Biological Opinion: Alaska Fisheries Science Center Surveys in the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands, and Chukchi Sea/Beaufort Sea Research Areas, 2019–2022 and the International Pacific Halibut Commission Surveys in the GOA and BS, 2019–2022
This opinion considers the effects of research activities conducted in Southeast Alaska, Gulf of Alaska, Aleutian Islands, and Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas on listed threatened and endangered species and designated critical habitats.
The action agencies in this opinion are described below.
1. The Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) carries out research activities which may affect ESA-listed species in the Gulf of Alaska Research Area (GOARA), Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Research Area (BSAIRA), and the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea Research Area (CSBSRA). These research areas are presented in Figure 1. AFSC contracts with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) to collect groundfish abundance and size composition data in conjunction with the ADFG Large-mesh Trawl Survey of Gulf of Alaska and Eastern Aleutian Islands via an annual contract process. AFSC also contracts with charter vessels to conduct various research activities throughout the action area (Tables 1-3). Surveys conducted pursuant to these contracts are analyzed in the opinion. Contracts between the AFSC and ADF&G and between AFSC and charter vessels to perform these research activities will include the applicable mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements outlined in this consultation.
2. The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) conducts research activities which may affect ESA-listed species in the GOARA and the BSAIRA. For purposes of ESA and compliance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA), the AFSC sponsors IPHC scientific research activities through Letters of Acknowledgement that are issued by the AFSC to the IPHC pursuant to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and implementing regulations (50 CFR 600.745(a)). For each scientific research activity occurring in waters off Alaska, the AFSC reviews scientific research plans submitted by the IPHC, and after confirming the scientific research plan constitutes scientific research aboard a scientific research vessel as defined by regulation (50 CFR 600.10), the AFSC issues Letters of Acknowledgement to the IPHC. Letters of Acknowledgement issued to the IPHC by the AFSC as part of this consultation will include the applicable mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements outlined in this consultation.
3. The Office of Protected Resources (PR1) proposes to promulgate regulations pursuant to MMPA, as amended (MMPA; 16 U.S.C. 1361-1407), related to AFSC research activities that may affect ESA-listed species. The regulations propose to authorize the issuance of a Letter of Authorization (LOA) that will allow the AFSC to “take” marine mammals incidental to the proposed action. The Federal action of issuing an LOA to the AFSC is also considered in this biological opinion (opinion).
ECO Number: AKRO-2017-00028