[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 145 (Friday, July 27, 2012)]
[Notices]
[Pages 44214-44216]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-18400]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XR75


Essential Fish Habitat Components of Fishery Management Plans; 5-
Year Review

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

ACTION: Supplemental notice of intent (NOI) to prepare an environmental 
impact statement (EIS).

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SUMMARY: The New England Fishery Management Council is in the process 
of preparing an Essential Fish Habitat Omnibus Amendment to the fishery 
management plans for Northeast multispecies, Atlantic sea scallop, 
monkfish, Atlantic herring, skates, Atlantic salmon, and Atlantic deep-
sea red crab. The Council is seeking comments about removing the range 
of alternatives pertaining to deep-sea corals from this action and 
developing them as a separate omnibus amendment.

DATES: Written comments must be received on or before 5 p.m. e.s.t., 
August 27, 2012.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by any of the following methods:
     Email: CoralNOI@noaa.gov.
     Mail: Paul J. Howard, Executive Director, New England 
Fishery Management Council, 50 Water Street, Newburyport, MA 01950.
     Fax: (978) 465-3116.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Paul J. Howard, Executive Director, 
New England Fishery Management Council (978) 465-0492.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The New England Fishery Management Council's 
(Council) Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) Omnibus Amendment 2 (OA2) 
currently includes: (1) Review and update of EFH designations, (2) 
review and update of

[[Page 44215]]

Habitat Area of Particular Concern (HAPC) designations, (3) other EFH 
requirements of fishery management plans including prey species 
information and non-fishing impacts, (4) alternatives to minimize, to 
the extent practicable, the adverse effects of Council-managed 
fisheries on EFH, and (5) alternatives to minimize fishing effects on 
deep-sea corals developed under the authority granted in the fishery 
management plan (FMP) discretionary provisions (section 303(b)) of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-
Stevens Act). Alternatives developed under item 4 will include options 
related to the groundfish closed areas as well as options to designate 
spatially-overlapping dedicated habitat research areas. The Council 
added review of the groundfish closed areas to OA2 in April 2011 (76 FR 
35408). Approval of a range of adverse effects minimization, groundfish 
area, and research area alternatives (item 3) has not yet occurred.
    The purpose of this notification is to alert and seek comment from 
the public about Council's consideration of splitting the deep-sea 
coral discretionary provision alternatives from OA2, and including them 
in a separate omnibus amendment.
    The Magnuson-Stevens Act section 303(b) discretionary authority 
gives Councils broad latitude to develop measures to minimize the 
impacts of fishing on deep-sea corals. Because most of the deep-sea 
corals occur beyond the limits of EFH, the Council is considering 
conservation measures under these discretionary provisions of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act. This authority was added when the Magnuson-
Stevens Act was reauthorized in 2007. The Council first directed its 
Habitat Plan Development Team to evaluate information related to deep-
sea corals and develop alternatives for their protection in February 
2008. The coral alternatives were folded into OA2 as a matter of 
convenience, because it was an ongoing habitat-related action. A range 
of coral alternatives were approved by the Council for further 
development and analysis in April 2012.
    The following considerations were discussed by the Council and its 
Habitat Committee during recent meetings, and may be helpful to members 
of the public who wish to submit comments.
    The range of coral alternatives developed by NEFMC includes broad 
zones beginning at 300, 400, or 500 m on the continental slope and 
extending to the Exclusive Economic Zone boundary, and discrete zones 
encompassing submarine canyons on the continental slope off Georges 
Bank and Southern New England, four seamounts within the EEZ, and two 
locations in the Gulf of Maine. The range of possible management 
measures for these zones includes mobile bottom-tending gear 
restrictions or bottom-tending gear restrictions, with exceptions for 
deep-sea red crab traps, special access programs, and exploratory 
fishing programs. The Council anticipates allowing these management 
measures to be revised via framework action. More detailed information 
can be found on the Council's Habitat Web page (http://www.nefmc.org/habitat/index.html).
    The fishing restriction alternatives as currently drafted are gear-
based, not fishery or FMP based, and would apply to vessels operating 
in fisheries managed by both the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery 
Management Councils. The Mid-Atlantic Council initiated their own 
action related to deep-sea corals at their April 2012 meeting. Assuming 
the New England Council implements coral-related measures north of the 
inter-council boundary, and Mid-Atlantic Council does so south of the 
boundary, consistency in management approaches will be critically 
important, because fisheries managed by both Councils operate near or 
within coral habitats and are prosecuted both sides of the boundary 
line.
    To facilitate inter-council coordination, the Councils are in the 
process of drafting a memorandum of understanding between the New 
England, Mid-Atlantic, and South Atlantic Councils. This document will 
identify areas of consensus and common strategy related to conservation 
of corals and mitigation of the negative impacts of fishery/coral 
interactions. At their June meeting, the New England Council reiterated 
that this is a priority issue for the short term. If additional 
development time is necessary to ensure that management actions related 
to deep sea corals are consistent throughout the region, these delays 
could impact completion of OA2 if the coral measures remain in the same 
action. Conversely, there have been delays associated with groundfish-
related aspects of alternatives development for OA2 (item 3 above), and 
it might be possible to move the coral alternatives forward first if 
those delays continue. Overall, placing the two sets of actions on 
separate tracks could allow increased flexibility as the Council re-
evaluates its priorities over time.
    Separate actions for corals and EFH could be clearer and easier to 
understand than a single combined action, since each one would be 
focused towards a narrower set of goals and objectives. However, there 
would be overlaps in terms of some of the content of the two separate 
amendments, especially background information for the slope and 
seamount areas (at a minimum, the EFH action will designate EFH along 
the slope and on the seamounts, so these areas will need to be 
discussed in that amendment even if the coral alternatives are 
removed). If the actions are being developed and implemented in 
parallel, which seems most likely, it might be difficult to incorporate 
this material by reference.
    Also, there is a linkage between the coral discretionary provision 
alternatives and the other alternatives in the EFH amendment because 
portions of the submarine canyons and seamounts harboring deep-sea 
corals and other associated ecosystem components were recommended as 
HAPCs during Phase 1 of OA2 development (June 2007). Because HAPCs are 
a subset of designated EFH, HAPC designations would remain as part of 
the EFH Omnibus Amendment, and would not be split off into a separate 
coral omnibus amendment, even though some of the HAPCs were developed 
with corals in mind. Each of the HAPC alternatives (and EFH 
alternatives) developed during Phase 1 are pending implementation and 
subject to change until final action is taken by the Council on Omnibus 
EFH Amendment 2. Thus, there remains an opportunity to rectify any 
inconsistencies between the coral zones developed under the 
discretionary authority and the HAPCs developed under the EFH 
authority, bearing in mind that objectives for the two sets of areas 
may be different. A comparison of the two sets of areas will be 
undertaken whether they are developed via one action or two separate 
actions.
    It is possible that some of the impacts analyses of both the coral 
and adverse effects/groundfish would be streamlined if coral 
alternatives and adverse effects/groundfish alternatives continue to be 
developed in a single amendment, because restrictions in one area could 
increase fishing activity in other areas. However, as there are few 
spatial overlaps between the coral zone alternatives and the adverse 
effects minimization areas as currently drafted, and different 
fisheries are associated with both sets of areas, this may not be a 
major issue. This could be a more important consideration for the two 
coral areas proposed in the Gulf of Maine near Mt Desert Rock and in 
western Jordan Basin. With this possible exception, splitting could 
simplify the

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analysis required because the combined effect of the two sets of 
alternatives would be limited to the cumulative effects analyses in 
each of the amendment documents.
    The Council is requesting comments on: splitting the deep-sea coral 
discretionary provision alternatives out of the EFH action and into a 
separate amendment, the range of deep-sea coral alternatives 
themselves, and coordination and consultation with the other Atlantic 
coast Councils, particularly the Mid-Atlantic Council.

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

    Dated: July 24, 2012.
James P. Burgess,
Acting Deputy Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National 
Marine Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2012-18400 Filed 7-26-12; 8:45 am]
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