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Taking of Marine Mammals Incidental to Commercial Fishing Operations; Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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


Temporary rule.


The Assistant Administrator for Fisheries (AA), NOAA, announces temporary restrictions consistent with the requirements of the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan's (ALWTRP) implementing regulations. These restrictions apply to lobster trap and anchored gillnet fishermen in an area totaling approximately 1,600 square nautical miles (nm2) (2,965 km2), east of Portsmouth, NH, called Jeffreys Ledge, for 15 days. The purpose of this action is to provide immediate protection to an aggregation of North Atlantic right whales (right whales).


Effective beginning at 0001 hours December 5, 2002, through 2400 hours December 20, 2002.


Copies of the proposed and final Dynamic Area Management rules, Environmental Assessment (EA), Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team (ALWTRT) meeting summaries, and progress reports on implementation of the ALWTRP may also be obtained by writing Diane Borggaard, NMFS/Northeast Region, One Blackburn Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930.

Several of the background documents for the ALWTRP and the take reduction planning process can be downloaded from the ALWTRP web site at​whaletrp/​.

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Diane Borggaard, NMFS/Northeast Region, 978-281-9145; or Patricia Lawson, NMFS, Office of Protected Resources, 301-713-2322.

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The ALWTRP was developed pursuant to section 118 of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) to reduce the incidental mortality and serious injury of four species of whales (right whales, fin, humpback, and minke) due to incidental interaction with commercial fishing activities. The ALWTRP, implemented through regulations codified at 50 CFR 229.32, relies on a combination of fishing gear modifications and time/area closures to reduce the risk of whales becoming entangled in commercial fishing gear (and potentially suffering serious injury or mortality as a result).

On January 9, 2002, NMFS published the final rule to implement the ALWTRP's Dynamic Area Management (DAM) program (67 FR 1133). The DAM program provides specific authority for NMFS to temporarily restrict the use of lobster trap and anchored gillnet fishing gear in areas north of 40°N. lat. on an expedited basis to protect right whales. Under the DAM program, NMFS may: (1) require the removal of all lobster trap and anchored gillnet fishing gear for a 15-day period; (2) allow lobster trap and anchored gillnet fishing within a DAM zone with gear modifications determined by NMFS to sufficiently reduce the risk of entanglement; or (3) issue an alert to fishermen requesting the voluntary removal of all lobster trap and anchored gillnet gear for a 15-day period, and asking fishermen not to set any additional gear in the DAM zone during the 15-day period.

A DAM zone is triggered when NMFS receives a reliable report from a qualified individual of three or more right whales sighted within an area (75nm2 (139 km2)) such that right whale density is equal to or greater than 0.04 right whales per nm2 (1.85 km2). A qualified individual is an individual ascertained by NMFS to be reasonably able, through training or experience, to identify a right whale. Such individuals include, but are not limited to, NMFS staff, U.S. Coast Guard and Navy personnel trained in whale identification, scientific research survey personnel, whale watch operators and naturalists, and mariners trained in whale species identification through disentanglement training or some other training program deemed adequate by NMFS. A reliable report would be a credible right whale sighting.

On November 20, 2002, NMFS Aerial Survey Team reported a sighting of 8 right whales in the proximity of 43° 00′ N lat. and 70° 08′ W long. This position lies east of Portsmouth, NH, in an area called Jeffreys Ledge.

Once a DAM zone is triggered, NMFS determines whether to impose restrictions on fishing and/or fishing gear in the zone. This determination is based on the following factors, including but not limited to: the location of the DAM zone with respect to other fishery closure areas, weather conditions as they relate to the safety of human life at sea, the type and amount of gear already present in the area, and a review of recent right whale entanglement and mortality data.

NMFS has reviewed the factors and management options noted above and, through this action, restricts lobster trap and gillnet gear set in the waters bounded by:

43°19′N, 70°35′W (NW Corner)

43°19′N, 69°40′W

42°39′N, 69°40′'W

42°39′N, 70°35′W (SW Corner)

Please note that the western DAM boundary (70°35′W) from 43°11′N due north to 43°19′N will follow the coastline.

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The restrictions for the DAM zone are as follows: All anchored gillnet and lobster trap gear must be removed from these waters and no new gear may be set during the 15-day restricted period. The restrictions will be in effect beginning at 0001 hours December 5, 2002, through 2400 hours December 20, 2002, unless terminated sooner or extended by NMFS, through another notification in the Federal Register. The restrictions will be announced to state officials, fishermen, Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team (ALWTRT) members, and other interested parties through e-mail, phone contact, NOAA website, and other appropriate media immediately upon filing with the Federal Register.


In accordance with section 118(f)(9) of the MMPA, the Assistant Administrator (AA) has determined that this action is necessary to implement a take reduction plan to protect North Atlantic right whales.

This action falls within the scope of alternatives and impacts analyzed in the Final EA prepared for the ALWTRP's DAM program. Further analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is not required.

Providing prior notice and an opportunity for public comment on this action would prevent NMFS from executing its functions to protect and reduce serious injury and mortality of endangered right whales. To meet the goals of the DAM program, the agency needs to be able to create a DAM zone and implement restrictions on fishing gear as soon as possible once the criteria are triggered and NMFS determines that a DAM restricted zone is appropriate. The criteria were triggered with respect to this temporary rule on November 20, 2002. If NMFS were to provide notice and an opportunity for public comment prior to the creation of a DAM restricted zone, the aggregated right whales would be vulnerable to entanglement which could result in serious injury and mortality. Therefore, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(B), the AA finds that good cause exists to waive notice and an opportunity to comment on this action to implement a DAM restricted zone to reduce the risk of entanglement of endangered right whales in commercial lobster trap and anchored gillnet gear as such procedures would be impracticable.

For the same reasons, the AA finds that, under 5 U.S.C. 553(d)(3), good cause exists to waive the 30-day delay in effective date. If NMFS were to delay for 30 days the effective date of this action, the aggregated right whales would be vulnerable to entanglement which could result in serious injury and mortality. Nevertheless, NMFS recognizes the need for fishermen to have time to remove their gear from a DAM zone once one is approved. Thus, NMFS makes this action effective beginning at 0001 hours December 5, 2002, through 2400 hours December 20, 2002. NMFS will also endeavor to provide notice of this action to fishermen through other means as soon as possible.

NMFS determined that the regulations establishing the DAM program and actions such as this one taken pursuant to those regulations are consistent to the maximum extent practicable with the enforceable policies of the approved coastal management program of the U.S. Atlantic coastal states. This determination was submitted for review by the responsible state agencies under section 307 of the Coastal Zone Management Act. Following state review of the regulations creating the DAM program, no state disagreed with NMFS' conclusion that the DAM program is consistent to the maximum extent practicable with the enforceable policies of the approved coastal management program for that state.

The DAM program under which NMFS is taking this action contains policies with federalism implications warranting preparation of a federalism assessment under Executive Order 13132. Accordingly, in October 2001, the Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental and Legislative Affairs, DOC, provided notice of the DAM program to the appropriate elected officials in states to be affected by actions taken pursuant to the DAM program. Federalism issues raised by state officials were addressed in the final rule implementing the DAM program. A copy of the federalism Summary Impact Statement for that final rule is available upon request (ADDRESSES).

This rule has been determined to be not significant under Executive Order 12866.

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Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq. and 50 CFR 229.32(g)(3)

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Dated: November 29, 2002.

Rebecca Lent,

Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs National Marine Fisheries Service.

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[FR Doc. 02-30774 Filed 11-29-02; 2:54 pm]