[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 93 (Wednesday, May 14, 2014)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 27550-27553]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-11103]


=======================================================================
-----------------------------------------------------------------------

DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 216

[Docket No. 140304190-4190-01]
RIN 0648-BE03


Subsistence Taking of Northern Fur Seals on the Pribilof Islands; 
Summary of Fur Seal Harvests for 2011-2013 and Proposed Annual Harvest 
Estimates for 2014-2016

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

ACTION: Notice of availability; request for comments.

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

SUMMARY: Pursuant to the regulations governing the subsistence taking 
of northern fur seals, this document summarizes the annual fur seal 
subsistence harvests on St. George and St. Paul Islands (the Pribilof 
Islands) for 2011-2013 and proposes annual estimates of fur seal 
subsistence harvests for 2014-2016 on the Pribilof Islands, Alaska. 
NMFS solicits public comments on the proposed estimates.

DATES: Comments must be received no later than June 13, 2014.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments, identified by FDMS docket Number 
NOAA-NMFS-2011-0187, by either of the following methods:
    Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public comments via 
the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2011-0187, click the ``Comment Now!'' icon, 
complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.
    Mail: Submit written comments to Jon Kurland, Assistant Regional 
Administrator for Protected Resources, Alaska Region NMFS, Attn: Ellen 
Sebastian, P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802-1668.
    Instructions: Comments sent by any other method, to any other 
address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, 
may not be considered by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the 
public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on 
www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying 
information (e.g., name, address, etc.), confidential business 
information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily 
by the sender will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous 
comments (enter ``N/A'' in the required fields if you wish to remain 
anonymous). Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in 
Microsoft Word, Excel, or Adobe PDF file formats only.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Michael Williams, NMFS Alaska Region, 
907-271-5117, Michael.Williams@noaa.gov; or Shannon Bettridge, NMFS 
Office of Protected Resources, 301-427-8402, 
Shannon.Bettridge@noaa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Electronic Access

    An Environmental Impact Statement is available on the Internet at 
the following address: http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/protectedresources/seals/fur/eis/final0505.pdf.

Background

    The subsistence harvest from the depleted stock of northern fur 
seals (Callorhinus ursinus), on the Pribilof Islands, Alaska, is 
governed by regulations found in 50 CFR part 216, subpart F. The 
purpose of these regulations, published under the authority of the Fur 
Seal Act (FSA), 16 U.S.C. 1151, et seq., and the Marine Mammal 
Protection Act (MMPA), 16 U.S.C. 1361, et seq., is to limit the take of 
fur seals to an allowable harvest level providing for the subsistence 
needs of the Pribilof residents, while restricting taking by sex, age, 
and season for herd conservation. To further minimize negative effects 
on the Pribilof Islands' fur seal population, the harvest has been 
limited to a 47-day season annually (June 23 to August 8).
    Pursuant to the regulations governing the taking of fur seals for 
subsistence purposes, NMFS must publish a summary of the fur seal 
harvest for the previous 3-year period and an estimate of the number of 
seals expected to be taken in the subsequent three-year period to meet 
the subsistence needs of the Aleut residents of the Pribilof Islands. 
Beginning in 2000, the allowable take ranges of estimated annual 
northern fur seal subsistence harvests have been discussed with each 
tribal government as part of the co-management relationship and 
agreement. Accurately predicting the annual subsistence needs of the 
Pribilof communities has faced practical and social difficulties; 
however, the process to develop estimates of the number of fur seals 
required to meet subsistence needs has resulted in acceptance of the 
different allowable take ranges since those first established in 1986. 
The current upper harvest take limit of 2,500 sub-adult (juveniles, 2-4 
years old) male fur seals has been accepted every year since 1997. The 
lower harvest take limit of 1,945 provides a degree of flexibility the 
communities feel comfortable with regarding changes and unanticipated 
needs within the community and the environment.
    Several factors and conditions affect both the subsistence harvest 
of northern fur seals and the number of fur seals required to meet 
subsistence needs. Weather conditions and availability of animals 
varies annually. The availability of wage earning jobs reduces the time 
available for community members to harvest fur seals and hunt other 
subsistence resources. Thus, individual community members may be 
unavailable to harvest fur seals during the season in certain years or 
have more financial resources to hunt other marine mammals in 
subsequent years or seasons. Several specific seasonal employment 
opportunities may interfere with community members' ability to harvest 
fur seals under the current regulations. The current timing of the 
northern fur seal subsistence harvest season overlaps with the local 
halibut fishing season, and many of the community members who 
participate in the harvest are also fishermen. In addition, crab 
fishery rationalization and a renewal of the crab harvest in the 
Pribilof region has provided local job opportunities that may extend 
into the spring hunting season for Steller sea lions. Both Steller sea 
lions and northern fur seals combine to meet the subsistence needs of 
the local communities along with numerous other species, though one 
species does not replace the lack of another. Northern fur seals 
provide the more reliable resource of the two species, despite being 
available during a 6-week harvest season.
    The communities of St. Paul and St. George Islands rely on marine 
mammals as a major food source and a cornerstone of their culture. The 
harvest of sub-adult male northern fur seals has occurred for well over 
200 years and the biological implications of this harvest are 
reasonably well understood. Subsistence harvests under the current

[[Page 27551]]

regulations are very small compared to the commercial harvests that 
occurred during the 20th Century.

Summary of Harvest Operations and Monitoring From 2011 to 2013

    The annual harvests from 2011 to 2013 were conducted in the 
established manner and employed the standard methods required under 
regulations at 50 CFR 216.72. NMFS personnel, a contract veterinarian, 
and tribal government staff monitored the harvest and communicated to 
further improve the efficiency of the annual harvest and full 
utilization of the animals taken. NMFS received annual northern fur 
seal harvest reports from the tribal governments of both islands.
    The reported male northern fur seal subsistence harvests for St. 
Paul was 322 animals in 2011, 383 in 2012, and 298 in 2013, (Lestenkof 
et al. 2011, Lestenkof et al. 2012, Lestenkof et al. 2014), and for St. 
George was 120 animals in 2011, 63 in 2012, and 80 in 2013 (Merculief 
2011, Lekanof 2012, Kasheverof 2013). The number of male northern fur 
seals harvested on St. Paul Island from 1986 to 2013 ranged from 269 to 
1704, and the number harvested on St. George Island from 1986 to 2013 
ranged from 78 to 319. The average number of male seals harvested 
during the past ten years on St. Paul and St. George Islands has been 
365 seals (range: 269 to 493) and 130 seals (range: 63 to 212), 
respectively (Table 1).
    The northern fur seal is designated as depleted under the Marine 
Mammal Protection Act. The annual upper harvest take level is 2,500 
sub-adult male fur seals to satisfy the subsistence requirements for 
both St. Paul and St. George. The current abundance estimate is 611,617 
fur seals, and the potential biological removal (PBR) level in the 2012 
stock assessment was 11,130 animals. The harvest is regulated to select 
sub-adult male fur seals and the proposed 2014-2016 harvest levels 
would have no more than a negligible impact on the stock. The upper 
limit of the harvest is 22.5% of the PBR. Because the calculation of 
PBR assumes random mortality at all ages and both sexes, the effects of 
only sub-adult male subsistence harvest on the stock would be less than 
if the harvest of fur seals included females and males of all ages. 
Fewer than 10% of all adult males contribute to reproduction, such that 
there are excess males in the northern fur seal population at all ages, 
and the excess of males has been the basis of the sustainable male 
harvests for over 100 years. Moreover, the upper harvest take level is 
significantly lower than the PBR level, and the actual harvest has not 
reached the lower take level of 1,945 in the past decade. The mortality 
from the subsistence harvest is in addition to other sources of known 
human-caused mortality, which are described in the annual stock 
assessment report, and include such things as bycatch in commercial 
fisheries, entanglement in derelict fishing gear, illegal shooting, and 
accidental death during research. The estimates of all sources of known 
human-caused mortality, including subsistence harvest takes, do not 
reach or approach PBR.
    The accidental harvest of young female fur seals has occurred 
intermittently during the male harvest. Thirty-six females on St. Paul 
and five females on St. George have been killed accidentally since 
1987. The average accidental killing of females on St. Paul and St. 
George Islands during the last 10 years is two and less than one, 
respectively.
    Under section 119 of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, NMFS signed 
agreements with St. Paul in 2000 and with St. George in 2001 for the 
cooperative management of subsistence uses of northern fur seals and 
Steller sea lions. The processes defined in the cooperative agreements 
have facilitated a collaborative working relationship between NMFS and 
tribal authorities. This has led to more coordinated efforts by the 
tribal governments of both islands to promote full utilization of 
inedible seal parts for traditional arts, crafts, and other uses 
permitted under regulations at 50 CFR 216.73. The result has been an 
expanded use of these materials by the Aleut residents.

   Table 1--Subsistence Harvest Levels of Sub-Adult Male Northern Fur Seals on the Pribilof Islands, 1986-2013
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                 Estimated take range                   Actual harvest
                  Year                   -----------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              St. Paul         St. George         St. Paul         St. George
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1986....................................       2,400-8,000         800-1,800             1,299               124
1987....................................       1,600-2,400         533-1,800             1,704                92
1988....................................       1,800-2,200           600-740             1,145               113
1989....................................       1,600-1,800           533-600             1,340               181
1990....................................       1,145-1,800           181-500             1,077               164
1991....................................       1,145-1,800           181-500             1,644               281
1992....................................       1,645-2,000           281-500             1,480               194
1993....................................       1,645-2,000           281-500             1,518               319
1994....................................       1,645-2,000           281-500             1,615               161
1995....................................       1,645-2,000           281-500             1,263               259
1996....................................       1,645-2,000           281-500             1,588               232
1997....................................       1,645-2,000           300-500             1,153               227
1998....................................       1,645-2,000           300-500             1,297               256
1999....................................       1,645-2,000           300-500             1,000               193
2000....................................       1,645-2,000           300-500               754               121
2001....................................       1,645-2,000           300-500               595               184
2002....................................       1,645-2,000           300-500               646               202
2003....................................       1,645-2,000           300-500               522               132
2004....................................       1,645-2,000           300-500               493               123
2005....................................       1,645-2,000           300-500               466               139
2006....................................       1,645-2,000           300-500               396               212
2007....................................       1,645-2,000           300-500               269               206
2008....................................       1,645-2,000           300-500               328               170
2009....................................       1,645-2,000           300-500               341               113
2010....................................       1,645-2,000           300-500               357                78
2011....................................       1,645-2,000           300-500               322               120

[[Page 27552]]

 
2012....................................       1,645-2,000           300-500               383                63
2013....................................       1,645-2,000           300-500               298                80
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Estimate of Subsistence Need for 2014 Through 2016

    The projected subsistence harvest estimates are an allowable take 
range, the lower end of which may be exceeded if NMFS is given notice 
and the NOAA Assistant Administrator for Fisheries determines that the 
annual subsistence needs of the Pribilof Islands Aleuts have not been 
satisfied. Conversely, the harvest can be terminated before the lower 
end of the range is reached if the annual subsistence needs of the 
Pribilof Islands residents are determined to have been met or the 
harvest has been conducted in a wasteful manner.
    For the 3-year period from 2014 through 2016, NMFS proposes no 
change to the previous allowable take ranges of 1,645-2,000 sub-adult 
male fur seals for St. Paul Island and 300-500 sub-adult male fur seals 
for St. George Island. Retaining these allowable harvest levels will 
provide adequate flexibility and enable adaptive management of the 
subsistence harvest through the co-management process within the 
regulations. NMFS seeks public comments on these proposed estimates.
    As described above, if the Aleut residents of either island reach 
the lower end of this annual harvest estimate and have unmet 
subsistence needs and no indication of waste, they may request an 
additional number of seals to be harvested prior to August 8 (the end 
of the designated harvest season) up to the upper limit of the 
respective harvest take level. The residents of St. George and St. Paul 
Islands may substantiate any additional need for seals by submitting in 
writing the information upon which they base their decision that 
subsistence needs are unfulfilled. The regulations at 50 CFR 
216.72(e)(1) and (3) require a suspension of the fur seal harvest for 
up to 48 hours once the lower end of the estimated harvest level is 
reached, followed either by a finding that the subsistence needs have 
been met or by a revised estimate of the number of seals necessary to 
satisfy the Aleuts' subsistence needs.
    The harvest of fur seals between 2014-2016 is anticipated to be 
non-wasteful and in compliance with the regulations specified at 50 CFR 
216.72 which detail the restrictions and harvest methods. NMFS will 
continue to monitor the harvest on St. Paul Island and St. George 
Islands during 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Classification

National Environmental Policy Act

    NMFS prepared an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) evaluating 
the impacts on the human environment of the subsistence harvest of 
northern fur seals, which is available on the NMFS Web site (see 
Electronic Access). A draft EIS was available for public review (69 FR 
53915, September 3, 2004), and NMFS incorporated the comments into the 
final EIS (May 2005).

Executive Order 12866 and Regulatory Flexibility Act

    This proposed action is exempt from the procedures of E.O. 12866 
because the action contains no implementing regulations.
    The Chief Counsel for Regulation, Department of Commerce, certified 
to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business Administration 
that this proposed action would not have a significant economic impact 
on a substantial number of small entities. The harvest of northern fur 
seals on the Pribilof Islands, Alaska, is for subsistence purposes 
only. This action directly regulates the subsistence harvest of 
northern fur seals by Alaska Natives in the communities of St. Paul and 
St. George. The estimates of subsistence need are derived based on 
historic harvest levels and direct consultation with the Tribal 
Governments from each community. NMFS has identified two small entities 
that may be directly regulated by this action--the communities of St. 
Paul and St. George, both of which have populations below 500 people, 
and therefore are small governmental jurisdictions under the Regulatory 
Flexibility Act, 5 U.S.C. 601(5).

Estimate of Economic Impacts on Small Entities

    This action would have no adverse economic impact on the affected 
entities, but may provide them with a net benefit. The estimated 
allowable take ranges of the subsistence harvests are unlikely to 
restrict the number of animals taken by subsistence hunters. NMFS 
compared historic harvest levels on each island to the upper and lower 
ends of the allowable take range of the estimated subsistence harvest. 
The total annual harvests on each island has never exceeded the upper 
end of the proposed allowable take ranges, and has only exceeded the 
lower end of the proposed ranges, in 1991 on both islands, and in 1993 
on St. George. The regulated entities will not experience any change 
from the status quo since the proposed allowable take ranges are the 
same ranges that have been used since 1997.
    The subsistence harvest of fur seals provides a local, affordable 
source of fresh and frozen meat for the communities' consumption. Fresh 
meat from alternative (e.g., commercial) sources is unavailable on 
either St. Paul or St. George. Subsistence hunting and fishing are the 
primary means by which the communities meet their dietary need. No 
other fish and wildlife species are predictably available to replace 
fresh fur seal meat. Replacement of the frozen fur seal meat with 
livestock meat that is shipped to the islands is extremely expensive 
and only available when air or barge service can access the 
communities, which can be highly uncertain. In addition, marine mammals 
such as fur seals are the preferred meat resource for Aleuts and other 
coastal Alaska Natives.

Explanation of the Criteria Used To Evaluate Whether the Action Would 
Impose ``Significant Economic Impacts''

    Both affected entities are small governmental jurisdictions, and 
thus the action will not have a disparate impact on small versus large 
entities.
    The criteria recommended to determine the significance of the 
economic impacts of the action are profitability and 
disproportionality. The guidance states that ``the concept of 
profitability may not be appropriate for a non-profit small 
organization or a small government jurisdiction.'' Based on this 
guidance NMFS believes

[[Page 27553]]

disproportionality is the appropriate standard given the regulated 
entities are small government jurisdictions. No large entities are 
allowed to harvest northern fur seals; therefore the regulatory 
allowance for the small entities on St. Paul and St. George to harvest 
northern fur seals does not create a disproportionate impact that would 
disadvantage them.

Explanation of the Criteria Used To Evaluate Whether the Action Would 
Impose Impacts on a ``Substantial Number'' of Small Entities

    This action will have beneficial economic impacts on the directly 
regulated Alaska Native residents of St. Paul and St. George, and will 
not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small 
entities, or indeed any small entities. Therefore, a regulatory 
flexibility analysis is not required and none was prepared.

Paperwork Reduction Act

    This proposed action does not require the collection of 
information.

Executive Order 13132--Federalism

    This proposed action does not contain policies with federalism 
implications sufficient to warrant preparation of a federalism 
assessment under E.O. 13132 because this action does not have 
substantial direct effects on the states, on the relationship between 
the national government and the states, or on the distribution of power 
and responsibilities among the various levels of government. 
Nonetheless, NMFS worked closely with local governments in the Pribilof 
Islands, and these estimates of subsistence harvests were prepared by 
the local governments in St. Paul and St. George, with assistance from 
NMFS officials.

Executive Order 13175--Native Consultation

    Executive Order 13175 of November 6, 2000 (25 U.S.C. 450 Note), the 
Presidential Memorandum of April 29, 1994 (25 U.S.C. 450 note), the 
American Indian Native Policy of the U.S. Department of Commerce (March 
30, 1995), the Department of Commerce's Tribal Consultation Policy 
(including the Department of Commerce Administrative Order 218-8, April 
26, 2012), and the NOAA Procedures for Government-to-Government 
Consultation With Federally Recognized Indian Tribes and Alaska Native 
Corporations (November 12, 2013) outline the responsibilities of NMFS 
in matters affecting tribal interests. Section 161 of Public Law 108-
100 (188 Stat. 452) as amended by section 518 of Public Law 108-447 
(118 Stat. 3267), extends the consultation requirements of E.O. 13175 
to Alaska Native corporations. NMFS has contacted the tribal 
governments of St. Paul and St. George Islands and their respective 
local Native corporations (Tanadgusix and Tanaq) about setting the next 
three years harvest estimates and received their input.

    Dated: May 8, 2014.
Samuel D. Rauch III,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2014-11103 Filed 5-13-14; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P