[Federal Register: December 20, 2001 (Volume 66, Number 245)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 65676-65678]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 223 and 224

[Docket No. 011212298-1298-01; I.D. No. 113001A;]

Listing Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants and 
Designating Critical Habitat; 90-Day Finding for a Petition to List 
Atlantic White marlin (Tetrapturus albidus)

AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.

ACTION: Notice of petition finding; request for information and 


SUMMARY: NMFS announces the 90-day finding for a petition to list 
Atlantic white marlin (Tetrapturus albidus) as threatened or endangered 
throughout its known range and to designate critical habitat under the 
Endangered Species Act (ESA). NMFS finds that the petition presents 
substantial scientific information indicating that the petitioned 
action may be warranted. NMFS will conduct a status review of Atlantic 
white marlin to determine if the petitioned action is warranted. To 
ensure that the review is comprehensive, NMFS is soliciting information 
and comments pertaining to this species and potential critical habitat 
from any interested party. NMFS also seeks suggestions from the public 
for peer reviewers to take part in the peer review process for the 
Atlantic white marlin status review.

DATES: Comments and information related to this petition finding must 
be received by February 19, 2002.

ADDRESSES: Requests for copies of the petition, and information and 
comments on this finding should be submitted to Georgia Cranmore, 
Assistant Regional Administrator for Protected Resources, National 
Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Regional Office, 9721 Executive 
Center Drive North, St. Peterburg, FL 33702-2432. The petition, finding 
and supporting data are available for public inspection, by 
appointment, during normal business hours at the above address.

(727) 570-5312; or David O'Brien, NMFS, Office of Protected Resources, 
(301) 713-1401.



    Section 4 (b)(3)(A) of the ESA (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) requires 
that NMFS make a finding as to whether a petition to list, delist, or 
reclassify a species presents substantial scientific or commercial 
information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted. 
NMFS' ESA implementing regulations (50 CFR 424.14) define ``substantial 
information'' as the amount of information that would lead a reasonable 
person to believe that the measure proposed in the petition may be 
warranted. In determining whether substantial information exists for a 
petition to list a species, NMFS takes into account several factors, 
including information submitted with, and referenced in, the petition 
and all other information readily available in NMFS' files. To the 
maximum extent

[[Page 65677]]

practicable, this finding is to be made within 90 days of the receipt 
of the petition, and the finding is to be published promptly in the 
Federal Register. If NMFS finds that a petition presents substantial 
information indicating that the requested action may be warranted, 
section 4 (b)(3)(A) of the ESA requires the Secretary of Commerce 
(Secretary) to conduct a status review of the species. Section 4 
(b)(3)(B) requires the Secretary to make a finding as to whether or not 
the petitioned action is warranted within 1 year of the receipt of the 

Analysis of Petition

    On September 4, 2001, NMFS received a petition from the 
Biodiversity Legal Foundation and James R. Chambers requesting NMFS to 
list the Atlantic white marlin (Tetrapturus albidus) as threatened or 
endangered throughout its range, and to designate critical habitat 
under the ESA. The petition contained a detailed description of the 
species, including the present legal status; taxonomy and physical 
appearance; ecological and fisheries importance; distribution; physical 
and biological characteristics of its habitat and ecosystem 
relationships; population status and trends; and factors contributing 
to the population's decline. Potential threats identified in the 
petition include: (1) overutilization for commercial purposes; (2) 
inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; (3) predation; and (4) 
other natural or man-made factors affecting the species' continued 
existence. The petitioners also included information regarding how the 
species would benefit from being listed under the ESA, cited references 
and provided appendices in support of the petition.
    Under the ESA, a listing determination can address a species, 
subspecies, or a distinct population segment (DPS) of a species (16 
U.S.C. 1532 (16)). The petitioners requested that NMFS list Atlantic 
white marlin throughout its entire range. They are found in warm waters 
throughout tropical and temperate portions of the Atlantic Ocean and 
its adjacent seas (Caribbean, Mediterranean and Gulf of Mexico). A 
highly migratory pelagic species, they are found predominantly in the 
open ocean over deep water, near the surface in the vicinity of major 
ocean currents where their prey is concentrated. Their food resources 
include small fishes and invertebrates such as squid that can be 
swallowed whole.
    The petitioners provided a detailed narrative justification for 
their petitioned action, describing past and present numbers and 
distribution of Atlantic white marlin. Information regarding its status 
was provided for the entire range of the species. The petition was 
accompanied by appropriate supporting documentation, including the most 
recent stock assessment for this species (SCRS/00/23).
    In 1997, the Atlantic white marlin was listed as overfished under 
the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (16 U.S.C. 
1801 et seq.). In April 1999, NMFS published Amendment 1 to the 
Atlantic Billfish Fishery Management Plan, which included rebuilding 
programs and measures to reduce bycatch and bycatch mortality for 
Atlantic billfish, including white marlin. The International Commission 
for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), responsible for 
management of tunas and tuna-like fishes of the Atlantic Ocean also 
considers the Atlantic white marlin to be overfished. Several binding 
recommendations have been adopted by ICCAT over the last few years to 
reduce landings and improve data and monitoring. The most recent 
recommendation in November 2000 included a two-phase rebuilding plan 
involving further landing reductions and the development of more 
rebuilding measures after the next stock assessments in 2002.
    The petitioners assert that existing protection for Atlantic white 
marlin at both the national and international level is inadequate to 
conserve the species or prevent its slide to extinction. The 
population's decline has been documented thoroughly by ICCAT's 
scientific advisors, the Standing Committee for Research and Statistics 
(SCRS). According to the petitioners, the primary cause of the Atlantic 
white marlin decline is due to bycatch in the international swordfish 
and tuna fisheries. The most recent stock assessment conducted in July 
of 2000 (SCRS/00/23) indicates that by the end of 1999: (1) the total 
Atlantic stock biomass had declined to less than 15 percent of its 
maximum sustainable yield level; (2) fishing mortality was estimated to 
be at least seven times higher than the sustainable level; (3) 
overfishing has taken place for over three decades; and (4) the stock 
is less productive than previously estimated, with a maximum 
sustainable yield smaller than 1,300 metric tons. The population's 
abundance was last at its long-term sustainable level in 1980. 
Reduction in prey species availability may also be a threat to the 
species, with two of its important prey species, Atlantic bluefish and 
squid, listed as overfished under the Magnuson-Stevens Act (16 U.S.C. 
1801 et seq.).

Petition Finding

    Based on the above information and the criteria specified in 50 CFR 
424.14 (b)(2), NMFS finds that the petitioner presents substantial 
scientific and commercial information indicating that a listing of 
Atlantic white marlin may be warranted. Under section 4 (b)(3)(A) of 
the ESA, this finding requires that NMFS commence a status review on 
Atlantic white marlin. NMFS is now initiating this review. Within one 
year of the receipt of the petition (by September 3, 2002), a finding 
will be made as to whether listing the Atlantic population of the white 
marlin as threatened or endangered is warranted, as required by section 
4 (b)(3)(B) of the ESA. If warranted, NMFS will publish a proposed rule 
and take public comment before developing and publishing a final rule.

Listing Factors and Basis for Determination

    Under section 4 (a)(1) of the ESA, a species can be determined to 
be threatened or endangered for any one of the following reasons: (1) 
Present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of 
habitat or range; (2) over-utilization for commercial, recreational, 
scientific, or educational purposes; (3) disease or predation; (4) 
inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or (5) other natural or 
manmade factors affecting its continued existence. Listing 
determinations are made solely on the basis of the best scientific and 
commercial data available, after conducting a review of the status of 
the species and taking into account efforts made by any state or 
foreign nation to protect such species.

Information Solicited

    To ensure that the status review is completed in a timely manner 
and based on the best available scientific and commercial data, NMFS is 
soliciting information and comments on whether the Atlantic white 
marlin is endangered or threatened based on the above listing criteria. 
Specifically, NMFS is soliciting information in the following areas: 
(1) Historical and current abundance of Atlantic white marlin; (2) 
current spatial distribution; (3) population status and trends; (4) 
information on any current or planned activities that may adversely 
impact Atlantic white marlin, especially related to the five listing 
factors identified above; and (4) ongoing efforts to protect Atlantic 
white marlin and their habitat. NMFS requests that all data,

[[Page 65678]]

information, and comments be accompanied by: (1) supporting 
documentation such as maps, bibliographic references, or reprints of 
pertinent publications; and (2) the submitter's name, address, and any 
association, institution, or business that the person represents.

Critical Habitat

    NMFS is also requesting information on areas that may qualify as 
critical habitat for the Atlantic white marlin. Areas that include the 
physical and biological features essential to the recovery of the 
species should be identified. Areas outside the present range should 
also be identified if such areas are essential to the recovery of the 
species. Essential features include, but are not limited to: (1) space 
for individual growth and for normal behavior; (2) food, water, air, 
light, minerals, or other nutritional or physiological requirements; 
(3) cover or shelter; (4) sites for reproduction and development of 
offspring; and (5) habitats that are protected from disturbance or are 
representative of the historical, geographical, and ecological 
distributions of the species (50 CFR 424.12 (b)).
    For areas potentially qualifying as critical habitat, NMFS requests 
information describing (1) the activities that affect the area or that 
could be affected by the designation, and (2) the economic costs and 
benefits of management measures likely to result from the designation. 
NMFS is required to consider the probable economic and other impacts on 
proposed or ongoing activities in making a final critical habitat 
designation(50 CFR 424.19).

Peer Review

    On July 1, 1994, NMFS, jointly with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, published a series of policies regarding listings under the 
ESA, including a policy for peer review of scientific data (59 FR 
34270). The intent of the peer review policy is to ensure that listings 
are based on the best scientific and commercial data available. NMFS is 
soliciting the names of recognized experts in the field that could take 
part in the peer review process for this status review. Independent 
peer reviewers will be selected from the academic and scientific 
community, tribal and other Native American groups, Federal and state 
agencies, the private sector, and public interest groups.

References Cited

    SCRS. 2000. Report of the ICCAT Billfish Workshop (Miami, FL, USA, 
July 18-28,2000) - Billfish Detailed Report

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.

    Dated: December 14, 2001.
William T. Hogarth,
Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries 
[FR Doc. 01-31285 Filed 12-19-01; 8:45 am]