[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 82 (Friday, April 27, 2012)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 25100-25103]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-10242]


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

DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 648

[Docket No. 120201086-2418-02]
RIN 0648-XA904


Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Atlantic Bluefish 
Fishery; 2012 Atlantic Bluefish Specifications

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

ACTION: Final rule.

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

SUMMARY: NMFS issues final specifications for the 2012 Atlantic 
bluefish fishery, including an annual catch limit, total allowable 
landings, a commercial quota and recreational harvest limit, and a 
recreational possession limit. This action establishes the allowable 
2012 harvest levels and other management measures to achieve the target 
fishing mortality rate, consistent with the Atlantic Bluefish Fishery 
Management Plan.

DATES: The final specifications for the 2012 Atlantic bluefish fishery 
are

[[Page 25101]]

effective May 29, 2012, through December 31, 2012.

ADDRESSES: Copies of the specifications document, including the 
Environmental Assessment and Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis 
(EA/IRFA) and other supporting documents for the specifications, are 
available from Dr. Christopher M. Moore, Executive Director, Mid-
Atlantic Fishery Management Council, Suite 201, 800 N. State Street, 
Dover, DE 19901. The specifications document is also accessible via the 
Internet at: http://www.nero.noaa.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Carly Bari, Fishery Management 
Specialist, (978) 281-9224.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    The Atlantic bluefish fishery is managed cooperatively by the Mid-
Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) and the Atlantic States 
Marine Fisheries Commission (Commission). The management unit for 
bluefish specified in the Atlantic Bluefish Fishery Management Plan 
(FMP) is U.S. waters of the western Atlantic Ocean. Regulations 
implementing the FMP appear at 50 CFR part 648, subparts A and J. The 
regulations requiring annual specifications are found at Sec.  648.160.
    The FMP requires the Council to recommend, on an annual basis, 
annual catch limit (ACL), annual catch target (ACT), and total 
allowable landings (TAL) that will control fishing mortality (F). The 
Council may also recommend a research set-aside (RSA) quota, which is 
deducted from the bluefish TALs (after any applicable transfer) in an 
amount proportional to the percentage of the overall TAL as allocated 
to the commercial and recreational sectors.
    Pursuant to Sec.  648.162, the annual review process for bluefish 
requires that the Council's Bluefish Monitoring Committee and 
Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) review and make 
recommendations based on the best available data. Based on the 
recommendations of the Monitoring Committee and SSC, the Council makes 
a recommendation to the NMFS Northeast Regional Administrator. Because 
this FMP is a joint plan, the Commission also meets during the annual 
specification process to adopt complementary measures.
    The Council's recommendations must include supporting documentation 
concerning the environmental, economic, and social impacts of the 
recommendations. NMFS is responsible for reviewing these 
recommendations to assure they achieve the FMP objectives, and may 
modify them if they do not. NMFS then publishes proposed specifications 
in the Federal Register, and after considering public comment, NMFS 
publishes final specifications in the Federal Register. A proposed rule 
for this action published in the Federal Register on February 15, 2012 
(77 FR 8776), and comments were accepted through March 1, 2012.

Final 2012 Specifications

    A description of the process used to estimate bluefish stock status 
and fishing mortality, as well as the process for deriving the ACL and 
associated quotas and harvest limits, is provided in the proposed rule 
and in the bluefish regulations at Sec. Sec.  648.160-162. The stock is 
not overfished or experiencing overfishing, and the catch limits 
described below reflect the best available scientific information on 
bluefish. The final 2012 bluefish ABC, ACL, and ACT are specified at 
32.044 million lb (14,535 mt).
    The ACT is initially allocated between the recreational fishery (83 
percent = 26.597 million lb, 12,064 mt) and the commercial fishery (17 
percent = 5.448 million lb, 2,471 mt). After deducting an estimate of 
recreational discards (commercial discards are considered negligible), 
the recreational TAL would be 22.819 million lb (10,350 mt) and the 
commercial TAL would be 5.448 million lb (2,471 mt).
    However, the FMP specifies that, if 17 percent of the ACT is less 
than 10.5 million lb, and recreational fishery is not projected to land 
its harvest limit for the upcoming year, the commercial fishery may be 
allocated up to 10.5 million lb as its quota, provided that the 
combination of the projected recreational landings and the commercial 
quota does not exceed the ACT. The recreational harvest limit (RHL) 
would then be adjusted downward so that the ACT would be unchanged. 
Based on updated data, the recreational fishery landed 11,892,696 lb 
(5,394 mt) of bluefish in 2011. Assuming recreational landings in 2012 
are consistent with those from 2011, the Council's proposed transfer of 
5.052 million lb (2,291 mt) from the recreational sector to the 
commercial sector can be approved. This results in an adjusted 
commercial quota of 10.5 million lb (4,763 mt), and an adjusted RHL of 
17.766 million lb (8,059 mt).

Final RSA, Commercial Quota, and RHL

    Three projects that will utilize bluefish RSA were approved by 
NOAA's Grants Management Division. A total RSA quota of 491,672 lb (223 
mt) was approved for use by these projects during 2012. Proportional 
adjustments of this amount to the commercial and recreational 
allocations results in a final commercial quota of 10.317 million lb 
(4,680 mt) and a final RHL of 17.457 million lb (7,919 mt).

Final Recreational Possession Limit

    The current recreational possession limit of up to 15 fish per 
person is maintained to achieve the RHL.

Final State Commercial Allocations

    The final state commercial allocations of the 2012 commercial quota 
are shown in Table 1, based on the percentages specified in the FMP.

                     Table 1--Final Bluefish Commercial State-by-State Allocations for 2012
                                           [Including RSA deductions]
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                          2012 council-final  2012 council-final
                        State                            Percent share     commercial quota    commercial quota
                                                                                 (lb)                (kg)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
ME..................................................              0.6685              68,972              31,285
NH..................................................              0.4145              42,765              19,398
MA..................................................              6.7167             692,986             314,333
RI..................................................              6.8081             702,416             318,611
CT..................................................              1.2663             130,649              59,261
NY..................................................             10.3851           1,071,466             486,009
NJ..................................................             14.8162           1,528,639             693,379
DE..................................................              1.8782             193,781              87,897
MD..................................................              3.0018             309,707             140,481
VA..................................................             11.8795           1,225,649             555,945

[[Page 25102]]

 
NC..................................................             32.0608           3,307,827           1,500,405
SC..................................................              0.0352               3,632               1,647
GA..................................................              0.0095                 980                 445
FL..................................................             10.0597           1,037,894             470,781
                                                     -----------------------------------------------------------
    Total...........................................            100.0001          10,317,362           4,679,878
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Comments and Responses

    The public comment period for the proposed rule ended on March 1, 
2012. Five comments were received on the proposed rule. A summary and 
response to the concerns raised by the commenters are included below.
    Comment 1: One commenter generally criticized the Mid-Atlantic 
Fishery Management Council and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries 
Commission for using poor data and allowing overharvest of bluefish, 
but provided no clear evidence to support their claims.
    Response: Atlantic bluefish are not overfished, nor are they 
subject to overfishing; therefore, there is no scientific basis for 
making changes to the quotas based on this comment. NMFS used the best 
scientific information available and selected specifications for the 
bluefish fishery that are consistent with the FMP and recommendations 
of the Council.
    Comment 2: Three commenters opposed the quota transfer from the 
recreational sector to the commercial sector. They suggested that the 
transfer would increase the total takes from the fishery overall and 
allow the commercial sector to harvest the most mature fish which would 
lead to an unsustainable fishery. Additionally, they commented that the 
increased commercial quota as a result of the transfer allows 
commercial fishermen to take fish once reserved for the recreational 
sector.
    Response: These comments included no scientific justifications for 
decreasing or eliminating the transfer between sectors. NMFS used the 
best scientific information available and selected specifications for 
the bluefish fishery that are consistent with the FMP and 
recommendations of the Council. Bluefish are not considered overfished 
or subject to overfishing, and the recreational sector is not projected 
to harvest its allocation. Sufficient analysis and scientific 
justification for NMFS's action in this final rule are contained within 
the supporting documents.
    Comment 3: A charter/party boat operator in the Atlantic bluefish 
fishery in Massachusetts was supportive of the proposed ACL.
    Response: NMFS agrees that the approved ACL meets the requirements 
of the Atlantic Bluefish FMP.

Classification

    Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery 
Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), the NMFS 
Assistant Administrator has determined that this final rule is 
consistent with the Atlantic Bluefish FMP, other provisions of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law.
    This final rule is exempt from review under Executive Order 12866. 
This final rule does not duplicate, conflict, or overlap with any 
existing Federal rules.
    The FRFA included in this final rule was prepared pursuant to 5 
U.S.C. 604(a), and incorporates the IRFA and a summary of analyses 
completed to support the action. No significant issues were raised by 
the public comment in response to the IRFA, other than the comment 
noted above. A public copy of the EA/RIR/IRFA is available from the 
Council (see ADDRESSES).
    The preamble to the proposed rule included a detailed summary of 
the analyses contained in the IRFA, and that discussion is not repeated 
here.

Final Regulatory Flexibility Analysis

Statement of Objective and Need

    A description of the reasons why this action is being taken, and 
the objectives of and legal basis for this final rule are contained in 
the preambles to the proposed rule and this final rule and are not 
repeated here.

Summary of Significant Issues Raised in Public Comments

    Five comments were submitted on the proposed rule. However, none 
were specific to the IRFA or to the economic impacts of the proposed 
rule more generally.

Description and Estimate of Number of Small Entities to Which the Rule 
Will Apply

    Small businesses operating in commercial and recreational (i.e., 
party and charter vessel operations) fisheries have been defined by the 
Small Business Administration as firms with gross revenues of up to 
$4.0 and $6.5 million, respectively. The categories of small entities 
likely to be affected by this action include commercial and charter/
party vessel owners holding an active Federal permit for Atlantic 
bluefish, as well as owners of vessels that fish for Atlantic bluefish 
in state waters. All federally permitted vessels fall into the 
definition of small businesses; thus, there would be no 
disproportionate impacts between large and small entities as a result 
of the final rule.
    An active participant in the commercial sector was defined as any 
vessel that reported having landed 1 or more lb (0.45 kg) in the 
Atlantic bluefish fishery in 2010 (the last year for which there are 
complete data). The active participants in the commercial sector were 
defined using two sets of data. The Northeast seafood dealer reports 
were used to identify 718 vessels that landed bluefish in states from 
Maine through North Carolina in 2010. However, the Northeast dealer 
database does not provide information about fishery participation in 
South Carolina, Georgia, or Florida. South Atlantic Trip Ticket reports 
were used to identify 732 vessels that landed bluefish in North 
Carolina, and 827 vessels that landed bluefish on Florida's east coast. 
Some of these vessels were also identified in the Northeast dealer 
data; therefore, double counting is possible. Bluefish landings in 
South Carolina and Georgia were near zero in 2010, representing a 
negligible proportion of the total bluefish landings along the Atlantic 
Coast. Therefore, this analysis assumed that no vessel activity for 
these two states took place in 2010. In recent years, approximately 
2,063 party/charter vessels may have been

[[Page 25103]]

active in the bluefish fishery and/or have caught bluefish.

Description of Projected Reporting, Recordkeeping, and Other Compliance 
Requirements

    No additional reporting, recordkeeping, or other compliance 
requirements are included in this final rule.

Description of the Steps Taken To Minimize Economic Impact on Small 
Entities

    Specification of commercial quota, recreational harvest levels, and 
possession limits is constrained by the conservation objectives of the 
FMP, under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The commercial 
quota contained in this final rule is 10 percent higher than the 2011 
quota and 113 percent higher than actual 2011 bluefish landings. All 
affected states will receive increases in their individual commercial 
quota allocation in comparison to their respective 2011 individual 
state allocations. However, the magnitude of the increase varies 
depending on the state's relative percent share in the total commercial 
quota, as specified in the FMP.
    The RHL contained in this final rule is approximately 2 percent 
lower than the RHL in 2011. The small reduction in RHL is a reflection 
of a declining trend in recreational bluefish harvest in recent years. 
Because the 2012 RHL is greater than the total estimated recreational 
bluefish harvest for 2011, it does not constrain recreational bluefish 
harvest below a level that the fishery is anticipated to achieve. The 
possession limit for bluefish will remain at 15 fish per person, so 
there should be no impact on demand for party/charter vessel fishing 
and, therefore, no impact on revenues earned by party/charter vessels. 
No negative economic impacts on the recreational fishery are 
anticipated.
    The impacts on revenues associated with the proposed RSA quota were 
analyzed and are expected to be minimal. Assuming that the full RSA 
quota 491,672 lb (223 mt) is landed and sold to support the proposed 
research projects, then all of the participants in the fishery would 
benefit from the improved fisheries data yielded from each project.

Small Entity Compliance Guide

    Section 212 of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness 
Act of 1996 states that, for each rule or group of related rules for 
which an agency is required to prepare a FRFA, the agency shall publish 
one or more guides to assist small entities in complying with the rule, 
and shall designate such publications as ``small entity compliance 
guides.'' The agency shall explain the actions a small entity is 
required to take to comply with a rule or group of rules. As part of 
this rulemaking process, a small entity compliance guide will be sent 
to all holders of Federal permits issued for the Atlantic bluefish 
fishery.
    In addition, copies of this final rule and guide (i.e., permit 
holder letter) are available upon request, and posted on the Northeast 
Regional Office's Web site at www.nero.noaa.gov.

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

    Dated: April 24, 2012.
Alan D. Risenhoover,
Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National 
Marine Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2012-10242 Filed 4-26-12; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P