Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to U.S. Marine Corps Training Exercises at Cherry Point Range Complex, North Carolina, 21284-21289 [2021-08345]

Download as PDF 21284 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 76 / Thursday, April 22, 2021 / Notices information on conservation measures will assist in tracking implementation of actions in the Recovery Plan. If you wish to provide information for this 5-year review, you may submit your information and materials electronically or via mail (see ADDRESSES section). We request that all information be accompanied by supporting documentation such as maps, bibliographic references, or reprints of pertinent publications. We also would appreciate the submitter’s name, address, and any association, institution, or business that the person represents; however, anonymous submissions will also be accepted. Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq. Dated: April 19, 2021. Margaret H. Miller, Acting Chief, Endangered Species Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2021–08355 Filed 4–21–21; 8:45 am] SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Agenda Monday, May 10, 2021 and Thursday, May 13, 2021 The agenda will include (a) finalize workplan following February Council review; (b) establish a timeline for a 5year task force workplan and milestones; and (c) other business. The agenda is subject to change, and the latest version will be posted at https:// meetings.npfmc.org/Meeting/Details/ 2044 prior to the meeting, along with meeting materials. Connection Information You can attend the meeting online using a computer, tablet, or smart phone; or by phone only. Connection information will be posted online at: https://meetings.npfmc.org/Meeting/ Details/2044. Public Comment Public comment letters will be accepted and should be submitted electronically to https:// meetings.npfmc.org/Meeting/Details/ 2044. BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. Dated: April 19, 2021. Tracey L. Thompson, Acting Deputy Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service. [RTID 0648–XB033] North Pacific Fishery Management Council; Public Meeting National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice of webconference. [FR Doc. 2021–08405 Filed 4–21–21; 8:45 am] The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) Bering Sea Fishery Ecosystem Plan Climate Change Taskforce will meet May 10, 2021 and May 13, 2021. DATES: The meeting will be held on Monday, May 10, 2021, and Thursday, May 13, 2021, from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., Alaska Time. ADDRESSES: The meeting will be a webconference. Join online through the link at https://meetings.npfmc.org/ Meeting/Details/2044. Council address: North Pacific Fishery Management Council, 1007 W 3rd Ave., Anchorage, AK 99501–2252; telephone: (907) 271–2809. Instructions for attending the meeting are given under SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION, below. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Dr. Diana Stram, Council staff; phone: (907) 271–2809 and email: diana.stram@ noaa.gov. For technical support, please contact our administrative staff; email: npfmc.admin@noaa.gov. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration AGENCY: SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:20 Apr 21, 2021 Jkt 253001 BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE [RTID 0648–XB012] Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to U.S. Marine Corps Training Exercises at Cherry Point Range Complex, North Carolina National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; request for comments on proposed Renewal incidental harassment authorization. AGENCY: NMFS has received a request from the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) for the Renewal of their currently active incidental harassment authorization (IHA) to take marine mammals incidental to training exercises at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point Range Complex, North Carolina. These activities are identical SUMMARY: PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 to those covered in the currently active authorization, which is effective through May 17, 2021. 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. If issued, the Renewal IHA would be effective for a period of one year, from May 18, 2021, through May 17, 2022. DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than May 7, 2021. ADDRESSES: Comments should be addressed to Jolie Harrison, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service and should be submitted via email to ITP.Laws@ 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, including all attachments, must not exceed a 25megabyte file size. Attachments to 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 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: Ben Laws, 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: www.fisheries.noaa.gov/action/ incidental-take-authorization-usmarine-corps-training-activities-cherrypoint-range-complex. In case of problems accessing these documents, please call the contact listed above. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: E:\FR\FM\22APN1.SGM 22APN1 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 76 / Thursday, April 22, 2021 / Notices 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’’ can be found in section 3 of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1362) and the agency’s regulations at 50 CFR 216.103. The NDAA (Pub. L. 108–136) removed the ‘‘small numbers’’ and ‘‘specified geographical region’’ limitations indicated above and amended the definition of ‘‘harassment’’ as it applies to a ‘‘military readiness activity.’’ The activity for which incidental take of marine mammals is being requested addressed here qualifies as a military readiness activity. 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 1 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 onetime, 1 year Renewal IHA following notice to the public providing an VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:20 Apr 21, 2021 Jkt 253001 additional 15 days for public comments when (1) up to another year of identical, or nearly identical, activities as described in the Description of the Specified Activities and Anticipated Impacts section of this notice is planned or (2) the activities as described in the Description of the Specified Activities and Anticipated Impacts section of this notice would not be completed by the time the IHA expires and a Renewal would allow for completion of the activities beyond that described in the Dates and Duration section of the proposed IHA for the initial IHA, provided all of the following conditions are met: • A request for renewal is received no later than 60 days prior to the needed Renewal IHA effective date (recognizing that the Renewal IHA expiration date cannot extend beyond 1 year from expiration of the initial IHA). • The request for renewal must include the following: (1) An explanation that the activities to be conducted under the requested Renewal IHA are identical to the activities analyzed under the initial IHA, are a subset of the activities, or include changes so minor (e.g., reduction in pile size) that the changes do not affect the previous analyses, mitigation and monitoring requirements, or take estimates (with the exception of reducing the type or amount of take). (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 will remain the same and appropriate, and the findings in the initial IHA remain valid. 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/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 PO 00000 Frm 00018 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 21285 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 IHA) with respect to potential impacts on the human environment. This action is consistent with categories of activities identified in Categorical Exclusion B4 (IHAs 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 proposed IHA Renewal 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 Renewal request. History of Request On September 28, 2019, NMFS received a request from the USMC for an IHA to take marine mammals incidental to training exercises conducted at MCAS Cherry Point Range Complex in North Carolina. Following NMFS’ review of the request, USMC submitted a revised application that was deemed adequate and complete on January 22, 2020. The USMC’s request is for take of bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) by Level A and Level B harassment. We published a notice of a proposed IHA and request for comments on March 16, 2020 (85 FR 14886) and subsequently published the final notice of our issuance of the IHA on May 26, 2020 (85 FR 31462), effective from May 18, 2020, through May 17, 2021. On August 3, 2020, NMFS received a request from USMC requesting a 7-year Letter of Authorization for take of bottlenose dolphin incidental to the same training operations at the MCAS Cherry Point Range Complex. NMFS determined that request to be adequate and complete on September 10, 2020, and published a E:\FR\FM\22APN1.SGM 22APN1 21286 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 76 / Thursday, April 22, 2021 / Notices notice of receipt of the request on October 6, 2020. As NMFS is unable to reach a decision regarding the requested Letter of Authorization prior to expiration of the current IHA, USMC has requested the Renewal IHA proposed here. On March 16, 2021, NMFS received an application for the Renewal of the initial IHA. As described in the request for the Renewal IHA, the activities for which incidental take is requested are identical to those covered in the initial authorization. In order to consider an IHA Renewal, NMFS requires the applicant to provide a preliminary monitoring report 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. NMFS has reviewed USMC’s preliminary monitoring report (available online at: www.fisheries.noaa.gov/action/ incidental-take-authorization-usmarine-corps-training-activities-cherrypoint-range-complex) and has preliminarily determined that USMC’s proposed activities (including mitigation, monitoring, and reporting), estimated incidental take, and anticipated impacts on the affected stocks are the same as those analyzed and authorized through the initial IHA. However, NMFS is requesting comments or additional information that may further inform our proposal to issue an IHA Renewal to USMC. If issued, this IHA Renewal would be valid for a period of 1 year, from May 18, 2021, through May 17, 2022. Description of the Specified Activities and Anticipated Impacts USMC plans to continue conducting training operations at the MCAS Cherry Point Range Complex. The proposed training operations involve the use of live (explosive) and inert (nonexplosive) ordnance and small boat maneuvers. These activities would occur at the in-water bombing targets Brant Island (BT–9) and Rattan Bay (BT–11) located in Pamlico Sound, North Carolina. The anticipated impacts are identical to those described in the initial IHA. NMFS anticipates the take of the same species of marine mammal (bottlenose dolphin) by Level A and Level B harassment incidental to underwater noise resulting from explosive detonations associated with the proposed training activities. The following documents are referenced in this notice and include important supporting information: VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:20 Apr 21, 2021 Jkt 253001 • Initial final IHA (85 FR 31462; May 26, 2020); • Initial proposed IHA (85 FR 14886; March 16, 2020); and • 2020 IHA application, references cited, and previous public comments received (available at www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/ marine-mammal-protection/incidentaltake-authorizations-military-readinessactivities). Detailed Description of the Activity Munitions firing training conducted on the water ranges includes air-tosurface (firing from aircraft to surface water targets) and surface-to-surface (firing from ship or boat to surface targets) firing. The number of sorties that conduct these missions may vary from year to year. The deployment of live ordnance would only occur at BT– 9; all munitions fired at BT–11 would be inert with the exception of a signal charge in practice bombs. Surface-to-Surface Firing Gunnery exercise is the only category of surface-to-surface activity currently conducted at BT–9 and BT–11. During this exercise, a small boat, typically operated by Special Boat Team personnel, uses a machine gun to attack a surface target that simulates another ship, boat, swimmer, floating mine or near-shore land targets. Boats conducting surface-to-surface firing activities will typically use 7.62 millimeter (mm) or .50 caliber (cal) machine guns; 40 mm grenade machine guns; or G911 concussion hand grenades. This exercise is usually a livefire exercise, but blanks may be used so that the boat crews can practice their ship handing skills. BT–9 is the most common target used for gunnery exercises. A target is not used for the gunnery exercises employing the G911 Concussion grenade, as the goal of this specific training is to learn how to throw the grenade into the water. Air-to-Surface Firing There are four categories of air-tosurface activities conducted at the MCAS Cherry Point bombing targets: Mine laying, bombing, gunnery, and rocket exercises. • Mine Laying: These activities involve a fixed-wing aircraft deploying inert mine shapes in an offensive or defensive pattern. Mine laying operations are conducted in the waters around BT–9. Mine laying exercises could include the use of Mark (MK)–62/ 63, MK–76, BDU–45, or Bomb Dummy Unit (BDU)–48 inert training shapes. Each training shape weighs 500/1000, 25, 500, and 10 (pounds (lbs.)) (227/454, PO 00000 Frm 00019 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 11, 227, and 4.5 kilograms (kg)), respectively. • Bombing Exercise: During these exercises, fixed-wing aircraft (two-four craft) deliver bombs against surface maritime targets with the goal of destroying or disabling enemy ships or boats. These exercises occur during day and night. Air-to-surface bombing exercises employ either unguided or precision-guided munitions. Unguided munitions include MK–76 and BDU–45 inert training bombs, as well as the MK– 80 series of inert bombs (no cluster munitions are authorized). Precisionguided munitions consist of laserguided bombs (inert) and laser-guided training rounds (inert). • Gunnery Exercise: Rotary-wing (and tilt-wing) gunnery exercises involve CH–53, UH–1, CH–46, MV–22, or H–60 rotary-wing aircraft with mounted 7.62 mm or .50 cal machine guns. Each gunner expends approximately 800 rounds of 7.62 mm or 200 rounds of .50 cal ammunition per exercise. Fixedwing gunnery exercises involve two aircraft that begin descent to the target from an altitude of approximately 914 meters (m) (3,000 feet (ft)) while still several miles away. Within a distance of 1,219 m (4,000 ft) from the target, each aircraft fires a burst of approximately 30 rounds before descending to a minimum altitude of 305 m (1,000 ft) and then breaks off and repositions for another strafing run. This continues until each aircraft expends its exercise ordnance allowance of approximately 250 rounds. Typically fixed-wing gunnery exercises involve F/A–18 with Vulcan M61A1/ A2, 20 mm cannon, and AV–8 with GAU–12, 25 mm cannon. • Rocket Exercise: Fixed- and rotarywing aircraft crews launch rockets at surface maritime targets during rocket exercises with the goal of destroying or disabling enemy ships or boats. Rocket exercises may occur day or night. These operations employ 2.75-inch (in) and 5in rockets. A detailed description of the training activities for which authorization of take is proposed here may be found in the Federal Register notice of proposed IHA for the 2020 authorization (85 FR 14886; March 16, 2020). The location, timing (e.g., seasonality), and nature of the training activities, including the types and amounts of munitions planned for use under this Renewal IHA, are identical to those analyzed in the initial IHA. The proposed IHA Renewal would be effective for a period of 1 year. Description of Marine Mammals A description of the marine mammals in the area of the activities for which authorization of take is proposed here, E:\FR\FM\22APN1.SGM 22APN1 21287 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 76 / Thursday, April 22, 2021 / Notices including information on abundance, status, distribution, and hearing, may be found in the Federal Register notice for the proposed IHA for the initial authorization (85 FR 14886; March 16, 2020). NMFS has reviewed recent draft Stock Assessment Reports, information on relevant Unusual Mortality Events, and other scientific literature, as well as USMC’s preliminary monitoring report. NMFS has preliminarily determined that there is no new information affecting which species or stocks have the potential to be affected or the pertinent information in the Description of the 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 for the proposed initial IHA (85 FR 14886; March 16, 2020). NMFS has reviewed recent draft Stock Assessment Reports, information on relevant Unusual Mortality Events, and other scientific literature, as well as USMC’s preliminary monitoring report, and determined that that there is no new information affecting 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 notice for the proposed and final initial IHAs (85 FR 14886; March 16, 2020 and 85 FR 31462; May 26, 2020). The information informing the take estimates remains applicable to this authorization, and is unchanged from the previously issued IHA. 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 before, no serious injury or mortality is anticipated to result from USMC’s training activity. We assume for purposes of analysis here that all takes could accrue to any of the three potentially affected stocks of bottlenose dolphin (the only species for which take is expected). TABLE 1—ESTIMATED TAKE PROPOSED FOR AUTHORIZATION Species Level B Harassment Level A Harassment Bottlenose dolphin ................................................................................................................................................... 102 2 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 (85 FR 31462; May 26, 2020), and the discussion of the least practicable adverse impact included in that document remains accurate. All mitigation, monitoring and reporting measures in the initial IHA are carried over to this proposed Renewal IHA and summarized here: Proposed Mitigation Requirements Visual Monitoring—Range operators conduct or direct visual surveys to monitor the target areas for protected species before and after each exercise. Range operation and control personnel monitor the target area through two tower-mounted safety and surveillance cameras. In addition, when small boats are part of planned exercises and already on range, visual checks by boat crew will be performed. The remotely operated range cameras (surveillance cameras) are highresolution cameras that allow viewers to see animals at the surface and breaking the surface (though not underwater). The camera system has night vision (infrared) capabilities. Lenses on the camera system have a focal length of 40 mm to 2200 mm (56x), with view angles of 18 degrees 10′ and 13 degrees 41′ VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:20 Apr 21, 2021 Jkt 253001 respectively. The field of view when zoomed in on the Rattan Bay targets will be 23 (ft) wide by 17 ft high, and on the mouth of Rattan Bay itself 87 ft wide by 66 ft high. Observers using the cameras are able to clearly identify ducks floating on waters near the target. In the event that a marine mammal is sighted within 914 m (3,000 ft) of the BT–9 target area, personnel will declare the area as fouled and cease training exercises. Personnel will commence operations in BT–9 only after the animal has moved 914 m (3,000 ft) away from the target area. For BT–11, in the event that a marine mammal is sighted anywhere within the confines of Rattan Bay, personnel will declare the water-based targets within Rattan Bay as fouled and cease training exercises. Personnel will commence operations in BT–11 only after the animal has moved out of Rattan Bay. Range Sweeps—MCAS Cherry Point contracts range sweeps with commercial support aircraft prior to the commencement of range operations. The pilot and aircrew are trained in spotting objects in the water. The primary goal of the pre-exercise sweep is to ensure that the target area is clear of unauthorized vessels or persons and protected species. Range sweeps will not occur on weekend mornings. The sweeps are flown at 100 to 300 ft (30–90 m) above the water surface, at airspeeds between 60 to 100 knots (69 to 115 miles per hour (mph)). The crew PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 communicates directly with range personnel and can provide immediate notification to range operators of a fouled target area due to the presence of protected species. Aircraft Cold Pass—Standard operating procedures for waterborne targets require the pilot to perform a visual check prior to ordnance delivery to ensure the target area is clear of unauthorized civilian boats and personnel, and protected species. This is referred to as a ‘‘cold’’ or clearing pass. Pilots requesting entry onto the BT–9 and BT–11 airspace must perform a low-altitude, cold first pass (a pass without any release of ordnance) immediately prior to ordnance delivery at the bombing targets both day and night. Pilots will conduct the cold pass with the aircraft (helicopter or fixed-winged) flying straight and level at altitudes of 61 to 914 m (200 to 3,000 ft) over the target area. The viewing angle is approximately 15 degrees. A blind spot exists to the immediate rear of the aircraft. Based upon prevailing visibility, a pilot can see more than one mile forward upon approach. If marine mammals are not present in the target area, the Range Controller may grant ordnance delivery as conditions warrant. Delay of Exercises—The USMC will consider an active range as fouled and not available for use if a marine mammal is present within 914 m (3,000 E:\FR\FM\22APN1.SGM 22APN1 21288 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 76 / Thursday, April 22, 2021 / Notices ft) of the target area at BT–9 or anywhere within Rattan Bay (BT–11). Therefore, if USMC personnel observe a marine mammal within 914 m (3,000 ft) of the target at BT–9 or anywhere within Rattan Bay at BT–11 during the cold pass or from range camera detection, they will delay training until the marine mammal moves beyond and on a path away from 914 m (3,000 ft) from the BT– 9 target or moved out of Rattan Bay at BT–11. This mitigation applies to air-tosurface and surface-to-surface exercises day or night. Approximately 15 percent of training activities take place during nighttime hours. During these training events, monitoring procedures mirror day time operations as range operators first visually search the target area with the high-resolution camera. Pilots will then conduct a low-altitude first cold pass and utilize night vision capabilities to visually check the target area for any surfacing mammals. Vessel Operation—All vessels used during training operations will abide by NMFS’ Southeast Regional Viewing Guidelines designed to prevent harassment to marine mammals. Stranding Network Coordination— The USMC will coordinate with the local NMFS Stranding Coordinator to discuss any unusual marine mammal behavior and any stranding, beached live/dead, or floating marine mammals that may occur at any time during training activities or within 24 hours after completion of training. action. Range staff would relay the sighting information to training Commanders scheduled on the range after the observation. Range personnel will enter the data into the USMC sighting database. Sighting data includes the following (collected to the best of the observer’s ability): (1) Location (either an approximate location or latitude and longitude); (2) the platform that sighted the animal; (3) date and time and whether the sighting was during day or night; (4) how the animal was detected (e.g., range cameras, acoustic monitoring, vessel, aircraft); (5) species; (6) number of animals; (7) the animals’ direction of travel and/or behavior; and (8) weather. Proposed Reporting Requirements The USMC will submit a report to NMFS no later than 90 days following expiration of this IHA. This report must summarize the type and amount of training exercises conducted, all marine mammal observations made during monitoring, and if mitigation measures were implemented. The report will also address the effectiveness of the monitoring plan in detecting marine mammals. Public Comments As noted previously, NMFS published a notice of a proposed IHA (85 FR 14886; March 16, 2020) and solicited public comments on both our proposal to issue the initial IHA for USMC’s training activities and on the potential for a Renewal IHA, should certain Proposed Monitoring Requirements requirements be met. Protected Species Observer Training— All public comments were addressed Operators of small boats, and other in the notice announcing the issuance of personnel monitoring for marine the initial IHA (85 FR 31462; May 26, mammals from watercraft shall be 2020). Below, we describe how we have required to take the U.S. Navy’s Marine addressed, with updated information Species Awareness Training. Pilots where appropriate, any comments conducting range sweeps shall be received that specifically pertain to the instructed on marine mammal Renewal of the initial IHA. Comment: The Marine Mammal observation techniques during routine Commission expressed continuing Range Management Department concern with NMFS’ use of the Renewal briefings. This training would make process. personnel knowledgeable of marine Response: In prior responses to mammals, protected species, and visual comments about IHA Renewals (e.g., 84 cues related to the presence of marine FR 52464; October 02, 2019 and 85 FR mammals and protected species. 53342; August 28, 2020), NMFS has Pre- and Post-Exercise Monitoring— explained how the Renewal process, as The USMC will conduct pre-exercise implemented, is consistent with the monitoring the morning of an exercise statutory requirements contained in and post-exercise monitoring the section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA, morning following an exercise, unless an exercise occurs on a Friday, in which provides additional efficiencies beyond case the post-exercise sweep would take the use of abbreviated notices, and, place the following Monday. If the crew further, promotes NMFS’ goals of improving conservation of marine sights marine mammals during a range mammals and increasing efficiency in sweep, they would collect sighting data the MMPA compliance process. and immediately provide the Therefore, we intend to continue information to range personnel who implementing the Renewal process. would take appropriate management VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:20 Apr 21, 2021 Jkt 253001 PO 00000 Frm 00021 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Preliminary Determinations The activities proposed by USMC are identical to those analyzed in the initial IHA, as are the method of taking and the effects of the action. The potential effects of USMC’s activities are limited to Level A and Level B harassment in the form of auditory injury, temporary threshold shift, and behavioral disturbance. In analyzing the effects of the activities in the initial IHA, NMFS determined that USMC’s activities would have a negligible impact on the affected species or stocks. 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. 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) USMC’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; (4) 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. No incidental take of ESA-listed marine mammal species is expected to result from this activity, and none would be authorized. Therefore, NMFS has determined that consultation under section 7 of the ESA is not required for this action. Proposed Renewal IHA and Request for Public Comment As a result of these preliminary determinations, NMFS proposes to issue a Renewal IHA to USMC for conducting military readiness training activities in Pamlico Sound, North Carolina, for a period of one year, provided the previously described mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements E:\FR\FM\22APN1.SGM 22APN1 Federal Register / Vol. 86, No. 76 / Thursday, April 22, 2021 / Notices are incorporated. A draft of the proposed and final initial IHA can be found at www.fisheries.noaa.gov/ national/marine-mammal-protection/ incidental-take-authorizations-militaryreadiness-activities. We request comment on our analyses, the proposed Renewal IHA, 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: April 19, 2021. Catherine Marzin, Acting Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2021–08345 Filed 4–21–21; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [RTID 0648–XB005] Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Marine Site Characterization Surveys off of New York and New Jersey National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; issuance of Renewal incidental harassment authorization. AGENCY: In accordance with the regulations implementing the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), as amended, notification is hereby given that NMFS has issued a Renewal incidental harassment authorization (IHA) to Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind, LLC (Atlantic Shores) to incidentally harass marine mammals incidental to marine site characterization surveys off the coasts of New York and New Jersey in the area of the Commercial Lease of Submerged Lands for Renewable Energy Development on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS–A 0499) and along potential submarine cable routes to a landfall location in New York or New Jersey. DATES: This Renewal IHA is valid for one year from date of issuance. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jaclyn Daly, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427–8401. Electronic copies of the original application, Renewal request, and supporting documents (including NMFS Federal Register notifications of the original proposed and final authorizations, and the previous IHA), SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:20 Apr 21, 2021 Jkt 253001 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 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’’ 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 onetime one-year Renewal IHA following notice to the public providing an additional 15 days for public comments PO 00000 Frm 00022 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 21289 when (1) up to another year of identical or nearly identical, or nearly identical, activities as described in the Specified Activities section of this document is planned or (2) the activities as described in the Specified Activities section of this document would not be completed by the time the initial IHA expires and a Renewal would allow for completion of the activities beyond that described in the DATES section of the notice of issuance of the initial IHA, provided all of the following conditions are met: • A request for renewal is received no later than 60 days prior to the needed Renewal IHA effective date (recognizing that the Renewal IHA expiration date cannot extend beyond one year from expiration of the initial IHA); • The request for renewal must include the following: (1) An explanation that the activities to be conducted under the requested Renewal IHA are identical to the activities analyzed under the initial IHA, are a subset of the activities, or include changes so minor (e.g., reduction in pile size) that the changes do not affect the previous analyses, mitigation and monitoring requirements, or take estimates (with the exception of reducing the type or amount of take); 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; and • 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 will remain the same and appropriate, and the findings in the initial IHA remain valid. 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/incidentalharassment-authorization-renewals. History of Request On April 10, 2020, NMFS issued an IHA to Atlantic Shores to take marine mammals incidental to marine site characterization surveys off the coast of New York and New Jersey (85 FR 21198), effective from April 20, 2020 E:\FR\FM\22APN1.SGM 22APN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 86, Number 76 (Thursday, April 22, 2021)]
[Notices]
[Pages 21284-21289]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2021-08345]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

[RTID 0648-XB012]


Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; 
Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to U.S. Marine Corps Training 
Exercises at Cherry Point Range Complex, North Carolina

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

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

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

SUMMARY: NMFS has received a request from the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) 
for the Renewal of their currently active incidental harassment 
authorization (IHA) to take marine mammals incidental to training 
exercises at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point Range 
Complex, North Carolina. These activities are identical to those 
covered in the currently active authorization, which is effective 
through May 17, 2021. 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. If issued, the Renewal IHA would be effective for a 
period of one year, from May 18, 2021, through May 17, 2022.

DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than May 7, 
2021.

ADDRESSES: Comments should be addressed to Jolie Harrison, Chief, 
Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, 
National Marine Fisheries Service and should be submitted via email 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, including all attachments, must 
not exceed a 25-megabyte file size. Attachments to 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 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: Ben Laws, 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: 
www.fisheries.noaa.gov/action/incidental-take-authorization-us-marine-corps-training-activities-cherry-point-range-complex. In case of 
problems accessing these documents, please call the contact listed 
above.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

[[Page 21285]]

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'' can be found in section 3 of the MMPA (16 
U.S.C. 1362) and the agency's regulations at 50 CFR 216.103.
    The NDAA (Pub. L. 108-136) removed the ``small numbers'' and 
``specified geographical region'' limitations indicated above and 
amended the definition of ``harassment'' as it applies to a ``military 
readiness activity.'' The activity for which incidental take of marine 
mammals is being requested addressed here qualifies as a military 
readiness activity.
    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 1 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-time, 1 year Renewal IHA following notice to the public providing 
an additional 15 days for public comments when (1) up to another year 
of identical, or nearly identical, activities as described in the 
Description of the Specified Activities and Anticipated Impacts section 
of this notice is planned or (2) the activities as described in the 
Description of the Specified Activities and Anticipated Impacts section 
of this notice would not be completed by the time the IHA expires and a 
Renewal would allow for completion of the activities beyond that 
described in the Dates and Duration section of the proposed IHA for the 
initial IHA, provided all of the following conditions are met:
     A request for renewal is received no later than 60 days 
prior to the needed Renewal IHA effective date (recognizing that the 
Renewal IHA expiration date cannot extend beyond 1 year from expiration 
of the initial IHA).
     The request for renewal must include the following:
    (1) An explanation that the activities to be conducted under the 
requested Renewal IHA are identical to the activities analyzed under 
the initial IHA, are a subset of the activities, or include changes so 
minor (e.g., reduction in pile size) that the changes do not affect the 
previous analyses, mitigation and monitoring requirements, or take 
estimates (with the exception of reducing the type or amount of take).
    (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 will remain the same and 
appropriate, and the findings in the initial IHA remain valid.
    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 IHA) 
with respect to potential impacts on the human environment.
    This action is consistent with categories of activities identified 
in Categorical Exclusion B4 (IHAs 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 proposed IHA Renewal 
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 Renewal request.

History of Request

    On September 28, 2019, NMFS received a request from the USMC for an 
IHA to take marine mammals incidental to training exercises conducted 
at MCAS Cherry Point Range Complex in North Carolina. Following NMFS' 
review of the request, USMC submitted a revised application that was 
deemed adequate and complete on January 22, 2020. The USMC's request is 
for take of bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) by Level A and 
Level B harassment. We published a notice of a proposed IHA and request 
for comments on March 16, 2020 (85 FR 14886) and subsequently published 
the final notice of our issuance of the IHA on May 26, 2020 (85 FR 
31462), effective from May 18, 2020, through May 17, 2021. On August 3, 
2020, NMFS received a request from USMC requesting a 7-year Letter of 
Authorization for take of bottlenose dolphin incidental to the same 
training operations at the MCAS Cherry Point Range Complex. NMFS 
determined that request to be adequate and complete on September 10, 
2020, and published a

[[Page 21286]]

notice of receipt of the request on October 6, 2020. As NMFS is unable 
to reach a decision regarding the requested Letter of Authorization 
prior to expiration of the current IHA, USMC has requested the Renewal 
IHA proposed here.
    On March 16, 2021, NMFS received an application for the Renewal of 
the initial IHA. As described in the request for the Renewal IHA, the 
activities for which incidental take is requested are identical to 
those covered in the initial authorization. In order to consider an IHA 
Renewal, NMFS requires the applicant to provide a preliminary 
monitoring report 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. NMFS has reviewed 
USMC's preliminary monitoring report (available online at: 
www.fisheries.noaa.gov/action/incidental-take-authorization-us-marine-corps-training-activities-cherry-point-range-complex) and has 
preliminarily determined that USMC's proposed activities (including 
mitigation, monitoring, and reporting), estimated incidental take, and 
anticipated impacts on the affected stocks are the same as those 
analyzed and authorized through the initial IHA. However, NMFS is 
requesting comments or additional information that may further inform 
our proposal to issue an IHA Renewal to USMC. If issued, this IHA 
Renewal would be valid for a period of 1 year, from May 18, 2021, 
through May 17, 2022.

Description of the Specified Activities and Anticipated Impacts

    USMC plans to continue conducting training operations at the MCAS 
Cherry Point Range Complex. The proposed training operations involve 
the use of live (explosive) and inert (non-explosive) ordnance and 
small boat maneuvers. These activities would occur at the in-water 
bombing targets Brant Island (BT-9) and Rattan Bay (BT-11) located in 
Pamlico Sound, North Carolina.
    The anticipated impacts are identical to those described in the 
initial IHA. NMFS anticipates the take of the same species of marine 
mammal (bottlenose dolphin) by Level A and Level B harassment 
incidental to underwater noise resulting from explosive detonations 
associated with the proposed training activities.
    The following documents are referenced in this notice and include 
important supporting information:
     Initial final IHA (85 FR 31462; May 26, 2020);
     Initial proposed IHA (85 FR 14886; March 16, 2020); and
     2020 IHA application, references cited, and previous 
public comments received (available at www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/incidental-take-authorizations-military-readiness-activities).

Detailed Description of the Activity

    Munitions firing training conducted on the water ranges includes 
air-to-surface (firing from aircraft to surface water targets) and 
surface-to-surface (firing from ship or boat to surface targets) 
firing. The number of sorties that conduct these missions may vary from 
year to year. The deployment of live ordnance would only occur at BT-9; 
all munitions fired at BT-11 would be inert with the exception of a 
signal charge in practice bombs.

Surface-to-Surface Firing

    Gunnery exercise is the only category of surface-to-surface 
activity currently conducted at BT-9 and BT-11. During this exercise, a 
small boat, typically operated by Special Boat Team personnel, uses a 
machine gun to attack a surface target that simulates another ship, 
boat, swimmer, floating mine or near-shore land targets. Boats 
conducting surface-to-surface firing activities will typically use 7.62 
millimeter (mm) or .50 caliber (cal) machine guns; 40 mm grenade 
machine guns; or G911 concussion hand grenades. This exercise is 
usually a live-fire exercise, but blanks may be used so that the boat 
crews can practice their ship handing skills. BT-9 is the most common 
target used for gunnery exercises. A target is not used for the gunnery 
exercises employing the G911 Concussion grenade, as the goal of this 
specific training is to learn how to throw the grenade into the water.

Air-to-Surface Firing

    There are four categories of air-to-surface activities conducted at 
the MCAS Cherry Point bombing targets: Mine laying, bombing, gunnery, 
and rocket exercises.
     Mine Laying: These activities involve a fixed-wing 
aircraft deploying inert mine shapes in an offensive or defensive 
pattern. Mine laying operations are conducted in the waters around BT-
9. Mine laying exercises could include the use of Mark (MK)-62/63, MK-
76, BDU-45, or Bomb Dummy Unit (BDU)-48 inert training shapes. Each 
training shape weighs 500/1000, 25, 500, and 10 (pounds (lbs.)) (227/
454, 11, 227, and 4.5 kilograms (kg)), respectively.
     Bombing Exercise: During these exercises, fixed-wing 
aircraft (two-four craft) deliver bombs against surface maritime 
targets with the goal of destroying or disabling enemy ships or boats. 
These exercises occur during day and night. Air-to-surface bombing 
exercises employ either unguided or precision-guided munitions. 
Unguided munitions include MK-76 and BDU-45 inert training bombs, as 
well as the MK-80 series of inert bombs (no cluster munitions are 
authorized). Precision-guided munitions consist of laser-guided bombs 
(inert) and laser-guided training rounds (inert).
     Gunnery Exercise: Rotary-wing (and tilt-wing) gunnery 
exercises involve CH-53, UH-1, CH-46, MV-22, or H-60 rotary-wing 
aircraft with mounted 7.62 mm or .50 cal machine guns. Each gunner 
expends approximately 800 rounds of 7.62 mm or 200 rounds of .50 cal 
ammunition per exercise. Fixed-wing gunnery exercises involve two 
aircraft that begin descent to the target from an altitude of 
approximately 914 meters (m) (3,000 feet (ft)) while still several 
miles away. Within a distance of 1,219 m (4,000 ft) from the target, 
each aircraft fires a burst of approximately 30 rounds before 
descending to a minimum altitude of 305 m (1,000 ft) and then breaks 
off and repositions for another strafing run. This continues until each 
aircraft expends its exercise ordnance allowance of approximately 250 
rounds. Typically fixed-wing gunnery exercises involve F/A-18 with 
Vulcan M61A1/A2, 20 mm cannon, and AV-8 with GAU-12, 25 mm cannon.
     Rocket Exercise: Fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft crews 
launch rockets at surface maritime targets during rocket exercises with 
the goal of destroying or disabling enemy ships or boats. Rocket 
exercises may occur day or night. These operations employ 2.75-inch 
(in) and 5-in rockets.
    A detailed description of the training activities for which 
authorization of take is proposed here may be found in the Federal 
Register notice of proposed IHA for the 2020 authorization (85 FR 
14886; March 16, 2020). The location, timing (e.g., seasonality), and 
nature of the training activities, including the types and amounts of 
munitions planned for use under this Renewal IHA, are identical to 
those analyzed in the initial IHA. The proposed IHA Renewal would be 
effective for a period of 1 year.

Description of Marine Mammals

    A description of the marine mammals in the area of the activities 
for which authorization of take is proposed here,

[[Page 21287]]

including information on abundance, status, distribution, and hearing, 
may be found in the Federal Register notice for the proposed IHA for 
the initial authorization (85 FR 14886; March 16, 2020). NMFS has 
reviewed recent draft Stock Assessment Reports, information on relevant 
Unusual Mortality Events, and other scientific literature, as well as 
USMC's preliminary monitoring report. NMFS has preliminarily determined 
that there is no new information affecting which species or stocks have 
the potential to be affected or the pertinent information in the 
Description of the 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 for the 
proposed initial IHA (85 FR 14886; March 16, 2020). NMFS has reviewed 
recent draft Stock Assessment Reports, information on relevant Unusual 
Mortality Events, and other scientific literature, as well as USMC's 
preliminary monitoring report, and determined that that there is no new 
information affecting 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 
notice for the proposed and final initial IHAs (85 FR 14886; March 16, 
2020 and 85 FR 31462; May 26, 2020). The information informing the take 
estimates remains applicable to this authorization, and is unchanged 
from the previously issued IHA. 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 before, 
no serious injury or mortality is anticipated to result from USMC's 
training activity. We assume for purposes of analysis here that all 
takes could accrue to any of the three potentially affected stocks of 
bottlenose dolphin (the only species for which take is expected).

           Table 1--Estimated Take Proposed for Authorization
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                            Level B          Level A
                Species                    Harassment       Harassment
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Bottlenose dolphin....................             102                2
------------------------------------------------------------------------

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 (85 FR 31462; May 26, 2020), and the discussion of the 
least practicable adverse impact included in that document remains 
accurate. All mitigation, monitoring and reporting measures in the 
initial IHA are carried over to this proposed Renewal IHA and 
summarized here:
Proposed Mitigation Requirements
    Visual Monitoring--Range operators conduct or direct visual surveys 
to monitor the target areas for protected species before and after each 
exercise. Range operation and control personnel monitor the target area 
through two tower-mounted safety and surveillance cameras. In addition, 
when small boats are part of planned exercises and already on range, 
visual checks by boat crew will be performed.
    The remotely operated range cameras (surveillance cameras) are 
high-resolution cameras that allow viewers to see animals at the 
surface and breaking the surface (though not underwater). The camera 
system has night vision (infrared) capabilities. Lenses on the camera 
system have a focal length of 40 mm to 2200 mm (56x), with view angles 
of 18 degrees 10' and 13 degrees 41' respectively. The field of view 
when zoomed in on the Rattan Bay targets will be 23 (ft) wide by 17 ft 
high, and on the mouth of Rattan Bay itself 87 ft wide by 66 ft high. 
Observers using the cameras are able to clearly identify ducks floating 
on waters near the target.
    In the event that a marine mammal is sighted within 914 m (3,000 
ft) of the BT-9 target area, personnel will declare the area as fouled 
and cease training exercises. Personnel will commence operations in BT-
9 only after the animal has moved 914 m (3,000 ft) away from the target 
area.
    For BT-11, in the event that a marine mammal is sighted anywhere 
within the confines of Rattan Bay, personnel will declare the water-
based targets within Rattan Bay as fouled and cease training exercises. 
Personnel will commence operations in BT-11 only after the animal has 
moved out of Rattan Bay.
    Range Sweeps--MCAS Cherry Point contracts range sweeps with 
commercial support aircraft prior to the commencement of range 
operations. The pilot and aircrew are trained in spotting objects in 
the water. The primary goal of the pre-exercise sweep is to ensure that 
the target area is clear of unauthorized vessels or persons and 
protected species. Range sweeps will not occur on weekend mornings.
    The sweeps are flown at 100 to 300 ft (30-90 m) above the water 
surface, at airspeeds between 60 to 100 knots (69 to 115 miles per hour 
(mph)). The crew communicates directly with range personnel and can 
provide immediate notification to range operators of a fouled target 
area due to the presence of protected species.
    Aircraft Cold Pass--Standard operating procedures for waterborne 
targets require the pilot to perform a visual check prior to ordnance 
delivery to ensure the target area is clear of unauthorized civilian 
boats and personnel, and protected species. This is referred to as a 
``cold'' or clearing pass. Pilots requesting entry onto the BT-9 and 
BT-11 airspace must perform a low-altitude, cold first pass (a pass 
without any release of ordnance) immediately prior to ordnance delivery 
at the bombing targets both day and night.
    Pilots will conduct the cold pass with the aircraft (helicopter or 
fixed-winged) flying straight and level at altitudes of 61 to 914 m 
(200 to 3,000 ft) over the target area. The viewing angle is 
approximately 15 degrees. A blind spot exists to the immediate rear of 
the aircraft. Based upon prevailing visibility, a pilot can see more 
than one mile forward upon approach. If marine mammals are not present 
in the target area, the Range Controller may grant ordnance delivery as 
conditions warrant.
    Delay of Exercises--The USMC will consider an active range as 
fouled and not available for use if a marine mammal is present within 
914 m (3,000

[[Page 21288]]

ft) of the target area at BT-9 or anywhere within Rattan Bay (BT-11). 
Therefore, if USMC personnel observe a marine mammal within 914 m 
(3,000 ft) of the target at BT-9 or anywhere within Rattan Bay at BT-11 
during the cold pass or from range camera detection, they will delay 
training until the marine mammal moves beyond and on a path away from 
914 m (3,000 ft) from the BT-9 target or moved out of Rattan Bay at BT-
11. This mitigation applies to air-to-surface and surface-to-surface 
exercises day or night.
    Approximately 15 percent of training activities take place during 
nighttime hours. During these training events, monitoring procedures 
mirror day time operations as range operators first visually search the 
target area with the high-resolution camera. Pilots will then conduct a 
low-altitude first cold pass and utilize night vision capabilities to 
visually check the target area for any surfacing mammals.
    Vessel Operation--All vessels used during training operations will 
abide by NMFS' Southeast Regional Viewing Guidelines designed to 
prevent harassment to marine mammals.
    Stranding Network Coordination--The USMC will coordinate with the 
local NMFS Stranding Coordinator to discuss any unusual marine mammal 
behavior and any stranding, beached live/dead, or floating marine 
mammals that may occur at any time during training activities or within 
24 hours after completion of training.
Proposed Monitoring Requirements
    Protected Species Observer Training--Operators of small boats, and 
other personnel monitoring for marine mammals from watercraft shall be 
required to take the U.S. Navy's Marine Species Awareness Training. 
Pilots conducting range sweeps shall be instructed on marine mammal 
observation techniques during routine Range Management Department 
briefings. This training would make personnel knowledgeable of marine 
mammals, protected species, and visual cues related to the presence of 
marine mammals and protected species.
    Pre- and Post-Exercise Monitoring--The USMC will conduct pre-
exercise monitoring the morning of an exercise and post-exercise 
monitoring the morning following an exercise, unless an exercise occurs 
on a Friday, in which case the post-exercise sweep would take place the 
following Monday. If the crew sights marine mammals during a range 
sweep, they would collect sighting data and immediately provide the 
information to range personnel who would take appropriate management 
action. Range staff would relay the sighting information to training 
Commanders scheduled on the range after the observation. Range 
personnel will enter the data into the USMC sighting database. Sighting 
data includes the following (collected to the best of the observer's 
ability): (1) Location (either an approximate location or latitude and 
longitude); (2) the platform that sighted the animal; (3) date and time 
and whether the sighting was during day or night; (4) how the animal 
was detected (e.g., range cameras, acoustic monitoring, vessel, 
aircraft); (5) species; (6) number of animals; (7) the animals' 
direction of travel and/or behavior; and (8) weather.
Proposed Reporting Requirements
    The USMC will submit a report to NMFS no later than 90 days 
following expiration of this IHA. This report must summarize the type 
and amount of training exercises conducted, all marine mammal 
observations made during monitoring, and if mitigation measures were 
implemented. The report will also address the effectiveness of the 
monitoring plan in detecting marine mammals.

Public Comments

    As noted previously, NMFS published a notice of a proposed IHA (85 
FR 14886; March 16, 2020) and solicited public comments on both our 
proposal to issue the initial IHA for USMC's training activities and on 
the potential for a Renewal IHA, should certain requirements be met.
    All public comments were addressed in the notice announcing the 
issuance of the initial IHA (85 FR 31462; May 26, 2020). Below, we 
describe how we have addressed, with updated information where 
appropriate, any comments received that specifically pertain to the 
Renewal of the initial IHA.
    Comment: The Marine Mammal Commission expressed continuing concern 
with NMFS' use of the Renewal process.
    Response: In prior responses to comments about IHA Renewals (e.g., 
84 FR 52464; October 02, 2019 and 85 FR 53342; August 28, 2020), NMFS 
has explained how the Renewal process, as implemented, is consistent 
with the statutory requirements contained in section 101(a)(5)(D) of 
the MMPA, provides additional efficiencies beyond the use of 
abbreviated notices, and, further, promotes NMFS' goals of improving 
conservation of marine mammals and increasing efficiency in the MMPA 
compliance process. Therefore, we intend to continue implementing the 
Renewal process.

Preliminary Determinations

    The activities proposed by USMC are identical to those analyzed in 
the initial IHA, as are the method of taking and the effects of the 
action. The potential effects of USMC's activities are limited to Level 
A and Level B harassment in the form of auditory injury, temporary 
threshold shift, and behavioral disturbance. In analyzing the effects 
of the activities in the initial IHA, NMFS determined that USMC's 
activities would have a negligible impact on the affected species or 
stocks. 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. 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) USMC'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; (4) 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. No incidental take of ESA-listed marine mammal 
species is expected to result from this activity, and none would be 
authorized. Therefore, NMFS has determined that consultation under 
section 7 of the ESA is not required for this action.

Proposed Renewal IHA and Request for Public Comment

    As a result of these preliminary determinations, NMFS proposes to 
issue a Renewal IHA to USMC for conducting military readiness training 
activities in Pamlico Sound, North Carolina, for a period of one year, 
provided the previously described mitigation, monitoring, and reporting 
requirements

[[Page 21289]]

are incorporated. A draft of the proposed and final initial IHA can be 
found at www.fisheries.noaa.gov/national/marine-mammal-protection/incidental-take-authorizations-military-readiness-activities. We 
request comment on our analyses, the proposed Renewal IHA, 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: April 19, 2021.
Catherine Marzin,
Acting Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2021-08345 Filed 4-21-21; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P