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Norton Sound Offshore Mining:

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Presentation on theme: "Norton Sound Offshore Mining:"— Presentation transcript:

1 Norton Sound Offshore Mining:
MSA/EFH Implications For Red King Crab Alaska Region May 3, 2013

2 Norton Sound Offshore Mining
Recreational mining of nearshore (shallow) waters. Recent gold prices, newer technologies, easier access, and TV publicity has created an exponential increase in mining marine waters; In 1996, there were only three dredging craft in Nome’s 320 acre Public Mining Area; In 2011, 39 active permits and the public mining area was expanded to 570 acres; In 2012, 148 permits given by Alaska Department of Natural Resources (ADNR). Single permits have multiple operation platforms.

3 Norton Sound Offshore Mining (continued)
Large scale offshore mining. In the mid to late 1980s, the Nome Gold Project employed a large scale seafloor dredge (BIMA) to mine offshore in Norton Sound. Impacts from mining on the seafloor and to species were studied by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) and Dr. Stephen Jewett. Findings: A more diverse and less-disturbed condition existed in deeper waters (d>30’) Recovery of the seafloor and living habitats from impacts were slower in deeper waters Research remain valid to date and important to understanding and reducing impacts. NO other large scale mining occurs anywhere in the Nation’s EEZ.

4 Nome Offshore Lease Tracts
In September 2011, ADNR held a competitive lease sale. The sale offered a total acreage of 23,793 acres and brought in $7.6 million in sales. Mineral leases were purchased by a range of bidders, from local residents to global mining companies. AuruMar Alaska Inc. acquired 26 offshore mining leases; totaling over 16,600 acres. As proposed, the project will be the largest offshore marine mine project in Alaskan history and the only effort of this size ever to occur in the EEZ. Credit – AFSC

5 Nome Offshore Lease Tracts
AuruMar lease tracts

6 Nearshore Suction and Mechanical Dredges
Considered recreational; however are commercial ventures. Activities range from large mechanical bucket dredges to multiple operational suction dredges working under one recreational venture.

7 Large Scale Offshore Mining
A number of possible mining options have been identified and evaluated by AuruMar, best suited to have sufficient cutting power and ability to deal with the cohesive and heterogeneous substrate. Subsea Crawler/Mining Platform Cutter Suction Dredge Backhoe Dredge Example large scale deep water mining ROVs with Ship support.

8 AuruMar Environmental Baseline Studies
In June 2012, UAF dive teams completed a total of seven, 6 ft. x 100 ft. underwater video transects on cobble substrates with the primary focus of searching for juvenile red king crab (RKC). Effort sampled a total of approximately 0.10 acre of the approximately 16,600 acres lease sale. No RKC were encountered directly on any transect. However, two adults one sub-adult and one juvenile (39’) were found off transect. No size was stated as to what constitutes a ‘juvenile’.

9 Norton Sound Benthic Habitat
Cobble, boulder, and living habitats prior to mining disturbance. Water -35 to 40’ MLLW Source: AuruMar Baseline Studies

10 Norton Sound Benthic Habitat
Similar habitats after being exposed to mining activities. Water -35 to 40’ MLLW Source: AuruMar Baseline Studies

11 RKC Habitat and Life History Stage Concerns
Previous studies (WestGold project, Dr. Stephen Jewett) in Norton Sound demonstrated seafloor mining decreases habitat complexity and diversity. Survival of juvenile crab is primarily dependent on the availability and quality (complexity) of cover from predators. Recovery of benthic habitats is slow, particularly for waters deeper than 30’. Locations of mating, larval transport, and juvenile settlement and rearing are not known. NMFS believes offshore mining represents a non-fishing effect on a vulnerable life history stage of RKC, both by direct mortality and habitat destruction. We understand the survey recruits crab at age 3 years. Are there surveys that can provide information on earlier (< 3 year) crab? Our concern is how do we assess effects for age 1 and 2 crabs?

12 History of NMFS Involvement
Since 1999, NMFS has provided EFH conservation recommendations to both the Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on suction dredging operations in Norton Sound. Credit - AFSC NMFS expressed concerns related to both the physical disturbance of habitat (from permits issued by the Corps) and also the impacts from the associated discharges (contaminants, turbidity, sediments etc...) resulting from the wastewater discharge permits issued by EPA.

13 History of NMFS Involvement
NMFS EFH Conservation Recommendations - Specific to Nome Area Marine Mining Activities: Mining activities should not be conducted from March 1 through May 31 (to conserve and protect crab). Mining activities should be limited to water depths less than 30’ (to conserve and protect crab). From June 1 through July 15 dredging operations should not take place within a radius of one nautical mile from the mouth of anadromous streams (to conserve and protect salmon). Credit - AFSC

14 History of NMFS Involvement (continued)
In 2010, the Corps removed the contour stipulation based upon: …that the comparison of impacts related to the BIMA project and smaller-scale suction dredging operations are inappropriate due to difference in scale of the projects. …potential impacts of this (referring to an individual action and a specific site) operation would be negligible to crab. Without site specific information, the Corps does not intend to restrict small-scale suction dredging. NMFS did contact the Corps; however, the Corps is standing by their rationale. Since that time, marine mining operations have continued without any considerations for crab. Additionally, the Corps has not committed to look at any cumulative impacts.

15 Recent Developments The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) has drafted a general permit for mining discharges associated with recreational suction dredge operations in all waters of Norton Sound. It is currently out for Public review and comments. Comments are due May 28, 2013. Proposed Permit Coverage: Facilities: Suction dredges with intake diameters greater than 10 inches; suction dredge operations with a combination of intake hoses that have a combined intake area greater than 78 square inches; and mechanical dredges. Area: Marine waters of Norton Sound up to three nautical miles offshore between Cape Rodney at 166°24’09” west longitude and Cape Darby at 162°46’54” west longitude with certain restrictions in the permit. In 2012, AuruMar completed Environmental Baseline Studies, Geophysical surveys, and a Core Sampling Program.

16 Norton Sound Recreational Dredges

17 NMFS Outreach As a result of the lease sale and the new larger scale interest, NMFS called a meeting to discuss concerns. Staff from ADF&G, ADNR, ADEC, Dr. Stephen Jewett, EPA, the Corps, and NMFS met in March 2012 (some participation was via phone). Dr. Chris Long (NMFS/AFSC) presented crab biology and effects of suction dredging on the ecology of RKC. ADF&G crab biologists included Scott Kent, Jennifer Bell, Daniel Reed, and Jim Menard. At the meeting, ADF&G staff supported the 30' contour restriction.

18 Council Involvement HCD presented marine mining impacts to Norton Sound RKC as an emerging non-fishery related issue that may adversely affect FMP crab stocks and their EFH before North Pacific fishery Management Council (Council) at the December 2012 meeting. The Council tasked NMFS/HCD to present information, issues, and concerns to the Ecosystem Committee (EC) at the Portland, February 2013 meeting. At the Portland meeting the EC recommended: Discussion before the Crab Plan Team; The Council exercise its MSA authorities to comment on the Corps actions that may adversely affect EFH [MSA 305(b)].

19 Council Involvement (continued)
During the EC and Council discussion, ADF&G brought out that they would like to further discuss. The Council concluded to have the EC meet again and include ADF&G experts and commercial fisheries – in a separate meeting. The EC met in March to discuss concerns with Nome ADF&G Area Manager Jim Menard, and former Nome ADF&G Area Manager Charlie Lean. They re-affirmed ADF&G has concerns about the impacts of mining on crab in waters > 30’ due to adverse and persistent impacts to important habitat. The Council took the EC recommendations and moved to have the issue brought before the CPT (since the CPT has State and Federal representation.)

20 Importance IMPORTANTLY, NMFS recommendations are specific to crab resources (and salmon) in Norton Sound. Noteworthy, because often there is reliance on ADF&G Title 16 Permits to account for all ADF&G resources. However, the ADF&G permit is a determination only for anadromous fish. From recent meetings, NMFS understands ADF&G offers crab resource recommendations to ADEC and ADNR, however these divisions may elect to adopt any recommendations or not. Bottom line is NMFS, the Council, and all federal action agencies are required to work under the MSA authorities to conserve and protect EFH. Credit - AFSC Credit - AFSC

21 NMFS seeking guidance from CPT
Does the Norton Sound RKC model account for early life stage impacts from these activities? Are our concerns for juvenile crab warranted? Are there any inshore/offshore stock concerns? Credit - AFSC

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