[Federal Register Volume 82, Number 177 (Thursday, September 14, 2017)]
[Notices]
[Pages 43223-43224]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2017-19544]



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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XE937


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 letters of authorization; 
request for comments and information.

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SUMMARY: NMFS' Office of Protected Resources (OPR) has received a 
request from the NMFS Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) 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), OPR is announcing receipt of the AFSC's 
request for the development and implementation of regulations governing 
the incidental taking of marine mammals. OPR invites the public to 
provide information, suggestions, and comments on the AFSC's 
application and request.

DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than October 
16, 2017.

ADDRESSES: Comments on the applications should be addressed to Jolie 
Harrison, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected 
Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. Physical comments should 
be sent to 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910 and 
electronic comments should be sent to [email protected].
    Instructions: OPR is not responsible for comments sent by any other 
method, to any other address or individual, or received after the end 
of the comment period. Comments received electronically, including all 
attachments, must not exceed a 25-megabyte file size. Attachments to 
electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word or Excel or 
Adobe PDF file formats only. All comments received are a part of the 
public record and will generally be posted online at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/research.htm without change. All personal 
identifying information (e.g., name, address) 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: Ben Laws, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, (301) 427-8401. Electronic copies of the application 
and supporting documents, as well as a list of the references cited in 
this document, may be obtained online at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental/research.htm. In case of problems accessing these documents, 
please call the contact listed above.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) 
direct the Secretary of Commerce (as delegated to NMFS) 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) within a specified geographical region 
if certain findings are made and either regulations are issued or, if 
the taking is limited to harassment, a notice of a proposed 
authorization is provided to the public for review.
    An authorization for incidental takings 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 takings 
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.
    NMFS has defined ``unmitigable adverse impact'' in 50 CFR 216.103 
as . . . an impact resulting from the specified activity:
    (1) That is likely to reduce the availability of the species to a 
level insufficient for a harvest to meet subsistence needs by: (i) 
Causing the marine mammals to abandon or avoid hunting areas; (ii) 
directly displacing subsistence users; or (iii) placing physical 
barriers between the marine mammals and the subsistence hunters; and
    (2) That cannot be sufficiently mitigated by other measures to 
increase the availability of marine mammals to allow subsistence needs 
to be met.
    The MMPA states that the term ``take'' means to harass, hunt, 
capture, kill or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any marine 
mammal.
    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 June 28, 2016, OPR received an adequate and complete application 
from the AFSC requesting authorization for take of marine mammals 
incidental to fisheries research conducted by the AFSC. We previously 
made this version of the application available for public review on 
October 18, 2016 (81 FR 71709), for a period of 30 days.
    On September 6, 2017, AFSC presented substantive revisions to the 
application. First, AFSC has modified their analysis of potential take 
of marine mammals resulting from fisheries research activities that 
they conduct following a determination that take of sperm whales and 
killer whales is a reasonably anticipated outcome of those activities. 
These species are known to attempt depredation of the catch of longline 
operations, and although there are no known interactions between these 
species and research longline gear, there are records of such 
interactions between these species and commercial longline operations. 
Therefore, AFSC has modified their request for authorization of take to 
include small numbers of take of these species specifically incidental 
to fisheries research using bottom longline gear.
    Second, AFSC has determined it appropriate to incorporate the 
fisheries research activities of the International Pacific Halibut 
Commission (IPHC) into their specified activity. The IPHC, established 
by a Convention between the governments of Canada and the U.S., is an 
international fisheries organization mandated to conduct research on 
and management of the stocks of Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus 
stenolepis) within the Convention waters of both nations. Although 
operating in U.S. waters (and, therefore, subject to the MMPA 
prohibition on ``take'' of marine mammals), the IPHC is not 
appropriately considered to be a U.S. citizen (as defined by the MMPA) 
and

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cannot be issued an incidental take authorization. IPHC activity and 
requested take authorization is described in Appendix C of AFSC's 
application.
    Aside from section 6.1 (describing the requested take authorization 
incidental to AFSC-conducted activities) and Appendix C (describing 
IPHC activities and associated take authorization request), the AFSC 
application is unchanged from the version made available for review in 
2016.
    The requested regulations would be valid for five years from the 
date of issuance. The AFSC plans to conduct fisheries research surveys 
in multiple geographic regions, including the Gulf of Alaska, Bering 
Sea, and Arctic Ocean. The IPHC operates in the Bering Sea, Gulf of 
Alaska, and waters off the U.S. west coast. It is possible that marine 
mammals may interact with fishing gear (e.g., trawls nets, longlines) 
used in AFSC's and IPHC's fisheries research projects, resulting in 
injury, serious injury, or mortality. In addition, the AFSC operates 
active 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 AFSC requests 
authorization to take multiple species of marine mammal that may occur 
in these areas, incidental to the activities planned by AFSC and IPHC.

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 AFSC is 
the research arm of NMFS in U.S. waters off of Alaska.
    As noted above, the IPHC is an international organization dedicated 
to conducting research in support of increasing and maintaining 
knowledge of halibut biology and stock assessment.
    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. The 
AFSC and IPHC propose to administer and conduct these survey programs 
over the five-year period.

Information Solicited

    Interested persons may submit information, suggestions, and 
comments concerning the AFSC'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 AFSC and IPHC, if 
appropriate.

    Dated: September 11, 2017.
Catherine Marzin,
Acting Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2017-19544 Filed 9-13-17; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P