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North Florida Field Office

News Release

For Immediate Release

Date: March 13, 2001
Release #: 003-01
Media Contacts:
Chuck Underwood, 904/731-3332
Tom MacKenzie, 404-679-7291

Service looking to develop special regulations for Florida Manatees under the Marine Mammal Protection Act

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that they are starting the process of developing special Incidental Take Regulations for the Florida subspecies of the West Indian manatee, a species protected under the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act. The Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking process is intended to seek public input into the possible development of regulation that will monitor and control manatee mortality and provide better long-term management for the species.

Florida manatees are a federally protected species under both the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972, as amended. Although the ESA authorizes the "take" of listed species with a permit, the MMPA specifically contains a moratorium on the taking and importation of marine mammals with certain exceptions. The development of special Incidental Take Regulations is one of those authorized exceptions. To date, the Service has not developed regulations to describe under what circumstances the incidental take of a Florida manatee would be authorized, if any.

The Service is now looking to develop special regulations that could ensure that governmental agencies and the public would comply with the MMPA by addressing those governmental activities related to watercraft and watercraft access facilities but for which no regulated program currently exists.

"Take", as defined by the MMPA section 3(13), means "to harass, hunt, capture, or kill, or attempt to harass, capture or kill any marine mammal." The act further defines "harassment" as any pursuit, torment, or annoyance which - 1) has the potential to injure a marine mammal; or 2) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal. Incidental Take is unintentional or accidental take which might occur during an otherwise lawful activity.

The Service believes this rulemaking, if proposed, will address incidental take of manatees resulting from government activities related to watercraft and watercraft access facilities including: 1) regulating boater behavior on the water (e.g., speed zones); 2) permitting construction of watercraft access facilities (marinas, docks, boat ramps); 3) funding construction of watercraft access facilities; 4) operating watercraft access facilities; and 5) operating watercraft or other activities.

In the absence of these special regulations, the MMPA does not provide for incidental take and most of the governmental activities previously listed are not allowed. While the Service is determining if incidental take regulations are appropriate, it has developed a series of interim guidelines for use by agencies in reviewing their actions as it relates to watercraft and watercraft activities. These interim guidelines will be published in the Federal Register shortly.

The Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was published in the Federal Register on March 12, 2001. Publication of this Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking also complies with one provision of the settlement of the lawsuit Save the Manatee Club et al v Ballard.

A copy of the Advance Notice, as well as general manatee recovery and protection information, may be obtained from the address below or requested by telephone at 904/731-3332, by fax at 904/232-2404, by e-mail at northflorida@fws.gov, and via the Internet at http://www.fws.gov/northflorida

The Service is seeking written public comments on the proposed rulemaking process, what form the regulations could take, as well as anything addressing governmental actions related to the five (5) activities previously mentioned or other activities the public would like us to consider. All comments must be received by April 11, 2001.

Comments may be mailed, hand delivered, faxed, or submitted electronically. Please mail or deliver comments to: Peter Benjamin, Jacksonville Field Office, 6620 Southpoint Drive, Suite 310, Jacksonville, FL 32216-0958. Comments may also be faxed to 904-232-2404. Comments submitted electronically should be as ASCII text files, please include your name and return mailing address in your e-mail and indicate "MMPA Rule" in the subject line. Send electronic comments to: northflorida@fws.gov.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Services manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 531 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management assistance offices, 64 Fishery Resource Offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

- FWS -

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Last modified January 14, 2004