[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 203 (Friday, October 19, 2012)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 64237-64239]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-25821]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 622

[Docket No. 120416008-2525-02]
RIN 0648-BB72


Fisheries of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic; 
Reef Fish Fishery of the Gulf of Mexico; Amendment 34

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

ACTION: Final rule.

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SUMMARY: NMFS issues this final rule to implement management measures 
described in Amendment 34 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Reef 
Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico (FMP) prepared by the Gulf of 
Mexico Fishery Management Council (Council). This rule removes the 
income qualification requirements for renewal of Gulf of Mexico (Gulf) 
commercial reef fish permits and increases the maximum crew size to 
four for dual-permitted vessels (i.e. vessels that possess both a 
charter vessel/headboat permit for Gulf reef fish and a commercial 
vessel permit for Gulf reef fish) that are fishing commercially. The 
intent of this rule is to remove permit requirements that NMFS views as 
no longer applicable to current commercial fishing practices and to 
improve safety-at-sea in the Gulf reef fish fishery.

DATES: This rule is effective November 19, 2012.

ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of Amendment 34, which includes an 
environmental assessment and a regulatory impact review, may be 
obtained from the Southeast Regional Office Web site at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sf/GrouperSnapperandReefFish.htm.
    Comments regarding the burden-hour estimates or other aspects of 
the collection-of-information requirements contained in this final rule 
may be submitted in writing to Anik Clemens, Southeast Regional Office, 
NMFS, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701; and to OMB, by 
email at OIRA Submission@omb.eop.gov, or by fax to 202-395-7285.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Cynthia Meyer, Southeast Regional 
Office, NMFS, telephone 727-824-5305; email: Cynthia.Meyer@noaa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NMFS and the Council manage the Gulf reef 
fish fishery under the FMP. The Council prepared the FMP and NMFS 
implements the FMP under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery 
Conservation and Management Act (Magunson-Stevens Act) by regulations 
at 50 CFR part 622.
    On July 10, 2012, NMFS published a notice of availability for 
Amendment 34 and requested public comment (77 FR 40561). NMFS published 
a proposed rule for Amendment 34 on July 18, 2012, and requested public 
comment (77 FR 42251). The purpose and rationale for the actions 
contained in this final rule can be found in the proposed rule and are 
not repeated here.
    Management measures implemented through this final rule eliminate 
the income qualification requirements for renewal of commercial Gulf 
reef fish permits and increase the maximum crew size from three to four 
for dual-permitted vessels.

Comments and Responses

    The following is a summary of the comments NMFS received on the

[[Page 64238]]

proposed rule and NMFS' respective responses. During the comment 
period, NMFS received 11 comment letters, including nine from private 
citizens and two from fishing organizations. Of these comment letters, 
10 were in support of the proposed rule and one opposed the proposed 
rule. Three of the comment letters were an identical form.
    Comment 1: The comments supporting the proposed rule insisted that 
the income requirement was no longer needed due to other existing 
regulations for the reef fish fishery. The comment letter opposing the 
proposed rule suggested that by removing the income requirement, there 
would be no incentive to report catch.
    Response: NMFS agrees that the income requirement is no longer 
needed in the reef fish fishery. Currently, to obtain or renew a 
commercial vessel permit for reef fish, more than 50 percent of the 
applicant's earned income must have been derived from commercial 
fishing or from charter fishing during either of the 2 calendar years 
preceding the application. Due to recent regulatory changes in the 
commercial sector including establishment of individual fishing quotas 
(IFQs) for the most commercially sought after species, NMFS views 
existing income qualification requirements as no longer necessary. The 
regulations for the reef fish fishery require dealer reporting and the 
IFQ programs require trip declarations, 3-hour notifications, and 
detailed reporting. These requirements and the potential enforcement 
measures are considered adequate incentives for fishermen to accurately 
report their catches in the absence of the income requirement.
    Further, the relative ease of fulfilling or circumventing income 
requirement provisions has rendered them largely meaningless. 
Currently, NMFS requires only that applicants submit affidavits 
attesting that they meet the minimum income requirements. These 
affidavits are not routinely validated by NMFS, because doing so is 
difficult and costly. In addition, business entities such as 
corporations and partnerships are the most common form of permitted 
entity, and their operations are easily structured so as satisfy the 
income requirement. Removing these requirements will streamline the 
permit renewal process and eliminate ineffective regulations.
    Comment 2: Regarding the increase in crew size for dual-permitted 
vessels, the comments supporting this change were based on improving 
safety-at-sea and allowing compliance with current Occupational Safety 
and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations for commercial diving 
operations. The comment opposing the change suggests that increasing 
the crew size would result in overfishing by spear fishermen.
    Response: The rule increases the maximum crew size regulations from 
three to four people for dual-permitted vessels without a certificate 
of inspection when fishing commercially. Historically, limiting the 
crew size on a dual-permitted vessel when fishing commercially was 
intended to prevent a vessel from taking out a number of passengers 
under the pretense of making a charter trip, but subsequently selling 
the catch. In addition to the implementation of the IFQ programs for 
most of the commercially harvested species, all commercial reef fish 
vessels are required to be equipped with vessel monitoring systems. 
Vessel monitoring systems (VMSs) track the location of individual 
vessels in the fleet. Having a VMS on board makes it clear when a 
vessel is operating as a commercial vessel. Dual-permitted commercial 
spear fishermen requested an increase in crew size to allow two divers 
in the water, diving as a buddy pair, while two crew members remain 
aboard the vessel. This conforms to safe operating procedures for 
commercial diving (according to OSHA regulations) and directly promotes 
the safety of human life at sea. The change in crew size could slightly 
increase the vessel's efficiency in overall fishing effort by allowing 
the crew to rest in between shifts. Spearfishing is a minor component 
of the Gulf reef fish fishery and any increase in efficiency would be a 
small percentage of overall harvest. If the dual-permitted vessels do 
increase the overall fishing effort, then the regulations for the 
commercial reef fish fishery requiring detailed monitoring and 
reporting including VMS, trip declaration, and landing notifications 
would provide the catch information. Additionally, other management 
measures such as quotas and associated closures are tailored to prevent 
overfishing of species in the reef fish fishery and there is no 
evidence that an increase in crew size would lead to overfishing.

Classification

    NMFS determined that this final rule and Amendment 34 are necessary 
for the conservation and management of the Gulf reef fish fishery and 
are consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and other applicable law.
    This final rule has been determined to be not significant for 
purposes of Executive Order 12866.
    The Chief Counsel for Regulation of the Department of Commerce 
certified to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business 
Administration during the proposed rule stage that this rule would not 
have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small 
entities. The factual basis for this determination was published in the 
proposed rule and is not repeated here. No comments were received 
regarding the certification and NMFS has not received any new 
information that would affect its determination. As a result, a 
regulatory flexibility analysis was not required and none was prepared.
    This final rule contains collection-of-information requirements 
subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) and which have been 
approved by the Office of management and Budget (OMB) under control 
number 0648-0205. NMFS has determined the removal of the income 
qualification requirements for commercial Gulf reef fish permit holders 
will result in a net decrease in the time to complete the Federal 
Permit Application (for all applicants), however, the current burden 
estimate (20 minutes per applicant) to complete the application form 
would not decrease because the time to complete the Income 
Qualification Affidavit is minimal compared to the time to complete the 
entire application. These estimates of the public reporting burden 
include the time for reviewing instructions, searching existing data 
sources, gathering and maintaining the data needed, and completing and 
reviewing the collection-of-information. Send comments regarding the 
burden estimate or any other aspect of the collection-of-information 
requirement, including suggestions for reducing the burden, to NMFS and 
to OMB (see ADDRESSES).
    Notwithstanding any other provision of the law, no person is 
required to respond to, and no person shall be subject to penalty for 
failure to comply with, a collection of information subject to the 
requirements of the PRA, unless that collection of information displays 
a currently valid OMB control number.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 622

    Fisheries, Fishing, Puerto Rico, Reporting and recordkeeping 
requirements, Virgin Islands.


[[Page 64239]]


    Dated: October 15, 2012.
Alan D. Risenhoover,
Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, performing the functions and 
duties of the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, 
National Marine Fisheries Service.

    For the reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 622 is amended 
as follows:

PART 622--FISHERIES OF THE CARIBBEAN, GULF, AND SOUTH ATLANTIC

0
1. The authority citation for part 622 continues to read as follows:

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


0
2. In Sec.  622.2, the definition for ``charter vessel'' is revised to 
read as follows:


Sec.  622.2  Definitions and acronyms.

* * * * *
    Charter vessel means a vessel less than 100 gross tons (90.8 mt) 
that is subject to the requirements of the USCG to carry six or fewer 
passengers for hire and that engages in charter fishing at any time 
during the calendar year. A charter vessel with a commercial permit, as 
required under Sec.  622.4(a)(2), is considered to be operating as a 
charter vessel when it carries a passenger who pays a fee or when there 
are more than three persons aboard, including operator and crew, except 
for a charter vessel with a commercial vessel permit for Gulf reef 
fish. A charter vessel that has a charter vessel permit for Gulf reef 
fish and a commercial vessel permit for Gulf reef fish is considered to 
be operating as a charter vessel when it carries a passenger who pays a 
fee or when there are more than four persons aboard, including operator 
and crew. A charter vessel that has a charter vessel permit for Gulf 
reef fish, a commercial vessel permit for Gulf reef fish, and a valid 
Certificate of Inspection (COI) issued by the USCG to carry passengers 
for hire will not be considered to be operating as a charter vessel 
provided--
    (1) It is not carrying a passenger who pays a fee; and
    (2) When underway for more than 12 hours, that vessel meets, but 
does not exceed the minimum manning requirements outlined in its COI 
for vessels underway over 12 hours; or when underway for not more than 
12 hours, that vessel meets the minimum manning requirements outlined 
in its COI for vessels underway for not more than 12-hours (if any), 
and does not exceed the minimum manning requirements outlined in its 
COI for vessels that are underway for more than 12 hours.
* * * * *

0
3. In Sec.  622.4, the introductory text for paragraph (a)(2)(v) is 
revised; paragraphs (m)(3), (m)(4), and (m)(5) are removed; paragraph 
(m)(6) is redesignated as paragraph (m)(3); and paragraph (m)(2) is 
revised to read as follows:


Sec.  622.4  Permits and fees.

    (a) * * *
    (2) * * *
    (v) Gulf reef fish. For a person aboard a vessel to be eligible for 
exemption from the bag limits, to fish under a quota, as specified in 
Sec.  622.42(a)(1), or to sell Gulf reef fish in or from the Gulf EEZ, 
a commercial vessel permit for Gulf reef fish must have been issued to 
the vessel and must be on board. If Federal regulations for Gulf reef 
fish in subparts A, B, or C of this part are more restrictive than 
state regulations, a person aboard a vessel for which a commercial 
vessel permit for Gulf reef fish has been issued must comply with such 
Federal regulations regardless of where the fish are harvested. See 
paragraph (a)(2)(ix) of this section regarding an IFQ vessel account 
required to fish for, possess, or land Gulf red snapper or Gulf 
groupers and tilefishes and paragraph (a)(2)(xiv) of this section 
regarding an additional bottom longline endorsement required to fish 
for Gulf reef fish with bottom longline gear in a portion of the 
eastern Gulf. See paragraph (m) of this section regarding a limited 
access system for commercial vessel permits for Gulf reef fish.
* * * * *
    (m) * * *
    (2) A permit holder may transfer the commercial vessel permit for 
Gulf reef fish to another vessel owned by the same entity. A permit 
holder may also transfer the commercial vessel permit for Gulf reef 
fish to the owner of another vessel or to a new vessel owner when he or 
she transfers ownership of the permitted vessel.
* * * * *
[FR Doc. 2012-25821 Filed 10-18-12; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P