Center for Biological Diversity Petitions to List 83 Coral Species as Threatened or Endangered

The NMFS, issued this document to request information from the public on a Status Review Report and a draft Management Report we prepared in response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) to list 83 coral species as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and to notify the public about future public listening sessions and scientific workshops on this topic. The Status Review Report examines the biology of, threats to, and extinction risk of 82 coral species, while the draft Management Report describes existing regulatory mechanisms and ongoing conservation efforts to manage and conserve these species throughout the Caribbean and Indo-Pacific. Collectively, these two reports constitute the best available scientific and commercial information that we have compiled to date on the 82 species of coral under review.

The review of the status of these species is a major undertaking
because of the large number and geographically dispersed nature of
coral species involved. Therefore, with the approval of a federal
court, NMFS and CBD have agreed to an extension of the previously
approved deadline for issuing the 12-month finding on this petition. We
are using this extension to allow additional opportunity for the public
to provide us with information that may further inform our 12-month
finding as to whether the petitioned action is or is not warranted. In
addition, we will hold two public listening sessions and two public
scientific workshops, during which we will explain the evaluation
process and the public and experts will have opportunity to provide any
additional relevant information on this matter.

DATES: Comments on the documents and additional papers, reports, and
information must be received by July 31, 2012. Dates, times, and
location information for public listening sessions and scientific
workshops will be announced in a subsequent Federal Register document.

ADDRESSES: You may obtain a copy of the Status Review Report of 82
Candidate Coral Species Petitioned Under the U.S. Endangered Species
Act (Status Review Report) and the draft Management Report for 82
Corals Status Review under the Endangered Species Act: Assessment of
Existing Regulatory Mechanisms and Conservation Efforts (Management
Report) by visiting the internet at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/stories/2012/04/4_13_12corals_petition.html.

The two reports may also be viewed, by appointment, during regular
business hours, at: NMFS, Pacific Islands Regional Office, 1601
Kapiolani Blvd. Suite 1110, Honolulu, HI 96814; or NMFS, Southeast
Regional Office, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

You may submit information, identified by 0648-XT12, on the Status
Review Report and the draft Management Report by any of the following
methods:

     Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic information
via electronic mail to NMFS.82Corals@noaa.gov.
     Mail: Submit written comments to Regulatory Branch Chief,
Protected Resources Division, National Marine Fisheries Service,
Pacific Islands Regional Office, 1601 Kapiolani Blvd. Suite 1110,
Honolulu, HI 96814, Attn: 82 coral species; or to Assistant Regional
Administrator for Protected Resources, NMFS, Southeast Regional Office,
263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701; Attn: 82 coral
species.
     Fax: 808-973-2941; Attn: Protected Resources Regulatory
Branch Chief, or 727-824-5309; Attn: Assistant Regional Administrator
for Protected Resources.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Chelsey Young, NMFS, Pacific Islands
Regional Office, 808-944-2137; Lance Smith, NMFS, Pacific Island
Regional Office, 808-944-2258; Jennifer Moore, NMFS, Southeast Regional
Office, 727-824-5312; or Marta Nammack, NMFS, Office of Protected
Resources, 301-427-8469

Background

    This request for information is not part of any rulemaking action,
but is issued to assist us in determining the most appropriate course
of action on a petition we received to list 83 species of coral in the
Caribbean and Indo-Pacific as threatened or endangered under the ESA.
On February 10, 2010, we published a 90-day finding on the petition in
the Federal Register, concluding that the petition presented
substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that
listing may be warranted for 82 of the 83 petitioned species (75 FR
6616). The 90-day finding was followed by a public comment period,
during which we received approximately 400 public comments.

We also established a Biological Review Team (BRT) composed of
Federal scientists to examine the status of the 82 coral species in
question and evaluate, based on the best available scientific
information, the extinction risk for each species. The BRT was not
charged with making recommendations for listing. In September 2011,
after being peer-reviewed by the Center for Independent Experts, we
finalized the Status Review Report, which is a technical document
approximately 450 pages in length (excluding references). Separately,
NMFS' Pacific Islands and Southeast Regional offices drafted a
Management Report (approximately 130 pages, excluding references and an
appendix) to evaluate management activities affecting coral species
across their range, including existing regulatory mechanisms and
conservation efforts. Together, these two reports constitute the best
available scientific and commercial information that we have compiled
to date on the 82 species of coral under review.

On September 27, 2011, CBD sued us challenging our failure to make
a 12-month finding as to the 82 coral species. Shortly thereafter, we
entered into a stipulated settlement agreement with CBD in which we
agreed to submit our 12-month finding to the Federal Register for
publication on or before April 15, 2012. The U.S. District Court for
the Northern District of California (court) entered this stipulated
settlement agreement on November 8, 2011. Subsequent discussions
between CBD and us resulted in the court modifying the deadline to
require us to submit our 12-month finding to the Federal Register on or
before December 1, 2012. The court also ordered that we publish the
Status Review Report and draft Management Report for public comment on
or before April 15, 2012.

The response to the petition to list 83 coral species is one of the
most complex listing processes we have ever undertaken. Given the
petition's scale and the precedential nature of the issues, we have
determined that our decision-making process would be strengthened if

we take additional time to allow the public, non-federal experts,

non-governmental organizations, state and territorial
governments, and academics to review and provide information related to
the Status Review Report and draft Management Report prior to issuing
our 12-month finding. We will hold listening sessions and scientific
workshops in the Southeast region and Pacific Islands region and will
then consider the information gathered through these venues and through
written submissions to inform our 12-month finding and, if appropriate,
a proposed listing rule.

We expect that this outreach effort will allow the public to
understand more clearly the context in which this petition is being
evaluated and the basis and rationale supporting our 12-month finding.
We also expect this process will ensure that any additional relevant
scientific information available is brought to our attention. This
document is not part of the usual rulemaking process and is unique to
NMFS' response to the petition to list 83 coral species. Thus, the
additional outreach conducted in this case does not establish precedent
for any other ESA-listing process.

Information Solicited

    We are particularly interested in receiving information on the
following:

    (1) Relevant scientific information collected or produced since the
completion of the Status Review Report (2011) or any relevant
scientific information not included in the Report; and

    (2) Relevant management information not included in the draft
Management Report, such as descriptions of regulatory mechanisms for
greenhouse gas emissions globally, and for local threats in the 83
foreign countries and the U.S. (Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, U.S.
Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and Northern Mariana Islands),
where the 82 coral species collectively occur.

Although this action is not a rulemaking, we will accept
information received in response to this solicitation and will take
such information into account, along with the information received on
the 90-day finding (75 FR 6616; February 10, 2010), when we make our
12-month finding on whether CBD's petitioned action is warranted. If
you have submitted information during the previous comment period,
there is no need to re-submit it. We request that all information
submitted be accompanied by supporting documentation such as maps,
bibliographic references, or reprints of pertinent publications. If
possible, comments should include the heading of the relevant section
of the Status Review Report or draft Management Report. Please submit
any information to the ADDRESSES listed above.

Public Listening Sessions and Scientific Workshops

    In addition to soliciting input from the public on the Status
Review Report and draft Management Report, we will hold one public
listening session and one scientific workshop in each of the two
relevant regions: the Southeast and Pacific Islands, during which we
will explain the evaluation process and the public and experts will
have opportunity to provide any additional relevant information on this
matter. Dates, times, and locations of these meetings will be announced
in a subsequent Federal Register document and on our Web site at:
http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/stories/2012/04/4_13_12corals_petition.html.
    We have not yet published a proposed listing rule for the 82 coral
species. Therefore, we cannot consider comments on whether a
determination should be made as to whether some or all of the
petitioned corals are an endangered or threatened species. The ESA also
prohibits us from taking economic or social impacts into consideration
in any listing decisions. Accordingly, we cannot consider comments on
these matters.