammals 
observed during the activities;
    (4) Estimated number of marine mammals (by species) that may have 
been harassed during the activities;
    (5) Behavioral responses or modifications of behaviors that may be 
attributed to the specific activities and a description of the specific 
activities occurring during that time (e.g., pedestrian approach, 
vessel approach); and
    (6) Information on the weather, including the tidal state and 
horizontal visibility.
    The lead biologist will serve as an observer to record incidental 
take. For consistency, any reactions by pinnipeds to researchers will 
be recorded according to a three-point scale shown in Table 2. Note 
that only observations of disturbance noted in Levels 2 and 3 should be 
recorded as takes.

           Table 2--Levels of Pinniped Behavioral Disturbance
------------------------------------------------------------------------
       Level            Type of response              Definition
------------------------------------------------------------------------
1.................  Alert..................  Seal head orientation or
                                              brief movement in response
                                              to disturbance, which may
                                              include turning head
                                              towards the disturbance,
                                              craning head and neck
                                              while holding the body
                                              rigid in a u-shaped
                                              position, changing from a
                                              lying to a sitting
                                              position, or brief
                                              movement of less than
                                              twice the animal's body
                                              length.
2 *...............  Movement...............  Movements in response to
                                              the source of disturbance,
                                              ranging from short
                                              withdrawals at least twice
                                              the animal's body length
                                              to longer retreats over
                                              the beach, or if already
                                              moving a change of
                                              direction of greater than
                                              90 degrees.
3 *...............  Flush..................  All retreats (flushes) to
                                              the water.
------------------------------------------------------------------------
* Only observations of disturbance Levels 2 and 3 are recorded as takes.

    This information will be incorporated into a monitoring report for 
NMFS. The monitoring report will cover the period from January 1, 2019 
through December 31, 2019. NMFS has requested that Point Blue submit 
annual monitoring report data on a calendar year schedule, regardless 
of the current IHA's initiation or expiration dates. This will ensure 
that data from all consecutive months will be collected and, therefore, 
can be analyzed to estimate authorized take for future IHA's regardless 
of the existing IHA's issuance date. Point Blue will submit a draft 
monitoring report to NMFS Office of Protected Resources by April 1, 
2020. A final report will be prepared and submitted within 30 days 
following resolution of any comments on the draft report from NMFS. If 
no comments are received from NMFS, the draft final report will be 
considered to be the final report. This report must contain the 
informational elements described above, at minimum.
    Point Blue must also report observations of unusual pinniped 
behaviors, numbers, or distributions and tag-bearing carcasses to the 
NMFS West Coast Regional Office.
    If at any time the specified activity clearly causes the take of a 
marine mammal in a manner prohibited by this IHA, such as an injury 
(Level A harassment), serious injury, or mortality, Point Blue will 
immediately cease the specified activities and report the incident to 
the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the West Coast Regional 
Stranding Coordinator, NMFS. The report must include the following 
information:
    (1) Time and date of the incident;
    (2) Description of the incident;
    (3) Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, 
Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility);
    (4) Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 hours 
preceding the incident;
    (5) Species identification or description of the animal(s) 
involved;
    (6) Fate of the animal(s); and
    (7) Photographs or video footage of the animal(s).
    Activities will not resume until NMFS is able to review the 
circumstances of the prohibited take. NMFS will work with Point Blue to 
determine what measures are necessary to minimize the likelihood of 
further prohibited take and ensure MMPA compliance. Point Blue may not 
resume the activities until notified by NMFS.
    In the event that an injured or dead marine mammal is discovered 
and it is determined that the cause of the injury or death is unknown 
and the death is relatively recent (e.g., in less than a moderate state 
of decomposition), Point Blue will immediately report the incident to 
the Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, and the West Coast Regional 
Stranding Coordinator, NMFS. The report must include the same 
information identified in the paragraph above. Activities may continue 
while NMFS reviews the circumstances of the incident. NMFS will work 
with Point Blue to determine whether additional mitigation measures or 
modifications to the activities are appropriate.
    In the event that an injured or dead marine mammal is discovered 
and it is determined that the injury or death is not associated with or 
related to the activities authorized in the IHA (e.g., previously 
wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced decomposition, or 
scavenger damage), Point Blue will report the incident to the Office of 
Protected Resources, NMFS, and the West Coast Regional Stranding 
Coordinator, NMFS, within 24 hours of the discovery. Point Blue will 
provide photographs or video footage or other documentation of the 
stranded animal sighting to NMFS. Activities may continue while NMFS 
reviews the circumstances of the incident.

Public Comments

    As noted previously, NMFS published a notice of a proposed IHA (83 
FR 20045; May 7, 2018) and solicited public comments on both our 
proposal to issue the initial IHA for seabird research and on the 
potential for a Renewal, should certain requirements be met.
    All public comments were addressed in the notice announcing the 
issuance of the initial IHA (83 FR 31372; July 5, 2018). Below, we 
describe how we have addressed, with updated information where 
appropriate, any comments received that specifically pertain to the 
Renewal of the 2018 IHA.

[[Page 61896]]

    Comment: The Marine Mammal Commission (Commission) requested 
clarification of certain issues associated with NMFS's notice that one-
year Renewals can be issued in certain limited circumstances and 
expressed concern that the process would bypass the public notice and 
comment requirements. The Commission also suggested that NMFS should 
discuss the possibility of Renewals through a more general route, such 
as a rulemaking, instead of notice in a specific authorization. The 
Commission further recommended that if NMFS did not pursue a more 
general route, that the agency provide the Commission and the public 
with a legal analysis supporting our conclusion that this process is 
consistent with the requirements of section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA.
    Response: The notice of the proposed initial IHA expressly notified 
and invited comment from the public on the possibility that under 
certain, limited conditions the applicant could seek a Renewal IHA for 
an additional year. The notice described the conditions under which 
such a Renewal request could be considered and expressly sought public 
comment in the event such a Renewal were sought. Further, since 
issuance of the initial IHA NMFS has modified the Renewal process to 
provide notice through the Federal Register and an additional 15-day 
public comment period at the time the Renewal IHA is requested. NMFS 
also will provide direct notice of the proposed Renewal to those who 
commented on the initial IHA, to provide an opportunity to submit any 
additional comments.
    We appreciate the Commission's suggestion that NMFS discuss the 
potential for IHA Renewals through a more general route, such as a 
rulemaking. However, utilizing the public comment process associated 
with IHAs is more efficient for the agency, while still providing for 
appropriate public input into NMFS' decision-making. Further, NMFS's 
recent modification to the Renewal process (i.e., soliciting additional 
public comment at the time of a Renewal request) should alleviate the 
Commission's concern about the lack of additional public comment and 
need for a more general rulemaking.
    For more information, NMFS has published a description of the 
Renewal process on our website (available at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/incidental-harassment-authorization-renewals).

Preliminary Determinations

    The seabird research and monitoring activities proposed by Point 
Blue are identical to those analyzed in the initial IHA, as are the 
planned number of days of activity, the method of taking, and the 
effects of the action. The potential effects of Point Blue's activities 
are limited to Level B harassment in the form of behavioral 
disturbance. In analyzing the effects of the activity in the initial 
IHA, NMFS determined that Point Blue's activities would have a 
negligible impact on the affected species or stocks and that the 
authorized take numbers of each species or stock were small relative to 
the relevant stocks (e.g., less than 13 percent of all stocks). The 
numbers of marine mammals proposed to be taken in this authorization 
are identical to those authorized in the initial IHA. The mitigation 
measures and monitoring and reporting requirements as described above 
are identical to the initial IHA.
    NMFS has preliminarily concluded that there is no new information 
suggesting that our analysis or findings should change from those 
reached for the initial IHA. This includes consideration of the 
estimated abundance of the California sea lion stock decreasing 
slightly. Based on the information and analysis contained here and in 
the referenced documents, NMFS has determined the following: (1) The 
required mitigation measures will effect the least practicable impact 
on marine mammal species or stocks and their habitat; (2) the 
authorized takes will have a negligible impact on the affected marine 
mammal species or stocks; (3) the authorized takes represent small 
numbers of marine mammals relative to the affected stock abundances; 
(4) Point Blue's activities will not have an unmitigable adverse impact 
on taking for subsistence purposes as no relevant subsistence uses of 
marine mammals are implicated by this action; and (5) appropriate 
monitoring and reporting requirements are included.

Endangered Species Act

    Section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA: 16 
U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) requires that each Federal agency insure that any 
action it authorizes, funds, or carries out is not likely to jeopardize 
the continued existence of any endangered or threatened species or 
result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated 
critical habitat. To ensure ESA compliance for the issuance of IHAs, 
NMFS consults internally, in this case with the West Coast Region 
Protected Resources Division Office, whenever we propose to authorize 
take for endangered or threatened species.
    No incidental take of ESA-listed species is proposed or expected to 
result from this activity. Therefore, NMFS has determined that formal 
consultation under section 7 of the ESA is not required for this 
action.

Proposed Renewal and Request for Public Comment

    As a result of these preliminary determinations, NMFS proposes to 
issue an IHA Renewal to Point Blue for conducting seabird research 
activities in Central California, provided the previously described 
mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements are incorporated. A 
draft of the proposed IHA can be found at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/permit/incidental-take-authorizations-under-marine-mammal-protection-act. We request comment on our analyses, the 
proposed Renewal, and any other aspect of this Notice. Please include 
with your comments any supporting data or literature citations to help 
inform our final decision on the request for MMPA authorization.

    Dated: November 7, 2019.
Donna S. Wieting,
Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.
[FR Doc. 2019-24668 Filed 11-13-19; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P