Daily Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices of the Federal Government
Instructions: Comments must be submitted by one of the above methods to ensure that the comments are received, documented, and considered by NMFS. Comments sent by any other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered. All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on
Section 9 of the ESA and Federal regulations prohibit the taking of a species listed as endangered or threatened. The term “take” is defined under the ESA to mean harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct. NMFS may issue permits, under limited circumstances, to take listed species incidental to, and not the purpose of, otherwise lawful activities. Section 10(a)(1)(B) of the ESA provides for authorizing incidental take of listed species. NMFS regulations governing permits for threatened and endangered species are published at 50 CFR 222.307.
The following species are included in the conservation plan and Permit application: Loggerhead (
NMFS issued Permit No. 1259 to NCDMF (65 FR 65840, November 2, 2000), Permit No. 1348 (66 FR 51023, October 5, 2001), Permit No. 1398 (67 FR 67150, November 4, 2002), and Permit No. 1528 (70 FR 52984, September 6, 2005) authorizing the incidental take of the foregoing species in certain segments of the commercial fall gill net fisheries for flounder in Pamlico Sound subject to a series of mandatory sea turtle management and monitoring requirements and limits on the numbers of individuals that could be taken annually.
On August 18, 2011, NCDMF submitted a revised application to NMFS for Permit No. 16230, requesting authorization for incidental take of ESA-listed sea turtles associated with commercial and recreational gillnet fisheries in inshore state waters for 3 years. This application includes endangered Kemp's ridley, leatherback, and hawksbill sea turtles and threatened green and loggerhead sea turtles. NMFS published a notice of receipt of the August 2011 application and a request for public comments on October 5, 2011 (76 FR 61670). Based on comments received from the public, independent reviewers, and NMFS, NCDMF subsequently submitted a second revised application on September 6, 2012. This permit, if issued, would allow for the incidental take of specified numbers of sea turtles incidental to the continued commercial harvest of target fish species in gillnets subject to conservation, management and monitoring requirements set forth in the plan and as permit conditions deemed necessary and appropriate by the NMFS over a 10 year period.
The conservation plan prepared by NCDMF describes measures designed to monitor, minimize, and mitigate the incidental take of ESA-listed sea turtles. The conservation plan includes managing inshore gill net fisheries by dividing estuarine waters into 6 management units (i.e., A, B, C, D1, D2, E). Each of the management units would be monitored seasonally and by fishery.
Management units were delineated on the basis of three primary factors: similarity of fisheries and management; extent of known protected species interactions in commercial gill net fisheries; and unit size and the ability of the NCDMF to monitor fishing effort. Management Unit A encompasses all estuarine waters north of 35°46.30′ N. to the North Carolina/Virginia state line. This includes all of Albemarle, Currituck, Croatan, and Roanoke sounds as well as the contributing river systems in this area. Management Unit B encompasses all estuarine waters south of 35°46.30′ N., east of 76°30.00′ W. and north of 34°48.27′ N. This Management Unit will include all of Pamlico Sound and the Northern portion of Core Sound. Management Unit C will include the Pamlico, Pungo and Neuse river drainages west of 76°30.00′ W. Management Unit D is divided into two areas, D1 and D2, to allow the NCDMF to effectively address areas of high sea turtle abundance or “hot spots”. Management Unit D1 encompasses all estuarine waters south of 34°48.27′ N. and east of a line running from 34°40.70′ N.—76°22.50′ W. to 34°42.48′ N.—76°36.70′ W. Management Unit D1 includes Southern Core Sound, Back Sound and North River. Management Unit D2 encompasses all estuarine waters west of a line running from 34°40.70′ N.—76°22.50′ W. to 34°42.48′ N.—76°36.70′ W. to the Highway 58 bridge. Management Unit D2 includes Newport River and Bogue Sound. Management Unit E encompasses all
The large mesh (≥ 4 inch stretched mesh (10.16 cm)) gillnet fisheries primarily target southern flounder (
The small mesh (<4 inch stretched mesh (10.16 cm)) gillnet fisheries primarily target spot (
Management measures identified in the proposed conservation plan include: (1) Restricted soak times for large mesh gillnets from one hour before sunset on Monday through Thursday and one hour after sunrise from Tuesday through Friday (i.e., fishing is prohibited from one hour after sunrise on Friday through one hour before sunset on Monday); (2) restrictions on the maximum net length per large mesh fishing operation (i.e., 2,000 yards (1.83 km, 6,000 ft) per operation except south of the NC Highway 58 bridge and Management Area D2 where 1,000 yards (0.91 km, 3,000 ft) is maximum; (3) restrictions on large mesh net-shot lengths to 100 yards (91.44 m, 300 ft) with a 25 yard (22.86 m, 75 ft) separation between each net-shot; (4) requirement for large mesh nets to be low profile (e.g., maximum of 15 meshes in depth, tie-downs prohibited, floats or corks prohibited along float lines north of the NC Highway 58 bridge); and (5) closure of Management Area D1 to unattended large mesh gillnets from May 8-October 14 annually. NCDMF proposes to monitor sea turtle interactions through reports from fishery observers (both traditional and alternative platform), fishermen, and NCDMF Marine Patrol at a minimum of 7% coverage annually for large mesh gillnets and 1-2% annually for small mesh gillnets.
The annual incidental take of sea turtles requested for large mesh and small mesh gillnets in Management Units B, D1, D2, and E is 684 and 74, respectively. Specifically, the requested lethal and non-lethal take by species is 49 lethal and 98 non-lethal Kemp's ridley, 165 lethal and 330 non-lethal green, 22 lethal or non-lethal loggerhead turtles, and 4 lethal or non-lethal takes each of hawksbill and leatherback turtles. In Management Units A and C, the annual incidental lethal or non-lethal take of sea turtles requested for large and small mesh gillnets combined is 16 turtles of any species.
NCDMF is proposing to limit inshore gillnet fisheries such that the impacts on ESA-listed sea turtles will be minimized. NCDMF would use a variety of adaptive fishery management measures and restrictions through their state proclamation authority to reduce sea turtle mortality and prohibit fishing in management units where incidental take thresholds are exceeded. NCDMF considered and rejected five other alternatives, including: (1) A no action alternative; (2) not applying for a permit and closing the fishery; (3) further reducing large mesh effort (e.g., yardage, soak time) and requiring attendance in all Management Areas; (4) restricting large mesh effort in Management Areas A and C similar to B, D1, D2, and E; and (5) reducing small mesh gillnet effort (e.g., yardage, soak time) and requiring attendance in all Management Areas.
Issuing a permit would constitute a major Federal action requiring NMFS to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321
This notice is provided pursuant to section 10(c) of the ESA. NMFS will evaluate the application, associated documents, and comments submitted thereon to determine whether the application meets the requirements of section 10(a) of the ESA. The application, supporting documents, public comments, and views already received by the agency as well as those submitted in response to this notice will also be fully considered and evaluated as we prepare the EA and determine whether or not to issue a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). The final NEPA document and permit determinations will not be completed until after the end of the 30-day comment period. If we determine that the requirements of section 10(a) and the procedural requirements of NEPA are met, NMFS will issue a permit for