[Federal Register Volume 74, Number 211 (Tuesday, November 3, 2009)]
[Notices]
[Pages 56805-56807]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: E9-26223]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XS46


Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery; Intent To Prepare an 
Environmental Impact Statement for the 2011-2012 Biennial Harvest 
Specifications and Management Measures

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

ACTION: Notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement 
(EIS); request for written comments; notice of public scoping meetings.

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SUMMARY: NMFS and the Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) 
announce their intent to prepare an EIS in accordance with the National 
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to analyze the impacts on the human, 
biological, and physical environment of setting harvest specifications 
and management measures for 2011 and 2012, pursuant to the Pacific 
Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan.

DATES: Public scoping will be conducted through regular meetings of the 
Pacific Fishery Management Council and its advisory bodies starting 
with the October 31-November 5, 2009, Council meeting and continuing 
through the June 12-17, 2010, meeting. Written comments will be 
accepted through December 3, 2009 (see SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION). 
Written, faxed or e-mailed comments must be received by 5 p.m. Pacific 
Daylight time on December 3, 2009.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments, on issues and alternatives, 
identified by 0648-XS46 by any of the following methods:
     E-mail: GroundfishSpex2011_12.nwr@noaa.gov. Include 0648-
XS46 and enter AScoping Comments@ in the subject line of the message.
     Fax: 503-820-2299, attention: John DeVore.
     Mail: Donald McIsaac, Pacific Fishery Management Council, 
7700 NE Ambassador Pl., Suite 101, Portland, OR 97220, attention: John 
DeVore.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. John DeVore, Pacific Fishery 
Management Council, phone: 503-820-2280, fax: 503-820-2299 and e-mail: 
john.devore@noaa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Electronic Access

    This Federal Register document is available on the Government 
Printing Office's Web site at: http://www.gpoaccess.gov/fr/index/html.

Background and Need for Agency Action

    There are more than 90 species managed under the Pacific Coast 
Groundfish Fishery Management Plan (groundfish FMP), seven of which 
have been declared overfished. The groundfish stocks support an array 
of commercial, recreational, and Indian tribal fishing interests in 
state and Federal waters off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and 
California. In addition, groundfish are also harvested incidentally in 
non-groundfish fisheries, most notably, the non-groundfish trawl 
fisheries for pink shrimp, ridgeback prawns, California halibut, and 
sea cucumber.
    The proposed action is needed to manage Pacific Coast groundfish 
fisheries consistent with requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery 
Conservation and Management Act (MSA) including preventing overfishing 
and ensuring that groundfish stocks are maintained at, or restored to, 
sizes and structures that will produce the highest net benefit to the 
nation, while balancing environmental and social values.

The Proposed Action

    Using the ``best available science,'' the proposed action is to 
establish harvest specifications consistent with an ``annual catch 
limits framework'' for calendar years 2011 and 2012 for species and 
species' complexes managed under the groundfish FMP and to establish 
management measures that constrain total fishing mortality to these 
specified Annual Catch Limits (ACLs). The specifications must be 
consistent with requirements of the MSA including preventing 
overfishing and, for stocks that have been declared overfished, setting 
ACLs appropriately to return stock biomass to the maximum sustainable 
yield (MSY) level or MSY proxy level. Because seven Pacific Coast 
groundfish species are currently overfished and managed under 
rebuilding plans, ACLs must be set consistent with the rebuilding plans 
and the framework described in MSA section 304(e) and the groundfish 
FMP, which requires overfished stocks to be rebuilt to the MSY biomass 
in a time period that is as short as possible, taking into account the 
status and biology of the overfished stocks, the needs of fishing 
communities, and the interaction of the overfished stock within the 
marine ecosystem. To address this mandate, changes to rebuilding plans 
may be made as part of this biennial process. In addition, based on the 
2009 stock assessment, the Secretary of Commerce may declare that 
petrale sole (Eopsetta jordani) is overfished, in which case the 
Council would develop a rebuilding plan for this stock and amend the 
groundfish FMP accordingly. Petrale sole ACLs for 2011 and 2012 would 
be set consistent with any adopted rebuilding plan. The scope of the 
proposed action may also include adopting the rebuilding plan and 
amending the groundfish FMP.
    Annual catch limits (ACLs), or harvest specifications, must be 
consistent with National Standard 1 of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery 
Conservation and Management Act and pursuant to revised guidelines, 
which were published by NMFS on January 16, 2009 (74 FR 3178). The 
Council is concurrently developing an amendment to the groundfish FMP 
(Amendment 23) to make the necessary revisions so that the groundfish 
FMP's harvest management framework is consistent with these revised 
guidelines. The 2011-2012 annual catch limits would be consistent with 
the revised harvest management framework.
    The Council adopted fixed allocations of catch opportunity between 
the limited entry groundfish fishery and all other groundfish fishery 
sectors for 25 groundfish stocks in Amendment 21 to the groundfish FMP, 
which is pending submission for review by the Secretary of Commerce. 
There are also existing fixed allocations for sablefish (Anaplopoma 
fimbria) north of 36[deg] N. latitude and Pacific whiting (Merluccius 
productus). Additional allocations may be determined as part of the 
proposed

[[Page 56806]]

action in support of new management tools for the limited entry trawl 
sector (see below).
    The proposed action also establishes management measures designed 
to maintain total catch at or below ACLs. Management measures may be 
established for each year of the 2-year period or shorter periods, and 
the types of measures usually differ among groundfish fishery sectors. 
In 2009 the Council adopted Amendment 20 to the groundfish FMP, which 
would change the types of management measures used for the groundfish 
limited entry trawl sector. A single shorebased trawl sector would be 
managed with individual fishing quotas (IFQ) while two at-sea Pacific 
whiting sectors (catcher vessels delivering to mothership processors 
and catcher-processors) would be managed under cooperatives. Amendment 
20 to the groundfish FMP is pending submission to the agency for 
review. If approved, NMFS intends that the amendment and pursuant 
regulations would be implemented in time for use beginning in 2011. 
However, under the proposed action current catch control tools (2-month 
cumulative trip limits, seasons, and quotas) will be evaluated for the 
limited entry trawl sector as an alternative in the event Amendment 20 
is not approved and implemented by 2011.
    These harvest specifications include fish caught in state ocean 
waters (zero to three nautical miles [nm] offshore) as well as fish 
caught in the U.S. exclusive economic zone (3 to 200 nm offshore). 
Regulations implementing management measures consistent with the 
harvest specifications would need to be in place by January 1, 2011, as 
the next 2-year period begins on January 1, 2011. In the unlikely event 
that new harvest specifications and management measures are not 
approved by the end of 2010 and effective on January 1, 2011, the 
harvest specifications and management measures in place for 2010 would 
remain in place until the effective date of the new harvest 
specifications and management measures. The EIS analysis described in 
this document would consider a similar scenario in the unlikely event 
that the effective date of the harvest specifications and management 
measures for 2011-2012 are delayed beyond January 1, 2013.

Alternatives

    NEPA requires that agencies evaluate reasonable alternatives to the 
proposed action in an EIS, which address the purpose and need for 
agency action. A preliminary set of alternatives will be developed 
during the October 31-November 5, 2009, Council meeting. Alternatives 
are structured around a range of ABCs/ACLs for fishery management units 
(stocks or stock complexes). This range of ABCs/ACLs will be consistent 
with the annual catch limit specification framework adopted under 
Amendment 23, discussed above.
    Based on the range of ABCs/ACLs alternatives adopted at the 
November 2009, Council meeting, the Council is scheduled to choose a 
preliminary preferred ABCs/ACLs alternative at their April 10-15, 2010, 
meeting; a range of alternative management measures would also be 
identified at that time, which would maintain total harvest mortality 
(across all fisheries intercepting groundfish) to within the preferred 
ACLs. The Council is then scheduled to take final action to choose a 
preferred alternative that includes ABCs/ACLs and associated management 
measures at their June 12-17, 2010, meeting.
    Restrictive management measures intended to rebuild overfished 
species have been adopted and implemented over the past several years 
for most commercial and recreational fishing sectors. Management 
measures intended to control the rate at which different groundfish 
species or species groups are taken in the fisheries include trip 
limits, bag limits, size limits, time/area closures, and gear 
restrictions. Large area closures, called Groundfish Conservation Areas 
(GCAs) or Rockfish Conservation Areas (RCAs), intended to reduce 
bycatch of overfished species, were first implemented in late 2002. A 
second important type of measure used to manage groundfish is the 
cumulative landing limit. Cumulative landing limits restrict the total 
weight of fish by species or species group that any one vessel may land 
during the limit period, which is normally 2 months. Different 
cumulative landing limits are established for areas north and south of 
40*10' N. latitude (near Cape Mendocino, California) and for limited 
entry trawl, limited entry fixed gear, and open access fishery 
participants. As discussed above, under Amendment 20 Individual Fishing 
Quotas would replace cumulative trip limits as the primary catch 
control tool to manage a single sector that includes both limited entry 
trawl vessels targeting Pacific whiting and vessels targeting other 
groundfish species and delivered to shoreside processors. Under the 
amendment catcher vessels targeting Pacific whiting and delivering at-
sea to mothership processors would be managed under a system of 
cooperatives where NMFS will establish new permits and endorsements, 
review and approve co-op agreements, and allocate a percent of this 
sector's harvest allocation to each co-op. The Pacific whiting catcher-
processor sector currently operates as a voluntary co-op; Amendment 20 
would create a permit endorsement to limit participation in this 
sector. These new catch control measures will be evaluated as part of 
the proposed action along with current measures. Final determination of 
which types of measures will apply in 2011 and 2012 will depend on 
whether Amendment 20 is approved and implemented by January 1, 2011.

Preliminary Identification of Environmental Issues

    A principal objective of the scoping and public input process is to 
identify potentially significant impacts to the human environment that 
should be analyzed in depth in the EIS.
    Public scoping will occur throughout the Council's decision-making 
process. All decisions during the Council process benefit from written 
and oral public comments delivered prior to or during the Council 
meeting. These public comments are considered integral to scoping for 
developing this EIS. A preliminary range of 2011 and 2012 annual catch 
limits and management measures will be decided at the October 31-
November 5, 2009, Council meeting in Costa Mesa, California, at the 
Hilton Orange County/Costa Mesa, 3050 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, CA 
92626(714-540-7000). The Council is expected to adopt preliminary 
preferred ABCs/ACLs alternatives and refine the range of management 
measures at their April 10-15, 2010, meeting in Portland, Oregon, at 
the Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel, 8235 NE Airport Way Portland, OR 
97220 (503-281-2500). The Council is expected to decide final 2011 and 
2012 annual catch limits, further refine the range of management 
measures, and decide their final preferred alternative at their June 
12-17, 2010, meeting at the Crowne Plaza Mid Peninsula, 1221 Chess 
Drive, Foster City, CA 94404 (800-227-6963 or 650-570-5700). Public 
comment may be made under the agenda items when the Council will 
consider these proposed actions. The agendas for these meetings will be 
available from the Council Web site or by request from the Council 
office in advance of the meeting (see ADDRESSES). Written comments on 
the scope of issues and alternatives may also be submitted as described 
under ADDRESSES.

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


[[Page 56807]]


    Dated: October 27, 2009.
Alan D. Risenhoover,
Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.
[FR Doc. E9-26223 Filed 11-2-09; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P