National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.
The Assistant Administrator for Fisheries (AA), NOAA, announces that lobster trap/pot and anchored gillnet fishermen are requested to remove on a voluntary basis their gear from an area totaling approximately 1,810 square nautical miles (nm2) (3,354 km2), east and southeast of Cape Cod, MA for 15 days and anchored gillnet fishermen are asked to remove their gear voluntarily from the Sliver Area of the Great South Channel Critical Habitat. These fishermen are also asked not to set additional gear during this period. The purpose of this action is to provide protection to an aggregation of North Atlantic right whales (right whales).
Effective beginning at 0001 hours April 10, 2003, through 2400 hours April 25, 2003.
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.Start Further Info
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
Diane Borggaard, NMFS/Northeast Region, 978-281-9328; or Kristy Long, Start Printed Page 18144NMFS, Office of Protected Resources, 301-713-2322.End Further Info End Preamble Start Supplemental Information
Several of the background documents for the ALWTRP and the take reduction planning process can be downloaded from the ALWTRP Web site at http://www.nero.nmfs.gov/whaletrp/.
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, 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 restrict temporarily on an expedited basis the use of lobster trap/pot and anchored gillnet fishing gear in areas north of 40° N. lat. 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; and/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 (75 nm2 (139 km2)) such that right whale density within that area 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 March 23, 2003, NMFS Aerial Survey Team reported a sighting of 42 right whales in the proximity of 41° 41′ N lat. and 69° 48′ W long. This position lies east of Cape Cod, MA. Thus, NMFS has received a reliable report from a qualified individual of the requisite right whale density to trigger the DAM provisions of the ALWTRP.
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.
Because the Seasonal Area Management (SAM) West zone, Cape Cod Bay Critical Habitat, and Great South Channel Critical Habitat overlap the DAM zone, these areas are excluded from the DAM zone. Thus, the DAM zone triggered on March 23, 2003, is divided into two sections: the Northeastern DAM and the Southern DAM.
NMFS has reviewed the factors and management options noted above relative to the DAM zone under consideration. NMFS requests the voluntary removal of lobster trap/pot and anchored gillnet gear and asks lobster trap/pot and anchored gillnet fishermen not to set any new gear in this area during the 15-day restricted period. NMFS requests voluntary restrictions within the DAM zone and Sliver Area because of the minimal amount of fishing gear in these waters during this time of year, and based on what we know about right whale migration, the animals should be moving into other protected areas such as the SAM zone and the Great South Channel Critical Habitat.
The DAM zone is bound by the following coordinates:
Northeastern DAM zone
41°14′N, 69°24′W (NW Corner)
Southern DAM zone
41°33′N, 70°32′W (NW Corner)
41°24.5′N, 70°32′W and east along the coast to
41°45′N, 69°56′W and returning to
41°33′N, 70°32′W along the coast
In addition, NMFS is requesting the voluntary removal of all gillnet gear from the Sliver Area of the Great South Channel Critical Habitat during the 15-day restricted period and asks anchored gillnet fishermen not to set any new gear in this area during the 15-day restricted period. The Sliver Area is bound by the following coordinates:
The voluntary 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 for Fisheries (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.
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 Start Printed Page 18145officials 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).Start Signature
Dated: April 9, 2003.
William T. Hogarth,
Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 03-9222 Filed 4-10-03; 3:34 pm]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-S