[Federal Register: December 22, 1999 (Volume 64, Number 245)]
[Page 71735-71736]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


Fish and Wildlife Service
[I.D. 121499A]

Availability of an Environmental Assessment and Receipt of an 
Application for an Endangered Species Act Incidental Take Permit for 
the California Department of Fish and Game's Striped Bass Management 
Program Conservation Plan, for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Estuary, and 
Delta Rivers

AGENCIES: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic 
and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce; Fish and Wildlife 
Service (FWS), Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability for public comment and receipt of 


SUMMARY: This notice advises the public that the California Department 
of Fish and Game (CDFG) has applied to NMFS and FWS (the Services) for 
incidental take permits pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (ESA). The application 
requests that FWS authorize incidental take of the delta smelt 
(Hypomesus transpacificus), Sacramento splittail (Pogonichthys 
macrolepidotus), and the giant garter snake (Thamnophis gigas), all 
federally listed as threatened, during the implementation of the 
Striped Bass Management Program (SBMP). The application also requests 
that NMFS authorize incidental take of the Sacramento River winter-run 
chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), federally listed as 
endangered, Central Valley spring-run chinook salmon (O. tshawytscha), 
federally listed as threatened, and the Central Valley steelhead (O. 
mykiss), federally listed as threatened, during the implementation of 
the SBMP. The proposed NMFS permit also would authorize future 
incidental take of the Central Valley fall/late fall-run chinook salmon 
(O. tshawytscha) should this species become listed under the Act. The 
permits would be in effect for 10 years.
    The Services also announce the availability of an Environmental 
Assessment (EA) for the incidental take permit applications. The 
applications include the proposed Conservation Plan (Plan) fully 
describing the proposed project and mitigation, and the accompanying 
Implementing Agreement (Agreement). This notice is provided pursuant to 
section 10(a) of the ESA and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) 
regulations (40 CFR 1506.6). All comments received, including names and 
addresses, will become part of the official administrative record and 
may be made available to the public.

DATES: Written comments on the permit application, Plan, EA, and 
Agreement should be received on or before February 22, 2000.

ADDRESSES: Comments regarding the application, Plan, or adequacy of the 
EA and Agreement with respect to the delta smelt, Sacramento splittail, 
giant garter snake, or other species for which FWS has responsibility 
should be addressed to the Field Supervisor, Fish and Wildlife Service, 
Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, 2800 Cottage Way, Room W-2605, 
Sacramento, CA 95825. Comments regarding the application, Plan, or 
adequacy of the EA and Agreement with respect to the Sacramento River 
winter-run chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Central Valley 
spring-run chinook salmon, Central Valley fall/late fall-run chinook 
salmon, or other species for which NMFS has responsibility should be 
addressed to the National Marine Fisheries Service, Southwest Region, 
501 W. Ocean Boulevard, Suite 4200, Long Beach, CA 90802-4213, Attn: 
Ms. Penny Ruvelas. General comments or comments applicable to both 
agencies can be sent to either or both of the above addresses. 
Individuals wishing copies of the application, Plan, EA, or Agreement 
for review should contact either of the above offices. Documents also 
will be available for public inspection, by appointment, during normal 
business hours at the above addresses.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Robert Pine, FWS, Sacramento Fish and 
Wildlife Office, telephone (916) 414-6620; Penny Ruvelas, NMFS, Long 
Beach Office, telephone (562) 980-4197.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Section 9 of the ESA and Federal regulations 
prohibit the ``taking'' of a species listed as endangered or 
threatened, respectively. Take is defined as to harass, harm, pursue, 
hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to 
engage in any such conduct. Harm may include significant habitat 
modification or degradation where it actually kills or injures wildlife 
by significantly impairing essential behavioral patterns, including 
breeding, spawning, rearing, migrating, feeding or sheltering. The 
Services, under limited circumstances, may issue permits to authorize 
``incidental take'' of listed animal species (defined by the Act as 
take that is incidental to, and not the purpose of, the carrying out of 
an otherwise lawful activity). FWS regulations governing permits for 
threatened and endangered species, respectively, are found in 50 CFR 
17.32 and 50 CFR 17.22. NMFS regulations governing permits for 
threatened and endangered species are found in 50 CFR Part 222.307.


    CDFG seeks coverage for take of the federally listed delta smelt, 
Sacramento splittail, giant garter snake, Sacramento River winter-run 
chinook salmon, Central Valley spring-run chinook salmon, Central 
Valley steelhead, and the unlisted Central Valley fall/late fall-run 
chinook salmon (collectively ``covered species''), incidental to 
implementation of the SBMP. The actions proposed to be covered by the 
Plan and its associated incidental take permits are: (1) annual 
stocking of 1- and 2-year-old striped bass in the San Francisco Bay/
Sacramento-San Joaquin Estuary at numbers sufficient to restore and 
maintain a striped bass population of 712,000 adults, which is 
equivalent to the 1994 striped bass population level; (2) possible 
changes in the striped bass fishing regulations to help reach and 
maintain the target population level; and (3) monitoring of the overall 
striped bass population and the success of the stocked fish. Each of 
these actions may result in take of one or more of the covered species 
or in circumstances leading to the take of one or more of the covered 
species. The Plan is designed to include flexibility in its 
implementation; a series of circumstances or ``thresholds'' are 
described which would require adjustments to the SBMP. Thresholds 
triggering adjustments to the Plan include a low delta smelt abundance 
index, a low cohort replacement rate for winter-run chinook salmon, 
unanticipated changes in the striped bass population, and, based on 
monitoring, estimates of striped bass predation on covered species that 
are higher than those anticipated in the development of the Plan.
    As a part of the Plan, CDFG proposes to monitor the striped bass 
population, the striped bass diet (i.e., predation on

[[Page 71736]]

the covered species), and the populations of the six covered fish 
species. The Plan also includes measures to minimize the impact of the 
take, such as a schedule of stocking ratios including 2-year-old bass 
(as opposed to all yearlings), certain timing and location restrictions 
on stocking activities, and changes to some of the monitoring protocols 
to reduce the level of take of covered species. To offset the level of 
take which cannot be avoided, CDFG will install and maintain fish 
screens on selected water diversions in both the Bay-Delta (to offset 
impacts to delta smelt and Sacramento splittail) and the Sacramento 
River (to offset impacts to Sacramento River winter-run chinook salmon, 
Central Valley spring-run chinook salmon, Central Valley fall/late 
fall-run chinook salmon, and Central Valley steelhead). The 
installation of fish screens is an action in the Delta Native Fishes 
Recovery Plan,
    The EA considers the environmental consequences of four 
alternatives. Under Alternative 1, the No Action Alternative, the 
Services would not issue incidental take permits and CDFG would not 
stock striped bass or implement the associated monitoring. Without 
stocking striped bass, CDFG estimates that the striped bass population 
would decline from the 1994 level of 712,000 adults to about 515,000 
adults on average over the next 5 years. Predation of the covered 
species would still occur under the No Action Alternative by the 
existing striped bass population. Under this alternative, CDFG would 
not modify trapping methods to reduce impacts to the covered species 
during striped bass monitoring.
    Alternative 2, the proposed action, consists of the issuance of an 
incidental take permit to CDFG and implementation of the SBMP Plan. 
This is the proposed alternative, in part, because: (1) measures have 
been incorporated to minimize incidental take to the greatest extent 
practicable; and (2) unavoidable impacts are offset by the screening of 
water diversions on the Sacramento River and in the western Delta/
Suisun Marsh.
    Under Alternative 3, CDFG would stock 3 million yearling striped 
bass annually with the goal of restoring the striped bass population to 
1.1 million adults. This alternative represents the initial proposal 
submitted to the Services by CDFG to implement the SBMP. This 
alternative is more consistent with the striped bass policy adopted by 
the California Fish and Game Commission in 1996 which establishes 
interim and long-term striped bass restoration goals of 1.1 million and 
3 million adults, respectively, than the proposed action (Alternative 
2). However, Alternative 3 would result in greater levels of predation 
by striped bass on the covered species than the proposed action. 
Alternative 3 would include similar measures to minimize and mitigate 
the impacts of the SBMP on the covered species as proposed for 
Alternative 1 except that mitigation (i.e., providing fish screens) 
would be commensurately greater because of the greater predation 
impacts associated with stocking larger numbers of striped bass.
    Under Alternative 4, three different scenarios of changes to 
existing fishing regulations to restore the striped bass population are 
analyzed: Total Fishery Closure, 26-inch Minimum Retention Size, and 
30-inch Minimum Retention Size. All 3 scenarios achieve a striped bass 
adult population of 712,000 adults after 8 to 13 years without any 
stocking of juvenile striped bass; however, striped bass harvest would 
be severely restricted, or prohibited, during this recovery period with 
unavoidable economic impacts. Mitigation measures are described which 
mitigate for impacts to covered species by the increment of the striped 
bass population resulting from the changed fishing regulations.
    This notice is provided pursuant to section 10(a) of the ESA and 
the FWS and NMFS regulations for implementing NEPA. The Services will 
evaluate the application, associated documents, and comments submitted 
thereon to determine whether the application meets the requirements of 
NEPA regulations and section 10(a) of the ESA. If it is determined that 
the requirements are met, permits will be issued for the incidental 
take of the covered species. The final permit decisions will be made no 
sooner than 60 days from the date of this notice.

    Dated: November 24, 1999.
Elizabeth H. Stevens,
Deputy Manager, Region 1, California/Nevada Operations Office, U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, Sacramento, California.

    Dated: December 16, 1999.
Wanda L. Cain,
Chief, Endangered Species Division, Office of Protected Resources, 
National Marine Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 99-33199 Filed 12-21-99; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODES 3510-22-F, 4310-55-P