[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 15 (Tuesday, January 24, 2012)]
[Notices]
[Pages 3450-3453]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-1344]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XA937


Guidelines for Assessing Marine Mammal Stocks

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

ACTION: Notice of availability; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: NMFS solicits public comments on draft revisions to the 
guidelines for preparing marine mammal stock assessment reports (SARs).

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DATES: Comments must be received by March 26, 2012.

ADDRESSES: The following draft revisions to the guidelines for 
preparing marine mammal stock assessment reports are contained in full 
in Appendix IV of the Guidelines for Assessing Marine Mammal Stocks: 
Report of the GAMMS III Workshop; the workshop report is available in 
electronic form via the Internet at  http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/. 
Copies of the workshop report may be requested from Shannon Bettridge, 
Office of Protected Resources, (301) 427-8402, 
Shannon.Bettridge@noaa.gov.
    You may submit comments, identified by [NOAA-NMFS-2012-0007], by 
any of the following methods:
    Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public comments via 
the Federal eRulemaking Portal http://www.regulations.gov.
    Mail: Send comments to: Chief, Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle 
Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine 
Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910, 
Attn: GAMMS.
    Instructions: All comments received are a part of the public record 
and will generally be posted to http://www.regulations.gov without 
change. All Personal Identifying Information (for example, name, 
address, etc.) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publicly 
accessible. Do not submit Confidential Business Information or 
otherwise sensitive or protected information.
    NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter N/A in the required 
fields, if you wish to remain anonymous). You may submit attachments to 
electronic comments in Microsoft Word, Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF 
file formats only.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Shannon Bettridge, Office of Protected 
Resources, (301) 427-8402, Shannon.Bettridge@noaa.gov; Jeffrey Moore, 
(858) 546-7000, jeff.e.moore@noaa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Background

    Section 117 of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) (16 U.S.C. 
1361 et seq.) requires NMFS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 
(FWS) to prepare stock assessments for each stock of marine mammals 
occurring in waters under the jurisdiction of the United States. These 
reports must contain information regarding the distribution and 
abundance of the stock, population growth rates and trends, estimates 
of annual human-caused mortality and serious injury from all sources, 
descriptions of the fisheries with which the stock interacts, and the 
status of the stock. Initial stock assessment reports (SARs, or 
Reports) were completed in 1995.
    NMFS convened a workshop in June 1994, including representatives 
from NMFS, FWS, and the Marine Mammal Commission (Commission), to 
prepare draft guidelines for preparing SARs. The report of this 
workshop (Barlow et al.,1995) included the guidelines for preparing 
SARs and a summary of the discussions upon which the guidelines were 
based. The draft guidelines were made available, along with the initial 
draft SARs, for public review and comment (59 FR 40527, August 9, 1994) 
and were finalized August 25, 1995 (60 FR 44308).
    In 1996, NMFS convened a second workshop (referred to as the 
Guidelines for Assessing Marine Mammal Stocks, or ``GAMMS,'' workshop) 
to review the guidelines and to recommend changes to them, if 
appropriate. Workshop participants included representatives from NMFS, 
FWS, the Commission, and the three regional scientific review groups 
(SRGs). The report of that workshop (Wade and Angliss, 1997) summarized 
the discussion at the workshop and contained revised guidelines. The 
revised guidelines represented minor changes from the initial version. 
The revised guidelines were made available for public review and 
comment along with revised stock assessment reports on January 21, 1997 
(62 FR 3005) and later finalized.
    In September 2003, NMFS again convened a workshop (referred to as 
GAMMS II) to review guidelines for SARs and again recommend minor 
changes to the guidelines. Participants at the workshop included 
representatives of NMFS, FWS, the Commission, and the regional SRGs. 
Changes to the guidelines resulting from the 2003 workshop were 
directed primarily toward identifying population stocks and estimating 
PBR for declining stocks of marine mammals. The revised guidelines were 
made available for public review and comment on November 18, 2004 (69 
FR 67541), and the revisions were completed and finalized on June 20, 
2005 (70 FR 35397).
    In February 2011, NMFS convened another workshop (referred to as 
GAMMS III) to review guidelines for preparing SARs and again recommends 
changes to the guidelines. Participants at the workshop included 
representatives from NMFS, FWS, the Commission, and the three regional 
SRGs. NMFS solicits public comments on the draft revisions to the 
guidelines for preparing SARs, contained in Appendix IV of the GAMMS 
III workshop report. The GAMMS III workshop report is available at 
http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/. Below are brief summaries of the 
recommended revisions to the guidelines based on the most recent 
workshop.

Revisions to Guidelines

    The objectives of the GAMMS III workshop were to (1) consider 
methods for assessing stock status (i.e., how to apply the Potential 
Biological Removal framework, or PBR) when abundance data are outdated, 
nonexistent, or only partially available; (2) develop policies on stock 
identification and application of PBR to small stocks, transboundary 
stocks, and situations where stocks mix; and (3) develop consistent 
national approaches to a variety of other issues, including reporting 
mortality and serious injury (M&SI) information in assessments. Nine 
specific topics were discussed at the workshop. The deliberations of 
these nine topics resulted in a series of suggested modifications to 
the current Report guidelines (NMFS, 2005). The report of the GAMMS III 
workshop includes summaries of the presentations and discussions for 
each of the agenda topics, as well as suggested revisions to the 
guidance document for preparing Reports. Appendices of the workshop 
report provide a variety of supporting documents, including the full 
suggested text revision of the Guidelines for Preparing the Stock 
Assessment Reports (Appendix IV).
    PBR calculations with outdated abundance estimates: For an 
increasing number of marine mammal stocks, the most recent abundance 
estimates are more than 8 years old. Under existing guidelines (NMFS, 
2005), these are considered to be outdated and thus not used to 
calculate PBR. The current practice is to consider the PBR for a stock 
``undetermined'' after supporting survey information is more than eight 
years old, unless there is compelling evidence that the stock has not 
declined. However, ``undetermined'' PBR is confusing, does not support 
management decisions, and may be interpreted in such a way that there 
is no limit to the level of allowable mortality. The following 
revisions to calculate PBRs for stocks with old abundance information 
are: (1) During years 1-8 after the most recent abundance survey, 
``uncertainty projections'' will be used, based on uniform distribution 
assumptions, to

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serially reduce the Nmin estimate by a small increment each 
year; (2) After 8 years, and assuming no new estimate of abundance has 
become available, then a worst-case scenario is assumed (i.e., a 
plausible 10 percent decline per year since the most recent survey), 
and so a retroactive 10 percent decline per year is applied; and (3) If 
data to estimate a population trend model are available, such a model 
can be used to influence the uncertainty projections during the first 8 
years.
    Improving stock identification: For most marine mammal species, few 
stock definition changes have been made since the initial SARs were 
written. Most stocks were defined at scales that were larger than major 
eco-regions, suggesting that the scale is likely too large. A 
recommended addition to the guidelines is the direction that each 
Report will state in the ``Stock Definition and Geographic Range'' 
section whether it is plausible the stock contains multiple 
demographically independent populations that should be separate stocks, 
along with a brief rationale. If additional structure is plausible and 
human-caused mortality or serious injury is concentrated within a 
portion of the range of the stock, the Reports should identify the 
portion of the range in which the mortality or serious injury occurs.
    Assessment of very small stocks: The PBR estimate for some stocks 
may be very small (just a few animals or even less than one). In such 
cases, low levels of observer coverage may introduce substantial small-
sample bias in bycatch estimates. A draft revision to the guidelines is 
the inclusion of a table that provides recommendations for the amount 
of sampling effort (observer coverage and/or number of years of data 
pooling) required to limit small-sample bias, given a certain PBR 
level, in the Technical Details section of the SARs guidelines. 
Further, if suggested sampling goals (per the table) cannot be met, 
then mortality should be estimated and reported, but the estimates 
should be qualified in the SARs by stating they very well could be 
biased.
    Assessment of small endangered stocks: Some endangered species, 
like Hawaiian monk seals, are declining with little to no direct human-
caused mortality and the stock's dynamics therefore do not conform to 
the underlying model for calculating PBR. Thus, PBR estimates for some 
endangered species stocks have not been included, or have been 
considered ``undetermined'' in SARs. In such cases, if feasible, PBR 
should still be calculated and included in the SARs to comply with the 
MMPA, but a draft revision to the guidelines is that Report authors may 
depart from these guidelines if sound reasons are given in the SAR.
    Apportioning PBR across feeding aggregations, allocating mortality 
for mixed stocks, and estimating PBR for transboundary stocks: In some 
cases, mortality and serious injury occur in areas where more than one 
stock of marine mammals occur. The draft revised guidelines specify 
that when biological information is sufficient to identify the stock 
from which a dead or seriously injured animal came, the mortality or 
serious injury should be associated only with that stock. When one or 
more deaths or serious injuries cannot be assigned directly to a stock, 
then those deaths or serious injuries may be partitioned among stocks 
within the appropriate geographic area, provided there is sufficient 
information to support such partitioning (e.g., based on the relative 
abundances of stocks within the area). The Reports will contain a 
discussion of the potential for over or under-estimating stock-specific 
mortality and serious injury. In cases where mortalities and serious 
injuries cannot be assigned directly to a stock and available 
information is not sufficient to support partitioning those deaths and 
serious injuries among stocks, the draft revised guidelines state that 
the total unassigned mortality and serious injuries should be assigned 
to each stock within the appropriate geographic area. When deaths and 
serious injuries are assigned to each overlapping stock in this manner, 
the Reports will contain a discussion of the potential for over-
estimating stock-specific mortality and serious injury.
    NMFS strengthened the language in the draft guidelines regarding 
trans-boundary stocks, cautioning against extrapolating abundance 
estimates from one surveyed area to another unsurveyed area to estimate 
range-wide PBR. However, informed interpolation (e.g.,. based on 
habitat associations) may be used, as appropriate and supported by 
existing data, to fill gaps in survey coverage and estimate abundance 
and PBR over broader areas. If estimates of mortality or abundance from 
outside the U.S. EEZ cannot be determined, PBR calculations should be 
based on abundance in the EEZ and compared to mortality within the EEZ.
    Clarifying reporting of mortality and serious injury incidental to 
commercial fishing: Currently, SARs do not consistently summarize 
mortality and serious injury incidental to commercial fishing. The 
draft revised guidelines specify that SARs include a summary of all 
human-caused mortality and serious injury including information on all 
sources of mortality and serious injury. Additionally, a summary of 
mortality and serious injury incidental to U.S. commercial fisheries 
should be presented in a table, while mortality and serious injury from 
other sources (e.g., recreational fisheries, other sources of M&SI 
within the U.S. EEZ, foreign fisheries on the high seas) should be 
clearly distinguished from U.S. commercial fishery-related mortality. 
Finally, the draft revised guidelines contain the addition of a 
subsection entitled ``Summary of the most important potential Human-
caused Mortality and Serious Injury threats that are unquantified'' in 
the SARs, and the SARs should also indicate if there are no known major 
sources of unquantifiable human-caused mortality and serious injury.
    When stock declines are sufficient for a strategic designation: 
There is no formal process to periodically evaluate the depleted status 
of non-ESA listed marine mammal stocks, and the current Report 
guidelines (NMFS, 2005) do not provide any guidance for recommending 
that a stock be designated as depleted. Therefore, the draft revised 
guidelines include the following: ``Stocks that have evidence 
suggesting at least a 50 percent decline, either based on previous 
abundance estimates or historical abundance estimated by back-
calculation, should be noted in the Status of Stocks section as likely 
to be below OSP. The choice of 50 percent does not mean that OSP is at 
50 percent of historical numbers, but rather that a population below 
this level would be below OSP with high probability. Similarly, a stock 
that has increased back to levels pre-dating the known decline may be 
within OSP; however, additional analyses may determine a population is 
within OSP prior to reaching historical levels.''
    Additionally, the draft revised guidelines include the following 
clarification: ``A stock shall be designated as strategic if it is 
declining and has a greater than 50 percent probability of a continuing 
decline of at least 5 percent per year. Such a decline, if not stopped, 
would result in a 50 percent decline in 15 years and would likely lead 
to the stock being listed as threatened. The estimate of trend should 
be based on data spanning at least 8 years. Alternative thresholds for 
decline rates and duration, as well as alternative data criteria, may 
also be used if sufficient rationale is provided to indicate that the 
decline is likely to result in the stock being listed as threatened 
within the foreseeable future. Stocks that have been designated as

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strategic due to a population decline may be designated as non-
strategic if the decline is stopped and the stock is not otherwise 
strategic.''
    And finally, to the draft revised guidelines include the following 
direction regarding recovery factors for declining stocks: ``A stock 
that is strategic because, based on the best available scientific 
information, it is declining and is likely to be listed as a threatened 
species under the ESA within the foreseeable future (sec. 3(19)(B) of 
the MMPA) should use a recovery factor between 0.1 and 0.5.''
    Assessing stocks without abundance estimates or PBR: For many 
stocks, data are so sparse that it is not possible to produce an 
Nmin or therefore not possible to estimate PBR. When 
mortality and/or population abundance estimates are unavailable, the 
PBR approach cannot be used to assess populations, in spite of a 
statutory mandate to do so. The draft revised guidelines include the 
addition to the Status of Stocks section the following sentence: 
``Likewise, trend monitoring can help inform the process of determining 
strategic status.''
    Characterizing uncertainty in key SAR elements: It is difficult to 
infer the overall uncertainty for key parameters as they are currently 
reported in the SARs. The draft revised guidelines direct that in the 
Stock Definition and Geographic Range, Elements of the PBR Formula, 
Population Trend, Annual Human-Caused Mortality and Serious Injury and 
Status of the Stock sections, SAR authors are to provide a description 
of key uncertainties associated with parameters in these sections and 
evaluate the effects of these uncertainties in sufficient detail to 
support a synthesis of how accurately stock status could be assessed.
    Including non-serious injuries and disturbance in SARs: A final 
draft revision to the guidelines is the addition that if there are no 
known habitat issues or other factors causing a decline or impeding 
recovery, this should be stated in the Status of Stocks section.

    Dated: January 18, 2012.
James H. Lecky,
Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.
[FR Doc. 2012-1344 Filed 1-23-12; 8:45 am]
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