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Notice

Takes of Marine Mammals Incidental to Specified Activities; Seabird and Pinniped Research Activities in Central California, 2014-2015

Document Details

Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

Published Document

This document has been published in the Federal Register. Use the PDF linked in the document sidebar for the official electronic format.

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AGENCY:

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

ACTION:

Notice; issuance of an incidental harassment authorization.

SUMMARY:

In accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) regulations, we hereby give notification that the National Marine Fisheries Service has issued an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) to Point Blue Conservation Science (Point Blue), to take marine mammals, by Level B harassment, incidental to conducting seabird and pinniped research activities in central California, January 2014 through January 2015.

DATES:

Effective January 31, 2014, through January 30, 2015.

ADDRESSES:

The public may obtain an electronic copy of the Point Blue's application, supporting documentation, the authorization, and a list of the references cited in this document by visiting: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/​pr/​permits/​incidental.htm#applications. In the case of problems accessing these documents, please call the contact listed here (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).

The Environmental Assessment and associated Finding of No Significant Impact, prepared pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, are also available at the same site.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Jeannine Cody, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS (301) 427-8401.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA; 16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) directs the Secretary of Commerce to authorize, upon request, the incidental, but not intentional, taking of small numbers of marine mammals of a species or population stock, by United States citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified geographical region if: (1) We make certain findings; (2) the taking is limited to harassment; and (3) we provide a notice of a proposed authorization to the public for review.

We shall grant an authorization for the incidental taking of small numbers of marine mammals if we find that the taking will have a negligible impact on the species or stock(s), and will not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of the species or stock(s) for subsistence uses (where relevant). Also, the authorization must set forth the permissible methods of taking and requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such takings. We have 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

We received an application on July 17, 2013, from Point Blue requesting the Start Printed Page 6185taking by harassment of small numbers of marine mammals incidental to conducting seabird and pinniped research activities on Southeast Farallon Island, Año Nuevo Island, Point Reyes National Seashore, San Francisco Bay, and the Russian River in central California. We determined the application complete and adequate on August 27, 2013.

Point Blue, along with partners Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge, Point Reyes National Seashore with the National Park Service, and the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary would conduct this research under cooperative agreements with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in consultation with the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

The proposed research activities would occur for one year, January 31, 2014, through January 30, 2015, and would involve annual monitoring and censusing of seabird colonies; seabird nesting habitat observations; nesting burrows restoration; breeding elephant seals observations; and the periodic resupply of a field station.

These proposed activities would occur in the vicinity of pinniped haul out sites and could likely result in the incidental take of marine mammals. We anticipate take, by Level B Harassment only, of individuals of either California sea lions (Zalophus californianus), Pacific harbor seals (Phoca vitulina), northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris), or Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) to result from the specified activity.

This is the organization's fifth request for an Authorization. To date, we have issued an Incidental Harassment Authorization (Authorization) to Point Blue (formerly known as PRBO Conservation Science) for the conduct of similar activities from 2007 to 2013 (72 FR 71121, December 14, 2007; 73 FR 77011, December 18, 2008; 75 FR 8677, February 19, 2010; 77 FR 73989, December 7, 2012).

Description of the Specified Activity

Overview

Point Blue proposes to monitor and census seabird colonies; observe seabird nesting habitat; restore nesting burrows; observe breeding elephant and harbor seals; and resupply a field station annually in central California (i.e., Southeast Farallon Island, West End Island, Año Nuevo Island, Point Reyes National Seashore, San Francisco Bay, and the Russian River in Sonoma County).

The purpose of the seabird research is to continue a 30-year monitoring program of the region's seabird populations. Point Blue's long-term pinniped research program monitors pinniped colonies to understand elephant and harbor seal population dynamics and to contribute to the conservation of both species.

Dates and Duration

The Authorization would be effective from January 31, 2014 through January 30, 2015. Following is a brief summary of the dates and duration of the activities.

Seabird Research on Southeast Farallon Island: Daily observations of seabird colonies would occur at a maximum frequency of three 15-minute visits. Daily observations of breeding common murre (Uria aalge) colonies would occur at a maximum frequency of a single five-hour visit. These activities usually involve one or two observers conducting daily censuses of seabirds or conducting mark/recapture studies of breeding seabirds on the island.

Field Station Resupply on Southeast Farallon Island: Resupply of the field station would occur once every two weeks at a maximum frequency of 26 visits annually. Resupply activities involve personnel approaching either the North Landing or East Landing by motorboat to offload supplies.

Pinniped Research in Central California: Surveys of breeding northern elephant seals on Southeast Farallon and Año Nuevo Islands, the coastline of Point Reyes Peninsula, San Francisco Bay, and the Russian River, would occur in early December and late February, annually. At least three researchers would visit the sites at a maximum frequency of five times per year.

Seabird Research and Field Supply on Año Nuevo Island: Researchers would monitor seabird burrow nesting habitat quality, conduct habitat restoration, and resupply the field station from April through August at a maximum frequency of 20 visits annually. Occasionally, researchers would also conduct intermittent visits to the island throughout the year. These activities involve two to three researchers accessing the island by motorboat.

Seabird Research on Point Reyes National Seashore: The National Park Service in collaboration with Point Blue monitors seabird breeding and roosting colonies; conducts habitat restoration; removes non-native plants; monitors intertidal areas; and maintains coastal dune habitat. Seabird monitoring usually involves one or two observers conducting the survey by small boats along the shoreline. Researchers would visit the site at a maximum frequency of 20 times per year.

Specified Geographic Region

Point Blue will conduct their research activities within the vicinity of pinniped haul out sites in the following locations:

South Farallones Islands: The South Farallon Islands consist of Southeast Farallon Island located at 37°41′54.32″ N; 123°0′8.33″ W and West End Island. The South Farallon Islands have a land area of approximately 120 acres (0.49 square kilometers (km)) and are part of the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge. The islands are located near the edge of the continental shelf 28 miles (mi) (45.1 km) west of San Francisco, CA, and lie within the waters of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

Año Nuevo Island: Año Nuevo Island located at 37°6′29.25″ N; 122°20′12.20″ W is one-quarter mile (402 meters (m)) offshore of Año Nuevo Point in San Mateo County, CA. The island lies within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the Año Nuevo State Marine Conservation Area.

Point Reyes National Seashore: Point Reyes National Seashore is approximately 40 miles (64.3 km) north of San Francisco Bay and also lies within the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

San Francisco Bay: The main part of San Francisco Bay measures approximately 3 to 12 miles (5 to 20 km) wide east-to-west and between 48 miles (77 km) and 60 miles (97 km) north-to-south.

Russian River: The Russian River coastline stretches for approximately 55 miles just south of San Francisco. Starting at Lake Mendocino, the Russian River flows south through valleys in Mendocino and Sonoma County, and empties into the Pacific Ocean at Jenner, California.

Detailed Description of Activities

We outlined the purpose of Point Blue's activities in a previous notice for the proposed authorization (78 FR 66686, November 6, 2013). The proposed activities have not changed between the proposed authorization notice and this final notice announcing the issuance of the Authorization. For a more detailed description of the authorized action, we refer the reader to the notice for the proposed authorization (78 FR 66686, November 6, 2013).

Comments and Responses

We published a notice of receipt of Point Blue's application and proposed Authorization in the Federal Register on November 5, 2013 (78 FR 66686). During the 30-day comment period, we Start Printed Page 6186received one comment from the Marine Mammal Commission (Commission) which recommended that we issue the requested Authorization, provided that Point Blue carries out the required monitoring and mitigation measures as described in the notice of the proposed authorization (78 FR 66686, November 6, 2013) and the application. We have included all measures proposed in the notice of the proposed authorization (78 FR 66686, November 6, 2013) in the Authorization.

Description of the Marine Mammals in the Area of the Proposed Specified Activity

The marine mammals most likely to be harassed incidental to conducting seabird and pinniped research at the proposed research areas are primarily California sea lions, northern elephant seals, Pacific harbor seals, and to a lesser extent the eastern distinct population segment (DPS) of the Steller sea lion, which NMFS has removed from the list of threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA; 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), effective November 2013. The ESA does not categorize California sea lions, northern elephant seals, Pacific harbor seals as threatened or endangered and the MMPA categorizes these species as not depleted. On the other hand, despite the delisting of Steller sea lions as endangered under the ESA, NMFS still categorizes the species as a strategic stock and depleted species under the MMPA. The agency will consider designating the eastern stock of Steller sea lions as non-strategic and not depleted under the MMPA following review by the Alaska Scientific Review Group in 2014.

We refer the public to Carretta et al., (2013) for general information on these species which we presented in the notice of the proposed authorization (78 FR 66686, November 6, 2013). The publication is available at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/​pr/​sars/​pdf/​po2012.pdf.

Other Marine Mammals in the Proposed Action Area

California (southern) sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis), listed as threatened under the ESA and categorized as depleted under the MMPA, usually range in coastal waters within 1.24 miles (2 km) of the shoreline. Point Blue has not encountered California sea otters during the course of their seabird or pinniped research activities over the past five years. This species is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and we do not consider it further in this notice of issuance of an Authorization.

Potential Effects on Marine Mammals

Acoustic and visual stimuli generated by: (1) Noise generated by motorboat approaches and departures; (2) noise generated during restoration activities and loading operations while resupplying the field station; and (3) human presence during seabird and pinniped research activities, have the potential to cause California sea lions, Pacific harbor seals, northern elephant seals, and Steller sea lions hauled out in areas within Southeast Farallon Island, West End Island, Año Nuevo Island, Point Reyes National Seashore, San Francisco Bay, and the Russian River to flush into the surrounding water or to cause a short-term behavioral disturbance for marine mammals.

We expect that acoustic and visual stimuli resulting from the proposed motorboat operations and human presence has the potential to harass marine mammals. We also expect that these disturbances would be temporary and result, at worst, in a temporary modification in behavior and/or low-level physiological effects (Level B harassment) of certain species of marine mammals.

We included a summary and discussion of the ways that the types of stressors associated with Point Blue's specified activities (i.e., visual and acoustic disturbance) have the potential to impact marine mammals in a previous notice for the proposed authorization (78 FR 66686, November 6, 2013).

Vessel Strike: The potential for striking marine mammals is a concern with vessel traffic. However, it is highly unlikely that the use of small, slow-moving boats to access the research areas would result in injury, serious injury, or mortality to any marine mammal. Typically, the reasons for vessel strikes are fast transit speeds, lack of maneuverability, or not seeing the animal because the boat is so large. Point Blue's researchers will access areas at slow transit speeds in easily maneuverable boats negating any chance of an accidental strike.

Rookeries: No research activities would occur on pinniped rookeries and breeding animals are concentrated in areas where researchers would not visit. Therefore, we do not expect mother and pup separation or crushing of pups during flushing.

The potential effects to marine mammals described in the notice for the proposed authorization (78 FR 66686, November 6, 2013) did not take into consideration the proposed monitoring and mitigation measures described later in this document (see the “Proposed Mitigation” and “Proposed Monitoring and Reporting” sections).

Anticipated Effects on Habitat

We considered these impacts in detail in the notice for the proposed authorization (78 FR 66686, November 6, 2013). Briefly, we do not anticipate that the proposed research activities would result in any significant or long-term effects on the habitats used by the marine mammals in the proposed area, including the food sources they use (i.e., fish and invertebrates). While we anticipate that the specified activity could potentially result in marine mammals avoiding certain areas due to temporary ensonification and human presence, this impact to habitat is temporary and reversible. We do not consider behavioral modification to cause significant or long-term consequences for individual marine mammals or their populations.

Mitigation

In order to issue an incidental take authorization under section 101(a)(5)(D) of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, we must prescribe, where applicable, the permissible methods of taking pursuant to such activity, and other means of effecting the least practicable impact on such species or stock and its habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and on the availability of such species or stock for taking for certain subsistence uses.

Point Blue has based the mitigation measures which they will implement during the proposed research, on the following: (1) Protocols used during previous Point Blue seabird and pinniped research activities as required by our previous authorizations and Incidental Take Statement for the Biological Opinion for these activities; (2) recommended best practices in Richardson et al. (1995); and (3) the conditions of their current five-year Scientific Research Permit (No. 17152-00).

To reduce the potential for disturbance from acoustic and visual stimuli associated with the activities Point Blue and/or its designees has proposed to implement the following mitigation measures for marine mammals:

(1) Abide by the conditions of NMFS Scientific Research Permit Number 17152-00.

(2) Postpone beach landings until pinnipeds that may be present on the beach have slowly entered the water.Start Printed Page 6187

(3) Select a pathway of approach to research sites that minimizes the number of marine mammals harassed.

(4) Avoid visits to sites used by pinnipeds for pupping.

(5) Monitor for offshore predators and do not approach hauled out pinnipeds if great white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) or killer whales (Orcinas orca) are in the area. If Point Blue and/or its designees see predators in the area, they must not disturb the animals until the area is free of predators.

(6) Keep voices hushed and bodies low to the ground in the visual presence of pinnipeds.

(7) Conduct seabird observations at North Landing on Southeast Farallon Island in an observation blind, shielded from the view of hauled out pinnipeds.

(8) Crawl slowly to access seabird nest boxes on Año Nuevo Island if pinnipeds are within view.

(9) Coordinate research visits to intertidal areas of Southeast Farallon Island (to reduce potential take) and coordinate research goals for Año Nuevo Island to minimize the number of trips to the island.

(10) Coordinate monitoring schedules on Año Nuevo Island, so that areas near any pinnipeds would be accessed only once per visit.

(11) Have the lead biologist serve as an observer to evaluate incidental take.

We have carefully evaluated the applicant's proposed mitigation measures and have considered a range of other measures in the context of ensuring that we have prescribed the means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact on the affected marine mammal species and stocks and their habitat. Our evaluation of potential measures included consideration of the following factors in relation to one another:

(1) The manner in which, and the degree to which, we expect that the successful implementation of the measure would minimize adverse impacts to marine mammals;

(2) The proven or likely efficacy of the specific measure to minimize adverse impacts as planned; and

(3) The practicability of the measure for applicant implementation.

Any mitigation measure(s) prescribed by us should be able to accomplish, have a reasonable likelihood of accomplishing (based on current science), or contribute to the accomplishment of one or more of the general goals listed here:

1. Avoidance or minimization of injury or death of marine mammals wherever possible (goals 2, 3, and 4 may contribute to this goal).

2. A reduction in the numbers of marine mammals (total number or number at biologically important time or location) exposed to received levels of sound, or other activities expected to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing harassment takes only).

3. A reduction in the number of times (total number or number at biologically important time or location) individuals would be exposed to received levels of sound, or other activities expected to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to 1, above, or to reducing harassment takes only).

4. A reduction in the intensity of exposures (either total number or number at biologically important time or location) to received levels of sound from motorboat approaches, or other activities expected to result in the take of marine mammals (this goal may contribute to a, above, or to reducing the severity of harassment takes only).

5. Avoidance or minimization of adverse effects to marine mammal habitat, paying special attention to the food base, activities that block or limit passage to or from biologically important areas, permanent destruction of habitat, or temporary destruction/disturbance of habitat during a biologically important time.

6. For monitoring directly related to mitigation—an increase in the probability of detecting marine mammals, thus allowing for more effective implementation of the mitigation.

Based on our evaluation of Point Blue's proposed measures, we have determined that the mitigation measures provide the means of effecting the least practicable impacts on marine mammals species or stocks and their habitat, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance.

Monitoring

In order to issue an incidental take authorization for an activity, section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA states that we must set forth “requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such taking.” The Act's implementing regulations at 50 CFR 216.104(a)(13) indicate that requests for an authorization must include the suggested means of accomplishing the necessary monitoring and reporting that will result in increased knowledge of the species and our expectations of the level of taking or impacts on populations of marine mammals present in the action area.

As part of its 2013 application, Point Blue proposes to sponsor marine mammal monitoring during the present project, in order to implement the mitigation measures that require real-time monitoring, and to satisfy the monitoring requirements of the Authorization.

The Point Blue researchers will monitor the area for pinnipeds during all research activities. Monitoring activities will consist of conducting and recording observations on pinnipeds within the vicinity of the proposed research areas. The monitoring notes would provide dates, location, species, the researcher's activity, behavioral state, numbers of animals that were alert or moved greater than one meter, and numbers of pinnipeds that flushed into the water.

Point Blue has complied with the monitoring requirements under the previous authorizations for the 2007 through 2012 seasons. The results from previous Point Blue's monitoring reports support our findings that the proposed mitigation measures, which we also required under the 2007-2012 Authorizations provide the means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact on the species or stock. Point Blue will submit a monitoring report on the December 6, 2012 through December 5, 2013 research period by February, 2014. Upon receipt and review, we will post this annual report on our Web site at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/​pr/​permits/​incidental.htm#applications.

Reporting

Point Blue will submit a final monitoring report to us no later than 90 days after the expiration of the Incidental Harassment Authorization, if we issue it. The final report will describe the operations conducted and sightings of marine mammals near the proposed project. The report will provide full documentation of methods, results, and interpretation pertaining to all monitoring. The final report will provide:

(i) A summary and table of the dates, times, and weather during all seabird and pinniped research activities.

(ii) Species, number, location, and behavior of any marine mammals observed throughout all monitoring activities.

(iii) An estimate of the number (by species) of marine mammals that are known to have been exposed to acoustic or visual stimuli associated with the seabird and pinniped research activities.

(iv) A description of the implementation and effectiveness of the monitoring and mitigation measures of the Authorization and full documentation of methods, results, and Start Printed Page 6188interpretation pertaining to all monitoring.

In the unanticipated event that the specified activity clearly causes the take of a marine mammal in a manner prohibited by the authorization, such as an injury (Level A harassment), serious injury, or mortality (e.g., vessel-strike, stampede, etc.), Point Blue shall immediately cease the specified activities and immediately report the incident to the Incidental Take Program Supervisor, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, at 301-427-8401 and/or by email to Jolie.Harrison@noaa.gov and ITP.Cody@noaa.gov and the Assistant West Coast Regional Stranding Coordinator at (562) 980-3264 (Justin.Greenman@noaa.gov). The report must include the following information:

  • Time, date, and location (latitude/longitude) of the incident;
  • Description and location of the incident (including water depth, if applicable);
  • Environmental conditions (e.g., wind speed and direction, Beaufort sea state, cloud cover, and visibility);
  • Description of all marine mammal observations in the 24 hours preceding the incident;
  • Species identification or description of the animal(s) involved;
  • Fate of the animal(s); and
  • Photographs or video footage of the animal(s) (if equipment is available).

Point Blue shall not resume its activities until we are able to review the circumstances of the prohibited take. We will work with Point Blue to determine what is necessary to minimize the likelihood of further prohibited take and ensure Marine Mammal Protection Act compliance. Point Blue may not resume their activities until notified by us via letter, email, or telephone.

In the event that Point Blue discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead visual observer determines that the cause of the injury or death is unknown and the death is relatively recent (i.e., in less than a moderate state of decomposition as we describe in the next paragraph), Point Blue will immediately report the incident to the Incidental Take Program Supervisor, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, at 301-427-8401 and/or by email to Jolie.Harrison@noaa.gov and ITP.Cody@noaa.gov and the Assistant West Coast Regional Stranding Coordinator at (562) 980-3264 (Justin.Greenman@noaa.gov). The report must include the same information identified in the paragraph above this section. Activities may continue while we review the circumstances of the incident. We will work with Point Blue to determine whether modifications in the activities are appropriate.

In the event that Point Blue discovers an injured or dead marine mammal, and the lead visual observer determines that the injury or death is not associated with or related to the authorized activities (e.g., previously wounded animal, carcass with moderate to advanced decomposition, or scavenger damage), Point Blue will report the incident to the Incidental Take Program Supervisor, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, at 301-427-8401 and/or by email to Jolie.Harrison@noaa.gov and ITP.Cody@noaa.gov and the Assistant West Coast Regional Stranding Coordinator at (562) 980-3264 (Justin.Greenman@noaa.gov), within 24 hours of the discovery. Point Blue staff will provide photographs or video footage (if available) or other documentation of the stranded animal sighting to us. Point Blue can continue their research activities.

Estimated Take by Incidental Harassment

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].

We propose to authorize take by Level B harassment only for the proposed pinniped and seabird research activities on Southeast Farallon Island, Año Nuevo Island, Point Reyes National Seashore, San Francisco Bay, and the Russian River in central California. Acoustic (i.e., increased sound) and visual stimuli generated during these proposed activities have the potential to cause marine mammals in the harbor area to experience temporary, short-term changes in behavior.

Based on Point Blue's previous research experiences, with the same activities conducted in the proposed research area, and on marine mammal research activities in these areas, we estimate that approximately 10,092 California sea lions, 526 harbor seals, 261 northern elephant seals, and 185 Steller sea lions could be affected by Level B behavioral harassment over the course of the effective period of the proposed Authorization.

The authorized take differs from Point Blue's original request for California sea lions (5,104), northern elephant seals (190), and Steller sea lions (20) because we have determined that they underestimated some of their take estimates. We base these new estimates for California sea lions, northern elephant seals, and Steller sea lions on historical data from previous monitoring reports and anecdotal data for the same activities conducted in the proposed research area. In brief, for each species, we created a statistical model to derive an estimate of the average annual increase of reported take based on a best fit regression analysis (i.e., linear or polynomial regression) of reported take from 2007 to 2012. Next, we added the predicted annual increase in take to a baseline of take reported for 2012 season to project the estimated take for each species for the 2013 Authorization. We carried through the same predicted annual increase in take for future Authorizations (2014-2017) to obtain a mean projected take for each species. Last, we analyzed the reported take for each activity by calculating the upper bound of the 99 percent confidence interval of the mean reported take (2007-2012) and mean projected take (2014-2017) for each species. Our use of the upper confidence interval represents the best available information that supports our precautionary deliberation of how much take could occur annually.

There is no evidence that Point Blue's planned activities could result in injury, serious injury or mortality within the action area. Moreover, the required mitigation and monitoring measures will minimize further any potential risk for injury, serious injury, or mortality. Thus, we do not propose to authorize any injury, serious injury or mortality. We expect all potential takes to fall under the category of Level B harassment only.

Encouraging and Coordinating Research

Point Blue will continue to coordinate monitoring of pinnipeds during the research activities occurring on Southeast Farallon Island, Año Nuevo Island, Point Reyes National Seashore, San Francisco Bay, and the Russian River in central California. Point Blue conducts bone fide research on marine mammals, the results of which may contribute to the basic knowledge of marine mammal biology or ecology, or are likely to identify, evaluate, or resolve conservation problems.

Negligible Impact

Negligible impact' is “. . . an impact resulting from the specified activity that Start Printed Page 6189cannot 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.” The lack of likely adverse effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival (i.e., population level effects) forms the basis of a negligible impact finding.

An estimate of the number of Level B harassment takes, alone, is not enough information on which to base an impact determination. In addition to considering estimates of the number of marine mammals that might be “taken” through behavioral harassment, we must consider other factors, such as the likely nature of any responses (their intensity, duration, etc.), the context of any responses (critical reproductive time or location, migration, etc.), as well as the number and nature of any estimated Level A harassment takes, and the number of estimated mortalities.

In making a negligible impact determination, we consider:

(1) The number of anticipated injuries, serious injuries, or mortalities;

(2) The number, nature, and intensity, and duration of Level B harassment;

(3) The context in which the takes occur (e.g., impacts to areas of significance, impacts to local populations, and cumulative impacts when taking into account successive/contemporaneous actions when added to baseline data);

(4) The status of stock or species of marine mammals (i.e., depleted, not depleted, decreasing, increasing, stable, impact relative to the size of the population);

(5) Impacts on habitat affecting rates of recruitment/survival; and

(6) The effectiveness of monitoring and mitigation measures.

For reasons stated previously in this document and based on the following factors, Point Blue's specified activities are not likely to cause long-term behavioral disturbance, abandonment of the haulout area, injury, serious injury, or mortality because:

(1) The effects of the pinniped and seabird research activities would be limited to short-term startle responses and localized behavioral changes due to the short and sporadic duration of the research activities. Minor and brief responses, such as short-duration startle or alert reactions, are not likely to constitute disruption of behavioral patterns, such as migration, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering.

(2) The availability of alternate areas for pinnipeds to avoid the resultant acoustic and visual disturbances from the research operations. Results from previous monitoring reports also show that the pinnipeds returned to the various sites and did not permanently abandon haul-out sites after Point Blue conducted their pinniped and research activities.

(3) There is no potential for large-scale movements leading to injury, serious injury, or mortality because the researchers must delay ingress into the landing areas until after the pinnipeds present have slowly entered the water.

(4) The limited access of Point Blue's researchers to Southeast Farallon Island, Año Nuevo Island, and Point Reyes National Seashore during the pupping season.

We do not anticipate that any injuries, serious injuries, or mortalities would occur as a result of Point Blue's proposed activities, and we do not propose to authorize injury, serious injury or mortality. These species may exhibit behavioral modifications, including temporarily vacating the area during the proposed seabird and pinniped research activities to avoid the resultant acoustic and visual disturbances. Further, these proposed activities would not take place in areas of significance for marine mammal feeding, resting, breeding, or calving and would not adversely impact marine mammal habitat. Due to the nature, degree, and context of the behavioral harassment anticipated, the activities are not expected to impact annual rates of recruitment or survival.

Small Numbers

As mentioned previously, we estimate that the research activities could potentially affect, by Level B harassment only, four species of marine mammals under our jurisdiction. For each species, these estimates are small (each, less than or equal to three percent) relative to the population size. These estimates represent approximately 3.4 percent of the U.S. stock of California sea lions, 0.21 percent of the California breeding stock of northern elephant seals, 1.74 percent of the California stock of Pacific harbor seals, and 0.32 percent of the eastern distinct population segment of Steller sea lions. Table 2 outlines the number of Level B harassment takes that we propose to authorize annually, the regional population estimates for marine mammals in the action area that could occur as a result of Point Blue's research activities annually.

Based on the analysis contained herein of the likely effects of the specified activity on marine mammals and their habitat, and taking into consideration the implementation of the mitigation and monitoring measures, we have determined that the total taking from the proposed activities will have a negligible impact on the affected species or stocks; and that impacts to affected species or stocks of marine mammals would be mitigated to the lowest level practicable.

Impact on Availability of Affected Species or Stock for Taking for Subsistence Uses

Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA also requires us to determine that the taking will not have an unmitigable adverse effect on the availability of marine mammal species or stocks for subsistence use. There are no relevant subsistence uses of marine mammals in the study area (northeastern Pacific Ocean) that implicate section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

To meet our NEPA requirements for the issuance of an Authorization to Point Blue, we prepared an Environmental Assessment (EA) titled “Issuance of an Incidental Harassment Authorization to Point Blue Conservation Science and Partners to Take Marine Mammals by Harassment Incidental to Seabird and Pinniped Research Conducted in Central California.” We provided relevant environmental information to the public through a previous notice for the proposed authorization (78 FR 66686, November 6, 2013) and considered public comments received in response prior to finalizing our EA and deciding whether or not to issue a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). We conclude that issuance of an Incidental Harassment Authorization would not significantly affect the quality of the human environment and have issued a FONSI. Our EA and FONSI for this activity are available upon request (see ADDRESSES).

Authorization

As a result of these determinations, we have issued an Authorization to Point Blue for the take of marine mammals incidental to proposed seabird and pinniped research activities, provided they incorporate the previously mentioned mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements.

Start Signature

Dated: January 29, 2014.

Donna S. Wieting,

Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service.

End Signature End Supplemental Information

[FR Doc. 2014-02163 Filed 1-31-14; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 3510-22-P