Comments sought on regulations requiring Navy to implement measures to protect marine mammals during testing
June 03, 2015
(SitNews) - Comments for a proposed rule requiring the United States Navy to implement protective measures during activities at their Northwest training and testing study area are being sought by NOAA Fisheries. The testing study areas are in state waters off Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and northern California to reduce the chances of harming marine mammals.
The Navy has requested an authorization under the Marine Mammal Protection Act because the sound generated by mid-frequency active sonar and the pressure generated by detonating explosives might affect the behavior of some marine mammals, due to a temporary loss of their hearing sensitivity or other injury.
The Navy is currently operating under rules issued in 2010 and 2011. Since then, the Navy has submitted annual monitoring and exercise reports. They are required to renew their MMPA authorization every five years.
Under the authorization, the Navy would have to follow mitigation measures to minimize effects on marine mammals, including:
- Establishing marine mammal mitigation zones around each vessel using sonar;
- Using observers to shut down sonar operations if marine mammals are seen within designated mitigation zones;
- Using mitigation zones to ensure that explosives are not detonated when animals are detected within a certain distance; and
- Implementing a stranding response plan that includes a training shutdown provision in certain circumstances, and allows for the Navy to contribute in-kind services to NOAA Fisheries if the agency has to conduct a stranding response and investigation.
According to NOAA Fisheries, no deaths of marine mammals are anticipated or authorized, and the measures included in the proposed rule should minimize the potential for injury and significantly reduce the number of marine mammals exposed to levels of sound likely to cause behavioral reactions and temporary loss of hearing sensitivity.
Additionally, the proposed rule includes an adaptive management component that requires the Navy and NOAA Fisheries to meet yearly to discuss new science, Navy research and development, and Navy monitoring results to determine if modifications to mitigation or monitoring measures are appropriate.
NOAA Fisheries and the Navy have worked to develop a robust monitoring plan to use independent, experienced vessel-based marine mammal observers (as well as Navy observers), and passive acoustic monitoring to help better understand how marine mammals respond to various levels of sound and to assess the effectiveness of mitigation measures.
According to NOAA Fisheries, an integrated comprehensive monitoring plan developed by the Navy, with input from NOAA Fisheries, will better prioritize monitoring goals and standardize data-collection methods across all U.S. range complexes.
Eight public meetings were held by the U.S. Navy from 2014-2015 . The first public meeting was held in Ketchikan on March 11, 2014. All the public meetings were held in a dual format, where members of the public could arrive to view the informational poster stations at any time during the three-hour meetings. A scheduled oral presentation by the project team was given at each meeting, after which a verbal public comment session was offered. Navy team members often stayed after the close of the public meetings to accommodate additional questions at the poster stations during the open house and all public testimony during the verbal public comment session. Navy staffers at the welcome station greeted guests, provided them with informational materials and encouraged meeting attendees to sign in to receive future notifications. Comment forms, speaker request cards and a fact sheet booklet were distributed to attendees, along with verbal direction on the organization and flow of the poster stations arranged around the room. A Mitigation and Monitoring handout was also available at the marine resources poster station.
At the March 2014 meeting in Ketchikan, in addition to all the project materials, a fact sheet about the Southeast Alaska Acoustic Measurement Facility (SEAFAC) was also distributed. A court reporter was made available for verbal public comment for the entirety of the meeting. The court reporter recorded one-on-one oral comments, the project presentation and the verbal comment session.
NOAA Fisheries will accept comments for 45 days following publication of the notice. Comments should be addressed to:
Jolie Harrison, Permits and Conservation Division
Office of Protected Resources
National Marine Fisheries Service
1315 East-West Highway
Silver Spring MD 20910-3225
Electronic comments can be sent via the Federal eRulemaking Portal: www.regulations.gov, using the identifier 0648-BD69.
On the Web:
Proposed rulemaking and the Navy’s application
More information about the Navy's Northwest Training & Testing
Navy's Public Meeting Materials
Summary of Public Involvement, includes Ketchikan meetings and notices
Click here (pdf)
Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews
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