NMFS Defends Its “Small Numbers” Determinations

The United States National Marine Fisheries Service has issued an Incidental Harassment Authorization under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to Apache Alaska Corporation to take marine mammals, by harassment, incidental to a proposed 3D seismic survey in Cook Inlet, Alaska, between March 4, 2014, and December 31, 2014.  This IHA is effective March 4, 2014, through December 31, 2014. In its Federal Register notice of this IHA, NMFS responds to comments on the proposed IHA. In its responses, NMFS addresses its current approach to determining “small numbers” of marine mammal takes.  NMFS states that

“As both this notice and the proposed IHA Federal Register notice (78 FR 80386, December 31, 2013) show, NMFS considers ‘‘small numbers’’ and ‘‘negligible impact’’ as separate standards and conducts its analysis of each requirement separately. When making the negligible impact determination, NMFS assesses whether or not the activity is likely to affect annual rates of recruitment or survival of the affected species or stock. In addition to the number of estimated Level B harassment takes, NMFS considers 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 corridor, etc.), as well as the number and nature of estimated Level A harassment takes and the number of estimated serious injuries or mortalities. We also consider the status of the species or stock (threatened, endangered, depleted, etc.) and how the mitigation measures are expected to reduce the number or severity of takes. As noted previously, Apache proposed and NMFS has required a rigorous set of mitigation measures to not only reduce and/or avoid Level A harassment takes but also to reduce and/or avoid Level B (behavioral) harassment takes. In both the proposed IHA notice an n both the proposed IHA notice and this document, we have made a separate ‘‘small numbers’’ finding. As recommended by the MMC, we have based that finding on the percentage of the stock anticipated to be taken. The amount of Cook Inlet beluga whale takes authorized represents 9.6% of the population. This percentage is consistent with previous authorizations issued by NMFS and does not violate the ‘‘small numbers’’ requirement.”

Click here to read NMFS’ Federal Register notice for this IHA.




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