[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 6 (Tuesday, January 10, 2012)]
[Pages 1501-1503]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-192]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R1-MB-2011-N256; FXMB12310100000P2-123-FF01M01000]

Special Purpose Permit Application; Draft Environmental 
Assessment; Hawaii-Based Shallow-Set Longline Fishery

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of availability; request for comments.


SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service, have received an 
application under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, as amended 
(MBTA), from the Pacific Islands Regional Office of the National Marine 
Fisheries Service (NMFS), Department of Commerce, for a permit for the 
incidental take of migratory birds in the operation of the Hawaii-based 
shallow-set longline fishery that targets swordfish (Xiphias gladius). 
If issued, the permit would be the first of its kind under our Special 
Purpose permitting regulations. We invite public comment on the draft 
environmental assessment (DEA), which evaluates alternatives associated 
with this permit application.

DATES: To ensure consideration, please send your written comments by 
February 9, 2012.

ADDRESSES: You may download a copy of the DEA on the Internet at http:/

[[Page 1502]]

www.fws.gov/pacific/migratorybirds/nepa.html. Alternatively, you may 
use one of the methods below to request a hard copy or a CD-ROM. Please 
specify the ``DEA for the NMFS MBTA Permit'' on all correspondence.
    Submitting Comments: You may submit comments or requests for copies 
or more information by one of the following methods.
     Email: pacific_birds@fws.gov. Include ``DEA for the NMFS 
MBTA Permit'' in the subject line of the message.
     U.S. Mail: Please address written comments to Michael 
Green, Acting Chief, Division of Migratory Birds and Habitat Programs, 
Pacific Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 911 NE 11th Ave., 
Portland, OR 97232.
     Fax: Michael Green, Acting Chief, Division of Migratory 
Birds and Habitat Programs, (503) 231-2019; Attn.: DEA for the NMFS 
MBTA Permit.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Michael Green, Acting Chief, Division 
of Migratory Birds and Habitat Programs, Pacific Region, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, (503) 231-2019 (phone); pacific_birds@fws.gov 
(email, include ``DEA for the NMFS MBTA Permit'' in the subject line of 
the message). If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf 
(TDD), please call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 
(800) 877-8339.



    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has received an 
application from NMFS for a special purpose permit under the Migratory 
Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (16 U.S.C. 703-711) (MBTA). The permit, if 
issued, would authorize incidental take of migratory birds, principally 
two species of albatross, by NMFS in its regulation of the shallow-set 
longline fishery based in Hawaii. This fishery targets swordfish and 
operates on the high seas and within the United States Exclusive 
Economic Zone (EEZ). The migratory birds incidentally taken in the 
fishery are predominantly Laysan and Black-footed Albatross 
(Phoebastria immutabilis and P. nigripes). One individual each of Sooty 
Shearwater (Puffinus griseus) and Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) 
have been reported taken in the fishery. The endangered Short-tailed 
Albatross (Phoaebastria albatrus) occurs in the area where the fishery 
operates and has been observed from Hawaii-based longline fishing 
vessels, but no take of this species has been reported. Consultation 
under section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act is in progress to 
assess the impacts of this fishery on the Short-tailed Albatross.
    The Draft Environmental Assessment (DEA) analyzes the alternatives 
associated with this permit application in light of our permitting 
regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) in 50 CFR 21.27 
under the MBTA. If we issue the permit at issue in this environmental 
assessment, it will be the first permit under these regulations issued 
to authorize incidental take of migratory birds by an agency regulating 
a commercial, non-conservation activity.


    Regulations under the MBTA allow the Service to issue permits to 
take migratory birds for various reasons, such as depredation and 
scientific collecting. One of those regulations, 50 CFR 21.27, allows 
the Service to issue special purpose permits in circumstances not 
addressed by specific permit regulations. An application for a special 
purpose permit must meet the general permitting conditions set forth in 
50 CFR 13 and make a ``sufficient showing'' of:
     Benefit to the migratory bird resources,
     Important research reasons,
     Reasons of human concern for individual birds, or
     Other compelling justification.
    We will issue a special purpose permit only if we determine that 
the take is compatible with the conservation intent of the MBTA. 
Standard conditions for permit issuance include those described in 50 
CFR 13.21(e) and 21.27(c).
    The Hawaii-based longline fishery that targets swordfish is a 
pelagic or open-ocean fishery that began in the late-1980s and has 
since been managed under the Fishery Management Plan for the Pelagic 
Fisheries of the Western Pacific Region. Shallow-set longlining 
consists of deploying a mainline 18 to 60 nautical miles in length with 
floats at 360-meter (m) intervals. The mainline depth is 25 to 75 m. 
About four branchlines, 10 to 20 m in length, with baited hooks and 
artificial light sticks to attract swordfish, are suspended between 
floats, for a total of approximately 700 to 1,000 hooks per deployment. 
The line is deployed, or ``set,'' after sunset, left in the water 
overnight, and retrieved, or ``hauled,'' in the morning. Seabirds, as 
well as sea turtles and other non-target species, can be killed or 
injured during either deployment or retrieval of the lines, when they 
are unintentionally hooked or entangled in fishing gear.
    The shallow-set sector of the Hawaii-based longline fishery 
operates under NMFS regulations requiring the use of measures to avoid 
and minimize the injury and death of seabirds (67 FR 34408, 69 FR 
17329, 70 FR 75075). These regulations were in place when the fishery 
was reopened in 2004 following a court-ordered closure in 2001 that 
addressed concerns about endangered sea turtles. Between 2004 and 2010, 
the fishery has taken (killed or injured) an estimated total of 332 
Laysan and 118 Black-footed albatrosses, an annual average of roughly 
55 and 20 birds of each species, respectively. These levels of take are 
expected to continue, and are not thought to pose a risk of population-
level impacts or change in conservation status for either species.
    The Pacific Islands Regional Office of NMFS manages and regulates 
this fishery under the Fishery Management Plan, which was developed by 
the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council and approved by 
the Secretary of Commerce, in accordance with the Magnuson-Stevens Act 
(16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.) (MSA). Under the MSA, Fishery Councils are 
vested with the authority to propose amendments to Fishery Management 
Plans. NMFS may approve or partially approve proposed amendments; 
approvals are codified as Federal regulations. In 2010, regulations 
went into effect to implement an amendment that removed the restriction 
on fishing effort (annual number of sets) in this fishery that had been 
in place since 2004. Because fishing effort never reached the limit 
that has now been removed, and effort is increasing only slowly, NMFS 
anticipates that total effort in the fishery will not increase 
substantially between 2011 and 2014, the period that would be covered 
by a permit under the MBTA.

Applicant's Proposal

    NMFS proposes to continue operation of the shallow-set fishery 
under current regulations that require the use of measures to avoid and 
minimize take of migratory birds. In addition to continued 
implementation of these regulations, NMFS proposes to analyze the high 
proportion of the total observed take in this fishery that occurs as 
injured birds. Specifically, NMFS would examine the role of untended or 
``lazy'' lines, offal discards, and other practices in making hooks and 
gear available to seabirds and possibly attracting and habituating 
seabirds to longline vessels, especially during gear retrieval. The 
results of these assessments would be reported to the Service, and 

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would include any new information that could further reduce the take of 
seabirds in the fishery or point to research needed to achieve 
reduction. If new analyses and qualitative assessments lead to 
identification of means to reduce take of migratory birds, NMFS would 
develop these remedies so that they could be incorporated into NMFS 
regulatory processes in a timely fashion. If new information does not 
lead to modified or new practices that could reduce take of migratory 
birds in the fishery, NMFS would develop study plans for needed 
research and/or a proposal or proposals to offset the unavoidable take 
in the fishery in a manner that would not affect operation of the 
fishery. These additional activities were described in materials 
submitted as part of the permit application, and if we issue the permit 
after completion of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) 
process, then these commitments would become conditions of the permit.
    The Service independently evaluated the estimated total and average 
number, and the nominal rate, of seabirds taken in the fishery. This 
evaluation, in relation to the existing avoidance and minimization 
measures, proposed new activities, and potential offsetting 
conservation measures, is discussed in the DEA, along with the 
implications for direct, indirect, and cumulative effects under three 

Next Steps

    The public process for the proposed Federal permit action will be 
completed after the public-comment period, at which time we will 
evaluate the permit application and comments submitted on the DEA and 
determine whether the application meets the permitting requirements 
under the MBTA and applicable regulations. Upon completion of that 
evaluation we will select our course of action among the three 
alternatives identified in the DEA. We then will either issue a final 
environmental assessment and a Finding of No Significant Impact or 
initiate the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement.

Public Comments

    We invite public comment on the DEA. You may submit comments by any 
one of the methods discussed above under ADDRESSES.

Public Availability of Comments

    Before including your address, phone number, email address, or 
other personal identifying information in your comments, 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.


    We provide this notice under section 668a of the Act (16 U.S.C. 
668-668c) and NEPA regulations (40 CFR 1506.6).

    Dated: December 23, 2011.
Richard Hannan,
Deputy Regional Director, Pacific Region, Portland, Oregon.
[FR Doc. 2012-192 Filed 1-9-12; 8:45 am]