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Soundings Archive

NMFS Issues More Flexible Navy Sonar Rules
On February 8, 2011, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service published Federal Register notice of interim final rules that allow the Navy more flexibility in complying with limitations on sound from the Navy's sonar exercises. These interim final rules are issued under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. They are immediately effective, but NMFS still requests public comment on them.

In January 2009, pursuant to the MMPA, NMFS issued three 5-year final regulations to govern the unintentional taking of marine mammals incidental to Navy training and associated activities. These rules applied to the Hawaii Range Complex, the Southern California Range Complex, and the Atlantic Fleet Active Sonar Training Study Area. These regulations allow for the issuance of ``Letters of Authorization'' for the incidental take of marine mammals during the specified activities. They describe timeframes, and prescribe the permissible methods of taking and other means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact on marine mammal species or stocks and their habitat. They also prescribe requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such taking.

These rules quantify the specific amounts of individual sound source use that will occur over the course of the 5-year rules, and indicate that marine mammal take may only be authorized in an LOA incidental to the source types and amounts described. No language was initially included in the rules expressly allowing for deviation from those precise levels of source use if the total number of takes remains within the analyzed and authorized limits.

Since the issuance of the 2009 rules, the Navy realized that their evolving training programs, which are linked to real world events, necessitate greater flexibility in the types and amounts of sound sources that they use. In response to this need, when the Navy requested incidental take authorizations for other areas (e.g., the Mariana Islands and the Northwest Training Range Complexes), NMFS included language explicitly allowing for greater flexibility. NMFS has, through this interim final rule, amended the HRC, SOCAL Range Complex, and AFAST regulations to explicitly allow for greater flexibility in the types and amount of sound sources that they use.

NMFS has issued new LOAs for each of these actions, which supersede those issued in January 2011. The new authorizations allow the Navy to take marine mammals incidental to their planned training in 2011, and reflect the greater flexibility addressed in this amendment. The take authorized in these LOAs does not exceed that analyzed and allowed by the original 2009 final rules.

Any public comment on the new rules must be received by NMFS no later than March 10, 2011.

  • Click here to read NMFS' Federal Register notice
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