[Federal Register Volume 69, Number 2 (Monday, January 5, 2004)]
[Notices]
[Pages 330-332]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 04-73]


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DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

Department of the Army; Corps of Engineers


Intent [To Prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement] 
for a Proposed Introduction of the Oyster Species, Crassostrea 
Ariakensis, Into the Tidal Waters of Maryland and Virginia To Establish 
a Naturalized, Reproducing, and Self-Sustaining Population of This 
Oyster Species

AGENCY: Department of the Army, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, DoD.

ACTION: Notice of intent.

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SUMMARY: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) is the lead Federal 
agency. The Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) on behalf of 
the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Maryland Department of Natural 
Resources (MDNR) on behalf of the State of Maryland are the lead state 
agencies (States). The lead agencies, in cooperation with the U.S. 
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Oceanographic and 
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service (FWS), announce their intent to prepare a programmatic 
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to evaluate alternative approaches 
to increasing oyster populations into the tidal waters of Maryland and 
Virginia (Chesapeake and coastal bays) to provide the following 
benefits. The benefits of a rehabilitated oyster resource include the 
potential for improved water quality, creation of aquatic habitat, and 
the re-establishment of an economically viable oyster industry 
preserving the region's culture associated with working waterman.
    The proposed action to be evaluated in the EIS will be a proposal 
by the states to introduce the Asian oyster species, Crassostrea 
ariakensis, propagated from existing 3rd or later generation of the 
Oregon stock of this species, into the tidal waters of Maryland and 
Virginia to increase oyster populations. The States and the Corps will 
continue native oyster (C. virginica) restoration efforts throughout 
the Chesapeake Bay.

DATES: MEETINGS: Public scoping meetings will be held January 26, 2004, 
7 p.m. at MD DNR, Tawes Building, Annapolis, MD 21401 and January 28, 
2004 at 6 p.m. at the VMRC, 2600 Washington Avenue, Newport News, VA.
    COMMENTS: Submit comments by February 20, 2004.

ADDRESSES: Written comments on the scope of the programmatic EIS or 
request for information should be sent to Mr. Peter Kube at the U.S. 
Army Corps of Engineers, Regulatory Branch, 803 Front Street, Norfolk, 
VA 23510 or sent via e-mail at peter.r.kube@usace.army.mil.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Questions about the proposed action 
and Draft EIS can be answered by Mr. Peter Kube at the Corps, (757) 
441-7504, Mr. Thomas O'Connell, Fisheries Service, MDNR, 410-260-8261, 
or Mr. Jack Travelstead, VMRC, (757) 247-2247.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Proposed Action

    The State of Maryland and Commonwealth of Virginia propose to 
introduce the oyster species, Crassostrea ariakensis, into the tidal 
waters of Maryland and Virginia, beginning in 2005 or as soon as a 
rigorous, scientifically based EIS can be undertaken and a Record of 
Decision prepared, for the purpose of establishing a naturalized, 
reproducing, and self-sustaining population of this oyster species. 
Diploid C. ariakensis would be propagated from existing 3rd or later 
generation of the Oregon stock of this species, in accordance with the

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International Council for the Exploration of the Sea's (ICES) 1994 Code 
of Practices on the Introductions and Transfers of Marine Organisms. 
Deployment of diploid C. ariakensis from hatcheries is proposed to 
occur first on State designated sanctuaries separate from native oyster 
restoration projects, where harvesting would be prohibited permanently, 
and then on harvest reserve and special management areas where only 
selective harvesting would be allowed.
    The States further propose to continue native oyster (C. virginica) 
restoration efforts with the Corps throughout the Chesapeake Bay by 
using the best available restoration strategies and stock assessment 
techniques, including the maintenance and expansion of the existing 
network of sanctuaries and harvest reserves, enhancing reproduction 
through broodstock enhancement, and supplementing natural recruitment 
of this species with hatchery produced spat.
    The objective of this proposal and continuing restoration of native 
populations is to establish a self-sustaining oyster population that 
reaches a level of abundance in Chesapeake Bay that would support 
sustainable harvests comparable to harvest levels during the period 
1920-1970. The benefits of a rehabilitated oyster population may 
include: Improving water clarity by filtering phytoplankton, suspended 
solids and organic particles from the water, providing important reef 
habitat for oysters, finfish, crabs and a diversity of other species; 
enhancing essential fish habitat, rehabilitating an oyster population 
capable of supporting an economically viable oyster industry, and 
preserving the Chesapeake Bay's communities and culture associated with 
working waterman.

Purpose and Need

    Oysters are a keystone species in the Bay ecosystem. Oyster 
management in Chesapeake Bay has failed to prevent native oyster 
populations from declining to less than one percent of their historic 
levels in the face of harvest pressures, habitat loss and the two 
parasites MSX and Dermo. A need exists to restore the ecological role 
of oysters in the Bay and the economic benefits of a commercial fishery 
through native oyster restoration and/or an ecologically compatible 
non-native oyster species that would restore these lost functions. 
Introduction of C. ariakensis would only be attempted if it is 
determined that the benefits of the introduction would outweigh 
negative impacts, giving consideration to effects on the ecology of the 
Bay, potential for introduction of new diseases or parasites, 
restoration of native oysters, potential for C. ariakensis to become 
self-sustaining, and alternatives to the proposed action.

Preliminary Alternatives to the Proposed Action

    It is anticipated that the following alternatives to the proposed 
action will be evaluated in the EIS:
    Alternative 1--No Action--Not taking the proposed action: Continue 
Maryland's present Oyster Restoration and Repletion Programs, and 
Virginia's Oyster Restoration Program under current program and 
resource management policies and available funding using the best 
available restoration strategies and stock assessment techniques.
    Alternative 2--Expand native Oyster Restoration Program: Expand, 
improve, and accelerate Maryland's Oyster Restoration and Repletion 
Programs, and Virginia's Oyster Restoration Program in collaboration 
with Federal and private partners. This work would include, but not be 
limited to an assessment of clutch limitations and long-term solutions 
for this problem and the development, production, and deployment of 
large quantities of disease resistant strain(s) of C. Virginia (Eastern 
Oyster) for broodstock enhancement.
    Alternative 3--Harvest Moratorium: Implement a temporary harvest 
moratorium on native oysters and an oyster industry compensation (buy-
out) program in Maryland and Virginia or a program under which 
displaced oystermen are offered on-water work in a restoration program.
    Alternative 4--Aquaculture: Establish and/or expand State-assisted, 
managed or regulated aquaculture operations in Maryland and Virginia 
using the native oyster species.
    Alternative 5--Aquaculture: Establish State-assisted, managed or 
regulated aquaculture operations in Maryland and Virginia using 
suitable triploid, non-native oyster species.
    Alternative 6--Introduce and Propagate and Alternative Oyster 
Species (Other than C. ariakensis) or an Alternative Strain of C. 
ariakensis: Introduce and propagate in the State-sponsored, managed or 
regulated oyster restoration programs in Maryland and Virginia, a 
disease resistant oyster species other than C. ariakensis, or an 
alternative strain of C. ariakensis, from waters outside the U.S. in 
accordance with the ICES 1994 Code of Practices on the Introductions 
and Transfers of Marine Organisms.
    Alternative 7--Combination of Alternatives

Programmatic EIS Process

Scoping Process

    The programmatic EIS process begins with the publication of this 
notice of intent. This public notice establishes the beginning of the 
scoping period. The scoping period will continue for 3 weeks after the 
last public scoping meeting.
    The lead and cooperating agencies will conduct an open scoping and 
public involvement process during the development of the programmatic 
EIS. The scoping process is the key to preparing a concise EIS an 
clarifying the significant issues to be analyzed in depth. Public 
concerns on issues, studies needed, alternatives to be examined, 
procedures and other related matters would be addressed during scoping. 
The purpose of the scoping meetings is to assist the Corps, MDNR, VMRC, 
NOAA, EPA, and FWS representatives in defining the issues that will be 
evaluated in the EIS.
    The lead agencies invite Federal agencies, State and local 
governments, Native American Tribes and the public to comment on the 
scope of this programmatic EIS. The lead agencies will hold scoping 
meetings to receive public input on the alternatives to the proposed 
action and the range of issues to be addressed in the programmatic EIS. 
Written scoping comments will be considered in the preparation of the 
draft programmatic EIS (see DATES). Comments postmarked or received by 
e-mail after specified date will be considered to the extent 
practicable.
    Two public scoping meetings will be held at the locations indicated 
above (see DATES). Further information will be published in local 
newspapers in advance of the meetings. Any necessary changes will be 
announced in the local media.
    Each public scoping meeting will begin with a briefing on the state 
of C. virginica in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, the status 
of restoration efforts, preliminary programmatic EIS alternatives, and 
the proposed action of the programmatic EIS. Copies of the meeting 
handouts will be available to anyone unable to attend by contacting 
MDNR or VMRC as described above under ADDRESSES. Following the initial 
presentation, MDNR, VMRC, and Corps representatives will answer scope-
related questions and accept comments.

EIS Preparation

    Development of the draft programmatic EIS will begin after the

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close of the public scoping period. Technical and advisory support will 
be obtained from lead and cooperating agencies and organizations. 
Preparation of the programmatic EIS will also be supported by 
concurrent research sponsored by the MDNR and NOAA and by others.
    A scientific advisory panel will advise on the research that is 
essential for the EIS, appropriate analytical methods for use of 
existing data, quality assurance for data, analytical results to be 
used in the EIS, and comment on the general sufficiency of the 
scientific research used in the EIS.

Schedule

    Subject to the availability of funds, the existing schedule 
anticipates an expedited process to produce a programmatic EIS leading 
to a record of decision. The draft programmatic EIS is expected to be 
available for public review in the spring of 2005 or as quickly as a 
rigorous, scientifically based EIS can be produced. Public meetings may 
be held following the notice of availability of the draft programmatic 
EIS. Following the Record of Decision (ROD) of the Programmatic EIS, 
site-specific deployment of non-native oysters may be subject to 
regulatory requirements of the Rivers and Harbors Act and the Clean 
Water Act, National Environmental p act NEPA.

Issues To Be Addressed

    The following issues have been identified for analysis in the 
programmatic EIS. The list is tentative and intended to facilitate 
public comment on the scope of the programmatic EIS. The lead agencies 
specifically invite suggestions for the addition or deletion of items 
on this list:
    (1) Pathogen disease and virus risk analysis associated with 
introduction of a non-native oyster;
    (2) Life history and biology of Crassostrea ariakensis;
    (3) Socioeconomic effects toward commercial and recreational 
activities in the Chesapeake Bay;
    (4) Production of a comprehensive risk assessment and oyster 
growth, mortality and demographic model;
    (5) Development of a model to determine the specific locations and 
scenarios and the outcome of introduction in these specific locations;
    (6) Development of management practices for an introduction of a 
non-native species and study of the habitat requirements of the Asian 
oyster;
    (7) Other appropriate studies identified by the National Academy of 
Sciences in its report Non-Native Oysters in the Chesapeake Bay (NRC, 
2003);
    (8) Development of a model for the expansion, improvement and 
acceleration of oyster restoration programs in Maryland and Virginia, 
including locations, scenarios and outcomes of expansions in specific 
locations.
    (9) Development of management practices for implementation of 
expanded, improved and accelerated oyster restoration programs in 
Maryland and Virginia, and;
    (10) Any other issues identified as part of the public scoping 
process.

Other Environmental Review and Consultations

    To the fullest extent possible, the programmatic EIS will be 
integrated with analysis and consultation required by the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973, as amended (Pub. L. 93-205; 16 U.S.C. 1532 et 
seq.); the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, as 
amended (Pub. L. 94-265; 16 U.S.C. 1801, et seq.), the National 
Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended (Pub. L. 89-655; 16 
U.S.C. 470. et seq.); the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act of 1958, 
as amended (Pub. L. 85-624; 16 U.S.C., et seq.); the Coastal Zone 
Management Act of 1972, as amended (Pub. L. 92-583; 16 U.S.C. 1451, et 
seq.); and the Clean Water Act of 1977, as amended (Pub. L. 92-500; 33 
U.S.C. 1251, et seq.); Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 
1899, 33 U.S.C. 403 et seq.); Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention 
and Control Act of 1990, as amended (16 U.S.C. 4701 et seq.); Lacey 
Act, as amended (18 U.S.C. 42), The 1993 Chesapeake Bay Policy for the 
Introduction of Non-Indigenous Aquatic Species and applicable and 
appropriate Executive Orders.

Yvonne J. Prettyman-Beck,
Colonel, Corps of Engineers Commanding.
[FR Doc. 04-73 Filed 1-2-04; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3710-EN-M