[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 112 (Friday, June 10, 2011)]
[Notices]
[Pages 34054-34061]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-14451]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XW72


Marine Mammal Stock Assessment Reports

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

ACTION: Notice of availability; response to comments.

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SUMMARY: As required by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS 
has incorporated public comments into revisions of marine mammal stock 
assessment reports (SARs). The 2010 reports are final and available to 
the public.

ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of SARs are available on the Internet as 
regional compilations and individual reports at the following address: 
http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/. You also may send requests for 
copies of reports to: Chief, Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Conservation 
Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910-3226, Attn: 
Stock Assessments.
    Copies of the Alaska Regional SARs may be requested from Robyn 
Angliss, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, 7600 Sand Point Way, BIN 
15700, Seattle, WA 98115.
    Copies of the Atlantic Regional SARs may be requested from Gordon 
Waring, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, 166 Water Street, Woods 
Hole, MA 02543.
    Copies of the Pacific Regional SARs may be requested from Jim 
Carretta, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, NMFS, 8604 La Jolla 
Shores Drive, La Jolla, CA 92037-1508.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Shannon Bettridge, Office of Protected 
Resources, 301-713-2322, ext. 141, [email protected]; Robyn 
Angliss, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, 206-526-4032, 
[email protected]; Gordon Waring, Northeast Fisheries Science 
Center, 508-495-2311, [email protected]; or Jim Carretta, 
Southwest Fisheries Science Center, 858-546-7171, 
[email protected].

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Background

    Section 117 of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) requires NMFS and 
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to prepare SARs for each stock 
of marine mammals occurring in waters under the jurisdiction of the 
United States. These reports contain information regarding the 
distribution and abundance of the stock, population growth rates and 
trends, the stock's Potential Biological Removal (PBR) level, estimates 
of annual human-caused mortality and serious injury from all sources, 
descriptions of the fisheries with which the stock interacts, and the 
status of the stock. Initial reports were completed in 1995.
    The MMPA requires NMFS and FWS to review the SARs at least annually 
for strategic stocks and stocks for which significant new information 
is available, and at least once every 3 years for non-strategic stocks. 
NMFS and FWS are required to revise a SAR if the status of the stock 
has changed or can be more accurately determined. NMFS, in conjunction 
with the Alaska, Atlantic, and Pacific Scientific Review Groups (SRGs), 
reviewed the status of marine mammal stocks as required and revised 
reports in each of the three regions.
    As required by the MMPA, NMFS updated SARs for 2010, and the 
revised reports were made available for public review and comment (75 
FR 46912, August 4, 2010). The MMPA also specifies that the comment 
period on draft SARs must be 90 days. NMFS received comments on the 
draft SARs and has revised the reports as necessary. The final reports 
for 2010 are available (see ADDRESSES).

Comments and Responses

    NMFS received letters containing comments on the draft 2010 SARs 
from the Marine Mammal Commission (Commission), five non-governmental 
organizations (National Resources Defense Council, Humane Society of 
the United States, Cascadia Research Collective, California Gray Whale 
Coalition, and Hawaii Longline Association), and one individual. Most 
letters contained multiple comments.
    Unless otherwise noted, comments suggesting editorial or minor 
clarifying changes were incorporated in the reports but were not 
included in the summary of comments and responses below. Other comments 
recommended initiation or repetition of large data collection efforts, 
such as abundance surveys, observer programs, or other mortality 
estimates. Comments on actions not related to the SARs (e.g., listing a 
marine mammal species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)) are not 
included below. Many comments, including those from the Commission, 
recommending additional data collection (e.g., additional abundance 
surveys or observer programs) have been addressed in previous years. 
Although NMFS agrees that additional information would improve the SARs 
and better inform conservation decisions, resources for surveys, 
observer programs, or other mortality estimates are fully utilized, and 
no new large surveys or other programs may be initiated until 
additional resources are available or until ongoing monitoring or 
conservation efforts can be terminated so that the resources supporting 
them can be redirected. Such comments on the 2010 SARs, and responses 
to them, may not be included in the summary below because the responses 
have not changed.
    In some cases, NMFS' responses state that comments would be 
considered for, or incorporated into, future revisions of the SAR 
rather than being incorporated into the final 2010 SARs. The delay is 
due to the schedule of the review of the reports by the regional SRGs. 
NMFS provides preliminary copies of updated SARs to SRGs prior to 
release for public review and comment. If a comment on the draft SAR 
suggests a substantive change to the SAR, NMFS may discuss the comment 
and prospective change with the SRG at its next meeting.

Comments on National Issues

    Comment 1: The Commission recommended that NMFS review its observer 
program nationwide, set standards for observer coverage, and prepare 
plans to collect the information necessary to adequately estimate 
incidental mortality in fisheries that take or may take marine mammals. 
NMFS should also work with Federal and state agencies and the fishing 
industry to develop a funding strategy for supporting adequate observer 
coverage to estimate incidental mortality and serious injury of marine 
mammals and other protected species.
    Response: NMFS has conducted multiple comprehensive, nationwide 
reviews of its observer programs beginning with the 2004 Evaluating 
Bycatch Report, which developed a

[[Page 34055]]

national approach to standardize bycatch reporting methodologies and 
monitoring programs and included specific recommendations for attaining 
reliable bycatch estimates for protected species and identified gaps in 
existing coverage. NMFS will soon publish the first National Bycatch 
Report, which estimates commercial fisheries bycatch for U.S. living 
marine resources. The report also identifies gaps in existing observer 
coverage with specific recommendations for additional resources 
required to improve bycatch data collection and estimation methods, 
which will form the basis of a funding strategy to support adequate 
observer programs for all living marine resources.
    NMFS has taken several steps to address shortcomings in protected 
species observer coverage, including observer coverage in the Gulf of 
Mexico reef fish fishery and a doubling of observed sea days in the 
American Samoa longline fishery in FY2010. In 2011, NMFS implemented 
observer coverage in the menhaden purse seine fishery in the Gulf of 
Mexico to collect catch data and record bycatch of sea turtles and 
marine mammals that interact with the fishery. NMFS is preparing to 
observe the Southeast Alaska drift gillnet fishery, beginning in 2012.
    NMFS continues to work collaboratively with state, federal, and 
industry partners to implement observer programs and develop 
alternative funding options. Currently three observer programs receive 
industry funding. Recently, the North Pacific Fishery Management 
Council approved provisions to restructure the Gulf of Alaska and 
Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands groundfish fisheries observer program, 
including a 1.25% ex-vessel landings fee to pay for observer coverage. 
NMFS continues to address gaps in coverage and works to improve the 
estimates of protected species bycatch by increasing observer coverage 
as funds become available.
    A description of the marine mammal programs criteria for observer 
coverage (expressed in terms of bias and precision of mortality 
estimates) is available in a NOAA Technical Memorandum describing the 
resources needed to better understand the status of protected species. 
This report is available on the Internet at the following address: 
http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/sars/improvement_plan.pdf.
    Comment 2: The Commission recommended that NMFS develop a strategy 
for collaboration with other nations to improve assessment and 
conservation of transboundary stocks of marine mammals.
    Response: NMFS, through the Office of International Affairs, is 
preparing a comprehensive international action plan for marine mammal 
conservation. As this plan is being developed, NMFS is also evaluating 
strategies to obtain information on the marine mammal conservation 
programs in other nations pursuant to MMPA section 101(a)(2).
    Comment 3: The Commission recommended that NMFS develop and 
implement a systematic approach for integrating all human-related risk 
factors into SARs.
    Response: MMPA section 117(3) contains directions for including 
risk factors in SARs. The MMPA states SARs should estimate annual 
human-caused mortality of each stock, by source, and, for strategic 
stocks, other factors that may be causing a decline or impeding 
recovery of the stock, including effects on marine mammal habitat and 
prey.

Comments on Alaska Regional Reports

    Comment 4: The Commission reiterated its earlier recommendation to 
update harbor seal stock structure in Alaska by recognizing 12 stocks 
of harbor seals.
    Response: As noted in previous responses to comments (see 72 FR 
12774, March 15, 2007, comment 16; 73 FR 21111, April 18, 2008, comment 
23; 74 FR 19530, April 29, 2009, comment 21; and 75 FR 12498, March 16, 
2010, comment 12), NMFS continues its commitment to work with its co-
managers in the Alaska Native community to evaluate and revise stock 
structure of harbor seals in Alaska. On March 16, 2010, NMFS and the 
Alaska Native Harbor Seal Commission held their annual co-management 
meeting during which they agreed to proceed with a revised set of 
population boundaries for harbor seals in Alaska. All representatives 
of the co-management committee agreed that a population structure of 
twelve stocks would be incorporated into the next cycle of SARs. NMFS 
is currently in the process of drafting the 2011 SARs, which will 
include separate evaluations of 12 harbor seal stocks for Alaska.
    Comment 5: The Commission recommended that NMFS continue to seek 
the additional support needed to develop and implement an ice seal 
research and management strategy that is commensurate with the threats 
that these species face.
    Response: NMFS agrees that it is necessary to increase the 
understanding of the distribution and movements, demographic 
parameters, natural history, and ecology of ringed, bearded, ribbon, 
and spotted seals in Alaska. NMFS has completed status reviews of these 
four species, and it is apparent that more information is needed in 
order to assess any potential threats or the impact to the species. 
NMFS continues to request appropriations for ice seals to the extent 
consistent with other priorities of the Administration for the national 
budget. NMFS also partners with other agencies to support research and 
monitoring of ice seals to the extent such activities are consistent 
with the priorities of these agencies.
    Comment 6: The Commission recommended that NMFS ensure funding for 
research on the eastern stock of North Pacific right whales is 
incorporated into the Administration's fiscal year 2012 budget, whether 
that funding is provided to the Service or to the Bureau of Ocean 
Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement.
    Response: NMFS recognizes the importance of seeking the necessary 
funding in order to continue to monitor the population status of 
eastern stock of North Pacific right whales and will continue to seek 
resources to study this critically endangered population.
    Comment 7: The Commission recommended that NMFS provide updated 
estimates of serious injury and mortality for the 11 stocks of marine 
mammals identified in the 2009 reports but not updated in the 2010 
drafts, or at least explain why that information is not available.
    Response: Serious injury and mortality data from the observer 
program for 2007 and 2008 are considered preliminary. Stocks lacking 
updated serious injury and mortality data for 2007 and 2008 were either 
not scheduled for updates in 2010 or had no takes reported during those 
years. NMFS intends to update the estimates of serious injury and 
mortality in the draft 2011 SARS when the serious injury and mortality 
data are finalized for the relevant stocks.
    Comment 8: The SAR for the Eastern U.S. stock of Steller sea lions 
should be changed to reflect updated taxonomy. The Society for Marine 
Mammalogy recognizes the species Eumetopias jubatus (Schreber, 1776) 
for the Steller sea lion, or northern sea lion, consisting of two 
subspecies, E. j. jubatus (Schreber, 1776) [the Western Steller sea 
lion] and E. j. monteriensis (Gray, 1859) [Loughlin's northern sea 
lion].
    Response: The agency is currently conducting a status review of 
Steller sea lions and upon completion of the review will revisit the 
possible designation of subspecies within this taxon, together with 
existing supporting scientific evidence.

[[Page 34056]]

    Comment 9: NMFS is applauded for the inclusion of a stock 
assessment for narwhals. Given the large number of unknowns in the 
stock assessment, NMFS should prioritize research to fill data gaps.
    Response: NMFS recognizes there are a large number of unknowns in 
Alaska stock assessments and will continue to strive to collect data to 
fill research gaps for narwhals and other marine mammals of Alaska.
    Comment 10: The Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) appreciated 
addition of concerns about anthropogenic noise in the SARs for beaked 
whales.
    Response: NMFS acknowledges and thanks you for this comment.
    Comment 11: NMFS needs to devote resources to obtaining reliable 
estimates of subsistence hunting of pinnipeds. A number of SARs for 
various ice seals (e.g. bearded seals) still state that harvest 
estimates are from the 1980s and include estimates of thousands of 
seals being killed. It is vital that there be a concerted effort to 
quantify subsistence takes and report them in a timely manner such that 
their conservation status can be reliably tracked.
    Response: NMFS recognizes the need for obtaining reliable estimates 
of subsistence takes of all pinniped species in Alaska, including ice 
dependent seal species. NMFS responded to this comment in the notice of 
availability of the final SARs for 2006 (72 FR 12774, March 15, 2007, 
comment 18) and for 2007 (73 FR 21111, April 18, 2008, comment 12). 
NMFS has insufficient resources to obtain up-to-date estimates of 
subsistence hunting of pinnipeds and will retain old information, with 
appropriate dates and caveats if necessary, to document the extent of 
knowledge on past harvest. In the meantime, NMFS is exploring options 
for better quantifying the annual harvest of pinnipeds, particularly 
ice seal species.
    Comment 12: Many of the ice seal stocks do not have abundance 
estimates or PBRs calculated. There needs to be greater precision in 
mortality estimation, and there is an urgent need for population 
abundance estimates.
    Response: NMFS recognizes the need for obtaining reliable abundance 
estimates from which PBR levels can be derived, and continues to strive 
to acquire funding to support abundance estimate surveys and accurate 
mortality estimates.
    Comment 13: Prior ice seal stock assessments have provided point 
estimates for native subsistence kills but have also provided upper and 
lower estimates based on the bounds of confidence. This is no longer 
done in the stock assessments and the region should reconsider this 
decision. Because of the imprecision of these estimates, this 
information should be provided so that reviewers can gauge the possible 
range of impacts.
    Response: As noted in a previous response (75 FR 12498, March 16, 
2010, comment 19) NMFS has reported upper and lower confidence limits 
for subsistence harvests of some stocks in the past but does not 
include them presently (e.g., beluga whales, Eastern Bering Sea stock). 
The SARs for these stocks note that variance estimates (or other 
measures of uncertainty) are not available. Without such measures, 
confidence limits cannot be calculated; therefore, none are included. 
For some stocks, the mortality estimates are noted to be underestimates 
because information is available from only a portion of the range of 
the stock. NMFS is aware of the potential consequences of 
underestimates, but funding levels limit the ability to initiate large 
new data collection programs until additional funds are obtained or 
until efforts directed toward other stocks are no longer necessary, 
which would allow resources to be re-directed.
    Comment 14: HSUS commented that many fisheries with either a 
history of interactions or a high likelihood of interactions remain 
unobserved or inadequately observed. The region should prioritize 
funding for fishery observers for the many fisheries (largely gillnet 
fisheries) that may be interacting with species of concern (e.g., 
belugas, Pacific white sided dolphins, harbor porpoise). Information on 
marine mammal interactions with trawl fisheries (including the Bering 
Sea/Aleutian Islands) has not been updated since 2006. This delay does 
not occur in other regions and is not acceptable. HSUS added that there 
is a note in the previous SAR for humpbacks in the Western North 
Pacific stock that data on fisheries interactions will be available for 
inclusion in the 2010 SAR, yet it is not. Instead, this statement was 
crossed out and the information remains outdated. The region needs to 
update information and report in a timelier manner as do other regions.
    Response: The NMFS Alaska Region has been implementing an observer 
program for various state fisheries as resources allow. As noted in the 
SARs, federal fisheries observer data from 2007 and 2008 are 
preliminary; estimates of percent observer coverage and coefficients of 
variation (CVs) are not currently available for some preliminary data. 
A consultation between the Alaska SRG and the Atlantic SRG (with 
assistance from the NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center) at the 
2010 Alaska SRG meeting regarding addressing poorly observed fisheries 
provided some suggestions from the Atlantic SRG. Observer coverage for 
southeast Alaska fisheries is being addressed with a traditional 
observer program.
    Comment 15: HSUS points out that several stocks in Alaska have PBRs 
calculated yet appear to be far below their original numbers and 
declining in major portions of the range. HSUS highlights the approach 
taken by the Pacific region with regard to Hawaiian monk seals in which 
the Pacific region states the stock's dynamics do not conform to the 
underlying model for calculating PBR such that PBR for the Hawaiian 
monk seal is undetermined. This seems a more appropriate and prudent 
approach, and HSUS believes that the Alaska region should consider it.
    Response: This issue was discussed at the Guidelines for Assessing 
Marine Mammal Stocks III workshop in February 2011, and NMFS will 
follow guidelines developed at this meeting once they are released. 
Until then, NMFS will continue to calculate PBR for Alaska stocks for 
which we have reliable abundance estimates that are less than 8 years 
old, as per the 2005 Guidelines for Assessing Marine Mammal Stocks.
    Comment 16: While the counts of western Steller sea lions reported 
in the text document overall increases (e.g., the pup count reported 
for the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands went up from the previous estimate 
of 5,456 to 5,664) and notes only a possible decline in the western 
Bering Sea and off Russia, figure 2 and table 1 both indicate that, in 
the Aleutians, the stock may still be declining. The text in the 
section on population trends of this stock also reflects a decline in 
the central and western Aleutians. It would be clearer to provide some 
of this information on the decline in the Aleutians in the section on 
population size.
    Response: NMFS disagrees. Information on the decline of populations 
in the central and western Aleutian Islands (-30% and -16%, 
respectively) is presented in the Current Population Trend section, 
which is the appropriate section for this information.
    Comment 17: The draft SAR notes that there were two cases of 
illegal shooting of Steller sea lions documented in southeast Alaska 
between 1995 and 1999 with no records of illegal shooting in the 
enforcement records for 1999-2003. Between 2004 and 2008, NMFS 
accounted for 1 animal from this DPS found with gunshot wound(s) in 
2004

[[Page 34057]]

and 3 in 2005. No animals from southeast Alaska were counted in the 
NMFS data base due to NMFS concerns that some of them might have been 
animals struck and lost by Alaskan native hunters. As such, illegal 
shooting in Alaska is unaccounted.
    Response: Animals found with evidence of gunshot wounds, without 
conclusive results of the source of these wounds, are not reported as 
illegal takes since there is the probability that these takes were 
already accounted for as struck and loss in the subsistence harvest. 
Illegal shootings, as determined by enforcement investigations, are 
reported separately if there is conclusive information indicating that 
the shooting was illegal.
    Comment 18: Deaths affecting the eastern Steller sea lion stock 
have occurred in addition to those reported by NMFS in the 2010 draft 
SAR. They include one Steller sea lion that was found shot on Orcas 
Island in the San Juan Islands in 2006, and two that died in 2008 in 
traps set in the Columbia River as part of a state lethal taking 
program aimed at California sea lions. In 2010 one or more shooters 
killed 10 sea lions in Washington State, with at least one Steller sea 
lion.
    Response: NMFS appreciates the information on these occurrences. 
The Alaska Fisheries Science Center will work closely with the 
Northwest Regional Office to determine whether these takes have already 
been accounted for and will be sure to incorporate any additional 
human-related serious injuries or mortalities as appropriate.
    Comment 19: HSUS expressed concern that the 2008 population 
estimate of northern fur seals declined from the estimates from 2002 
and 2007 and that the decline in pups at St. Paul is a major factor in 
this continued decline. Considering the ongoing decline, and the 
particularly significant impacts on pup production/survival, the region 
should consider a lower recovery factor than the default of 0.5.
    Response: This issue was discussed at the Guidelines for Assessing 
Marine Mammal Stocks III workshop in February 2011, and NMFS will 
follow guidelines developed at this meeting once they are released. 
Until then, NMFS will continue to use a recovery factor of 0.5 for this 
stock.
    Comment 20: Although the conservation plan for fur seals was 
updated in 2007, HSUS suggested that, in light of the ongoing problems 
facing this stock, a five-year review and updating of this plan should 
be scheduled for next year.
    Response: The conservation plan for the Eastern Pacific stock of 
Northern fur seals is scheduled to go through the 5-year review process 
and is expected to be updated by late 2012 or early 2013.
    Comment 21: In the draft 2010 SAR, the data on observer coverage 
and estimated mortality for most commercial fisheries in 2007 and 2008 
(3 and 2 years ago respectively) remain unavailable. Mortality 
estimates should be updated in a timely manner as they are in other 
regions.
    Response: NMFS recognizes that it is important to routinely provide 
updated mortality estimates in the SARs. However, due to changes in 
staffing and database structure, it has taken longer than anticipated 
to develop new mortality estimates incidental to the federally-
regulated commercial fisheries in Alaska. New preliminary estimates for 
2007-2009 will be made available in the 2011 draft SARs.
    Comment 22: The Cook Inlet beluga stock continues to decline 
despite cessation of directed hunting. The section on Habitat Concerns 
glosses over the multiplicity of projects recently approved or proposed 
for areas within or adjacent to those proposed for designation as 
Critical Habitat. Subsequent to the announcement of proposed critical 
habitat, NMFS received comments providing greater specificity on some 
of these projects that include (but are not limited to) proposed new 
offshore drill platforms and construction and maintenance of pipelines; 
construction of coal liquefication and gasification facilities; a 
proposed Pebble Project that would ship concentrates; shipping of coal; 
Alaska Railroad Intertie and associated ship traffic as well as utility 
upgrades for all bordering communities.
    Response: As noted in previous responses to comments (75 FR 12498, 
March 16, 2010, comments 1 and 6), section 117 of the MMPA lists 
information that should be included in SARs. A major strength of the 
SARs is that they are concise summaries of the status of each stock, 
focusing primarily on the effects of direct human-caused mortality and 
serious injury on marine mammals and impacts to habitat when such 
impacts may result in the decline or failure of recovery of the 
affected stocks. The MMPA notes that SARs for strategic stocks should 
include other factors that may be causing a decline or impeding the 
recovery of the stock, including effects on habitat. Accordingly, for 
strategic stocks such as Cook Inlet belugas, such sections must discuss 
only those factors that may be causing a decline or impeding recovery. 
The habitat section sufficiently describes activities within the Cook 
Inlet beluga habitat that may be causing a decline or impeding 
recovery, and NMFS will continue to update this section as appropriate.
    Comment 23: The population abundance estimates for Alaska harbor 
porpoise stocks are outdated. There is a note in the SAR for the 
Southeast Alaska stock that an abundance estimate was expected this 
year (2010) but that has been edited to extend the estimated time of 
revision to next year (2011).
    Response: NMFS will report an updated abundance estimate and 
calculate a PBR level for harbor porpoises in Southeast Alaska after 
recent survey data are analyzed and published, which should occur in 
time for the draft 2011 SARs.
    Comment 24: HSUS expressed concern that observer coverage is 
lacking for many gillnet fisheries in the range of the various harbor 
porpoise stocks when gillnets are a major source of mortality for 
porpoises in most areas throughout the world. The region needs to 
provide better observer coverage either aboard fishing vessels or from 
alternative platforms.
    Response: NMFS recognizes the need for additional resources to 
support observer programs for those fisheries with little or no 
observer coverage, including gillnet fisheries in Alaska (see response 
to comment 5, 73 FR 21111, April 18, 2008, and comment 10, 74 FR 19530, 
April 29, 2009). In 2011, NMFS and the Alaska Regional Office will be 
initiating an observer program for gillnet fisheries in southeast 
Alaska that overlap with areas of harbor porpoise distribution.
    Comment 25: Takes of porpoise in native subsistence nets in the 
Bering Sea in particular appears poorly documented.
    Response: NMFS collects information on harbor porpoise mortalities 
occurring incidental to subsistence fishing when they are reported.
    Comment 26: No revisions have been made to the stock definition and 
geographic range section for the eastern North Pacific gray whale 
stock, despite the availability of recent information that would 
otherwise require them. The narrative continues to state the eastern 
North Pacific population is not an isolated population unit. However, 
recent work by Dr. Jim Darling and colleagues casts this assumption 
into question, as it seems that some of these groups may indeed be 
genetically distinct (Westerly, 2010; Frasier et al., 2010). The stock 
assessment should be updated to reflect these developments and the most 
recent information on stock structure.
    Response: NMFS is aware of the discrete ``Pacific coast feeding

[[Page 34058]]

aggregation,'' and this group is mentioned within the Stock Definition 
and Geographic Range sections of the 2010 SAR. NMFS appreciates the 
mention of the new publications and will incorporate these, if 
appropriate, in the draft SARs for 2011.
    Comment 27: The gray whale stock assessment report states that in 
1997, the IWC approved a 5-year quota (1998-2002) of 620 gray whales, 
with an annual cap of 140, for Russian and U.S. (Makah Indian Tribe) 
aboriginals based on the aboriginal needs statements from each country. 
This is an inaccurate description of what happened at the IWC in 1997. 
The quota was not based on the needs statements from each country, but 
only on the needs statement from Russia.
    Response: At the 49th meeting of the International Whaling 
Commission, the need request of both the Makah tribe and the Chukotka 
people were discussed. The Russian Federation requested 140 whales for 
the Chukotka people, and the USA requested ``up to 5 whales'' for the 
Makah tribe. The Report states ``The Makah will be coordinating their 
proposal with the Russian Federation and would present a Schedule 
amendment to Plenary.'' Under 10.3.2.2 Action Arising, the Report 
states ``In the Commission there was extended discussion of the two 
requests in the context of a joint proposal by the Russian Federation 
and the USA for a catch of 620 gray whales over five years, with an 
annual limit of 140.'' The Report details some debate about the Makah 
need, but then states ``After further consultations to refine the 
language, a broad consensus was reached to accept the amendment of 
Schedule paragraph 13(b)(2) as shown in Appendix 11.'' Appendix 11 
gives a take limit of 620 gray whales over five years (1998-2002), with 
an annual limit of 140. It is clear that the Russian and Makah need 
requests were coordinated and modified from the separate annual 
requests of 140 and ``up to five'' to become simply a joint request for 
620 over five years with an annual limit of 140. Therefore, the text in 
the SAR is correct that the quota was set based on the needs statements 
from each country, as expressed in their joint proposal. This is 
verified in the next year's Report (Annual Report of the International 
Whaling Commission 1998, pg. 14), where it is stated ``New Zealand 
commented that the Makah tribe have not yet drawn on the quota * * *.''
    Comment 28: The gray whale stock assessment report omits mention of 
the gray whales killed by Makah hunters in 1999 and 2007, though it 
erroneously states that there was an unlawful hunt in 2005 (this was 
the 2007 kill). It was in February of 2005 that the tribe requested a 
waiver to the MMPA.
    Response: NMFS has corrected the error to accurately reflect that 
this illegal kill occurred in 2007 in the draft 2011 reports. 
Subsistence takes are only reported for the most recent 5 years in the 
SAR; therefore, the take in 1999 is not included in the SAR.
    Comment 29: The SARs cite the 2004-2006 multi-national SPLASH 
effort to better assess humpback whale populations in the Pacific and 
continue to say with each revision of the SAR that a better 
understanding of stock structure ``should be available in the near 
future'' or ``in 2010 or 2011'' depending on the stock. Given that NMFS 
has undertaken a status review of humpback stocks, the lack of 
availability of this information is troubling. It would seem 
appropriate to mention the status review that the NMFS is undertaking 
for all humpback stocks in the sections on stock status.
    Response: The SPLASH effort was a multidisciplinary project with 
several objectives and many cooperators, and both photographic and 
genetic information required analysis. It is not unusual for the 
results of such a project to take a few years to analyze, integrate, 
and publish. NMFS will include the new information from SPLASH in the 
SARs as soon as possible, and will coordinate the inclusion of new 
information in the SARs with the humpback whale status review, which is 
underway and expected to be completed in 2011. NMFS will include the 
relevant results of this review in the SARs when they are available.
    Comment 30: The only data provided with regard to humpback whale 
entanglement in the U.S. come from observed fisheries, and many Alaska 
fisheries are unobserved. In the Atlantic, most of the mortality of 
humpbacks as a result of fisheries interactions comes from reports of 
sightings of entangled humpback made by commercial whale watch vessels 
or recreational boaters. Were there the same number of whale watch and 
recreational boaters in Alaska as in the Atlantic, there would almost 
surely be more animals reported as entangled, since trap/pot and 
gillnet gear similar to that which entangles humpbacks in the Atlantic 
is also used in Alaska. This sort of caveat might be useful in the SAR.
    Response: Reports of serious injury and mortality of humpback 
whales are acquired from two primary sources: Federal fisheries 
observer data and the Alaska stranding network. Reports from the 
stranding network include reports from the general public, stranding 
responders, vessel captains and crew, law enforcement, researchers, and 
other sources. NMFS reviews and reports serious injury and mortality 
records from all these sources, and includes a summary of these data in 
the SARs.
    Comment 31: The SAR for central North Pacific humpbacks mentions 
vessel collisions in Alaska but pays little attention to collisions in 
the wintering area of Hawaii. There are reports of increasing 
collisions in Hawaii (particularly off Maui) that do not appear to be 
simply an artifact of increased reporting or increasing humpback 
populations.
    Response: NMFS is reviewing records of mortality and serious injury 
for humpback whales, including records of ship strikes in Hawaiian 
waters, for the draft 2011 SARs. All injuries determined to be serious 
injuries will be reported and included in the mortality and serious 
injury estimates for 2011.
    Comment 32: NMFS fails to indicate the 2006/2007 survey of Eastern 
North Pacific (ENP) gray whales was not an abundance estimate as 
required under section 117 of the MMPA. There are no provisions in the 
MMPA which support using the results of field studies to legitimize 
SARs.
    Response: As noted in NMFS' response to a petition to conduct a 
status review under the MMPA (75 FR 81225, December 27, 2010), these 
statements are incorrect, and neither statement is relevant to the 
status of the ENP gray whale stock. The 2006/2007 survey was a full 
abundance estimation survey. Field and analysis methods, and raw count 
data, are detailed in a NOAA/AFSC Processed Report (Rugh et al., 2008). 
Updated estimates and methodologies for this survey are presented in 
Laake et al. (2009). MMPA section 117 requires NMFS to use the best 
information available to prepare SARs. In the case of ENP gray whales, 
the best information available includes results of field studies. The 
reports referenced above are available on the Internet at the following 
address: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/cetaceans/graywhale_petition.htm.
    Comment 33: The results of the most recent ENP gray whale abundance 
estimate (as required under section 117 of the MMPA), undertaken in the 
2009/2010 season, have not been published.
    Response: This statement is correct with respect to the abundance 
estimate from the 2009/2010 survey for ENP gray whales not being 
included in the SAR. The statement is incorrect in stating that MMPA 
section 117 requires the 2009/2010 estimate to be included. Rather, 
MMPA section 117 requires that SARs

[[Page 34059]]

be prepared using the best scientific information available. Estimates 
from the 2009/2010 survey were not available when the draft 2010 SAR 
was prepared. NMFS anticipates updating the time series of abundance 
estimates so the more recent estimates are available in spring 2012 and 
would be included in the next update of the ENP gray whale SAR.

Comments on Atlantic Regional Reports

    Comment 34: HSUS recommended that SARs within the Atlantic region 
incorporate results of the 2007 workshop on determination of serious 
injuries. HSUS expressed concern that animals that should be considered 
seriously injured are not and then disappear from the data base because 
these whales are never seen again, and the original injury was not 
``counted'' within the time of the 5-year average.
    Response: NMFS is using recommendations from the 2007 workshop to 
establish policy and guidelines to distinguish ``serious'' from ``non-
serious'' injury of marine mammals. The results of this effort, which 
is expected to be made available for public review and comment in 
summer of 2011, should promote agency-wide consistency in determining 
whether or not an injury would likely result in the death of the 
affected animal.
    Comment 35: The population estimates of the bay, sound, and estuary 
stocks of bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico are outdated.
    Response: NMFS agrees.
    Comment 36: Although there was a 2007 aerial survey-based estimate 
of the central and eastern Gulf of Mexico coastal bottlenose dolphin 
stocks, there is no estimate of trends.
    Response: For a number of reasons, it is difficult to interpret 
trends from information based on two abundance estimates. NMFS has 
little information about stock structure and potential movement 
patterns of dolphins that inhabit these coastal areas. Without 
contemporaneous estimates of abundance from adjacent areas, it is 
impossible to know whether dolphins moved either on a short or long 
term basis. Additionally, there were improvements in the data 
collection methods between 1993/1994 and 2007 that may confound direct 
comparison of estimates made during these two periods.
    Comment 37: Though NMFS acknowledges that the number of observed 
entanglements is likely an underestimate, NMFS should consider more 
recent approaches to discerning impacts of commercial fisheries. For 
example, one analysis has concluded that humpback whales in the Gulf of 
Maine likely suffer a 3.7 percent entanglement-related mortality rate 
(Robbins and Matilla, 2009). Analyses indicate that estimates exceeded 
observed cases by an order of magnitude and suggest that entanglement 
is having a much greater effect on the population than previously 
supposed.
    Response: When assessing fishing mortality of all large whale 
stocks, NMFS relies on a direct count of mortalities and serious 
injuries known within a standardized level of forensic evidence to be 
human caused. Because entanglement mortalities are less than 100 
percent detectable, they may be considered undercounts. The assessment 
reported by Robbins and Matilla (2009) relies on a level of sampling 
(photographic evidence) of the population only rarely available and, as 
yet, unproven. In particular, their measure places considerable 
reliance on a small sample estimate of escapement based on NMFS 
evaluation of serious injury and mortality related to entanglements. 
The uncertainties of that estimate, its potential bias and the 
uncertainties of the overall estimate were not calculated. Until such 
time as NMFS can evaluate the nature of this estimate, including its 
variance properties and potential for long term use, we will continue 
to count mortality of humpback whales the same as for other baleen 
whales. As with many of our assessment findings, for large whales we 
are most interested in those tools that provide consistent long term 
results that allow for tracking of trends. The current accounting of 
deaths due to fisheries interactions, although likely an undercount, 
provides an evaluation consistent with NMFS' guidelines for preparing 
stock assessment reports.
    Comment 38: The humpback whale stock assessment should mention 
habitat concerns. Proposed activities (e.g., increased herring harvest 
quotas, seismic surveys), if initiated, could result in an adverse 
impact on the prey base, cause the injury to whales, or displace them 
from key feeding areas.
    Response: The habitat section of the SAR sufficiently describes 
activities within the humpback whale habitat that may be causing a 
decline or impeding recovery, and NMFS will continue to update this 
section as appropriate.
    Comment 39: HSUS noted there were no data for minimum population 
estimates for harbor seals and gray seals that are the common subject 
of complaints by fisheries, and encouraged the northeast region to 
develop estimates. The Commission recommended that NMFS conduct the 
necessary surveys of North Atlantic pinniped stocks and incorporate the 
results in their stock assessment reports.
    Response: NMFS plans a harbor seal abundance survey, including a 
correction factor for seals not hauled out during the survey, in May 
2011. Revised estimates should be incorporated into the 2012 SAR. 
Archived digital images from seasonal seal surveys from 2005 to 2011 
along the southeast Massachusetts coast will be analyzed in 2011 to 
provide a minimum abundance estimate of non-pup gray seals in the Cape 
Cod/eastern Nantucket Sound region. This area contains the major gray 
seal haul-out sites in U.S. waters.
    Comment 40: The Commission recommended that the NMFS develop a 
stock assessment plan for the Gulf of Mexico that describes: (1) A 
feasible strategy for assessing the Gulf's marine mammal stocks, (2) 
the infrastructure needed to support that plan, (3) the expertise 
required to carry out the plan, and (4) the funding needed to implement 
the plan.
    Response: It would be valuable to develop a marine mammal stock 
assessment plan for the Gulf of Mexico that addresses feasibility, 
infrastructure needs, and resources required. However, the critical 
elements for a plan already exist in the protected species Stock 
Assessment Improvement Plan, and these elements are addressed in the 
Southeast Fisheries Science Center Marine Mammal Program Strategic Plan 
written in 2008, and a 2007 research plan for assessing bottlenose 
dolphin stocks in the north-central Gulf of Mexico. Because of limited 
staff resources there are no plans in the immediate future to develop a 
focused Southeast Fisheries Science Center document.

Comments on Pacific Regional Reports

    Comment 41: In light of Anderson v. Evans, 371 F.3d 475, 497-401 
(9th Cir. 2004), the MMPA applies to subsistence hunting of seals by 
Northwest Tribes, and the SAR should make clear that any direct 
harvesting of marine mammals by members of Northwest Tribes is not 
legal unless they first comply with the MMPA including obtaining the 
necessary waivers or permits prior to the hunt. The SAR should make a 
note that any tribal take would be illegal.
    Response: The SAR includes all takes of marine mammals reported by 
Northwest Tribes. MMPA section 117(a) explicitly lists the information 
that should be included in SARs. This list does not include identifying 
which takes need to be authorized and which do not. Accordingly such 
language is inappropriate for SARs.

[[Page 34060]]

    Comment 42: HSUS requests more discussion of what fisheries might 
be interacting with long-beaked common dolphins, given the number of 
stranded animals with gunshot evidence.
    Response: The fisheries likely interacting with this stock that 
have historically taken animals from this stock, but which have been 
unobserved in recent years, are shown in Table 1 (California small mesh 
drift gillnet fishery and California halibut/white seabass set gillnet 
fishery).
    Comment 43: Table 1 of the California/Oregon/Washington Humpback 
whale SAR lists 14 deaths and serious injuries of humpbacks over a five 
year period, which results in an annual average of 2.8 per year.
    Response: Table 1 lists two deaths and 14 serious injuries (serious 
injuries are shown in parentheses and deaths are not), which results in 
an annual average of 3.2 whales per year. This matches the description 
in the text.
    Comment 44: HSUS commented that inclusion of information on deaths 
to marine mammals during scientific research and on potential harm due 
to anthropogenic sound near Hawaii is appreciated. The inclusion of 
stock assessments for marine mammal stocks in U.S. territories in the 
Pacific is greatly appreciated, and efforts to update abundance 
estimates and data from genetic analyses for a number of other stocks, 
including Hawaiian Islands stocks, is also a welcome addition.
    Response: NMFS acknowledges and thanks you for this comment.
    Comment 45: PBR should not be calculated for most Hawaiian stocks, 
as the abundance estimates are more than 8 years old.
    Response: The abundance information for Hawaiian stocks updated in 
the 2010 SARs have not yet exceeded eight years (based on a 2002 
survey).
    Comment 46: NMFS should amend the Hawaii pantropical spotted 
dolphin report to describe the troll and charter boat fisheries and the 
practice of ``fishing'' dolphins, note the existence of anecdotal 
reports of bycatch, and indicate need to collect more data on potential 
bycatch by these fisheries.
    Response: Acknowledgement of anecdotal reports of bycatch of 
spotted dolphins by the Hawaii troll fishery have been included in the 
text. The potential for hooking other dolphins noted by Rizutto (2007) 
by the commercial and recreational troll fishery has also been noted in 
the SARs for bottlenose dolphins, rough-toothed dolphins, and short-
finned pilot whales.
    Comment 47: New evidence indicates the presence of two stocks of 
melon-headed whale in nearshore Hawaiian waters and multiple 
populations of short-finned pilot whales in the Hawaiian EEZ.
    Response: This new information, available after the 2010 SARs were 
drafted, will be evaluated and included in the next update to the 
Hawaii melon-headed whale and short-finned pilot whale SARs.
    Comment 48: NMFS should note additional information of occurrence 
of pygmy killer whales in the main Hawaiian Islands and evidence of 
fisheries interactions.
    Response: This is noted in the text.
    Comment 49: The draft 2010 SAR for common bottlenose dolphins--
Hawaii Island stock indicates that ``there is no systematic monitoring 
of gillnet fisheries that may take this species.'' This should be 
expanded to include other types of fisheries that may also interact 
with the stock.
    Response: NMFS agrees, and a note has been made in the SAR of other 
fisheries that may interact with the Hawaii Islands stock of bottlenose 
dolphins.
    Comment 50: The statement that sightings of Hawaiian striped 
dolphins have historically been infrequent is no longer accurate. 
Recent surveys in deep water areas have documented this species fairly 
regularly.
    Response: New information about the frequent occurrence of striped 
dolphins off Hawaii was not available when the 2010 SAR was drafted. 
Occurrence and range information for this species will be updated 
during the next update for this SAR.
    Comment 51: Unpublished reports indicate high re-sighting rates of 
dwarf sperm whales off the island of Hawaii, suggesting small 
population size and site-fidelity. Individuals have also been 
documented with dorsal fin disfigurements.
    Response: NMFS typically cites only peer-reviewed information in 
the SARs. The information referenced here was not available for review 
prior to drafting the 2010 SAR and may be evaluated for the next review 
of this stock.
    Comment 52: NMFS continues to divide the Eastern North Pacific 
false killer whale stock into three fictional stocks based on the U.S. 
EEZ boundaries, and has inappropriately extrapolated from a single 
outdated false killer whale sighting to establish a population 
abundance estimate for the Hawaii pelagic population that severely 
underestimates total population size.
    Response: NMFS has previously responded to this and related 
comments (see 73 FR 21111, April 18, 2008, comment 47; 74 FR 19530, 
April 29, 2009, comment 34; and 75 FR 12504, March 16, 2010, comment 
53) and reiterates that the stock division for false killer whale is 
consistent with the MMPA and with the NMFS 2005 Guidelines for 
Assessing Marine Mammals Stocks (GAMMS), which were finalized after 
opportunity for public review and comment, and provide guidance on 
abundance and PBR of transboundary stocks. No international agreements 
presently exist for the management of cetacean bycatch in the central 
Pacific longline fisheries; therefore, NMFS assesses the status of 
marine mammal stocks within U.S. EEZ waters, based on EEZ abundances 
and EEZ mortalities and serious injuries. Further, as noted in GAMMS, 
the lack of genetic difference among false killer whale samples from 
the broader eastern North Pacific region does not imply that these 
animals are from a single eastern North Pacific stock.
    Comment 53: The NMFS abundance estimate for the Pelagic stock of 
Hawaiian false killer whales is outdated and incorrect, as the 
abundance estimate from the 2002 survey became ``stale'' in the fall of 
2010. In addition, a new survey begun in August 2010 has observed 
numerous groups of false killer whales. This survey's observations 
should be considered the best available information regardless of 
whether a new abundance estimate has been calculated.
    Response: The abundance information for Hawaii pelagic false killer 
whales presented in the 2010 SAR is now 8 years old (based on a 2002 
survey). New information from the 2010 survey was available after the 
preparation of 2010 or 2011 SARs (reports are prepared in the summer 
and fall for review by the SRG) but will be assessed for inclusion in 
future SARs.
    Comment 54: NMFS has incorrectly represented that the Hawaii 
``insular'' stock ``may have declined.'' This suggestion is based on 
several speculative and scientifically unproven assertions regarding 
the supposed historical abundance of the Insular Stock and the assumed 
effects of the fisheries on that stock.
    Response: NMFS has previously responded to a similar comment (see 
75 FR 12505, March 16, 2010, comment 57) and reiterates the scientific 
information supporting the decline has been peer-reviewed and clearly 
outlines the data and basis for their conclusions. In the SAR, there is 
no assignment of cause of this decline within the SAR, and fisheries 
have not been implicated at this time.
    Comment 55: The SAR wrongly assigns a deep-set fishery false killer 
whale interaction to the insular stock.

[[Page 34061]]

The best available scientific information does not demonstrate that the 
deep-set fishery has ever interacted with an animal from the insular 
stock.
    Response: The boundaries of the insular stock have been determined 
based on genetic and movement data and have been peer-reviewed by the 
Pacific SRG. Unless specific stock identity is known (e.g., from a 
genetic sample of the affected animal) any longline fishery interaction 
occurring within the overlap zone between the insular and pelagic 
stocks will be prorated to the two stocks so potential impact on each 
stock can be accounted for. In the 2010 SAR, this proration is based on 
the relative density of the insular versus pelagic stock throughout the 
stock range. This methodology will be reevaluated in the near future, 
and future SARs may reflect alternative proration strategies.
    Comment 56: NMFS arbitrarily picks and chooses which information to 
use to support conclusions published in the false killer whale SAR. 
Unpublished reports and papers, ``working'' papers, ``draft'' papers, 
non-peer reviewed papers, and reports containing ``preliminary 
estimates'' are used in support of certain aspects of the SAR, while 
others are ignored if their findings contradict other conclusions 
within the SAR.
    Response: NMFS does cite key unpublished papers and/or reports in 
the SARs if (1) they are reviewed and accepted by the SRG at their 
annual meeting, or (2) NMFS expects that they will be finalized and 
published (with peer-review) by the time the SAR is finalized. If not 
published, papers and/or reports that are reviewed and accepted by the 
SRG are considered peer reviewed and best available science.
    Comment 57: The 2010 draft humpback SAR includes a single 2006 
interaction with the Hawaii-based shallow-set fishery in its mortality 
and serious injury estimates for both the northern portion and 
southeast Alaska portion of the Central North Pacific humpback whale 
stock. This interaction should not be double-counted.
    Response: See responses to comments 13 and 14 in the final 2005 LOF 
(71 FR 247, January 4, 2006), comment 10 in the final 2003 LOF (68 FR 
41725, July 15, 2003), comment 10 in the final 2008 LOF (72 FR 66048, 
November 27, 2007), and comment 18 in the final 2009 SARs (75 FR 12498, 
March 16, 2010) for detailed responses to a similar comment. Where 
there is considerable uncertainty regarding to which stock a serious 
injury or mortality should be assigned, NMFS exercises a conservative 
approach of assigning the serious injury or mortality to both stocks. 
Clearly, if information were available regarding the location of take, 
genetics of the taken animal, or other conclusive information linking 
the serious injury or mortality to a specific stock, NMFS would use it 
to assign the take to a specific stock.

    Dated: June 6, 2011.
Helen M. Golde,
Deputy Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2011-14451 Filed 6-9-11; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P