[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 94 (Tuesday, May 15, 2012)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 28496-28497]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-11744]



[[Page 28496]]

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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 635

[Docket No. 110210132-1275-02]
RIN 0648-XC006


Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; Atlantic Bluefin Tuna 
Fisheries

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

ACTION: Temporary rule; inseason General category retention limit 
adjustment.

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SUMMARY: NMFS is adjusting the Atlantic tunas General category daily 
Atlantic bluefin tuna (BFT) retention limit for the June through August 
2012 time period, based on consideration of the regulatory 
determination criteria regarding inseason adjustments. This action 
applies to Atlantic tunas General category permitted vessels and to 
Highly Migratory Species Charter/Headboat category permitted vessels 
when fishing commercially for BFT.

DATES: Effective June 1, 2012, through August 31, 2012.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Sarah McLaughlin or Brad McHale, 978-
281-9260.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Regulations implemented under the authority 
of the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act (ATCA; 16 U.S.C. 971 et seq.) and 
the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-
Stevens Act; 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.) governing the harvest of BFT by 
persons and vessels subject to U.S. jurisdiction are found at 50 CFR 
part 635. Section 635.27 subdivides the U.S. BFT quota recommended by 
the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas 
(ICCAT) among the various domestic fishing categories, per the 
allocations established in the 2006 Consolidated Highly Migratory 
Species Fishery Management Plan (2006 Consolidated HMS FMP) (71 FR 
58058, October 2, 2006) and in accordance with implementing 
regulations.
    The 2012 BFT fishing year, which is managed on a calendar-year 
basis and subject to an annual calendar-year quota, began January 1, 
2012. The General category season, which was open January 1 through 
January 22, 2012, resumes on June 1, 2012, and continues through 
December 31, 2012. Unless changed, the General category daily retention 
limit would be the default retention limit of one large medium or giant 
BFT (measuring 73 inches (185 cm) curved fork length (CFL) or greater) 
per vessel per day/trip (Sec.  635.23(a)(2)). This default retention 
limit applies to General category permitted vessels and to HMS Charter/
Headboat category permitted vessels when fishing commercially for BFT. 
Each of the General category time periods (January, June-August, 
September, October-November, and December) is allocated a portion of 
the annual General category quota.
    For the 2011 fishing year, NMFS adjusted the General category limit 
from the default level of one large medium or giant BFT as follows: Two 
large medium or giant BFT for the January subquota period (75 FR 79309, 
December 20, 2010); three large medium or giant BFT for June through 
November 5 (76 FR 32086, June 3, 2011; and 76 FR 52886, August 24, 
2011); and two large medium or giant BFT for November 6 through 
December 31, 2011 (76 FR 69137, November 8, 2011). The November 2011 
adjustment was in conjunction with an inseason quota transfer of 50 mt 
from the Reserve category to the General category. NMFS adjusted the 
limit for the 2012 January subquota period from the default level of 
one large medium or giant BFT to two large medium or giant BFT (76 FR 
76900, December 9, 2011). That retention limit was effective from 
January 1, 2012, until January 22, 2012, when NMFS closed the fishery 
because the January subquota had been met (77 FR 3637, January 25, 
2012).
    The 2010 ICCAT recommendation regarding western BFT management 
resulted in baseline U.S. quotas for 2011 and for 2012 of 923.7 mt (not 
including the 25 mt ICCAT allocated to the United States to account for 
bycatch of BFT in pelagic longline fisheries in the Northeast Distant 
Gear Restricted Area). Consistent with the allocation scheme 
established in the Consolidated HMS FMP and implementing regulations, 
the baseline 2012 General category share is 435.1 mt, and the baseline 
June through August General category subquota is 217.6 mt. Although 
NMFS has published proposed quota specifications for 2012 (77 FR 15712, 
March 16, 2012), the baseline General category subquota as codified 
would not be changed. NMFS is required under ATCA and the Magnuson-
Stevens Act to provide U.S. fishing vessels with a reasonable 
opportunity to harvest the ICCAT-recommended quota.

Adjustment of General Category Daily Retention Limit

    Under Sec.  635.23(a)(4), NMFS may increase or decrease the daily 
retention limit of large medium and giant BFT over a range of zero to a 
maximum of five per vessel based on consideration of the relevant 
criteria provided under Sec.  635.27(a)(8), which include: The 
usefulness of information obtained from catches in the particular 
category for biological sampling and monitoring of the status of the 
stock; effects of the adjustment on BFT rebuilding and overfishing; 
effects of the adjustment on accomplishing the objectives of the 
fishery management plan; variations in seasonal BFT distribution, 
abundance, or migration patterns; effects of catch rates in one area 
precluding vessels in another area from having a reasonable opportunity 
to harvest a portion of the category's quota; and review of dealer 
reports, daily landing trends, and the availability of the BFT on the 
fishing grounds.
    NMFS has considered these criteria and their applicability to the 
General category BFT retention limit for the June-August 2012 General 
category fishery. These considerations include, but are not limited to, 
the following. Biological samples collected from BFT landed by General 
category fishermen and provided by BFT dealers, continues to provide 
NMFS with valuable parts and data for ongoing scientific studies of BFT 
age and growth, migration, and reproductive status. As this action 
would be taken consistent with the quotas previously established and 
analyzed in the 2011 BFT quotas final rule (76 FR 39019, July 5, 2011), 
and consistent with objectives of the Consolidated HMS FMP, it is not 
expected to negatively impact stock health. A principal consideration 
is the objective of providing opportunities to harvest the full June-
August subquota without exceeding it based upon the Consolidated HMS 
FMP goal: ``Consistent with other objectives of this FMP, to manage 
Atlantic HMS fisheries for continuing optimum yield so as to provide 
the greatest overall benefit to the Nation, particularly with respect 
to food production, providing recreational opportunities, preserving 
traditional fisheries, and taking into account the protection of marine 
ecosystems''. Migration of commercial-size BFT to the fishing grounds 
off the northeast U.S. coast is anticipated by early June. Lastly, 
based on General category landings rates during the June through August 
time-period over the last several years, it is highly unlikely that the 
June through August subquota will be filled

[[Page 28497]]

with the default daily retention limit of one BFT per vessel. During 
the June-August 2011 period, under a three-fish limit, BFT landings 
were approximately 140 mt. However, based on the pattern exhibited over 
the last few years, NMFS anticipates an increase in both landings of 
BFT (in number) and average fish weight for the June-August period in 
2012, such that a three-fish limit may result in higher landings than 
in previous years.
    A lower limit could result in unused quota being added to the later 
portion of the General category season (i.e., rolling forward to the 
subsequent subuota time period). Increasing the daily retention limit 
from the default may mitigate rolling an excessive amount of unused 
quota from one time-period subquota to the next. Increasing the daily 
limit from three to four or five fish may risk exceeding the available 
June-August subquota.
    Based on these considerations, NMFS has determined that a three-
fish General category retention limit is warranted. It would provide a 
reasonable opportunity to harvest the U.S. quota of BFT without 
exceeding it, while maintaining an equitable distribution of fishing 
opportunities, to help achieve optimum yield in the General category 
BFT fishery, to collect a broad range of data for stock monitoring 
purposes, and to be consistent with the objectives of the Consolidated 
HMS FMP. Therefore, NMFS increases the General category retention limit 
from the default limit to three large medium or giant BFT per vessel 
per day/trip, effective June 1, 2012, through August 31, 2012.
    Regardless of the duration of a fishing trip, the daily retention 
limit applies upon landing. For example, whether a vessel fishing under 
the General category limit takes a two-day trip or makes two trips in 
one day, the daily limit of three fish may not be exceeded upon 
landing. This General category retention limit is effective in all 
areas, except for the Gulf of Mexico, and applies to those vessels 
permitted in the General category, as well as to those HMS Charter/
Headboat permitted vessels fishing commercially for BFT.

Monitoring and Reporting

    NMFS will continue to monitor the BFT fishery closely through the 
mandatory dealer landing reports, which NMFS requires to be submitted 
within 24 hours of a dealer receiving BFT. Depending on the level of 
fishing effort and catch rates of BFT, NMFS may determine that 
additional retention limit adjustments are necessary to ensure 
available quota is not exceeded or to enhance scientific data 
collection from, and fishing opportunities in, all geographic areas.
    Closures or subsequent adjustments to the daily retention limits, 
if any, will be published in the Federal Register In addition, 
fishermen may call the Atlantic Tunas Information Line at (888) 872-
8862 or (978) 281-9260, or access www.hmspermits.gov, for updates on 
quota monitoring and retention limit adjustments.

Classification

    The Assistant Administrator for NMFS (AA) finds that it is 
impracticable and contrary to the public interest to provide prior 
notice of, and an opportunity for public comment on, this action for 
the following reasons:
    The regulations implementing the Consolidated HMS FMP provide for 
inseason retention limit adjustments to respond to the unpredictable 
nature of BFT availability on the fishing grounds, the migratory nature 
of this species, and the regional variations in the BFT fishery. 
Affording prior notice and opportunity for public comment to implement 
these retention limits is impracticable as NMFS needs to wait until it 
has necessary data and information about the fishery before it can 
select the appropriate retention limit for a time period prescribed by 
regulation. By the time NMFS has the needed data, implementing the 
retention limit following a public comment period would preclude 
fishermen from harvesting BFT that are legally available consistent 
with all of the regulatory criteria. Analysis of available data shows 
that the General category BFT retention limits may be increased with 
minimal risks of exceeding the ICCAT-allocated quota.
    Delays in increasing these retention limits would adversely affect 
those General and Charter/Headboat category vessels that would 
otherwise have an opportunity to harvest more than the default 
retention limit of one BFT per day/trip and may exacerbate the problem 
of low catch rates and quota rollovers. Limited opportunities to 
harvest the respective quotas may have negative social and economic 
impacts for U.S. fishermen that depend upon catching the available 
quota within the time periods designated in the Consolidated HMS FMP. 
Adjustment of the retention limit needs to be effective June 1, 2012, 
or as soon as possible thereafter, to minimize any unnecessary 
disruption in fishing patterns, to allow the impacted sectors to 
benefit from the adjustment, and to not preclude fishing opportunities 
for fishermen who have access to the fishery only during this time 
period. Therefore, the AA finds good cause under 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(B) to 
waive prior notice and the opportunity for public comment. For these 
reasons, there is good cause under 5 U.S.C. 553(d) to waive the 30-day 
delay in effectiveness.
    This action is being taken under 50 CFR 635.23(a)(4) and is exempt 
from review under Executive Order 12866.

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 971 et seq. and 1801 et seq.

    Dated: May 9, 2012.
Emily H. Menashes,
Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2012-11744 Filed 5-14-12; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P