oday the Federal Register published the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed rules for Navy activities in the Atlantic Fleet Training and Testing (AFTT) and Hawaii-Southern California Training and Testing (HSTT) areas.
As required under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), the rules describe the proposed activities, the potential effects of those activities on marine mammals, as well as required marine mammal protective measures and monitoring. The rules state NMFS's conclusion that with the protective measures in place, Navy activities will have a negligible impact on protected species and stocks. The public can provide comments on the proposed rules through March 10.
The Navy released the draft AFTT and HSTT environmental impact statements/overseas environmental impact statements (EIS/OEIS) on May 11, 2012, and accepted public comments on the documents through July 10, 2012. Since that time, as reflected in the proposed rules, estimates of potential marine mammal injuries and mortalities have decreased for both AFTT and HSTT, and estimates of non-injurious behavioral effects (e.g., turning head, changing swim direction) have increased for AFTT but decreased for HSTT. These changes were made due to emerging training and testing requirements, revisions to modeling associated with some activities, and the inclusion of a post-modeling assessment process.
"Rigorous scientific analysis, and decades of similar training, indicate that Navy activities at sea will have no more than a negligible effect on marine species populations," said Rear Admiral Kevin Slates, director of the Chief of Naval Operations Energy and Environmental Readiness Division. "These permits and the Navy's continuing engagement with NMFS will enable us to carry out our national defense mission while also protecting the natural environment."
The final permits can only be issued if the proposed activities will have a negligible impact on protected species or stocks. The Navy will continue numerous steps to minimize potential effects on marine mammals, including the use of NMFS-approved protective measures; participating in an ongoing adaptive management process with NMFS to consider new science and evaluate the effectiveness of protective measures; and implementing a comprehensive plan for marine mammal monitoring across training and testing areas.
The proposed rules can be accessed at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/incidental.