[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 57 (Friday, March 23, 2012)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 16991-17000]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-7045]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 622

[Docket No. 120309176-2174-01]
RIN 0648-BB56


Fisheries of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic; 
Snapper-Grouper Fishery off the Southern Atlantic States; Amendment 18A

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

ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: NMFS proposes regulations to implement Amendment 18A to the 
Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the 
South Atlantic Region (Amendment 18A), as prepared and submitted by the 
South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council). If implemented, 
this rule would update the current rebuilding strategy for black sea 
bass, modify the current system of accountability measures for black 
sea bass, limit effort in the black sea bass segment of the snapper-
grouper fishery, and improve fisheries data in the for-hire sector of 
the snapper-grouper fishery. The intent of this rule is to reduce 
overcapacity in the black sea bass segment of the snapper-grouper 
fishery.

DATES: Written comments must be received on or before April 23, 2012.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on the proposed rule identified by 
``NOAA-NMFS-2011-0282'' by any of the following methods:
     Electronic submissions: Submit electronic comments via the 
Federal e-Rulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the 
instructions for submitting comments.
     Mail: Kate Michie, Southeast Regional Office, NMFS, 263 
13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.
    Instructions: All comments received are a part of the public record 
and will generally be posted to http://www.regulations.gov without 
change. All Personal Identifying Information (for example, name, 
address, etc.) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publicly 
accessible. Do not submit Confidential Business Information or 
otherwise sensitive or protected information.
    To submit comments through the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov, click on ``submit a comment,'' then enter ``NOAA-
NMFS-2011-0282'' in the keyword search and click on ``search''. To view 
posted comments during the comment period, enter ``NOAA-NMFS-2011-
0282'' in the keyword search and click on ``search''. NMFS will accept 
anonymous comments (enter N/A in the required field if you wish to 
remain anonymous). You may submit attachments to electronic comments in 
Microsoft Word, Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats only.
    Comments received through means not specified in this rule will not 
be considered.
    Electronic copies of Amendment 18A may be obtained from the 
Southeast Regional Office Web site at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sf/SASnapperGrouperHomepage.htm. Amendment 18A includes an Environmental 
Impact Statement, an Initial Regulatory Flexibility Act Analysis 
(IRFA), a Regulatory Impact Review, and a Fishery Impact Statement.

[[Page 16992]]

    Comments regarding the burden-hour estimates or other aspects of 
the collection-of-information requirements contained in this proposed 
rule may be submitted in writing to Anik Clemens, Southeast Regional 
Office, NMFS, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701; and OMB, 
by email at OIRA Submission@omb.eop.gov, or by fax to 202-395-7285.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Kate Michie, 727-824-5305.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The snapper-grouper fishery of the South 
Atlantic is managed under the FMP. The FMP was prepared by the Council 
and is implemented through regulations at 50 CFR part 622 under the 
authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management 
Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act).

Background

    The Magnuson-Stevens Act requires NMFS and regional fishery 
management councils to prevent overfishing and achieve, on a continuing 
basis, the optimum yield (OY) for federally managed fish stocks. These 
mandates are intended to ensure fishery resources are managed for the 
greatest overall benefit to the nation, particularly with respect to 
providing food production and recreational opportunities, and 
protecting marine ecosystems. To further this goal, the Magnuson-
Stevens Act requires fishery managers to end overfishing of stocks 
while achieving OY from the fishery, and to minimize bycatch and 
bycatch mortality to the extent practicable.
    The black sea bass segment of the snapper-grouper fishery in the 
South Atlantic is managed through a variety of measures to achieve OY. 
These measures include restrictions on the total harvest, recreational 
and commercial allocations, recreational and commercial annual catch 
limits (ACLs), and accountability measures (AMs). A new stock 
assessment for black sea bass was completed in October 2011, and 
indicates the stock is no longer overfished but is not yet fully 
rebuilt. As overfishing ends for black sea bass, and biomass increases, 
the sector specific ACLs are likely to be met earlier each fishing 
season as a result of the increased availability of the stock for 
harvest. This can increase the likelihood of derby-style harvesting, 
which is undesirable from economic, vessel safety, and social 
perspectives. Derby-style harvesting, also termed ``the race for 
fish,'' consists of a short duration of increased effort where harvest 
is maximized prior to reaching an ACL. Additionally, effort shifting 
into the black sea bass segment of the snapper-grouper fishery 
increased as more stringent restrictions were placed on other snapper-
grouper species. This resulted in sector ACLs being reached relatively 
early in their fishing seasons. During the June 2009 to May 2010 
fishing year, the commercial quota was met in December 2009. During the 
June 2010 to May 2011 fishing year, the commercial quota was met in 
October 2010, and during the June 2011 to May 2012 fishing year, the 
commercial quota was met in July 2011.
    Currently, the black sea bass rebuilding plan specifies a constant 
catch rebuilding strategy as the stock rebuilds, which also contributes 
to increased rates of harvest and early in-season closures as fish 
become more available through rebuilding efforts. In an effort to 
extend fishing opportunities for black sea bass further into the 
fishing year, and to improve fisheries data reporting in the for-hire 
sector of the snapper-grouper fishery, the Council voted to approve 
Amendment 18A at its December 2011 meeting.

Measures Contained in This Proposed Rule

    This rule would modify the black sea bass rebuilding strategy, 
acceptable biological catch (ABC), and ACL; limit participation in the 
black sea bass pot segment of the snapper-grouper fishery through an 
endorsement program; establish an appeals process for fishermen 
excluded from the black sea bass pot endorsement program; limit the 
number of pot tags issued to participants in the black sea bass pot 
segment of the snapper-grouper fishery; implement measures to reduce 
black sea bass bycatch; modify AMs for black sea bass; establish a 
commercial trip limit for black sea bass; modify the current commercial 
and recreational size limits; and improve data reporting in the for-
hire sector of the snapper-grouper fishery.

Black Sea Bass Rebuilding Strategy

    In October 2011, a new benchmark stock assessment (SEDAR 25) was 
completed for black sea bass. Results of the new stock assessment 
indicate that the stock is no longer overfished but is not yet rebuilt. 
The biomass of the stock is above the minimum stock size threshold 
(MSST), which is the level that triggers an overfished determination. 
However, stock size of black sea bass is below the biomass level at 
which the stock is considered to be rebuilt (BMSY). 
Furthermore, the stock is undergoing overfishing to a minor degree 
based on 2009 and 2010 data.
    The Council's Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) met in 
November 2011 to review SEDAR 25. The SSC determined that the 
assessment represented the best scientific information available.
    Information provided to the SSC indicated the commercial ACL for 
2011 of 309,000 lb (140,200 kg), gutted weight; 364,620 lb (165,389 
kg), round weight; had been exceeded by about 5 percent, and the 
recreational ACL for 2011 had been exceeded by at least 10 percent. 
However, because 2 months of recreational data from 2011 were not 
available, the SSC supported an ABC which assumes 150 percent of the 
allowable catch will be met in the 2011/2012 fishing year. Furthermore, 
the SSC stated that the ABC should be specified for only the 2012/2013 
and 2013/2014 fishing seasons. The SSC indicated that an assessment 
update should be conducted before any adjustments are made to the ACL 
after the 2013/2014 fishing season.
    Based on the SSC's recommendations, the Council chose, and NMFS 
proposes, to modify the current constant catch rebuilding strategy to a 
rebuilding strategy that holds catch constant at the ABC in fishing 
years 2012/2013 and 2013/2014, and then changes to Frebuild 
in 2014/2015. Frebuild is defined as a constant fishing 
mortality strategy that maintains a 66-percent probability of recovery 
rate throughout the remaining fishing seasons of the rebuilding 
timeframe. After the 2014/2015 fishing season the fishing mortality 
rate would be held constant until modified. Switching to a constant 
fishing mortality strategy would allow the ABC and ACL to increase over 
time. However, if the combined ACL is exceeded in a year when there is 
no assessment, the combined ACL would not automatically increase the 
following year.
    This rule proposes a new ACL definition for black sea bass. ACL = 
ABC = OY. The combined ACL would be 847,000 lb (384,192 kg), round 
weight; 718,000 lb (325,680 kg), gutted weight; which would be divided 
into sector ACLs based on the current allocation formula implemented 
through the final rule for Amendment 13C to the FMP (71 FR 55096, 
September 21, 2006). The commercial allocation is 43 percent of the 
combined ACL and the recreational allocation is 57 percent of the 
combined ACL. Therefore, the commercial ACL would be set at 309,000 lb 
(140,160 kg), gutted weight; 364,620 lb (165,389 kg), round weight; and 
the recreational ACL would be set at 409,000 lb (185,520 kg), gutted 
weight; 482,620 lb (218,913 kg), round weight; for the 2012/2013 and

[[Page 16993]]

2013/2014 fishing years. Thereafter, a stock assessment update would be 
completed to determine if an increase in the ACL is appropriate for the 
following fishing year.

Black Sea Bass Pot Endorsement Program

    The Council is concerned increased restrictions imposed through 
Amendments 13C, 16, 17A, and 17B to the FMP, including a commercial 
quota for black sea bass, commercial quota for vermilion snapper, and 
seasonal closure for shallow-water groupers, could serve as an 
incentive for a greater number of fishermen with Federal snapper-
grouper commercial permits to fish for black sea bass with pots. 
Currently, tags for black sea bass pots can be issued to any fisherman 
who possesses an Unlimited or 225-lb (102-kg) trip-limited Snapper-
Grouper Permit. An increase in the number of individuals who fish black 
sea bass pots could increase the rate at which the quota is met and 
decrease profits for current participants in that black sea bass pot 
segment of the snapper-grouper fishery. Any increase in participation 
in the black sea bass pot segment of the fishery could also lead to 
earlier closures of black sea bass.
    This rule includes a provision to limit participation in the black 
sea bass pot segment of the snapper-grouper fishery through the 
establishment of an endorsement program. In order to qualify for an 
endorsement, an entity must hold a valid South Atlantic Unlimited 
Snapper-Grouper Permit on the effective date of the final rule 
implementing Amendment 18A, if approved by the Secretary of Commerce. 
In addition to this requirement, qualifying permit holders must have 
average--annual--black sea bass landings of at least 2,500 lb (1,134 
kg), round weight, using black sea bass pot gear between January 1, 
1999 and December 31, 2010. Those permit holders with no reported 
commercial landings of black sea bass using black sea bass pot gear 
between January 1, 2008, and December 31, 2010, would be excluded from 
the endorsement program. The number of South Atlantic Unlimited 
Snapper-Grouper Permit holders that would be expected to meet these 
criteria is 31, if Amendment 18A is approved by the Secretary of 
Commerce. Only those vessels associated with a valid endorsement could 
legally fish for black sea bass in the South Atlantic using black sea 
bass pot gear.
    The black sea bass fishing year begins June 1 and ends May 31, 
unless the quota is reached before that time. If approved, this action, 
combined with other management measures in this rule, would result in 
the commercial sector for black sea bass remaining open until July-
September during the 2012/2013 fishing year, and until about the same 
time during the 2013/2014 fishing year. Thus, limiting effort is not 
likely to result in black sea bass pot fishing during the right whale 
calving season (November 1 through April 30).
    If approved for implementation, the rule would place a 30-day 
freeze on transfers for qualifying South Atlantic Unlimited Snapper-
Grouper Permits upon publication of the final rule in the Federal 
Register. This freeze on transfers is necessary to establish a stable 
universe of qualified permit holders to which black sea bass pot 
endorsements would be issued.
    Individuals who believe they were incorrectly excluded from the 
black sea bass pot endorsement program would be given the opportunity 
to appeal their landings data during a 90-day appeals process to begin 
on the effective date of the final rule, if approved. The Regional 
Administrator (RA) would review, evaluate, and render final decisions 
on appeals. Hardship arguments would not be considered. The RA would 
determine the outcome of appeals based on NMFS logbooks. If NMFS 
logbooks are not available, the RA may use state landings records. 
Appellants would be required to submit documentation to support their 
appeal.
    To further reduce the rate of harvest in the black sea bass pot 
segment of the snapper-grouper fishery, this rule also contains a 
provision to limit the number of black sea bass tags issued to each 
endorsement holder to 35 per vessel per permit year. NMFS would issue 
new trap identification tags each permit year that would replace the 
tags from the previous fishing year.

Black Sea Bass Pot Bycatch Reduction

    Currently, the only restriction for removing black sea bass pots 
from the water is reaching the commercial quota. Therefore, pots are 
left in the water for multiple days, which can result in unintended 
black sea bass catch, also called ``ghost fishing.'' Leaving pots in 
the water for multiple days also increases the chance that pots can be 
lost and that vertical lines (i.e., buoy lines) can entangle protected 
species. The longer the pots are left in the water, the greater the 
opportunity for lost pots, ghost fishing, and entanglement with 
protected species.
    This rule contains a provision to require that all black sea bass 
pots be brought back to shore at the conclusion of each trip. The pots 
may remain on the vessel, but the vessel must be returned to a dock, 
berth, beach, seawall or ramp. Increasing harvest over time through the 
selected rebuilding strategy could result in longer commercial seasons. 
Reductions in the amount of time vertical lines remain in the water, 
especially during right whale calving season, from November 1-April 30, 
is likely to reduce the risk of whale entanglements with black sea bass 
pots.

Black Sea Bass AM Modifications

    The final rule for Amendment 17B to the FMP implemented commercial 
and recreational AMs for black sea bass (75 FR 82280, December 30, 
2010). Subsequent to the implementation of Amendment 17B, the Council 
determined the system of AMs under Amendment 17B may not be the most 
appropriate way to constrain harvest at or below the sector ACLs. 
Therefore, at its June 2011 meeting, the Council requested that AMs for 
black sea bass be re-examined in Amendment 18A.
    The current recreational AMs would close the recreational sector 
only if black sea bass are overfished and the recreational ACL is 
projected to be met. This rule would modify these AMs to state that the 
recreational sector would close regardless of the overfished status of 
black sea bass when the recreational ACL is projected to be met. This 
rule would also modify the commercial sector AMs for black sea bass to 
match the recreational sector AMs by giving the RA the authority to 
payback commercial ACL overages, regardless of stock status, by 
publishing a notification in the Federal Register to reduce the 
commercial ACL in the following season by the amount of the overage. 
However, for both the recreational and commercial sectors, ACL paybacks 
are not required when new projections are adopted that incorporate ACL 
overages and the ACLs are adjusted in accordance with those 
projections.
    Additionally, the current recreational black sea bass AMs use a 3-
year running average of landings to determine ACL overages in the 
recreational sector. This rule would remove the use of the 3-year 
running average of landings from the recreational AMs for black sea 
bass and base the ACL overage on a single year of landings only.

Black Sea Bass Commercial Trip Limit

    The black sea bass commercial quota was met early in the 2009, 
2010, and 2011 fishing years. The increase in landings during recent 
fishing years appears to be the result of increased effort and 
increased catch per trip. There was also an increase in the number of 
trips that caught black sea bass with other gear types

[[Page 16994]]

(predominantly hook-and-line). In an effort to slow the rate of 
commercial harvest of black sea bass and extend fishing opportunities 
further into the fishing year, this rule would limit commercial harvest 
to 1,000 lb (454 kg), gutted weight; 1,180 lb (535 kg), round weight; 
per vessel per day. This action, combined with the proposed endorsement 
program and other management measures in this rule, should result in 
the commercial fishing season remaining open until sometime between 
July and September.

Black Sea Bass Minimum Size Limit Modifications

    In order to decrease harvest of black sea bass in the commercial 
and recreational sectors, this rule would increase the recreational 
minimum size limit from 12 inches (30 cm), total length (TL), to 13 
inches (33 cm), TL, and increase the commercial size limit from 10 
inches (25 cm), TL, to 11 inches (28 cm), TL. NMFS expects that these 
modifications would result in a 21-23 percent decrease in harvest in 
the for-hire sector, a 19-20 percent decrease in harvest in the private 
recreational sector, and a 9.3 percent reduction in harvest in the 
commercial sector. Though increasing the minimum size limit would 
result in increased regulatory discards, bycatch mortality in the black 
sea bass segment of the snapper-grouper fishery is very low, and 
regulatory discards are unlikely to contribute to overfishing or 
jeopardize rebuilding efforts.

Data Collection Improvements in the For-Hire Sector of the Snapper-
Grouper Fishery

    Currently, charter vessels and headboats with a South Atlantic 
Charter/Headboat Permit for Snapper-Grouper must report landings 
information, if selected to report by the NMFS Science and Research 
Director (SRD), and most do so via paper logbooks. However, charter 
vessels and headboats, who are selected to report by the SRD, must 
participate in the NMFS-sponsored electronic logbook and/or video 
monitoring reporting program as directed by the SRD. Some charter 
vessels have been selected to report landings information; however, 
none have been selected to report electronically thus far. On the other 
hand, all headboats are currently reporting landings information, and 
some of these headboats are reporting electronically. Headboats are 
required to report on a monthly basis and charter vessels are required 
to report on a weekly basis. The reporting frequency and lag between 
the time paper logbooks are completed and mailed to the NMFS Southeast 
Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC), and the time SEFSC staff receives and 
processes the data, makes real-time/in-season fishery management 
difficult. Electronic logbooks have the potential to automatically 
collect information on date, time, location, and fishing times. 
Information (e.g. species, length, and disposition) of released species 
can be entered into the system at the end of a fishing event. If the 
electronic format prompts a fisherman to record data as bycatch occurs, 
an electronic logbook may provide better estimates of bycatch than a 
paper logbook. This rule would require vessels holding Federal South 
Atlantic Charter/Headboat Permits for Snapper-Grouper to report 
electronic logbook information on a weekly or daily basis.

Other Measures Contained in the Amendment

Overfishing Criteria for Black Sea Bass

    In addition to the provisions included in this rule, Amendment 18A 
defines overfishing criteria for black sea bass. For black sea bass, 
overfishing would be determined on an annual basis by the maximum 
fishing mortality threshold (MFMT) and the overfishing limit (OFL). The 
estimate of FMSY (MFMT) for black sea bass from the most 
recent stock assessment (SEDAR 25) is 0.698, while the corresponding 
OFL values increase as the stock rebuilds through the 2016 fishing 
year. If either the MFMT (during an assessment year) or the OFL method 
(during a non-assessment year) is exceeded, the stock would be 
considered to be undergoing overfishing.

ACT for Black Sea Bass

    Amendment 18A also contains an action to establish an annual catch 
target (ACT) for the recreational sector for black sea bass. The ACT 
would equal the recreational ACL*(1-PSE) or recreational ACL*0.5, 
whichever is greater. The recreational ACT would be 357,548 lb (162,180 
kg) gutted weight; 421,907 lb (191,400 kg), round weight; for the 2012/
2013 and 2013/2014 fishing seasons. After that time, a stock assessment 
update would be completed to determine if the recreational ACT should 
be modified. The recreational ACT would not be associated with 
preventative or corrective management measures. Rather it would be used 
as a management reference point used to measure the efficiency of 
existing and new management measures for black sea bass.

Transferability of Black Sea Bass Endorsements

    Amendment 18A contains an action to allow for the transfer of black 
sea bass endorsements. However, NMFS is unable to propose implementing 
this action at this time. The document identifies the wrong preferred 
alternative selected for this action, and there are discrepancies in 
the record regarding the Council's discussion of the alternatives and 
the text describing and analyzing this alternative in Amendment 18A. 
The decision not to propose implementation of the transferability 
action was made to reduce public confusion and to provide the Council 
the opportunity to clarify its intent. The Council may decide how to 
proceed with transfers of black sea bass endorsements in a future 
action.

Other Changes to Codified Text

    This rule also proposes to revise codified text in Sec.  622.4, 
regarding the naming of rock shrimp permits, which was inadvertently 
not revised in a previous final rule. The final rule for South Atlantic 
Shrimp Amendment 7 (74 FR 50699, October 1, 2009) implemented two 
permits for South Atlantic rock shrimp, namely a Commercial Vessel 
Permit for Rock Shrimp (Carolinas Zone) and a Commercial Vessel Permit 
for Rock Shrimp (South Atlantic EEZ). These two permits replaced the 
commercial vessel permit for rock shrimp and the limited access 
endorsement for South Atlantic rock shrimp. However, references to a 
``commercial vessel permit for rock shrimp'' occur twice in the 
regulations, namely, in Sec.  622.4(a)(5)(i)(A) and (g)(1). This rule 
revises those paragraphs with the updated permit language.

Classification

    Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the 
NMFS Assistant Administrator has determined that this proposed rule is 
consistent with the FMP, Amendment 18A, other provisions of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law, subject to further 
consideration after public comment.
    This proposed rule has been determined to be not significant for 
purposes of Executive Order 12866.
    NMFS prepared an IRFA, as required by section 603 of the Regulatory 
Flexibility Act, 5 U.S.C. 603, for this rule. The IRFA describes the 
economic impact that this proposed rule, if adopted, would have on 
small entities. A description of the proposed rule, why it is being 
considered, and the objectives of, and legal basis for the rule are

[[Page 16995]]

contained at the beginning of this section in the preamble and in the 
SUMMARY section of the preamble. A copy of the full analysis is 
available from the NMFS (see ADDRESSES). A summary of the IRFA follows.
    The proposed rule would modify the black sea bass rebuilding 
strategy, ABC, and ACL; limit participation in the black sea bass pot 
segment of the snapper-grouper fishery through an endorsement program; 
establish an appeals process for fishermen excluded from the black sea 
bass pot endorsement program; limit the number of pot tags issued to 
participants in the black sea bass pot segment of the snapper-grouper 
fishery; implement measures to reduce black sea bass bycatch; modify 
AMs for black sea bass; establish a commercial trip limit for black sea 
bass; modify the current commercial and recreational size limits; and 
improve data reporting in the for-hire sector of the snapper-grouper 
fishery.
    The Magnuson-Stevens Act provides the statutory basis for this 
rule.
    No duplicative, overlapping, or conflicting Federal rules have been 
identified.
    The proposed rule would introduce certain changes to current 
reporting, record-keeping, and other compliance requirements. In 
particular, a sample of the 1,985 vessels with for-hire snapper-grouper 
permits would be required to electronically report their harvest. To 
the extent that all headboats are currently subject to logbook 
reporting, the incremental professional skill needed under the new 
requirement would be relatively small. The incremental professional 
skill required of charterboats would be relatively higher since only a 
few selected by the SRD are required to submit trip information. About 
10 percent of charter captains are now currently contacted on a weekly 
basis to collect trip level information.
    NMFS expects the proposed rule to directly affect commercial 
fishers and for-hire operators. The Small Business Administration 
established size criteria for all major industry sectors in the U.S. 
including fish harvesters and for-hire operations. A business involved 
in fish harvesting is classified as a small business if independently 
owned and operated, is not dominant in its field of operation 
(including its affiliates), and its combined annual receipts are not in 
excess of $4.0 million (NAICS code 114111, finfish fishing) for all of 
its affiliated operations worldwide. For for-hire vessels, other 
qualifiers apply and the annual receipts threshold is $7.0 million 
(NAICS code 713990, recreational industries).
    From 2005-2010, an annual average of 247 vessels with valid permits 
to operate in the commercial snapper-grouper fishery landed black sea 
bass, generating dockside revenues of approximately $1.103 million 
(2010 dollars). Each vessel, therefore, generated an average of 
approximately $4,465 in gross revenues from black sea bass. Vessels 
that operate in the black sea bass segment of the snapper-grouper 
fishery may also operate in other snapper-grouper fisheries, the 
revenues of which are not reflected in these totals.
    Based on revenue information, all commercial vessels affected by 
the proposed action can be considered small entities.
    From 2005-2010, an annual average of 1,985 vessels had valid 
permits to operate in the snapper-grouper for-hire fishery, of which 85 
are estimated to have operated as headboats. The for-hire fleet 
consists of charterboats, which charge a fee on a vessel basis, and 
headboats, which charge a fee on an individual angler (head) basis. The 
charterboat annual average gross revenue (2010 dollars) is estimated to 
range from approximately $62,000-$84,000 for Florida vessels, $73,000-
$89,000 for North Carolina vessels, $68,000-$83,000 for Georgia 
vessels, and $32,000-$39,000 for South Carolina vessels. For headboats, 
the corresponding estimates are $170,000-$362,000 for Florida vessels, 
and $149,000-$317,000 for vessels in the other states.
    Based on these average revenue figures, all for-hire operations 
that would be affected by the proposed action can be considered small 
entities.
    Some fleet activity, i.e., multiple vessels owned by a single 
entity, may exist in both the commercial and for-hire snapper-grouper 
sectors to an unknown extent, and NMFS treats all vessels as 
independent entities in this analysis.
    NMFS expects the proposed rule to directly affect all federally 
permitted commercial vessels harvesting black sea bass and for-hire 
vessels that operate in the South Atlantic snapper-grouper fishery. All 
directly affected entities have been determined, for the purpose of 
this analysis, to be small entities. Therefore, NMFS determines that 
the proposed action would affect a substantial number of small 
entities.
    NMFS considers all entities expected to be affected by the proposed 
rule as small entities, so the issue of disproportional effects on 
small versus large entities does not arise in the present case.
    Modifying the rebuilding strategy and setting the ABC for black sea 
bass would retain the current economic status of small entities for the 
next 2 years of the rebuilding period. Thereafter, profits to small 
entities may increase with a shift from a constant catch strategy to a 
constant fishing mortality strategy that would allow the ABC to 
increase over time as long as the combined ACL (commercial and 
recreational) is not exceeded in the previous year.
    Setting the ACL, ABC, and OY equal to one another would provide an 
economic environment that would allow small entities to maintain or 
increase their profits by way of maximizing their use of the black sea 
bass resource.
    Establishing a black sea bass pot endorsement program would likely 
result in profit increases to those who would qualify and profit 
decreases to those who would not. Out of the 50 to 60 individuals that 
currently fish for black sea bass using pots, approximately 31 would 
qualify for the endorsement. Although those who would not qualify could 
still fish for black sea bass using other gear types, their harvest 
performance could suffer. Because a limited number of individuals could 
fish for black sea bass using pots under the endorsement program, the 
fishing season for the commercial sector would likely remain open 
longer than it has in the last few years. This could result in overall 
industry profits to increase or at least not deteriorate as it would 
without the endorsement program.
    Establishing an appeals process for fishermen initially excluded 
from the black sea bass pot endorsement program would provide 
opportunities for those qualified to receive their endorsement. Given 
the narrow basis for appeals, only a limited number of appeals would 
likely be successful.
    Limiting the number of pots per vessel would likely decrease the 
short-run profits of small entities. The proposed maximum number of 35 
pots allowed per vessel is much lower than the current average of 45 
pots per vessel fished, and would affect about 48 percent of the trips. 
Vessels would generate lower revenues per trip or higher overall 
fishing costs to maintain the same overall revenues. To the extent, 
however, that the endorsement program would limit the number of 
participants in the black sea bass pot segment of the snapper-grouper 
fishery, the overall industry profits may not substantially decrease as 
a result of the restrictions on the number of pot tags per vessel.
    Requiring that black sea bass pots be brought back to shore at the 
conclusion

[[Page 16996]]

of each trip as a means to reduce bycatch may restrict the fishing 
operations of some vessels. Its effects on profits are relatively 
unknown, but NMFS notes that in approximately 65 percent of trips, pots 
are brought back to shore. If vessels undertake longer trips to allow 
their pots to fish longer, costs could rise because no restriction 
exists on the length of each trip. If this practice mainly results in 
maintaining the same revenues per trip, vessel profits could decrease. 
If, however, this requirement could effectively result in less ghost 
fishing and less interaction with protected species, future 
restrictions imposed on the fishery may also lessen, such that long-
term profits of small entities would remain sustainable.
    The recreational AMs, consisting of the in-season harvest and 
possession restriction if the recreational ACL is met or projected to 
be met and the post-season reduction in the sector's ACL if the 
recreational ACL is exceeded in the current year, would likely reduce 
the short-term profits of for-hire vessels. Similarly, the commercial 
AMs consisting of the in-season prohibition on the purchase and sale of 
black sea bass and the post-season reduction in the sector's ACL, would 
likely result in profit reductions to the commercial vessels. To the 
extent that this provision allows the rebuilding target to be reached 
within the rebuilding period, long-term profits to for-hire and 
commercial fishing operations would increase. In addition, the 
projected increases in the aggregate (commercial and recreational) ACL 
under the rebuilding strategy, as long as the prior year's combined ACL 
remains unexceeded, would tend to negate some or all of the adverse 
profit effects of the post-season AM applied on either the commercial 
or recreational sector. If either sector, but not both, exceeds its ACL 
in the current year, a post-season AM would apply to that sector. The 
combined commercial and recreational ACL, and therefore the sector 
ACLs, would still increase so long as the combined ACL remains 
unexceeded in the prior year.
    Establishing a commercial vessel trip limit of 1,000 lb (454 kg), 
gutted weight; 1,180 lb (535 kg), whole weight; would tend to adversely 
affect the catch and revenue per trip of vessels that generally land 
over this limit. Based on the 2010-2011 fishing season data, this 
alternative would adversely affect approximately 8.4 percent of trips 
accounting for a total of about 83,000 lb (37,648 kg), valued at about 
$203,000. NMFS notes, though, that this trip limit could lengthen the 
fishing season, allowing opportunities for some vessels to recoup some 
of their revenue losses for the year. At any rate, NMFS expects that 
some of these revenue reductions would filter into the bottom line of 
some vessels and potentially the bottom line of the entire industry. 
The actual extent of industry profit reduction cannot be estimated 
based on available information.
    Increasing the recreational minimum size limit from 12 inches (30 
cm), TL, to 13 inches (33 cm), TL, will potentially reduce the black 
sea bass harvests of headboats in the range of 20.9 percent to 22.6 
percent and black sea bass harvests of other fishing modes from 18.8 
percent to 20.3 percent. These harvest reductions could lead to trip 
cancellations as the quality of fishing experience would decrease; on 
the other hand, these harvest reductions could happen only early in the 
fishing season but be recouped through additional trips with a 
lengthened season. The actual effects on for-hire vessel profits depend 
on whether there would be trip cancellations, which is uncertain based 
on available information.
    Increasing the commercial size limit from 10 inches (25 cm), TL, to 
11 inches (28 cm), TL, will potentially reduce the black sea bass 
harvests of commercial vessels by slightly over 9 percent. Actual 
reductions in harvest would partly depend on whether vessels take 
additional or longer trips to recoup potential harvest losses. Although 
additional or longer trips would maintain total revenues, either by 
maintaining the same harvest or by generating more revenue per fish 
since a bigger black sea bass generally commands a higher price, costs 
would also increase. The net effects on per vessel and industry profits 
cannot be determined with available information.
    Requiring selected for-hire vessels to report electronically would 
affect some of the 1,985 vessels with for-hire snapper-grouper permits. 
This requirement would add costs to these vessels' operations. The 
incremental costs to selected headboats would not likely be as much as 
for charterboats because headboats are currently subject to logbook 
reporting. The incremental cost to selected charterboats would be 
higher as they are not currently subject to logbook reporting although 
NMFS now routinely contacts some charter captains to collect trip level 
information. The resulting effects to for-hire vessel profits are 
indeterminable.
    Amendment 18A contains other provisions that could eventually have 
effects on the operations of small entities. First, as part of 
modifying the rebuilding strategy, overfishing for black sea bass will 
be determined on an annual basis using MFMT and OFL. This provision 
alone would not affect the profits of small entities. Second, an ACT 
for the recreational sector would account for management uncertainty in 
the recreational sector, related in part to the timely accounting of 
this sector's harvests. Currently, this ACT does not trigger 
application of AMs, so short-term profits to small entities would 
remain unaffected. If the Council decides in the future to use the ACT 
as the trigger for application of AMs, profits to small entities may be 
adversely affected. However, because this measure is designed to help 
ensure that the rebuilding strategy stays on track, long-term 
profitability would be sustainable.
    In summary, the proposed rule would have both negative and positive 
effects on the profits of small entities, but its net effects on 
industry profits are indeterminable, as is a determination whether this 
rule would have a significant impact on the profits of small entities. 
Therefore, NMFS encourages commenters to provide input regarding the 
magnitude of effects on the profits of small entities.
    Five alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 
considered for modifying the rebuilding strategy and ABC. The first 
alternative, the no action alternative, would maintain the constant 
catch rebuilding strategy and current ABC throughout the rebuilding 
timeframe. This alternative would provide for a lower ABC over time, 
implying lower economic benefits than the preferred alternative. The 
second alternative would establish a new constant catch rebuilding 
strategy with a higher (than current) ABC throughout the remaining 
years of the rebuilding timeframe. Relative to the preferred 
alternative, the second alternative would provide for a higher ABC for 
2 years but a lower ABC thereafter. The sum of economic benefits over 
the rebuilding timeframe under this alternative would be lower than 
that of the preferred alternative, primarily because the sum of annual 
ABCs under this alternative would be lower. In addition, a constant 
catch strategy, in general, would likely lead to the ACL being met 
sooner as the fish stock rebuilds, resulting in applications of in-
season and post-season AMs. The third alternative, with two sub-
alternatives, would establish a constant fishing mortality rebuilding 
strategy throughout the remaining years of the rebuilding timeframe. 
Under the first sub-alternative, the fishing mortality rate would be 75 
percent of the fishing mortality at MSY (75-percent FMSY), 
and under the second sub-alternative, the fishing mortality rate that 
would rebuild

[[Page 16997]]

the stock by 2016 (FREBUILD by 2016). These two sub-
alternatives would provide for lower ABCs than the preferred 
alternative, and thus, lower economic benefits over time. The fourth 
alternative would maintain the current constant catch strategy and ABC 
for the next 2 years of the rebuilding timeframe and switch to a 
constant fishing mortality strategy at FREBUILD throughout 
the remainder of the rebuilding timeframe. This alternative would 
provide for the same ABC as the preferred alternative, but relates to a 
lower probability of rebuilding the stock to biomass at MSY.
    Four alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 
considered for modifying the ACL for black sea bass. The first 
alternative, the no action alternative, would maintain the existing ACL 
equal to ABC and OY equal to 75 percent of the fishing mortality at 
MSY. This alternative is more restrictive in setting OY as the 
underlying goal of managing the black sea bass stock. The second 
alternative would set the ACL equal to 90 percent of the ABC and the 
latter equal to OY. The third alternative would set the ACL equal to 80 
percent of the ABC and the latter equal to OY. These other alternatives 
would provide for a lower ACL than the preferred alternative, and thus 
lower economic benefits as well.
    Three alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 
considered for establishing an endorsement program for the black sea 
bass pot segment of the snapper-grouper fishery. The first alternative, 
the no action alternative, would not establish an endorsement program. 
This alternative would continue to allow anyone with an Unlimited or 
225-lb Limited Snapper-Grouper Permit to engage in the black sea bass 
pot segment of the snapper-grouper fishery. This would increase the 
likelihood of the derby-style fishing conditions, potentially dampening 
industry profitability. The second alternative includes seven sub-
alternatives, of which one is the preferred sub-alternative that would 
set the minimum landings at 2,500 lb (1,134 kg), round weight, for 
eligibility in the endorsement program. The first sub-alternative would 
set the minimum landings at 500 lb (227 kg), round weight; the second 
sub-alternative, at 1,000 lb (454 kg), round weight; the third sub-
alternative, at 2,000 lb (907 kg), round weight; the fourth, at 3,500 
lb (1,588 kg), round weight; the fifth, at 5,000 lb (2,268 kg), round 
weight; and, the sixth, at 10,000 lb (4,536 kg), round weight. These 
sub-alternatives would allow varying numbers of individuals/entities to 
qualify for the endorsement: higher landings requirements would result 
in fewer qualifiers. The Council's choice of preferred alternative was 
based on the assessment that about 30 individuals/entities can be 
profitably sustained by the black sea bass pot segment of the snapper-
grouper fishery. In this case, sub-alternatives requiring less than 
2,500 lb (1,134 kg), round weight, of landings for endorsement 
eligibility would likely result in unsustainable profits. On the other 
end, sub-alternatives requiring higher than 2,500 lb (1,134 kg), round 
weight, of landings would severely restrict participation in the 
fishery although industry profitability would be more sustainable. In 
addition, a highly restrictive endorsement qualification criterion, 
such as 10,000 lb (4,536 kg), round weight, would tend to eliminate 
small scale operations that have historically characterized the black 
sea bass pot segment of the snapper-grouper fishery. The third 
alternative, with two sub-alternatives, would require that no South 
Atlantic state shall have fewer than two entities qualifying for the 
endorsement. The first sub-alternative would set a minimum landings 
requirement of 1,000 lb (454 kg), round weight, and the second, 2,000 
lb (907 kg), round weight. This alternative, with the sub-alternatives, 
was intended to allow participation by all South Atlantic states in the 
endorsement program. Since the minimum number of qualifiers from each 
state would be the same under this alternative and the preferred 
alternative, the Council deemed this third alternative unnecessary.
    Three alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 
considered for establishing an appeals process for fishermen initially 
excluded from the endorsement program. The first alternative, the no 
action alternative, would not establish an appeals process. This 
alternative has the potential to unduly penalize participants if they 
were incorrectly excluded from the endorsement program. The second 
alternative is the same as the preferred alternative, except that it 
would establish a special board, composed of state directors and 
designees, that would review, evaluate, and make individual 
recommendations to the RA. This alternative would mainly introduce an 
additional administrative burden that may not improve the appeals 
process, considering that the only issues subject to appeal are 
eligibility and landings.
    Five alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 
considered for limiting effort in the black sea bass pot segment of the 
snapper-grouper fishery. The first alternative, the no action 
alternative, would not limit the number of black sea bass pots deployed 
or pot tags issued to holders of snapper-grouper commercial permits. 
Among the alternatives, this is potentially the best alternative for 
efficient operations in the black sea bass pot segment of the snapper-
grouper fishery. But with no limit on the number of pots, a high 
likelihood arises that many pots (left in the water for a longer time 
due, for example, to vessel or weather problems) may be lost and 
``ghost fish'' for black sea bass or other species. In addition, many 
pots would employ many vertical lines that would increase the 
probability of interaction with certain protected species. Such 
occurrences are likely to hinder the rebuilding of black sea bass or 
other species and to require the implementation of more restrictive 
measures that would impinge on the profits of commercial vessels. The 
second alternative would limit black sea bass pot tags to 100 per 
vessel per year; the second alternative, to 50 per vessel per year; 
and, the third alternative, to 25 per vessel per year. These other 
alternatives differ from the preferred alternative only in the maximum 
number of pots deployed or pot tags issued per vessel, with the higher 
numbers providing better opportunities for higher profits per vessel 
trip. But as noted above, the higher number of pots, the higher would 
be the probability of ghost fishing and interaction with protected 
species.
    Three alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 
considered for reducing bycatch in black sea bass pots. The first 
alternative, the no action alternative, would not implement additional 
measures for when pots must be removed from the water. This alternative 
would not help in reducing bycatch in the black sea bass pot segment of 
the snapper-grouper fishery. The second alternative would allow 
fishermen to leave pots in the water for no more than 72 hours. This 
alternative would have about the same effects as the preferred 
alternative on pot fishing operations, because most fishing trips for 
black sea bass using pots last for less than 3 days. However, it would 
present a higher probability for ghost fishing because pots may be left 
in the water on short vessel trips or not retrieved during inclement 
weather.
    Three alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 
considered for modifying the AMs for black sea bass. The first 
alternative, the no action alternative, would maintain the current 
commercial and recreational AMs. The Council deemed this alternative to 
be relatively deficient in constraining harvest at or below the sector 
ACLs. The

[[Page 16998]]

second alternative is similar to the preferred alternative for the 
recreational sector, except that it would trigger in-season AMs only if 
the black sea bass stock is overfished. This alternative could lead to 
larger post-season adjustment of the recreational ACL and thus larger 
adverse effects on for-hire profits, particularly if the aggregate ACL 
is exceeded, in order to keep the rebuilding trajectory on track. 
Moreover, if overages in the recreational harvest lead to exceeding the 
aggregate ACL, the aggregate ACL would not automatically increase the 
following year so that both the commercial and recreational sectors 
would be adversely affected.
    Nine alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 
considered for establishing a commercial trip limit. The first 
alternative, the no action alternative, would not establish a 
commercial trip limit. In principle, this alternative would likely 
provide the most short-term profitability among commercial vessels on a 
per trip basis, because commercial vessel operations would remain 
unaffected. However, this alternative could possibly lead to lower 
industry profitability as a result of a shortened fishing season that 
would occur without effectively controlling the harvest rate. The 
second alternative would establish a trip limit of 500 lb (227 kg), 
gutted weight; the third alternative, 750 lb (340 kg), gutted weight; 
the fourth alternative, 1,250 lb (567 kg), gutted weight; the fifth 
alternative, 1,000 lb (454 kg), gutted weight, and reduced to 500 lb 
(227 kg), gutted weight, when 75 percent of the commercial ACL is met; 
the sixth alternative, 2,000 lb (907 kg), gutted weight; the seventh, 
2,500 lb (1,134 kg), gutted weight; and, the eighth alternative, 250 lb 
(113 kg), gutted weight. NMFS expects that trip limits lower than the 
preferred alternative of 1,000 lb (454 kg), gutted weight, would lead 
to larger adverse effects on per trip profitability; the opposite would 
occur with higher trip limits. Based on the Council's assessment, the 
preferred alternative would provide the best balance between per trip 
losses in profits and higher industry profits from a longer fishing 
season.
    Three alternatives, including two preferred alternatives, were 
considered for modifying the commercial and recreational minimum size 
limit. The first alternative, the no action alternative, would not 
change the commercial or recreational size limit. In principle, this 
alternative would provide the best economic environment for both the 
commercial and recreational sectors, because their operations would 
remain relatively unaffected. However, this alternative would not help 
in constraining the rate of harvest which has been increasing in recent 
years, leading to early closures of both the commercial and 
recreational sectors of the black sea bass segment of the snapper-
grouper fishery. The second alternative includes three sub-
alternatives, one of which is the preferred sub-alternative. The second 
sub-alternative would increase the commercial size limit from 10 inches 
(25 cm), TL, to 12 inches (30 cm), TL. This sub-alternative would lead 
to relatively larger adverse effects on the profits of commercial 
vessels but would also tend to allow a longer fishing season. However, 
the Council concluded that this sub-alternative would not provide the 
best balance between short-term profit reductions and profit increases 
from a longer season. The third sub-alternative would increase the 
commercial size limit from 10 inches (25 cm), TL, to 11 inches (28 cm), 
TL, in the first year and to 12 inches (30 cm), TL, thereafter. This 
sub-alternative would eventually lead to larger adverse effects on the 
profits of commercial vessels but would also tend to allow a longer 
fishing season. However, the Council concluded that this sub-
alternative would not provide the best balance between short-term 
profit reductions and profit increases from a longer season.
    Four alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 
considered for improving for-hire data reporting. The first alternative 
(the no action alternative) would retain the existing data reporting 
systems for the for-hire sector. However, the Council deemed 
modifications to existing recreational data collection necessary to the 
extent that they would not be too burdensome on for-hire vessel 
operations. The second alternative would require vessels operating with 
a Federal for-hire permit to maintain a logbook for discard 
characteristics (e.g., size and reason for discarding), if selected. 
This alternative would provide better information regarding discards, 
but would increase costs for for-hire vessel operations. The third 
alternative would require that for-hire landings and catch/effort data 
are submitted in accordance with the Atlantic States Cooperative 
Statistics Program (ACCSP) standards, using the South Atlantic 
Fisheries Information System (SAFIS). Although this alternative has the 
potential to improve recreational data collection, it would be costly 
to for-hire vessels. Therefore, the Council decided to wait until the 
new Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) has been in place 
for some time to determine whether it would be sufficient for reporting 
for-hire landings data.
    Four alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 
considered for setting the recreational ACT. The first alternative, the 
no action alternative, would not set a recreational ACT, and thus, 
would not meet the mentioned objective. The second alternative would 
set the recreational ACT equal to 85 percent of the recreational ACL. 
The third alternative would set the recreational ACT equal to 75 
percent of the recreational ACL. NMFS estimates that these two 
alternatives would result in lower ACTs than the preferred alternative, 
so that if an ACT triggers management actions, these two alternatives 
would result in larger adverse effects on the profits of for-hire 
vessels.
    In Amendment 18A, the Council considered several actions for which 
the no-action alternative was the preferred alternative.
    Three alternatives, including the preferred alternative (no action 
alternative), were considered for setting the commercial ACT. The first 
alternative would set the commercial ACT equal to 90 percent of the 
commercial ACL. The second alternative would set the commercial ACT 
equal to 80 percent of the commercial ACL. Because NMFS closely tracks 
the commercial landings in-season through a quota monitoring system, 
the Council deemed the need to provide for a commercial ACT as a 
monitoring tool unnecessary.
    Five alternatives, including the preferred alternative (no action 
alternative), were considered for implementing a spawning season 
closure. The first alternative would implement a March 1-April 30 
spawning season closure; the second alternative, an April 1-May 31 
spawning season closure; the third alternative, a March 1-May 31 
spawning season closure; and, the fourth alternative, a May 1-May 31 
spawning season closure. These alternatives would result in short-term 
profit reductions to commercial and for-hire vessels. Black sea bass do 
not form large spawning aggregations and the peak spawning period 
occurs at different times of the year across the South Atlantic. 
Therefore, short-term profit reductions could persist in the future as 
the benefits from a spawning season closure are not well established.
    Four alternatives, including the preferred alternative (no action 
alternative), were considered for improving commercial data reporting. 
The first alternative would require all

[[Page 16999]]

vessels with Federal snapper-grouper commercial permits to have an 
electronic logbook tied to the vessel's Global Position System onboard 
the vessel. The second alternative would provide the option for 
fishermen to submit their logbook entries electronically via an 
electronic version of the logbook made available online. The third 
alternative would require submission of commercial landings and catch 
and effort data in accordance with the ACCSP standards, using the 
SAFIS. These alternatives would introduce additional cost to commercial 
fishing operations. The Council decided to address this issue in the 
future through a comprehensive amendment for improving data collection.
    Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no person is required 
to respond to, nor shall a person be subject to a penalty for failure 
to comply with, a collection-of-information subject to the requirements 
of the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA), unless that collection-of-
information displays a currently valid Office of Management and Budget 
(OMB) control number.
    This proposed rule contains collection-of-information requirements 
subject to the PRA. NMFS estimates the requirement for the for-hire 
sector of the snapper-grouper fishery to submit logbook information 
electronically, if selected to do so, to average 30 minutes per 
electronic logbook installation and 1 minute per weekly download of the 
weekly logbook information. NMFS estimates the requirement for South 
Atlantic Unlimited Snapper-Grouper Permit holders to submit their 
logbook information if they are appealing their landings data for a 
black sea bass pot endorsement to average 2 hours per response. NMFS 
estimates the requirement to check boxes on the Federal Permit 
Application Form for a new endorsement or renewal of the black sea bass 
pot endorsement to average 1 minute per response. Finally, NMFS 
estimates the requirement to check boxes on the Federal Permit 
Application Form for black sea bass pot tags (Floy tags) for the 
endorsement program to average 1 minute per response. These estimates 
of the public reporting burden include the time for reviewing 
instructions, gathering and maintaining the data needed, and completing 
and reviewing the collection-of-information.
    These requirements have been submitted to OMB for approval. NMFS 
seeks public comment regarding: Whether this proposed collection-of-
information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions of 
the agency, including whether the information will have practical 
utility; the accuracy of the burden estimate; ways to enhance the 
quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected; and 
ways to minimize the burden of the collection-of-information, including 
through the use of automated collection techniques or other forms of 
information technology. Send comments regarding the burden estimate or 
any other aspect of the collection-of-information requirement, 
including suggestions for reducing the burden, to NMFS and to OMB (see 
ADDRESSES).

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 622

    Fisheries, Fishing, Puerto Rico, Reporting and recordkeeping 
requirements, Virgin Islands.

    Dated: March 20, 2012.
Samuel D. Rauch III,
Acting Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.

    For the reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 622 is 
proposed to be amended as follows:

PART 622--FISHERIES OF THE CARIBBEAN, GULF, AND SOUTH ATLANTIC

    1. The authority citation for part 622 continues to read as 
follows:

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

    2. In Sec.  622.4, paragraph (a)(2)(xv) is added and paragraph 
(a)(5)(i)(A) is revised to read as follows:


Sec.  622.4  Permits and fees.

    (a) * * *
    (2) * * *
    (xv) South Atlantic black sea bass pot endorsement. For a person 
aboard a vessel, for which a valid commercial vessel permit for South 
Atlantic snapper-grouper unlimited has been issued, to use a black sea 
bass pot in the South Atlantic EEZ, a valid South Atlantic black sea 
bass pot endorsement must have been issued to the vessel and must be on 
board. A permit or endorsement that has expired is not valid. NMFS will 
renew this endorsement automatically when renewing the commercial 
vessel permit for South Atlantic snapper-grouper unlimited associated 
with the vessel. The RA will not reissue this endorsement if the 
endorsement or the commercial vessel permit for South Atlantic snapper-
grouper unlimited is revoked or if the RA does not receive a complete 
application for renewal of the commercial vessel permit for South 
Atlantic snapper-grouper unlimited within 1 year after the permit's 
expiration date.
    (A) Initial eligibility. To be eligible for an initial South 
Atlantic black sea bass pot endorsement, a person must have been issued 
and must possess a valid or renewable commercial vessel permit for 
South Atlantic snapper-grouper that has black sea bass landings using 
black sea bass pot gear averaging at least 2,500 lb (1,134 kg), round 
weight, annually during the period January 1, 1999 through December 31, 
2010. Excluded from this eligibility, are trip-limited permits (South 
Atlantic snapper-grouper permits that have a 225-lb (102.1-kg) limit of 
snapper-grouper) and valid or renewable commercial vessel permits for 
South Atlantic snapper-grouper unlimited that have no reported landings 
of black sea bass using black sea bass pots from January 1, 2008, 
through December 31, 2010. NMFS will attribute all applicable black sea 
bass landings associated with a current snapper-grouper permit for the 
applicable landings history, including those reported by a person(s) 
who held the permit prior to the current permit owner, to the current 
permit owner. Only legal landings reported in compliance with 
applicable state and Federal regulations are acceptable.
    (B) Initial issuance. On or about [insert date of publication of 
final rule in the Federal Register], the RA will mail each eligible 
permittee a black sea bass pot endorsement via certified mail, return 
receipt requested, to the permittee's address of record as listed in 
NMFS' permit files. An eligible permittee who does not receive an 
endorsement from the RA, must contact the RA no later than [insert date 
30 days after date of publication of final rule in the Federal 
Register], to clarify his/her endorsement status. A permittee denied an 
endorsement based on the RA's initial determination of eligibility and 
who disagrees with that determination may appeal to the RA.
    (C) Procedure for appealing black sea bass pot endorsement 
eligibility and/or landings information. The only items subject to 
appeal are initial eligibility for a black sea bass pot endorsement 
based on ownership of a qualifying snapper-grouper permit, the accuracy 
of the amount of landings, and correct assignment of landings to the 
permittee. Appeals based on hardship factors will not be considered. 
Appeals must be submitted to the RA postmarked no later than [insert 
date 120 days after date of publication of final rule in the Federal 
Register], and must contain documentation supporting the basis for the 
appeal. The RA will review all appeals, render final decisions on the 
appeals, and advise the appellant of the final NMFS decision.

[[Page 17000]]

    (1) Eligibility appeals. NMFS' records of snapper-grouper permits 
are the sole basis for determining ownership of such permits. A person 
who believes he/she meets the permit eligibility criteria based on 
ownership of a vessel under a different name, for example, as a result 
of ownership changes from individual to corporate or vice versa, must 
document his/her continuity of ownership.
    (2) Landings appeals. Determinations of appeals regarding landings 
data for 1999 through 2010 will be based on NMFS' logbook records. If 
NMFS' logbooks are not available, the RA may use state landings records 
or data for the period 1999 through 2010 that were submitted in 
compliance with applicable Federal and state regulations on or before 
December 31, 2011.
    (D) Fees. No fee applies to initial issuance of a black sea bass 
pot endorsement. NMFS charges a fee for each renewal or replacement of 
such endorsement and calculates the amount of each fee in accordance 
with the procedures of the NOAA Finance Handbook for determining the 
administrative costs of each special product or service. The fee may 
not exceed such costs and is specified with each application form. The 
handbook is available from the RA. The appropriate fee must accompany 
each application for renewal or replacement.
* * * * *
    (5) * * *
    (i) * * *
    (A) An operator of a vessel that has or is required to have a 
Commercial Vessel Permit for Rock Shrimp (Carolinas Zone) or a 
Commercial Vessel Permit for Rock Shrimp (South Atlantic EEZ).
* * * * *
    3. In Sec.  622.5, a sentence is added between the first and second 
sentences in paragraphs (b)(2)(i) and (b)(2)(ii) to read as follows:


Sec.  622.5  Recordkeeping and reporting.

* * * * *
    (b) * * *
    (2) * * *
    (i) * * * Completed fishing records required by paragraph 
(b)(1)(ii) of this section for charter vessels may be required weekly 
or daily, as directed by the SRD. * * *
    (ii) * * * Completed fishing records required by paragraph 
(b)(1)(ii) of this section for headboats may be required weekly or 
daily, as directed by the SRD. * * *
* * * * *
    4. In Sec.  622.37, paragraph (e)(3)(i) is revised to read as 
follows:


Sec.  622.37  Size limits.

* * * * *
    (e) * * *
    (3) * * *
    (i) Black seas bass. (A) For a fish taken by a person subject to 
the bag limit specified in Sec.  622.39(d)(1)(vii)--13 inches (33 cm), 
TL.
    (B) For a fish taken by a person not subject to the bag limit 
specified in Sec.  622.39(d)(1)(vii)--11 inches (28 cm), TL.
* * * * *
    5. In Sec.  622.40, paragraph (d)(1)(i)(B) is revised and 
paragraphs (d)(1)(i)(C) and (D) are added to read as follows:


Sec.  622.40  Limitations on traps and pots.

* * * * *
    (d) * * *
    (1) * * *
    (i) * * *
    (B) A sea bass pot must be removed from the water in the South 
Atlantic EEZ and the vessel must be returned to a dock, berth, beach, 
seawall, or ramp at the conclusion of each trip. Sea bass pots may 
remain on the vessel at the conclusion of each trip.
    (C) A sea bass pot must be removed from the water in the South 
Atlantic EEZ when the applicable quota specified in Sec.  622.42(e)(5) 
is reached. After a closure is in effect, a black sea bass may not be 
retained by a vessel that has a sea bass pot on board.
    (D) A vessel that has on board a valid Federal commercial permit 
for South Atlantic snapper-grouper and a South Atlantic black sea bass 
pot endorsement that fishes in the South Atlantic EEZ on a trip with 
black sea bass pots, may possess only 35 black sea bass pots per vessel 
per permit year. Each black sea bass pot in the water or onboard a 
vessel in the South Atlantic EEZ, must have a valid identification tag 
issued by NMFS attached. NMFS will issue new identification tags each 
permit year that will replace the tags from the previous permit year.
* * * * *
    6. In Sec.  622.42, paragraph (e)(5) is revised to read as follows:


Sec.  622.42  Quotas.

* * * * *
    (e) * * *
    (5) Black sea bass--309,000 lb (140,160 kg), gutted weight; 364,620 
lb (165,389 kg), round weight.
* * * * *
    7. In Sec.  622.44, paragraph (c)(8) is added to read as follows:


Sec.  622.44  Commercial trip limits.

* * * * *
    (c) * * *
    (8) Black sea bass. Until the applicable quota specified in Sec.  
622.42(e)(5) is reached, 1,000 lb (454 kg), gutted weight; 1,180 lb 
(535 kg), round weight. See Sec.  622.43(a)(5) for the limitations 
regarding black sea bass after the applicable quota is reached.
* * * * *
    8. In Sec.  622.49, paragraph (b)(5) is revised to read as follows:


Sec.  622.49  Annual Catch Limits (ACLs) and Accountability Measures 
(AMs).

* * * * *
    (b) * * *
    (5) Black sea bass--(i) Commercial sector. (A) If commercial 
landings, as estimated by the SRD, reach or are projected to reach the 
quota specified in Sec.  622.42(e)(5), the AA will file a notification 
with the Office of the Federal Register to close the commercial sector 
for the remainder of the fishing year.
    (B) If commercial landings exceed the quota specified in Sec.  
622.42(e)(5), the AA will file a notification with the Office of the 
Federal Register, at or near the beginning of the following fishing 
year to reduce the ACL for that following year by the amount of the 
overage in the prior fishing year, unless the SRD determines that no 
overage is necessary based on the best scientific information 
available.
    (ii) Recreational sector. (A) If recreational landings for black 
sea bass, as estimated by the SRD, are projected to reach the 
recreational ACL of 409,000 lb (185,519 kg), gutted weight; 482,620 lb 
(218,913 kg), round weight; the AA will file a notification with the 
Office of the Federal Register to close the recreational sector for the 
remainder of the fishing year. On and after the effective date of such 
a notification, the bag and possession limit is zero. This bag and 
possession limit applies in the South Atlantic on board a vessel for 
which a valid Federal charter vessel/headboat permit for South Atlantic 
snapper-grouper has been issued, without regard to where such species 
were harvested, i.e. in state or Federal waters.
    (B) If recreational landings for black sea bass, as estimated by 
the SRD, exceed the ACL, the AA will file a notification with the 
Office of the Federal Register, to reduce the recreational ACL the 
following fishing year by the amount of the overage in the prior 
fishing year, unless the SRD determines that no overage is necessary 
based on the best scientific information available.
* * * * *
[FR Doc. 2012-7045 Filed 3-22-12; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P