[Federal Register: October 14, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 199)]
[Page 60711-60713]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R9-FHC-2008-N0219;13410-1124-0000 L5]

Marine Mammal Protection Act; Stock Assessment Report

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability of final revised marine mammal stock 
assessment report for the northern sea otter stock in Washington State; 
response to comments.


SUMMARY: In accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), 
the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has incorporated public 
comments into a revision of the marine mammal stock assessment report 
for the northern sea otter (Enhydra lutris kenyoni) stock in Washington 
State. The 2008 final stock assessment report is now complete and 
available to the public.

ADDRESSES: Send requests for printed copies of the final stock 
assessment report to: Manager, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Western 
Washington Fish and Wildlife Office, 510 Desmond Drive SE, Suite 102, 
Lacey, WA 98503; (360) 753-9440. Copies of the final revised stock 
assessment report are also available on the Internet in Adobe Acrobat 
format at http://www.fws.gov/westwafwo.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: One of the goals of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 
1361-1407) is to ensure that stocks of marine mammals occurring in 
waters under the jurisdiction of the United States do not experience a 
level of human-caused mortality and serious injury that is likely to 
cause the stock to be reduced below its optimum sustainable population 
level (OSP). OSP is defined as ``* * * the number of animals which will 
result in the maximum productivity of the population or the species, 
keeping in mind the carrying capacity of the habitat and the health of 
the ecosystem of which they form a constituent element.''
    To help accomplish the goal of maintaining marine mammal stocks at 
their OSPs, section 117 of the MMPA requires the Service and the 
National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to

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prepare stock assessment reports for each marine mammal stock that 
occurs in waters under the jurisdiction of the United States. These 
stock assessments are to be based on the best scientific information 
available and are, therefore, prepared in consultation with established 
regional scientific review groups. Each stock assessment must include: 
(1) A description of the stock and its geographic range; (2) minimum 
population estimate, maximum net productivity rate, and current 
population trend; (3) estimate of human-caused mortality and serious 
injury; (4) commercial fishery interactions; (5) status of the stock; 
and (6) potential biological removal level (PBR). The PBR is defined as 
``* * * the maximum number of animals, not including natural 
mortalities, that may be removed from a marine mammal stock while 
allowing that stock to reach or maintain its OSP.'' The PBR is the 
product of the minimum population estimate of the stock 
(Nmin); one-half the maximum theoretical or estimated net 
productivity rate of the stock at a small population size 
(Rmax); and a recovery factor (Fr) of between 0.1 
and 1.0, which is intended to compensate for uncertainty and unknown 
estimation errors.
    Section 117 of the MMPA also requires the Service and the NMFS to 
review and revise the stock assessment reports: (A) At least annually 
for stocks that are specified as strategic stocks; (B) at least 
annually for stocks for which significant new information is available; 
and (C) at least once every 3 years for all other stocks.
    A strategic stock is defined in the MMPA as a marine mammal stock: 
(A) For which the level of direct human-caused mortality exceeds the 
PBR; (B) which, based on the best available scientific information, is 
declining and is likely to be listed as a threatened species under the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) within the foreseeable future; or 
(C) which is listed as a threatened or endangered species under the 
ESA, or is designated as depleted under the MMPA.
    A draft revised stock assessment report for the northern sea otter 
stock in Washington State was made available for a 90-day public review 
and comment period on April 17, 2008 (73 FR 20931). Prior to releasing 
it for public review and comment, the Service subjected the draft 
report to internal technical review and to scientific review by the 
Pacific Regional Scientific Review Group established under the MMPA. 
Following the close of the comment period, the Service revised the 
stock assessment and prepared the final 2008 stock assessment report.
    We revised the final stock assessment report based on public 
comments received (see below). The status of the stock remains 
unchanged from the draft revised SAR that was provided for public 
comment; however, the PBR level was amended to reflect the results of 
the 2007 survey conducted by the Washington Department of Fish and 
Wildlife. We also provided further clarification in the discussion of 
fisheries information as it relates to reports of incidental take. Most 
of the public comments received were addressed by adding new text for 
    A summary of the final revised stock assessment report is presented 
in Table 1. The table lists the stock's Nmin, 
Rmax, Fr, PBR, annual estimated human-caused 
mortality and serious injury, and status.

 Table 1--Summary of Final Revised Stock Assessment Report for the Northern Sea Otter Stock in Washington State
                                                                         Annual estimated
            Stock                Nmin      Rmax       Fr        PBR    average human-caused      Stock status
Northern sea otters               1,125      0.20       0.1        11  Unknown.............  Non-Strategic
 (Washington State).

Comments and Responses

    The Service received comments from 2 entities on the draft stock 
assessment report. The issues raised in those comments and our 
responses are provided below.
    Comment 1: The Service should clarify that the next revision on 
this assessment will be prepared within 3 years or sooner, if the 
Washington stock expands its range into Oregon or British Columbia, or 
undergoes any significant change in the status of the stock.
    Response: The Service will continue to review available information 
on an annual basis and revise the stock assessment report at least once 
every 3 years for the northern sea otter in Washington State, as 
specified under section 117 of the MMPA. Section 117(c) directs the 
Service to review a stock assessment if significant new information 
indicates that the status of the stock has changed, which could occur 
prior to the end of the next 3 years. If the Service obtains new 
information that indicates this stock has established a range 
significantly beyond the current range, or has undergone some other 
significant change, the Service will review the stock assessment report 
and revise as appropriate at that time.
    Comment 2: The Nmin, PBR, and Figure 2 should be amended 
to reflect the results of the 2007 survey conducted by the Washington 
Department of Fish and Wildlife and appropriate references to the 
unpublished reports, both 2006 and 2007, should be provided.
    Response: The Service agrees with this comment and has updated the 
stock assessment report to reflect the 2007 survey data. The 2007 
survey data identifies an Nmin of 1,125 and, therefore, the 
re-calculated PBR is 11 animals. The citations have also been updated 
to indicate that information on the 2006 and 2007 unpublished survey 
data may be obtained by contacting the Washington Department of Fish 
and Wildlife.
    Comment 3: In the discussion under Fisheries Information, clarify 
the location of Fishery Areas 4 and 4A and when this fishery was last 
active. In reference to Observer Coverage in these fisheries, listed in 
Table 1, provide further clarification as to what is meant by ``1-11 
net days observed.''
    Response: The location of Fishery Areas 4 and 4A has been 
clarified. The information supplied to us by the Makah Tribe and the 
NMFS regarding the Makah Northern Washington Marine Set-gillnet Fishery 
was not broken out by Fishery Area; therefore, we can not provide 
further fishing effort beyond the activity level already included in 
Table 1 in the stock assessment report. The observer coverage 
information provided in Table 1 in the stock assessment report is in 
the format provided by the sources. Further clarification is not 
available to us for inclusion in the stock assessment report.
    Comment 4: Clarify whether the NMFS, who collects data through a 
self-reporting system on the incidental take of marine mammals in 
fisheries, has received reports of sea otters taken in treaty and non-
treaty fisheries in Washington State or has simply not

[[Page 60713]]

provided the reports to the Service. Specify the corresponding time 
    Response: The Service has updated the stock assessment report to 
reflect the requested changes. However, the information provided by the 
NMFS did not include a time frame; therefore, a time frame has not been 
included in the updated stock assessment report.
    Comment 5: Given the apparent lack of voluntary reports of sea 
otter takes and the unreliability of voluntary reporting schemes in 
general, remove the word ``more'' from the sentence on page 5 that 
states ``* * * the information provided by the NMFS is not sufficient 
to provide a more accurate estimate of annual mortality * * *.'' 
Further, a statement should be made that a useful estimate of fishing 
mortality will require instituting observer coverage to obtain data on 
fishery efforts.
    Response: We have revised the final stock assessment report to 
reflect this comment. The fishery observer programs are conducted by 
the NMFS of the Department of Commerce, and, therefore, institution of 
observer coverage in fisheries must be directed to them. We have 
forwarded this suggestion to them (see response to comment 6).
    Comment 6: The stock assessment report concludes that available 
information is not adequate to make a reliable assessment of incidental 
take levels. Therefore, the Service should consult with NMFS, Tribal 
authorities, and other relevant groups to arrange for the placement of 
observers aboard trap and gillnet fishing vessels that may incidentally 
take sea otters.
    Response: The fishery observer programs are under the 
administration of the NMFS in accordance with section 118 of the MMPA. 
With the exception of the Puget Sound Region salmon drift gillnet, all 
commercial fisheries in the State of Washington that have the potential 
to take sea otters are classified as Category III in NMFS' List of 
Fisheries. Category III fisheries are not required to accommodate 
observers. Further, under this program, fishery interactions are self-
reporting or, in some cases, identified as excluded, e.g., treaty 
Tribal fishing. It is the position of the Service that the incidental 
take of sea otters by treaty Tribal fishing activities must be 
authorized under the MMPA. Nonetheless, obtaining incidental take 
information is a challenge. However, the Service will continue to work 
with the NMFS, Tribal authorities, and others to the extent practicable 
under these conditions to obtain better data.
    Comment 7: Illegal taking of sea otters is being perpetrated by 
``fish profiteers'' and the Service is not taking appropriate action.
    Response: The stock assessment report presents all of the human-
caused mortality of sea otters that has been made known to the Service.
    Reference Not Cited in the Notice of Availability of Draft Revised 
    Jameson, R.J. and S. Jeffries. 2008. Results of the 2007 Survey of 
the Reintroduced Sea Otter Population in Washington State. Unpublished 
Report. 7pp. Copies may be obtained from the Washington Department of 
Fish and Wildlife.

    Authority: The authority for this action is the Marine Mammal 
Protection Act of 1972, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1361-1407).

    Dated: October 2, 2008.
Kenneth Stansell,
Acting Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
 [FR Doc. E8-24195 Filed 10-10-08; 8:45 am]