Taking and Importing Marine Mammals: U.S. Navy Training in the Virginia Capes Range Complex and Jacksonville Range Complex
In June 2009, pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS issued two 5-year final regulations to govern the unintentional taking of marine mammals incidental to Navy training activities conducted in the Virginia Capes (VACAPES) and Jacksonville (JAX) range complexes off the East Coast of the U.S. These regulations, which allow for the issuance of ``Letters of Authorization'' (LOAs) for the incidental take of marine mammals during the specified activities and described timeframes, prescribe the permissible methods of taking and other means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact on marine mammal species or stocks and their habitat, as well as requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such taking. These rules quantify the specific amounts of training activities involving underwater detonations that will occur over the course of the 5-year rules, and indicate that marine mammal take may only be authorized in an LOA incidental to the types and amounts of training activities and explosives described. No language was included expressly allowing for deviation from those precise levels of training activities and amounts of explosives even if the total number of takes remain within the analyzed and authorized limits. Since the issuance of these rules, the Navy realized that their evolving training programs, which are linked to real world events, necessitate greater flexibility in the types and amounts of training events and explosives that they conduct and use. In response to this need, NMFS has, through this interim final rule, amended the VACAPES and JAX regulations to explicitly allow for greater flexibility in the types and amount of training activities that they conduct and explosives that they use.