Southwest Fisheries Science Center Programmatic Environmental Assessment Draft

NMFS announces the availability of the ``Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment (DPEA) for Fisheries Research Conducted and Funded by the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC).'' Publication of this notice begins the official public comment period for this DPEA. The purpose of the DPEA is to evaluate, in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the potential direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of conducting and funding fisheries and ecosystem research along the U.S. West Coast, throughout the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean, and in the Scotia Sea area off Antarctica.

Comments and information must be received no later than July 1, 2013.


ADDRESSES: Comments on the DPEA should be addressed to Jeremy Rusin, 


Deputy Director, SWFSC Protected Resources Division, 8901 La Jolla 

Shores Drive, La Jolla, CA 92037. The mailbox address for providing 

email comments is NMFS is not responsible for 

email comments sent to addresses other than the one provided here. 

Comments sent via email, including all attachments, must not exceed a 

10-megabyte file size.

    A copy of the DPEA may be obtained by writing to the address 

specified above, telephoning the contact listed below (see FOR FURTHER 

INFORMATION CONTACT), or visiting the internet at: Documents cited in this notice may also be 

viewed, by appointment, during regular business hours, at the 

aforementioned address.




the Southwest Region. The SWFSC conducts research and provides 

scientific advice to manage fisheries and conserve protected species 

along the U.S. West Coast in the California Current Ecosystem (CCE), 

throughout the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) Ocean, and in the Scotia 

Sea area off Antarctica. Research is aimed at monitoring fish stock 

recruitment, survival and biological rates, abundance and geographic 

distribution of species and stocks, and providing other scientific 

information needed to improve our understanding of complex marine 

ecological processes. Primary research activities include: mid-water 

trawl surveys to support assessments of coastal pelagic species, salmon 

and groundfish in the CCE; longline surveys for life history studies of 

sablefish in the CCE and highly migratory species tagging in the CCE 

and ETP; deep-set buoy surveys for tagging swordfish in the CCE; 

ecosystem surveys using active acoustic systems, plankton nets, and 

other oceanographic equipment in the CCE and ETP; and bottom trawl and 

ecosystem surveys in the Antarctic Research Area.

    NMFS has prepared the DPEA under NEPA to evaluate several 

alternatives for conducting and funding fisheries and ecosystem 

research activities as the primary federal action. Additionally in the 

DPEA, NMFS evaluates a related action--also called a ``connected 

action'' under 40 CFR 1508.25 of the Council on Environmental Quality's 

regulations for implementing the procedural provisions of NEPA (42 

U.S.C. 4321 et seq.)--which is the proposed promulgation of regulations 

and authorization of the take of marine mammals incidental to the 

fisheries research under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). 

Additionally, because the proposed research activities occur in areas 

inhabited by species of marine mammals, birds, sea turtles, and fish 

listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as threatened or 

endangered, this DPEA evaluates activities that could result in 

unintentional takes of ESA-listed marine species.

    The following four alternatives are currently evaluated in the 



 No-Action/Status Quo Alternative--Conduct Federal Fisheries 

and Ecosystem Research with Scope and Protocols Similar to Past Effort

 Preferred Alternative--Conduct Federal Fisheries and Ecosystem 

Research (New Suite of Research) with Mitigation for MMPA and ESA 


 Modified Research Alternative--Conduct Federal Fisheries and 

Ecosystem Research (New Suite of Research) with Additional Mitigation

 No Research Alternative--No Fieldwork for Federal Fisheries 

and Ecosystem Research Conducted or Funded by SWFSC


    The first three alternatives include a program of fisheries and 

ecosystem research projects conducted or funded by the SWFSC as the 

primary federal action. Because this primary action is connected to a 

secondary federal action (also called a connected action under NEPA), 

to consider authorizing incidental take of marine mammals under the 

MMPA, NMFS must identify as part of this evaluation ``(t)he means of 

effecting the least practicable adverse impact on the species or stock 

and its habitat.'' (Section 101(a)(5)(A) of the MMPA [16 U.S.C. 1361 et 

seq.]). NMFS must therefore identify and evaluate a reasonable range of 

mitigation measures to minimize impacts to protected species that occur 

in SWFSC research areas. These mitigation measures are considered as 

part of the identified alternatives in order to evaluate their 

effectiveness to minimize potential adverse environmental impacts. The 

three action alternatives also include mitigation measures intended to 

minimize potentially adverse interactions with other protected species 

that occur within the action area. Protected species include all marine 

mammals, which are covered under the MMPA, all species listed under the 

ESA, and bird species protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

    NMFS is also evaluating a second type of no-action alternative that 

considers no federal funding for field fisheries and ecosystem research 

activities. This is called the No Research Alternative to distinguish 

it from the No-Action/Status Quo Alternative. The No-Action/Status Quo 

Alternative will be used as the baseline to compare all of the other 


    Potential direct and indirect effects on the environment are 

evaluated under each alternative in the DPEA. The environmental effects 

on the following resources are considered: physical environment, 

special resource areas, fish, marine mammals, birds, sea turtles, 

invertebrates, and the social and economic environment. Cumulative 

effects of external actions and the contribution of fisheries research 

activities to the overall cumulative impact on the aforementioned 

resources is also evaluated in the DPEA for the three main geographic 

regions in which SWFSC surveys are conducted.

    NMFS requests comments on the DPEA for Fisheries Research Conducted 

and Funded by the National Marine Fisheries Service, Southwest 

Fisheries Science Center. Please include, with your comments, any 

supporting data or literature citations that may be informative in 

substantiating your comment.