NMFS Seeks Comments on Designations of Critical Habitat for Ringed Seals and Beringia Distinct Population Segment of Bearded Seals
On January 8, 2021 the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) published two proposed rules to establish critical habitat for ringed and bearded seals. Both rules concern areas of marine habitat in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas. Designating these areas as critical habitat would extend protections to the species either by prohibiting certain activities in these areas or requiring a special permit. The rules identify four areas of potential threats to the habitat features that are identified as essential to species conservation These activities include climate change, oil and gas activity, marine shipping and transportation, and commercial fisheries. The rule states that direct impacts will be the cost of interagency consultations that result from the designation. The agency has prepared initial Regulatory Flexibility Act analyses for the rules and concludes that they would result in minimal impacts to small businesses. Written comments on the rules are due by March 9, 2021.