[Federal Register Volume 81, Number 204 (Friday, October 21, 2016)]
[Pages 72782-72783]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2016-25532]

[[Page 72782]]



National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XE859

Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; Taking Marine Mammals 
Incidental to U.S. Navy Operations of Surveillance Towed Array Sensor 
System Low Frequency Active Sonar

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 U.S. Navy (Navy) for 
authorization to take, by harassment, marine mammals incidental to 
conducting operations of Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System 
(SURTASS) Low Frequency Active (LFA) sonar for the period beginning 
August 2017 and ending August 2022. Pursuant to the implementing 
regulations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), NMFS is 
announcing our receipt of the Navy's request for regulations governing 
the incidental taking of marine mammals and inviting information, 
suggestions, and comments on the Navy's application and request.

DATES: Comments and information must be received no later than November 
21, 2016.

ADDRESSES: Comments on the application should be addressed to Jolie 
Harrison, Chief, Permits, Conservation and Education Division, Office 
of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-
West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910-3225. The mailbox address for 
providing email comments is [email protected]. NMFS is not 
responsible for email comments sent to addresses other than the one 
provided here. Comments sent via email, including all attachments, must 
not exceed a 10-megabyte file size.
    Instructions: All comments received are a part of the public record 
and will generally be posted to http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm#applications without change. All Personal Identifying 
Information (for example, name, address, etc.) voluntarily submitted by 
the commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit Confidential 
Business Information or otherwise sensitive or protected information.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Dale Youngkin, Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS; phone: (301) 427-8401.



    An electronic copy of the Navy's application may be obtained online 
at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.htm#applications. 
The Navy released a draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement 
(DSEIS) for the employment of SURTASS LFA sonar on August 26, 2016. A 
copy of the DSEIS, which would also support NMFS' proposed rulemaking 
under the MMPA, is available at http://www.surtass-lfa-eis.com.


    Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the Marine Mammal Protection Act 
of 1972, as amended (MMPA; 16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) direct the Secretary 
of Commerce (Secretary) to allow, upon request, the incidental, but not 
intentional taking of marine mammals by U.S. citizens who engage in a 
specified activity (other than commercial fishing) if certain findings 
are made and regulations are issued or, if the taking is limited to 
harassment, notice of a proposed authorization is provided to the 
public for review.
    Authorization for incidental takings 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 taking 
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.''
    With respect to military readiness activities, the MMPA defines 
``harassment'' as:

    (i) Any act that injures or has the significant potential to 
injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild [Level A 
Harassment]; or (ii) any act that disturbs or is likely to disturb a 
marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing 
disruption of natural behavioral patterns, including, but not 
limited to, migration, surfacing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or 
sheltering, to a point where such behavioral patterns are abandoned 
or significantly altered [Level B Harassment].

Summary of Request

    On August 26, 2016, NMFS received an application from the Navy 
requesting authorization to take individuals of 104 species of marine 
mammals (75 cetaceans and 29 pinnipeds), by harassment, incidental to 
training, testing, and routine military operations (all categorized as 
military readiness activities) using SURTASS LFA sonar over the course 
of five years between August 15, 2017 and August 15, 2022.
    The Navy states that these training, testing, and routine military 
activities may expose some of the marine mammals present in the 
operational areas to sound from low-frequency active sonar sources. 
Because marine mammals may be harassed due to noise disturbance 
incidental to the use of SURTASS LFA sonar during training, testing, 
and routine military operations, the Navy utilized the most recent NMFS 
acoustic Technical Guidance (NMFS 2016) to analyze potential takes of 
marine mammals. The Navy requests authorization to take individuals of 
104 species of marine mammals by Level B Harassment. Further, the Navy 
states that the probability of taking marine mammals by Level A 
Harassment is less than 0.001 percent. However, because the probability 
is not zero, the Navy has included a small number of Level A harassment 
in its authorization request as a precautionary measure.
    This will be NMFS' fourth rule making for SURTASS LFA sonar 
operations under the MMPA. NMFS published the first rule effective from 
August 2002 through August 2007 on July 16, 2002 (67 FR 46712); the 
second rule effective from August 2007 through August 2012 on August 
21, 2007 (72 FR 46846); and the third rule effective from August 2012 
through August 2012 (77 FR 50290). For this fourth rule making, the 
Navy is proposing to conduct the same types of sonar activities in the 
proposed rulemaking as they have conducted over the past fourteen years 
in the previous three rule makings with the exceptions of updating the 
LFA sonar duty cycle from 20 percent to 7.5-10 percent based on 
historical data. In addition, the Navy is proposing a Preferred 
Alternative (Alternative 2) in their DSEIS that would transmit a 
maximum number of 255 hours of LFA sonar per vessel per year, as 
opposed to the previously authorized 432 hours of LFA sonar per vessel 
per year.

Description of the Specified Activity

    The Navy proposes to deploy the system on a maximum of four U.S. 
Naval ships: The USNS ABLE, the USNS EFFECTIVE, the USNS

[[Page 72783]]

IMPECCABLE and the USNS VICTORIOUS) in certain areas of the Pacific, 
Atlantic, and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea. Nominal at-sea 
missions for each vessel using SURTASS LFA sonar would last up to 294 
days, with 240 days of active sonar transmissions and 54 days of 
transit. The maximum number of actual transmission hours per vessel 
would not exceed 255 hours annually under the Preferred Alternative. 
The application describes the activity types, the equipment and 
platforms involved, and the duration and potential locations of the 
specified activities.
    A suite of proposed mitigation measures for marine mammals that 
could potentially be affected during SURTASS LFA sonar operations 
includes restricting the use of SURTASS LFA sonar such that it will not 
operate in Arctic and Antarctic waters; sound pressure levels (SPL) 
will not exceed 180 decibels (dB) re 1 [mu]Pa (rms) within 12 nautical 
miles of any emerged features of any coastline, or within designated 
offshore biologically important areas (OBIAs) for marine mammals; and 
the Navy will minimize exposure of marine mammals to SURTASS LFA sonar 
signal received levels of 180 dB re 1 [mu]Pa (rms) by monitoring for 
their presence and suspending transmission when animals enter the 
mitigation zone.

Information Solicited

    Interested persons may submit information, suggestions, and 
comments concerning the Navy's request (see ADDRESSES). NMFS will 
consider all information, suggestions, and comments related to the 
Navy's request and NMFS' potential development and implementation of 
regulations governing the incidental taking of marine mammals by the 
Navy's SURTASS LFA sonar activities.

    Dated: October 4, 2016.
Donna S. Wieting,
Director, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries 
[FR Doc. 2016-25532 Filed 10-20-16; 8:45 am]