WASHINGTON (CN) – The National Marine Fisheries Service will issue multi-year authorizations for activities that may harm marine mammals incidental to U.S. Navy sonar and munitions testing.
The NMFS also will allow the Air Force greater flexibility in scheduling rocket launches from its Vandenberg base in central California. Under current rules, rocket launches are strictly limited by the number of launches per type of vehicle. New rules adopted by the NMFS will limit the total number of launches not the type of rocket or missile launched.
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 NMFS publishes regulations governing harm or “take” in each of the U.S. military’s marine testing ranges every 5 years, actual take has to be approved every year, after the agency considers take from the previous year.
The new rules suspend annual authorization for naval testing 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.
The NMFS declined a request by the Air Force for multiyear authorizations for take at the Vandenberg test range because there are only two years remaining in the current 5 year rule governing that range.