[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 213 (Friday, November 2, 2012)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 66169-66177]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-26793]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 648

[Docket No. 120822383-2383-01]
RIN 0648-BC48


Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Northeast 
Multispecies Fishery Management Plan; Amendment 19

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

ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: NMFS proposes regulations to implement Amendment 19 to the 
Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan, if approved. The New 
England Fishery Management Council developed Amendment 19 to modify 
management measures that currently govern the small-mesh multispecies 
fishery, including the accountability measures, the year-round 
possession limits and total allowable landings process.

DATES: Written comments must be received no later than 5 p.m. eastern 
standard time, on December 3, 2012.

ADDRESSES: An environmental assessment (EA) was prepared for Amendment 
19 that describes the proposed action and other considered 
alternatives, and provides an analysis of the impacts of the proposed 
measures and alternatives. Copies of the Amendment, including the EA 
and the Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA), are available 
on request from Paul J. Howard, Executive Director, New England Fishery 
Management Council, 50 Water Street, Newburyport, MA 01950. These 
documents are also available online at http://www.nefmc.org.
    You may submit comments, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2012-0170, by any 
one of the following methods:
     Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal www.regulations.gov. To 
submit comments via the e-Rulemaking Portal, first click the ``submit a 
comment'' icon,

[[Page 66170]]

then enter ``NOAA-NMFS-2012-0170'' in the keyword search. Locate the 
document you wish to comment on from the resulting list and click on 
the ``Submit a Comment'' icon on the right of that line.
     Fax: (978) 281-9135, Attn: Moira Kelly.
     Mail: John Bullard, Regional Administrator, NMFS, 
Northeast Regional Office, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 
01930. Mark the outside of the envelope, ``Comments on Whiting 
Amendment 19.''
    Instructions: Comments must be submitted by one of the above 
methods to ensure that the comments are received, documented, and 
considered by NMFS. Comments sent by any other method, to any other 
address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, 
may not be considered. All comments received are a part of the public 
record and will generally be posted for public viewing on 
www.regulations.gov. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, 
address, etc.) submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly 
accessible. Do not submit confidential business information, or 
otherwise sensitive or protected information. NMFS will accept 
anonymous comments (enter ``N/A'' in the required fields if you wish to 
remain anonymous). Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted 
in Microsoft Word or Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats 
only.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Moira Kelly, Fishery Policy Analyst, 
(978) 281-9218.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Background

    Amendment 19 to the Northeast (NE) Multispecies Fishery Management 
Plan (FMP) affects the part of the New England groundfish fishery known 
as the small-mesh fishery. The small-mesh fishery is composed of a 
complex of five stocks of three species of hakes (northern silver hake, 
southern silver hake, northern red hake, southern red hake, and 
offshore hake), and is managed through a series of exemptions from the 
other provisions of the NE Multispecies FMP. It is managed separately 
from the other stocks of groundfish such as cod, haddock, and flounder, 
primarily because it is prosecuted with much smaller mesh and does not 
generally result in the catch of these other stocks.
    The New England Fishery Management Council (Council) initiated 
Amendment 19 to bring the small-mesh multispecies portion of the NE 
Multispecies FMP into compliance with the annual catch limit (ACL) and 
accountability measure (AM) requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens 
Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act). 
However, development of Amendment 19 was delayed, and it became 
apparent that the amendment would not be submitted until well after the 
2011 statutory deadline for implementing mechanisms for establishing 
ACLs and AMs. To ensure that ACLs and AMs for the small-mesh fishery 
were implemented closer to the statutory deadline, NOAA initiated, 
developed, and implemented, with the concurrence of the Council, a 
Secretarial Amendment on March 30, 2012 (77 FR 19138). The Secretarial 
Amendment was based on the preliminary work the Council completed up to 
that point, including the overfishing limits (OFL), acceptable 
biological catches (ABC), and ACLs.
    The Council, through Amendment 19, is adopting those limits (Table 
1) and the process that describes how those values are calculated as 
implemented in the Secretarial Amendment. As described in the 
Secretarial Amendment, the ABCs are based on the OFLs and, to account 
for scientific uncertainty, are set equal to the 40th percentile of the 
OFL distribution for both red hake stocks, and the 25th percentile for 
both silver hake stocks. In order to account for offshore hake, which 
are caught incidentally in the southern silver hake fishery and are 
marketed together as ``whiting,'' the southern silver hake ABC is 
increased by 4 percent. The ACLs are then set equal to 95 percent of 
the respective ABC, to account for management uncertainty.

                                    Table 1--OFL, ABC, and ACL for 2012-2014
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                Northern     Northern     Southern     Southern
                                                                red hake   silver hake    red hake     whiting
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Overfishing Limit (OFL).....................................       314 mt    24,840 mt     3,448 mt    62,301 mt
Acceptable Biological Catch (ABC)...........................       280 mt    13,177 mt     3,259 mt    33,940 mt
Annual Catch Limit (ACL)....................................       266 mt    12,518 mt     3,096 mt    32,295 mt
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    However, in Amendment 19, the Council recommended changes to some 
measures implemented in the Secretarial Amendment, as well as changes 
to management measures that the Secretarial Amendment did not address. 
This rule proposes these changes, which are discussed in detail below.

Proposed Measures

1. Revised Overfishing Definitions
    The overfishing definitions were derived from the most recent stock 
assessment for the small-mesh multispecies that was conducted in 
November 2010 (SAW 51). The Council prefers using the new overfishing 
definitions because they are based on the best available science. There 
is no overfishing definition for offshore hake because there is 
insufficient information for a stock assessment. The proposed new 
overfishing definitions for red hake and silver hake would be as 
follows:

Red Hake

    Red hake is overfished when the 3-yr moving arithmetic average of 
the spring survey weight per tow (i.e., the biomass threshold) is less 
than one-half of the BMSY proxy, where the BMSY 
proxy is defined as the average observed from 1980-2010. The current 
estimates of the biomass thresholds for the northern and southern 
stocks are 1.27 kg/tow and 0.51 kg/tow, respectively.
    Overfishing occurs when the ratio between catch and spring survey 
biomass exceeds 0.163 kt/kg and 3.038 kt/kg, respectively, derived from 
An Index Method (AIM) analyses from 1980-2009.

Silver Hake

    Silver hake is overfished when the 3-yr moving average of the fall 
survey weight per tow (i.e., the biomass threshold) is less than one-
half the BMSY proxy, where the BMSY proxy is 
defined as the average observed from 1973-1982. The most recent 
estimates of the biomass thresholds are 3.21 kg/tow for the northern 
stock and 0.83 kg/tow for the southern stock.
    Overfishing occurs when the ratio between the catch and the 
arithmetic mean fall survey biomass index from the most recent three 
years exceeds the overfishing threshold. The most recent

[[Page 66171]]

estimates of the overfishing threshold are 2.78 kt/kg for the northern 
stock, and 34.19 kt/kg for the southern stock of silver hake.
2. Adjustments to the Specifications Process, Changes to the List of 
Measures Adjustable by Framework and Monitoring Procedures and 
Requirements
    This rule proposes to modify the specifications process and the 
list of measures that may be changed in a Framework Adjustment 
implemented by the Secretarial Amendment, and also proposes to modify 
the process by which the fishery is monitored. The proposed 
specifications process would specify the date by which the Council 
would need to make a recommendation on the catch limits, possession 
limits, and other measures deemed to be part of the specifications 
package. In addition, the list of items that could be considered for 
adjustment in a framework would be modified slightly.
    This rule also proposes a measure that would require NMFS to 
prepare, and the appropriate Council technical group (such as a plan 
development team (PDT)) to review, a report on the small-mesh 
multispecies fishery, including trends in the fishery and changes in 
stock size. The PDT would be responsible for making recommendations to 
the Council, should any management changes be deemed necessary.
    Finally, this rule proposes to require vessels fishing for small-
mesh multispecies to send their vessel trip reports (VTRs) to NMFS on a 
weekly basis. Amendment 16 to the NE Multispecies FMP implemented the 
requirement that vessels fishing with a NE multispecies permit have a 
weekly VTR requirement; however, that amendment had no other small-mesh 
multispecies measures associated with it. As a result, the Council and 
the Whiting Oversight Committee wanted to ensure that the weekly 
submission of VTRs is a requirement for small-mesh multispecies vessels 
through this action, in order to facilitate more effective monitoring 
of the stock-area based TALs.
3. Stock Area Total Allowable Landings
    The Secretarial Amendment implemented annual, stock-wide TALs for 
northern and southern red hake, as well as for northern silver hake and 
southern ``whiting'' (i.e., silver and offshore hake, combined). The 
TALs are calculated by deducting the most recent 3-year moving average 
of discards from the ACL. From that resulting value, 3 percent is 
deducted to account for state-waters landings.

                                   Table 2--2012-2014 Total Allowable Landings
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                Northern red   Northern silver    Southern red       Southern
                                                    hake             hake             hake           whiting
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
ACL.........................................           266 mt        12,518 mt         3,096 mt        32,295 mt
Discard Estimate (2008-2010)................     65% (173 mt)   26% (3,255 mt)   56% (1,718 mt)   13% (4,198 mt)
State-Waters Landings (3%)..................           2.8 mt           278 mt            42 mt           842 mt
Federal TAL (mt)............................          90.3 mt         8,985 mt         1,336 mt        27,255 mt
Federal TAL (lb)............................     199,077.4 lb    19,809,243 lb     2,945,376 lb    60,086,990 lb
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    This rule proposes to maintain the annual, stock-wide TAL for the 
northern area, instead of the other considered alternative of sub-
dividing the TALs by exemption area. The annual, stock-wide TAL was the 
Council's preferred alternative because it would be less costly to 
monitor and the small-mesh exemption area targets may not provide the 
intended benefits of ensuring full trip limits for the different fleets 
that fish seasonally in the exemption areas.
    In the southern stock area, the TALs would be monitoring annually 
initially, until two-thirds of a TAL is harvested in a given year. The 
Council prefers this alternative to implementing quarterly TALs at this 
time because the quarterly allocations are unnecessary unless and until 
landings begin to approach the TALs. In addition, the quarterly TALs, 
as opposed to the annual quota, would, if implemented, prevent long 
directed fishery closures, possibly affecting the ability to target 
whiting in the winter and spring.
    If landings in a given year exceed two-thirds of the TAL, NMFS 
would consult with the Council during the following year, and if the 
Council agrees, NMFS would implement a rule to switch the TAL to a 
quarterly system for the next year. For example, if two-thirds of the 
red hake TAL were landed in 2013, and the Council agreed, the quarterly 
TALs would be implemented for the start of the 2015 fishing year and 
would be maintained until the Council chooses, through specifications 
or a Framework Adjustment, to revert back to an annual TAL. The 
incidental possession limit trigger (as described in the in-season AM 
section, below) would be applied for each quarter. The quarterly 
allocations would be based on the average proportion of dealer-reported 
landings from 2008-2010, as follows:

                           Table 3--Quarterly Allocations for the Southern Stock Area
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                May-Jul      Aug-Oct      Nov-Jan      Feb-Apr
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Southern Red Hake...........................................        33.3%        25.3%        17.7%        23.7%
Southern Whiting............................................          27%        21.4%        22.8%        28.8%
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Included in this proposed measure is a ``roll-up'' procedure that 
would be used for in-season monitoring of the quarterly TALs. In each 
quarter, the cumulative landings to date that fishing year would be 
monitored against a quarterly TAL represented by the sum of that 
quarter's allocation, plus the allocations from prior quarters (e.g., 
during quarter 2, the cumulative landings of southern red hake to date 
would be monitored against a quota equal to 58.6 percent of the annual 
TAL, which is the sum of the quarter 1 allocation of 33.3 percent plus 
the quarter 2 allocation of 25.3 percent). The possession limit trigger 
for each stock would apply in each quarter when cumulative landings 
reach 90 percent of the rolled-up quarterly allocation, and the 
incidental possession limit would remain in effect until the end of 
that quarter. At the start of the next quarter, the possession limit 
would reset to the

[[Page 66172]]

appropriate default possession limit. This procedure allows for unused 
quota from a quarter to be available immediately to the fleet, without 
unnecessary delays from rulemaking to formally transfer quota between 
quarters.
4. Accountability Measures
    The Secretarial Amendment implemented two types of AMs for the 
small-mesh multispecies fishery. The in-season AM would reduce the 
possession limit to an incidental amount for a stock if 90 percent of 
that stock's TAL were projected to be harvested. For both red hake 
stocks, the possession limit would be reduced to 400 lb (181.4 kg), and 
for northern silver hake and southern whiting, the possession limit 
would be reduced to 1,000 lb (453.6 kg). In the event that an ACL is 
exceeded in a given year, the post-season AM implemented in the 
Secretarial Amendment would reduce a subsequent year's ACL by the exact 
amount, by weight, by which the ACL were exceeded. For example, if an 
ACL in fishing year 2013 were exceeded by 15,000 lb (6,803. 9 kg), the 
ACL for that stock in fishing year 2015 would be reduced by 15,000 lb 
(6,803.9 kg).

In-Season AMs

    This rule proposes to maintain the overall structure of the in-
season AM (i.e., the 90-percent trigger, with a reduced possession 
limit), but proposes to change the incidental possession limit for 
northern silver hake and southern whiting. This rule proposes to 
maintain the 400-lb (181.4-kg) incidental possession limit for red hake 
and to raise the incidental possession limit for silver and offshore 
hake, combined, from 1,000 lb (453.6 kg) to 2,000 lb (907.2 kg). This 
limit is proposed because analysis by the Whiting PDT indicates that it 
is likely to be effective in keeping landings below the TAL, without 
increasing discards. There is no meaningful contrast in the 
effectiveness of lower incidental possession limits, but the lower 
incidental possession limits are estimated to cause an unacceptable 
increase in discards.

Post-Season AM

    This rule proposes to replace the post-season AM implemented by the 
Secretarial Amendment, described above, with a post-season AM that 
would decrease the TAL trigger by the same percentage by which the ACL 
were exceeded. That is, if an ACL were exceeded by 5 percent in fishing 
year 2013, the incidental possession limit trigger of 90 percent would 
be reduced by 5 percent to 85 percent, starting in fishing year 2015. 
This reduction in the TAL trigger would remain in effect until the 
Council chooses to modify it through the specifications process or in a 
framework adjustment. This AM is intended to permanently account for 
the management uncertainty that caused the overage. The Council chose 
this AM because it more directly reduces the trips targeting small-mesh 
multispecies, and, as a result, the overall landings by the directed 
fishery.
5. Trip Limits
    Currently, there is no year-round possession limit for red hake in 
both the northern or southern stock area, and the possession limit for 
silver and offshore hake, combined, is based on mesh size throughout 
the region. This rule proposes changes to both of these management 
measures.

Red Hake

    This rule is proposing to implement a 5,000-lb (2,268-kg) trip 
limit for red hake in both the northern and southern stock areas for 
all gear types. The Council had considered mesh-size based trip limits, 
similar to silver hake, but prefers the same trip limit for all gear 
types because it is more enforceable and compliance would likely be 
higher. The intention of this trip limit is to prevent significant 
increases in catch beyond what is currently landed. Analysis shows that 
no trips from 2008-2010 landed more than 5,000 lb (2,268 kg), so the 
measure is unlikely to restrict existing fishing effort, but is 
intended to act as a deterrent to increasing fishing effort to target 
red hake.

Southern Whiting

    This rule proposes to increase the southern whiting (southern 
silver hake and offshore hake, combined) trip limit from 30,000 lb 
(13,607.8 kg) to 40,000 lb (18,143.7 kg) for vessels fishing in the 
Southern New England and Mid-Atlantic Exemption Areas using mesh that 
is 3 inches (7.6 cm) or greater. The Council had considered 
implementing this trip limit increase in only a portion of the southern 
exemption areas; however, as a result of public comment and 
enforceability concerns, the Council prefers that the increase be 
applicable throughout the southern area. The Council selected a 40,000-
lb (18,143.7-kg) possession limit to retain the delicate balance 
between allowing a moderate increase in landings while trying not to 
attract excessive fishing effort to an open access fishery, which could 
cause landings to rapidly increase and potentially cause the incidental 
possession limit to be triggered earlier in the fishing year. The 
Council also constrained this possession limit increase to vessels 
using trawls having 3-inch (7.6 cm) or larger mesh to maintain optimum 
size selectivity by the fishery and discourage increases in fishing for 
smaller whiting.
    As required under section 303(c) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the 
Council reviewed the draft regulations and deemed them necessary and 
appropriate for implementation of Amendment 19. Technical changes to 
the regulations deemed necessary by the Secretary for clarity may be 
made, as provided under section 304(b) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Other Regulatory Changes

    NMFS is proposing to clarify some of the regulations governing the 
small-mesh multispecies fishery through this rulemaking. The proposed 
language of the regulations pertaining to the small-mesh multispecies 
exemption programs would clarify that only a raised footrope trawl is 
allowed in the Small Mesh Area I and II Exemption Programs, and the 
Gulf of Maine Grate Raised Footrope Trawl Area Exemption Program, and 
that no other fishing gears are permitted to be used while a vessel is 
fishing in these exemption programs. NMFS is also proposing language to 
clarify the incidental catch limits for other species in the small-mesh 
multispecies exemption programs by adding the citation for each 
species, as appropriate. NMFS is also proposing to correct an incorrect 
citation in the regulations pertaining to small-mesh multispecies 
transfers-at-sea.

Classification

    Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the 
NMFS Assistant Administrator has preliminarily determined that this 
proposed rule is consistent with the Northeast Multispecies FMP, other 
provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law, 
subject to further consideration after public comment.
    The Office of Management and Budget has determined that this 
proposed rule is not significant for the purposes of Executive Order 
12866.
    The Council prepared an IRFA, as required by section 603 of the 
Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA), which is included in Amendment 19 and 
supplemented by information contained in the preamble to this proposed 
rule. The IRFA describes the economic impact this proposed rule, if 
adopted, would have on small entities. A description of the action, why 
it is being considered, and the legal basis for this

[[Page 66173]]

action are contained at the beginning of this section of the preamble 
and in the SUMMARY of this proposed rule. A summary of the IRFA 
follows. A copy of this analysis is available from the Council's 
Executive Director (see ADDRESSES).
    All of the entities (fishing vessels) affected by this action are 
considered small entities under the Small Business Administration size 
standards for small fishing businesses ($4.0 million in annual gross 
sales). Therefore, there are no disproportionate effects on small 
versus large entities. Information on costs in the fishery is not 
readily available and individual vessel profitability cannot be 
determined directly; therefore, expected changes in gross revenues were 
used as a proxy for profitability.
    This action does not introduce any new reporting, recordkeeping, or 
other compliance requirements. This proposed rule does not duplicate, 
overlap, or conflict with other Federal rules.

Description and Estimate of Number of Small Entities To Which the Rule 
Would Apply

    In order to fish for small-mesh multispecies, a vessel owner must 
be issued either a limited access NE multispecies permit or an open 
access category K NE multispecies permit; however, there are many 
vessels issued both of these types of permits that may not actually 
fish for small-mesh multispecies. Although some firms own more than one 
vessel, available data make it difficult to reliably identify ownership 
control over more than one vessel. For this analysis, the number of 
permitted vessels landing small-mesh multispecies is considered to be a 
maximum estimate of the number of small business entities that may be 
impacted. The average number of permitted vessels landing at least 1 lb 
(0.5 kg) of silver hake or red hake from 2005-2010 was 562 vessels per 
year.

Economic Impacts of the Proposed Action Compared to Significant Non-
Selected Alternatives

    In general, the economic impacts of the proposed actions vary from 
positive to slightly negative, compared to the status quo/no action 
alternatives and the other alternatives considered. The proposed 
measures that have positive economic impacts include the specifications 
process; including the modification of the southern area TAL structure 
that would implement quarterly TALs if two-thirds of the TAL is landed; 
both year-round trip limit alternatives are expected to result in 
positive economic impacts. The proposed AMs are more likely to result 
in slightly negative impacts, if triggered. Although analysis indicates 
that the preferred post-season AM of a percent reduction in the 
incidental possession limit trigger would have a less negative impact 
than the status quo.
    The proposed alternatives that would most likely have an impact in 
the foreseeable future is the status quo alternative that proposed to 
maintain 90-percent trigger AM for northern red hake with a 400-lb 
(181.4-kg) incidental possession limit, as was described in the 
Secretarial Amendment. Using vessel trip report data from 2006-2010, a 
400-lb (181.4-kg) incidental possession limit in the northern stock 
area, implemented when 90 percent of the northern red hake TAL is 
projected to be harvested, would have impacted approximately 23 trips 
per year, and an average of 7 vessels per year. At a loss of 
approximately $282 per trip, this AM would have cost the fleet $6,486 
per year in lost northern red hake revenue. This may not be a true 
revenue loss, however. Red hake is rarely the primary target species 
and vessel owners are likely to shift effort onto another routinely 
landed incidental species, such as skates or dogfish, to finish their 
trip. The other in-season AM alternatives considered for this amendment 
included incidental possession limits of 200 lb (90.7 kg) or 300 lb 
(136.1 kg). Both of these alternatives would have an increased negative 
impact, affecting more trips than the 400-lb (181.4-kg) possession 
limit. Furthermore, the long-term impacts would likely be negative for 
these alternatives as well, due to increased discarding. The impacts 
from alternatives for the in-season AM for northern silver hake, 
southern whiting, and southern red hake are difficult to quantify 
because the TALs are significantly higher than recent catch and they 
are unlikely to be implemented. For southern red hake, the proposed 
alternative is the status quo alternative and for southern whiting and 
northern silver hake, the proposed alternative is an increase in the 
incidental trip limit from 1,000 lb (453.6 kg) to 2,000 lb (907.2 kg). 
In general, the lower incidental trip limits (200 and 300 lb (90.7 and 
136.1 kg) for red hake; and 500 and 1,000 lb (226.8 and 453.6 kg) for 
southern whiting and northern silver hake) can be assumed to have a 
more negative economic impact than the higher incidental trip limits 
(400 lb (181.4 kg) for southern red hake, and 2,000 lb (907.2 kg) for 
southern whiting and northern red hake).
    Another alternative that may have impact in the near-future is the 
post-season AM for northern red hake. The status quo alternative would 
implement a pound-for-pound payback system for any overage. The 
proposed alternative would reduce the incidental possession limit 
trigger by the same percentage by which the ACL was exceeded. As an 
example, the 2010 fishing year northern red hake catch exceeds the ACL 
and can be used to illustrate the potential impacts of the two 
alternatives. Northern red hake catch was 311 mt in 2010, 17% or 45 mt 
above the fishing year 2012 ACL of 266 mt. For this example, we assume 
that the discard rate and state water landings proportion remain 
constant. Assuming that the discard rate and state waters portion 
remain constant, the status quo alternative results in a TAL of 144,094 
lb (65.4 mt), with a 90 percent incidental trigger limit of 129,685 lb 
(58.8 mt). The proposed alternative, on the other hand results in a TAL 
of 199,077 lb (90.3 mt), with a 73 percent incidental trigger limit of 
145,326 lb (65.9 mt). This example demonstrates that the reduction in 
the possession limit trigger would have a less negative impact on the 
fleet than the status quo alternative of a pound-for-pound payback 
because it provides for a higher directed fishery target.

           Table 4--Comparison of Post-Season AM Alternatives
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                            Incidental
                                        Pound-for-pound     possession
                                        payback (status   limit trigger
                                              quo)          reduction
                                                            (proposed)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Original ACL..........................           266 mt           266 mt
Overage...............................            45 mt              17%
Adjusted ACL..........................           221 mt              n/a
Discards (65%)........................        143.65 mt           173 mt

[[Page 66174]]

 
Landings Limit (State + Federal)......         67.35 mt            93 mt
State Landings (3%)...................             2 mt           2.8 mt
Federal TAL...........................          65.4 mt          90.3 mt
Incidental Trigger Limit..............    (90%) 58.8 mt    (73%) 65.9 mt
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Because the current TAL is significantly higher than recent catch 
for southern red hake, northern silver hake, and southern whiting, it 
is difficult to quantify the impact that either the status quo or the 
possession limit trigger reduction would have. However, it can be 
assumed that the impacts would be similar to those described above.
    It is expected that the year-round possession limit changes would 
also have an immediate economic impact. The year-round red hake limit 
of 5,000 lb (2268 kg), versus the status quo alternative of an 
unlimited possession limit, is intended to act as a restriction on 
potential increases in red hake landings, and very few recent trips 
would have been impacted by this trip limit. It is possible that there 
could be a negative effect on the price of red hake if vessels start 
landing larger quantities, which is possible under the status quo of no 
trip limit in this open access fishery. It is expected that this 
alternative would help maintain a satisfactory price for red hake and 
have a positive economic impact, as opposed to the other, lower 
possession limits considered in the Amendment.
    In addition, the increase in the southern whiting possession limit 
for vessels using mesh that is 3 inches (7.6 cm) or greater is also 
expected to have a positive economic impact for vessels fishing in the 
southern area, but may have a slightly negative economic impact for 
vessels fishing in the northern area. If the possession limit is 
increased in the southern area, there may be a reduced demand, and 
therefore a reduced price, for whiting. This reduced price would be 
offset by the increased volume for vessels fishing in the southern 
area, but would not be offset for vessels fishing in the northern area. 
Analysis indicates that increasing daily landings could cause a decline 
of 0.6 cents for each 1-percent increase in landings. Therefore, the 
revenue for a 30,000-lb (13607.8-kg) trip in the northern stock area 
would decline by approximately $450, while the revenue for a southern 
area trip landing 40,000 lb (18143.7 kg) of whiting would increase by 
$5,318. The other alternatives considered for this measure would limit 
the increase to a portion of the southern area, which would have less 
economic benefit than the proposed alternative. The status quo 
alternative would not increase the trip limit and would be less 
economically beneficial than the proposed alternative.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 648

    Fisheries, Fishing, Recordkeeping and reporting requirements.

    Dated: October 25, 2012.
Paul N. Doremus,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Operations, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.

    For the reasons stated in the preamble, 50 CFR part 648 is proposed 
to be amended as follows:

PART 648--FISHERIES OF THE NORTHEASTERN UNITED STATES

    1. The authority citation for part 648 continues to read as 
follows:

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

    2. In Sec.  648.7, paragraph (f)(2)(i) is revised to read as 
follows:


Sec.  648.7  Recordkeeping and reporting requirements.

* * * * *
    (f) * * *
    (2) Fishing vessel log reports. (i) For any vessel not issued a NE 
multispecies permit, Atlantic herring permit, or Tier 3 Limited Access 
mackerel permit, fishing vessel log reports, required by paragraph 
(b)(1)(i) of this section, must be postmarked or received by NMFS 
within 15 days after the end of the reporting month. If no fishing trip 
is made during a particular month for such a vessel, a report stating 
so must be submitted, as instructed by the Regional Administrator. For 
any vessel issued a NE multispecies permit, including vessels fishing 
for small-mesh multispecies or whiting, Atlantic herring permit, or a 
Tier 3 Limited Access mackerel permit, fishing vessel log reports must 
be postmarked or received by midnight of the first Tuesday following 
the end of the reporting week. If no fishing trip is made during a 
reporting week for such a vessel, a report stating so must be submitted 
and received by NMFS by midnight of the first Tuesday following the end 
of the reporting week, as instructed by the Regional Administrator. For 
the purposes of this paragraph (f)(2)(i), the date when fish are 
offloaded will establish the reporting week or month that the VTR must 
be submitted to NMFS, as appropriate. Any fishing activity during a 
particular reporting week (i.e., starting a trip, landing, or 
offloading catch) will constitute fishing during that reporting week 
and will eliminate the need to submit a negative fishing report to NMFS 
for that reporting week. For example, if a vessel issued a NE 
multispecies permit, Atlantic herring permit, or Tier 3 Limited Access 
Mackerel Vessel begins a fishing trip on Wednesday, but returns to port 
and offloads its catch on the following Thursday (i.e., after a trip 
lasting 8 days), the VTR for the fishing trip would need to be 
submitted by midnight Tuesday of the third week, but a negative report 
(i.e., a ``did not fish'' report) would not be required for either 
earlier week.
* * * * *
    3. In Sec.  648.13, paragraph (e) is revised to read as follows:


Sec.  648.13  Transfers at sea.

* * * * *
    (e) Vessels issued a letter of authorization from the Regional 
Administrator to transfer small-mesh multispecies at sea for use as 
bait will automatically have 500 lb (226.8 kg) deducted from the 
vessel's combined silver hake and offshore hake possession limit, as 
specified under Sec.  648.86(d), for every trip during the 
participation period specified on the letter of authorization, 
regardless of whether a transfer of small-mesh multispecies at sea 
occurred or whether the actual amount that was transferred was less 
than 500 lb (226.8 kg). This deduction shall be noted on the 
transferring vessel's letter of authorization from the Regional 
Administrator.
* * * * *

[[Page 66175]]

    4. In Sec.  648.80, paragraphs (a)(6)(i)(B), (a)(6)(i)(F), 
(a)(9)(i)(A), (a)(9)(ii), (a)(15)(i)(B), (a)(16)(i)(A), and 
(a)(16)(ii)(A) are revised to read as follows:


Sec.  648.80  NE Multispecies regulated mesh areas and restrictions on 
gear and methods of fishing.

* * * * *
    (a) * * *
    (6) * * *
    (i) * * *
    (B) An owner or operator of a vessel fishing in this area may not 
fish for, possess on board, or land any species of fish other than 
whiting and offshore hake combined--in excess of 30,000 lb (13,608 kg), 
except for the following, with the restrictions noted, as allowable 
incidental species: Atlantic herring, up to the amount specified in 
Sec.  648.204; longhorn sculpin; squid, butterfish, and Atlantic 
mackerel, up to the amounts specified in Sec.  648.26; spiny dogfish, 
up to the amount specified in Sec.  648.235; red hake, up to the amount 
specified in Sec.  648.86(d), monkfish and monkfish parts--up to 10 
percent, by weight, of all other species on board or up to 50 lb (23 
kg) tail-weight/166 lb (75 kg) whole-weight of monkfish per trip, as 
specified in Sec.  648.94(c)(4), whichever is less; and American 
lobster--up to 10 percent, by weight, of all other species on board or 
200 lobsters, whichever is less, unless otherwise restricted by landing 
limits specified in Sec.  697.17 of this chapter.
* * * * *
    (F) A vessel fishing in the Cultivator Shoal Whiting Fishery 
Exemption Area may fish for small-mesh multispecies in exempted 
fisheries outside of the Cultivator Shoal Whiting Fishery Exemption 
Area, provided that the vessel complies with the more restrictive gear, 
possession limit, and other requirements specified in the regulations 
of that exempted fishery for the entire participation period specified 
on the vessel's letter of authorization and consistent with paragraph 
(a)(15)(i)(G) of this section. For example, a vessel may fish in both 
the Cultivator Shoal Whiting Fishery Exemption Area and the Southern 
New England or Mid-Atlantic Exemption Areas, and would be restricted to 
a minimum mesh size of 3 inches (7.6 cm) and a maximum trip limit of 
30,000 lb (13,607.8 kg) for silver hake and offshore hake, combined, as 
required in the Cultivator Shoal Whiting Fishery Exemption Area.
* * * * *
    (9) * * *
    (i) * * *
    (A) Unless otherwise prohibited in Sec.  648.81, a vessel subject 
to the minimum mesh size restrictions specified in paragraphs (a)(3) or 
(4) of this section may fish with or possess nets with a mesh size 
smaller than the minimum size, provided the vessel complies with the 
requirements of paragraphs (a)(5)(ii) or (a)(9)(ii) of this section, 
and Sec.  648.86(d), from July 15 through November 15, when fishing in 
Small Mesh Area 1; and from January 1 through June 30, when fishing in 
Small Mesh Area 2. While lawfully fishing in these areas with mesh 
smaller than the minimum size, an owner or operator of any vessel may 
not fish for, possess on board, or land any species of fish other than: 
Silver hake and offshore hake, combined, and red hake--up to the 
amounts specified in Sec.  648.86(d); butterfish, Atlantic mackerel, 
squid, up the amounts specified in Sec.  648.26; spiny dogfish, up to 
the amount specified in Sec.  648.235; Atlantic herring, up to the 
amount specified in Sec.  648.204; and scup, up to the amount specified 
in Sec.  648.128.
* * * * *
    (ii) Raised footrope trawl. Vessels fishing in the Small Mesh Areas 
I and II Exemption Programs described in Sec.  648.80(a)(9) must 
configure the vessel's gear with a raised footrope trawl, configured in 
such a way that, when towed, the gear is not in contact with the ocean 
bottom. Vessels are presumed to be fishing in such a manner if their 
trawl gear is designed as specified in paragraphs (a)(9)(ii)(A) through 
(D) of this section and is towed so that it does not come into contact 
with the ocean bottom.
* * * * *
    (15) * * *
    (i) * * *
    (B) All nets must be no smaller than a minimum mesh size of 2.5-
inch (6.4-cm) square or diamond mesh, subject to the restrictions as 
specified in paragraph (a)(15)(i)(D) of this section. An owner or 
operator of a vessel enrolled in the raised footrope whiting fishery 
may not fish for, possess on board, or land any species of fish other 
than silver hake, offshore hake, and red hake, subject to the 
applicable possession limits as specified in Sec.  648.86(d), except 
for the following allowable incidental species: Butterfish, Atlantic 
mackerel, and squid, up to the amounts specified in Sec.  648.26; scup, 
up to the amount specified in Sec.  648.128; spiny dogfish, up to the 
amount specified in Sec.  648.235, and Atlantic herring, up to the 
amount specified in Sec.  648.204.
* * * * *
    (16) * * *
    (i) * * *
    (A) All nets must comply with a minimum mesh size of 2.5-inch (6.4-
cm) square or diamond mesh, subject to the restrictions specified in 
paragraph (a)(16)(i)(B) of this section. An owner or operator of a 
vessel participating in the GOM Grate Raised Footrope Trawl Exempted 
Whiting Fishery may not fish for, possess on board, or land any species 
of fish, other than silver hake and offshore hake, subject to the 
applicable possession limits as specified in paragraph (a)(16)(i)(C) of 
this section, and red hake, subject to the possession limit specified 
in Sec.  648.86, except for the following allowable incidental species: 
Butterfish, Atlantic mackerel, and squid, up to the amounts specified 
in Sec.  648.26; Atlantic herring, up to the amount specified in Sec.  
648.204; and alewife.
* * * * *
    (ii) * * *
    (A) An owner or operator of a vessel fishing in the GOM Grate 
Raised Footrope Trawl Exempted Whiting Fishery must configure the 
vessel's gear with a raised footrope trawl as specified in paragraphs 
(a)(9)(ii)(A) through (C) of this section. In addition, the 
restrictions specified in paragraphs (a)(16)(ii)(B) and (C) of this 
section apply to vessels fishing in the GOM Grate Raised Footrope Trawl 
Exempted Whiting Fishery.
* * * * *
    4. In Sec.  648.86, (d)(1)(i) introductory text, (d)(1)(ii) 
introductory text, (d)(1)(iii) introductory text, and paragraph 
(d)(4)(ii) are revised to read as follows:


Sec.  648.86  NE Multispecies possession restrictions.

* * * * *
    (d) * * *
    (1) * * *
    (i) Vessels possessing on board or using nets of mesh size smaller 
than 2.5 inches (6.4 cm). An owner or operator of a vessel may possess 
and land not more than 5,000 lb (2,268 kg) of red hake, and not more 
than 3,500 lb (1,588 kg) of combined silver hake and offshore hake, if 
either of the following conditions apply:
* * * * *
    (ii) Vessels possessing on board or using nets of mesh size equal 
to or greater than 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) but less than 3 inches (7.6 cm). 
An owner or operator of a vessel that is not subject to the possession 
limit specified in paragraph (d)(1)(i) of this section may possess and 
land not more than 5,000 lb (2,268 kg) of red hake, and not more than 
7,500 lb (3,402 kg) of combined

[[Page 66176]]

silver hake and offshore hake if either of the following conditions 
apply:
* * * * *
    (iii) Vessels possessing on board or using nets of mesh size equal 
to or greater than 3 inches (7.6 cm). An owner or operator of a vessel 
that is not subject to the possession limits specified in paragraphs 
(d)(1)(i) and (ii) of this section may possess and land not more than 
5,000 lb (2,268 kg) of red hake, and not more than 30,000 lb (13,608 
kg) of combined silver hake and offshore hake when fishing in the Gulf 
of Maine or Georges Bank Exemption Areas, as described in Sec.  
648.80(a), and not more than 40,000 lb (18,144 kg) of combined silver 
hake and offshore hake when fishing in the Southern New England or Mid-
Atlantic Exemption Areas, as described in Sec. Sec.  648.80(b)(10) and 
648.80(c)(5), respectively, if both of the following conditions apply:
* * * * *
    (4) * * *
    (ii) Silver hake and offshore hake. If a possession limit reduction 
is needed for a stock area, the incidental possession limit for silver 
hake and offshore hake, combined, in that stock area will be 2,000 lb 
(907 kg) for the remainder of the fishing year.
* * * * *
    5. In Sec.  648.90, paragraphs (b)(1), (b)(2), (b)(2)(i)(C), 
(b)(2)(ii)(C), (b)(3), (b)(4), (b)(5)(ii), and (c)(1) are revised to 
read as follows:


Sec.  648.90  NE multispecies assessment, framework procedures and 
specifications, and flexible area action system.

* * * * *
    (b) * * *
    (1) Three-year specifications process, annual review, and 
specifications package. The Council will specify on at least a 3-year 
basis the OFL, ABC, ACLs, and TALs for each small-mesh multispecies 
stock in accordance with the following process.
    (i) At least every 3 years, based on the annual review, described 
below in paragraph (b)(3) of this section, and/or the specifications 
package, described in paragraph (b)(4) of this section, recommendations 
for ABC from the Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC), and any 
other relevant information, the Whiting PDT shall recommend to the 
Whiting Oversight Committee and Council specifications including the 
OFL, ABC, ACL, and TAL for each small-mesh multispecies stock for a 
period of at least 3 years. The Whiting PDT and the Council shall 
follow the process in paragraph (b)(2) of this section for setting 
these specifications.
    (ii) The Whiting PDT, after reviewing the available information on 
the status of the stock and the fishery, may recommend to the Council 
any measures necessary to assure that the specifications will not be 
exceeded, as well as changes to the appropriate specifications.
    (iii) Taking into account the annual review and/or specifications 
package described in paragraphs (b)(2) and (b)(4), respectively, of 
this section, the advice of the SSC, and any other relevant 
information, the Whiting PDT may also recommend to the Whiting 
Oversight Committee and Council changes to stock status determination 
criteria and associated thresholds based on the best scientific 
information available, including information from peer-reviewed stock 
assessments of small-mesh multispecies. These adjustments may be 
included in the Council's specifications for the small-mesh 
multispecies fishery.
    (iv) Council recommendation. (A) The Council shall review the 
recommendations of the Whiting PDT, Whiting Oversight Committee, and 
SSC, any public comment received thereon, and any other relevant 
information, and make a recommendation to the Regional Administrator on 
appropriate specifications and any measures necessary to assure that 
the specifications will not be exceeded.
* * * * *
    (2) Process for specifying ABCs, ACLs, and TALs. The Whiting PDT 
shall calculate the OFL and ABC values for each small-mesh multispecies 
stock based on the control rules established in the FMP. These 
calculations shall be reviewed by the SSC, guided by terms of reference 
developed by the Council. The ACLs and TALs shall be calculated based 
on the SSC's approved ABCs, as specified in paragraphs (a)(2)(i)(A) 
through (C), and (a)(2)(ii)(A) through (C) of this section.
    (i) * * *
    (C) TALs. (1) The northern silver hake and southern whiting TALs 
are equal to the northern silver hake and southern whiting ACLs minus a 
discard estimate based on the most recent 3 years of data. The northern 
silver hake and southern whiting TALs are then reduced by 3 percent to 
account for silver hake and offshore hake landings that occur in state 
waters.
    (2) If more than two-thirds of the southern red hake TAL is 
harvested in a single year, the Regional Administrator shall consult 
with the Council and will consider implementing quarterly TALs in the 
following fishing year, as proscribed in the FMP and in a manner 
consistent with the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act.
    (ii) * * *
    (C) TALs. (1) The northern silver hake and southern whiting TALs 
are equal to the northern silver hake and southern whiting ACLs minus a 
discard estimate based on the most recent 3 years of data. The northern 
silver hake and southern whiting TALs are then reduced by 3 percent to 
account for silver hake and offshore hake landings that occur in state 
waters.
    (2) If more than two-thirds of the southern whiting TAL is 
harvested in a single year, the Regional Administrator shall consult 
with the Council and will consider implementing quarterly TALs in the 
following fishing year, as proscribed in the FMP and in a manner 
consistent with the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act.
    (3) Annual Review. (i) Using a report provided by NMFS that 
includes trends in the fishery, changes in stock biomass, and total 
catch data, the Whiting PDT shall meet at least once annually to review 
the status of the stock and the fishery and the adequacy of the 3-year 
specifications. Based on such review, the PDT shall provide a report to 
the Council on any changes or new information about the small-mesh 
multispecies stocks and/or fishery, and it shall recommend whether the 
specifications for the upcoming year(s), established pursuant to 
paragraph (b)(1) of this section, need to be modified. At a minimum, 
this review must include a review of at least the following data, if 
available: Commercial catch data; discards; stock status (exploitation 
rate and survey biomass); sea sampling, port sampling, and survey data 
or, if sea sampling data are unavailable, length frequency information 
from port sampling and/or surveys; impact of other fisheries on the 
mortality of small-mesh multispecies; and any other relevant 
information.
    (ii) If new and/or additional information becomes available, the 
Whiting PDT shall consider it during this annual review. Based on this 
review, the Whiting PDT shall provide guidance to the Whiting Oversight 
Committee and the Council regarding the need to adjust measures for the 
small-mesh multispecies fishery to better achieve the FMP's objectives. 
After considering this guidance, the Council may submit to NMFS its 
recommendations for changes to management measures, as appropriate, 
through the specifications process described in this section, the 
process specified in paragraph (c) of this

[[Page 66177]]

section, or through an amendment to the FMP.
    (4) Specifications package. (i) The Whiting PDT shall prepare a 
specification package, including a SAFE Report, at least every 3 years. 
Based on the specification package, the Whiting PDT shall develop and 
present to the Council recommended specifications as defined in 
paragraph (a) of this section for up to 3 fishing years. The 
specifications package shall be the primary vehicle for the 
presentation of all updated biological and socio-economic information 
regarding the small-mesh multispecies fishery. The specifications 
package shall provide source data for any adjustments to the management 
measures that may be needed to continue to meet the goals and 
objectives of the FMP.
    (ii) In any year in which a specifications package, including a 
SAFE Report, is not completed by the Whiting PDT, the annual review 
process described in paragraph (a) of this section shall be used to 
recommend any necessary adjustments to specifications and/or management 
measures in the FMP.
    (5) Accountability measures for the small-mesh multispecies 
fishery.
    (i) * * *
    (ii) Post-season adjustment for an overage. If NMFS determines that 
a small-mesh multispecies ACL was exceeded in a given fishing year, the 
in-season accountability measure adjustment trigger, as specified in 
Sec.  648.90(b)(5)(i) shall be reduced in a subsequent fishing year by 
1 percent for each 1 percent by which the ACL was exceeded through 
notification consistent with the Administrative Procedure Act. For 
example, if the in-season adjustment trigger is 90 percent, and an ACL 
is exceeded by 5 percent, the adjustment trigger for the stock whose 
ACL was exceeded would be reduced to 85 percent for subsequent fishing 
years.
* * * * *
    (c) * * *
    (1) Adjustment process. (i) After a management action has been 
initiated, the Council shall develop and analyze appropriate management 
actions over the span of at least two Council meetings. The Council 
shall provide the public with advance notice of the availability of 
both the proposals and the analyses and opportunity to comment on them 
prior to and at the second Council meeting. The Council's 
recommendation on adjustments or additions to management measures, 
other than to address gear conflicts, must come from one or more of the 
following categories: DAS changes, effort monitoring, data reporting, 
possession limits, gear restrictions, closed areas, permitting 
restrictions, crew limits, minimum fish sizes, onboard observers, 
minimum hook size and hook style, the use of crucifer in the hook-gear 
fishery, sector requirements, recreational fishing measures, area 
closures and other appropriate measures to mitigate marine mammal 
entanglements and interactions, description and identification of EFH, 
fishing gear management measures to protect EFH, designation of habitat 
areas of particular concern within EFH, and any other management 
measures currently included in the FMP.
    (ii) The Council's recommendation on adjustments or additions to 
management measures pertaining to small-mesh NE multispecies, other 
than to address gear conflicts, must come from one or more of the 
following categories: Quotas and appropriate seasonal adjustments for 
vessels fishing in experimental or exempted fisheries that use small 
mesh in combination with a separator trawl/grate (if applicable); 
modifications to separator grate (if applicable) and mesh 
configurations for fishing for small-mesh NE multispecies; adjustments 
to whiting stock boundaries for management purposes; adjustments for 
fisheries exempted from minimum mesh requirements to fish for small-
mesh NE multispecies (if applicable); season adjustments; declarations; 
participation requirements for any of the Gulf of Maine/Georges Bank 
small-mesh multispecies exemption areas; OFL and ABC values; ACL, TAL 
or TAL allocations, including the proportions used to allocate by 
season or area; small-mesh multispecies possession limits, including 
in-season AM possession limits; changes to reporting requirements and 
methods to monitor the fishery; and biological reference points, 
including selected reference time series, survey strata used to 
calculate biomass, and the selected survey for status determination.
    (iii) Adjustment process for whiting DAS. The Council may develop 
recommendations for a whiting DAS effort reduction program through the 
framework process outlined in paragraph (c) of this section only if 
these options are accompanied by a full set of public hearings that 
span the area affected by the proposed measures in order to provide 
adequate opportunity for public comment.

* * * * *
[FR Doc. 2012-26793 Filed 11-1-12; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P