[Federal Register: September 14, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 178)]
[Page 52575-52576]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Proposed Low Effect Habitat Conservation Plan for Washington 
Department of Natural Resources' Commercial Geoduck Fishery

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability; receipt of application.


SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), advise the public 
that the Washington Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) has applied 
for an incidental take permit (ITP), pursuant to section 10(a)(1)(B) of 
the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). The requested 50-
year permit would authorize the incidental take of covered species 
associated with WDNR's management of the State's Commercial Geoduck 
Fishery. We are requesting comments on the permit application and on 
whether the proposed Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) qualifies as a 
``low-effect'' HCP, eligible for a categorical exclusion under the 
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, as amended. We 
explain the basis for this possible determination in a draft 
environmental action statement (EAS), which is also available for 
public review.

DATES: Written comments must be received by 5 p.m. on October 15, 2007.

ADDRESSES: Address comments to Ken Berg, Manager, Western Washington 
Fish and Wildlife Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 510 Desmond 
Drive SE., Suite 102, Lacey, WA 98503. You may also send comments by 
facsimile to (206) 753-9405 or by electronic mail to 
geoduckhcp@fws.gov. For further information and instruction on the 

reviewing and commenting process, see Public Availability of Comments 
section below.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jo Ellen Henry, Fish and Wildlife 
Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (see ADDRESSES), or telephone 
(360) 753-7766.


Availability of Documents

    If you would like copies of the application, proposed HCP, or EAS, 
contact us by telephone (see FOR

[[Page 52576]]

the subject documents also are available for public inspection during 
regular business hours at the Western Washington Fish and Wildlife 
Office (see ADDRESSES) and the Western Washington Fish & Wildlife 
Service internet site: http://www.fws.gov/westwafwo/consplan/docs.html.


    Section 9 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) and Federal 
regulations prohibit the ``take'' of a fish or wildlife species listed 
as endangered or threatened. Take of federally listed fish and wildlife 
is defined under section 3 of the Act as including to ``harass, harm, 
pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect, or to 
attempt to engage in such conduct'' (16 U.S.C. 1538). We may, under 
limited circumstances, issue permits to authorize ``incidental take'' 
of listed species. ``Incidental take'' is defined by the Act as take 
that is incidental to, and not the purpose of, carrying out an 
otherwise lawful activity. Regulations governing permits for threatened 
species and endangered species, respectively, are at 50 CFR 17.32 and 
50 CFR 17.22. The applicant is seeking a permit for the incidental take 
of species that are listed as either threatened or endangered under the 
Act, and certain species should they become listed during the 50-year 
term of the permit. The species under consideration for coverage 
include bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), California brown pelican 
(Pelecanus occidentalis), marbled murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus), 
tufted puffin (Fratercula cirrhata), bull trout (Salvelinus 
confluentus), and coastal cutthroat trout (O. clarki clarki).
    Proposed covered activities under the HCP include the subtidal 
harvest of wild stock geoduck clams (Panopea abrupta) on State-owned 
aquatic lands for commercial, research and health sampling purposes.
    The majority of subtidal lands in the State, and the resources 
embedded in them, are owned by Washington State and managed by the 
WDNR. The geoduck clam is among the most commercially valuable of these 
    The wild geoduck fishery in the state is jointly managed by WDNR, 
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), and the Puget Sound 
Treaty Indian Tribes (tribes). The State and the tribes each have a 
right to 50 percent of the allowable geoduck catch. The State and the 
tribes are jointly responsible for estimating geoduck population size, 
determining sustainable yield, and protecting the health of the geoduck 
stock and the habitat they depend upon. WDNR offers the State's half of 
the geoduck harvest at auctions for the right of private companies and 
individuals to harvest specific quantities of geoducks in specific 
areas. As the State's managers of the geoduck resource, WDNR and WDFW 
enforce civil and criminal Washington State laws, regulations and 
contract conditions that apply to the State's fishery.
    Washington's commercial geoduck fishery is divided into six geoduck 
management regions. Commercial harvest occurs within one management 
region at a time, and usually on one tract at a time. There are 
currently 400 commercial geoduck tracts comprising approximately 30,000 
acres of subtidal bedlands. Ten to 14 harvest quotas are offered at 
each WDNR geoduck harvest auction, resulting in 30 to 40 individual 
harvest agreements annually. Typically, one or two tracts are open for 
harvest at any given time. The tract boundaries are defined by a water 
depth of -18 feet mean lower low water (MLLW) to the outer edge of the 
harvest area (depth of -70 feet MLLW). Most of the subtidal tracts 
range in size from 18 acres to 459 acres. A small number of tracts are 
larger. Harvest limits are based on the annual harvest level (Total 
Allowable Catch (TAC)). The TAC for a management region is the total 
weight of geoduck that may be harvested during the year in each 
management region. The number is calculated annually and is the product 
of the regional commercial biomass estimate multiplied by the 
equilibrium harvest rate.
    The proposed minimization and mitigation measures include, but are 
not limited to: Limiting the number of acres open to harvest in each 
management region per year; permitting harvest only from tracts 
designated through contract by WDNR; clearly marking tracts with easily 
identifiable stakes and/or buoys, and recording latitude and longitude 
positions on all markers; limiting surface noise levels; applying 
harvest boundaries and buffers to protect eelgrass beds, forage fish 
spawning areas and other sensitive nearshore habitats and providing 
direct oversight of the fishery by maintaining compliance staff aboard 
vessels on harvest tracts each day that commercial geoduck harvest 
    Approval of the HCP may qualify for a categorical exclusion under 
NEPA, as provided by the Departmental Manual (516 DM2 Appendix 1 and 
516 DM 6 Appendix 1), and as a ``low-effect'' plan as defined by the 
Habitat Conservation Planning Handbook (Service, November 1996). We 
determine whether an HCP is low effect based upon whether the HCP has 
minor or negligible effects on federally listed, proposed, or candidate 
species and their habitats; minor or negligible effects on other 
environmental values or resources; and impacts that together with the 
impacts of other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable similarly 
situated projects would, not result, over time, in cumulative effects 
to the environmental values or resources which would be considered 
significant. If we find the HCP to qualify as a low-effect HCP, further 
NEPA documentation would not be required.

Public Availability of Comments

    Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or 
other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be 
aware that your entire comment--including your personal identifying 
information--may be made publicly available at any time. While you can 
ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying 
information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be 
able to do so. If we determine that the requirements are met, we will 
issue an incidental take permit under section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Act to 
the applicant for take of the proposed covered species, incidental to 
otherwise lawful activities in accordance with the terms of the permit. 
We will not make our final decision until after the end of the 30-day 
comment period and will fully consider all comments received during the 
comment period.
    We provide this notice under section 10(c) of the Act and NEPA 
implementing regulations (40 CFR 1506.6).

    Dated: September 7, 2007.
Ken S. Berg,
Manager, Western Washington Fish and Wildlife Office, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Lacey, Washington.
 [FR Doc. E7-18128 Filed 9-13-07; 8:45 am]