[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 120 (Thursday, June 21, 2012)]
[Notices]
[Pages 37387-37389]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-15229]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-BC27


New England Fishery Management Council; Northeast Multispecies 
Fishery; Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement 
(EIS); Request for Comments

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

[[Page 37388]]


ACTION: Notice; intent to prepare an environmental impact statement; 
request for comments.

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SUMMARY: The New England Fishery Management Council (Council) announces 
its intention to prepare, in cooperation with NMFS, an EIS in 
accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). An EIS 
may be necessary to provide analytical support for the fishing year 
2013-2015 catch allowances and management measures for the Northeast 
(NE) Multispecies Fishery Management Plan (FMP). Analysis may also be 
necessary to evaluate alternatives for mitigating FMP interactions with 
threatened and endangered distinct population segments of Atlantic 
sturgeon. This notice is to alert the interested public of the 
potential development of a Draft EIS, and to outline opportunity for 
public participation in that process.

DATES: Written comments must be received on or before 5 p.m., e.s.t., 
on July 23, 2012.

ADDRESSES: Written comments may be sent by any of the following 
methods:
     Email: 2013.groundfish.actionNOI@noaa.gov.
     Mail or hand delivery: Mr. Paul Howard, New England 
Fishery Management Council, 50 Water St., Mill 2, Newburyport, MA 
01950. Mark the outside of the envelope ``2013.groundfish.actionNOI''; 
or
     Fax: (978) 465-3116.
    Additional information may be obtained from the Council office at 
the previously provided address, by request to the Council by telephone 
(978) 465-0492, or via the Internet at http://www.nefmc.org. Comments 
may be provided at upcoming Council meetings. Meeting times and 
locations are listed on the Council's Web site: http://www.nefmc.org.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Paul Howard, New England Fishery 
Management Council, 50 Water St., Mill 2, Newburyport, MA 01950, 
(telephone 978-465-0492).

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Council, working through its public 
participatory committee and meeting processes, anticipates development 
of actions that may be analyzed through an EIS, or analyzed through an 
Environmental Assessment (EA), dependent on addressing applicable 
criteria in Council of Environmental Quality regulations and guidance 
for implementing NEPA. The action may include the following measures:
    1. Establishment of catch limits and management measures for 
certain stocks and species for the 2013, 2014, and possibly the 2015 
fishing years, and;
    2. Development of measures to minimize take and/or adverse impacts 
on threatened and endangered distinct population segments (DPS) of 
Atlantic sturgeon that interact with the NE multispecies fisheries.
    These potential measures are described in further detail, as 
follows:

Catch Limits and Management Measures

    The development of fishing year 2013, 2014, and possibly 2015 catch 
allowances and management measures has been initiated by the Council. 
It is expected that the action will likely be taken through an FMP 
framework adjustment process; however, it is possible an amendment to 
the FMP may be utilized, dependent on the final scope and scale of the 
action relative to the authority provided by the FMP for framework 
adjustment. The action is expected to be further developed throughout 
2012. The Council recommendations are designed to be submitted to NMFS 
for review, approval, rulemaking and implementation in time for NMFS to 
implement the action by the start of the 2013 fishing year (May 1, 
2013). The Council will provide advanced notice of development and 
decisionmaking meetings where the 2013-15 catch allowance and 
management measures will be discussed.
    The Council may take action including, but not limited to, 
establishment of annual catch allowances for the commercial and 
recreational NE multispecies fisheries along with commercial and 
recreational fishery regulatory changes designed to ensure catch does 
not exceed the established allowances being concurrently implemented by 
the action. These catch and fishing measures are anticipated for the 
following groundfish species either throughout all northeastern U.S. 
waters, in U.S. waters subject to the U.S./Canada Resources Sharing 
Understanding, or as specified in broad stock areas, as indicated by 
parenthesis: Atlantic cod (George's Bank (GB) and Gulf of Maine (GOM) 
stocks); haddock (GB and GOM stocks); yellowtail flounder (Cape Cod/
GOM, GB, and Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic (SNE/MA) Bight stocks); 
American plaice; witch flounder; Acadian redfish; white hake; 
windowpane flounder (GOM/GB and SNE/MA stocks); ocean pout; Atlantic 
wolffish; and Atlantic halibut.
    The Council anticipates using this action to address requirements 
of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act 
(Magnuson-Stevens Act) and its national standards. Specifically, the 
Council intends to establish Annual Catch Limits (ACLs) based on 
Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC) advice from its Scientific and 
Statistical Committee (SSC) for commercial and recreational fisheries 
that catch these species. ACLs are designed to ensure stocks do not 
become overfished, are not subject to overfishing, and, where required, 
rebuild to target biomass levels. In addition, the Council anticipates 
taking action to end overfishing for stocks currently subject to 
overfishing: GOM and GB cod; GOM haddock; Cape Cod/GOM yellowtail 
flounder; GOM/GB windowpane flounder; and witch flounder. Ending 
overfishing may require reduction in catch allowances from currently 
established levels, changes in management measures, or both.
    The Council intends to provide analysis of the positive and 
negative environmental impacts resulting from various alternatives 
under consideration for the previously mentioned species and 
objectives. The interested public is encouraged to participate in the 
development process and provide input on alternatives designed to 
achieve the previously described objectives. The Council will begin the 
catch and management measures specification process by soliciting 
comments during an initial scoping period, as proscribed in this 
notice. However, if the ongoing analysis indicates a Finding of No 
Significant Impact (FONSI) statement can be supported, the Council may 
provide notice in the Federal Register indicating it is not necessary 
to prepare an EIS and will instead develop an EA to provide the 
necessary NEPA analysis. It is expected that a new stock assessment for 
GOM cod will be completed and available for 2013-15 catch and 
management measures development process. The scientifically 
controversial components of the most recent assessment, conducted in 
December 2012, are planned to be addressed by this new assessment. The 
status of scientific controversy involving the available stock 
assessment information for GOM cod is expected to be a consideration in 
whether a FONSI can be supported. The Council will keep the public 
apprised of the ongoing NEPA analysis development as the catch and 
management measures process moves forward.

Atlantic Sturgeon Related Measures

    NMFS published a final rule (77 FR 5880; February 6, 2012) to list 
Atlantic

[[Page 37389]]

sturgeon under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as threatened in the 
Gulf of Maine DPS and as endangered in the New York Bight, Chesapeake 
Bay, Carolina, and South Atlantic DPSs. Atlantic sturgeon within these 
DPSs are known to interact with the NE multispecies fisheries.
    Following the publication of the final listing rule, NMFS has 
initiated formal consultation under Section 7 of the ESA for the NE 
Multispecies FMP and is developing a comprehensive Biological Opinion 
to ascertain the level of impact the fishery may have on these three 
Atlantic sturgeon DPSs. As part of the Section 7 consultation, NMFS 
will determine if the NE multispecies fishery jeopardizes the continued 
existence of any or all of the DPSs, or if the level of interaction may 
adversely impact but does not jeopardize survival of the species in any 
or all of the DPSs. These determinations will result in the requirement 
to develop and implement measures required by the ESA: Either 
Reasonable and Prudent Alternatives (RPAs) to avert survival jeopardy, 
or Reasonable and Prudent Measures (RPMs) to mitigate adverse impact on 
the DPSs.
    The Council anticipates that some level of action will be necessary 
to develop and implement either RPAs or RPMs following completion of 
NMFS's Section 7 consultation process. In anticipation of this action, 
the Council is soliciting public comment on the types of measures that 
may mitigate the take and interaction of Atlantic sturgeon by the NE 
multispecies fishery, as well as the positive and negative 
environmental effects analysis necessary to evaluate these 
alternatives. The Council may elect to develop Atlantic sturgeon-
related measures in conjunction with 2013-2015 catch and management 
measures in an EIS. However, if a FONSI can be substantiated, the 
action needed to implement Atlantic sturgeon mitigation measures may be 
analyzed in an EA. The Council will keep the public apprised of the 
level of NEPA analysis being conducted in conjunction with Atlantic 
sturgeon-related measures, as development of the overall action occurs.
    The timing for development and completion of Atlantic sturgeon-
related mitigation measures is currently uncertain. Completion of the 
Section 7 consultation is necessary to determine the magnitude of 
impact the NE multispecies fishery has on the continued survival of 
Atlantic sturgeon from these DPSs. The consultation is planned to be 
completed by September 2012; the associated Biological Opinion will 
result in development of an Incidental Take Statement that will 
recommend RPAs or RPMs. These may include a process to develop and put 
in place mitigation measures by a time certain. The Council anticipates 
continued dialog with NMFS and the interested public regarding what 
requirements must be satisfied while consultation is ongoing and after 
consultation has been completed.

Public Comment

    In addition to soliciting comment on this notice, the public will 
have the opportunity to comment on the measures and alternatives being 
considered by the Council through public meetings and public comment 
periods required by NEPA, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and the 
Administrative Procedure Act.
    The Council's process for developing ACLs, Atlantic sturgeon-
related mitigation measures and NEPA-required analyses, in this case 
presumably one or more EISs, if necessary, will involve development 
work and meetings of the Groundfish Plan Development Team, Groundfish 
Committee, the SSC, the Recreational and Commercial fishery Advisory 
Panels, and the full Council. Information regarding the schedule for 
meetings, including agendas and meeting-related documents, involving 
these groups can be found on the Council's Web site: http://www.nefmc.org/ or obtained by calling the Council office at (978) 465-
0492.

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

    Dated: June 15, 2012.
Carrie Selberg,
Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2012-15229 Filed 6-20-12; 8:45 am]
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