[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 85 (Wednesday, May 2, 2012)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 26129-26148]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-10527]



[[Page 26129]]

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

DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 648

[Docket No. 120120056-2414-02]
RIN 0648-XA797


Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Northeast 
Multispecies Fishery; 2012 Sector Operations Plans and Contracts, and 
Allocation of Northeast Multispecies Annual Catch Entitlements

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

ACTION: Final rule.

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

SUMMARY: This final rule partially approves, and implements, 19 
Northeast (NE) multispecies (groundfish) sector operations plans and 
contracts for fishing year (FY) 2012, and allocates quotas of NE 
multispecies to the sectors. This final rule does not approve certain 
exemptions and measures proposed in the operations plans, as explained 
below. Approval of sector operations plans is necessary to allocate 
quota to the sectors and to grant the sectors regulatory exemptions. 
This provides vessels participating in sectors with increased 
operational flexibility while limiting overall fishing mortality. This 
final rule also announces a preliminary allocation to the New Hampshire 
State-Operated Permit Bank.

DATES: Effective May 1, 2012, through April 30, 2013; except the 
exemption from the requirement to declare intent to fish in the Eastern 
U.S./Canada Special Access Program and the Closed Area II Yellowtail 
Flounder/Haddock Special Access Program prior to leaving the dock, 
which will become effective on further notification.

ADDRESSES: Copies of each sector's final operations plan and contract, 
the environmental assessment (EA), and the Final Regulatory Flexibility 
Analysis (FRFA) are available from the NMFS Northeast Regional Office: 
Daniel M. Morris, Acting Regional Administrator, National Marine 
Fisheries Service, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930. These 
documents are also accessible via the Federal eRulemaking Portal: 
http://www.regulations.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mark Grant, Sector Policy Analyst, 
phone (978) 281-9145, fax (978) 281-9135.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: A proposed rule soliciting public comment on 
the 19 sector operations plans and contracts was published in the 
Federal Register on February 15, 2012 (77 FR 8780), with public 
comments accepted through March 1, 2012. After review of the public 
comments, NMFS has partially approved the 19 sector operations plans 
and contracts, determining the operations plans, as approved, to be 
consistent with the goals of the Northeast (NE) Multispecies Fishery 
Management Plan (FMP) and the sector regulations at Sec.  648.87.

Background

    The NE groundfish sector management system is a voluntary system 
that allocates a portion of groundfish stocks to self-selecting groups 
of permit holders, called sectors. Sector members are granted increased 
operational flexibility through exemptions from regulations in exchange 
for taking on additional responsibility. The annual allocations to 
sectors are called Annual Catch Entitlements (ACE) and are based on the 
collective fishing history of the sectors' members. Sectors are self-
selecting, meaning each sector can choose its members. Sectors may pool 
harvesting resources and consolidate operations to fewer vessels, if 
they desire.
    NMFS received operations plans and preliminary contracts for FY 
2012 from 19 sectors (see Table 1). In accordance with the sector 
regulations, the proposed rule for this action sought comment on the 19 
operations plans and contracts for FY 2012, and the exemptions 
proposed. The Administrator of NMFS for the NE Region (Regional 
Administrator) has made a determination that the 19 sector operations 
plans and contracts, as approved, are consistent with the goals of the 
FMP, and comply with sector operation measures.
    Amendment 13 to the FMP (69 FR 22906, April 27, 2004) established a 
process for forming sectors within the groundfish fishery, implemented 
restrictions applicable to all sectors, and authorized allocation of a 
total allowable catch (TAC) for specific groundfish species to a 
sector. Amendment 16 to the FMP (74 FR 18262, April 9, 2010) expanded 
sector management, revised the two existing sectors to comply with the 
expanded sector rules (summarized below), and authorized an additional 
17 sectors, for a total of 19 sectors. Framework Adjustment (FW) 45 to 
the FMP (76 FR 23042, April 25, 2011) further revised the rules for 
sectors and authorized five new sectors (for a total of 24 sectors).
    The FMP defines a sector as ``[a] group of persons (three or more 
persons, none of whom have an ownership interest in the other two 
persons in the sector) holding limited access vessel permits who have 
voluntarily entered into a contract and agree to certain fishing 
restrictions for a specified period of time, and which has been granted 
a TAC(s) [sic] in order to achieve objectives consistent with 
applicable FMP goals and objectives.'' A sector's TAC is called an ACE. 
Regional Administrator approval authorizes a sector to fish and 
allocates an ACE for stocks of regulated NE multispecies. Each 
individual sector's ACE for a particular stock represents a share of 
that stock's annual catch limit (ACL) available to commercial NE 
multispecies vessels, and each ACE is based upon the landings history 
of permits participating in that sector.
    Nineteen sectors submitted operations plans and sector contracts, 
and requested allocation of stocks regulated under the FMP for FY 2012. 
The operations plans were similar to previously approved versions, but 
include changes to incorporate the additional requested exemptions. 
Five sectors chose not to submit operations plans and contracts for FY 
2012: The Georges Bank (GB) Cod Hook Sector; Northeast Fishery Sector 
(NEFS) I; the State of New Hampshire Permit Bank Sector; the 
Commonwealth of Massachusetts Permit Bank Sector; and, the State of 
Rhode Island Permit Bank Sector. The State of Maine Permit Bank Sector, 
Northeast Fishery Sector IV and Sustainable Harvest Sector 3 would 
operate as private lease-only sectors. The Sustainable Harvest Sector 3 
has not explicitly prohibited fishing activity, and may transfer 
permits to active vessels.
    A separate rule (77 FR 16942, March 23, 2012) approves Amendment 
17, which authorizes the allocation of ACE to state-operated permit 
banks without requiring those state-operated permit banks to comply 
with the administrative and procedural requirements for groundfish 
sectors. State-operated permit banks have until April 1, 2012, to 
declare whether each of their permits will contribute to the permit 
bank's ACE or will be used to provide DAS to common pool vessels. This 
final rule approves the Maine Permit Bank Sector; however, the State of 
Maine may elect to instead operate in FY 2012 under the state-operated 
permit bank provisions, as authorized by Amendment 17.

[[Page 26130]]



 Table 1--Summary of the Number of Permits, Active Vessels, Gear Type, and Area Fished for the Approved FY 2012
                                                    Sectors *
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                    Number of         Gear type(s) fished
             Sector               Permit count   active vessels            (percent)             Area(s) fished
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Fixed Gear Sector (FGS)........             105              37  Gillnet: 45.................  Gulf of Maine.
                                                                 Hook Gear: 55...............  Inshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Offshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Southern New
                                                                                                England/Mid-
                                                                                                Atlantic.
Maine Permit Bank Sector                      8               0  N/A.........................  N/A.
 (MEPBS).
Northeast Coastal Communities                28              10  Trawl: 83...................  Gulf of Maine.
 Sectors (NCCS).
                                                                 Hook Gear: 17...............  Inshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Offshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Southern New
                                                                                                England/Mid-
                                                                                                Atlantic.
NEFS 10........................              54              21  Trawl: 65...................  Gulf of Maine.
                                                                 Gillnets: 34................  Inshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Southern New
                                                                                                England/Mid-
                                                                                                Atlantic.
NEFS 11........................              44              35  Trawl: 15...................  Gulf of Maine.
                                                                 Gillnet: 85.................  Southern New
                                                                                                England/Mid-
                                                                                                Atlantic.
NEFS 12........................              11              10  Trawl: 65...................  Gulf of Maine.
                                                                 Gillnet: 30.................  Inshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                 Hook: 5.....................  .................
NEFS 13........................              38              29  Trawl: 96...................  Gulf of Maine.
                                                                 Gillnet: 4..................  Inshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Offshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Southern New
                                                                                                England/Mid-
                                                                                                Atlantic.
NEFS 2.........................              79              70  Trawl: 100..................  Gulf of Maine.
                                                                                               Inshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Offshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Southern New
                                                                                                England/Mid
                                                                                                Atlantic.
NEFS 3.........................              83              35  Gillnet: 95.................  Gulf of Maine.
                                                                 Hook Gear: 5................  Inshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Offshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Southern New
                                                                                                England/Mid-
                                                                                                Atlantic.
NEFS 4.........................              49               0  N/A.........................  N/A.
NEFS 5.........................              29              22  Trawl: 100..................  Inshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Offshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Southern New
                                                                                                England/Mid-
                                                                                                Atlantic.
NEFS 6.........................              19               4  Trawl: 100..................  Gulf of Maine.
                                                                                               Inshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Offshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Southern New
                                                                                                England/Mid-
                                                                                                Atlantic.
NEFS 7.........................              20              18  Trawl: 56...................  Gulf of Maine.
                                                                 Gillnet: 44.................  Inshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Offshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Southern New
                                                                                                England/Mid-
                                                                                                Atlantic.
NEFS 8.........................              20              12  Trawl: 100..................  Gulf of Maine.
                                                                                               Inshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Offshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Southern New
                                                                                                England/Mid-
                                                                                                Atlantic.
NEFS 9.........................              61              18  Trawl: 100..................  Gulf of Maine.
                                                                                               Inshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Offshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Southern New
                                                                                                England/Mid-
                                                                                                Atlantic.
Port Clyde Community Groundfish              42              32  Trawl: 46...................  Gulf of Maine.
 Sector (PCCGS).
                                                                 Gillnet: 54.................  Inshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Offshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
Sustainable Harvest Sector 1                116              41  Trawl: 90...................  Gulf of Maine.
 (SHS 1).
                                                                 Gillnet: 10.................  Inshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Offshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Southern New
                                                                                                England/Mid-
                                                                                                Atlantic.
Sustainable Harvest Sector 3                 19               0  Trawl: 100..................  Gulf of Maine.
 (SHS 3).
                                                                                               Inshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Offshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Southern New
                                                                                                England/Mid-
                                                                                                Atlantic.
Tri-State Sector (TSS).........              18               6  Trawl: 83...................  Gulf of Maine.
                                                                 Gillnet: 16.................  Inshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                 Hook gear: 1................  Offshore Georges
                                                                                                Bank.
                                                                                               Southern New
                                                                                                England/Mid-
                                                                                                Atlantic.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* The data in this table are from the sector rosters submitted as of December 1, 2011, and are subject to change
  based on final sector rosters.


[[Page 26131]]

Allocation of ACEs

    As of December 1, 2011, 845 of the 1,475 eligible NE multispecies 
permits have preliminarily enrolled in a sector or state-operated 
permit bank for FY 2012. These permits account for approximately 99 
percent of the FY 2012 commercial groundfish sub-ACL. Table 1 includes 
a summary of permits enrolled in a sector as of December 1, 2011. 
Permits not enrolled in a sector have through April 30, 2012, to join a 
sector. Permits enrolled in a sector have until April 30, 2012, to 
withdraw from a sector and join the common pool for FY 2012. State-
operated permit banks must notify NMFS by April 1 whether each of their 
permits will contribute to the permit bank's ACE or will be used to 
provide DAS to common pool vessels. NMFS will publish final ACEs for 
sectors and state-operated permit banks, and common pool sub-ACL 
totals, based upon final rosters and permit bank declarations, as soon 
as possible after the start of FY 2012.
    ACEs are calculated by summing the potential sector contributions 
(PSC) of permits enrolled in a sector, or state-operated permit bank, 
for a stock and then multiplying that percentage by the available 
commercial sub-ACL for that stock. Table 2 shows the cumulative 
percentage of each commercial sub-ACL each sector and state-operated 
permit bank will receive, based on their rosters as of December 1, 
2011.
    Individual permits are not assigned a PSC for Eastern GB cod or 
Eastern GB haddock; rather the GB cod and GB haddock allocation of each 
sector and state-operated permit bank is divided into a Western ACE and 
an Eastern ACE for each stock. Eastern GB cod and haddock ACEs are to 
be harvested exclusively in the Eastern U.S./Canada Area and are based 
on the sector's, or permit bank's, percentage of the GB cod and haddock 
ACLs. For example, if a sector is allocated 4 percent of the GB cod ACL 
and 6 percent of the GB haddock ACL, the sector is allocated 4 percent 
of the Eastern U.S./Canada Area GB cod TAC and 6 percent of the Eastern 
U.S./Canada Area GB haddock TAC as its Eastern GB cod and haddock ACEs. 
These amounts are then subtracted from the sector's overall GB cod and 
haddock allocations to determine its Western GB cod and haddock ACEs.
    An interim final rule (77 FR 19944, April 3, 2012) set the ACL for 
GOM cod for FY 2012, along with a sub-ACL of GOM cod for the commercial 
fishery. The commercial fishery sub-ACL for GOM cod is 4,170 mt. The 
commercial fishery sub-ACL is allocated to sectors, state-operated 
permit banks, and the common pool based on the total permit enrollment 
in all sectors and state-operated permit banks, and the cumulative GOM 
cod PSCs associated with the sectors and state-operated permit banks. 
This results in a common pool sub-ACL of 81 mt. The remainder of the 
GOM cod commercial sub-ACL (4,089 mt) is the potential sector catch for 
FY2012. The potential sector catch is reduced by 471 mt to account for 
possible carryover of GOM cod ACE from FY 2011. The 471-mt reduction is 
necessary to ensure sector catch in FY 2012 contributes to a reduction 
in overfishing of GOM cod. The remaining amount, after reduction for 
potential ACE carryover, is the sector sub-ACL (3,618 mt). The sector 
sub-ACL for GOM cod (3,618 mt) is divided among the sectors and state-
operated permit banks based on their PSCs.
    The PSCs of all sectors and state-operated permit banks do not add 
up to 100 percent because some limited access permits are enrolled in 
the common pool. To account for this when allocating the GOM cod sector 
sub-ACL among only sectors and state-operated permit banks, the GOM cod 
PSC of each sector and each state-operated permit bank was divided by 
the sum of all sectors' and state-operated permit banks' GOM cod PSCs. 
This determines each sector's and state-operated permit bank's share (a 
percentage) of the sector sub-ACL. Therefore, a sector's GOM cod ACE is 
calculated by multiplying the sector's share (calculated as described 
above and listed in Table 3) by the sector sub-ACL (3,618 mt) instead 
of multiplying the sector's GOM cod PSC (as listed in Table 2) by the 
commercial sub-ACL for GOM cod (4,170 mt).
    Tables 4 and 5 show the ACEs each sector and state-operated permit 
bank will be allocated based on their December 1, 2011, sector rosters 
for FY 2012, including any PSC corrections that have been made since 
the proposed rule published. The final ACEs, to the nearest pound, are 
provided to the individual sectors and state-operated permit banks, and 
NMFS uses those final ACEs for monitoring sector catch. While the 
common pool does not receive a specific allocation of ACE, the common 
pool sub-ACLs have been included in each of these tables for 
comparison.
    At the start of FY 2012, NMFS will withhold 20 percent of each 
sector's FY 2012 ACE (the ACE buffer) for each stock to allow time to 
process any FY 2011 ACE transfers and to determine whether the FY 2012 
ACE allocated to any sector needs to be reduced, or any overage 
penalties need to be applied to accommodate an FY 2011 ACE overage by 
that sector. Sectors will be allowed to trade ACE, exclusively to 
balance any overages, for 2 weeks following the finalization of sector 
catch for FY 2011. The New England Fishery Management Council (Council) 
and sector managers will be notified of this deadline in writing and 
the decision will be announced on the NMFS Northeast Regional Office 
Web site (http://www.nero.noaa.gov/).
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P

[[Page 26132]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TR02MY12.002


[[Page 26133]]


[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TR02MY12.003


[[Page 26134]]


[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TR02MY12.004


[[Page 26135]]


[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TR02MY12.005

BILLING CODE 3510-22-C

[[Page 26136]]

Sector Operations Plans and Contracts

    NMFS received 19 sector operations plans and contracts by the 
September 1, 2011, deadline, and subsequently received preliminary 
rosters by the December 1, 2011, deadline for FY 2012. Each sector 
elected to submit a single document that is both the sector's contract 
and the sector's operations plan. Therefore, these submitted operations 
plans not only contain the rules under which each sector would fish, 
but also provide the legal contract that binds the sector's members to 
the sector and its operations plan.
    Each sector conducts fishing activities according to its approved 
operations plan; however, each operations plan and sector member must 
comply with the regulations governing sectors, which are found at Sec.  
648.87. All permit holders with a limited access NE multispecies permit 
that was valid as of May 1, 2008, are eligible to participate in a 
sector, including holders of inactive permits currently held in 
confirmation of permit history (CPH). While membership in each sector 
is voluntary, each member (and his/her permits enrolled in the sector) 
must remain with the sector for the entire FY, and cannot fish in the 
NE multispecies days-at-sea (DAS) program outside of the sector (i.e., 
in the common pool) during the FY. Participating vessels are required 
to comply with all applicable Federal fishing regulations, except as 
specifically exempted by a letter of authorization (LOA) issued by the 
Regional Administrator. Sector operations plans may be amended in-
season if a change is necessary and agreed to by NMFS, provided the 
change is consistent with the sector administration provisions. These 
changes are included in updated LOAs issued to sector members and 
through amendments to the approved operations plan.
    NMFS allocates to sectors, and state-operated permit banks, all 
large-mesh groundfish stocks for which member permits have landings 
history, with the exception of Atlantic halibut, windowpane flounder, 
Atlantic wolffish, and the Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic (SNE/MA) 
stock of winter flounder. NMFS does not allocate Atlantic halibut, 
northern windowpane flounder, southern windowpane flounder, Atlantic 
wolffish, SNE/MA winter flounder, and ocean pout because these stocks 
have small ACLs, and permits have limited landings history. Instead, 
these stocks are managed with trip limits. Allocating these stocks 
would complicate monitoring of sector operations and would require a 
different scheme for determining each permit's potential sector 
contribution.
    Sector vessels are required to retain all legal-sized allocated 
groundfish, unless NMFS grants the sector an exemption allowing the 
sector's vessels to discard legal-sized unmarketable fish at sea. Catch 
(including discards) of all allocated groundfish stocks by a sector's 
vessels counts against the sector's ACE, unless the catch is an element 
of a separate ACL sub-component, such as groundfish caught when fishing 
in an exempted fishery, or yellowtail flounder caught when fishing in 
the Atlantic sea scallop fishery. Sector vessels fishing for monkfish, 
skate, lobster (with non-trap gear), and spiny dogfish when on a sector 
trip (e.g., not fishing under provisions of a NE multispecies exempted 
fishery) will have their groundfish catch (including discards) on those 
trips debited against the sector's ACE. Ratios to calculate discards on 
unobserved sector trips are determined by NMFS based on observed trips.
    Sectors must not exceed any ACE during the FY. Amendment 16 
required sectors to develop independent third-party dockside monitoring 
(DSM) programs to verify landings at the time they are weighed by the 
dealer, and to certify that the landing weights are accurate as 
reported by the dealer. FW 45 sets the required coverage level for DSM 
to the level that NMFS funds. For FY 2012, NMFS will not fund a DSM 
program; therefore, the DSM level for FY 2012 is zero. Amendment 16 
also required that sectors design, implement, and fund an at-sea 
monitoring (ASM) program beginning in FY 2012. However, for 2012, NMFS 
will fund and operate an ASM program for all sectors. The details of 
the ASM program run by NMFS are included in Appendix 3 of Sector 
Operations Plan, Contract, and Environmental Assessment Requirements 
Fishing Year 2012 (copies available from NMFS, see ADDRESSES). The ASM 
coverage rate target is 17 percent, in addition to the expected 8-
percent coverage rate of the Northeast Fishery Observer Program 
(NEFOP). These two programs are expected to result in coverage of 25 
percent of all sector trips and will be the basis for calculating 
discards by sector vessels. As discussed later, NMFS has determined 
that this level of observer coverage is sufficient to monitor sector 
fishing activity for purposes of calculating when ACLs have been 
achieved.
    Sectors are required to monitor their landings and available ACE, 
and submit weekly catch reports to NMFS. In addition, the sector 
manager is required to provide NMFS with aggregate sector reports on a 
daily basis after reaching a threshold (specified in the operations 
plan). Once a sector catches its ACE for a particular stock, the sector 
is required to cease all fishing operations in that stock area until it 
acquires additional ACE for that stock. Sectors may transfer ACE 
between themselves, but sectors may not transfer ACE to or from common 
pool vessels. Each sector must submit an annual report to NMFS and the 
Council within 60 days of the end of the FY detailing the sector's 
catch (landings and discards by the sector), enforcement actions, and 
pertinent information necessary to evaluate the biological, economic, 
and social impacts from the sector, as directed by NMFS.
    Each sector contract provides procedures to enforce the sector 
operations plan, explains sector monitoring and reporting requirements, 
presents a schedule of penalties, and provides authority to sector 
managers to issue stop fishing orders to sector members that violate 
provisions of the operations plan and contract. Sector members may be 
held jointly and severally liable for ACE overages, discarding of 
legal-sized fish, and/or misreporting of catch (landings or discards). 
Each sector operations plan submitted for FY 2012 states that the 
sector will withhold an initial reserve from the sector's sub-
allocation to each individual member to prevent the sector from 
exceeding its ACE. Each sector contract also details the method for 
initial ACE allocation to sector members; for FY 2012, each sector 
plans to allocate each sector member an amount of fish equal to the 
amount each individual member's permit contributed to the sector's ACE, 
minus a reserve.
    In order to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act 
(NEPA) in an efficient manner, a single EA was prepared analyzing all 
19 operations plans. The sector EA is tiered from the Environmental 
Impact Statement (EIS) prepared for Amendment 16 and the EA prepared 
for Framework Adjustment 45. The summary findings of the EA conclude 
that each sector will likely produce similar effects that will result 
in non-significant impacts. An analysis of aggregate sector impacts was 
also conducted and the Regional Administrator has issued a Finding of 
No Significant Impact for the sector EA.
    Amendment 16 contains several ``universal'' regulatory exemptions 
that apply to all sectors. These universal exemptions apply to: Trip 
limits on allocated stocks; the GB Seasonal Closure Area; NE 
multispecies DAS restrictions; the requirement to use a 6.5-inch (16.5-
cm) mesh codend when

[[Page 26137]]

fishing with selective gear on GB; and portions of the Gulf of Maine 
(GOM) Rolling Closure Areas (RCA).
    Sectors may request additional exemptions from NE multispecies 
regulations through their sector operations plan. Regulations prohibit 
sectors from requesting exemptions from year-round closed areas (CA), 
permitting restrictions, gear restrictions designed to minimize habitat 
impacts, and reporting requirements (excluding DAS reporting 
requirements or DSM requirements). If NMFS grants an exemption to a 
sector, NMFS issues each sector vessel a LOA authorizing the exemption 
for each such vessel.

Approved FY 2012 Exemptions

    A total of 49 exemptions from the NE multispecies regulations were 
requested by sectors through their FY 2012 operations plans. This final 
rule authorizes 20 exemptions (see Table 6) for the sectors that 
requested them, after NMFS thoroughly reviewed and considered public 
comments on the exemption requests.
    In FY 2011, sectors were exempted from the following 16 
requirements; and these exemptions are again approved for FY 2012: (1) 
120-day block out of the fishery required for Day gillnet vessels; (2) 
20-day spawning block out of the fishery required for all vessels; (3) 
limits on the number of gillnets imposed on Day gillnet vessels; (4) 
prohibition on a vessel hauling another vessel's gillnet gear; (5) 
limits on the number of gillnets that may be hauled on GB when fishing 
under a groundfish/monkfish DAS; (6) limits on the number of hooks that 
may be fished; (7) DAS Leasing Program length and horsepower 
restrictions; (8) the GOM Sink Gillnet Mesh Exemption January through 
April; (9) extension of the GOM Sink Gillnet Mesh Exemption through 
May; (10) prohibition on discarding legal-size unmarketable fish; (11) 
daily catch reporting by sector managers for sector vessels 
participating in the CA I Hook Gear Haddock Special Access Program 
(SAP); (12) gear requirements in the U.S./Canada Management Area; (13) 
powering vessel monitoring systems (VMS) while at the dock; (14) DSM 
for vessels fishing west of 72[deg]30' W. long.; (15) DSM for Handgear 
A-permitted sector vessels; and (16) DSM for monkfish trips in the 
monkfish Southern Fishery Management Area (SFMA).
    NMFS has also approved new exemptions for FY 2012 from the 
following four requirements: (17) Prohibition on fishing inside and 
outside of the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP while on the same trip; (18) 
6.5-inch (16.5-cm) minimum mesh size requirement for trawl nets (to 
allow 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh); (19) prohibition on a vessel hauling 
another vessel's hook gear; and (20) the requirement to declare intent 
to fish in the Eastern U.S./Canada SAP and the CA II Yellowtail 
Flounder/Haddock SAP prior to leaving the dock (with an effective date 
to be determined).

Disapproved Exemptions for FY 2012

    NMFS has denied new exemptions from the following five requirements 
in FY 2012, which were proposed for approval: (21) Seasonal 
restrictions for the Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP; (22) seasonal 
restriction for the CA II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP; (23) maximum 
ACE carry-over provision; (24) ACE buffer provision; and (25) minimum 
fish size provisions for haddock. The reasons for these denials are 
detailed later in this preamble.
    NMFS has denied exemptions from the following 13 requirements 
because they are prohibited by FMP regulations: (26) Year-round access 
to the Cashes Ledge Closure Area; (27) year-round access to CA I; (28) 
year-round access to CA II; (29) year-round access to the Western GOM 
Closure Area; (30) extrapolation of discarded fish pieces across 
strata; (31) authorization to use video monitoring in place of ASM; 
(32) all hail requirements; (33) year-round access to the Eastern U.S./
Canada Area; (34) ASM for sector vessels; (35) ASM for trips targeting 
dogfish; (36) ASM for hook-only and Handgear A vessels; (37) ASM for 
extra-large mesh gillnet vessels; and (38) the ASM standard for random 
trip selection.
    NMFS has denied exemptions from the following eight requirements 
because they were previously rejected, and sector applicants provided 
no new information that would warrant an exemption: (39) Minimum fish 
sizes to allow 100-percent retention; (40) minimum fish sizes to retain 
12-inch (30.5-cm) yellowtail flounder; (41) VMS messages be sent 
directly to NMFS; (42) weekly catch report requirements; (43) 
prohibition on pair trawling; (44) minimum hook size; (45) 6.5-inch 
(16.5-cm) minimum mesh size for trawls to allow 5-inch (12.7-cm) mesh 
when targeting redfish; and (46) sector roster submission by the 
December 1 deadline.
    NMFS has denied exemptions from the following three requirements 
because they may jeopardize rebuilding of the GOM cod stock, which is 
overfished and experiencing overfishing: (47) the April GOM Rolling 
Closure Area; (48) the May GOM Rolling Closure Area; and (49) the June 
GOM Rolling Closure Area.
    This final rule implements approved FY 2012 exemptions only for 
sectors that requested those exemptions through their sector operations 
plans (see Table 6). The accompanying EA has analyzed all approved 
exemption requests as if all sectors had requested all exemptions. 
Therefore, sectors not granted an approved exemption in this final rule 
may request any of the approved exemptions at any time during the FY, 
except the discarding exemption, and could add these exemptions to 
their operations plans through amendments to those plans. Approved 
amendments to operations plan will be posted on the Northeast Regional 
Office Web site at: http://www.nero.noaa.gov/sfd/sfdmultisectorinfo.html under `Other Resources.' NMFS also issues 
sector vessels updated LOAs reflecting any approved amendments to their 
sector's operations plan.
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P

[[Page 26138]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TR02MY12.006


[[Page 26139]]


[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TR02MY12.007

BILLING CODE 3510-22-C

[[Page 26140]]

Approved FY 2012 Sector Exemption Requests--Regulations That Were 
Previously Exempted for FY 2011

    In FY 2011, sectors were exempted from the following 16 
requirements; and these exemptions are again approved for FY 2012: (1) 
120-day block out of the fishery required for Day gillnet vessels; (2) 
20-day spawning block out of the fishery required for all vessels; (3) 
limits on the number of gillnets imposed on Day gillnet vessels; (4) 
prohibition on a vessel hauling another vessel's gillnet gear; (5) 
limits on the number of gillnets that may be hauled on GB when fishing 
under a groundfish/monkfish DAS; (6) limits on the number of hooks that 
may be fished; (7) DAS Leasing Program length and horsepower 
restrictions; (8) the GOM Sink Gillnet Mesh Exemption January through 
April; (9) extension of the GOM Sink Gillnet Mesh Exemption through 
May; (10) prohibition on discarding legal-size unmarketable fish; (11) 
daily catch reporting by sector managers for sector vessels 
participating in the CA I Hook Gear Haddock Special Access Program 
(SAP); (12) gear requirements in the U.S./Canada Management Area; (13) 
powering vessel monitoring systems (VMS) while at the dock; (14) DSM 
for vessels fishing west of 72[deg]30' W. long.; (15) DSM for Handgear 
A-permitted sector vessels; and (16) DSM for monkfish trips in the 
monkfish Southern Fishery Management Area (SFMA). Details of these 
exemptions and the rationale for approving them can be found in the 
proposed rule for this action, and the final rule for FY 2011, and are 
not repeated in this final rule. Comments on these exemptions are 
addressed in detail below.

Approved Exemption Requests--New Exemptions for FY 2012

17. Prohibition on Fishing Inside and Outside the CA I Hook Gear 
Haddock SAP While on the Same Trip
    FW 40A established the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP to allow 
additional access to healthy stocks on a category B DAS using selective 
gears. This SAP had quotas for groundfish stocks to prevent 
overfishing. Under the rules implementing FW 40A, NE multispecies 
vessels fishing on a trip within this SAP were prohibited from 
deploying fishing gear outside of the SAP on the same trip when they 
declared into the SAP (Sec.  648.85(b)(7)(iv)(G)). This restriction was 
established to avoid potential quota monitoring and enforcement 
complications that could arise when a vessel fishes both inside and 
outside the SAP on the same trip.
    This final rule grants an exemption from the prohibition on fishing 
inside and outside of the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP on the same trip 
for FY 2012. However, to ensure accurate accounting of catch in this 
SAP, vessels using this exemption are prohibited from towing a trawl, 
or setting fixed gear, across the border of the SAP. The intent is that 
each tow or haul of gear occurs entirely inside, or entirely outside, 
the SAP boundaries. NMFS proposed requiring vessels using this 
exemption to send NMFS a VMS catch report that specifically identifies 
GB haddock (and any other shared allocation) catch from inside the SAP 
prior to the end of the trip, or within 24 hr of landing, to identify 
catch from inside and outside the SAP on the same trip. However, sector 
vessels participating in this SAP are already required to send a daily 
VMS catch report. Therefore, to streamline reporting, NMFS will use the 
daily VMS catch report from vessels participating in this SAP to 
identify catch from inside the SAP separately from catch outside the 
SAP on the same trip. Vessels fishing both inside and outside this SAP 
on the same trip must report only catch within the SAP in their daily 
VMS catch report. Vessels will send their daily VMS catch report to 
NMFS if their sector is also granted an exemption from the requirement 
for daily catch reporting by the sector manager for vessels 
participating in the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP (11 above). 
This exemption will increase sector operational flexibility and 
efficiency. NMFS has no reason to believe that this particular catch 
report would be any less accurate than the existing sector catch 
reports; however, the Regional Administrator reserves the right to 
revoke this exemption if it is determined that the exemption negatively 
impacts monitoring.
18. 6.5-Inch (16.5-cm) Minimum Mesh Size Requirement for Trawl Nets
    An exemption from the 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) minimum mesh size for 
trawl net cod ends to allow sector vessels to use 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh 
codends on trawl nets in all regulated mesh areas to target redfish is 
approved for FY 2012. The exemption is intended to increase the catch 
of redfish, increase the operational flexibility of sector vessels, and 
increase the profit margins of sector fishermen. Sector vessels 
participating in the directed redfish fishery under this exemption will 
be required to declare their intention to the Sector Manager at least 
48 hr prior to departure, comply with the pre-trip notification system 
(PTNS) requirements, and may only use this exemption on trips carrying 
either an at-sea monitor or NEFOP observer to monitor catch and 
bycatch. Daily catch reports must be submitted to the Sector Manager to 
ensure that all catch is harvested within the sector's ACE. The 
Regional Administrator reserves the right to revoke this exemption if 
it is determined the exemption is negatively impacting spawning fish or 
populations of stocks the current minimum mesh sizes were intended to 
protect.
    The 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) minimum mesh size was initially adopted 
through interim rules in 2001 and 2002 (67 FR 21140, April 29, 2002; 67 
FR 50292, August 1, 2002), and made permanent through Amendment 13. FW 
42 further modified the mesh regulations in the SNE and MA regulated 
mesh areas (RMA) to reduce discards of yellowtail flounder. The 
regulations at Sec.  648.80 specify the minimum mesh size that may be 
used in fishing nets on vessels fishing in the GOM, GB, SNE, and MA 
RMAs. Minimum mesh size restrictions have been used with other 
management measures to reduce overall mortality on groundfish stocks, 
as well as to reduce discarding, and improve survival, of sub-legal 
groundfish. These requirements were intended to protect spawning fish 
and increase the size of targeted fish. Mesh selectivity is only one of 
a number of factors that influences the overall selection pattern in a 
fishery. Fishermen can influence the size of the fish they catch by 
fishing at different times of the year, in different locations, or by 
using different gear or techniques.
    Although a codend minimum mesh size of 6 inches (15.2 cm) is 
smaller than the current legal size for standard trawl gear, it is the 
same size codend mesh currently authorized for use on GB by sector 
vessels using selective gears. Available mesh selectivity studies show 
that 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh is unlikely to increase sub-legal catch for 
cod and haddock, but information is lacking for other stocks and mesh 
sizes. For this reason, NMFS will monitor this exemption to ensure that 
this exemption does not result in a greater retention of sub-legal 
groundfish, as well as non-allocated species and bycatch. If an 
exemption from the 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) minimum mesh size restriction 
increases sub-legal groundfish bycatch by sector vessels, then juvenile 
escapement, stock age structure, and overall mortality reduction 
objectives could be undermined. Further, equity may be a concern if 
sub-legal bycatch triggered management actions affecting the entire 
fishery, including non-sector vessels. The LOA issued to sector vessels 
that qualify for this exemption

[[Page 26141]]

will specify the requirements for using 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh to help 
ensure the provision is enforceable.
    NMFS is currently funding a study through the Northeast Cooperative 
Research Partners Program to investigate strategies and methods to 
sustainably harvest the redfish resource in the GOM through a network 
approach, including fishing enterprises, gear manufacturers, 
researchers, social and economic experts, and managers. This approach 
includes investigating success of various mesh sizes within the 
fishery. It is anticipated that results from that research will be 
available in the near future and would be used in further evaluating 
requests for exemption from the minimum mesh size requirements.
19. Prohibition on a Vessel Hauling Another Vessel's Hook Gear
    An exemption from the prohibition on a vessel hauling another 
vessel's hook gear is approved for FY 2012. This exemption will allow 
fishermen from within the same sector to haul each other's hook gear. 
The exemption from hook limits and implementation of ACE as a mortality 
control make it unnecessary to prevent a vessel from hauling another 
vessel's gear as an effort control. Consistent with the exemption 
approved for community gillnets, all vessels utilizing community hook 
gear will be jointly liable for any violations associated with that 
gear. This joint liability would assist in the enforcement of 
regulations. Additionally, each member intending to haul the same gear 
will be required to mark the gear, consistent with Sec. Sec.  
648.14(k)(6)(ii)(B) and 648.84(a).
    Current regulations prohibit one vessel from hauling another 
vessel's hook gear (Sec.  648.14(k)(6)(ii)(B)). The regulations were 
developed to facilitate the enforcement of existing hook regulations 
that were created as effort and mortality controls, and no provisions 
exist in the regulations allowing for multiple vessels to haul the same 
gear. The increased flexibility afforded by this exemption may increase 
efficiency.
20. Requirement To Declare Intent To Fish in the Eastern U.S./Canada 
Haddock SAP and the CA II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP Prior To 
Leaving the Dock
    An exemption from the requirement to declare intent to fish in the 
Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP and the CA II Yellowtail Flounder/
Haddock SAP prior to leaving the dock is granted for FY 2012. This 
exemption will allow sector vessels to declare their intent to fish in 
these SAPs while at sea. This exemption will not be effective until 
such time that the VMS system is modified to accommodate making these 
declarations at sea. Sectors granted this exemption will be notified by 
electronic mail when this exemption takes effect, and sector vessels 
will be issued new LOAs explaining how to make declarations using this 
exemption and including any additional requirements for using this 
exemption.
    NE multispecies vessels are required to declare that they will be 
fishing in either the Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP or the CA II 
Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP prior to leaving the dock (Sec. Sec.  
648.85(b)(8)(v)(D) and 648.85(b)(3)(v)). This measure was included in 
the final rule implementing Framework 40A to ensure that vessels 
fishing exclusively in those areas could be credited DAS for their 
transit time to and from these SAPs. Because sector catch is limited by 
ACE, DAS credit for trips in these SAPs is no longer necessary.

Disapproved Exemption Requests--New Exemptions Requests That Were 
Proposed for Approval

21. Seasonal Restriction for the Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP
    SAPs allow access to year-round closed areas in order to facilitate 
access to groundfish stocks that can support an increase in mortality. 
The Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP was implemented with a sunset date 
by FW 40A in 2004 to provide an opportunity to target haddock while 
fishing on a Category B DAS in, and near, CA II (69 FR 67780, November 
19, 2004). The SAP required vessels to use gear that reduced the catch 
of cod and other stocks of concern. The SAP had a season of May 1 
through December 31 to reduce effort during periods of groundfish 
spawning. In 2006, FW 42 implemented this SAP permanently and shortened 
the season to August 1 through December 31 to reduce cod catch. 
Subsequent actions approved additional gear types for use in this SAP.
    For sector vessels, the only benefit of this SAP is that it 
provides access to the northern tip of CA II. Amendment 16 exempts 
sectors from the gear requirements of this SAP because sector catch is 
constrained by ACEs, but sectors are still required to comply with 
reporting requirements and the restricted season for access from August 
1 through December 31 (Sec.  648.85(b)(3)(iv)). Sectors argue that 
their catch is restricted by ACE and their access to the SAP area in 
the northern tip of CA II should not be seasonally restricted. Sectors 
further argue that impacts to the physical environment and essential 
fish habitat (EFH) will be negligible because any increase in effort 
will be minor and the portion of CA II included in this SAP is outside 
any habitat areas of particular concern (HAPC). However, NMFS is 
concerned that this exemption may have negative effects on allocated 
stocks by allowing an increase in effort in a time and place where 
those stocks, particularly haddock, aggregate to spawn.
    Amendment 16 prohibits sectors from being granted exemptions from 
year-round closed areas. NMFS requested comment on whether it is 
appropriate to exempt sectors from a SAP season, given that the portion 
of the SAP in the closed area is already open part of the year, or if 
the Council's current prohibition on allowing exemptions from closed 
areas applies to SAPs. No comment was received from the Council 
regarding its intent. This exemption is denied because it is unclear 
whether the Council meant for sectors to be allowed exemptions from SAP 
seasons or if their intent was to prohibit such exemptions because it 
is a year-round closed area.
22. Seasonal Restriction for the CA II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP
    SAPs allow access to year-round closed areas in order to facilitate 
access to groundfish stocks that can support an increase in fishing 
mortality. The CA II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP was implemented by 
Amendment 13 in 2004 to provide an opportunity to target yellowtail 
flounder in CA II on a Category B DAS. Vessels were required to use 
either a flounder net or other gear types approved for use in the 
Eastern U.S./Canada Area. The SAP season ran from June 1 through 
December 31. In 2005, FW 40 B made this SAP permanent and shortened the 
season to July 1 through December 31 to reduce interference with 
spawning yellowtail flounder (70 FR 31323, June 1, 2005).
    Amendment 16 further revised this SAP by opening the SAP to target 
haddock from August 1 through January 31, when the SAP is not open to 
allow targeting of GB yellowtail flounder. Sectors are required to 
comply with the SAP reporting requirements and the restricted season of 
August 1 through January 31 (Sec.  648.85(b)(3)(iii)). When open only 
to target haddock, the flounder net is not authorized and only approved 
trawl gears or hook gear may be used. The gear requirements were 
implemented to avoid catching yellowtail flounder when the SAP was open 
only to the targeting of haddock.
    Unlike the Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP, the CA II Yellowtail

[[Page 26142]]

Flounder/Haddock SAP provides access to a large area in CA II. Sectors 
are required to use the same approved gears as the common pool to 
reduce the advantage sector vessels have over common pool vessels. 
Sectors argue that their catch is restricted by ACE and their access to 
the SAP area in CA II should not be restricted.
    The seasonal restriction on this SAP was put in place to allow 
vessels to target denser populations of yellowtail flounder and haddock 
while avoiding cod in the summer and spawning groundfish in the spring. 
Impacts to the physical environment and EFH would be negligible because 
any increase in effort would be minor and the portion of CA II included 
in this SAP is outside any HAPC. However, NMFS is concerned that this 
exemption could have negative effects on allocated stocks by increasing 
effort in a time and place where those stocks, particularly haddock, 
aggregate to spawn.
    Amendment 16 prohibits sectors from being granted exemptions from 
year-round closed areas. NMFS requested comment on whether it is 
appropriate to exempt sectors from a SAP season, given that the portion 
of the SAP in the closed area is already open part of the year, or if 
the Council's current prohibition on allowing exemptions from closed 
areas applies to SAPs. No comment was received from the Council 
regarding its intent. This exemption is denied because it is unclear 
whether the Council meant for sectors to be allowed exemptions from SAP 
seasons or if their intent was to prohibit such exemptions because it 
is a year-round closed area.
23. Maximum ACE Carryover Provision
    Each sector is allowed to carry over up to 10 percent of its 
original ACE allocation of each stock from one FY to the next, with the 
exception of GB yellowtail flounder (Sec.  648.87(b)(1)(i)(C)). 
Allowing a sector to carry over a portion of its allocation reduces 
concern that a sector may leave ACE uncaught to avoid accidentally 
exceeding its ACE. Sectors requested an exemption to carry over up to 
50 percent of unused ACE into the following FY. Allowing sectors to 
carry over ACE would provide greater flexibility in when and how they 
fish during a given FY.
    NMFS conducted a limited preliminary analysis of increasing the 
current ACE carryover limits and the resultant potential for 
overfishing in the subsequent year. This analysis was included in the 
draft EA published with the proposed rule for this action. Based on the 
preliminary analysis, the Regional Administrator proposed to allow 
sectors to carry over 11-30 percent of each stock's ACE (except GOM cod 
and GB yellowtail flounder) from FY 2011 to FY 2012. NMFS provided the 
analysis to the Council with a request that its Scientific and 
Statistical Committee (SSC) review it and recommend to NMFS whether or 
not to allow increased carryover for any stocks, and if so, what level 
above 10 percent would be appropriate. NMFS is concerned that an 
increase in ACE carryover could allow a substantial increase in catch 
beyond what has been analyzed in setting the FY 2012 ACLs. In a letter 
dated January 20, 2012, the Council raised a number of questions (see 
proposed rule) about the preliminary analysis and the legality of such 
carryovers in light of Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements. This final 
rule denies this exemption, and the final EA lists this exemption as 
considered, but rejected, because the important scientific and legal 
issues raised by the Council remain unresolved. A future action could 
grant this exemption if the issues are resolved and the resolution 
supports granting this exemption.
24. ACE Buffer Provision
    Amendment 16 implemented the ACE buffer provision to ensure that 
each sector would have 20 percent of its ACE available to account for 
any potential overage from the previous year. At the beginning of each 
FY, NMFS withholds 20 percent of a sector's ACE for each stock for up 
to 61 days (i.e., through June 30), or longer (Sec.  
648.87(b)(1)(iii)(C)). This hold gives NMFS time to finalize sector 
catch and ACE trades that take place after the end of the FY, and to 
apply any overage penalties to a sector that exceeded its ACE. Sectors 
are requesting to be exempted from this 20-percent ACE buffer 
restriction when a sector manager reports that the sector has not 
exceeded any of its ACE. Sectors sought this exemption to increase 
operational flexibility and efficiency to bring additional revenue into 
the sector.
    This exemption is denied because NMFS does not have the ability to 
verify whether a sector manager's report is accurate until the annual 
reconciliation process, as discussed above, is complete. Due to this 
time lag, it is possible that sectors could potentially exceed their 
ACE in a subsequent FY after an overage has occurred before the second 
year's ACE is reduced by the first year's overage. For example, if a 
sector was allocated 100 mt of a stock in year 1, but caught 120 mt, 
the sector would be required to pay back 20 mt in year 2. However, if 
the sector fished its complete allocation for year 2 before NMFS 
discovered the overage from year 1, the sector would then also have 
overfished the reduced year 2 allocation.
25. Minimum Fish Size Provisions for Haddock
    Commercial haddock catch must be at least 18 inches (45.7 cm) to be 
retained by a vessel (Sec.  648.83(a)(1)). This restriction includes 
whole fish or any part of a fish while possessed on board a vessel, 
with the exception of a small amount of fish (up to 25 lb (11.3 kg)) 
that each person on board may retain for at-home consumption (Sec.  
648.83(a)(2)). The 18-inch (45.7-cm) minimum size for haddock was first 
implemented by an interim action in 2009 (74 FR 17030, April 13, 2009). 
This was a reduction from the previous minimum size of 19 inches (48.3 
cm), designed to reduce discards and increase yield. The 18-inch (45.7-
cm) minimum size was made permanent by Amendment 16.
    Sectors requested an exemption from the minimum fish size 
regulation for the purpose of landing headed and gutted haddock that 
are less than 18 inches (45.7 cm) as a headed and gutted haddock 
provide a value-added product. This exemption request is intended to 
allow legal-sized fish that were previously landed whole to be landed 
headed, or headed and gutted, without a change to the actual size 
composition of the catch.
    This exemption has been denied by NMFS because of enforceability 
concerns and issues with properly monitoring catch for this stock that 
could potentially have negative impacts on the stock assessments. There 
are no accepted conversion factors to accurately determine the whole 
weight or length of headed and gutted haddock. Therefore, it would not 
be possible to accurately track that catch against sector ACEs, and it 
would be impossible for enforcement to determine whether the headed 
fish came from legal-sized fish. In addition, increases in the 
proportion of fish landed without heads would negatively impact stock 
assessment work because biological samples (ages and lengths) cannot be 
obtained from fish landed without heads.

Disapproved Exemption Requests--Exemptions Denied Because They Are 
Prohibited

    Amendment 16 contains several ``universal'' exemptions applicable 
to all sectors and authorized sectors to request additional exemptions 
from NE multispecies regulations through their sector operations plans. 
However, Amendment 16 also prohibits sectors from requesting exemptions 
from year-round closed areas, permitting

[[Page 26143]]

restrictions, gear restrictions designed to minimize habitat impacts, 
and reporting requirements (excluding DAS reporting requirements). 
Exemptions were requested by several sectors that are specifically 
prohibited (e.g., access to permanent closed areas) or that fall 
outside of the NE multispecies regulations (e.g., Eastern U.S./Canada 
in-season actions).
    In a letter dated September 1, 2010, NMFS notified the Council that 
NMFS interprets the reporting requirement exemption prohibition broadly 
to apply to all monitoring requirements, including ASM, DSM, ACE 
monitoring, and the counting of discards against sector ACE. In this 
letter (copies are available from NMFS, see ADDRESSES), NMFS also 
requested that the Council define which regulations sectors may not be 
exempted from. On November 18, 2010, the Council addressed this letter 
by voting to include in FW 45 the removal of DSM from the list of 
regulations that sectors may not be exempted from, but did not take 
such action for ASM, ACE monitoring, VTR regulations, or counting of 
discards against ACE.
    NMFS has denied exemptions from the following 13 requirements 
because they are prohibited: (26) Year-round access to the Cashes Ledge 
Closure Area; (27) year-round access to CA I; (28) year-round access to 
CA II; (29) year-round access to the Western GOM Closure Area; (30) 
extrapolation of discarded fish pieces across strata; (31) 
authorization to use video monitoring in place of ASM; (32) hail 
requirements; (33) year-round access to the Eastern U.S./Canada Area; 
(34) ASM for sector vessels; (35) ASM for trips targeting dogfish; (36) 
ASM for hook-only and Handgear A vessels; (37) ASM for extra-large mesh 
gillnet vessels; and (38) the ASM standard for random trip selection.

Disapproved Exemption Requests--Exemptions Denied Because They Were 
Previously Rejected and No New Information Was Provided

    NMFS has denied exemptions from the following eight requirements 
because they were previously rejected, and sectors provided no new 
information in support: (39) Minimum fish sizes, to allow 100-percent 
retention; (40) minimum fish sizes, to retain 12-inch (30.5-cm) 
yellowtail flounder; (41) that VMS messages be sent directly to NMFS; 
(42) weekly catch report requirements; (43) no pair trawling; (44) 
minimum hook size; (45) 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) minimum mesh size for trawls 
to allow 5-inch (12.7-cm) mesh when targeting redfish; and (46) 
submitting a roster by the deadline. Exemptions 39 through 46 are not 
analyzed in the EA because no new information was available to change 
the analyses previously published in past EAs. The details of these 
exemption requests, analysis of these exemptions, and the reasons they 
were previously denied are contained in the final rules approving 
sectors for FYs 2010 and 2011, and their accompanying EAs. The 
requesting sectors provided no new information, justification, 
rationale, or mitigation to address these concerns.

Disapproved Exemption Requests--Exemptions Denied Because They May 
Jeopardize Rebuilding of the GOM Cod Stock

    NMFS has denied exemptions from the following three requirements 
because they may jeopardize rebuilding of the GOM cod stock, which a 
new stock assessment has determined is overfished and experiencing 
overfishing: (47) April GOM Rolling Closure Area; (48) May GOM Rolling 
Closure Area; and (49) June GOM Rolling Closure Area.
    NMFS denied requests for additional exemptions from GOM Rolling 
Closure Areas in FYs 2010 and 2011 because of concerns that directly 
targeting spawning aggregations can adversely impact the reproductive 
potential of a stock, as opposed to post-spawning mortality. In 
addition, those requests were disapproved because the existing GOM 
Rolling Closure Areas provide some protection to harbor porpoise and 
other marine mammals.
    In response to requests for additional exemptions from GOM Rolling 
Closure Areas (including new exemption requests that would exclude 
gillnet gear) and discussions about increasing access to these areas at 
the Council's Lessons Learned Sector Workshop, the Regional 
Administrator considered proposing partial exemption from some of the 
closures as a short-term solution while the Council considered the 
long-term future of these closures as part of the pending omnibus 
habitat amendment. Options considered for possible exemptions would 
have required trawl vessels to use selective trawl gears, excluded 
gillnet gear, and prohibited hook gear from using squid or mackerel as 
bait. However, given the new status of the GOM cod stock, NMFS has 
denied additional exemptions from the GOM RCAs, and these exemptions 
are listed as considered, but rejected, in the final EA.

Disapproved Provisions of Operations Plans

    NMFS has disapproved a provision proposed in the NEFS 5, NEFS 7, 
and NEFS 13 operations plans that would allow their members to 
participate in a fishery for bait skate, regardless of whether the 
sectors had ACE available for all allocated stocks, from June 1 through 
December 1, in waters off southern Massachusetts, Rhode Island, 
Connecticut, and New York. Currently, the majority of the area in the 
proposed provision lies within the Mid-Atlantic Exemption Area, where 
vessels that are issued a valid Skate Bait LOA may participate in the 
skate bait fishery when not on a declared groundfish trip. Although 
this provision as a whole has been denied, sector (and common pool) 
vessels may currently participate in the skate bait fishery in the 
entire Mid-Atlantic Exemption Area.
    NMFS is currently considering a request, submitted by NEFS 5, for 
an exempted fishery identical in description to the denied skate bait 
provision in the operations plans of NEFS 5, NEFS 7, and NEFS 13. A 
fishery exemption may be approved if the Regional Administrator 
determines that the percentage of regulated species caught as bycatch 
is, or can be reduced to, less than 5 percent, by weight, of total 
catch, and that such exemption will not jeopardize fishing mortality 
objectives. Unlike the GOM haddock sink gillnet program that was denied 
for the fishery as a whole, but granted to sectors as an exemption 
because their ACEs controlled their overall catch, the bait skate 
fishery provision requested in these three operations plans 
specifically requests authorization to fish without the sector being 
accountable for its vessels' groundfish catch. Without ACE 
accountability, participation by sector vessels would not be 
substantially different from participation by common pool vessels. 
Therefore, NMFS has not approved this provision of the sectors' 
operations plans, because this exempted fishery request is currently 
being considered for all appropriately permitted vessels under separate 
rulemaking.

Comments and Responses

    Eight letters, many addressing multiple issues, were submitted from 
several entities: Oceana, the Massachusetts Division of Marine 
Fisheries (DMF), the Council, the Northeast Sector Service Network 
(NESSN), Associated Fisheries of Maine, and three individuals. Only 
comments that were within the scope of this rulemaking, including the 
analyses used to support these measures, are responded to below.

[[Page 26144]]

General Comments

    Comment 1: One fisherman commented that sectors have negatively 
impacted his business operations.
    Response: The commenter was not specific about the nature or cause 
of the negative impacts to his business. However, he is free to 
participate in the common pool and fish under DAS, rather than 
participating in a sector. Sectors are temporary, voluntary, fluid 
associations of vessels that can join together to take advantage of 
flexibilities and efficiencies that sectors are afforded. Vessel owners 
may choose to join a sector or not, and can change their decision from 
one year to the next, based on what they believe are the best 
opportunities for them at that point in time. The proposed rule 
announced that some sector rosters will be opened until April 30, 
allowing additional opportunity for each eligible NE multispecies 
permit holder to evaluate their personal best option for FY 2012.
    Comment 2: One individual commented that all exemption requests 
should be denied because fish stocks do not belong to sectors.
    Response: Groundfish stock ownership is not relevant to exemption 
request decisions. Unlike an individual fishing quota or individual 
transferable quota, sectors are allocated quotas on an annual basis and 
do not own either a groundfish stock or access to a groundfish stock. 
Annual allocations are determined based on the ACL and annual voluntary 
membership of the sector. The FMP grants sectors universal exemptions 
from some effort control measures, and allows sectors the opportunity 
to request additional exemptions from existing regulations, but not 
from a sector's ACE. The approved exemptions will allow sector members 
greater flexibility in harvesting their allocation and additional 
opportunities to attempt to obtain optimum yield from the fishery 
without jeopardizing the rebuilding plans for overfished stocks.
    Comment 3: NESSN and the AFM supported granting the 16 exemptions 
that were approved for FY 2011.
    Response: NMFS approved the 16 exemptions from the NE multispecies 
regulations in FY 2011 because many of the regulations were designed to 
limit fishing mortality by controlling fishing effort. These 
regulations are no longer necessary because sectors are restricted to 
an ACE for each groundfish stock that limits overall fishing mortality. 
Other exemptions were granted from dockside monitoring requirements to 
exclude trips and vessels that landed minimal amounts of groundfish. No 
contrary information has been provided about the effect of the 
exemptions used in FY 2011. The rationales for approving the exemptions 
for FY 2011 continue to apply in FY 2012; therefore, all exemptions 
granted in FY 2011 have been approved for FY 2012.
    Comment 4: AFM supported granting the nine novel exemptions 
proposed for approval for FY 2012.
    Response: NMFS has approved four of the novel exemptions proposed 
for approval, and denied the remaining five. Exemptions are approved or 
denied individually, and the rationale for each decision is discussed 
in this preamble and in responses to specific comments.

SAP Seasons

    Comment 5: AFM supported granting an exemption from the seasonal 
restrictions for both the Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP and the CA II 
Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP, stating that this was not in conflict 
with the regulations and that an increase in effort on spawning haddock 
is not a concern due to the robust condition of GB haddock and 
underharvest of the GB haddock ACL. One anonymous commenter opposed the 
requests due to concern for GB cod spawning, and stated that the 
Council specifically did not exempt sectors from the seasons of these 
SAPs.
    Response: Amendment 16 prohibits granting sectors exemptions from 
year-round closed areas. NMFS requested comment on whether it is 
appropriate to exempt sectors from a SAP season, given that the portion 
of the SAP in the closed area is already open part of the year, or if 
the current prohibition on allowing exemptions from closed areas 
applies to SAPs. The Council did not comment regarding its intent for 
this provision. Therefore, NMFS denied this exemption because it is 
unclear whether the Council meant for sectors to be allowed exemptions 
from SAP seasons within closed areas or if sectors should be prohibited 
from such exemptions because it is a year-round closed area.

Haddock Minimum Size

    Comment 6: NESSN supported exemption from the minimum fish size 
provisions for haddock. They further stated that NMFS's experience in 
implementing similar regulations for monkfish should provide an 
adequate knowledge base to determine appropriate ways to address their 
concerns about enforcement issues at sea.
    Response: NMFS denied an exemption request from the minimum fish 
size requirements in FY 2010, stating that it would present significant 
enforcement concerns by allowing different fish sizes in the market 
place and because of concerns that the exemption could potentially 
increase the targeting of juvenile fish. This exemption is being denied 
again for FY 2012 for similar reasons.
    Unlike the monkfish fishery, there are no currently accepted 
conversion factors to accurately determine the whole weight or length 
of headed and gutted haddock. Given this, it would not be possible to 
accurately track that catch against sector ACEs, and it would be 
problematic to enforce that the headed fish came from legal-sized fish. 
Increases in the proportion of fish landed without heads would also 
negatively impact stock assessment work because biological samples 
(ages and lengths) cannot be obtained from fish landed without heads. 
These issues are not comparable to the monkfish fishery. That fishery 
has a separate minimum size for monkfish tails, accepted conversion 
factors to determine whole weight from tail weight, and monkfish are 
best aged using vertebrae, unlike haddock, which are aged using 
otoliths located in the head.

ACE Buffer Provision

    Comment 7: AFM and NESSN supported granting an exemption from the 
20-percent ACE buffer provision. NESSN supported granting the exemption 
on a sector-by-sector basis if the sector has actively engaged 
throughout the year to address elements impacting the accuracy of that 
sector's reports. Further, NESSN commented that NMFS could release some 
portion of ACE buffer prior to the end of reconciliation, based on 
outstanding data elements and their possible impact on final ACE 
balance.
    Response: This exemption was denied because NMFS has no ability to 
verify whether a sector manager's report is accurate until the annual 
reconciliation process is complete. NMFS anticipates completing FY 2011 
reconciliation weeks faster than FY 2010 reconciliation due to 
improvements to the process and the cooperation of sectors, which would 
mitigate the commenters' concerns.

Requirement To Declare Intent To Fish in SAPs Prior To Leaving the Dock

    Comment 8: AFM and NESSN supported granting an exemption from the 
requirement that a vessel declare its intent to fish in the Eastern 
U.S./Canada SAP and the CA II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP prior to 
leaving the dock to reduce administrative burden and cost for vessels.

[[Page 26145]]

    Response: NMFS agrees and this exemption is granted for FY 2012. 
This exemption allows sector vessels to declare their intent to fish in 
the Eastern U.S./Canada SAP and the CA II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock 
SAP while at sea. The effective date of this exemption is being delayed 
until the VMS system is modified to accommodate making these 
declarations at sea. NMFS will notify the sectors once this 
modification is finalized.

6.5-Inch (16.5-cm) Minimum Mesh Size Requirement for Trawl Nets

    Comment 9: The Council, NESSN, and AFM all supported an exemption 
from the 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) minimum mesh size to allow the use of 6-
inch (15.2-cm) codends on trawl nets when targeting redfish. The 
Council supported this exemption to more fully utilize the available 
ACLs of the healthy redfish stock and to enable the achievement of 
optimum yield. NESSN referenced studies in 2008 and 2009, which 
demonstrated that 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) mesh is inefficient for catching 
redfish, and asserted that the requirement for vessels to carry an LOA 
would facilitate enforcement.
    Response: NMFS agrees and has approved an exemption that will allow 
vessels to fish 6.0-inch (15.2-cm) mesh codends when targeting redfish. 
Sector vessels fishing under this exemption will be required to have a 
LOA on board the vessel, which will facilitate enforcement. This 
exemption will provide additional flexibility for vessels to develop 
techniques to better target redfish. Mesh selectivity is only one of a 
number of factors that influences the overall selection pattern in a 
fishery. Fishermen can influence the size of fish they catch by fishing 
at different times of the year, in different locations, or by using 
different gear or techniques. This exemption should increase the catch 
of redfish, increase the operational flexibility of sector vessels, and 
increase profit margins of sector fishermen. Vessels may only use this 
exemption when at-sea monitors or NEFOP observers are on board. This 
will provide information about bycatch in this fishery to better 
facilitate monitoring of the impact of this exemption. The Regional 
Administrator reserves the right to revoke this exemption if it is 
determined the exemption is negatively impacting spawning fish or 
populations of stocks the current minimum mesh sizes were intended to 
protect. NMFS is currently funding a study to investigate strategies 
and methods to sustainably harvest the redfish resource in the GOM. It 
is anticipated that results from that research will be available in the 
near future and would be used in further evaluating requests for 
exemption from the minimum mesh size.

ASM Coverage Level for FY 2012

    Comment 10: Oceana commented that Amendment 16 requires sector 
operations plans to demonstrate an adequate level of ASM and asserted 
that the ASM program currently proposed for FY 2012 will leave the NE 
multispecies fishery out of compliance with the mandates of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act. DMF also asserted that the ASM coverage level is 
unacceptably low.
    Response: Amendment 16 required that sectors design, implement, and 
fund an ASM program beginning in FY 2012. However, for 2012, NMFS will 
fund and operate an ASM program for all sectors; therefore, it is 
unnecessary for each sector operations plan to specify the details of 
an ASM program for FY 2012. The details of the ASM program run by NMFS 
are included in Appendix 3 of Sector Operations Plan, Contract, and 
Environmental Assessment Requirements Fishing Year 2012 (copies 
available from NMFS, see ADDRESSES). For FY 2012, the ASM coverage rate 
target is 17 percent, in addition to the expected 8-percent coverage 
rate of the NEFOP. These two programs are expected to result in 
coverage of 25 percent of all sector trips and will be the basis for 
calculating discards by sector vessels. This level of observer coverage 
is sufficient to monitor sector fishing activity for purposes of 
calculating when ACLs have been achieved.
    Beginning in FY 2012, Amendment 16 requires that the levels of ASM 
coverage shall be specified by NMFS and must be sufficient to 
accurately monitor sector operations and at least meet the 30-percent 
coefficient of variation (C.V.) specified in the Standardized Bycatch 
Reporting Methodology (SBRM) (73 FR 4736, January 28, 2008). This does 
not mean that Amendment 16 requires the discard rate for each 
individual sector (or every combination of sector, area and gear 
(stratum)), to be monitored with this level of precision. Analyses 
(copies available from NMFS, see ADDRESSES) of FY 2010 (the only 
complete year of data available) shows that the 25-percent coverage 
rate proposed for FY 2012 would be sufficient to accurately monitor 
sector operations and meet the 30-percent C.V., as specified in the 
SBRM.
    Comment 11: DMF urged NMFS to reconsider approval of sector 
exemptions granting freedom without the accountability provided by 
higher levels of catch monitoring.
    Response: NMFS has approved 20 exemptions for FY 2012, including 
many that grant increased flexibility, and believes that the current 
level of monitoring is sufficient to monitor sector fishing activity 
for purposes of calculating when ACLs have been achieved. Analysis of 
the C.V. achieved for each stock in FY 2011 cannot yet be determined 
because FY 2011 continues through April 30, 2012. However, as noted 
above, analyses of FY 2010 show that the 25-percent coverage rate 
proposed for FY 2012 would be sufficient to accurately monitor sector 
operations and meet the 30-percent C.V., as specified in the SBRM.

Limit on the Number of Gillnets for Day Gillnet Vessels

    Comment 12: DMF commented that NMFS should deny or revise the 
exemption from net limits for Day gillnet vessels based on the impact 
that gillnets have on spawning aggregations. DMF cited research by 
Dean, et. al. recently published in the North American Journal of 
Fisheries Management (32:124-134, 2012).
    Response: NMFS granted an exemption from the Day gillnet limits in 
FYs 2010 and 2011, and is granting this exemption again in FY 2012, to 
allow sector vessels to fish up to 150 nets (any combination of 
flatfish or roundfish nets) in any RMA. This will provide greater 
operational flexibility to sector vessels in deploying gillnet gear. 
This measure was designed to control fishing effort and, therefore, is 
no longer necessary for sectors because their stock ACEs limit overall 
fishing mortality. Data from FY 2010 (Table 4.1.4.2-2 of the EA) show 
that sink gillnet gear days went down by 4.66 percent from FY 2009 
(prior to this sector exemption) to FY 2010 (the first year the 
exemption was granted).
    The information DMF cites regarding the impact of fishing on 
spawning aggregations is not specific to the number of gillnets an 
individual may fish at one time, but is more generally applicable to 
the locations and timing of spawning closures developed by the Council. 
The Council's Habitat Committee is currently working on an omnibus 
amendment to revise all closed areas in the NE, including consideration 
of the location and timing of rolling closure areas.

Limits on the Number of Hooks That May Be Fished

    Comment 13: DMF commented that the exemption from hook limits is

[[Page 26146]]

unwise because there has been a shift to targeting GOM cod from GB cod.
    Response: NMFS has granted this exemption for FY 2012 because catch 
data show that sector ACEs continue to limit GOM cod mortality. Data 
from FY 2010 (EA Table 4.1.4.2-4) shows that longline gear days went up 
377.48 percent from FY 2009 (prior to this sector exemption) to FY 2010 
(the first year the exemption was granted). However, longline catch of 
groundfish went down 30 percent (EA Table 4.1.5-1) from 2009 to 2010 
and remains only 2 percent (EA Table 4.1.4.2-1) of groundfish catch. 
Further, not all longline use targets GOM cod, or even groundfish.

GOM Rolling Closure Areas

    Comment 14: DMF commented that NMFS should consider granting 
exemptions to the April, May, and June GOM Rolling Closures Areas, but 
require the sectors to implement the strategy the Northeast Seafood 
Coalition provided in its comments on the proposed rule for FY 2010 
sector operations plans, or a modified version of the strategy.
    Response: NMFS has denied this exemption for FY 2012 because of the 
new overfished status of the GOM cod stock and concerns that disrupting 
spawning aggregations can adversely impact the reproductive potential 
of a stock. As shown in the information cited by DMF in its comments 
(see Response to Comment 12), fishing activity disrupts spawning 
aggregations, causing impacts to the stock beyond the mortality of the 
individual fish caught.
    The strategy proposed in 2010 by the Northeast Seafood Coalition 
included vessels fishing on a rotating basis to limit daily effort, 
limiting the percentage of cod ACEs that could be taken in April, and 
incorporating a sentinel vessel providing information on bycatch and 
spawning fish to other vessels. However, that proposed system is 
untested. Therefore, it is not appropriate at this time to use this 
strategy as the basis of an exemption to the GOM Rolling Closure Areas, 
given the poor condition of the GOM cod stock.
    The Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) recently applied for an 
Exempted Fishing Permit to allow the testing of a real-time monitoring 
system that, if successful, could facilitate this exemption in the 
future. NMFS continues to work with GMRI to develop its proposal into a 
scientifically rigorous study. Sectors could test these strategies at 
any time in areas that are currently open to fishing.

Maximum ACE Carryover Provision

    Comment 15: AFM supported an exemption to increase the carryover of 
unused ACE from the currently allowed 10 percent to the level that 
would not undermine rebuilding. NESSN also supported an exemption to 
increase the carryover of unused ACE as long as such carryover does not 
result in overfishing, impede rebuilding objectives, or threaten the 
health of a stock. In addition, NESSN suggested NMFS should 
preliminarily approve this exemption and actively engage sector and 
industry members to ensure that there is a clear understanding and 
agreement on what the potential short- and long-term implications of 
this request may be, allowing each sector to opt in or out after a 
clear understanding of how the exemption would be implemented.
    Response: NMFS has denied this exemption, and the final EA lists 
this exemption as considered, but rejected, given that the important 
scientific and legal issues raised by the Council remain unresolved. 
NMFS is also concerned that an increase in ACE carryover could allow a 
substantial increase in catch beyond what was analyzed in setting the 
FY 2012 ACLs. Because of these unanswered questions, NMFS cannot 
conclude that the carryover would not result in overfishing, impede 
rebuilding objectives, or threaten the health of a stock. NMFS will 
continue to work on resolving the biological, legal, and policy issues 
associated with increasing ACE carryover. A future action could grant 
this exemption if all concerns are resolved.

Classification

    The Administrator, Northeast Region, NMFS, determined that this 
annual sector approval is necessary for the conservation and management 
of the NE multispecies fishery and that it is consistent with the 
Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and other 
applicable laws.
    This final rule is exempt from review under Executive Order (E.O.) 
12866.
    The Assistant Administration for Fisheries (AA) finds that there is 
adequate justification under 5 U.S.C. 553(d)(1) to waive the 30-day 
delay in effective date because this final rule relieves several 
restrictions. This final rule helps the NE multispecies fishery 
mitigate the adverse economic impacts resulting from continued efforts 
to end overfishing and rebuild overfished stocks, and increases the 
economic efficiency of vessel operations through the authorization of 
19 sector operations plans for FY 2012. As explained in detail above, 
20 exemptions from NE multispecies regulations have been approved for 
FY 2012, which provide increased flexibility to all of the sectors by 
exempting them from effort control restrictions and administrative 
burdens that would be unnecessarily onerous for fishing vessels whose 
fishing activity is constrained by a hard quota.
    Additionally, there is good cause under 5 U.S.C. 553(d)(3) to waive 
the 30-day delay in effective date. Failure to waive the 30-day delay 
in effectiveness could result in short-term adverse economic impacts to 
NE multispecies vessels and associated fishing communities. A delay in 
implementing this final rule would prevent owners who have signed up to 
join a sector in FY 2012 (845 permits, 57 percent of eligible 
groundfish permits, accounting for 99 percent of the historical 
commercial NE multispecies catch) from taking advantage of the 
flexibility in vessel operations this final rule implements, thereby 
undermining the intent of the rule. For example, when this final rule 
takes effect, sector vessels will receive exemptions from trip limits, 
DAS limits, and seasonal closure areas that this final rule allows, but 
would be prohibited from fishing for groundfish during the delayed 
effectiveness period. Vessels committed to a sector may not fish in 
both the common pool and a sector in the same FY. Consequently, vessels 
currently signed into a sector would be forced to cease fishing 
operations entirely during the delay in effectiveness to maintain their 
sector membership for FY 2012. If they choose to fish in the common 
pool (i.e., fish during the delay in effectiveness under existing 
regulations), they would thereby lose for the entirety of FY 2012 the 
mitigating economic efficiencies associated with the restrictions from 
which sector vessels are relieved. This would also reduce the economic 
efficiency of the majority of the fleet (400+ active vessels) until 
such measures become effective, and cause unnecessary adverse economic 
impacts to affected vessels. This would be contrary not only to the 
interest of the fishing communities, but to the public at large; 
prohibiting a significant portion of the fleet from fishing reduces the 
availability of local seafood. For the reasons outlined above, the 
requirement to delay implementation of this final rule for a period of 
30 days is hereby waived.
    The Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA), 5 U.S.C. 601-612, requires 
agencies to assess the economic impacts of their proposed regulations 
on small entities. The objective of the RFA is to consider

[[Page 26147]]

the impacts of a rulemaking on small entities, and the capacity of 
those affected by regulations to bear the direct and indirect costs of 
regulation. Size standards for all for-profit economic activities or 
industries are in the North American Industry Classification System. 
The Small Business Administration (SBA) defines a small business in the 
commercial fishing and recreational fishing sector as a firm with 
receipts (gross revenues) of up to $4 million.
    A Final Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (FRFA) was prepared for 
this final rule, as required by section 604 of the Regulatory 
Flexibility Act (RFA). The FRFA consists of the Initial Regulatory 
Flexibility Analysis (IRFA), the relevant portions of the proposed rule 
describing sector operations plans and requested exemptions, the 
corresponding analysis in the EA prepared for this action, the 
discussions, including responses to public comments included in this 
final rule, and this summary of the FRFA. This FRFA also incorporates 
by reference the IRFA prepared for the FW 47 proposed rule (77 FR 
18176, March 27, 2012). In the IRFA prepared for Framework 47, sectors 
were used as the regulated entity for the first time as an alternative 
approach for analyzing the impacts of Framework 47. A copy of this 
analysis is available from NMFS (see ADDRESSES).

Need for, and Objectives of, This Rule

    Approval of sector operations plans is necessary to allocate quota 
to the sectors and to grant the sectors regulatory exemptions. The 
intended effect is to provide vessels participating in sectors with 
increased operational flexibility. The flexibility afforded sectors 
includes exemptions from certain specified regulations, as well as the 
ability to request additional exemptions. The objective of the action 
is to authorize the operations of 19 sectors in FY 2012, and to allow 
the permits enrolled in sectors and the New England communities where 
they dock and land to benefit from sector operations.

Summary of Public Comments

    All public comments, including those in response to the IRFA and 
comments regarding the economic effects of the rule not specifically 
addressed to the IRFA, and our response to those comments, are 
contained in this preamble.

Description and Estimate of the Number of Small Entities Affected

    The number of entities affected will be the number of permits 
enrolled in sectors for FY 2012. The maximum number of entities that 
could be affected by this action is 1,475, the number of permits 
eligible to join a sector for FY 2012. This action will likely affect 
about 845 entities, which represents the number of permits enrolled in 
sectors and state-operated permit banks as of December 1, 2011. Sector 
rosters for FY 2012 may change through April 30, 2012; therefore, it is 
not possible to know the final number of entities affected before May 
1, the date on which this action takes effect. However, based on FY 
2010 and FY 2011, we expect the number of entities affected to change 
very little. Each of these permits is a small entity, based on the 
definition as stated above and explained below. The economic impact 
resulting from this action on these small entities is positive, since 
the action provides additional operational flexibility to vessels 
participating in NE multispecies sectors for FY 2012. In addition, this 
action further mitigates negative impacts from the implementation of 
Amendment 16, FW 44, and FW 45, which placed additional effort 
restrictions on the groundfish fleet.
    The SBA size standard for small commercial fishing entities (North 
American Industry Classification System code 114111) is up to $4 
million in annual sales. Available data indicate that, based on 2005-
2007 average conditions, median gross annual sales by commercial 
fishing vessels were just over $200,000, and no single fishing entity 
earned more than $2 million annually. NMFS acknowledges there are 
entities that qualify as large business entities based on rules of 
affiliation. However, reliable ownership affiliation data were not 
available during the analyses of Amendment 16 and FW 45. Therefore, to 
be consistent with those analyses, this final rule continues to 
consider each operating unit as a small entity for purposes of the RFA, 
and, therefore, there is no differential impact between small and large 
entities.
    In the IRFA prepared for Framework 47, sectors were used as the 
regulated entity for the first time to estimate impacts of the proposed 
action. Sectors were used as the entity for that analysis, in part, 
because each vessel's PSC only becomes fishable quota if the vessel is 
a member of a sector. Since sectors are allocated ACE based on the 
cumulative PSC of each individual sector member, considering sectors as 
an affiliated entity provides an alternative approach for analyzing the 
impacts of Framework 47.

Reporting, Recordkeeping and Other Compliance Requirements

    This final rule contains no collection-of-information requirement 
subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act. This action reduces reporting 
requirements compared to the no-action alternative. Exemptions 
implemented through this action are documented in a LOA issued to each 
vessel participating in an approved sector. The exemptions from the 20-
day spawning block and the 120-day gillnet block will reduce the 
reporting burden for sector vessels, because exemptions from these 
requirements eliminate the need to report the blocks to the NMFS 
Interactive Voice Response system.
    Sector vessels exempt from the gillnet limit (up to 150 nets) are 
also exempt from current tagging requirements, and are instead required 
to tag gillnets with one tag per net. Compliance with the tagging 
requirement will not necessarily require sector vessels to purchase 
additional net tags, as each vessel is already issued up to 150 tags. 
However, sector vessels that have not previously purchased the maximum 
number of gillnet tags may find it necessary to purchase additional 
tags to comply with this requirement at a cost of $1.20 per tag.
    The exemption to allow a vessel to haul another vessel's gillnet 
gear requires each vessel to tag all gear it is authorized to haul. 
Because of the existing 150-tag limit, no additional tags may be 
purchased.
    The exemption from the limit on the number of hooks does not 
involve reporting requirements, but may result in increased costs for 
hooks and rigging (groundline, gangions, anchors) if a vessel chooses 
to increase the amount of gear fished. Circle hooks of the legal 
minimum size (12/0) cost about $0.19 each without rigging.
    The GOM Sink Gillnet exemption does not involve additional 
reporting requirements. However, to use this exemption, sector vessels 
may need to purchase 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh gillnet nets. At the time 
this FRFA was prepared, no cost information was available for a 6-inch 
(15.2-cm) mesh gillnet panel. However, the cost of a 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) 
mesh 300-ft (91.4-m) gillnet panel, complete with floats and break-away 
links, is estimated at $310. The quantity of 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh 
gillnets purchased by a vessel to participate in this program will 
depend on the vessel's gillnet designation (a Day gillnet vessel would 
have a 150-net limit) and the perceived economic benefits of utilizing 
the exemption,

[[Page 26148]]

which may be based on market conditions.
    Exempting sectors from the requirement to submit a daily catch 
report for all vessels participating in the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP 
does not change the reporting burden of individual participating 
vessels, as the vessels would merely change the recipient of their 
current daily report.
    Other exemptions granted by this action involve no additional 
reporting requirements. Sector reporting and recordkeeping regulations 
do not exempt participants from state and Federal reporting and 
recordkeeping, but are mandated above and beyond current state and 
Federal requirements. A full list of compliance, recording, and 
recordkeeping requirements exists in the final rules implementing 
Amendment 16 and each approved FY 2012 sector operations plan.

Steps the Agency Has Taken To Minimize Significant Adverse Economic 
Impact on Small Entities

    This action will create a positive economic impact for the 
participating sector vessels because it mitigates the impacts from 
restrictive management measures implemented under the NE Multispecies 
FMP. Little quantitative data on the precise economic impacts to 
individual vessels are available. The 2010 Final Report on the 
Performance of the Northeast Multispecies (Groundfish) Fishery (May 
2010-April 2011) (copies are available from NMFS, see ADDRESSES) 
documents that all measures of gross revenue per trip and per day 
absent in 2010 were higher for the average sector vessel and lower for 
the average common pool vessel. However, the report stipulates this 
comparison is not useful for evaluating the relative performance of DAS 
and sector-based management because of fundamental differences between 
these groups of vessels, which were not accounted for in the analyses. 
Accordingly, quantitative analysis of the impacts of sector operations 
plans is still limited. NMFS anticipates that by switching from effort 
controls of the common pool regime to operating under a sector ACE, 
sector members will remain economically viable while adjusting to 
changing economic and fishing conditions. Thus, this final rule 
provides benefits to sector members that they would not have under the 
No Action Alternative. The preamble discusses reasons for approval or 
disapproval of each requested exemption.
    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, an LOA, or letter of authorization, for each 
permit holder enrolled in a sector that also serves as small entity 
compliance guide (the guide) was prepared. Copies of this final rule 
are available from the Northeast Regional Office, and the guide, i.e., 
permit holder letter or bulletin, will be sent to all holders of NE 
multispecies permits enrolled in a sector. The guide and this final 
rule will be available upon request (see ADDRESSES).
    On February 3, 2012, NMFS published final rules listing the Gulf of 
Maine distinct population segment (DPS) of Atlantic sturgeon as 
threatened, and listing the New York Bight, Chesapeake Bay, Carolina, 
and South Atlantic DPSs of Atlantic sturgeon as endangered, effective 
April 6, 2012. Preliminary analysis indicates that multiple Atlantic 
sturgeon DPSs may be affected by the continued operation of the NE 
multispecies fishery and formal consultation under Section 7 of the ESA 
has been reinitiated and is ongoing for the NE multispecies fishery. 
The previous Biological Opinion for the NE multispecies fishery 
completed in October 2010 concluded that the actions considered would 
not jeopardize the continued existence of any listed species. This 
Biological Opinion will be updated and additional evaluation will be 
included to describe any impacts of the NE multispecies fishery on 
Atlantic sturgeon DPSs and define any measures needed to mitigate those 
impacts, if necessary. It is anticipated that any measures, terms and 
conditions included in an updated Biological Opinion will further 
reduce impacts to the species. It is expected that the completion of 
the Biological Opinion will occur before the beginning of the 2012 NE 
multispecies fishing year on May 1, 2012. NMFS has determined that 
continued operation of the fishery during the consultation period is 
not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of listed species.

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

    Dated: April 26, 2012.
Alan D. Risenhoover,
Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator For Regulatory Programs, National 
Marine Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2012-10527 Filed 5-1-12; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P