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Notice

Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to Lighthouse Repair and Tour Operations at Northwest Seal Rock, California

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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 St. George Reef Lighthouse Preservation Society (Society) for authorization to take small numbers of marine mammals incidental to Lighthouse Repair and Tour Operations at Northwest Seal Rock, California over the course of five years from the date of issuance. Pursuant to regulations implementing the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is announcing receipt of the Society's request for the development and implementation of regulations governing the incidental taking of marine mammals. NMFS invites the public to provide information, suggestions, and comments on the Society's application and request.

DATES:

Comments and information must be received no later than July 9, 2020.

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 ITP.DeJoseph@noaa.gov.

Instructions: NMFS 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 https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/​national/​marine-mammal-protection/​incidental-take-authorizations-research-and-other-activities 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.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Bonnie DeJoseph, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427-8401. An electronic copy of the Society's application may be obtained online at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/​national/​marine-mammal-protection/​incidental-take-authorizations-research-and-other-activities. In case of problems accessing these documents, please call the contact listed above.

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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 incidental take authorization 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.

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 March 23, 2020, NMFS received a request from the Society for authorization of take of marine mammals incidental to construction activities related to the lighthouse maintenance and preservation project at Northwest Seal Rock (NWSR), Del Norte County, California. We determined the application was adequate and complete on April 16, 2020. The requested regulations would be valid for five years, from November 1, 2020 through October 31, 2025, The Society plans to conduct necessary work, including visiting the islet by helicopter to conduct lighthouse renovations and periodic maintenance on the Station's optical light system, as well as public tours of the historic lighthouse, to preserve the lighthouse. The proposed action may incidentally expose marine mammals occurring in the vicinity to acoustic and visual stimuli from the following sources: (1) Helicopter landings/takeoffs; (2) noise generated during restoration activities (e.g., Start Printed Page 35269painting, plastering, welding, and glazing); (3) maintenance activities (e.g., bulb replacement and automation of the light system); and (4) human presence, thereby resulting in behavioral disturbance of pinnipeds. Therefore, the Society requests authorization to incidentally take marine mammals by harassment.

To date, NMFS has previously issued nine incidental harassment authorizations (IHAs) to the Society to take marine mammals incidental to the lighthouse maintenance and preservation project at NWSR, Del Norte County, California for the same activities from 2010 to 2019. Previous IHAs, monitoring reports, and related reference materials are available for review at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/​national/​marine-mammal-protection/​incidental-take-authorizations-research-and-other-activities).

Specified Activities

The Station, listed in the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places, is located on NWSR approximately 7 km offshore of Crescent City, California in the northeast Pacific Ocean. The Station, built in 1892, rises 45.7 meters (m) (150 feet (ft)) above sea level. The structure consists of hundreds of granite blocks topped with a cast iron lantern room and covers much of the surface of the islet. The purpose of the project is to restore the lighthouse, to conduct tours, and to conduct annual and emergency maintenance on the Station's optical light system.

The Society proposes to conduct aircraft operations, lighthouse renovation, and periodic maintenance on the Station's optical light system on a monthly basis. The Society's activity will occur on one weekend per month, November through April. California sea lions (Zalophus californianus), harbor seals (Phoca vitulina), Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) of the eastern U.S. Stock, and northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus) have been observed in the area.

Information Solicited

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

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Dated: June 2, 2020.

Donna Wieting

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

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[FR Doc. 2020-12400 Filed 6-8-20; 8:45 am]

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