[Federal Register: April 4, 2003 (Volume 68, Number 65)]
[Page 16544-16545]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

RIN 1018-AH86

Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Florida 
Manatees; Incidental Take Rule Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act 
During Specified Activities

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability.


SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
availability of the FEIS that assesses effects from proposing 
regulations to authorize the incidental, unintentional take of small 
numbers of Florida manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris) resulting 
from government activities related to watercraft and watercraft access 
facilities within three regions of Florida for the next five years. 
This FEIS analyzes the environmental and socioeconomic consequences of 
the proposed action, and alternatives to the proposed action, as 
required under section 102(2)(c) of the National Environmental Policy 

DATES: The Fish and Wildlife Service will execute a Record of Decision 
based on the FEIS, no sooner than May 3, 2003, or 30 days after the 
date of publication of this Notice of Availability in the Federal 
Register, and after publication of the related notice by the 
Environmental Protection Agency.

ADDRESSES: Information regarding this FEIS is available in alternative 
formats upon request. Comments and materials received on the proposed 
EIS, as well as supporting documentation used in the preparation of 
this FEIS, will be available for public inspection, by appointment, 
during normal business hours from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through 
Friday at the Jacksonville Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, 6620 Southpoint Drive, South, Suite 310, Jacksonville, Florida 
32216. You may obtain copies of this document online at http://by
 calling Chuck Underwood of the Jacksonville Field Office at (904) 
232-2580 (extension 109).



    The MMPA of 1972 (16 U.S.C. 1361-1407) sets a general moratorium, 
with certain exceptions, on the taking and importation of marine 
mammals and marine mammal products and makes it unlawful for any person 
to take, possess, transport, purchase, sell, export, or offer to 
purchase, sell, or export, any marine mammal or marine mammal product 
unless authorized. ``Take'' as defined by the MMPA and its implementing 
regulations (50 CFR part 18) means ``to harass, hunt, capture, collect, 
or kill, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, collect, or kill any 
marine mammal, including, without limitation, any of the following--the 
collection of dead animals or parts thereof; the restraint or detention 
of a marine mammal, no matter how temporary; tagging a marine mammal; 
or the negligent or intentional operation of an aircraft or vessel, or 
the doing of any other negligent or intentional act which results in 
the disturbing or molesting of a marine mammal.''
    ``Harassment'' is defined under the MMPA as, ``any act of pursuit, 
torment, or annoyance which--(i) has the potential to injure a marine 
mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild; or (ii) has the potential to 
disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing 
disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, 
migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering.''
    The prohibitions on take apply to all persons, including Federal, 
State, and local government agencies with the exception of humane 
taking (including euthanasia) by government officials while engaged in 
their official duties, if such taking is (1) for the protection or 
welfare of a marine mammal; (2) for the protection of the public health 
and welfare; or (3) the non-lethal removal of nuisance animals. When 
feasible, steps designed to ensure return of such animals to their 
natural habitat, if not killed in the course of such taking, must be 
implemented (16 U.S.C. 1379(h)).
    Section 101(a)(5)(A) of the MMPA allows the Secretary of the 
Department of the Interior, through the Director of the Service, upon 
request, to authorize by specific regulation the incidental, 
unintentional take of small numbers of marine mammals by U.S. citizens 
engaged in specific identified activities (other than commercial 
fishing) within specific geographic areas. This is the mechanism by 
which incidental, but not intentional, take of small numbers of marine 
mammals may be authorized in accordance with Federal law for activities 
other than commercial fishing if certain findings are made and 
regulations are enacted pursuant to 50 CFR 18.27. The Director must 
find that the total of such taking during the specified time period 
(which cannot be more than five consecutive years) will have no more 
than a negligible impact on the species or stock and will not have an 
unmitigable impact on the availability of such species or stock for 
subsistence uses. The subsistence provision is not applicable to 
Florida manatees.
    The regulations implementing the MMPA define negligible impact as 
an impact resulting from the specified activity that cannot be 
reasonably expected to, and is not reasonably likely to, adversely 
affect the species or stock through effects on annual rates of 
recruitment or survival (50 CFR 18.27(c)). If negligible impact 
findings are made, we establish specific regulations identifying 

[[Page 16545]]

methods of taking by such activity, means of effecting the least 
practicable adverse impact on the species or stock and its habitat, and 
requirements for monitoring and reporting such taking. If a finding 
cannot be made that the total taking will have a negligible impact on 
the species or stock, the negative finding and the basis for denying 
the request for the incidental take must be published in the Federal 
Register pursuant to 50 CFR 18.27(d)(4).
    We have defined the specified geographic area for this action to be 
the species range within the State of Florida. Long-term studies 
suggest four regional populations of manatees in Florida--Northwest, 
Upper St. Johns River (from Palatka south), Atlantic (including the St. 
Johns River north of Palatka), and Southwest, and we have defined these 
populations as stocks.
    Based upon the best available scientific information, we concluded 
in the November 14, 2002, proposed rule and draft Environmental Impact 
Statement (66 FR 69078) that the total expected takings of Florida 
manatees resulting from government activities that authorize or 
regulate watercraft or watercraft access facilities would have a 
negligible impact on three of the four stocks. In accordance with 50 
CFR 18.27, we will publish a final determination on each of the four 
stocks in the Federal Register upon finalization of a record of 
decision at the close of the waiting period.
    If we determine that these activities will have negligible impact, 
government agencies who engage in the specified activities in the 
specified area could apply for a Letter of Authorization (LOA), which, 
if granted, would authorize incidental take associated with the 
applicant's activities. In return for committing to specific measures 
that minimize the applicant's impact on the stock and ensure that the 
total taking remains at the negligible level, the applicant receives 
authorization for any remaining take that occurs and that would 
otherwise be unlawful under the MMPA. General procedures for obtaining 
an LOA are described at 50 CFR 18.27(f).


    The primary author of this notice is Pete Benjamin (904/232-2580).


    The authority to establish regulations that would authorize for the 
next five years the incidental, unintentional take of small numbers of 
Florida manatees is provided by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 
1972 (16 U.S.C. 1361-1407), as amended.

    Dated: March 26, 2003.
Judy Pulliam,
Acting Regional Director.
[FR Doc. 03-8274 Filed 4-3-03; 8:45 am]