NOAA proposes to list population of spotted seals, and implements gear restriction rule to protect listed sea turtles in Gulf fishery
74 Fed. Reg. 53683 / Vol. 74, No. 201 / Tuesday, October 20, 2009 / Proposed Rules
DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration / 50 CFR Part 223
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Proposed Threatened and Not Warranted Status for Distinct Population Segments of the Spotted Seal
ACTION: Proposed rule; 12–month petition finding; status review, request for comments
SUMMARY: We, NMFS, have completed a comprehensive status review of the spotted seal (Phoca largha) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Based on the findings from the status review and consideration of the factors affecting this species, we conclude the spotted seal exists as three (3) distinct population segments (DPS) within the North Pacific Ocean. These are the southern, Okhotsk, and Bering DPSs. Based on consideration of information presented in the Status Review, an analysis of the extinction risk probabilities for each of these DPSs, and assessment of the factors in section 4(a)(1) of the ESA, we have determined the southern DPS is likely to become endangered throughout all or a significant portion of its range in the foreseeable future, and should be listed as a threatened species. The Okhotsk and Bering Sea DPSs are not in danger of extinction nor likely to become endangered throughout all or a significant portion of their ranges in the foreseeable future. Accordingly, we are now issuing a proposed rule to list the southern DPS of the spotted seal as a threatened species. No listing action is proposed for the Okhotsk and Bering Sea DPSs. Because the southern DPS occurs outside the United States, no critical habitat can be designated. We request comments and information related to this proposed rule and finding.
DATES: Comments and information regarding this proposed rule must be received by close of business on December 21, 2009.
The spotted seal (also known as the largha seal) is a close relative of the harbor seal (Phoca vitulina). Spotted seals are associated with ice during the spring breeding season. From March through May, spotted seals are principally found within the frontal zone of sea ice in the Bering Sea, Sea of Okhotsk, and Japan Sea. The main concern about the conservation status of spotted seals stems from the likelihood that their sea ice habitat has been modified by the warming climate and, more so, that the scientific consensus projections are for continued and perhaps accelerated warming and sea ice decline in the foreseeable future. A second major concern, related by the common driver of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, is the modification of habitat by ocean acidification, which may alter prey populations and other important aspects of the marine ecosystem. Photo of spotted seal adult by Josh London from NOAA Bering Sea Ice Expedition.
74 Fed. Reg. 53889 / Vol. 74, No. 202 / Wednesday, October 21, 2009 / Rules and Regulations
DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration / 50 CFR Parts 223 and 622
Sea Turtle Conservation; Fisheries of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic
ACTION: Final rule.
SUMMARY: This rule implements an area closure and associated gear restrictions applicable to the bottom longline component of the reef fish fishery in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Gulf of Mexico to reduce incidental take and mortality of sea turtles. Specifically, this rule prohibits the use of bottom longline gear for the harvest of reef fish shoreward of a line approximating the 35–fathom depth contour in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and limits bottom longline vessels operating in the reef fish fishery east of longitude 85°30′W to 1,000 hooks onboard, of which only 750 may be actively fished or rigged for fishing. DATES: This rule is effective on October 16, 2009.
All sea turtles that occur in U.S. waters are listed as either endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA). Sea turtles are incidentally taken, and some are killed, as a result of numerous activities, including fishery-related activities in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic seaboard. The purpose of this rulemaking is to balance the continued operation of the bottom longline component of the reef fish fishery while maintaining adequate protective measures for sea turtles until the Council’s preferred management strategy can be implemented. Green (Chelonia mydas) turtles (picture above by Caroline S. Rogers, USGS, available from NOAA) are listed as threatened, except for breeding populations of green turtles in Florida and on the Pacific coast of Mexico, which are listed as endangered.