[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 62 (Monday, April 1, 2013)]
[Notices]
[Pages 19446-19460]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-07553]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XC062


Marine Mammal Stock Assessment Reports

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

ACTION: Notice of availability; response to comments.

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SUMMARY: As required by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS 
has incorporated public comments into revisions of marine mammal stock 
assessment reports (SARs). All but ten of the 2012 reports are final 
and available to the public.

[[Page 19447]]


ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of SARs are available on the Internet as 
regional compilations and individual reports at the following address: 
http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/. You also may send requests for 
copies of reports to: Chief, Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Conservation 
Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910-3226, Attn: 
Stock Assessments.
    Copies of the Alaska Regional SARs may be requested from Robyn 
Angliss, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, 7600 Sand Point Way, BIN 
15700, Seattle, WA 98115.
    Copies of the Atlantic Regional SARs may be requested from Gordon 
Waring, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, 166 Water Street, Woods 
Hole, MA 02543.
    Copies of the Pacific Regional SARs may be requested from Jim 
Carretta, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, NMFS, 8604 La Jolla 
Shores Drive, La Jolla, CA 92037-1508.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Shannon Bettridge, Office of Protected 
Resources, 301-427-8402, Shannon.Bettridge@noaa.gov; Robyn Angliss, 
Alaska Fisheries Science Center, 206-526-4032, Robyn.Angliss@noaa.gov; 
Gordon Waring, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, 508-495-2311, 
Gordon.Waring@noaa.gov; or Jim Carretta, Southwest Fisheries Science 
Center, 858-546-7171, Jim.Carretta@noaa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Background

    Section 117 of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) requires NMFS and 
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to prepare SARs for each stock 
of marine mammals occurring in waters under the jurisdiction of the 
United States. These reports contain information regarding the 
distribution and abundance of the stock, population growth rates and 
trends, the stock's Potential Biological Removal (PBR) level, 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 reports were completed in 1995.
    The MMPA requires NMFS and FWS to review the SARs at least annually 
for strategic stocks and stocks for which significant new information 
is available, and at least once every 3 years for non-strategic stocks. 
NMFS and FWS are required to revise a SAR if the status of the stock 
has changed or can be more accurately determined. NMFS, in conjunction 
with the Alaska, Atlantic, and Pacific Scientific Review Groups (SRGs), 
reviewed the status of marine mammal stocks as required and revised 
reports in each of the three regions.
    As required by the MMPA, NMFS updated SARs for 2012, and the 
revised reports were made available for public review and comment for 
90 days (77 FR 47043, August 7, 2012). NMFS received comments on the 
draft SARs and has revised the reports as necessary. Subsequent to 
soliciting public comment on the draft 2012 SARs, NMFS revised the 2011 
abundance estimates for ten Atlantic marine mammal stocks and the 2010 
northeast sink gillnet serious injury and mortality estimates for 
several others. This new information prompted the agency to revise the 
SARs for the following marine mammal stocks: fin whale, western North 
Atlantic stock; sei whale, Nova Scotia stock; minke whale Canadian east 
coast stock; sperm whale, North Atlantic stock; Cuvier's beaked whale, 
western North Atlantic stock; Gervais' beaked whale, western North 
Atlantic stock; Sowerby's beaked whale, western North Atlantic stock; 
Risso's dolphin, western North Atlantic stock; Atlantic white-sided 
dolphin, western North Atlantic stock; and harbor porpoise, Gulf of 
Maine/Bay of Fundy stock. NMFS solicited public comment on the revised 
draft 2012 SARs for these ten stocks (78 FR 3399, January 16, 2013). 
The public comment period on the revised reports closes on April 16, 
2013 and the reports will subsequently be finalized. This notice 
announces the availability of the final 2012 reports for the 114 stocks 
that are currently finalized. These reports are available on NMFS' Web 
site (see ADDRESSES).

Comments and Responses

    NMFS received letters containing comments on the draft 2012 SARs 
from the Marine Mammal Commission (Commission), the U.S. Navy (Pacific 
Fleet), nine non-governmental organizations (The Humane Society of the 
United States, Center for Biological Diversity, Garden State Seafood 
Association, Maine Lobstermen's Association, Inc., Cape Cod Commercial 
Hook Fishermen's Association, Hawaii Longline Association, Alaska 
Seafood Cooperative, Pacific Seafood Processors Association, and 
Groundfish Forum), the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management 
Council, and one individual.
    Many comments recommended initiation or repetition of large data 
collection efforts, such as abundance surveys, observer programs, or 
other efforts to estimate mortality. Many comments, including those 
from the Commission, recommending additional data collection (e.g., 
additional abundance surveys or observer programs) have been addressed 
in previous years. Although NMFS agrees that additional information 
would improve the SARs and inform conservation decisions, resources for 
surveys and observer programs are fully utilized, and no new large 
surveys or other programs may be initiated until additional resources 
are available. Such comments on the 2012 SARs, and responses to them, 
may not be included in the summary below because the responses have not 
changed. Comments on actions not related to the SARs (e.g., listing a 
marine mammal species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)) are not 
included below. Comments suggesting editorial or minor clarifying 
changes were incorporated in the reports but are not included in the 
summary of comments and responses below.
    In some cases, NMFS' responses state that comments would be 
considered or incorporated in future revisions of the SARs rather than 
being incorporated into the final 2012 SARs. These delays are due to 
the schedule of the review of the reports by the regional SRGs. NMFS 
provides preliminary copies of updated SARs to SRGs prior to release 
for public review and comment. If a comment on the draft SAR suggests a 
substantive change to the SAR, NMFS may discuss the comment and 
prospective change with the SRG at its next meeting.

Comments on National Issues

    Comment 1: The Commission recommends that NMFS convene a workshop 
or series of workshops to explore novel ideas for detecting 
entanglements and ship strikes, improving information on their 
frequency and trends, reducing the bias in estimates of large whale 
mortality and serious injury caused by these interactions, and 
considering possible options for addressing these risk factors.
    Response: NMFS recognizes and is attempting to address the concerns 
raised by the Commission through a variety of staff actions, discussed 
below. NMFS recognizes the threats to recovery of large whales posed by 
entanglements with fishing gear and collisions with ships and has 
implemented several regulations aimed at reducing these threats. The 
agency continues to conduct extensive research to quantify these 
threats and develop mitigation measures to reduce them. In 2010, NMFS 
convened a ship strike reduction workshop on reducing vessel strikes of 
large whales in California. In 2012,

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NMFS staff served on the steering committee of an international 
workshop on maritime transport and biodiversity conservation, aimed at 
developing a plan to reduce the risk of whale ship strikes. NMFS staff 
are members of the International Whaling Commission's (IWC) Ship Strike 
Subcommittee and are involved in the planning of an upcoming IWC 
workshop on ship strike reduction. NOAA continues to work closely with 
the U.S. Coast Guard on developing routing measures to reduce the risk 
of ship strikes in United States waters. With respect to reducing 
fishing gear entanglements, NMFS continues to fund and conduct gear 
research aimed at reducing the risk of large whale entanglements and is 
developing new regulations to reduce the entanglement risk associated 
with vertical lines.
    In 2012, NMFS finalized its procedure for determining serious 
injury for marine mammals, which includes quantitative methods for 
accounting for injury cases where the outcome cannot be determined, 
methods for accounting for successful post-interaction mitigation 
efforts, and injury determination processes specific to large 
cetaceans, small cetaceans and pinnipeds. This is expected to provide a 
more accurate estimate of total human-caused serious injury and 
mortality to marine mammals.
    Comment 2: The Commission recommends that NMFS, in conjunction with 
the FWS, more completely assess human effects on marine mammals by (1) 
developing a framework for describing the full effects, both direct and 
indirect, of all human activities that may cause serious injury or 
mortality of marine mammals and then (2) incorporating that framework 
into stock assessment reports so that decision-makers are informed not 
only about the known information on a stock but also about the degree 
of uncertainty regarding the other risk factors that may be affecting 
the stock's status and what would be required to reduce that 
uncertainty.
    Response: The SARs discuss the potential effects of human 
activities on marine mammals to an extent (e.g., effects of sonar), but 
NMFS acknowledges that this could be more thoroughly and consistently 
discussed in the reports and will strive to do so. The Guidelines for 
Assessing Marine Mammal Stocks (GAMMS III) workshop participants 
recommended to NMFS that SARs describe uncertainties in key factors 
such as human-caused mortality and serious injury and include a 
statement on whether existing data would be sufficient to detect a 
precipitous decline if one was occurring. The draft revised GAMMS 
include a characterization of uncertainty in the reports.
    Comment 3: The Commission recommends that NMFS consider the 
feasibility and advisability of providing explicit technical guidance 
on trend analysis and, for each stock assessment with no trend 
analysis, require an explicit explanation for why such an analysis 
could not be completed.
    Response: NMFS acknowledges that the SARS for many stocks currently 
do not have trend analyses and the reports often do not explicitly 
provide the reason for this absence. In such cases where trend analyses 
are not available, NMFS will include in the reports an explanation for 
why the analysis could not be completed. Two recent papers (Moore and 
Barlow 2011, and Moore and Barlow 2013) provide quantitative methods 
for marine mammal trend analysis, which NMFS intends to apply to other 
stocks where there is sufficient information to do so.
    Comment 4: The Commission recommends that NMFS establish an 
internal review process to standardize the updating of the SARs within 
and across regions and consider using a copy editor to check for 
completeness, errors, and consistency.
    Response: NMFS strives to produce reports that are complete and 
error-free and will continue to work to standardize the reports within 
and across regions.

Comments on Atlantic Regional Reports

    Comment 5: The Commission recommends that NMFS expand Table 2 in 
the North Atlantic right whale report to include right whale 
3903 as a serious injury and the unidentified dead right whale 
seen on 18 May 2006 as an entanglement-related mortality, and 
recalculate the five-year average of entanglement-related mortality and 
serious injury.
    Response: Cause of death for the 18 May 2006 event is unknown. The 
last sentence from the Cassoff et al. (2011) paper on this event 
(http://www.int-res.com/articles/feature/d096p175.pdf) indicates that 
there is still too much doubt about cause of death to make a 
determination; therefore, 3903 was not included in the serious 
injury list. ``Although there was insufficient information to determine 
cause of death, entanglement was a probable factor, especially since 
there were no external injuries from a ship strike or predation, 
although blunt trauma with no external signs could not be ruled out.'' 
Because there is too much doubt to make a determination of cause of 
death for 3903, this right whale will not be added to the list 
of human-caused serious injury and mortality records.
    Comment 6: The Commission recommends that NMFS expand the section 
of the North Atlantic right whale report on fishery-related mortality 
and serious injury to include the total number of entanglements between 
2006 and 2012.
    Response: The GAMMS call for the presentation of serious injury and 
mortality in 5-year data periods. We recognize the increased interest 
in this particular stock, but feel it is outside the scope of the SAR 
to present more than 5 years of serious injury and entanglement 
records. Total numbers of entanglement cases reviewed for the 
applicable 5-year period are presented in the Mortality and Serious 
Injury Determination reports (see http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/publications/crd/crd1211/ for the most recent reports). Only those 
cases that have been found to be confirmed human-caused serious injury 
and mortality are presented in Table 2 of the SAR.
    Comment 7: The Commission recommends that NMFS expand the report 
for the Gulf of Maine harbor porpoise either to include a trend 
analysis and explanation or to describe the reasons that the analysis 
and explanation cannot be provided. If the latter, then the Service 
also should explain how it plans to rectify the problem(s).
    Response: NMFS agrees that a trend analysis would be a useful 
addition to the harbor porpoise SAR as well as many of the other 
reports. We are working toward that goal with increased modeling 
efforts, but it may still be several years before trend analysis is 
available.
    Comment 8: The Commission recommends that NMFS contact Canadian 
officials to (1) determine the feasibility of an analysis of port catch 
levels to estimate the number of harbor porpoises caught in the 
Canadian Bay of Fundy sink gillnet fishery since 2002, and (2) pursue 
the development of a reliable means for estimating harbor porpoise 
bycatch in the Canadian Bay of Fundy.
    Response: NMFS agrees with these recommendations and has initiated 
communication with Canadian officials and hopes in the near future to 
improve upon the Canadian statistics provided in the SAR.
    Comment 9: The MMC recommends that NMFS conduct the required 
surveys of the western North Atlantic harbor and gray seal stocks, 
incorporate the results into the stock assessment reports, and use that 
information in its

[[Page 19449]]

management of those stocks and the risk factors affecting them.
    Response: NMFS agrees there is a pressing need for updated 
abundance estimates for harbor and gray seals in United States waters. 
Counting of digital aerial images from our 2012 Gulf of Maine harbor 
seal abundance survey, our seasonal southeastern Massachusetts and gray 
and harbor seal monitoring surveys, and our 2010-2012 gray seal pupping 
surveys is underway. The resulting data will be used to develop a new 
abundance estimate for harbor seals. The seasonal surveys will provide 
an index of harbor seal and gray seal numbers and information from the 
pupping surveys will be used to develop a gray seal population growth 
model. The modeling project, however, is dependent on funding.
    Comment 10: The SAR fails to provide even the most basic stock 
information on the western Atlantic gray seal population and, instead, 
lists all its stock parameters as unknown. This complete lack of data 
is particularly disturbing considering the indisputable explosion in 
gray seal numbers that has occurred on Cape Cod in recent years.
    Response: NMFS concurs that the gray seal population in New England 
waters has been increasing, particularly in the Cape Cod region. The 
Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) has been monitoring the New 
England gray seal pupping colonies and conducting seasonal surveys of 
southeast Massachusetts haul-out sites since 2005. The NEFSC expects to 
complete the counting of the archived digital survey images by spring 
2013. These data will provide an index of harbor seal and gray seal 
numbers, and can be used to develop a gray seal population growth 
model. The completion of the modeling project, however, is dependent on 
funding.
    Comment 11: We are encouraged to see a continued increase in the 
minimum population estimate, now at 444 animals, for North Atlantic 
right whales. It would be informative if the SAR could include an 
estimate of the number of those whales not included in this estimate 
because they were not re-sighted since 2008.
    Response: It would be outside the bounds and focus of the SAR to 
report the number of whales not used in the estimate. That is a random 
number subject to varying recapture rates and as such we disagree that 
it is an informative number.
    Comment 12: The Draft 2012 humpback whale SAR attributes all 
serious injury and mortality observed in the southeast and mid-Atlantic 
region to the Gulf of Maine stock unless a whale is definitively 
identified to another stock. Photo-identification research conducted in 
2002 determined that less than 50% of the (humpback whales photographed 
in the) southeastern and mid-Atlantic states were identified as Gulf of 
Maine stock and that it is likely that Canadian whales were under-
represented. While this is somewhat outdated, it should be used to 
inform assumptions on the population identity of these whales rather 
than attributing 100% of serious injury and mortality to the Gulf of 
Maine stock as was done in the draft 2012 SAR. We urge use of a more 
representative pro-rated method for assigning mid-Atlantic serious 
injury and mortality to the Gulf of Maine stock.
    Response: The current approach of assigning serious injuries and 
mortalities to the stock of humpback whales, when known, and assigning 
all unknown stock injuries and mortalities to the Gulf of Maine stock 
provides some measure of precaution with respect to the impact of 
serious injuries and mortalities on the Gulf of Maine stock. However, 
the tally of observed serious injuries and mortalities almost certainly 
underestimates the actual number, given that some fraction of serious 
injuries and mortalities are not observed. Therefore, the possible 
inclusion of non-Gulf of Maine whales is unlikely to exceed the true 
mortality of the Gulf of Maine stock.
    Comment 13: The SARs attribute the annual North Atlantic right 
whale human-caused serious injury and mortality data for entanglements 
and ship strikes to either the United States or Canada. We do not 
believe that United States fisheries should be held responsible for 
serious injury or mortality that occurs in Canadian fisheries since 
those fisheries are not part of our management plan. Therefore, 
understanding where the human-caused serious injury or mortality takes 
place is extremely important in more accurately assessing progress 
against PBR.
    Response: NMFS agrees that understanding the geographic source of 
fishery interactions is important for management needs. However, in 
many cases gear is recovered after having been on the animal for some 
time, and it is difficult to determine where the actual interaction/
entanglement occurred geographically because the animal has likely 
moved since the original interaction. In cases where gear is recovered, 
the lack of a universal marking system hampers determination of gear 
source.
    Comment 14: The North Atlantic right whale SAR acknowledges that 
the location where the animal was first sighted and the date of the 
sighting do not necessarily indicate where or when the serious injury 
or mortality occurred. Yet this exact information is used to assign the 
serious injury or mortality to either the United States or Canada. 
Additional information sources must be consulted in making these 
determinations such as the NMFS analysis of gear removed from whales, 
data from Center for Coastal Studies, and necropsy data.
    Response: NMFS uses all reliable available information to try to 
determine if the location of the entanglement differs from the location 
of the initial observation.
    Comment 15: The summary information presented in Table 1 shows the 
same figure for both Nmin and Nbest for both North Atlantic right and 
humpback whales. Since the minimum population estimate for right whales 
is based on a census of individual whales, a separate estimate of Nbest 
should be included for this species. Similarly, Nbest should be 
included for humpback whales.
    Response: Stock assessment guidelines require only an Nmin for 
calculation of PBR. Nbest is not required but is often available when 
an abundance estimate is derived from a sampling process. For the 
census count, as is used for the North Atlantic right whale and 
humpback whale estimate, there is only a minimum number generated with 
no associated range. We have considered using line-transect or mark-
recapture estimators to produce an Nmin, but these approaches are 
likely to lead to a less accurate estimate of Nmin than the current 
approach.
    Comment 16: Appendix III includes a description of the Northeast/
Mid-Atlantic American Lobster trap/pot fishery. The section on temporal 
and spatial distribution of the fishery states that ``fishing effort is 
intense and increasing throughout the range of the resource.'' This 
statement should be corrected to reflect that effort in the lobster 
fishery is not increasing throughout the range of the resource.
    Response: NMFS concurs. This statement has been removed from the 
report.
    Comment 17: Table 2 of the North Atlantic right whale SAR lists 
mortalities and serious injuries. We believe that an animal was omitted 
from the list of animals entangled in 2009 that appears to have been 
seriously injured as a result of entanglement: Right whale 
1019 (Radiator) was seen and photographed entangled in July 
2009 well south of Nantucket.
    Response: The extent and configuration of the gear entanglement

[[Page 19450]]

of North Atlantic right whale 1019 is unknown. The fate of the 
animal is also unknown, so this interaction was not included in the 
list of serious injuries.
    Comment 18: In the section on Annual Human-Caused Serious Injury 
and Mortality for North Atlantic right whales, NMFS makes an inaccurate 
(or at best misleading) statement regarding the number of entangled 
whales between 2006-2010. First, unless there are clear gear markings 
to indicate where the entangling gear was set, there is no way to be 
sure where an animal became entangled so attributing entanglements to 
United States (versus Canadian) gear is seldom possible. Second, there 
were more than ``8 entanglements'' during this 5-year time period. 
Third, even if NMFS erroneously wrote ``entanglement'' rather than 
``fishery-related serious injury and mortality,'' this too would be 
incorrect, as Table 2 of the SAR lists 9 fishery-related serious 
injuries and entanglements, not eight. Fourth, each year there are a 
number of ``floaters'' for which cause of death is never established. 
As a result of these numerous problems with the new verbiage trying to 
estimate the number of animals either entangled or presumed dead pre- 
and post-take reduction plan, we suggest simply removing this new 
language regarding the number of entanglements.
    Response: In response to attributing serious injuries and 
mortalities to nationality, we state in footnote `a' of the serious 
injury and mortality table: ``The date sighted and location provided in 
the table are not necessarily when or where the serious injury or 
mortality occurred; rather, this information indicates when and where 
the whale was first reported beached, entangled, or injured.'' NMFS 
agrees that accurately attributing entanglements to United States 
(versus Canadian) gear is seldom possible.
    The new verbiage added dividing the entanglement and ship strike 
cases into pre- and post-reduction plan/ship strike rule periods was 
suggested by the SRG at the February 2012 review meeting. NMFS has 
revised the sentence to read: ``Of the 8 reported fisheries 
entanglements from United States waters during this 5-year time period 
that were classified as serious injury or mortality, 5 were reported 
before the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan's sinking-
groundline rule went into effect in April 2009, and 3 were reported 
after enactment of the rule.'' The 8 from United States waters is 
correct. However, we did find an erroneous 8, which we have corrected 
to 9, in the fishery-related serious injury and mortality section, as 
that number refers to both United States and Canadian records.
    Comment 19: We reiterate a perennial request for information with 
less than a 2-year time lag for North Atlantic right whales. Since the 
estimates of mortality are minimums and based solely on sightings and 
strandings of dead whales, there is no need for extra time in reporting 
to allow for extrapolation of effort as is the case with small cetacean 
bycatch. It would be useful to have up-do-date information.
    Response: The abundance estimate for North Atlantic right whales is 
at most one year behind that for other stocks in the Atlantic and Gulf 
of Mexico SAR. The accounting process to obtain the minimum number 
alive requires two years of sightings to get a stable count, after 
which the data are analyzed and entered into the SAR in the third year. 
All animals are not seen every year; waiting two years assures that 
greater than 90% of the animals still alive will be included in the 
count.
    Comment 20: We believe that there are humpback whales on the large 
whale disentanglement Web site last seen trailing significant amounts 
of gear that could qualify them as seriously injured based on criteria 
S6 of the NMFS guidelines (NMFS Instruction, 2012).
    Response: The new NMFS Serious Injury Determination Policy will not 
be applied until the 2013 SAR. The 2012 SAR uses the previous 
guidelines for determination of serious injury.
    Comment 21: For multiple stocks of Atlantic coastal bottlenose 
dolphin, the SARs were not updated, even though most are strategic 
stocks. There has been additional annual fishery-related mortality 
since the prior update in 2010 both in commercial fisheries and 
recreational fishing gear and additional strandings, some with signs of 
human interaction. New information on strandings and entanglements 
should have triggered an update in the SAR for any of these strategic 
stocks of bottlenose dolphins. We note that the Southeast region 
provided updates on at least the stranding and fishery-related 
mortality data for bottlenose stocks in the Gulf of Mexico, and the 
same should be done as well for all strategic stocks of bottlenose 
dolphins in the Atlantic.
    Response: NMFS focused efforts for the 2012 SARS on stocks in the 
Gulf of Mexico due to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (that began on 20 
April 2010) and the unprecedented Northern Gulf of Mexico Unusual 
Mortality Event that began February 1, 2010 and was ongoing as of 
November 18, 2012. All Atlantic bottlenose dolphin SARs will be updated 
for 2013.
    Comment 22: Although long-finned pilot whales are listed as a 
strategic stock in the NMFS SARs table and fishery-related mortality 
has been documented in pelagic fisheries, the SAR was not updated. 
Annual updates are required for strategic stocks, particularly in the 
face of new information on mortality. Further, though NMFS has 
separated SARs for long- and short-finned pilot whales in the Atlantic 
and provided PBRs for each, mortality estimates are still ``lumped,'' 
which makes it impossible to determine whether fishery-related 
mortality is disproportionately affecting one species more than the 
other. The agency should update fishery-related mortality for all 
strategic stocks on an annual basis and should prioritize efforts to 
assign mortality to either one of these species or the other.
    Response: NMFS has been working towards splitting mortality 
estimates for pilot whale species in the Atlantic. Because abundance 
estimates are made during the summer but historically most fishery-
related mortality takes place in the fall and early winter, the 
distribution of the two species during the times of greatest mortality 
has been poorly understood. NMFS conducted a ship-based survey in fall 
2011 to help address this issue. Both pilot whale SARs will be updated 
in 2013 using the information from the fall 2011 survey, and mortality 
estimates will be split between the two pilot whale species.
    Comment 23: In the SAR for the Northern Gulf of Mexico bay, sound 
and estuarine bottlenose dolphin stocks in Table 1, most have not been 
assessed for abundance for 20 years. Since they were last assessed, 
there have been several declarations of Unusual Mortality Events in 
their ranges, and the effects of the Deepwater Horizon spill reached 
into quite a number of these bays. We also note that the table listing 
the multiple stocks in this complex of bay, sound and estuarine 
dolphins contains stocks for which there are also separate stock 
assessments (e.g., the Barataria Bay and Choctawhatchee Bay stocks are 
among several in the list in Table 1 that also have their own SAR). Any 
stock that has its own SAR should be removed from the table in the SAR 
for bay, sound and estuarine bottlenose dolphins to avoid confusing 
readers.
    Response: NMFS is working towards a method to prioritize the many 
Gulf of Mexico bay, sound and estuary stocks of bottlenose dolphins for 
assessment purposes. As most of these stocks are not amenable to 
standard aerial or ship-based abundance survey using line-

[[Page 19451]]

transect methods, NMFS first convened a workshop, partially funded by 
the Marine Mammal Commission, in 2010 to discuss and compile best 
practices for mark-recapture abundance estimation methods specifically 
aimed at bottlenose dolphins in estuarine habitats. With stocks 
prioritized and a robust method for abundance estimation in place, it 
will be possible to begin targeting specific stocks. In 2012 NMFS 
conducted necessary field work to start stock structure analyses for 
several estuarine stocks in Texas.
    NMFS would like to retain the information for all the bottlenose 
dolphins in the multiple bay, sound and estuary stocks SAR but will 
note in Table 1 those stocks that have an individual SAR (e.g., 
Barataria Bay).
    Comment 24: The Humane Society of the United States and Center for 
Biological Diversity commend the agency for providing more in depth 
information on effects from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and 
subsequent declarations of Unusual Mortality Events.
    Response: NMFS acknowledges this comment.
    Comment 25: Given records of ongoing takes of bottlenose dolphins 
from several stocks in the menhaden fishery (including fisher self-
reports, research-related takes and NMFS records from the 1990s), NMFS 
must prioritize added observer coverage of this fishery given the co-
occurrence of the menhaden fishery with dolphins and the sporadic self-
reports of lethal takes (which the agency acknowledges to be under-
reports).
    Response: NMFS agrees and, as such, implemented a pilot observer 
program for the Gulf of Mexico menhaden fishery during the 2011 fishing 
season. The goal of the pilot program was to characterize protected 
species bycatch, specifically sea turtles and bottlenose dolphins. 
During the pilot program we learned there are challenges associated 
with observing this fishery. For example, observing from the main ship 
(for safety reasons) provided limited visibility for protected species 
bycatch. In addition, the small number of participants triggers 
confidentiality requirements. We are evaluating the potential for 
additional observer coverage and/or methods for observing this fishery, 
provided resources become available. Meanwhile, we will continue 
monitoring fishermen self-reports and stranding data.

Comments on Pacific Regional Reports

    Comment 26: The MMC recommends that NMFS first verify that 
compliance with the measures of the 1997 take reduction plan for sperm 
whales remains at a high level and monitor any changes in fishery 
effort that might systematically affect entanglement risk and then 
reconvene the take reduction team only if either of those efforts 
reveals deficiencies.
    Response: NMFS analyzed data from this fishery recently, including 
compliance with acoustic pinger use and extender lengths (Carretta and 
Barlow 2011). Pinger use compliance was >99% in all observed sets 
dating back to 1998. A small fraction of sets (3.7%) experienced some 
pinger failure during this study, but the recent entanglement of two 
sperm whales occurred in a set where all pingers were functioning. The 
entanglement of sperm whales in this fishery is an extremely rare event 
(10 entanglements observed in 8,000 sets), and NMFS continues to 
investigate potential factors responsible for such events.
    Comment 27: The MMC recommends that NMFS continue to plan and 
request funding for the necessary surveys to estimate abundance of 
Pacific Coast harbor seals but also consider alternative assessment 
approaches to update stock assessment reports for harbor seals along 
the Pacific coast.
    Response: A survey of Washington Inland waters harbor seals is 
planned for 2014. There are currently no funds available for conducting 
surveys of harbor seals on the outer coasts and Washington and Oregon.
    Comment 28: The MMC recommends that NMFS review all available 
information on stock structure for Pacific Island stocks of melon-
headed whales, pantropical spotted dolphins, and rough-toothed dolphins 
and update the stock assessment reports accordingly.
    Response: All Hawaii SARs will be updated with new stock structure, 
abundance, and mortality information in 2013. New science relating to 
the stock structure of melon-headed whales, spotted dolphins, and 
rough-toothed dolphins will be reviewed and new stock boundaries may be 
implemented as appropriate.
    Comment 29: The Hawaiian monk seal is critically endangered, and 
the PBR should be zero--not undetermined. With a declining population 
trend and an already critically low abundance, the PBR should be zero. 
Hawaiian monk seals are critically endangered and are on a trajectory 
toward extinction. An ``undetermined'' PBR is misleading and can be 
misinterpreted.
    Response: The GAMMS are clear on this issue: ``In unusual 
situations, the formula Congress added to the MMPA to calculate PBR 
(Nmin*0.5Rmax*Fr) results in a number that is not consistent with the 
narrative definition of PBR (the maximum number of animals, not 
including natural mortality, that may be removed from a marine mammal 
stock while allowing that stock to reach or maintain its OSP). An 
underlying assumption in the application of the PBR equation is that 
marine mammal stocks exhibit certain dynamics. Specifically, it is 
assumed that a depleted stock will naturally grow toward OSP and that 
some surplus growth may be removed while still allowing recovery. Such 
a situation arises when a stock is below its OSP and is declining or 
stable, yet human-caused mortality is not a major factor in the 
population's trend. Thus, for unknown reasons, the stock's dynamics do 
not conform to the underlying model for calculating PBR. For example, 
Hawaiian monk seals are endangered, declining, and below OSP (based 
upon the abundance prior to the 1970s), yet human-caused mortality is 
insufficient to account for the decline or a failure to increase. A 
limited removal would not reduce the population's ability to reach or 
maintain its OSP after the major factors affecting the stock have been 
identified and addressed. Therefore, in these unusual situations, NMFS 
may report PBR as undetermined.
    Comment 30: The Hawaiian monk seal SAR should be updated to include 
the four seals slain within the past year in the Main Hawaiian Islands 
under suspicious circumstances, including some that may have been shot 
or bludgeoned. Additionally, the SAR should be updated to include the 
increased incidents of hooking.
    Response: The 2012 SAR updates information through 2010 and 
contains the slain and hooked Hawaiian monk seal information through 
2010 only. The draft 2013 SAR will report on more recent data.
    Comment 31: Some of the areas of the Hawaiian monk seal SAR lag in 
reporting current information on threats. For example, ciguatoxins, 
potent algal neurotoxins that concentrate in fish preyed upon by monk 
seals, have been reported in Hawaiian monk seals, which could pose a 
significant threat to the seals (Bottein et al. 2011). There should 
also be updated information on Hawaiian monk seal diet, as well as more 
recent data on plastic entanglements and shark predation based upon 
information gathered by NMFS. There was also a problem in the past year 
with an aggressive monk seal killing other seals.
    Response: The 2012 Hawaiian monk seal SAR updates information 
through 2010. This SAR was drafted in 2011 and thus only contains 
complete

[[Page 19452]]

information through the previous year, 2010. Regarding ciguatoxin, the 
Bottein et al. (2011) paper represents an advance in detection of these 
compounds. However, whether and to what degree they may influence monk 
seal mortality is not known, and the focus of stock assessments is on 
human-caused mortality. More recent information will be included in the 
2013 draft SAR.
    Comment 32: The draft long-beaked dolphin report notes that 
dolphins of this species have died as a result of past Navy training 
exercises. The new stock assessment report should provide more 
information on the impacts of sonar and other training exercises given 
the proposed continuation and/or expansion of those activities for the 
Southern California and Hawaii Training Ranges. Additionally, along 
California's coast, mortality of long-beaked dolphins has been 
documented due to domoic acid toxicity, a neurotoxin associated with 
algal blooms. Although domoic acid toxicity is mentioned in the SAR, it 
may be important to note that this risk is likely to increase. Studies 
suggest that the toxicity of these algal blooms will increase up to 5-
fold due to ocean acidification (Tatters et al. 2012).
    Response: While observed impacts to long-beaked common dolphin from 
Navy training exercises (such as those noted in the SAR) are relatively 
straightforward to quantify, undetected impacts of these activities are 
difficult to quantify. Currently only qualitative statements about the 
impacts of such activities are included in the SAR, as discussed by 
Danil and St. Leger (2011). Language related to potential increases in 
the toxicity of algal blooms responsible for domoic acid mortality 
events has been added to the SAR.
    Comment 33: The southern resident killer whale population 
evaluation should be restricted to evaluating the more relevant 
population growth trends since 1987, to discount impacts from the 
aquarium trade removals in the 1960s. Looking at a more limited time 
period, the population is actually declining, not growing.
    Response: Since the first complete census of this stock in 1974 
when 71 animals were identified, the number of southern resident killer 
whales has fluctuated annually. There have been periods of increases 
and declines over this time, and there is no justification in choosing 
any particular starting year in determining if this stock is declining 
or growing. The population size as of the 2010/2011 census season was 
87 animals. Text in this section of the SAR has been modified to 
reflect the variability in population size since the first census was 
conducted until present.
    Comment 34: The southern resident killer whale SAR should also 
describe the threat to the killer whales from limited prey 
availability. The 2011 SAR notes that ``this population appears to be 
Chinook salmon specialists (Ford and Ellis 2006, Hanson et al. 2010), 
and there is some evidence that changes in coast-wide Chinook abundance 
has affected this population (Ford et al. 2009).'' NMFS' recent 
biological opinions confirm that evidence.
    Response: The SAR currently contains language and references 
regarding potential effects of limited prey availability on this 
population of killer whales.
    Comment 35: The new records of movements of the western stock of 
gray whales to the United States waters (Weller et al. 2012) suggests 
that the SAR should obtain more information and consider calculating 
PBR for this stock of whales as they are at risk of being caught by 
United States fisheries and would be at risk from a proposed Makah 
tribal hunt of gray whales.
    Response: NMFS plans on preparing a separate stock assessment 
report for the western stock of gray whales in 2013.
    Comment 36: At least two cases of apparent human-related injury do 
not appear to have been accounted in the gray whale SAR. Two gray 
whales with apparent trauma were examined by Cascadia Research in April 
2009 and a gray whale that stranded in California in April 2009 had 
apparent propeller cuts along one side. This section should be checked 
to update mortalities.
    Response: One of the two gray whales examined by Cascadia Research 
in April 2009 is already listed in the draft SAR. The April 27 record 
has the geographic attribution of Whidbey Island, although the animal 
was first seen floating off Camano Island. The carcass was towed to 
nearby Whidbey Island for necropsy. The second record was reviewed in 
the preparation of the draft SAR, and the source of the trauma was not 
definitively human-related. The California stranding from Sunset Beach 
is listed in the draft SAR (April 5, 2009 whale with apparent propeller 
cuts).
    Comment 37: Though the region may have reviewed the stock 
assessments for the ESA-listed stocks (e.g., blue whales, humpback 
whales, etc.), there is no mention made of this. This assurance should 
be provided to reassure reviewers that the region was diligent in 
monitoring these stocks. New information on abundance or mortality 
triggers the requirement to revise the SAR for a strategic stock. The 
SARs for ESA-listed stocks should be updated annually in the face of 
annual mortality.
    Response: Strategic stocks are reviewed annually, but revisions to 
the stock assessment may not necessarily be made unless new information 
on mortality would change the status of that stock. NMFS will add 
language to the preface of future Pacific region SARs that will inform 
reviewers and public commenters of this action each year.
    Comment 38: NMFS should work to obtain more data on Hawaii spinner 
dolphin stocks. The military exercises planned in the range of spinner 
dolphins pose a threat to them and should be discussed here. The takes 
predicted in the Southern California and Hawaii Training Range for 
2014-2019 are extremely large numbers.
    Response: NMFS has added a statement of the potential impact of 
naval activities on spinner dolphins in Hawaii due to the proximity of 
naval training exercises for main Hawaiian Islands stocks. NMFS is 
working with its research partners to collect additional information on 
spinner dolphin stocks in Hawaii. Significant progress has been made in 
recent years with recognition of five distinct island-associated stocks 
within the main and Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and a sixth pelagic 
stock. As additional information becomes available on stock abundance 
and movements, it will be reflected in the SAR and considered as part 
of incidental harassment and other take authorizations. Such 
authorizations are analyzed through the NMFS permitting process.
    Comment 39: While we commend the region for including literature as 
recent as 2012 to inform the false killer whale SAR, there is updated 
literature used in consideration of the proposed listing of the insular 
stock that is not considered in the SAR that may provide further 
insight into stock movements and boundaries (e.g., Chivers et al 2011). 
It also may be worth noting that there is currently no mechanism to 
address the excessive levels of fishery-related mortality. NMFS still 
has not published the take reduction plan for false killer whales and 
has indicated that portions of the plan recommended by the take 
reduction team will likely not be part of any final plan. As such, we 
are concerned that there will be continued depredation of stocks by 
fisheries.
    Response: Chivers et al. 2011 and Baird et al. In press were added 
to the text and list of citations to better reflect the breadth of 
support for the separation of the Hawaii insular stock, now known as 
the Main Hawaiian Islands insular stock, from other false killer whale 
populations. The final take reduction

[[Page 19453]]

plan outlining regulatory and non-regulatory measures intended to 
reduce false killer whale bycatch in Hawaii's longline fisheries was 
published on November 29, 2012. Requirements such as longline area 
closures and measures to improve captain and crew response to hooked 
and entangled marine mammals went into effect on December 31, 2012, and 
gear requirements for the deep-set longline fishery take effect on 
February 27, 2013. Nearly all take reduction measures recommended by 
the take reduction team were implemented as part of the final plan (77 
FR 71260, 29 November, 2012). The reference in the SAR has been updated 
to reflect the recent publication of the new fishery rules and 
summarize the implemented measures.
    Comment 40: There appear to be at least two populations of melon-
headed whales in the Hawaiian archipelago. There is a small population 
resident off the northwest region of the island of Hawaii and a larger 
population that ranges throughout the main Hawaiian Islands (Aschettino 
2010). As melon-headed whales may be susceptible to impacts from navy 
training exercises, the presence of a small population with a 
restricted range in an area adjacent to where naval exercises may be 
undertaken should be noted. Aschettino (Id.) also notes evidence of 
fisheries interactions for both the Big Island resident population and 
the Main Hawaiian Islands population. This should be updated in the 
next SARs.
    Response: All Hawaii SARs will be updated with new stock structure, 
abundance, and mortality information in 2013. New science relating to 
the stock structure of melon-headed whales, spotted dolphins, and 
rough-toothed dolphins will be reviewed, and new stock boundaries may 
be implemented as appropriate.
    Comment 41: Hawaii spotted dolphins should be split into management 
stocks and managed to protect local populations that may be adversely 
impacted by commercial and recreational fisheries. Recent genetic 
analyses support the separation of pantropical spotted dolphins found 
in the Hawai`i, O`ahu, and 4-islands area regions into different 
populations (Courbis 2011). This should be updated in the next SARs.
    Response: See response to comment 40.
    Comment 42: There are new genetic studies indicating that there 
should be separate SARs for rough-toothed dolphins. There is high site 
fidelity and small populations of these dolphins that appear to warrant 
separate management approaches (Baird et al. 2008, Albertson 2011, 
poster). This should be updated in the next SARs.
    Response: See response to comment 40.
    Comment 43: The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council 
finds inconsistencies in NMFS' interpretation of population trend data 
for different stocks of false killer whales. The Council agrees that 
changes in survey methodology and oceanographic conditions preclude 
using the 2002 and 2010 abundance estimates as a direct measure of 
population trend for the pelagic stock of false killer whales. However, 
we find that NMFS has not consistently applied the above reasoning in 
evaluating the insular stock population trend. The Council therefore 
requests that NMFS apply consistent scientific reasoning in inferring 
population trends for the insular and pelagic stocks of false killer 
whales.
    Response: Considerably more data are available to evaluate trends 
of main Hawaiian Islands insular false killer whales than are available 
for the pelagic stock. Only two abundance estimates are available for 
the pelagic stock, each with overlapping coefficients of variation 
(CV), and it is not possible to assess whether this stock may be 
increasing, decreasing, or stable. In contrast, data on insular stock 
trends include aerial survey data from the 1980s, 1990s and early 
2000s, and recent estimates of abundance from small vessel surveys 
resulting in identification of a large portion of the population. These 
data together allow for a robust assessment of population trend for the 
insular stock. Uncertainties in the trend assessment were tested in 
sensitivity trials in Oleson et al. (2010), with the outcome of all 
plausible models indicating a declining population.
    Comment 44: The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council 
finds the declining population trend attributed to the insular stock to 
be inconsistent with observed data since 2000. The draft 2012 SAR cites 
the Status Review of Hawaiian insular false killer whales to show that 
the current decline of the insular stock is occurring at an average 
rate of 9% since 1989. The SAR also reports that the population 
estimate for the insular stock based on a photographic mark-recapture 
study during 2000-2004 was 123 animals. Applying the 9% annual decline 
to the 123 insular false killer whales in 2000, the population in 2012 
would be estimated at approximately 40 animals. Alternatively, starting 
with 123 animals in 2004 would result in approximately 58 animals in 
2012. However, the current best estimate of the insular false killer 
whales according to the draft 2012 SAR is 151 animals, significantly 
higher than would be expected based on the quantified population trend. 
This simple exercise highlights possible inaccuracies in NMFS' 
assumptions regarding the insular stock population trend. The Council 
therefore requests that NMFS reanalyze the insular stock population 
trend based on the best available information.
    Response: NMFS thanks the Council for pointing out an omission in 
the draft 2012 SAR. The 2000-2004 estimate used in the Population 
Viability Analysis (PVA) presented in the Hawaiian insular false killer 
whale Status Review was 162 (CV=0.23) animals, rather than the older 
estimate of 123 (CV=0.72) animals listed in the SAR. The updated 
abundance estimate for the 2000-2004 period has now been included 
within the SAR. All estimates are described in detail in Oleson et al. 
(2010). However, the exercise conducted by the Council does not 
correctly consider the time period of the two estimates (from 2000-2004 
to 2006-2009) and does not incorporate uncertainty in the estimates of 
population abundance and trend. Also, it does not provide an accurate 
evaluation of the trend analyses conducted as part of the Status 
Review. NMFS is required to use many factors in calculating the 
abundance trend, as carefully described in Oleson et al. (2010)--we 
attempt to summarize those factors here. The PVA used all available 
data, including minimum counts, encounter rates, and abundance 
estimates, as well as estimates of environmental stochasticity, the 
impact of Allee effects, and catastrophic events. The Status Review 
explicitly acknowledged the relatively small change in population size 
from the 2000-2004 estimate of 162 individuals and the 2006-2009 
estimate of either 151 or 170 individuals, suggesting that a two-stage 
model may also be appropriate. Most iterations of the PVA were 
parameterized with the higher 2006-2009 abundance of 170 individuals 
that is now considered an overestimate, as animals seen near Kauai now 
known to associate with the Northwest Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) stock 
were included in that estimate. Thus, the second rate of change could 
be seen as overly optimistic, as it attempted to incorporate the higher 
2006-2009 abundance. The impact of using the lower 2006-2009 estimate 
on the risk of extinction can be seen in Appendix 2 (model 9) of Oleson 
et al. (2010).
    Comment 45: Based on the new abundance estimate and all other

[[Page 19454]]

available evidence, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management 
Council believes that the Hawaii longline fishery has had significantly 
less impact on the false killer whale population than has been implied 
over the last decade. According to NMFS, incidental take of false 
killer whales in the Hawaii deep-set longline fishery has exceeded PBR 
since 2000 when a SAR for Hawaii false killer whales was first 
produced. Given that take exceeding PBR in the long-term is considered 
unsustainable, the false killer whale population interacting with the 
longline fishery would be expected to show a decline. However, 
available data do not suggest that the pelagic stock has experienced a 
decline, and a stable or increasing trend is much more likely for the 
pelagic stock than a declining trend. This calls into question the 
assumptions used in marine mammal stock assessments, the calculation of 
PBR, and evaluation of fishery impacts on marine mammal populations. 
Given the lack of evidence indicating a population decline of the 
pelagic stock of false killer whales, NMFS should consider setting the 
recovery factor higher than 0.5.
    Response: NMFs concurs with the Council's comment on the 2012 draft 
SARs that acknowledges that environmental variability and lack of 
information on the entire range of the pelagic false killer whale stock 
precludes any trend analysis for this stock. In this comment, the 
Council is implying that such trend analyses may be appropriate. At 
this time, inadequate data exist to assess trends in abundance for this 
stock, and it is inappropriate to assume the fishery has had no effect 
when surveys covered only a fraction of the range of the population, 
without any information on the dependence of the distribution of this 
stock on environmental conditions. The population remains at unknown 
status such that use of a recovery factor equal to 0.5 is appropriate 
and warranted.
    Comment 46: The draft 2012 SAR for the Hawaiian Islands stock 
complex of spinner dolphins description under the human-caused 
mortality and serious injury section in nearly all Hawaii dolphin SARs 
is irrelevant and represents an inaccurate interpretation of the cited 
study. Furthermore, NMFS observer data from the Main Hawaiian Islands 
bottomfish fishery between 2003 and 2005 indicate that there has been 
no observed incidental take of cetaceans in this fishery. The Council 
believes the observer program data represent the best available 
information on human-caused mortality and serious injury for the 
bottomfish fishery and requests that NMFS include these as a measure of 
interactions in the fishery rather than using the target catch damage 
rates currently used in the SARs.
    Response: The information on interaction rates from the 1995 study 
will continue to be included as it represents the best available 
historical data for the bottomfish fishery. NMFS appreciates the 
Council's reference to more recent data from the Observer Program from 
2003 to 2005, a short period when the NWHI fishery was observed at 18-
25% coverage. This information is now included in the SAR. The Main 
Hawaiian Islands bottomfish fishery has never been observed.
    Comment 47: The draft 2012 SAR for Hawaiian monk seals includes 
descriptions of recent intentional killings in the Main Hawaiian 
Islands, followed by the claim that ``more seals are likely 
intentionally killed than are reported or discovered.'' However, no 
scientific justification or reference is provided to support this 
claim, and it appears to be speculative. NMFS should avoid such 
speculation and use the best available scientific information in the 
SARs as required under Section 117(a) of the MMPA.
    Response: The intentional killing of monk seals in the Main 
Hawaiian Islands is well-documented, although it is extremely unlikely 
that all carcasses of seals killed intentionally are discovered and 
reported. Studies of the recovery rates of carcasses of marine mammal 
species have shown that the probability of detecting and documenting 
all deaths (whether from human or natural causes) is quite low (Peltier 
et al. 2012; Williams et al. 2011; Perrin et al. 2010; Punt and Wade 
2010). Text to address this uncertainty has been incorporated in the 
SAR.
    Comment 48: The SARs annually contain descriptions of United States 
commercial fisheries in Appendix I. No revisions were proposed in the 
draft 2012 SAR for the Pacific Ocean. However, upon review of the 
fishery descriptions in the Final 2011 SARs, the Council notes that 
descriptions for Hawaii Category III fisheries (Hawaii gillnet, lobster 
trap, inshore handline, deep sea bottomfish handline & jig, and tuna 
handline and jig fisheries) are outdated and require revisions. 
Necessary revisions include, but are not limited to, the following: (1) 
Number of active permit holders and total effort for the Hawaii 
Category III fisheries have not been updated since 2000; (2) there are 
currently no lobster and bottomfish fisheries in the NWHI due to the 
establishment of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument that 
prohibited unpermitted removal of monument resources; (3) the Main 
Hawaiian Islands bottomfish fishery in federal waters is managed under 
the Fishery Ecosystem Plan for the Hawaiian Archipelago and operates 
under an annual catch limit. The fishery is co-managed with the State 
of Hawaii, which has adopted complementary measures in state waters.
    Response: NMFS will update all fishery descriptions in the 2013 
SARs and will consult with local Council staff regarding whether other 
updates may be warranted.
    Comment 49: The Hawaii Longline Association appreciates that NMFS 
has updated the abundance estimate for the Hawaii pelagic false killer 
whale stock (``Pelagic Stock'') based on the best available scientific 
information. However, certain aspects of the Draft SAR's 
characterization of the 2010 Hawaii EEZ survey data are inaccurate and, 
accordingly, we propose language that accurately reflects the available 
information. The Draft SAR is not consistent with the best available 
scientific information in two additional respects: (i) the Draft SAR's 
statement that no population trend data are available for the Pelagic 
Stock and (ii) the use of a 0.5 recovery factor value in the 
calculation of the Pelagic Stock's potential biological removal.
    Response: The Hawaii Longline Association proposed revisions to the 
text in the Hawaii pelagic false killer whale stock SAR regarding the 
possibility of positive bias in sightings as a result of vessel 
attraction; this language has been incorporated with a few changes. 
Including additional bootstrap variance on the various parameters in 
the 2010 estimate would not inform this issue (other than showing that 
most of the variance comes from the encounter rate) and would seem to 
be superfluous information for a SAR. It remains that the bootstrap CV 
on the density (and abundance) estimates resulted in an estimate with 
confidence intervals that overlap with those of the 2002 estimate. That 
alone negates our ability to make a trend estimate as infinite 
scenarios (including a decline) are possible (lognormal 95% CIs for the 
two estimates are 484 (103-2274) and 1,503 (462-4884)). The population 
remains at unknown status, such that use of a recovery factor equal to 
0.5, given the CV on the mortality and serious injury estimate, is 
appropriate and warranted.
    Comment 50: The certainty with which NMFS has confirmed a new, 
separate false killer whale stock in the NWHI stock is not 
scientifically justified. This decision was made on a very limited data 
set and the agency's

[[Page 19455]]

rush to judgment about the separateness of this new ``stock'' appears 
to reflect an aversion to attributing new sightings of hundreds of 
whales to already established stocks, not the best available 
information.
    Response: NMFS disagrees that the designation of new stocks is not 
scientifically justified. The separation of the NWHI stock and the 
Hawaii insular and pelagic stocks is sound and based on multiple lines 
of evidence including genetic analyses indicating significant 
differentiation in both mtDNA and nucDNA, photo-ID indicating 
separation from the tight social network of the Main Hawaiian Islands 
animals, and satellite telemetry data suggesting island and atoll 
association within the NWHI. The data on false killer whale stock 
structure, including the new NWHI stock, have been evaluated both for 
demographic independence, the benchmark for separation under the MMPA, 
and for evolutionary separation, the more stringent standard for 
separation under the ESA.
    Comment 51: NMFS's serious injury determinations regarding the 
deep-set fishery's interactions with the Pelagic Stock are not 
accurate. NMFS's contention that the deep-set fishery has caused 
serious injuries in excess of PBR for a period of years cannot be 
reconciled with the best available evidence, which shows that false 
killer whale populations in the Hawaii EEZ have increased, or at a 
minimum remained stable, during the same time that the deep-set fishery 
has supposedly caused serious injuries at an unsustainable rate. NMFS 
should implement changes in the process through which serious injuries 
are determined.
    Response: At this time, the available data do not provide 
sufficient information to statistically determine trends in abundance, 
particularly since only a portion of the range of this stock has been 
surveyed. It is therefore incorrect to conclude the population is 
stable or increasing. The MMPA clearly states that a stock for which 
mortality and serious injury exceeds the PBR is strategic, and false 
killer whales have consistently met this definition since the first SAR 
for Hawaiian false killer whales in 2000.
    The process by which injuries are determined to be serious or not 
serious has been developed and peer-reviewed over many years by experts 
in marine mammal biology and health, and is based on the best available 
science (see Andersen et al. 2008; NOAA 2012a; NOAA 2012b). Prorating 
is done in accordance with NMFS guidelines using appropriate 
statistical techniques, and has been peer-reviewed by the Pacific SRG 
and other qualified scientists.
    Comment 52: Several of the draft SAR's conclusions regarding the 
Hawaii insular false killer whale stock (the ``Insular Stock'') are not 
correct. Specifically, the best available scientific information does 
not (i) suggest that the Insular Stock has declined in abundance or 
(ii) support the allocation of a deep-set fishery interaction to the 
Insular Stock. In addition, the use of a 0.1 recovery factor is 
inappropriate until, if, and when the Insular Stock is listed as an 
endangered species.
    Response: This stock was listed as endangered under the ESA as of 
December 28, 2012 (77 FR 70915). The name of this stock has been 
changed to the ``Main Hawaiian Islands insular stock'' throughout the 
SAR to reflect the name given during the ESA listing. Prior to listing, 
NMFS conducted an ESA status review of Hawaii insular false killer 
whales (Oleson et al. 2010) that represents the best available 
scientific information on the status of this stock. The PVA conducted 
by the Biological Review Team (BRT) indicates with high certainty that 
the population has declined. No new information is available since the 
2010 Status Review that negates the findings of the BRT. The BRT 
concluded that Hawaiian insular false killer whales are at high risk of 
extinction as a result of either small scale incremental impacts over 
time or a single catastrophic event. The combination of a decline in 
abundance, a high risk of extinction, and a small population size 
warranted a recovery factor of 0.1 for this stock prior to their 
listing, which was supported by the Pacific SRG.
    The partial allocation of a single 2006 take within the Main 
Hawaiian Islands insular-pelagic overlap zone is supported by the best 
available data on the range of the insular and pelagic stocks. The 
reference to the NMFS statement that there are ``no documented serious 
injuries or mortalities of [Insular Stock] animals incidental to 
Hawaii's longline fisheries'' (75 FR 2853, 19 January, 2010) does not 
include the entire sentence from the Federal Register notice, which 
clearly states that the provided information comes from the 2008 and 
2009 SARs, prior to reevaluation of the insular stock boundary and the 
implementation of the insular-pelagic overlap zone.
    Comment 53: The US Navy would request for the final long-beaked 
common dolphin SAR deletion of the sentence as unwarranted: ``Exposure 
to blast trauma resulting from underwater detonations is a habitat 
concern for this stock and the cumulative impacts of these detonations 
at the population level is unknown (Danil and St. Leger 2011)'', and 
deletion of the blast trauma statement ``* * * and mortality resulting 
from blast trauma (0.8 animals per year for the 5-yr period 2007 to 
2011).''
    Response: Danil and St. Leger (2011) state that the population-
level impacts of such blast-trauma events require careful 
consideration. This acknowledges that while this was the first such 
event documented by the Navy in this region, not all blast trauma 
events are necessarily detected. NMFS supports the mitigation measures 
that the Navy implemented following this event and acknowledges that 
such measures will reduce the probability of future events. NMFS 
acknowledges that this type of activity represents a local threat to 
dolphins in the testing area, unlike habitat threats that could have 
much larger spatial and quantitative impacts. Language in the SAR has 
been changed from ``habitat concern'' to ``local concern.''
    Calculation of an average annual mortality based on various human-
caused sources is required under Section 117 of the MMPA, which states 
that NMFS must ``estimate the annual human-caused mortality and serious 
injury of the stock by source and, for a strategic stock, other factors 
that may be causing a decline or impeding recovery of the stock, 
including effects on marine mammal habitat and prey.'' The use of a 5-
year average annual mortality for past human-caused mortality and 
serious injury is standard in stock assessment reports and is used for 
all sources of human-caused mortality. The language in the SAR is not 
intended to imply that future blast trauma events will occur every year 
at a level of 0.8 animals per year but rather is an annual average of 
the most recent past 5-year period over which human-caused mortality is 
evaluated from each source. Conversely, an absence of detected blast 
trauma events in a given year does not constitute ``evidence of 
absence'' of these events.
    Comment 54: I would like to suggest that the CA-OR-WA minke whale 
stock extends north into British Columbia, Southeast Alaska, Prince 
William Sound and along the Gulf of Alaska coast to about Unimak Pass 
in the Aleutian Islands. I base this assertion on the similar spatial 
distribution patterns in these northern regions to that in the CA-OR-WA 
stock. My suggestions would be a CA-OR-WA-BC-AK stock, although I know 
that BC waters are not under the purview of NMFS.

[[Page 19456]]

    Response: While the distribution of minke whales may be 
concentrated in shelf waters within the large area described, there are 
no data that support the lumping of CA-OR-WA stock minke whales with 
animals from Canada and Alaska. In the absence of such evidence, the 
GAMMS recommend defining management units at a smaller spatial scale to 
avoid local depletion, particularly as the source and magnitude of 
anthropogenic impacts may vary regionally.

Comments on Alaska Regional Reports

    Comment 55: The Commission recommends that NMFS meet with the 
Commission to discuss the impending changes in the Arctic and consider 
the development of (a) a long-term assessment strategy to characterize 
population abundance, stock status, and ecological and human 
interactions as climate disruption continues and (b) a long-term 
management strategy that anticipates the risks to ice seals and 
develops pro-active measures to avoid or minimize those risks.
    Response: NMFS appreciates the Marine Mammal Commission's interest 
and would welcome the opportunity to discuss these and other issues of 
mutual concern.
    Comment 56: The Commission recommends that NMFS continue its 
efforts to (1) collaborate with the Alaska Native community to monitor 
the abundance and distribution of ice seals and (2) use seals taken in 
the subsistence harvest to obtain data on demography, ecology, life 
history, behavior, health status, and other pertinent topics; among 
other things, subsistence harvests provide opportunities to collect 
valuable data on ice seal populations in many parts of their ranges 
while minimizing the logistical requirements and costs.
    Response: NMFS continues to work with Alaska Native partners to 
obtain data on ice seal stocks, including information on abundance and 
distribution, demography, ecology, life history, subsistence harvest, 
and other data pertinent to assessing the status of these stocks.
    Comment 57: The Commission recommends that NMFS revise its stock 
assessments for the north Kodiak, south Kodiak, and Cook Inlet harbor 
seal stocks by (1) Reducing the recovery factor to be consistent with 
the Service's 2005 guidelines, (2) recalculating their PBR values, (3) 
updating the stock assessment reports accordingly, including changing 
the status of the north Kodiak stock, and (4) working with Native 
communities to ensure that harvest numbers, when combined with other 
human-related serious injuries and deaths, do not exceed the PBR for 
the north Kodiak stock.
    Response: The GAMMS state that, ``stocks that are not known to be 
decreasing, taken primarily by aboriginal subsistence hunters, could 
have higher Fr values, up to and including 1.0, provided that there 
have not been recent increases in the levels of takes.'' In the case of 
these 3 stocks, the trend is unknown, there are no additional 
indications the stocks are decreasing, they are taken primarily by 
aboriginal subsistence hunters, and there is no apparent increase in 
the level of takes. NMFS is currently developing new methods for 
analysis of abundance and trend for each of the stocks. Results from 
this new analysis will inform future decisions regarding the 
determination of recovery factor. Additionally, the assignment of 
subsistence harvest and fisheries mortalities to a particular stock is 
imprecise, because the stocks are mixed during most of the year, when 
harbor seals are not tied to their breeding locations. As noted in 
response to other comments, NMFS continues to work with Alaska Native 
partners to obtain subsistence harvest data.
    Comment 58: The Commission recommends that NMFS conduct the 
research needed to (1) analyze and describe the risks to North Pacific 
right whales associated with increasing shipping traffic in the Bering 
Sea and North Pacific, paying particular attention to Unimak Pass, and 
of entanglement in fishing gear and (2) use that information to design 
management measures that will minimize the risk of ship strikes and 
entanglement, and that it ensure its activities do not significantly 
increase the risk faced by the whales.
    Response: NMFS is also concerned about the North Pacific right 
whale population. With a current estimate of 31 animals in the eastern 
population, the population is critically endangered. At the present 
time, there is no evidence that entanglement in fishing gear is a major 
problem for this population; photographs of right whales in the 
National Marine Mammal Laboratory catalogue show no entanglement scars. 
In addition, the Alaska Fisheries Science Center is working with the 
Marine Conservation Alliance, a fishing industry group, to examine the 
overlap of fixed gear with right whales in the Bering Sea, and will 
produce a report on this analysis in the coming year. With regard to 
shipping, it will be difficult to reliably quantify the risk of ship 
strikes to right whales in Unimak Pass or elsewhere because we have 
very little information on seasonal right whale distribution. NMFS is 
considering the emerging issue of increased shipping in the Arctic with 
various management bodies and stakeholders, and is working toward a 
coordinated, proactive approach to this topic. In addition, the 
research needs identified by the Commission are part of the recently 
published draft Recovery Plan for North Pacific right whales (78 FR 
4835, January 23, 2013).
    Comment 59: The Commission recommends that NMFS make every effort 
to expedite the analysis of all passive acoustic, satellite telemetry, 
and other data available for North Pacific right whales, update the 
stock assessment report accordingly, and use those data to develop 
protective measures for this population.
    Response: NMFS has already conducted and published results of some 
of this work, including papers on a low-latitude match and an aerial 
acoustics technique together with new data on the past illegal Soviet 
catches (the primary reason for the eastern population's critically 
endangered status). Other papers summarizing the distribution, acoustic 
research, and satellite tagging data are in preparation. NMFS is 
currently seeking funding for a study clarifying whether the northern 
limit of the right whale's range in the Bering Sea extends to and above 
the Bering Strait.
    Comment 60: The Commission recommends that NMFS revise the stock 
assessment report for the North Pacific right whale stock to indicate 
that based on knowledge of migratory patterns of similar species, 
Hawaii and Mexico could be low latitude habitats used more regularly by 
North Pacific right whales than currently recognized.
    Response: As noted by Brownell et al. (2001) and Clapham et al. 
(2004), there is very little evidence from historical whaling and 
sighting data, or from archaeology, that either Hawai'i or Baja 
California were ever a significant habitat for right whales. There has 
been no new information since those publications that would 
significantly alter that conclusion.
    Comment 61: There is an acknowledgement in the Steller seal lion 
(Western stock) SAR that there is a marked difference in trends of 
abundance for this stock depending on the specific trend site. Yet the 
gains in some portions of the range have been assumed to compensate for 
the losses in other portions of the range with a PBR calculated for the 
entire stock from the western Aleutians to the eastern Gulf of Alaska. 
This seems inappropriately risk prone. The region should consider

[[Page 19457]]

managing Steller sea lions on a finer scale to more appropriately 
illustrate the need for conservative management in portions of the 
species' range where declines are ongoing.
    Response: The Alaska Regional Office has been considering options 
for more fine-scale management of Steller sea lions for some time (with 
areas such as those in the Recovery Plan). For example, we considered 
fine-scale population trends in the 2010 Biological Opinion on the 
effects of the Alaska groundfish fisheries on the Western distinct 
population segment (DPS), and we are examining trends in portions of 
the Eastern DPS as we consider possible delisting. NMFS Alaska Regional 
Office will continue to investigate this approach.
    Comment 62: Steller sea lions (Western stock) is one of several 
stocks for which there is an acknowledgement that fisheries known to 
interact with the stock are not being monitored by observers and may 
not have been monitored in over a decade. In this case, the SAR states 
that ``observer data on state fisheries dates as far back as 1990; 
however, these are the best data available to estimate takes in these 
fisheries. No observers have been assigned to several fisheries that 
are known to interact with this stock.'' This must be remedied to 
provide a better understanding of fishery-related impacts, particularly 
in areas where there are ongoing declines.
    Response: NMFS has previously responded to this comment (see 77 FR 
29969, May 21, 2012, comment 62) as follows: ``NMFS is working with 
fishing industry and Alaska state partners on implementing adaptive 
sampling in the federal observer program that covers fisheries managed 
by the State of Alaska. The adaptive sampling methods are designed to 
increase data collection efficiency. NMFS has recently directed funds 
to observer effort in nearshore drift gillnet fisheries in southeast 
Alaska.''
    Comment 63: This Steller sea lions (Western stock) SAR is one of 
many SARs for pinnipeds in Alaska stating that ``[a]s of 2009, data on 
community subsistence harvests are no longer being collected. Therefore 
the most recent 5-years of data (2004-2008) will be retained and used 
for estimating annual mortality * * *'' This is a deplorable approach 
to management of a stock that is declining in inhabited portions of its 
range and/or where hunting of this endangered species may be ongoing. 
NMFS must correct this data deficit as soon as possible.
    Response: NMFS agrees that it is important to understand the 
magnitude of Steller sea lion subsistence harvest. A successful marine 
mammal harvest monitoring program cannot be developed exclusively in 
the federal domain and must be supported by Alaska Native hunters and 
communities. In December 2010 and March 2011 NMFS partnered with the 
Indigenous People's Council on Marine Mammals to convene two workshops 
of marine mammal hunters and Alaska Native Organization (ANO) 
representatives to begin to develop a statewide program for monitoring 
subsistence hunting and harvests. NMFS continues to work with our ANO 
partners on harvest monitoring programs within the annual ANO co-
management funding program.
    Comment 64: The need for better accounting of mortality is 
particularly poignant for Steller sea lions (Western stock) because 
there is every reason to believe that human-related mortality exceeds 
the PBR. The section on ``status of the stock'' states that the current 
levels of anthropogenic mortality and serious injury are below the PBR 
simply because anthropogenic mortality is at a level a few dozen 
animals less than the PBR. This does not account for the fact that (as 
acknowledged in the SAR) fishery-related mortality data are absent; 
and, thus, the estimate of fishery impacts is likely an under-estimate. 
Nor does it take into consideration the complete lack of effort to 
collect data on native subsistence take. Thus the statement that the 
average annual mortality of 231.8 is below the PBR of 275 is overly 
optimistic and likely inaccurate.
    Response: Previous responses (75 FR 12498, March 16, 2010, Comment 
19; 76 FR 34054, June 10, 2011, Comment 11) have addressed comments 
pertaining to the need for current and accurate estimates of 
subsistence takes for pinnipeds in Alaska, including the western stock 
of Steller sea lions. Observer coverage in the Federal groundfish 
fisheries remains relatively high, and serious injury and mortality 
(SI/M) estimates from these fisheries are estimated based on observed 
SI/M. The best available data are used to estimate SI/M for Alaska 
state fisheries and included in the total SI/M estimate.
    Comment 65: We believe NMFS should consider whether the ongoing 
declines of Northern fur seals warrant listing this stock as threatened 
under the Endangered Species Act. Fur seals were listed as depleted in 
1988, as a consequence of a decline to less than 50 percent of its 
population of the 1950's. See: 53 FR 17888 (May18, 1988). Since that 
time, just in the past 20 years, the stock has once again lost 
approximately 50 percent of its abundance (i.e., estimated at 182,437 
in 1992 and 93,627 in 2010).
    Response: The Eastern Pacific stock of northern fur seals is 
composed of breeding aggregations on St. Paul Island, St. George 
Island, and Bogoslof Island. NMFS concurs with the commenter in the 
estimated percent reduction in abundance; however, the actual abundance 
is about 4.5 times higher than presented for St. Paul Island alone. The 
commenter is incorrect in the description of the estimated abundance of 
the stock of northern fur seals as 93,627; in fact that is the estimate 
of pups born on St. Paul Island in 2010. The estimated population 
abundance is 611,617 for the eastern Pacific Stock. While NMFS is 
concerned about the statistically significant decline in pup production 
on the Pribilof Islands, we do not believe the entire stock is 
threatened with extinction. The protections afforded northern fur seals 
under the MMPA are adequate to implement management measures to promote 
increases in overall stock abundance. NMFS has invested significantly 
in a vital rates study by tagging annual cohorts and adult female 
northern fur seals over the past three years. The continuation of this 
study to mark and re-sight individuals will allow NMFS to estimate 
survival and reproductive rates on St. Paul and St. George and 
determine where management measures will be most effective towards 
stock recovery. The results of this work will not be realized until a 
series of annual cohorts have been re-sighted and individual cohort 
survival and reproductive rates can be estimated.
    Comment 66: Lake Iliamna seals should be separated and recognized 
as a separate stock (reasons detailed in comment letter). Whether the 
Iliamna Lake seal is a stock of harbor seal or if the Iliamna Lake seal 
is a stock of spotted seal, or a separate species of Phoca, extirpation 
of the Iliamna Lake seal would result in a gap in the range of harbor 
seal or spotted seal.
    Response: NMFS and co-management partners in the Alaska Native 
community designated 12 stocks of harbor seals based on local 
knowledge, as well as historical and recent data. NMFS is in the 
process of evaluating the evidence for discreteness of the harbor seals 
in Lake Iliamna, including their genetic relatedness to other harbor 
seals and seasonal variation in numbers of seals in the lake. NMFS 
recently received a petition to list Iliamna harbor seals as threatened 
or endangered under the ESA. If NMFS determines that the petition 
presents substantial

[[Page 19458]]

information indicating that listing may be warranted, NMFS will 
undertake a status review, which would include a thorough evaluation of 
whether these seals constitute a population that is eligible for 
listing.
    Comment 67: The table showing abundance and trends in harbor seals 
shows some management stocks with declining trends and others 
stabilized. Neither the text nor Table 9a, that provides minimum 
abundance estimates for each of the management stocks, provide CVs for 
the estimates of abundance. If available, these should be provided to 
elucidate the appropriateness of the recovery factor that was provided. 
Using the same recovery factor (0.5) in calculating PBR for all of the 
management stocks, whether stable or declining and with no CV provided 
for the estimates, seems risk prone.
    Response: Table 9a in the SAR provides Nmin estimates for each of 
the 12 harbor seal stocks. CVs for the estimates of abundance have been 
added to the final SAR.
    Comment 68: NMFS should determine a PBR for beluga whales based on 
a conservative estimate as proposed in the revisions of the stock 
assessment guidelines.
    Response: The revised GAMMS III have not been finalized; therefore, 
the PBR calculation is based upon the current guidelines (GAMMS II).
    Comment 69: The Cook Inlet beluga population is not increasing, and 
we agree that setting a PBR allowing take of the species is 
inappropriate. The PBR should be set at zero to avoid a misconception 
that an undetermined PBR places no limit on take. Further, there are 
continuing proposals for oil and gas exploration and port expansion in 
their habitat. While NMFS continues to assert that there is no 
significant impact from each of these proposed projects, many of them 
subject these belugas to harmful sound levels and ensonification of 
their habitat (e.g., NMFS, 2012). NMFS must prioritize necropsy of any 
dead belugas found in Cook Inlet. We believe that the continued insult 
to their habitat has been given short shrift in the discussion of 
habitat impact and recent litigation has asserted that NMFS has not 
properly considered and mitigated impacts.
    Response: Similar to Hawaiian monk seals (see response to comment 
29) and as stated in the SAR, the Cook Inlet beluga stock does 
not meet the assumptions inherent to the use of PBR. NMFS has decided 
it would not be appropriate to calculate a maximum number that may be 
removed while allowing the population to achieve OSP; therefore, PBR 
for Cook Inlet beluga whales is undetermined. NMFS has previously 
responded to similar comments pertaining to Cook Inlet beluga habitat 
(75 FR 12498, March 16, 2010, Comment 1 and 6), and specifically to the 
``habitat concerns'' section of the Cook Inlet beluga SAR (76 FR 34054, 
June 10, 2011, Comment 22).
    Comment 70: NMFS must update abundance estimates for harbor 
porpoises that are over 8 years old, many of which are even 15 years 
old. To the extent that these data are currently unavailable, NMFS 
should apply the new GAMMS strategy for determining PBR when data is 
old. These abundance data need to be collected for better management.
    Response: The revised guidelines for assessing marine mammal stocks 
(GAMMS III) have not been finalized; therefore, the PBR calculation is 
based upon the current guidelines (GAMMS II).
    Comment 71: The Dall's porpoise SAR should be updated with more 
current population estimates. Rather than undetermined PBR for stocks 
with data more than 8 years old, the worst-case scenario should be 
assumed for establishing PBR as proposed in the draft GAMMS III.
    Response: NMFS is in the process of analyzing abundance and trends 
of Dall's porpoise in Southeast Alaska; however, these data are 
currently not available and include only a portion of the range for 
this stock. Once this analysis is complete, NMFS will update the Dall's 
porpoise SAR with new information.
    Comment 72: NMFS should obtain a reliable estimate of the sperm 
whale population size and set a PBR.
    Response: NMFS agrees that an abundance estimate, trend, and PBR 
are needed for sperm whales in Alaska and will continue to seek 
resources for necessary surveys (77 FR 29969, June 10, 2011, Comment 
71).
    Comment 73: The humpback whale SAR Appendix 8 only provides 
information on mortality through 2007 despite the fact that more 
updated information is available in individual SARs. This appendix 
should be updated through 2010.
    Response: NMFS is currently working on a technical memorandum 
summarizing all Alaska marine mammal injury assessments for 2007-2011, 
including humpback whales, using guidance provided in the Marine Mammal 
Serious Injury Policy and Procedural Directives that became effective 
27 January 2012. These data will be available in the Tech Memo in 2013 
and will no longer be included as an Appendix in the SAR.
    Comment 74: NMFS should update the SARs for the ice seals--spotted, 
bearded, ringed and ribbon seals. The ice seals should be classified as 
strategic, and accordingly their SARs should be updated every year. 
Additionally, given the limited understanding of stock abundance and 
trends and the lack of CVs surrounding abundance estimates, the formula 
provided for calculating PBRs for all of these seals errs in utilizing 
an inappropriate recovery factor of 0.5. A more precautionary recovery 
factor should be used for these stocks following the most recent final 
GAMMS that suggest lower recovery factors for stocks with greater 
uncertainty in estimates of abundance (NMFS, 2005). We are particularly 
alarmed that several SARs for ice seals contain language acknowledging 
that ``[a]s of 2009, data on community subsistence harvests are no 
longer being collected[hellip]'' This warrants an explanation. Why are 
anthropogenic impacts not being tracked on a timely basis for these 
intentional harvests? This is particularly important for these stocks 
for which no abundance or trend information is available and that 
depend on habitat that the SARs acknowledge to be degraded.
    Response: NMFS agrees that information on subsistence harvest is 
necessary for ice-associated seals. A successful marine mammal harvest 
monitoring program cannot be developed exclusively in the federal 
domain and must be supported by Alaska Native hunters and communities. 
In December 2010 and March 2011, NMFS partnered with the Indigenous 
People's Council on Marine Mammals to convene two workshops of marine 
mammal hunters and ANO representatives to begin to develop a statewide 
program for monitoring subsistence hunting and harvests. NMFS continues 
to work with our ANO partners by prioritizing harvest monitoring 
programs within the annual ANO co-management funding program. Even so, 
the subsistence harvest of ice-associated seals in Alaska appears to be 
sustainable, and the significant concerns about the future status of 
ice seals stem from climate change and associated habitat loss, not 
subsistence harvest.
    Comment 75: The draft 2012 reports on Steller sea lions do not 
reflect the most current or accurate information regarding total 
population and trend for the United States Western DPS or the entire 
Western DPS. For example, the draft SAR does not provide any population 
trend for the total

[[Page 19459]]

population of the U.S. Western DPS Steller sea lion stock in its 
entirety. The total population of the U.S. Western DPS has increased to 
52,209 in 2011, an increase of 41% from 2000. The best estimate for 
Steller sea lions in Russia is 25,000 to 28,000 animals. Therefore the 
best estimate of the entire Western DPS population in 2011 would be 
77,000-80,000 (with 52,000 in the U.S. Western DPS and 25,000-28,000 in 
Russia). From 2000 to 2011, the total population estimate for the 
entire Western DPS has increased 54% to 60%. The SAR should provide the 
best total estimate of the total population for the entire U.S Western 
DPS stock and the entire Western DPS. The disclaimer concerning the pup 
multiplier and the reference to Holmes 2007 should be deleted as Holmes 
2007 (and the hypothesized reduced natality in Central gulf of Alaska 
and extension to the entire Western DPS) does not represent the best 
available or current science.
    Response: NMFS agrees with the estimate of 52,000 for the U.S. 
Western DPS Steller sea lion population in 2011, and agrees that the 
best current estimate (i.e., 2011) for Steller sea lion abundance in 
Russia is between 25,000 and 28,000, and that the total western DPS 
population is between 77,000 and 80,000. However, NMFS does not agree 
with how the commenter calculated the percent change in the western DPS 
population between estimates derived in 2000 and 2011. NMFS' estimate 
of percent change based on pup counts at western DPS rookeries that 
were surveyed in both years in the United States (N=31) indicates a 17% 
increase between 2001-02 (8,639 pups) and 2011 (10,139 pups). These two 
pup counts are not estimates of the total pup production in these years 
but sums of counts at the 31 largest rookeries; in 2011, the 31 largest 
rookeries had the vast majority (87%=10,139/11,600) of all pups born in 
the western DPS in the United States. NMFS does not have a similar 
estimate of total pup production for 2001-02 since aerial surveys were 
not used to count pups then; and, consequently, several major haul-outs 
and some smaller rookeries that have been consistently surveyed during 
aerial surveys since 2005 were not counted during the 2001-02 surveys. 
Estimates of change in abundance of non-pups in the western DPS in the 
United States between 2000 and 2011 are based on counts at two groups 
of trend sites. The 1990s trend sites (N=161) had a total of 23,836 
non-pups in 2000 and 27,168 in 2008, an increase of 14%; the 2000s 
trend sites (N=232) had 25,251 non-pups in 2000 and 30,147 in 2008, an 
increase of 19%. Consequently, estimates for the change in western 
Steller sea lion abundance in the United States between 2000 and 2011 
range between 14% and 19%, less than half the 41% cited by the 
commenter.
    While the western Steller sea lion SAR provides information about 
abundance in Russia, only information about the portion of the stock 
residing in United States waters is used to estimate Nmin and to 
calculate PBR. The GAMMS instructs that for stocks that span 
international boundaries, the PBR for United States fisheries is 
calculated based on the abundance estimate of the stock residing in 
United States waters.
    Comment 76: The minimum population for the Western DPS of Steller 
sea lions should be revised upward as it excludes known counts. 
Exclusion of these additional counts ignores the best available 
scientific information.
    Response: In order for Steller sea lion non-pup counts (from aerial 
photographs) to represent a consistent index of the total non-pup 
population from year to year, only animals on land are counted. During 
the breeding season, only a small fraction of non-pups are at sea; non-
pups spend most of their time on land. Animals in the water are counted 
only when it is known they were disturbed from the land to the water 
during the survey. In those circumstances, every effort is made to only 
count those animals that entered the water and are still relatively 
close to shore. Surveys are designed to occur during the season and 
time of day when non-pups are most likely to be hauled out on land, 
which maximizes the opportunity of obtaining a consistent index count 
of non-pups each year.
    Comment 77: The Western DPS of Steller sea lion SAR should be 
revised to include the population trend for the total U.S. Western DPS 
and the entire Western DPS. The current draft only contains estimates 
for fragmented sections of the population in sub-areas (and sections of 
sub-areas as in the Central Aleutian Islands), but the SAR inexplicably 
provides no overall trend for the total population for the U.S. Western 
DPS and Western DPS. If sub-area trends for non-pups are to be 
included, the SAR should be more explicit as to how non-pup trends to 
2011 are being derived--when the 2011 non-pup survey only covered 75% 
of the non-pup survey sites.
    Response: NMFS is currently working on estimating trends for the 
entire U.S. Western DPS of Steller sea lions through 2012, as well as 
for each of the sub-areas. These results will be included in the 2013 
SAR.
    Comment 78: The draft Western DPS of Steller sea lion SAR should be 
revised to include the most recent total population estimate for the 
Russian population (25,000-28,000).
    Response: The most recent estimate for the Russian population of 
Steller sea lion (25,000 to 28,000) referenced by the commenter is 
based on a presentation at the Alaska Marine Science Symposium in 
January 2012. These data became available after the draft 2012 SAR was 
prepared, and the SRG has not reviewed them in the context of the SAR. 
NMFS intends to update the draft 2013 SAR with this information once it 
has undergone expert review.
    Comment 79: The draft Western DPS of Steller sea lion SAR should 
consider revising the recovery factor from 0.1 to 0.3 as the U.S. 
Western DPS stock is steadily increasing with known human take 
(subsistence and fishery interactions). The U.S. Western DPS has 
increased +41% from 2000 to 2011 and is 98% of the downlisting 
population threshold. Revision of the recovery factor for an increasing 
population is consistent with the GAMMS.
    Response: The GAMMS instruct that the default recovery factor for 
stocks of endangered species should be 0.1. Changes to recovery factors 
for listed stocks can be made after careful consideration and SRG 
review. However, given that the current annual level of incidental U. 
S. Commercial fishery-related mortality exceeds 10% of the PBR and 
cannot be considered insignificant and approaching a zero mortality and 
serious injury rate, combined with the relatively high CVs for 
commercial fishery mortality estimates, it is prudent that NMFS be 
conservative in managing this endangered stock. Therefore, NMFS will 
not increase the recovery factor at this time.
    Comment 80: The Western DPS of Steller sea lion SAR should be 
revised to accurately describe the extent (range and magnitude) of 
movement of Western DPS and Eastern DPS SSLs, both males and females. 
The reference to ``a few migrants'' (p. 2) should be deleted. The 
reference to Phillips 2011 does not support this assertion. A more 
thorough evaluation of the effects of observed movement by males and 
females on stock structure should be conducted.
    Response: Phillips et al. (2011) is a phylogeographic study of 
Steller sea lions and is not cited in reference to movements between 
the western and eastern stocks of Steller sea lions in the SARs. There 
are documented

[[Page 19460]]

movements of a few individuals between the geographic division of the 
eastern and western stocks; however, these cases are minimal and are 
not significant enough to affect stock structure. Demographics of these 
migrant individuals is being examined further, and the SAR will be 
reviewed and updated as appropriate in the draft 2013 SARs.
    Comment 81: Given the Center for Independent Experts (CIE) review 
and Independent Scientific Review Panel findings and conclusions, the 
2012 Western DPS of Steller sea lion SAR should not include the 
scientifically flawed information or constructs that were found to have 
little scientific basis in the 2010 Biological Opinion. Our detailed 
comments are provided in Attachment 1 to this letter.
    Response: The CIE review was conducted in August 2012, after the 
draft 2012 Western DPS of Steller sea lion SAR was released for public 
comment. NMFS will consider incorporating any significant findings and 
new information resulting from the CIE review in the draft 2013 SARs.

    Dated: March 25, 2013.
Helen M. Golde,
Acting Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2013-07553 Filed 3-29-13; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P