[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 248 (Monday, December 29, 2014)]
[Notices]
[Pages 78065-78066]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-30349]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XD663


Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; Taking Marine Mammals 
Incidental to Fisheries Research

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

ACTION: Notice; receipt of application for letter of authorization; 
request for comments and information.

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SUMMARY: NMFS' Office of Protected Resources has received a request 
from the NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) for 
authorization to take small numbers of marine mammals incidental to 
conducting fisheries research, over the course of five years from the 
date of issuance. Pursuant to regulations implementing the Marine 
Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is announcing receipt of the NEFSC's 
request under section 101(a)(5)(A) of the MMPA for the development and 
implementation of regulations governing the incidental taking of marine 
mammals. NMFS invites the public to provide information, suggestions, 
and comments on the NEFSC's application and request.

DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than January 
28, 2015.

ADDRESSES: Comments on the application should be addressed to Jolie 
Harrison, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected 
Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, 
Silver Spring, MD 20910-3225. The mailbox address for providing email 
comments is ITP.Cody@noaa.gov. You must include 0648-XD663 in the 
subject line. NMFS is not responsible for email comments sent to 
addresses other than the one provided here. Comments sent via email, 
including all attachments, must not exceed a 25-megabyte file size.
    Instructions: All submitted comments are a part of the public 
record and NMFS will post them to http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/research.htm without change. All Personal Identifying 
Information (for example, name, address, etc.) voluntarily submitted by 
the commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit confidential 
business information or otherwise sensitive or protected information.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jeannine Cody, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, (301) 427-8401.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Availability

    An electronic copy of the NEFSC's application may be obtained by 
visiting the Internet at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/research.htm. The NEFSC is concurrently releasing a draft 
Environmental Assessment, prepared pursuant to requirements of the 
National Environmental Policy Act, for the conduct of their fisheries 
research. A copy of the draft EA, which would also support our proposed 
rulemaking under the MMPA, is also available at: http://nefsc.noaa.gov/rcb/dpea/.

Background

    Section 101(a)(5)(A) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) directs 
the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary) to allow, upon request, the 
incidental, but not intentional, taking of small numbers of marine 
mammals by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than 
commercial fishing) if certain findings are made and regulations are 
issued.
    Incidental taking shall be allowed if NMFS finds that the taking 
will have a negligible impact on the species or stock(s) affected and 
will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the 
species or stock(s) for taking for subsistence uses, and if the 
permissible methods of taking and requirements pertaining to the 
mitigation, monitoring and reporting of such taking are set forth.
    NMFS has defined ``negligible impact'' in 50 CFR 216.103 as ``an 
impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be reasonably 
expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely affect the 
species or stock through effects on annual rates of recruitment or 
survival.'' Except with respect to certain activities not pertinent 
here, the MMPA defines ``harassment'' as: ``Any act of pursuit, 
torment, or annoyance which (i) has the potential to injure a marine 
mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A harassment]; or (ii) 
has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in 
the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but 
not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or 
sheltering [Level B harassment].''

Summary of Request

    On December 17, 2014, NMFS received an application from the NEFSC 
requesting authorization for take of marine mammals incidental to 
fisheries research conducted by the NEFSC. The requested regulations 
would be valid for five years from the date of issuance. The NEFSC 
plans to conduct fisheries research surveys in the Atlantic Ocean from 
the U.S.-Canada border to Florida. It is possible that marine mammals 
may interact with fishing gear (e.g., bottom and pelagic trawls, 
dredges, video cameras, long lines, and gillnets) used in NEFSC's 
fisheries research and cooperative research projects, resulting in 
injury, serious injury, or mortality. In addition, the NEFSC operates 
active

[[Page 78066]]

acoustic devices that have the potential to disturb marine mammals. 
Because the specified activities have the potential to take marine 
mammals present within these action areas, the NEFSC requests 
authorization to take multiple species of marine mammal that may occur 
in these areas.

Specified Activities

    The Federal Government has a responsibility to conserve and protect 
living marine resources in U.S. federal waters and has also entered 
into a number of international agreements and treaties related to the 
management of living marine resources in international waters outside 
the United States. NOAA has the primary responsibility for managing 
marine fin and shellfish species and their habitats, with that 
responsibility delegated within NOAA to NMFS.
    In order to direct and coordinate the collection of scientific 
information needed to make informed management decisions, Congress 
created six Regional Fisheries Science Centers, each a distinct 
organizational entity and the scientific focal point within NMFS for 
region-based federal fisheries-related research. This research is aimed 
at monitoring fish stock recruitment, abundance, survival and 
biological rates, geographic distribution of species and stocks, 
ecosystem process changes, and marine ecological research. The NEFSC is 
the research arm of NMFS in the Greater Atlantic Region. The NEFSC 
conducts research and provides scientific advice to manage fisheries 
and conserve protected species in two geographic research areas: Occurs 
in the Northeast U.S. Continental Shelf LME but also occurs in the 
Southeast U.S.

Continental Shelf LME and Adjacent Offshore Areas

    Research is aimed at monitoring fish stock recruitment, survival 
and biological rates, abundance and geographic distribution of species 
and stocks, and providing other scientific information needed to 
improve our understanding of complex marine ecological processes. 
Primary research activities include: Bottom trawl surveys to support 
assessments of multiple groundfish and shrimp species as well as the 
status of benthic habitats, pelagic trawl surveys to assess Atlantic 
herring and Atlantic salmon stocks, dredge and video camera surveys to 
assess scallop stocks and habitat recovery, longline and gillnet 
surveys to research life history parameters and abundance of numerous 
shark species, and extensive cooperative research projects designed to 
address current or emerging information needs of the commercial fishing 
industry such as bycatch reduction efforts and development of new 
fisheries. Many research activities also include active acoustic 
systems, plankton nets, and other oceanographic equipment that provide 
important data on the status and trends of marine ecosystems important 
for various fisheries and natural resource management processes. The 
NEFSC proposes to administer and conduct these survey programs over the 
five-year period. Several of these surveys also use active acoustic 
devices.
    A more detailed description of the fisheries research conducted by 
the NEFSC may be found in their application, which is available at: 
http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/research.htm.

Information Solicited

    Interested persons may submit information, suggestions, and 
comments concerning the NEFSC's request (see ADDRESSES). NMFS will 
consider all information, suggestions, and comments related to the 
request during the development of proposed regulations governing the 
incidental taking of marine mammals by the NEFSC, if appropriate.

    Dated: December 22, 2014.
Donna S. Wieting,
Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.
[FR Doc. 2014-30349 Filed 12-22-14; 4:15 pm]
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