[Federal Register Volume 82, Number 155 (Monday, August 14, 2017)]
[Pages 37851-37852]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2017-17061]



National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XF561

Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; Taking Marine Mammals 
Incidental to the U.S. Navy Training and Testing Activities in the 
Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing Study Area

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.


SUMMARY: NMFS has received a request from the U.S. Navy (Navy) for 
authorization to take marine mammals incidental to the training and 
testing activities conducted in the Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing 
(AFTT) Study Area from October 2018 through October 2023. Pursuant to 
the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is announcing our receipt 
of the Navy's request for the development and implementation of 
regulations governing the incidental taking of marine mammals and 
inviting information, suggestions, and comments on the Navy's 
application and request.

DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than 
September 13, 2017.

ADDRESSES: Comments on the application should be addressed to Jolie 
Harrison, Chief, Permits, Conservation and Education 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 [email protected]. 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 
10-megabyte file size.
    Instructions: All comments received are a part of the public record 
and will generally be posted to www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm#applications 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: Stephanie Egger, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS; phone: (301) 427-8401.



    An electronic copy of the Navy's application may be obtained online 
at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm#applications. The Navy 
released a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)/Overseas EIS 
(OEIS) for the on June 30, 2017. A copy of the draft EIS, which would 
also support NMFS' proposed rulemaking under the MMPA, is available at 


    Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) 
direct the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary) to allow, upon request, 
the incidental, but not intentional taking 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 or, if 
the taking is limited to harassment, notice of a proposed authorization 
is provided to the public for review.
    Incidental take authorizations shall be granted if NMFS finds that 
the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or stock(s), 
will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the 
species or stock(s) for subsistence uses (where relevant), 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 
    With respect to military readiness activities, the MMPA defines 
``harassment'' as any act that injures or has the significant potential 
to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild (Level A 
Harassment); or (ii) any act that disturbs or is likely to disturb a 
marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption 
of natural behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, 
migration, surfacing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering, to a 
point where such behavioral patterns are abandoned or significantly 
altered (Level B Harassment).

Summary of Request

    On June 16, 2017, NMFS received an application from the Navy 
requesting authorization to take individuals of 39 marine mammal 
species by Level A and B (behavioral) harassment incidental to 
training, testing, and routine military operations (all categorized as 
military readiness activities) from the use of sonar and other 
transducers, in-water detonations, air guns, and impact pile driving/
vibratory extraction. In addition, the Navy is requesting nine 
mortalities of four marine mammal species during ship shock trials, and 
three takes (not to exceed two from any individual stock) by injury or 
mortality from vessel strikes over the five-year period. One marine 
mammal species, the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis), 
has designated critical habitat in the AFTT Study Area. The Navy's 
training and testing activities would occur over five years beginning 
October 2018. On August 4, 2017, the Navy sent an amendment to its 
application and Navy's application was considered final and complete.
    This will be NMFS' third rule making for AFTT activities under the 
MMPA. NMFS published the first rule effective from January 22, 2009 
through January 22, 2014 on January 27, 2009 (74 FR 4844) and the 
second rule effective from November 14, 2013 through November 13, 2018 
on December 4, 2013 (78 FR 73009). For this third rule making, the Navy 
is proposing to conduct similar sonar activities in the proposed 
rulemaking as they have conducted over the past nine years in the 
previous two rule makings.

Description of the Specified Activity

    The Navy's training and testing activities to be conducted within 
the AFTT Study Area (includes areas of the western Atlantic Ocean along 
the east coast of North America, portions of the Caribbean Sea, and the 
Gulf of Mexico, covering approximately 2.6 million square nautical 
miles of ocean area,

[[Page 37852]]

oriented from the mean high tide line along the U.S. coast and extends 
east to the 45-degree west longitude line, north to the 65-degree north 
latitude line, and south to approximately the 20-degree north latitude 
line) over the course of 5 years. Please refer to the application, 
specifically Figure 1.1-1 for a map of the Study Area and Figures 2.2-1 
through Figure 2.2-3 for additional maps of the range complexes and 
testing ranges. The following types of training and testing, which are 
classified as military readiness activities pursuant to the MMPA, as 
amended by the National Defense Authorization Act, would be covered 
under the LOAs (if authorized): amphibious warfare (in-water 
detonations), anti-submarine warfare (sonar and other transducers, in-
water detonations), expeditionary warfare (in-water detonations), 
surface warfare (in-water detonations), mine warfare (sonar and other 
transducers, in-water detonations), and other (sonar and other 
transducers, impact pile driving/vibratory extraction, air guns).
    The Navy has proposed a suite of mitigation measures for marine 
mammals that could be implemented during training and testing 
activities in the AFTT Study Area. Procedural mitigation generally 
involves: (1) The use of one or more trained Lookouts to diligently 
observe for specific biological resources within a mitigation zone, (2) 
requirements for Lookouts to immediately communicate sightings of 
specific biological resources to the appropriate watch station for 
information dissemination, and (3) requirements for the watch station 
to implement mitigation (e.g., halt an activity) until certain 
recommencement conditions have been met. Mitigation measures are also 
conducted in specific mitigation zones and can consist of a variety of 
measures including, but not limited to: Conducting a certain number of 
major training exercise per year, not planning or avoid planning major 
training exercises, minimizing or not conducting active sonar, 
conducting a certain amount of hull-mounted mid-frequency active sonar 
per year, not expending explosive or non-explosive ordnance, and 
implementing vessel speed reductions.
    The Navy also proposes to undertake monitoring and reporting 
efforts to track compliance with take authorizations and to help 
investigate the effectiveness of implemented mitigation measures in the 
AFTT Study Area. This can include Adaptive Management, the Integrated 
Comprehensive Monitoring Program, the Strategic Planning Process, and 
Annual Monitoring and Exercise and Testing Reports. As an example, 
under the Integrated Comprehensive Monitoring Program, the monitoring 
relating to the effects of Navy training and testing activities on 
protected marine species are designed to increase in the understanding 
of the likely occurrence of marine mammals in the vicinity of the 
action (i.e., presence, abundance, distribution, and density of 
species) and to increase the understanding of the nature, scope, or 
context of the likely exposure of marine mammals to any of the 
potential stressors associated with the action. Please refer to Chapter 
13 of the Navy's application for full details on monitoring and 
reporting proposed by the Navy.

Information Solicited

    Interested persons may submit information, suggestions, and 
comments concerning the Navy's request (see ADDRESSES). NMFS will 
consider all information, suggestions, and comments related to the 
Navy's request and NMFS' potential development and implementation of 
regulations governing the incidental taking of marine mammals by the 
Navy's testing and training activities for the AFTT Study Area.

    Dated: August 8, 2017.
Donna S. Wieting,
Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
[FR Doc. 2017-17061 Filed 8-11-17; 8:45 am]