Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Seabird Research Activities in Central California, 72301-72306 [2019-28210]

Download as PDF Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 250 / Tuesday, December 31, 2019 / Notices meetings will run as late as necessary to complete scheduled business. Schedule and Agenda for the APT Meeting Thursday, January 23, 1 p.m.–5 p.m. 1. Welcome and Introductions 2. Approval of Draft Agenda & Assignment of Rapporteurs 3. Interim Measure for the American Samoa Bottomfish Fishery 4. Potential Reclassification of the Territory Bottomfish Management Unit Species (BMUS) Complex 5. Options to the BMUS in the American Samoa and Marianas Fishery Ecosystem Plan (Action Item) 6. Revisions to the Archipelagic Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation Reports 7. P-Star and SEEM Analysis for the Marianas Bottomfish Fishery 8. Updates to the Data Collection Projects A. Marianas Shark Depredation B. Small Boat Electronic Reporting 9. Public Comment 10. Other Business 11. Plan Team Discussion and Recommendations Special Accommodations The meeting is physically accessible to people with disabilities. Requests for sign language interpretation or other auxiliary aids should be directed to Kitty M. Simonds, (808) 522–8220 (voice) or (808) 522–8226 (fax), at least 5 days prior to the meeting date. Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. Dated: December 23, 2019. Tracey L. Thompson, Acting Deputy Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2019–28197 Filed 12–30–19; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [RTID 0648–XR081] khammond on DSKJM1Z7X2PROD with NOTICES Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Seabird Research Activities in Central California National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; incidental harassment authorization; request for comments on proposed Renewal. AGENCY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:30 Dec 30, 2019 Jkt 250001 NMFS received a request from Point Blue Conservation Science (Point Blue) for the Renewal of their initial 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 initial authorization. Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), prior to issuing the initial IHA, NMFS requested comments on both the proposed IHA and the potential for renewing the initial authorization if certain requirements were satisfied. While Renewal requirements have been satisfied, NMFS is now republishing the proposed Renewal IHA and 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 or the first 15-day additional comment period. DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than January 15, 2020. 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 EastWest Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910 and electronic comments should be sent to ITP.Fowler@noaa.gov. 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 25megabyte 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-undermarine-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 notices of the original proposed and final authorizations, and the previous SUMMARY: PO 00000 Frm 00010 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 72301 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-undermarine-mammal-protection-act. In case of problems accessing these documents, please call the contact listed above. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Background The 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’’ 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. Since that time, we have made minor changes to the Renewal process, none of which materially affects the scope of a Renewal IHA or the conditions for receiving one. E:\FR\FM\31DEN1.SGM 31DEN1 khammond on DSKJM1Z7X2PROD with NOTICES 72302 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 250 / Tuesday, December 31, 2019 / Notices Specifically, on a case-by-case basis, NMFS may issue a one-year IHA Renewal when (1) up to 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. The expiration date of the Renewal IHA cannot extend beyond one year from expiration 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 the needed Renewal. Previously the request was to be received no later than 60 days prior to expiration of the initial IHA. But where authorization under Renewal IHAs will not extend beyond one year from expiration of the initial IHA regardless of when the renewal application is received and where it is up to the applicant to determine when take coverage is needed, a request can be received later than 60 days prior to expiration of the initial IHA provided NMFS has 60 days to process the renewal. • The request for Renewal must include the following: (1) An explanation that the activities to be conducted beyond the initial IHA 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. For this Renewal IHA, the request was received later than 60 days prior to expiration of the initial IHA. However, the other qualifications were met and these circumstances initiated the agency’s consideration of whether the original 60-day deadline requirement was necessary and appropriate. An additional public comment period of 15 days (for a total of 45 days), with direct notice by email, phone, or postal VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:30 Dec 30, 2019 Jkt 250001 service to commenters on the initial IHA, is provided to allow for any additional comments on the proposed Renewal. In this case, the agency inadvertently did not provide direct notice to a commenter. Therefore this notice is being republished to allow an additional 15 days of public comment (for a total of 60 days), with direct notice provided to that commenter. 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 that were received on the potential Renewal, along with relevant comments on the initial IHA, have been considered in the development of this proposed Renewal IHA, and agency responses to applicable comments have been included in this notice. NMFS will consider any additional public comments along with any comments received during the first 15-day comment period prior to making any final decision on the issuance of the requested Renewal, and agency responses will be provided 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 PO 00000 Frm 00011 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 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 consisting of the report of actual takes from January 1, 2018 through December 31, 2018 plus an updated report of takes from January 1, 2019 through the expiration of the initial IHA on July 6, 2019, which was provided following publication of the first proposed Renewal notice. Both reports are available at https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/ marine-mammal-protection/incidentaltake-authorizations-research-and-otheractivities and confirm that the applicant has implemented the required mitigation and monitoring. The reports also show that no impacts of a scale or nature not previously analyzed or authorized have occurred as a result of the activities conducted. On November 14, 2019 we published the notice of the proposed Renewal IHA (84 FR 61892) that is being republished here. 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 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 E:\FR\FM\31DEN1.SGM 31DEN1 72303 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 250 / Tuesday, December 31, 2019 / Notices 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. 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 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 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 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). TABLE 1—POPULATION ABUNDANCE ESTIMATES, TOTAL PROPOSED LEVEL B TAKE, AND PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION THAT MAY BE TAKEN 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 khammond on DSKJM1Z7X2PROD with NOTICES Stock abundance Species The proposed mitigation, monitoring, and reporting measures included as requirements in this authorization are identical to those included in the 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 VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:30 Dec 30, 2019 Jkt 250001 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 PO 00000 Frm 00012 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 257,606 179,000 30,968 41,638 Total proposed Level B take 32,623 239 304 43 Percentage of stock or population 12.7 0.13 0.98 0.10 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; E:\FR\FM\31DEN1.SGM 31DEN1 72304 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 250 / Tuesday, December 31, 2019 / Notices (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) tagbearing 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 .................. 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. Point Blue will also submit a draft monitoring report covering the period from the Renewal IHA date of issuance through July 6, 2020. This report will be due by October 4, 2020 (90 days after the expiration of the Renewal IHA). A final report will be prepared and submitted within 30 days following resolution of any comments VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:30 Dec 30, 2019 Jkt 250001 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. The reports 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; PO 00000 Frm 00013 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 (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. E:\FR\FM\31DEN1.SGM 31DEN1 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 250 / Tuesday, December 31, 2019 / Notices khammond on DSKJM1Z7X2PROD with NOTICES 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. 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 VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:30 Dec 30, 2019 Jkt 250001 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 provides direct notice of the proposed Renewal to those who commented on the initial IHA, to provide an opportunity to submit any additional comments. Where NMFS inadvertently did not provide direct notice to the Commission here, we are republishing the notice of the proposed Renewal to allow an additional 15 days of public comment (for a total of 60 days) and providing direct notice to the Commission. 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. In addition, where the Commission has also urged NMFS to encourage applicants to apply for incidental take coverage under MMPA section 101(a)(5)(A) for multiyear projects instead of seeking Renewal IHAs, we note that Point Blue has submitted a request for MMPA incidental take regulations and Letters of Authorization, and NMFS has published a Notice of Receipt of Point Blue’s request in the Federal Register (84 FR 66379; December 4, 2019). 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). 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 PO 00000 Frm 00014 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 72305 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 E:\FR\FM\31DEN1.SGM 31DEN1 72306 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 250 / Tuesday, December 31, 2019 / Notices language, and consider a schedule and timeline for further evaluation of management options for the central subpopulation of northern anchovy, all for Pacific Council consideration at future meetings. Other CPS, administrative, or ecosystem topics may be discussed as well. Although non-emergency issues not contained in the meeting agenda may be discussed, those issues may not be the subject of formal action during this meeting. Action will be restricted to those issues specifically listed in this document and any issues arising after publication of this document that require emergency action under section 305(c) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, provided the public has been notified of the intent to take final action to address the emergency. ADDRESSES: DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE Special Accommodations SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration The meeting is physically accessible to people with disabilities. Requests for sign language interpretation or other auxiliary aids should be directed to Mr. Kerry Griffin (kerry.griffin@noaa.gov; (503) 820–2409) at least 10 days prior to the meeting date. 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 any additional comments 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: December 23, 2019. Donna S. Wieting, Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2019–28210 Filed 12–30–19; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P [RTID 0648–XV163] Pacific Fishery Management Council; Public Meeting National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice of public meeting. AGENCY: The Pacific Fishery Management Council (Pacific Council) will convene a meeting of its Coastal Pelagic Species Management Team (CPSMT) to discuss issues related to the management of coastal pelagic species (CPS) on the U.S. West Coast. This meeting is open to the public. DATES: The meeting will be held Tuesday, February 4 through Thursday, February 6, 2020. The meeting will begin at 8:30 a.m. each day and will continue until 5 p.m., or until business for the day has been completed. ADDRESSES: The meeting will be held in the Buzzelli/Loeb Room in the Scripps Seaside Forum at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 8622 Kennel Way, La Jolla, CA 92037. Council address: Pacific Fishery Management Council, 7700 NE Ambassador Place, Suite 101, Portland, OR 97220–1384. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Kerry Griffin, Pacific Council; telephone: (503) 820–2409. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The primary purposes of the meeting are to develop a draft rebuilding plan for the Pacific sardine, develop draft CPS Fishery Management Plan amendatory khammond on DSKJM1Z7X2PROD with NOTICES SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:30 Dec 30, 2019 Jkt 250001 Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. Dated: December 23, 2019. Tracey L. Thompson, Acting Deputy Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2019–28200 Filed 12–30–19; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [RTID 0648–XV164] Pacific Fishery Management Council; Public Meeting National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice of public meeting (webinar). AGENCY: The Pacific Fishery Management Council’s (Pacific Council) Salmon Technical Team (STT) and Scientific and Statistical Committee salmon subcommittee (SSCSC) will hold a joint one-day methodology review meeting. This meeting will be held via webinar and is open to the public. DATES: The webinar will be held Wednesday, January 22, 2020, from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m., or when business for the day has been completed. SUMMARY: PO 00000 Frm 00015 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 A public listening station is available at the Pacific Council office (address below). To attend the webinar, use this link: https:// meetings.ringcentral.com/j/5038202410. Detailed instructions on how to join the webinar through RingCentral will be available on the Pacific Council’s website at www.pcouncil.org. You may also send an email to Mr. Kris Kleinschmidt at Kris.Kleinschmidt@ noaa.gov or contact him at (503) 820– 2280, extension 412 for technical assistance. Council address: Pacific Fishery Management Council, 7700 NE Ambassador Place, Suite 101, Portland, OR 97220–1384. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Robin Ehlke, Pacific Council; telephone: (503) 820–2410. The purpose of the methodology review meeting is to discuss and review any new or previously provided documentation of the abundance forecast approach used for Willapa Bay natural coho. This meeting is a continuation of the October 22, 2019 STT/SSCSC joint webinar. Results and recommendations from this methodology review meeting will be presented at the March 2020 Pacific Council meeting in Rohnert Park, CA. If time and interest allow, additional topics may be discussed, including but not limited to future Pacific Council agenda items. Public comments during the webinar will be received from attendees at the discretion of the STT and SSCSC Chairs. Although non-emergency issues not contained in the meeting agenda may be discussed, those issues may not be the subject of formal action during this meeting. Action will be restricted to those issues specifically listed in this document and any issues arising after publication of this document that require emergency action under section 305(c) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, provided the public has been notified of the intent to take final action to address the emergency. Special Accommodations The public listening station is physically accessible to people with disabilities. Requests for sign language interpretation or other auxiliary aids should be directed to Mr. Kris Kleinschmidt (kris.kleinschmidt@ noaa.gov; (503) 820–2412) at least 10 days prior to the meeting date. Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. E:\FR\FM\31DEN1.SGM 31DEN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 84, Number 250 (Tuesday, December 31, 2019)]
[Notices]
[Pages 72301-72306]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2019-28210]


-----------------------------------------------------------------------

DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

[RTID 0648-XR081]


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.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

SUMMARY: NMFS received a request from Point Blue Conservation Science 
(Point Blue) for the Renewal of their initial 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 initial authorization. Pursuant 
to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), prior to issuing the 
initial IHA, NMFS requested comments on both the proposed IHA and the 
potential for renewing the initial authorization if certain 
requirements were satisfied. While Renewal requirements have been 
satisfied, NMFS is now republishing the proposed Renewal IHA and 
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 or the first 15-day additional 
comment period.

DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than January 
15, 2020.

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 
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 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'' 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. Since that time, we have made minor changes to the 
Renewal process, none of which materially affects the scope of a 
Renewal IHA or the conditions for receiving one.

[[Page 72302]]

Specifically, on a case-by-case basis, NMFS may issue a one-year IHA 
Renewal when (1) up to 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. The expiration date of the Renewal IHA cannot extend beyond one 
year from expiration 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 the needed Renewal. Previously the request was to be received 
no later than 60 days prior to expiration of the initial IHA. But where 
authorization under Renewal IHAs will not extend beyond one year from 
expiration of the initial IHA regardless of when the renewal 
application is received and where it is up to the applicant to 
determine when take coverage is needed, a request can be received later 
than 60 days prior to expiration of the initial IHA provided NMFS has 
60 days to process the renewal.
     The request for Renewal must include the following:
    (1) An explanation that the activities to be conducted beyond the 
initial IHA 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.
    For this Renewal IHA, the request was received later than 60 days 
prior to expiration of the initial IHA. However, the other 
qualifications were met and these circumstances initiated the agency's 
consideration of whether the original 60-day deadline requirement was 
necessary and appropriate.
    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. In this case, the agency 
inadvertently did not provide direct notice to a commenter. Therefore 
this notice is being republished to allow an additional 15 days of 
public comment (for a total of 60 days), with direct notice provided to 
that commenter.
    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 that were 
received on the potential Renewal, along with relevant comments on the 
initial IHA, have been considered in the development of this proposed 
Renewal IHA, and agency responses to applicable comments have been 
included in this notice. NMFS will consider any additional public 
comments along with any comments received during the first 15-day 
comment period prior to making any final decision on the issuance of 
the requested Renewal, and agency responses will be provided 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 consisting 
of the report of actual takes from January 1, 2018 through December 31, 
2018 plus an updated report of takes from January 1, 2019 through the 
expiration of the initial IHA on July 6, 2019, which was provided 
following publication of the first proposed Renewal notice. Both 
reports are available at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/incidental-take-authorizations-research-and-other-activities and confirm that the applicant has implemented the 
required mitigation and monitoring. The reports also show that no 
impacts of a scale or nature not previously analyzed or authorized have 
occurred as a result of the activities conducted. On November 14, 2019 
we published the notice of the proposed Renewal IHA (84 FR 61892) that 
is being republished here.

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 
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

[[Page 72303]]

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.

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 
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 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 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 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;

[[Page 72304]]

    (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-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. Point Blue will also submit a draft 
monitoring report covering the period from the Renewal IHA date of 
issuance through July 6, 2020. This report will be due by October 4, 
2020 (90 days after the expiration of the Renewal IHA). 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. The reports 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.

[[Page 72305]]

    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.
    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 provides direct notice of the proposed Renewal to those who 
commented on the initial IHA, to provide an opportunity to submit any 
additional comments. Where NMFS inadvertently did not provide direct 
notice to the Commission here, we are republishing the notice of the 
proposed Renewal to allow an additional 15 days of public comment (for 
a total of 60 days) and providing direct notice to the Commission.
    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. In addition, where the Commission 
has also urged NMFS to encourage applicants to apply for incidental 
take coverage under MMPA section 101(a)(5)(A) for multi-year projects 
instead of seeking Renewal IHAs, we note that Point Blue has submitted 
a request for MMPA incidental take regulations and Letters of 
Authorization, and NMFS has published a Notice of Receipt of Point 
Blue's request in the Federal Register (84 FR 66379; December 4, 2019).
    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

[[Page 72306]]

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 any additional comments 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: December 23, 2019.
Donna S. Wieting,
Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.
[FR Doc. 2019-28210 Filed 12-30-19; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P