[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 142 (Thursday, July 24, 2014)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 43007-43017]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-17373]



[[Page 43007]]

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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 216

[Docket No. 130404331-4577-01]
RIN 0648-BD12


Marine Mammals; Subsistence Taking of Northern Fur Seals; St. 
George Island, Alaska

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

ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: NMFS proposes to modify the subsistence harvest regulations 
for the Eastern Pacific stock of northern fur seals (Callorhinus 
ursinus) based on a petition from the Pribilof Island Aleut Community 
of St. George Island, Traditional Council (Council). NMFS worked with 
the Council to develop this proposed rule, which would authorize 
Pribilovians of St. George Island to harvest up to 150 male young of 
the year fur seals annually during a new autumn harvest season from all 
breeding and hauling grounds, consistent with traditional practices, to 
meet the community's nutritional and cultural needs. Harvests of sub-
adult male fur seals would continue during the summer season, as 
allowed under existing regulations. The total number of fur seals 
harvested annually would remain within the range of 300-500 male 
animals that has been in place since 1997. Harvests would be 
coordinated between NMFS and the Council under an existing co-
management agreement.

DATES: Written comments must be received by August 25, 2014.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2013-0072, 
by any of the following methods:
    Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public comments via 
the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Go to www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0072, 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. Mail comments to 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.
    Electronic copies of the draft supplemental Environmental Impact 
Statement, scoping report, St. George Tribal Resolution, and other 
documents prepared are available on the Internet at: http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov.

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:

Background

    St. George Island is a remote island located in the Bering Sea 
whose residents rely upon marine mammals as a major food source and 
cornerstone of their culture, and the harvest of sub-adult male 
northern fur seals has occurred there for well over 200 years. The 
residents of St. George conduct an annual controlled subsistence 
harvest from the Northern fur seal stock on the Pribilof Island of St. 
George under the authority of the Fur Seal Act (FSA) (16 U.S.C. 
Sec. Sec.  1155, 1161) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) (16 
U.S.C. Sec.  1371(b)). Pursuant to section 119 of the MMPA, NMFS 
entered into a co-management agreement with the Pribilof Islands Aleut 
Communities of St. George Island in 2001 (16 U.S.C. Sec.  1388). NMFS 
is guided by this co-management agreement as it works with St. George 
to cooperatively implement subsistence harvest activities and 
monitoring programs. Regulations governing subsistence harvest of fur 
seals appear at 50 CFR part 216, Subparts F and G.
    The United States (U.S.) government began regulating the harvest of 
northern fur seals by the people of St. George Island in 1867 after the 
purchase of Alaska. From 1870 through 1890 the U.S. managed the 
commercial harvest of fur seals under a 20-year lease arrangement with 
private companies that were responsible for harvesting fur seals and 
selling the pelts on the world market. During this period, at least 
501,324 fur seals (mean annual harvest = 23,872) were harvested for 
their pelts from St. George Island during the summer. The lease 
arrangement also stipulated that the Pribilovians were provided a 
subsistence food harvest in the autumn, and this subsistence harvest 
was directed at male young of the year. The subsistence food harvest of 
young of the year was 28,064 (mean annual harvest = 1,477) for this 20-
year period, and the Pribilovians were allowed to keep the pelts from 
the food harvest for trade and barter. A second 20-year lease 
arrangement, between the North American Commercial Company and the 
U.S., required the Pribilovians to collect fresh meat from the 
commercial harvest during the summer, and did not allow them to obtain 
their preferred fresh fur seal meat in the autumn from young of the 
year prior to the fur seals' winter migration from the islands. 
Consequently, the summer commercial land harvest of sub-adult males 
became the primary means for Pribilovians to obtain fresh meat for 
subsistence. The prohibition on harvesting young of the year has been 
retained to the present day.
    In 1910, after the expiration of the second 20-year lease, the U.S. 
(and no longer commercial lessees) began control of all aspects of the 
commercial harvests on the Pribilof Islands. The subsistence harvest of 
northern fur seals is the focus of this regulatory action, but NMFS' 
understanding of harvest effects on the fur seal population are based 
on over 100 years of commercial harvest management, population 
assessment, and behavioral research. The draft Supplemental 
Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS; NMFS, 2014) analyzes the 
available evidence of the effects of the subsistence harvest of male 
fur seals and concludes that the harvest of up to 350 sub-adult and 150 
young of the year male fur seals would have an insignificant effect on 
the St. George population of about 72,828 fur seals. NMFS has not 
detected a relationship between the number of sub-adult male fur seals 
killed or harassed during harvests and the abundance and trend of the 
population.
    NMFS commercially harvested an average of 8,152 sub-adult males 
annually from 1963-1972. NMFS provided some excess fur seal meat to St. 
George residents from the St. Paul commercial harvest due to the 
harvest prohibition on St. George. In 1972 the U.S. began the first 
large-scale investigation into the effects of

[[Page 43008]]

commercial fur seal harvesting (Gentry, 1998). From 1973 through 1975, 
the U.S. prohibited the St. George commercial harvest of sub-adult fur 
seals for their pelts in order to conduct research on the population 
dynamics and effects of harvesting. Between 1976 and 1979, NMFS 
authorized subsistence harvests on St. George at Northwest and Staraya 
Artil hauling grounds. Since 1972, the St. George fur seal population 
decreased to its present size, showing no positive response to the 
reduction in the harvest of sub-adult male fur seals. From 1980 to 
1984, NMFS allowed subsistence harvests only at the Northeast hauling 
ground. The current fur seal subsistence harvest regulations authorize 
harvests on St. George Island at Northeast and Zapadni hauling grounds. 
These restrictions on St. George Island subsistence harvest locations 
were intended to preserve experimental and control sites for scientific 
investigations during the commercial harvest period (Gentry, 1998), 
which are no longer being pursued.
    In 1984 the U.S. did not ratify the protocol to extend the 
Convention on the Conservation of Fur Seals, which had allowed 
commercial harvests of fur seals. This action resulted in the 
termination of the commercial harvest of fur seals on the Pribilof 
Islands, and inadvertently changed the way either community could 
obtain fresh fur seal meat. NMFS published an emergency interim rule 
(50 FR 27914; July 8, 1985) under the FSA and the MMPA to govern the 
subsistence harvest of northern fur seals on the Pribilof Islands for 
the 1985 season. NMFS acknowledged in the proposed rule (51 FR 17900; 
May 15, 1986) that the additional restrictions on St. George may not 
allow Pribilovians on St. George to satisfy their subsistence needs. On 
July 9, 1986, NMFS published a final rule that restricted the 
subsistence harvest of northern fur seals by sex, age, and season for 
herd management purposes to limit the take to a sustainable level while 
providing for the legitimate subsistence needs of the Pribilovians (51 
FR 24828). NMFS subsequently designated the Pribilof northern fur seal 
population as depleted under the MMPA in 1988 (53 FR 17888; May 18, 
1988). In the preamble to the proposed rule for the depleted 
designation, NMFS stated that it did not contemplate further rulemaking 
to restrict Alaska Native subsistence harvest of fur seals as a 
consequence of a depleted designation (51 FR 47156; December 30, 1986).
    In 2001, NMFS and the Council entered into a co-management 
agreement pursuant to section 119 of the MMPA. The purpose of that 
agreement is to conserve northern fur seals and Steller sea lions 
through cooperative effort and consultation regarding subsistence 
harvests. The Council has sampled, managed, monitored, and reported the 
sub-adult male subsistence fur seal harvest independently since the 
late 1990s, consistent with current regulations.

Population Status

    NMFS manages the northern fur seal population as two stocks in the 
U.S.: the Eastern Pacific and the San Miguel stocks. Neither stock is 
listed under the Endangered Species Act. The Eastern Pacific stock 
includes northern fur seals breeding on Sea Lion Rock and St. Paul, St. 
George, and Bogoslof islands. NMFS designated the Pribilof Islands 
northern fur seal population as depleted under the MMPA on May 18, 1988 
(53 FR 17888) after it had declined to less than 50 percent of levels 
observed in the late 1950s (about 2.1 million fur seals). Loughlin et 
al. (1994) estimated approximately 1.3 million northern fur seals 
existed worldwide, and the Pribilof Islands represented about 982,000 
(74 percent of the total) in 1992. The 2012 abundance of fur seals on 
the Pribilof Islands was about 44 percent lower (546,720 fur seals) 
than the 1992 estimate (Towell et al., 2013). NMFS estimates an annual 
decline in pup production for the Pribilof Islands of about 4 percent 
since 1998, and the annual decline for St. Paul (4.84 percent) is 
higher than for St. George, where the most recent trend (2004-2012) is 
not significantly different from zero (Towell et al., 2013). The causes 
of the current fur seal decline on the Pribilof Islands are unknown.
    Northern fur seals seasonally occupy specific breeding and non-
breeding sites on St. George. The age and breeding status is the main 
determinant of where male fur seals are found during the breeding and 
non-breeding season. During the breeding season sub-adult males are 
excluded from the breeding sites (i.e., rookeries) by adult males and 
occupy resting sites known as hauling grounds (Figure 1 to part 216). 
During the non-breeding season beginning about September 1, sub-adult 
males can be found on both rookeries and hauling grounds.

Current Northern Fur Seal Harvest Regulations

    Current northern fur seal harvest regulations for St. George Island 
(50 CFR 216.72) stipulate an annual harvest season from June 23 to 
August 8, with harvests occurring at only two of the nine harvestable 
hauling grounds (i.e., Northeast and Zapadni hauling grounds) and 
harvests limited to no more than twice per week from each site. St. 
George residents are prohibited from taking adults or pups of any sex 
and from intentionally taking sub-adult females. Only sub-adult male 
fur seals 124.5 cm or less (the average length of a 4-year-old male 
seal) may be taken.
    On July 12, 1994, NMFS published a final rule making the 
subsistence harvest estimates applicable for 3 years instead of 1 year 
(59 FR 16849) based on the consistency of harvest levels and an effort 
to begin implementation of co-management of the subsistence use of 
marine mammals, as provided in the 1994 amendments to the MMPA. The 
allowable harvest ranges for St. George have been maintained at 300-500 
sub-adult male fur seals annually since 1997, and have provided the 
community the ability to meet their subsistence needs. Every 3 years 
NMFS must publish in the Federal Register a summary of the preceding 3 
years of harvesting and the expected upper and lower range of annual 
harvest levels for the next 3 years. The Assistant Administrator for 
Fisheries must suspend the subsistence harvest of northern fur seals on 
the Pribilof Islands if NMFS determines that (1) the Pribilovians have 
satisfied their subsistence needs, (2) the harvest is being conducted 
in a wasteful manner, or (3) the Pribilovians have reached the lower 
end of the allowable range of the subsistence harvest level (50 CFR 
216.72(b)). In practice, the St. George Council has twice (in 1991 and 
1993) requested to exceed the lower end of the allowable range of the 
harvest on St. George Island. NMFS granted both requests.

Petition for Rulemaking

    In September 2006, the Council submitted a tribal resolution to 
NMFS indicating the Federal government had previously allowed the 
community to harvest male fur seal young of the year in autumn for 
subsistence purposes. The Council requested that NMFS change the 
subsistence harvest regulations to allow residents of St. George the 
opportunity to return to their historic subsistence harvest patterns, 
including the harvesting of up to 350 sub-adult males in the summer and 
the harvesting of up to 150 male young of the year in the autumn each 
year. NMFS subsequently reviewed the available government records and 
confirmed the autumn subsistence harvest of male young of the year 
occurred during the late 1800s. NMFS has provided details of those 
records in a draft supplemental environmental impact statement (NMFS, 
2014). On April 23, 2010,

[[Page 43009]]

NMFS published a notice of receipt of a petition (the tribal 
resolution) from the Council to revise the subsistence regulations for 
St. George Island to allow taking male northern fur seal young of the 
year during an autumn season (75 FR 21233). NMFS received no comments 
on the notice. Subsequently, NMFS worked with the Council to clarify 
the petition to define the second harvest season from September 16 to 
November 30, to discuss young of the year harvest methods and areas, 
and to outline the process to proceed with rulemaking. NMFS held 
scoping meetings on St. George Island and in Anchorage, AK, and 
provided a 60-day public comment period to consider possible 
alternatives. NMFS received scoping input during the St. George Island 
community meeting, and no one commented during the Anchorage scoping 
meeting. NMFS received only two letters during the comment period and 
both supported the Council's petition in the cultural and historic 
context of traditional and customary uses of marine mammals by Aleuts 
(NMFS, 2012). NMFS is considering four alternatives in the DSEIS to 
balance the opportunity for St. George residents to meet their 
subsistence need with effects on the fur seal population. This proposed 
action would change numerous provisions of the current subsistence 
harvest regulations to allow St. George residents to carry out 
subsistence harvests as proposed. The proposed regulatory measures also 
would implement new conservation controls on the St. George subsistence 
harvest. These include: (1) Suspension of the harvest if two female fur 
seals are killed and a review of harvest practices by NMFS before the 
harvest may resume; (2) termination of the harvest for the season if 
three female fur seals are killed; (3) prohibition of take at any 
breeding areas when the most recent pup production estimate has fallen 
below levels capable of sustaining a harvest; and (4) equal geographic 
distribution of the harvest, based on the most recent estimate of pups 
born at the various breeding areas.

Proposed Changes to the St. George Northern Fur Seal Harvest 
Regulations

    NMFS' proposed approach to addressing the Council's petition is to 
revise the subsistence harvest regulations at 50 CFR part 216, subpart 
F and subpart G, to allow the harvest of northern fur seals to meet the 
subsistence needs of Alaska Natives on St. George Island. NMFS proposes 
to modify the subsistence harvest regulations to provide greater 
management flexibility in the seasonal and geographical aspects of the 
harvest, consistent with historical and cultural practices on St. 
George. The proposed rule would retain the summer harvest restrictions 
to ensure sub-adult males are the most likely target of subsistence 
harvests. The proposed rule would improve harvest restrictions by 
authorizing harvests at a greater number of sites, such that the 
harvest effort would not be concentrated in time or space, thus 
minimizing effects on the fur seal population. The proposed rule would 
clarify the Tribal and Federal responsibilities to co-manage the 
subsistence harvest of fur seals.
    Based upon harvest reports from the Council, NMFS harvest records, 
and documentation from prior meetings between St. George and NMFS, the 
proposed rule would revise eight provisions of the current subsistence 
harvest regulations as follows:

------------------------------------------------------------------------
          50 CFR Part 216                         Revision
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sec.   216.72(c)..................  Removed and reserved.
Sec.   216.72(d)..................  Revised to create explicit
                                     provisions for St. George Island
                                     harvests at all breeding areas.
Sec.   216.72(d)(1)...............  Added to define harvest methods that
                                     reduce animal stress, disturbances,
                                     and accidental taking of females.
Sec.   216.72(d)(2)...............  Added to prohibit harvesting adult
                                     male or female fur seals.
Sec.   216.72(d)(3)...............  Added to authorize harvesting of up
                                     to 150 male young of the year
                                     during additional harvest season
                                     from September 16 to November 30
                                     annually on St. George Island and
                                     to prohibit harvesting more than 50
                                     male young of the year from each of
                                     the three regional pairs of
                                     rookeries.
Sec.   216.72(d)(4)...............  Added to prohibit taking young of
                                     the year from any breeding areas
                                     when the most recent annual pup
                                     production estimate is below levels
                                     capable of sustaining harvest.
Sec.   216.72(d)(5)...............  Added to require St. George
                                     community members to annually
                                     review the harvest implementation
                                     and consider best harvest
                                     practices.
Sec.   216.72(e)(1)-(e)(5)........  Added to retain for St. Paul Island
                                     the current sub-adult male fur seal
                                     subsistence harvest provisions.
Sec.   216.72(f)(1)(i)-(f)(1)(iii)  Redesignated from paragraphs
                                     (e)(1)(i)-(e)(1)(iii).
Sec.   216.72(f)(1)(iv)...........  Added to suspend the harvest if two
                                     female fur seals of any age are
                                     killed on St. George Island.
Sec.   216.72(f)(2) and (f)(3)....  Redesignated from paragraphs (e)(2)
                                     and (e)(3).
Sec.   216.72(f)(4)...............  Added to review and lift suspensions
                                     issued under new paragraph
                                     (f)(1)(iv) for killing of two
                                     females if a remedy can be
                                     identified and implemented to
                                     prevent additional killings.
Sec.   216.72(g)..................  Redisgnated from paragraph (f).
Sec.   216.72(g)(1)...............  Added to establish termination of
                                     sub-adult male harvest on August 8
                                     and the St. George young of the
                                     year harvest on November 30.
Sec.   216.72(g)(2)...............  Added to terminate the harvest for
                                     young of the year when subsistence
                                     needs have been satisfied or the
                                     upper end of the range has been
                                     reached.
Sec.   216.72(g)(3)...............  Added to terminate the harvest on
                                     St. George when three female fur
                                     seals have been killed during
                                     harvest.
Sec.   216.74.....................  Revised to describe the co-
                                     management relationship between
                                     NMFS and the Council under section
                                     119 of the MMPA and efforts by NMFS
                                     to partner with the tribal
                                     government consider best harvest
                                     practices, data collection, and to
                                     coordinate scientific
                                     investigations.
Sec.   216.81(b)..................  Added to clarify that authorized
                                     subsistence harvesters of fur seals
                                     are allowed on rookeries from
                                     September 16 to November 30.
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The proposed rule would create greater flexibility for the 
community to meet their subsistence needs by authorizing harvests on 
St. George Island of up to 500 male fur seals of different age classes 
during the summer and autumn. The harvests would comprise up to 150 
male young of the year from the many areas within and outside habitat 
used during the breeding season from September 16 through November 30 
each year, and would be based on the current identified subsistence 
harvest limit of up to 500 male fur seals annually (79 FR 27550, May 
14, 2014), and up to 350 sub-adult males at all hauling grounds from 
June 24 through August 8. If the lower end

[[Page 43010]]

of the subsistence harvest range for St. George is reached (currently 
set at 300; 79 FR 27550), and the Council has not satisfied its 
subsistence needs, the proposed rule would enable the Council to 
request in writing that NMFS allow harvest up to the upper end of the 
harvest range. Thus, at the point when the lower end of the harvest 
range is reached, NMFS and the Council would have an opportunity to 
discuss and determine within the co-management structure and the 
proposed regulatory suspension provisions how the remaining harvest 
could be apportioned among sub-adult and young of the year males.
    The proposed rule would create effective conservation controls for 
the implementation of the subsistence harvest by distributing the young 
of the year harvest proportionally to the population size, prohibiting 
the taking from any breeding areas where annual pup production 
estimates reach levels determined to be unable to sustain a harvest, 
suspending the harvest when two females have been killed, and 
terminating the harvest for the year when three females have been 
killed during the harvest on St. George Island. The proposed rule would 
clarify and acknowledge the roles and responsibilities of NMFS and the 
Council to manage the Pribilovians' subsistence harvest of northern fur 
seals cooperatively as described in the 2001 agreement.

Taking Male Young of the Year

    Historically, Aleut residents in the Pribilof Islands hunted 
northern fur seal young of the year preferentially among the other 
available age classes, consistent with their cultural heritage. The 
Aleut word used as reference to autumn is ``Kimadgim tugida,'' which 
translates to ``time of fur seal hunting.'' The interest to continue to 
harvest of young of the year was noted by a U.S. Treasury agent on St. 
George who wrote, ``Today is for pup driving, the greatest day in the 
life of the Aleuts'' (St. George Island Agent Log Book, 1887). On the 
Pribilof Islands, northern fur seal young of the year were available in 
high concentration and close proximity to the communities. This access 
motivated the U.S. government to regulate the number of seals harvested 
while allowing the subsistence needs of the Pribilovians to be met. 
Pribilovians would gather, determine the sex of, and harvest male young 
of the year primarily in October and November, prior to weaning 
(Jordan, 1898). St. George, with an approximate population of 89 
residents, annually harvested an average of 1,477 (range 978-2,446) 
northern fur seal young of the year from 1870 through 1890.
    The Russian and American island agents maintained the subsistence 
harvest of young of the year from the period prior to the sale of 
Alaska until 1890. International pelagic sealing in the Bering Sea was 
the primary cause of the fur seal decline in the late 19th century due 
to female deaths, which have a disproportionate impact on the 
population (see below). The termination of the harvest of young of the 
year on both islands in 1891 was implemented prior to the Fur Seal 
Treaty of 1912 and was proposed to help the recovery of the northern 
fur seal herd. That year, a village meeting about the termination of 
the young of the year harvest was held on St. Paul with the Alaska 
Natives agreeing to forego the harvest ``if by so doing they, would aid 
the government to protect seal life on the islands'' (St. Paul Island 
Agent Log book, 1891). Although they agreed to the U.S. government's 
proposition, the Pribilovians believed the termination of the young of 
the year harvest on both islands caused them greater hardship than 
others. In his deposition as the only Pribilovian representative during 
the Fur Seal Arbitration (Volume 3, 1893 p. 101) Chief Kerrick 
Artomanof of St. Paul said, ``The pup seals are our chicken meat, and 
we used to be allowed to kill 3,000-4,000 male pups every year in 
November, but the Government agent forbade us to kill any more, and he 
gave us other meat in place of pup meat; but we do not like any other 
meat as well as pup-seal meat.'' The prohibition on pelagic sealing 
under the Fur Seal Treaty resulted in the recovery of the fur seal 
population. The U.S. Treasury agents allowed a few thousand sub-adult 
males to be harvested annually for food from 1912-1917, but they never 
re-initiated the young of the year harvest. The U.S. resumed the full-
scale commercial harvest of sub-adult male fur seals on land in 1918 
until 1984.
    Following receipt of the Council's 2006 petition, NMFS began 
evaluating the biological and regulatory consequences of a harvest of 
male northern fur seal young of the year on St. George Island. Under 
this proposed rule, the total subsistence harvest would not increase. 
The proposed rule would authorize a change in the age-class of males to 
include young of the year during a second season after September 15. 
The proposed harvest of male young of the year has not been considered 
in previous subsistence harvest rulemaking even though it was 
identified as part of the rationale for the level of subsistence need 
of Pribilovians in the July 8, 1985 emergency interim rule (50 FR 
27917) and requested previously by St. George (62 FR 17774; April 11, 
1997). The estimated annual total subsistence harvest level for St. 
George Island would remain consistent with the subsistence harvest 
range estimates of 300 to 500 male animals that NMFS evaluated in 2005 
under the preferred alternative in the environmental impact statement 
for setting annual subsistence harvest levels (NMFS 2005). The harvest 
level would also remain consistent with NMFS' most recent estimate of 
the annual subsistence needs of Alaska Natives on St. George (79 FR 
27550; May 14, 2014).
    NMFS does not expect that the harvest of young of the year males 
will have adverse effects on the fur seal population. As noted in the 
DSEIS (NMFS 2014), direct evidence of the population effects of a young 
of the year harvest is available from Russian islands, where fur seals 
have been harvested for commercial and subsistence purposes since 1985. 
The Russians harvested northern fur seal young of the year from Bering 
Island from 1987-2006 (Ream and Burkanov pers. comm.). The Russians 
commercially harvested about 4,300 young of the year fur seals, 
representing about 11 percent of annual pup production on Bering Island 
each year during this 20-year period. The proposed male young of the 
year harvest on St. George is 0.9 percent of the 2012 pup production 
estimate (150/16,000) and represents an insignificant proportion of the 
pup production. The Bering Island commercial harvest included only male 
fur seal young of the year from 1987-1992, and averaged over 6,000 
annually (14.6 percent of annual production). Ten years after the 
initiation of the male young of the year harvest, there were no 
observable effects on pup production at Bering Island; the trend in pup 
production during this time period was not statistically different from 
zero. These results support a determination that a male young of the 
year harvest of at least 14 percent of annual production does not have 
any detectable direct or indirect population level effects. From 1993-
1998 Russians harvested approximately equal proportions of male and 
female young of the year at a similar rate of 14 percent of annual 
production on Bering Island. During the time period beginning four 
years after females were first harvested on Bering Island until four 
years after the harvest of females stopped, the population trend was 
negative (~ 6 percent annual decline, Ream and Burkanov pers. comm.). 
NMFS analyzed the trend for females at

[[Page 43011]]

four years after the harvest because that is the age at which female 
fur seals first reach sexual maturity and indirect effects could occur. 
Kuzin (2010) reported that the harvest of 16,180 female young of the 
year from Bering Island substantially affected the reproductive core of 
the population and ultimately the population trend. The direct evidence 
from young of the year harvests on Bering Island confirms the results 
of NMFS' modeling of the proposed male young of the year on St. George 
as having insignificant effects on the population (see DSEIS, section 
3.7.4).
    In summary, the proposed harvest of up to 500 males, which would 
include up to 150 male young of the year, will likely affect less than 
1 percent of the St. George Island fur seal population. Whether using 
direct evidence of the harvest of northern fur seal pups from their 
Russian breeding islands (Kuzin 2010, Ream and Burkanov pers. comm.), 
survival models (Towell 2007, Fowler et al., 2009), or simplified 
direct additive losses (which assume all harvested males four years and 
younger would have survived to become reproductively active harem 
males), no population level effects of the subsistence harvest of sub-
adult and young of the year males are anticipated. In contrast, the 
harvest of female fur seals, whether or not they are sexually mature, 
has been repeatedly shown to have direct adverse effects on fur seal 
populations. NMFS determined the measures in the proposed rule (keeping 
the accidental mortality of females as close to zero as practical) are 
the best measures to minimize adverse effects on the population.

Establishment of Two Harvest Seasons

    The current regulations require the termination of the sub-adult 
male harvest no later than August 8 of each year. One approach to 
allowing the take of male young of the year would be to extend the 
current season from August 8 to cover the period when young of the year 
would be present and could be harvested. Creating one longer harvest 
season to accommodate the taking of two age-classes of male fur seals, 
however, would result in unnecessary regulatory complexity and would 
increase the probability of taking sub-adult females during the sub-
adult male harvest. The intentional taking of sub-adult female fur 
seals is currently prohibited. The current end date of the sub-adult 
male harvest minimizes the chance of accidentally taking young female 
fur seals that occupy the same hauling grounds as sub-adult males at 
this time of year (Bigg, 1986; Baker et al., 1995). As noted above, 
female fur seals are disproportionately important to the breeding 
population, and thus efforts to minimize taking of females have been 
incorporated into the commercial and subsistence harvest methods over 
time (57 FR 33900; July 31, 1992). The proposed rule would create two 
seasons, and would retain all the relevant regulatory provisions and 
conservation benefits of the well-regulated sub-adult male subsistence 
harvest on St. George, while providing for a separate young of the year 
harvest during the non-breeding season.
    Distinguishing between male and female sub-adult fur seals is 
difficult. Male fur seals between two and four years old overlap 
significantly in their size, such that a large two-year-old male seal 
can weigh more than a small three-year-old male seal (Fowler et al., 
1994; Baker et al., 1994). Male fur seal pups statistically are heavier 
than female pups (~9.5 kg vs. 8.5 kg; Towell et al., 2012) and the size 
difference in the sexes continues with the greatest difference between 
eight and eleven year olds, when adult males are nearly five to six 
times heavier than females of the same age (Gentry and Kooyman, 1986). 
Thus, a three-year-old female fur seal might be mistaken as a two-year-
old male based on size alone. Handling sub-adult fur seals in order to 
determine sex is dangerous even for experienced handlers because of the 
seals' quickness, strength, and aggression. Two- to three-year-old 
female fur seals arrive on the Pribilof Islands during August (Bigg 
1986), and are the most likely to be killed during sub-adult harvests 
beginning in August. The current practice of terminating the sub-adult 
male harvest on August 8 allows harvesters access to two-year-old males 
and minimizes the probability of encountering young, difficult to 
detect two- and three-year-old female fur seals mixed with similarly 
aged males (Bigg, 1986).
    Sub-adult female fur seals arrive on the hauling grounds later than 
similarly-aged males (Bigg, 1986). Because they are sexually immature, 
they are not always herded by adult males into the breeding grounds as 
occurs with sexually mature females. A subsistence harvest of sub-adult 
fur seals on St. Paul Island in September 1986, when the regulations 
allowed the subsistence harvest season to be extended, resulted in the 
accidental taking of 16 females (NMFS unpublished data) and NMFS' 
termination of the harvest. Based on the high probability of taking 
sub-adult female fur seals, NMFS revised the fur seal harvest 
regulations to eliminate the regulatory option for the Secretary to 
extend the subsistence harvest of fur seals on the Pribilof Islands 
beyond August 8 each year (57 FR 33900; July 31, 1992).
    Young of the year are smaller than sub-adults and their canine 
teeth are just completing their emergence, allowing harvesters to more 
safely handle them than the older seals. Experienced harvesters can 
safely handle and distinguish male from female young of the year seals 
prior to harvest. Therefore, NMFS proposes two separate harvest seasons 
for St. George Island, the first to allow the harvest of sub-adult 
males until August 8, as has been implemented for over 100 years, and 
the second season from September 16 until November 30 to allow harvest 
of male young of the year that can be reliably distinguished from 
females when handled. NMFS has proposed the schedule of the second 
harvest season based on the request of the Council for a harvest in the 
autumn. In order to set the start of the second subsistence harvest 
season, NMFS considered that the end of the breeding season occurs in 
August, and determined that harvests as early as mid-September would 
protect late-breeding young fur seals and allow the flexibility in 
timing for harvests to occur. The second season would allow time for 
young of the year to begin using alternative sites separate from those 
used by lactating adult female and sub-adult fur seals, thereby 
providing the opportunity to reduce incidental harassment during the 
harvest season for male young of the year. The end date of the proposed 
second subsistence harvest season is based on the absence of the 
majority of the fur seal population due to their migration from the 
Pribilof Islands by early December.

Distributing the Harvest

    NMFS' intent in allowing harvests at all St. George breeding areas 
is to avoid concentrating harvest pressure on a subset of the 
population and to provide adequate opportunity for the community to 
satisfy their subsistence needs. The U.S. government harvested sub-
adult male fur seals commercially during the breeding season at all 
nine road-accessible hauling grounds on St. George Island from 1918 
until 1972. The distribution of the subsistence harvest effort under 
the existing regulations, in contrast, has been limited to either one 
or two hauling grounds in any year. As a result, the current harvest 
regulation concentrates sub-adult male mortality at Northeast and 
Zapadni hauling grounds. These restrictions on St. George Island 
subsistence harvest locations were the result of an effort to preserve 
experimental and control sites for scientific investigations during the

[[Page 43012]]

commercial harvest period (Gentry, 1998), which are no longer being 
pursued. The Council reported in their 2008 and 2009 harvest reports 
that sufficient numbers of harvestable sub-adult males are not always 
available at the Northeast and Zapadni hauling grounds, but are likely 
available on other sub-adult male hauling grounds. NMFS harvest and 
population records corroborate the lack of availability of sub-adult 
males when harvests are limited to a subset of the accessible hauling 
grounds (62 FR 1774; April 11, 1997). The proposed rule would remedy 
this circumstance by authorizing sub-adult male harvests at all hauling 
grounds except those that NMFS determines to be at risk of reaching 
unsustainable population levels (as discussed in more detail below). 
The proposed rule would avoid concentration of effects on specific 
hauling grounds and reduce the potential for sub-adult male seals to be 
unavailable for subsistence harvests due to their absence from just one 
or two hauling grounds.
    NMFS considered the availability and effects of harvests from 
alternative hauling grounds for sub-adult males on St. George Island 
separate from those for young of the year because the sub-adult males 
and male young of the year occupy almost exclusively non-overlapping 
habitat on land. The sub-adult male harvest occurs during the breeding 
season on the hauling grounds. The proposed young of the year harvest 
would occur during the non-breeding season, but while young are still 
suckling in those areas that earlier in the year were breeding and non-
breeding areas. Young of the year harvests could occur in any areas 
occupied by young of the year. By imposing management measures to 
ensure that harvest of young of the year is evenly distributed, the 
proposed rule would minimize the concentration of young of the year 
harvest effort and possible associated sub-lethal effects that might 
otherwise occur in locations closer to the village or with easier road 
access. NMFS proposes to distribute the young of the year harvest into 
three regions (North, East, and South) of fur seal breeding. The North 
region includes two separate and adjacent breeding areas (North and 
Staraya Artil rookeries) which make up 32.9 percent of the island 
population. The East region includes East Reef and East Cliffs 
rookeries, which account for 33.3 percent, and the South region 
includes South and Zapadni rookeries account for the remaining island 
production (33.7 percent). Under the proposed rule, up to 50 male pups 
could be harvested from each region, reducing the possibility for 
concentration of lethal or sub-lethal effects in particular areas.

Prohibition on Taking Young of the Year From Small Breeding Areas

    Approximately 16,000 pups were born on St. George Island in 2012; 
however, the numbers born at each breeding area vary widely (Towell et 
al., 2013). Northern fur seals exhibit strong site fidelity (i.e., 
repeatedly return to a site over years) and philopatry (i.e., return to 
the place of birth) (Gentry, 1998). These two behavioral tendencies 
have allowed humans to harvest and study fur seals for many decades and 
are described more fully in the DSEIS (NMFS, 2014). In summary, adult 
female fur seals return to a 20-meter diameter area of the breeding 
site to give birth, breed, and suckle their young during the breeding 
season (Gentry, 1998). Baker et al. (1995) reported that female fur 
seals return to their place of birth at a younger age than males, but 
both sexes show greater philopatry as they age. Baker et al. (1995) 
reported that within one season males showed a tendency to be found at 
their natal site after their initial landing on the island. In 
addition, satellite telemetry data has shown that fur seals tagged and 
tracked from specific breeding areas use similar marine foraging areas 
and have similar diets (Robson et al., 2004; Sterling and Ream, 2005; 
and Zeppelin et al., 2006).
    NMFS proposes a new conservation control to prohibit young of the 
year harvests at breeding locations determined to be at risk of 
reaching unsustainable population levels. Biennial estimates of the 
number of pups born (i.e., pup production) at each breeding area will 
be integrated, as the data become available, to evaluate the 
statistical probability of pup production falling below a level that is 
necessary for long-term stability. To determine a sustainable 
population level, NMFS first evaluated models that consider the 
maintenance of genetic diversity in a population (effective population 
size, Ne) and the effects of demography and environmental 
variability on population persistence (minimum viable population size, 
MVP). Adapting model estimates from Olesiuk (2012), NMFS calculated 
minimum sustainable pup production levels for the breeding sites, and 
these ranged from 300 (Ne model) to 600 (MVP model) pups 
born (Johnson, 2014). NMFS then evaluated historical pup production 
data from 1912-1922, when the population was recovering from its lowest 
levels in recorded history, to provide an empirical estimate of minimum 
viable pup production. NMFS identified four rookeries that during the 
1912-1922 period had declined to (or below) the range of 300 to 600 
pups born; of these, three rookeries increased and remained above that 
range, and one went extinct. Lagoon Rookery reached a low of 388 pups 
born and had begun to increase during the 1912-1922 period. Despite 
reaching 500 pups born, however, the rookery eventually went extinct. 
Based on this information about rookery persistence and extinction at 
all-time-low recorded levels of fur seal abundance, and in 
consideration of the range calculated from models (300-600 pups), NMFS 
proposes to use 500 as the pup production threshold for the quasi-
extinction or minimum sustainable pup production size. As new fur seal 
data become available, NMFS may refine this threshold.
    To evaluate whether the smallest breeding areas are susceptible to 
extinction, NMFS will project estimated biennial pup production at each 
breeding area 10 years into the future (see Johnson, 2014). If the 
projections indicate a greater than 5 percent probability that pup 
production at a breeding site will fall below 500 within the ten-year 
time horizon, harvest will not be allowed at that site. The ten-year 
time horizon allows for natural variability of pup production into the 
future. Pup production for each rookery is estimated separately every 
two years, and therefore rookery specific young of the year harvests 
can be managed separately during this period. For example, using 2012 
data the quasi-extinction analysis of pup production and trend for 
Staraya Artil rookery indicates the population at that rookery has over 
a 65 percent probability of falling below 500 during the next 10 years, 
and none of the other breeding areas have greater than a 5 percent 
probability of reaching 500 (Johnson, 2014). NMFS adopted a 5 percent 
probability of low pup production within ten years based on thresholds 
from Gerber and DeMaster (1999). Based on the quasi-extinction analysis 
using methods from Johnson (2014), NMFS would prohibit all harvests at 
Staraya Artil rookery until pup production from that rookery increases 
to a level at which there is a 5 percent or lower probability of pup 
production being below 500 during the next 10 years.
    The proposed rule would distribute the young of the year harvest 
limit equally across the three regions of two rookeries each. Thus, 
while Staraya Artil rookery remains closed, harvesters could take up to 
50 male young of the year from the remaining rookery in the North 
Region and sub-adult males as

[[Page 43013]]

available from the three hauling grounds located at North Rookery. This 
geographic dispersion of effort and prohibition on the taking of young 
of the year from areas with small population size would allow NMFS and 
the Council to ensure individual breeding locations do not reach 
population sizes low enough that recovery is highly uncertain. NMFS and 
the Council will review and update the statistical analysis, as new 
data are available, and annually during the co-management meeting will 
determine the locations where harvests can occur based on the updated 
analysis.

Suspension or Termination of the Harvest

    Historically, the northern fur seal population has declined during 
periods with no prohibitions on intentional or un-intentional harvest 
of females. The northern fur seal population declined through 1979 as a 
result of female harvests, and well beyond expectations of the member 
nations to the treaty (York and Hartley, 1981). Trites and Larkin 
(1989) estimated that a 2-5 percent reduction in adult female survival 
was the most likely contributor to the lack of recovery by the Pribilof 
fur seal population. NMFS' population modeling indicates female young 
of the year may have at least five to six times higher reproductive 
value than male young of the year (NMML unpublished data), primarily 
due to their reproductive ecology whereby one male inseminates many 
females.
    The current regulations prohibit the intentional taking of sub-
adult female fur seals and any taking of adult fur seals. Since 1985, 
five sub-adult females have been accidentally harvested on St. George 
Island out of a total harvest of 4,994 seals (0.1 percent accidental 
sub-adult female harvest rate).
    The proposed rule would suspend the harvest in the event of two 
female mortalities and terminate the harvest in the event of a third 
female mortality. These measures would create a powerful incentive for 
harvesters to spend adequate time to identify females correctly and 
avoid killing them. NMFS' intent in defining the upper limit of female 
mortalities at three per year is to encourage harvesters to develop 
best practices as part of the young of the year harvest to ensure that 
the accidental female harvest rate under the new regulations remains 
close to zero.
    If two females are killed and NMFS suspends the harvest, NMFS could 
reverse the suspension upon review of the circumstances of the female 
mortalities and identification by St. George and NMFS of a remedy to 
minimize the risk of additional accidental mortality of any female fur 
seals. If the harvest is resumed and another female is killed, then the 
harvest would be terminated for the year.

Cooperative Management of the Subsistence Harvest

    The current regulations at 50 CFR 216.74 describe data collection 
needs and other requirements that do not reflect the current status of 
cooperative management of subsistence harvests with Alaska Natives 
under section 119 of the MMPA. The Council and NMFS regularly meet to 
share information and discuss cooperative management of the subsistence 
harvest of marine mammals. The intent of co-management is for NMFS to 
work jointly with Alaska Native interests (in this case the Council) to 
develop such measures as best harvest practices, which balance 
conservation, sustainability, and cultural interests. Under the 
proposed rule the best harvest practices developed after harvest 
experience is gained for young of the year would be posted on the NMFS 
Alaska Region Web site.
    The best harvest practices will include a description of jointly 
agreed-upon measures to consider before each young of the year harvest. 
These measures would include criteria such as whether adult females are 
present at the harvest location and, if so, how harvesters can reduce 
activity, reduce duration on site, avoid harvest locations where 
downwind seals will be unintentionally harassed or displaced, or choose 
an un-harvested location where adult females are not present. To 
effectively address the detection of female young of the year, the best 
practices may specify a minimum number of independent handlers who 
would sex every young of the year seal prior to the harvest, or the 
number of times a young seal must be sexed as male before it could be 
harvested.
    Alternatively, a best harvest practice may be to release all young 
of the year not positively identified as male on their first handling. 
Harvesters will maintain as a best practice a record of previous 
harvest attempts to compare with future harvest locations where young 
have been observed to ensure the harvest is not concentrated at any 
location where sub-adult male and female or adult female fur seals are 
present. The community and harvesters will identify their individual 
needs for meat and handicraft materials and any cultural preference for 
various parts of the young seal to encourage full utilization of the 
edible and non-edible portions of each harvested seal. The Council and 
NMFS representatives who will be present at each young of the year 
harvest will share, in advance, harvest plans and schedules to ensure 
opportunities to sample tissues and measure young during and after the 
harvest.
    The specific measures to be included in the best harvest practices 
are uncertain because an autumn young of the year harvest has not 
occurred for over 120 years, and the harvest methods were not 
documented. In addition, the habitat occupied by fur seals in the 
autumn is highly variable depending on the prevailing weather and many 
unknown factors. As a result, NMFS expects that best harvest practices 
will be identified through harvest experience and adaptation of recent 
research efforts to tag young of the year over the past 7 years, as 
well as changes in the fur seal population and community needs. NMFS 
and the Council intend to describe the best harvest practices in a 
document that will be improved annually after review and consideration 
in accordance with the co-management agreement. NMFS and the Council 
agree that the best harvest practices must include a description of 
field measures intended to: (1) Reduce impacts to lactating females; 
(2) ensure the detection of female young of the year; (3) distribute 
the harvest proportionally among all the breeding areas; (4) ensure 
full utilization of harvested young of the year; and (5) describe 
opportunities for coordination of sampling and measuring harvested 
young of the year during the harvest season.
    The Council coordinates the sub-adult male harvest under the 
existing Federal regulations and tribal resolutions for their tribal 
members on St. George. The Council organizes a crew that capture and 
herd sub-adult males from their resting grounds to the inland 
subsistence harvest areas near public road access. Tribal members 
choose and harvest seals for their families and elders from those 
herded to the subsistence areas. The community of St. George views 
every harvest as an opportunity to pass on the skills and knowledge of 
fur seal behavior and harvest methods to the next generation. For the 
proposed young of the year harvest, the Council has expressed its 
intention to utilize the same harvest methodology it uses for the 
existing sub-adult harvest, whereby a crew is organized in advance and 
assesses those locations most likely to be harvested. From those likely 
harvest locations the crew would consider the prevailing weather 
conditions, presence of harvestable young of the year,

[[Page 43014]]

accessibility and space for harvest, presence of non-harvestable seals, 
and the impact those non-harvestable seals would have on the 
implementation of the harvest. As noted above, under the proposed rule, 
NMFS and the Council during the co-management process would consider 
best harvest practices based on actual experience to ensure the young 
of the year harvest is consistent with the regulations and long term 
conservation of northern fur seals.

Visits to Fur Seal Rookeries

    50 CFR Part 216.81 prohibits, from June 1 to October 15 of each 
year, the unauthorized approach or entry of any person into any fur 
seal rookery or hauling ground or past any posted sign forbidding 
passage. Based on the latest scientific evidence, fur seals continue to 
use portions of the breeding and hauling grounds after October 15. The 
current regulations allow the public to pass beyond the posted signs 
and gates into fur seal habitat after October 15, but do not authorize 
incidental harassment of resting seals who occupy a smaller, but 
undefined area previously restricted and posted. The proposed rule 
would authorize St. George subsistence fur seal harvesters to enter the 
posted rookeries and hauling grounds of northern fur seals from 
September 16 to November 30 (i.e., during the proposed new second 
season).

Request for Comments

    NMFS developed the proposed northern fur seal harvest regulations 
to accomplish the intent of the Council's petition and enhance the 
conservation of northern fur seals. NMFS solicits public comment on the 
proposed regulations.

Classification

National Environmental Policy Act

    NMFS prepared a DSEIS evaluating the impacts on the human 
environment of the subsistence harvest of northern fur seals on St. 
George Island.

Executive Order 12866 and Regulatory Flexibility Act

    This proposed action has been determined not to be a significant 
rule under Executive Order (E.O.) 12866.
    NMFS prepared an analysis under the Regulatory Flexibility Act 
(RFA) that carefully examined the potential impacts, including possible 
economic benefits and costs, and potential adverse economic burdens 
that may accrue uniquely to small entities, attributable to the action 
described above. NMFS affirms that the analysts have used the best 
available scientific data and commercial information to examine the 
possibility that a small entity, directly regulated by the proposed 
action, may potentially incur a significant adverse economic impact 
attributable to its adoption. For the reasons set out below, we certify 
that this rule, if implemented, will not have a significant economic 
impact on a substantial number of small entities.
    The proposed action would change the management of the subsistence 
harvest on St. George Island in response to the three significant 
aspects of the petition: (1) Allow for the taking of male young-of-the-
year northern fur seals during a separate autumn season each year, 
within the already established upper harvest level of 500 fur seals; 
(2) reduce the harvest concentration at designated breeding areas or 
hauling grounds on St. George Island by dispersing subsistence effort 
more broadly; and (3) eliminate obsolete requirements for subsistence 
harvesters to cooperate with scientists during the subsistence harvest. 
The proposed action would also incorporate new conservation controls, 
intended to reduce female harvest mortality, prohibit harvests at 
breeding locations when the most recent pup production estimate has 
fallen below a level which can sustain a harvest, reduce concentration 
of harvest effort at locations closer to the village or road access, 
and encourage the development of best harvest practices through the 
existing co-management structure.
    This action directly regulates the subsistence harvest of northern 
fur seals by Alaska Natives residing in the community of St. George. 
NMFS has identified two small entities that may be directly regulated 
by this action--the Aleut Community of St. George Island, Traditional 
Council (a federally-recognized tribal government), and the St. George 
Tanaq Corporation (an Alaska Native village corporation organized under 
43 U.S.C. 1601), both of which have populations/memberships of fewer 
than 200. The harvest of northern fur seals on the Pribilof Islands, 
Alaska, is for subsistence purposes only and limited exclusively to 
Pribilovians. The estimates of subsistence need are derived based on 
historical harvest levels and direct consultation with the Tribal 
Government from St. George. Neither of the two small entities impacted 
by this rule will experience any adverse economic impacts as a result 
of this rule. Indeed, this action regulates only behavior and practices 
of individual subsistence hunters residing on St, George Island, and 
does not alter, in any way, the existing regulatory environment 
pertaining to the identified small entities.
    This action regulates only the practices and behavior of individual 
subsistence fur seal hunters on St. George Island, none of whom meet 
the definition of ``small entity'' under SBA criteria. Because this 
action only addresses subsistence harvests of fur seals, and imposes no 
additional burdens or requirements on those regulated, NMFS believes 
this rule will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial 
number of small entities.

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 the city and tribal governments 
on St. George Island in response to a petition by the tribal government 
of St. George.

Executive Order 13175--Native Consultation

    Executive Order 13175 of November 6, 2000, the executive Memorandum 
of April 29, 1994, the American Indian Native Policy of the U.S. 
Department of Commerce (March 30, 1995), and the Department of Commerce 
Tribal Consultation and Coordination Policy Statement (78 FR 33331; 
June 4, 2013) outline NMFS's responsibilities in matters affecting 
tribal interests. Section 161 of P.L. 108-100 (188 Stat. 452) as 
amended by section 518 of P.L. 108-447 (118 Stat. 3267), extends the 
consultation requirements of E.O. 13175 to Alaska Native corporations. 
NMFS contacted the tribal government of St. George Island and their 
local Native corporation (Tanaq) about revising the regulations 
regarding the subsistence harvest of northern fur seals on St. George 
Island and their input is incorporated herein.

Collection-of-Information Requirements

    This proposed rule contains a new collection-of-information 
requirement subject to review and approval by OMB under the Paperwork 
Reduction Act (PRA). This requirement has been submitted to OMB for 
approval. Public reporting burden for the best harvest practices and 
harvest reporting is estimated to average 40 hours per response, 
including the time for reviewing instructions, searching existing data 
sources, gathering and

[[Page 43015]]

maintaining the data needed, and completing and reviewing the 
collection of information.
    NMFS seeks public comment regarding: Whether this proposed 
collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of 
the functions of the agency, including whether the information shall 
have practical utility; the accuracy of the burden estimate; ways to 
enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be 
collected; and ways to minimize the burden of the collection of 
information, including through the use of automated collection 
techniques or other forms of information technology. Send comments on 
these or any other aspects of the collection of information to NMFS at 
the ADDRESSES above, and email to OIRA_Submission@omb.eop.gov or fax 
to (202) 395-7285.
    Notwithstanding any other provision of the law, no person is 
required to respond to, nor shall any person be subject to a penalty 
for failure to comply with, a collection of information subject to the 
requirements of the PRA, unless that collection of information displays 
a currently valid OMB Control Number.

References Cited

    A list of all the references cited in this proposed rule may be 
found on www.alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/protectedresources/seals/fur.htm 
(see ADDRESSES).

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 216

    Alaska, Marine Mammals, Pribilof Islands, Reporting and 
recordkeeping requirements.

    Dated: July 18, 2014.
Samuel D. Rauch III,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.

    For the reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 216 is 
proposed to be amended as follows:

PART 216--REGULATIONS GOVERNING THE TAKING AND IMPORTING OF MARINE 
MAMMALS

0
1. The authority citation for 50 CFR part 216 continues to read as 
follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1151-1175. 16 U.S.C. 1361-1384.

0
2. In Sec.  216.72:
0
a. Remove and reserve paragraph (c);
0
b. Revise the section heading and paragraphs (d), (e), and (f); and
0
c. Add paragraph (g) to read as follows:


Sec.  216.72  Restrictions on subsistence fur seal harvests.

* * * * *
    (c) [Reserved]
    (d) St. George Island--Sub-adult male fur seals may be harvested 
from the hauling grounds associated with the following breeding areas 
beginning after June 23 each year: North, Staraya Artil, East Reef, 
East Cliffs, South and Zapadni (see Figure 1 for details).
    (1) The scheduling of the harvest is at the discretion of the 
Pribilovians, but must be such as to minimize stress to the harvested 
and un-harvested fur seals and minimize the take of female fur seals. 
The Pribilovians must give adequate advance notice of their harvest 
schedules to the NMFS representatives to allow for necessary monitoring 
activities. No fur seal may be taken except by sealers using the 
harvesting methods implemented to reduce disturbance, injury, and 
accidental take of female fur seals. The harvesting method shall 
include organized drives of fur seals from congregating areas to inland 
killing fields, followed by stunning and immediate exsanguination 
unless the NMFS representatives, in consultation with the Pribilovians 
conducting the harvest, determine that alternative methods will not 
result in increased stress to harvested and un-harvested fur seals, 
increased disturbance or injury to resting fur seals, or the accidental 
take of female seals.
    (2) Intentional harvest of adult male fur seals or female fur seals 
is prohibited.
    (3) Pribilovians may harvest up to 150 male fur seal young of the 
year annually from September 16 through November 30 on St. George 
Island as described in paragraph (d)(1) and shown in Figure 1 to part 
216. No more than 50 male young of the year may be harvested from each 
of the following regions where fur seals congregate: East region 
includes the breeding areas known as East Reef and East Cliffs 
rookeries and the associated non-breeding hauling grounds; South region 
includes the breeding areas known as Zapadni and South rookeries and 
the associated non-breeding hauling grounds; and North region includes 
the breeding areas known as North and Staraya Artil rookeries and 
associated non-breeding hauling grounds.
    (4) No young of the year fur seals may be taken from any designated 
breeding area where the most recent NMFS analysis projects that pup 
production has greater than a 5 percent probability of falling below a 
level capable of sustaining a harvest in 10 years.
    (5) No more than 120 days after the final subsistence harvest each 
calendar year, NMFS representatives and St. George Island community 
members must review the implementation of the harvest and consider best 
harvest practices and determine if implementation can be improved to 
better meet the subsistence needs of the St. George Island community or 
reduce negative effects on fur seals.
    (e) St. Paul Island--Seals may only be harvested from the following 
haulout areas: Zapadni, English Bay, Northeast Point, Polovina, 
Lukanin, Kitovi, and Reef. No haulout area may be harvested more than 
once per week
    (1) No fur seal may be taken on the Pribilof Islands before June 23 
of each year.
    (2) No fur seal may be taken except by experienced sealers using 
the traditional harvesting methods, including stunning followed 
immediately by exsanguination. The harvesting method shall include 
organized drives of subadult males to killing fields unless it is 
determined by the NMFS representatives, in consultation with the 
Pribilovians conducting the harvest, that alternative methods will not 
result in increased disturbance to the rookery or the increased 
accidental take of female seals.
    (3) Any taking of adult fur seals or pups, or the intentional 
taking of subadult female fur seals is prohibited.
    (4) Only subadult male fur seals 124.5 centimeters or less in 
length may be taken.
    (5) Seals with tags and/or entangling debris may only be taken if 
so directed by NMFS scientists.
    (f) Harvest suspension provisions--(1) The Assistant Administrator 
is required to suspend the take provided for in Sec.  215.31 when:
    (i) (S)He determines, after reasonable notice by NMFS 
representatives to the Pribilovians on the island, that the subsistence 
needs of the Pribilovians on the island have been satisfied; or
    (ii) (S)He determines that the harvest is otherwise being conducted 
in a wasteful manner; or
    (iii) The lower end of the range of the estimated subsistence level 
provided in the notice issued under paragraph (b) of this section is 
reached; or
    (iv) Two female fur seals have been killed on St. George Island.
    (2) A suspension based on a determination under paragraph 
(f)(1)(ii) of this section may be lifted by the Assistant Administrator 
if (s)he finds that the conditions that led to the determination that 
the harvest was being conducted in a wasteful manner have been 
remedied.
    (3) A suspension issued in accordance with paragraph (f)(1)(iii) of 
this section may not exceed 48 hours in duration and shall be followed 
immediately by a review of the harvest data to determine

[[Page 43016]]

if a finding under paragraph (f)(1)(i) of this section is warranted. If 
the harvest is not suspended under paragraph (f)(1)(i) of this section, 
the Assistant Administrator must provide a revised estimate of the 
number of seals required to satisfy the Pribilovians' subsistence 
needs.
    (4) A suspension based on a determination under paragraph 
(f)(1)(iv) of this section may be lifted by the Assistant Administrator 
if (s)he finds that the conditions that led to the killing of two 
female fur seals have been remedied and additional or improved methods 
to detect female fur seals in the harvest are being implemented.
    (g) Harvest termination provisions--(1) The Assistant Administrator 
shall terminate the annual take provided for in Sec.  216.71 on August 
8 for sub-adult males on St. Paul and St. George Islands and on 
November 30 for male young of the year on St. George Island.
    (2) The Assistant Administrator shall terminate the take provided 
for in Sec.  216.71 when (s)he determines under paragraph (f)(1)(i) or 
(f)(1)(iii) of this section that the subsistence needs of the 
Pribilovians on the island have been satisfied or the upper end of the 
harvest range has been reached, whichever occurs first.
    (3) The Assistant Administrator shall terminate the take if a total 
of three female fur seals are killed during the season.
0
3. Section 216.74 is revised to read as follows:


Sec.  216.74  Cooperation between fur seal harvesters, Tribal and 
Federal Officials.

    Federal scientists and Pribilovians cooperatively manage the 
subsistence harvest of northern fur seals under Sec.  119 of the Marine 
Mammal Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 1388). The Federally recognized tribes 
on the Pribilof Islands have signed agreements describing a shared 
interest in the conservation and management of fur seals and the 
designation of co-management councils that meet and address the 
purposes of the co-management agreements for representatives from NMFS, 
St. George and St. Paul tribal governments. NMFS representatives are 
responsible for compiling information related to sources of human-
caused mortality and serious injury of marine mammals. The Pribilovians 
are responsible for reporting their subsistence needs and actual level 
of subsistence take. This information is used to update stock 
assessment reports and make determinations under Sec.  216.72. 
Pribilovians who take fur seals for subsistence uses collaborate with 
NMFS representatives and the respective Tribal representatives to 
consider best harvest practices under co-management.
0
4. Revise Sec.  216.81 to read as follows:


Sec.  216.81  Visits to fur seal rookeries.

    (a) From June 1 to October 15 of each year, no person, except those 
authorized by a representative of the National Marine Fisheries 
Service, or accompanied by an authorized employee of the National 
Marine Fisheries Service, shall approach any fur seal rookery or 
hauling grounds nor pass beyond any posted sign forbidding passage.
    (b) The presence of fur seals on the rookeries extends before and 
after the dates described in Sec.  216.81(a) on the Pribilof Islands 
and taking by harassment is still prohibited under Sec.  216.11. From 
September 16 to November 30 of each year access is allowed to the 
rookeries or hauling grounds on St. George Island for the purpose of 
authorized harvests of northern fur seals.
0
5. Add Figure 1 to part 216 as follows:

   Figure 1. Northern fur seal breeding areas (rookeries) and hauling
                  grounds on St. George Island, Alaska.
 
 

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[[Page 43017]]

[FR Doc. 2014-17373 Filed 7-23-14; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P