[Federal Register Volume 67, Number 139 (Friday, July 19, 2002)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 47504-47505]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 02-18265]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 600

[I.D. 070802D]


Magnuson-Stevens Act Provisions; General Provisions for Domestic 
Fisheries; Application for Exempted Fishing Permits (EFPs)

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

ACTION: Notification of a proposal for EFPs to conduct experimental 
fishing; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: The Administrator, Northeast Region, NMFS (Regional 
Administrator) has made a preliminary determination that the subject 
exempted fishing permit (EFP) application contains all the required 
information and warrants further consideration. The Regional 
Administrator has also made a preliminary determination that the 
activities authorized under the EFP would be consistent with the goals 
and objectives of the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan 
(FMP). However, further review and consultation may be necessary before 
a final determination is made to issue EFPs. NMFS announces that the 
Regional Administrator proposes to issue EFPs that would allow two 
vessels to conduct fishing operations otherwise restricted by the 
regulations governing the fisheries of the Northeastern United States. 
EFPs would allow exemptions to gear restrictions and to the Days-at-Sea 
(DAS) requirements of the FMP. The experiment proposes to compare two 
experimental trawl net configurations (21/2-inch (6.35-cm) diamond and 
3-inch (7.62-cm) diamond codend mesh sizes in a net with a finfish 
excluder device and a raised footrope with no sweep) to compare various 
dropper chain lengths and locations on the footrope and to fish this 
gear in a variety of bottom types and depths to selectively fish for 
whiting (Merluccius bilinearis), while maintaining low levels of 
regulated Northeast multispecies bycatch.
    Regulations under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and 
Management Act require publication of this notification to provide 
interested parties the opportunity to comment on applications for 
proposed EFPs.

DATES: Comments on this document must be received on or before August 
5, 2002.

ADDRESSES: Written comments should be sent to Patricia A. Kurkul, 
Regional Administrator, NMFS, Northeast Region, One Blackburn Drive, 
Gloucester, MA 01930. Mark the outside of the envelope ``Comments on 
Whiting EFP Proposal.'' Comments may also be sent via facsimile (fax) 
to (978) 281-9135.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: E. Martin Jaffe, Fishery Policy 
Analyst, 978-281-9272.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Maine Division of Marine Resources 
(MEDMR) submitted an application for EFPs on June 14, 2002, with final 
revisions received on June 27, 2002. The EFPs would facilitate the 
collection of data on experimental gear performance for use in 
addressing whiting conservation issues (juvenile whiting bycatch) and 
reductions in regulated Northeast multispecies bycatch in the Gulf of 
Maine whiting fishery (Maine whiting fishery). MEDMR also intends to 
present the findings of the data from the experiment to the New England 
Fishery Management Council (Council) for its consideration when 
evaluating year-4 default measures and long-term management options for 
the whiting resource.

[[Page 47505]]

    The experiment would occur within a portion of the Gulf of Maine/
Georges Bank Regulated Mesh Area (GOM/GB RMA), well within the Northern 
Shrimp Small Mesh Exemption Area; specifically, from the shore at 
44 deg.18' N. lat., 69 deg.00' W. long., south to 43 deg.35.3' N. lat., 
69 deg.00' W. long., southwesterly to 43 deg.00' N. lat., 70 deg.30' W. 
long., then northerly to the shore at 43 deg.21' N. lat., 70 deg.30' W. 
long. The experimental fishing area would exclude any seasonal or year-
round closures overlapping it in time or area and would operate for 3 
months, from mid-July through mid-October 2002. Field testing of the 
proposed gear modification through the gear trials would take place for 
approximately 6 days a month from July through mid-October 2002 to 
allow for weather contingencies and to capture seasonal variability in 
target species distribution and abundance.
    The experiment is a continuation of, and intends to build on, 
previous gear studies (i.e., a gear testing component of the 
traditional Separator Trawl Whiting Experimental Fishery) that tested 
and assessed gear selectivity factors designed to address bycatch 
issues in the Maine whiting fishery. The main purpose of this four-
phase study is as follows: (1) To obtain better video footage of the 
gear and its interactions with fish and habitat (singular and combined 
effects); (2) to compare 2 and one-half-inch (6.35-cm) diamond codend 
mesh against 3-inch (7.62-cm) diamond codend mesh, each with 2-inch 
(5.08-cm) grate bar spacings in combination with 42-inch (106.7-cm) 
dropper chains on a raised footrope trawl net configuration; (3) to 
test various dropper chain configurations for balance with the number 
of headrope floats for best net stability; and (4) to tow the best net 
configuration over a variety of bottom types and depths under 
commercial conditions to ensure that the net will continue to work well 
with heavier catches.
    The field work would require 276 total hours of towing; 2 and one-
half-inch (6.35-cm) versus 3-inch (7.62-cm) codend gear trials would 
entail 36 total hours of trawling activity (6 days paired towing with 6 
half-hour tows per day for each of the two vessels), followed by 240 
total hours of towing during the remaining sea trials (4 days each per 
month for 3 months for two vessels towing an average of 10 hours per 
day).
    Projected whiting landings based on MEDMR sea sampling data during 
July and August 1999 are estimated at upper catch rates of between 
18,960 lb (8,600.11 kg) and 31,680 lb (14,369.80 kg) of whiting total 
(based upon an average catch per unit effort of between 790 lb (358.34 
kg) and 1,320 lb (598.74 kg) per trip). Lower catch rates are estimated 
at 42 lb (19.05 kg)/trip or 1,008 lb 457.22 kg) total catch for the 24 
gear trial trips, excluding the 12 paired tow trips where minimal catch 
would be retained. These catch levels are well within the possession/
landing limits for vessels using small mesh within the GOM/GB RMA. 
Landed catch would not exceed current restrictions, depending on mesh 
size being used. Thus, the experimental gear trials are expected to 
have very little incremental impact on the whiting resource. 
Participants may retain whiting and Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) 
for commercial sale up to the applicable landing limits.
    Historically, the Maine whiting fishery, through its use of the 
separator trawl (the control gear in this experiment), has experienced 
low levels of regulated multispecies bycatch. One of the objectives of 
the experiment is to demonstrate that the proposed gear combinations of 
separator grate, mesh size and raised footrope trawl configuration can 
selectively fish for whiting, while avoiding impacts on regulated 
finfish species. The applicant notes that the proportion of bycatch to 
the total catch (percent bycatch) may exceed acceptable levels when 
target species catch rates are low. Nonetheless, the applicant expects 
that the average bycatch levels would not exceed acceptable thresholds.
    All of the paired tow trips and 25 percent of the remaining 24 
trips would have an MEDMR sea sampler on board and the catch would be 
measured according to NMFS sea sampling methodology and recorded on 
NMFS logbooks. For all trips without a sea sampler, the captain would 
record total catch, catch of whiting, and catch in numbers and weight 
of each regulated species for each tow in a logbook supplied by MEDMR. 
Any sub-legal sized fish would be measured by the sea samplers and 
returned immediately to the water.
    The applicant plans to conduct public outreach meetings to present 
the gear research findings to the remainder of the fleet that did not 
participate in the experimental fishery. It is intended that the 
results of this gear work will be the basis for a request to the 
Council for a Maine whiting fishery exemption within an appropriate 
area and under certain gear restrictions.
    EFPs would exempt two vessels from the DAS requirements and gear 
restrictions of the FMP found at 50 CFR part 648, subpart F.
    Regulations under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and 
Management Act require publication of this notification to provide 
interested parties the opportunity to comment on applications for 
proposed EFPs.
    Based on the results of this EFP, this action may lead to future 
rulemaking.

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.

    Dated: July 12, 2002.
Virginia M. Fay,
Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 02-18265 Filed 7-18-02; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-S