NACO

National Association of Charterboat Operators

90-Day Finding on a Petition To List the Humphead Wrasse as Threatened or Endangered Under the Endangered Species Act

We (NMFS) announce a 90-day finding on a petition to list the humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus) as threatened or endangered and designate critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). We find that the petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted. Accordingly, we will conduct a review of the status of this species to determine if the petitioned action is warranted. To ensure that the status review is comprehensive, for 60 days we are soliciting information pertaining to this species from any interested party.

Information and comments on the subject action must be received by April 29, 2013.

ADDRESSES: You may submit information, identified by the code NOAA-
NMFS-2013-0001, by any of the following methods:
     Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic information
via the Federal eRulemaking Portal http://www.regulations.gov. Go to
www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0001, click the
``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or
attach your comments.
     Mail: NMFS, Pacific Islands Regional Office, Regulatory
Branch Chief, 1601 Kapiolani Boulevard, Suite 1110, Honolulu, HI 96814.
     Hand delivery: You may hand deliver written information to
our office during normal business hours at the street address given
above.
    Instructions: All information received is a part of the public
record and may be posted to http://www.regulations.gov without change.
All personally identifiable information (for example, name, address,
etc.) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publicly
accessible. Do not submit confidential business information or
otherwise sensitive or protected information. We will accept anonymous
submissions. Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in
Microsoft Word, Excel, Corel WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats
only.

 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Krista Graham, NMFS Pacific Islands
Regional Office, 808-944-2238; or Lisa Manning, NMFS Office of
Protected Resources, 301-427-8466.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    On October 31, 2012, we received a petition from the WildEarth
Guardians to list the humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus) as
threatened or endangered under the ESA and to designate critical
habitat concurrent with the listing under the ESA. Copies of this
petition are available from us (see ADDRESSES, above).

ESA Statutory and Regulatory Provisions and Evaluation Framework

    Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the ESA of 1973, as amended (U.S.C. 1531 et
seq.), requires, to the maximum extent practicable, that within 90 days
of

[[Page 13615]]

receipt of a petition to list a species as threatened or endangered,
the Secretary of Commerce make a finding on whether that petition
presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating
that the petitioned action may be warranted, and to promptly publish
the finding in the Federal Register (16 U.S.C. 1533(b)(3)(A)). When we
find that substantial scientific or commercial information in a
petition indicates the petitioned action may be warranted (a ``positive
90-day finding''), we are required to promptly commence a review of the
status of the species concerned, which includes conducting a
comprehensive review of the best available scientific and commercial
information. Within 12 months of receiving the petition, we must
conclude the review with a finding as to whether, in fact, the
petitioned action is warranted. Because the finding at the 12-month
stage is based on a significantly more thorough review of the available
information, a ``may be warranted'' finding at the 90-day stage does
not prejudge the outcome of the status review.
    Under the ESA, a listing determination may address a ``species,''
which is defined to also include subspecies and, for any vertebrate
species, any distinct population segment (DPS) that interbreeds when
mature (16 U.S.C. 1532(16)). A joint NOAA-U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service (USFWS) policy clarifies the agencies' interpretation of the
phrase ``distinct population segment'' for the purposes of listing,
delisting, and reclassifying a species under the ESA (``DPS Policy'';
61 FR 4722; February 7, 1996). A species, subspecies, or DPS is
``endangered'' if it is in danger of extinction throughout all or a
significant portion of its range, and ``threatened'' if it is likely to
become endangered within the foreseeable future throughout all or a
significant portion of its range (ESA sections 3(6) and 3(20),
respectively; 16 U.S.C. 1532(6) and (20)). Pursuant to the ESA and our
implementing regulations, the determination of whether a species is
threatened or endangered shall be based on any one or a combination of
the following five section 4(a)(1) factors: the present or threatened
destruction, modification, or curtailment of habitat or range;
overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or
educational purposes; disease or predation; inadequacy of existing
regulatory mechanisms; and any other natural or manmade factors
affecting the species' existence (16 U.S.C. 1533(a)(1), 50 CFR
424.11(c)).
    ESA-implementing regulations issued jointly by NMFS and USFWS (50
CFR 424.14(b)) define ``substantial information'' in the context of
reviewing a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species as the
amount of information that would lead a reasonable person to believe
that the measure proposed in the petition may be warranted. When
evaluating whether substantial information is contained in a petition,
we must consider whether the petition: (1) Clearly indicates the
administrative measure recommended and gives the scientific and any
common name of the species involved; (2) contains detailed narrative
justification for the recommended measure, describing, based on
available information, past and present numbers and distribution of the
species involved and any threats faced by the species; (3) provides
information regarding the status of the species over all or a
significant portion of its range; and (4) is accompanied by the
appropriate supporting documentation in the form of bibliographic
references, reprints of pertinent publications, copies of reports or
letters from authorities, and maps (50 CFR 424.14(b)(2)).
    At the 90-day stage, we evaluate the petitioner's request based
upon the information in the petition including its references, and the
information readily available in our files. We do not conduct
additional research, and we do not solicit information from parties
outside the agency to help us in evaluating the petition. We will
accept the petitioner's sources and characterizations of the
information presented, if they appear to be based on accepted
scientific principles, unless we have specific information in our files
that indicates the petition's information is incorrect, unreliable,
obsolete, or otherwise irrelevant to the requested action. Information
that is susceptible to more than one interpretation or that is
contradicted by other available information will not be dismissed at
the 90-day finding stage, so long as it is reliable and a reasonable
person would conclude that it supports the petitioner's assertions.
Conclusive information indicating the species may meet the ESA's
requirements for listing is not required to make a positive 90-day
finding. We will not conclude that a lack of specific information alone
negates a positive 90-day finding, if a reasonable person would
conclude that the unknown information itself suggests an extinction
risk of concern for the species at issue.
    To make a 90-day finding on a petition to list a species, we
evaluate whether the petition presents substantial scientific or
commercial information indicating the subject species may be either
threatened or endangered, as defined by the ESA. First, we evaluate
whether the information presented in the petition, along with the
information readily available in our files, indicates that the
petitioned entity constitutes a ``species'' eligible for listing under
the ESA. Next, we evaluate whether the information indicates that the
species at issue faces extinction risk that is cause for concern; this
may be indicated in information expressly discussing the species'
status and trends, or in information describing impacts and threats to
the species. We evaluate any information on specific demographic
factors pertinent to evaluating extinction risk for the species at
issue (e.g., population abundance and trends, productivity, spatial
structure, age structure, sex ratio, diversity, current and historical
range, habitat integrity or fragmentation), and the potential
contribution of identified demographic risks to extinction risk for the
species. We then evaluate the potential links between these demographic
risks and the causative impacts and threats identified in section
4(a)(1).
    Information presented on impacts or threats should be specific to
the species and should reasonably suggest that one or more of these
factors may be operative threats that act or have acted on the species
to the point that it may warrant protection under the ESA. Broad
statements about generalized threats to the species, or identification
of factors that could negatively impact a species, do not constitute
substantial information that listing may be warranted. We look for
information indicating that not only is the particular species exposed
to a factor, but that the species may be responding in a negative
fashion, then we assess the potential significance of that negative
response.

Humphead Wrasse Species Description

    The humphead wrasse is a large, long-lived, slow growing, and
naturally rare species of the Indo-West Pacific. Known by several other
common names, including Napoleon wrasse, giant wrasse, and Maori
wrasse, it is the largest species within its family, Labridae; and one
of the largest of all reef fishes (Donaldson and Sadovy, 2001).
Humphead wrasse are thought to reach sizes of over 200 cm; however,
records of fish greater than 150 cm (fork length) are apparently
lacking (Choat et al., 2006). Humphead wrasse reach sexual maturity at
5-7 years and 35-85 cm total length (TL), and can live at least 30
years (Sadovy de Mitcheson et al., 2010; Sadovy et al., 2003; Donaldson
and Sadovy, 2001). The humphead

[[Page 13616]]

wrasse is a carnivorous predator with a diet that includes a variety of
reef-associated animals, including molluscs, crustaceans, sea urchins,
fishes, and starfishes--including the toxic crown-of-thorns starfish
(Donaldson and Sadovy, 2001). They are generally solitary, but can
occur in small groups and are known to congregate to form spawning
aggregations. Spawning activity is tidally influenced and, depending on
location, occurs during multiple months or every month of the year
(Colin, 2010; Sadovy et al., 2003).
    Humphead wrasse undergo changes in body form, color, and sex as
they grow and mature. Small juveniles are pale with black markings;
larger juveniles become pale green with black markings. Adults are a
striking blue/green with large scales, intricate markings around the
eyes, and a yellow margin on the caudal fin. Large adults also develop
a large bump on their forehead and thickened, prominent lips. As with
other wrasses and some other reef fish species, humphead wrasse are
protogynous hermaphrodites, meaning males start out as females and
undergo a sexual transition (Choat et al., 2006; Sadovy et al., 2003).
    The humphead wrasse ranges throughout the tropical and sub-tropical
Indo-Pacific, from Egypt, the eastern coast of Africa, and Madagascar,
throughout all of Southeast Asia; north to southern Japan; south to
northern Australia; and eastward to Fiji, the Marshall Islands, and the
Cook Islands (Russell, 2004; Sadovy et al., 2003). Within U.S. waters,
humphead wrasse occur in American Samoa, Guam, Commonwealth of the
Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), and the Line Islands (Russell, 2004;
Sadovy et al., 2003). Within this range, distribution of the fish is
patchy.
    Humphead wrasses are typically associated with well-developed coral
reefs. Adult humphead wrasse are thought to prefer steep outer reef
edges, channels, and lagoon reef slopes at about 2-60 m depth (Sadovy
et al., 2003; Donaldson and Sadovy, 2001). Small, post-settled humphead
wrasse have been observed in branching hard and soft corals, coral
rubble, and seagrasses (Tupper, 2007; Sadovy et al., 2003). Juveniles
are more cryptic than adults and are often associated with denser coral
reefs and thickets, coral rubble, bushy macroalgae, and seagrasses
(Tupper, 2007; Sadovy et al., 2003). Juveniles typically occur inshore,
while larger fish are more common in deeper, outer reefs or lagoons
(Sadovy et al., 2003).

Analysis of the Petition

    The petition contains a detailed narrative justification for the
recommended measure and provides information on the species' taxonomy,
geographic distribution, habitat characteristics, population status and
trends, and threats. The petition is accompanied by appropriate
supporting documentation. Below is a synopsis of our analysis of the
information provided in the petition and readily available in our
files.

Humphead Wrasse Status

    The petitioner acknowledges that data on total numbers, globally or
nationally, are not available for this species; however, humphead
wrasse densities are provided by several studies cited in the petition.
In general, these studies indicate that densities of humphead wrasse
are low (less than 20 per 10,000 square meters), even within preferred
habitats (Gillet, 2010; Sadovy et al., 2003). Biennial surveys
conducted by NOAA's Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC)
during 2002-2012 at 32 U.S. Pacific islands indicate that the species
is not common at any of the survey sites (PIFSC, unpublished data). The
exception is Wake Atoll, where humphead wrasse are more abundant and
more frequently encountered in surveys (PIFSC, unpublished data; NOAA,
2009). Wake Atoll is very isolated, relatively pristine and, as of
2009, part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument,
where commercial fishing is banned out to 50 nautical miles.
    The petitioner cites studies that show humphead wrasse densities
are lower in areas that are fished, and very low or zero in areas with
high fishing pressure and/or large human populations (Gillet, 2010;
Sadovy et al., 2003). Results of 24 underwater visual census surveys
from 11 range states were reviewed by Sadovy et al. (2003) and show
that there is a decline in both density and body size of humphead
wrasse in areas of higher fishing pressure. Landings data are limited,
but severe declines in humphead wrasse landings have been reported from
some locations, such as Borneo and Malaysia, over relatively short time
scales (Scales et al., 2007; Sadovy et al., 2003). Interviews conducted
in various locations throughout the species' range, including CNMI,
Philippines, Australia, Malaysia and Fiji, indicate widely shared
perceptions among elder fishers that abundance of humphead wrasse has
declined and that this decline is largely attributed to fishing
pressure (CNMI Final Grant Report, 2010; Sadovy et al., 2003). Humphead
wrasse are also considered extirpated or nearly extirpated from some
locations at the edge of its range, including parts of Fiji,
southwestern Indian Ocean and the South China Sea (Sadovy et al.,
2003).

Threats to Humphead Wrasse

    The petition identifies overutilization and inadequate protections
as major threats to this species. Other threats identified in the
petition but not explicitly linked to humphead wrasse status include
destruction and degradation of coral reef habitat, human population
growth, climate change, and ocean acidification. The petitioner also
cites natural rarity as a factor contributing to the species' risk of
extinction.
    The humphead wrasse is highly prized within the Indo-Pacific region
as a luxury food fish, primarily in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore
(Sadovy et al., 2003; Erdmann and Pet-Soede, 1997), and garners the
highest price of all fishes in the live reef fish food trade (Sadovy de
Micheson et al., 2010). Demand for this fish is expected to remain
high, and fishing efforts are likely to continually extend into new
areas as local populations are fished out (Sadovy et al., 2003; Burke
et al., 2002; Barber and Pratt, 1997).
    The petitioner provides references that suggest this species is
vulnerable to fishing pressure. For example, Scales et al. (2007)
documented exponential declines in relative abundance of humphead
wrasse in under a decade in northern Borneo and suggest that serial
depletion is occurring. Additionally, the humphead wrasse has been
noted to experience a greater than 50 percent decline over the last
three generations in locations where data are available (Russell,
2004). This decline is predicted to continue or even accelerate with
the expected growth of the live reef fish food trade (Russell, 2004).
Also, the international live-fish fishery appears to be largely focused
on juveniles (fish under 500 mm TL), which are then held in cages until
they grow to market size (Sadovy de Micheson et al., 2010). This
practice exacerbates the potential for overexploitation because fish
are removed from the wild prior to reproducing.
    The petition discusses how, in addition to other general threats to
coral reefs, humphead wrasse fishing practices are posing a threat to
humphead wrasse habitat. Stunning and capturing humphead wrasse by
applying sodium cyanide to reefs, a common method of live-capture,
damages corals and other reef organisms (Bryant et al., 1998; Barber
and Pratt,

[[Page 13617]]

1997). This practice is prohibited in many areas but is still used in
some areas for collecting humphead wrasse for the live reef fish food
trade (Sadovy et al, 2003; Bryant et al., 1998; Barber and Pratt,
1997).
    The petition proposes that exploitation threats to this species are
not being addressed, a result of the lack of protective measures in
most countries and the inadequacy of regulatory mechanisms where they
do exist. Although this species receives some protections through local
fishing restrictions, Sadovy et al. (2003) indicates that, with few
exceptions, protective legislation is largely ineffective due to the
lack of enforcement or permitted exemptions. Additionally, despite
international trade concerns and protections granted with the species'
listing in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade of
Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), there is a body of
evidence indicating illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing and
trade of the humpback wrasse (CITES Workshop Report, 2010).

Petition Finding

    After reviewing the petitioner's information and the information in
our files, we have determined there is substantial information
indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted. The low natural
densities and other life history characteristics of humphead wrasse,
coupled with evidence of declines in abundance, overutilization, and
apparent inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms and protections
for this species and its coral reef habitat are cause for concern.
Because we have found that substantial information was presented on the
above factors, we will commence a status review of the species. During
our status review, we will fully address all five of the factors set
out in section 4(a)(1) of the ESA. At the conclusion of the status
review, we will determine whether the petitioned action is warranted.
As previously noted, a ``may be warranted'' finding does not prejudge
the outcome of the status review.

Information Solicited

    As required by section 4(b)(3)(B) of the ESA and NMFS' implementing
regulations (50 CFR 424.14(b)(2)), we are to commence a review of the
status of the species and make a determination within 12 months of
receiving the petition as to whether the petitioned action is
warranted. We intend that any final action resulting from this review
be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we are opening
a 60-day public comment period to solicit information from the public,
government agencies, the scientific community, industry, and any other
interested parties on the status of humphead wrasse throughout its
range including: (1) Historical and current abundance, distribution,
and population trends; (2) biological information (life history,
population genetics, population connectivity, etc.); (3) status of
historical and current habitat, including spawning aggregation sites;
(4) regulatory mechanisms and management measures, including
enforcement thereof, designed to manage fishing or protect habitats;
(5) any current or planned activities that may adversely impact the
species; and (6) ongoing or planned efforts to protect and restore the
species and their habitats. We request that all information be
accompanied by: (1) supporting documentation such as maps,
bibliographic references, or reprints of pertinent publications; and
(2) the submitter's name, address, and any association, institution, or
business that the person represents. Section 4(b)(1)(A) of the ESA and
NMFS' implementing regulations (50 CFR 424.11(b)) require that a
listing determination be made solely on the basis of the best
scientific and commercial data, without consideration of possible
economic or other impacts of the determination. During the 60-day
public comment period we are seeking information related to the status
of humphead wrasse throughout its range.

Peer Review

    On July 1, 1994, NMFS, jointly with the USFWS, published a series
of policies regarding listings under the ESA, including a policy for
peer review of scientific data (59 FR 34270). The intent of the peer
review policy is to ensure listings are based on the best scientific
and commercial data available. The Office of Management and Budget
issued its Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review on
December 16, 2004. The Bulletin went into effect June 16, 2005, and
generally requires that all ``influential scientific information'' and
``highly influential scientific information'' disseminated on or after
that date be peer reviewed. Because the information used to evaluate
this petition may be considered ``influential scientific information,''
we solicit the names of recognized experts in the field that could take
part in the peer review process for this status review (see ADDRESSES).
Independent peer reviewers will be selected from the academic and
scientific community, tribal and other native groups, Federal and state
agencies, the private sector, and public interest groups.

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