The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service is extending the comment period for an interim final rule that would restrict fishing for groundfish stocks in the Aleutian Islands.
This rule is to help groundfish fisheries avoid jeopardizing or critically modifying habitats for the western distinct population segment of the Stellar sea lion. NOAA Public Affairs Officer Julie Speegle explained that the rule would involve fishing closures in area 543, which is the westernmost sub-region of the Aleutian Islands. She said this is where the sea lions are having the most difficulty. The rule also places restrictions in areas 541 and 542.
“Once the comment period is over we’ll determine if changes need to be made before it becomes a final rule,” said Speegle. She said it was too early to speculate whether the rule will require changes.
NOAA published the interim final rule on Dec. 13, 2010, to restrict mackerel and Pacific cod harvests in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands management area, as these two species are important prey for the Stellar sea lion. NOAA states this action would reduce potential competition for these fish among the sea lions and fisheries.
The original public comment period was supposed to end today, yet NOAA’s Fisheries Service filed with the Federal register to extend the period for an additional 45 days to Feb. 28. The comment period was extended because it originally occurred during the holiday period, limiting the number of workdays available for the public to develop responses. This extension was requested by various stakeholders and other members of the public.
“We know there is a lot of people who didn’t have time to develop a response, especially with the holidays there,” said Speegle. “We have had some requests to extend the public comment period.”
A notice correcting errors in the interim final rule was published on Dec. 29. These corrected errors are in the preamble and content in the regulatory tables, such as degree symbols and lines between rows. The corrections also sought to eliminate confusion in Stellar sea lion site coordinates and footnotes. They did not make substantive changes to the rule.
Speegle said the published correction represents another reason for extending the comment period, saying “We don’t want there to be any confusion.”
Comments can be sent to James Balsiger, administrator for the Alaska Region of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. Comments should be identified by RIN 0648-BA31 and sent attention to Ellen Sebastian. Comments can be submitted electronically at http://www.regulations.gov, hand delivered to the Federal Building, faxed to (907) 586-7557 or mailed to P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802.
Additional information on the comment period are available at http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/protectedresources/stellers/protection.htm.
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