[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 50 (Wednesday, March 14, 2012)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 15019-15021]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-6197]


=======================================================================
-----------------------------------------------------------------------

DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 679

RIN 0648-BB42


Groundfish Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska 
and Pacific Halibut Fisheries; Observer Program

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

ACTION: Notification of availability of fishery management plan 
amendment; request for comments.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

SUMMARY: The North Pacific Fishery Management Council submitted 
Amendment 86 to the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Groundfish of the 
Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Management Area (BSAI) and Amendment 76 
to the FMP for Groundfish of the Gulf of Alaska (GOA), (collectively 
referred to as the FMPs) to NMFS for review. If approved, Amendments 86 
and 76 would add a funding and deployment system for observer coverage 
to the existing North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program (Observer 
Program) and amend existing observer coverage requirements for vessels 
and processing plants at 50 CFR 679.50. The new funding and deployment 
system would allow NMFS to determine when and where to deploy observers 
according to management and conservation needs, with funds provided 
through a system of fees based on the ex-vessel value of groundfish and 
halibut in fisheries covered by the new system. This action is 
necessary to resolve data quality and cost equity concerns with the 
Observer Program's existing funding and deployment structure. This 
action is intended to promote the goals and objectives of the Magnuson-
Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the FMPs, and 
other applicable law.

[[Page 15020]]


DATES: Comments on Amendments 86 and 76 must be received by May 14, 
2012.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments, identified by FDMS Docket Number 
NOAA-NMFS-2011-0210, by any one of the following methods:
     Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal http://www.regulations.gov. 
To submit comments via the e-Rulemaking Portal, first click the 
``Submit a Comment'' icon, then enter NOAA-NMFS-2011-0210 in the 
keyword search. Locate the document you wish to comment on from the 
resulting list and click on the ``Submit a Comment'' icon on that line.
     Mail: Address written comments to Glenn Merrill, Assistant 
Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region 
NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian. Mail comments to P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, 
AK 99802-1668.
     Fax: Address written comments to Glenn Merrill, Assistant 
Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region 
NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian. Fax comments to (907) 586-7557.
     Hand delivery to the Federal Building: Address written 
comments to Glenn Merrill, Assistant Regional Administrator, 
Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region NMFS, Attn: Ellen 
Sebastian. Deliver comments to 709 West 9th Street, Room 420A, Juneau, 
AK.
    Instructions: Comments must be submitted by one of the above 
methods to ensure that the comments are received, documented, and 
considered by NMFS. Comments sent by any other method, to any other 
address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, 
may not be considered. All comments received are a part of the public 
record and will generally be posted for public viewing on 
www.regulations.gov without change. All Personal Identifying 
Information (for example, name, address) voluntarily submitted by the 
commenter will be publicly accessible. Do not submit Confidential 
Business Information or otherwise sensitive or protected information.
    NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter N/A in the required 
fields, if you wish to remain anonymous). You may submit attachments to 
electronic comments in Microsoft Word, Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF 
file formats only.
    Electronic copies of Amendment 86 to the FMP for Groundfish of the 
BSAI and Amendment 76 to the FMP for Groundfish of the GOA, and the 
Environmental Assessment/Regulatory Impact Review/Initial Regulatory 
Flexibility Analysis (EA/RIR/IRFA) prepared for this action may be 
obtained from http://www.regulations.gov or from the NMFS Alaska Region 
Web site at http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Brandee Gerke, 907-586-7228.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The MSA requires that each regional fishery 
management council submit any fishery management plan amendment it 
prepares to NMFS for review and approval, disapproval, or partial 
approval by the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary). The MSA also 
requires that NMFS, upon receiving an FMP amendment, immediately 
publish a notice in the Federal Register announcing that the amendment 
is available for public review and comment. This notice announces that 
proposed Amendment 86 to the FMP for Groundfish of the BSAI and 
proposed Amendment 76 to the FMP for Groundfish of the GOA are 
available for public review and comment.
    Amendments 86 and 76 were unanimously adopted by the North Pacific 
Fishery Management Council in October 2010. If approved by the 
Secretary, these amendments would add a funding and deployment system 
for observer coverage to the existing Observer Program and amend 
existing observer coverage requirements for vessels and processing 
plants at 50 CFR 679.50. The new funding and deployment system would 
allow NMFS to determine when and where to deploy observers according to 
management and conservation needs, with funds provided through a system 
of fees based on the ex-vessel value of groundfish and halibut in 
fisheries covered by the new system. These amendments would also add 
groundfish vessels less than 60 ft. in length and halibut vessels to 
the Observer Program. Although the North Pacific halibut fisheries are 
not subject to the amendments, section 313 of the MSA authorizes their 
inclusion in the new funding and deployment system.
    The proposed amendments would divide the existing Observer Program 
into two observer coverage categories--partial and full. Operations 
with less than 100 percent observer coverage requirements would be in 
the partial observer coverage category and operations required to have 
100 percent of their operations observer would be in the full observer 
coverage category. Operations in the full coverage category would 
continue to contract directly with observer providers to meet their 
required observer coverage within the existing framework where they pay 
their actual observer costs directly to the provider. With limited 
exceptions for operations with minimal processing history, all vessels 
designated as catcher/processors and motherships would be in the full 
coverage category. Catcher vessels would be in the full coverage 
category while participating in pollock fisheries in the Bering Sea and 
Rockfish Program fisheries in the GOA. Shoreside processors and 
stationary floating processors would be in the full coverage category 
only while participating in Bering Sea pollock fisheries where 
observers conduct a full census of incidentally-caught Chinook salmon.
    The partial coverage category would comprise the restructured 
funding and deployment system. All catcher vessels fishing for halibut 
with hook-and-line gear or directed fishing for groundfish would be 
included in the partial coverage category; except for catcher vessels 
directed fishing for Bering Sea pollock or participating in the Gulf of 
Alaska Rockfish Program. All shoreside processors and stationary 
floating processors would be in the partial coverage category except 
for processors receiving Bering Sea pollock deliveries. A small number 
of catcher/processors with a history of minor processing would also be 
included in the partial coverage category. Operations in the partial 
coverage category would pay an ex-vessel value-based fee to NMFS, which 
would be used to fund direct contracts between NMFS and an observer 
provider(s) to deploy observers in the partial coverage category 
according to a randomized design. Annually NMFS would release a 
Deployment Plan outlining the sample design and vessel selection 
probabilities for the upcoming fishing year. The objective of the 
randomized sample design is to collect statistically reliable estimates 
of total catch and catch composition in the partial coverage category 
fisheries.
    The Observer Program has provided the best available scientific 
information for managing North Pacific groundfish fisheries and 
developing measures to minimize bycatch in furtherance of the purposes 
and national standards of the MSA since 1991. However, the quality and 
utility of observer-collected data are deficient due to the current 
structure of procuring and deploying observers in fisheries with less 
than 100 percent observer coverage requirements. Under the current 
program, coverage requirements vary according to vessel length or the 
quantity of fish processed, and vessels less than 60 ft. length overall 
(LOA) and vessels fishing for

[[Page 15021]]

halibut are exempt from coverage. A vessel equal to or greater than 60 
ft. LOA, but less than 125 ft. LOA must carry an observer during at 
least 30 percent of its fishing days in a calendar quarter (30 percent 
coverage). Vessel owners and operators in the 30 percent coverage 
category choose when to carry observers, which statistically bias 
estimates of catch and bycatch.
    Under the current program, owners of smaller vessels pay observer 
costs that are disproportionately high relative to their gross 
earnings. Operators of vessels with no observer coverage requirements 
do not contribute to the cost of observer coverage, though they benefit 
from management based on the observer-data collected. Amendments 86 and 
76 would resolve the data quality and cost equity concerns with the 
existing funding and deployment structure for observers in fisheries 
with less than 100 percent coverage requirements.
    Public comments are being solicited on proposed Amendments 86 and 
76 to the FMPs through the end of the comment period (see DATES). NMFS 
intends to publish in the Federal Register and seek public comment on a 
proposed rule that would implement Amendments 86 and 76, following 
NMFS's evaluation of the proposed rule under the MSA. Public comments 
on the proposed rule must be received by the end of the comment period 
on Amendments 86 and 76 to be considered in the approval/disapproval 
decision on Amendments 86 and 76. All comments received by the end of 
the comment period on Amendments 86 and 76, whether specifically 
directed to the FMPs or to the proposed rule, will be considered in the 
approval/disapproval decision on the amendments. To be considered, 
comments must be received, not just postmarked or otherwise 
transmitted, by 1700 hours Alaska local time on the last day of the 
comment period.

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 773 et seq.; 1801 et seq.; 3631 et seq.; 
Pub. L. 108-447.

    Dated: March 9, 2012.
Steven Thur,
Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2012-6197 Filed 3-13-12; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P