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Approval of Whale|Harm May Last 5 Years

WASHINGTON (CN) - The National Marine Fisheries Service proposes to extend the period for which the agency allows activities that may harm marine mammals incidental to U.S. Navy sonar and munitions testing.

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the National Marine Fisheries Service, acting for the Secretary of Commerce, may allow the incidental, but not intentional, harm of marine mammals for periods of up to 5 years if it determines that the harm will have a "negligible impact" on a particular species.

While the agency publishes regulations governing harm or "take" in each specific testing range on a 5 year basis, actual take has to be approved every year, after the agency considers take from the previous year.

The new rules would suspend annual authorization and allow the agency to issue, in some cases, authorizations valid for 5 years.

While the Navy still would have to file annual reports on the impact of munitions and sonar testing on marine mammals, annual caps on take of any one species by any one source would be dropped in favor of a cumulative maximum take per source, per species over the period of authorization.

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