[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 222 (Friday, November 16, 2012)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 68723-68730]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-27973]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 648

[Docket No. 121009528-2601-01]
RIN 0648-XC287


Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Summer Flounder, 
Scup, and Black Sea Bass Fisheries; 2013-2014 Summer Flounder, 2013-
2014 Scup, and 2013 Black Sea Bass Specifications; 2013 Research Set-
Aside Projects

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

ACTION: Proposed specifications; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: NMFS proposes specifications for the 2013 summer flounder, 
scup, and black sea bass fisheries, and the 2014 summer flounder and 
scup fisheries, and provides notice of two projects that may be 
requesting exempted fishing permits as part of the Mid-Atlantic Fishery 
Management Council's Research Set-Aside Program. The implementing 
regulations for the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Fishery 
Management Plan require NMFS to publish specifications for the upcoming 
fishing year for each of these species and to provide an opportunity 
for public comment. Furthermore, regulations under the Magnuson-Stevens 
Fishery Conservation and Management Act require that NMFS allow the 
public an opportunity to comment on applications for exempted fishing 
permits. Accordingly, in addition to proposing catch specifications, 
NMFS announces exempted fishing permit requests, in accordance with the 
fishery management plan and Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and 
Management Act.

DATES: Comments must be received on or before December 3, 2012.

ADDRESSES: An environmental assessment (EA) was prepared for the 
specifications and describes the proposed action and other considered 
alternatives, and provides an analysis of the impacts of the proposed 
measures and alternatives. Copies of the Specifications Document, 
including the EA and the Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis 
(IRFA), are available on request from Dr. Christopher M. Moore, 
Executive Director, Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, Suite 201, 
800 North State Street, Dover, DE 19901. These documents are also 
accessible via the Internet at http://www.nero.noaa.gov.
    You may submit comments, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2012-0201, by any 
one of the following methods:
     Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2012-0201. Clicking the 
preceding link will bring you to the NOAA-NMFS-2012-0201 docket folder 
for this action. To submit comments once in the docket folder, click 
the ``Comment Now!'' icon. Fill in the fields on the comment form and 
enter or attach your comment.
     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 FSB 
Specifications.''
    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: 

General Specification Background

    The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) and the 
Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (Commission) cooperatively 
manage the summer flounder, scup, and black sea bass fisheries. Fishery 
specifications in these fisheries include various catch and landing 
subdivisions, such as the commercial and recreational sector annual 
catch limits (ACLs), annual catch targets (ACTs), sector-specific 
landing limits (i.e., the commercial fishery quota and recreational 
harvest limit (RHL)), and research set-aside (RSA) established for the 
upcoming fishing year. An explanation of each subdivision appears later 
in this rule.
    Rulemaking for measures used to manage the recreational fisheries 
for these three species occurs separately and typically takes place in 
the first quarter of the fishing year. The Summer Flounder, Scup, and 
Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan (FMP) and its implementing 
regulations establish the Council's process for establishing 
specifications. All requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery 
Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), including the 
10 national standards, also apply to specifications.
    The management units specified in the FMP include summer flounder 
(Paralichthys dentatus) in U.S. waters of the Atlantic Ocean from the 
southern border of North Carolina northward to

[[Page 68724]]

the U.S./Canada border, and scup (Stenotomus chrysops) and black sea 
bass (Centropristis striata) in U.S. waters of the Atlantic Ocean from 
35[deg]13.3' N. lat. (the latitude of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Buxton, 
NC) northward to the U.S./Canada border.
    The Council's Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) met on 
July 25 and 26, 2012, to recommend acceptable biological catches (ABC) 
for the 2013-2015 summer flounder, scup, and black sea bass fisheries. 
The FMP's implementing regulations require the involvement of a 
monitoring committee in the specification process for each species. 
Since the Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements for the SSC to recommend 
ABC became effective, the monitoring committees' role has largely been 
to recommend any reduction in catch limits from the SSC-recommended 
ABCs to offset management uncertainty, and to recommend other 
management measures (e.g., mesh requirements, minimum commercial fish 
sizes, gear restrictions, possession restrictions, and area 
restrictions) needed for the efficient management of these three 
species' fisheries. The Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass 
Monitoring Committees met on July 27, 2012, to discuss specification-
related recommendations for the three fisheries.
    Following the SSC and Monitoring Committee meetings, the Council 
and the Commission's Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass 
Management Board (Board) considered the recommendations of the SSC, the 
three monitoring committees, and public comments, and made their 
specification recommendations at a meeting held on August 15, 2012. 
While the Board action was finalized at the August meeting, the 
Council's recommendations must be reviewed by NMFS to ensure that they 
comply with the FMP and applicable law. NMFS also must conduct notice-
and-comment rulemaking to propose and implement the final 
specifications.
    The FMP also contains formulas to divide the specification catch 
limits into commercial and recreational fishery allocations, state-by-
state quotas, and quota periods, depending on the species in question. 
The FMP allocation provisions cannot be modified through the 
specification process. Rather, the Council would be required to develop 
and recommend allocation changes by amending the FMP. This proposed 
rule outlines the application of the existing allocation provisions for 
each species and provides the resulting allocations, by state and 
sector, as appropriate, for each species.

                                                Table 1--Summary of the Proposed 2013-2014 Specifications
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                      Summer flounder                Scup                 Black sea bass
                                                                                -----------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                     2013         2014         2013         2014         2013     2014
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ ------------
ABC..........................................  million lb......................        22.34        22.24        38.71        35.99         4.50
                                               mt..............................       10,133       10,088       17,557       16,325        2,041
Commercial ACL...............................  million lb......................        12.11        12.05        30.19        28.07         2.13
                                               mt..............................        5,491        5,467       13,694        12734          966
Recreational ACL.............................  million lb......................        10.23        10.19         8.52         7.92         2.37
                                               mt..............................        4,642        4,621        3,863        3,592        1,075
Commercial ACT...............................  million lb......................        12.11        12.05        30.19        28.07         2.13
                                               mt..............................        5,491        5,467       13,694        12734          966
Recreational ACT.............................  million lb......................        10.23        10.19         8.52         7.92         2.37
                                               mt..............................        4,642        4,621        3,863        3,592        1,075
Commercial Quota.............................  million lb......................        11.44        11.39        23.53        21.95         1.78
                                               mt..............................        5,189        5,166       10,671        9,955          805
RHL..........................................  million lb......................         7.63         7.59         7.55         7.03         1.85
                                               mt..............................        3,459        3,444        3,425        3,188          838
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Note: Commercial Quotas and RHLs include the 3-percent RSA reduction.

Explanation of RSA

    In 2001, NMFS implemented regulations under Framework Adjustment 1 
to the FMP to allow up to 3 percent of the total allowable landings 
(TAL) for each species to be set aside each year to support scientific 
research. NMFS intends to conditionally approve two research projects 
to harvest a portion of the set-aside quota that has been recommended 
by the Council and the Commission. In anticipation of receiving 
applications for exempted fishing permits (EFP) to conduct this 
research and harvest set-aside quota, the Assistant Regional 
Administrator for Sustainable Fisheries, Northeast Region, NMFS 
(Assistant Regional Administrator), has made a preliminary 
determination that the activities authorized under the EFPs would be 
consistent with the goals and objectives of the FMP. However, further 
review and consultation may be necessary before a final determination 
is made to issue any EFP.
    For informational purposes, these proposed specifications include a 
statement indicating the amount of quota that has been preliminarily 
set aside for research purposes (a percentage of the TAL for each 
fishery, not to exceed 3 percent, as recommended by the Council and 
Board), and a brief description of the likely 2013 Mid-Atlantic RSA 
projects, including exemptions that will likely be required to conduct 
the proposed research. The RSA amounts may be adjusted, following 
consultation with RSA applicants, in the final rule establishing the 
2013 specifications for the summer flounder, scup, black sea bass, 
longfin squid, butterfish, and Atlantic bluefish fisheries. If the 
total amount of available RSA is not awarded, NMFS will publish a 
document in the Federal Register to restore the unused amount to the 
applicable TAL.
    For 2013, the conditionally approved projects may collectively be 
awarded up to the following amounts of RSA: 589,880 lb (267.6 mt) of 
summer flounder; 961,200 lb (436 mt) of scup; 111,900 lb (51 mt) of 
black sea bass; 1,1453,711 lb of longfin squid; 332,898 lb of 
butterfish; and 715,830 lb of bluefish. For 2014, projects may 
collectively be awarded up to 587,100 lb (266 mt) of summer flounder 
and 896,100 lb (404 mt) of scup. The harvest of RSA quota would occur 
January 1-December 31, 2013, and January 1-December 31, 2014, by 
vessels conducting compensation fishing.

[[Page 68725]]

Vessels harvesting research quota in support of approved research 
projects would be issued EFPs authorizing them to exceed Federal 
possession limits and to fish during Federal quota closures. These 
exemptions are necessary to facilitate compensation fishing and to 
allow project investigators to recover research expenses, as well as to 
adequately compensate fishing industry participants harvesting research 
quota. Vessels harvesting research quota would operate under all other 
regulations that govern the fishery, unless specifically exempted in a 
separate EFP.
    2013 RSA Proposal Summaries: Because the research activities of 
project number one will be analyzed through a separate environmental 
assessment and a separate consultation process under the Endangered 
Species Act, only a brief description of the project is included here. 
A more detailed description will be published in the Federal Register 
at such time as the environmental analysis is completed. For 
informational purposes, project number one would conduct a spring and 
fall monitoring (trawl) survey in shallow waters between Martha's 
Vineyard, MA, and Cape Hatteras, NC. The project investigators plan to 
provide stock assessment data for Mid-Atlantic RSA species, including 
summer flounder, scup, black sea bass, longfin squid, butterfish, and 
Atlantic bluefish, and assessment-quality data for weakfish, Atlantic 
croaker, spot, several skate and ray species, smooth dogfish, horseshoe 
crab, and several unmanaged but important forage species.
    Project number two is a fishery-independent black sea bass survey 
of four separate hard bottom sites in Southern New England and 
Mid[hyphen]Atlantic waters. Unvented black sea bass pots would be 
fished on each site for 5 months from June through October in Southern 
New England, and April through August in the Mid[hyphen]Atlantic. The 
project is designed to collect black sea bass from areas 
un[hyphen]sampled by current state and Federal finfish bottom trawl 
surveys. The length frequency distribution of the catch will be 
compared statistically to each of the other collection sites, and to 
finfish trawl data collected by NMFS and state agencies. Black sea bass 
would be collected from four general zones along the coast utilizing 
black sea bass pots made with coated wire mesh, single mesh entry head, 
and single mesh inverted parlor nozzle. The four general zones will 
include one in Massachusetts, one south of Rhode Island, one south of 
New Jersey, and one south of Virginia. This particular configuration is 
being proposed as it generally corresponds to the northern and southern 
core range of the species, and each is an area in which a major black 
sea bass fishery takes place. In each of these general zones, four 
individual sampling sites would be selected, each of which would be 1 
square mile (2.6 km\2\) in size. Each of the individual sampling sites 
would be separated by at least 4 miles (6.4 km) in order to provide 
adequate spatial coverage. Specific sampling sites within each square 
mile sampling site would be randomly selected each month from the 
sub[hyphen]blocks. The traps would be set at the center of each 
sampling site once per month. The sampling protocol would require that 
a commercial vessel take 30 pots (three 10-pot trawls) to each of the 
randomly selected hard bottom sampling sites. This procedure would 
continue each month during the sampling season for 5 months. Thus, 16 
locations would be sampled monthly. Pots would be un[hyphen]baited and 
allowed to remain in place for a minimum of 4 days. The date, area, 
depth, set over days, and catch would be recorded and fish measured 
utilizing the standard NMFS sea sampling protocols. Fish would be 
measured excluding the tail tendril, which is the NMFS/ASMFC standard. 
At the conclusion of each sampling cycle, pots would be placed on the 
vessel for transport back to port.
    Research vessels for project number two would require an EFP for 
exemption from minimum scup and black sea bass pot vent size 
requirements to ensure that black sea bass length frequency data are 
representative and not biased. If a participating vessel holds a 
Federal lobster permit, it would need exemption from lobster pot vent 
size requirements. Exemption from scup and black sea bass closures and 
time restrictions would also be needed to ensure the survey is not 
disrupted by such regulations. Exemption from scup and black sea bass 
minimum fish sizes and possession limits would also be needed for data 
collection purposes only. All undersized fish would be discarded as 
soon as practicable to minimize mortality, and fish in excess of 
possession limits would either be discarded as soon as practicable or 
landed as RSA quota.

Summer Flounder

    The summer flounder stock was declared rebuilt in 2011. The stock 
assessment update utilized to derive specification recommendations 
indicates that summer flounder were not overfished and that overfishing 
did not occur in 2011, the most recent year of available data. This 
stock assessment update did, however, indicate that biomass is 
currently lower than in recent years. This results in catch limits that 
are lower than 2012 (Table 1).
    The overfishing limit (OFL) for 2012 was estimated to be 29.81 
million lb (13,523 mt). Based on this information, the SSC recommended 
to the Council that the 2013 ABC for summer flounder be set no higher 
than 22.34 million lb (10,133 mt), and, using a strategy of a constant 
fishing rate, that the 2014 ABC for summer flounder be set no higher 
than 22.24 million lb (10,088 mt). The SSC did not provide an ABC 
recommendation for 2015 because it is expected that a benchmark 
assessment for summer flounder will be conducted in 2013 and it would 
be more appropriate to wait for that assessment before making a 2015 
recommendation.
    Consistent with the summer flounder regulations, the sum of the 
recreational and commercial sector ACLs is equal to ABC. ACL is an 
expression of total catch (i.e., landings and dead discarded fish). To 
derive the ACLs, the sum of the sector-specific estimated discards is 
removed from the ABC to derive the landing allowance. The resulting 
landing allowance is apportioned to the commercial and recreational 
sectors by applying the FMP allocation criteria: 60 percent to the 
commercial fishery and 40 percent to the recreational fishery. Using 
this method ensures that each sector is accountable for its respective 
discards, rather than simply apportioning the ABC by the allocation 
percentages to derive the sector ACLs. Although the derived ACLs are 
not split exactly at 60/40, the landing portions of the ACLs preserve 
the 60/40 allocation split, consistent with the FMP. This process 
results in a commercial ACL of 12.11 million lb (5,491 mt) for 2013 and 
12.05 million lb (5,467 mt) for 2014. The recreational ACLs would be 
10.23 million lb (4,642 mt) for 2013 and 10.19 million lb (4,621 mt) 
for 2014.

[[Page 68726]]

    The Summer Flounder Monitoring Committee met to discuss the SSC's 
recommendations and to determine if additional reductions in the catch 
limits were necessary to account for management uncertainty. Because 
the recreational fishery in recent years has not reached the RHL, 
discards in the commercial fishery have been relatively low, and the 
landings monitoring and fishery closure system is timely, the Summer 
Flounder Monitoring Committee determined that no additional reductions 
to account for management uncertainty were necessary. Therefore, it was 
recommended that the ACTs (both commercial and recreational) should be 
set equal to their respective ACL for both 2013 and 2014. Removing the 
estimated discards and, as recommended, 3 percent of the TAL for RSA, 
the commercial summer flounder quotas would be 11.44 million lb (5,189 
mt) for 2013 and 11.39 million lb (5,166 mt) for 2014. The RHLs would 
be 7.63 million lb (3,459 mt) for 2013 and 7.59 million lb (3,444 mt) 
for 2014.

                                                    Table 2--Proposed Summer Flounder Specifications
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                                                Comm. Quota
                Year                                            ABC       Commercial   Recreational    Comm. ACT     Rec. ACT     (minus 3%  RHL  (minus
                                                                             ACL            ACL                                     RSA)       3% RSA)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2012...............................  million lb...........        25.58        14.00           11.56        14.00        11.58        12.73         8.49
                                     mt...................       11,603        6,351           5,252        6,351        5,252        5,774        3,850
2013...............................  million lb...........        22.34        12.11           10.23        12.11        10.23        11.44         7.63
                                     mt...................       10,133        5,491           4,624        5,491        4,624        5,189        3,459
2014...............................  million lb...........        22.24        12.05           10.19        12.05        10.19        11.39         7.59
                                     mt...................       10,088        5,467           4,621        5,467        4,621        5,166        3,444
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Note: Commercial Quotas and RHLs include the 3-percent RSA reduction.

    The Council and Board considered the SSC and Summer Flounder 
Monitoring Committee recommendations before concurring with the catch 
recommendations specified in Table 2. Fishing under these catch limits 
for 2013 and 2014 is not expected to compromise the summer flounder 
stock, nor will fishing at this level present a high likelihood of 
overfishing the stock. The Council recommended all other management 
measures by remain status quo.
    Tables 3 and 4 present the proposed allocations for 2013 and 2014, 
respectively, by state, with and without the commercial portion of the 
RSA deduction. These state quota allocations are preliminary and are 
subject to reductions if there are overages of states' quotas carried 
over from a previous fishing year. Any commercial quota adjustments to 
account for overages will be included in the final rule implementing 
these specifications.

                         Table 3--2013 Proposed Summer Flounder State Commercial Quotas
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                     Initial commercial quota      Commercial quota less RSA \1\
              State                Percent share ---------------------------------------------------------------
                                                        lb            kg \2\            lb            kg \2\
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
ME..............................         0.04756           5,609           2,544           5,441           2,468
NH..............................         0.00046              54              25              53              24
MA..............................         6.82046         804,377         364,859         780,246         353,914
RI..............................        15.68298       1,849,587         838,959       1,794,100         813,790
CT..............................         2.25708         266,191         120,742         258,205         117,120
NY..............................         7.64699         901,855         409,075         874,799         396,802
NJ..............................        16.72499       1,972,478         894,701       1,913,303         867,860
DE..............................         0.01779           2,098             952           2,035             923
MD..............................         2.03910         240,483         109,081         233,269         105,809
VA..............................        21.31676       2,514,012       1,140,337       2,438,592       1,106,127
NC..............................        27.44584       3,236,851       1,468,211       3,139,746       1,424,165
                                 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Total \3\...................       100.00001      11,793,596       5,350,000      11,439,788       5,189,000
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Preliminary Research Set-Aside amount is 589,880 lb (267.6 mt).
\2\ Kilograms are as converted from pounds and do not sum to the converted total due to rounding.
\3\ Rounding of quotas results in totals exceeding 100 percent.


                         Table 4--2014 Proposed Summer Flounder State Commercial Quotas
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                     Initial commercial quota      Commercial quota less RSA \1\
              State                Percent share ---------------------------------------------------------------
                                                        lb            kg \2\            lb            kg \2\
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
ME..............................         0.04756           5,579           2,533           5,417           2,457
NH..............................         0.00046              54              24              52              24
MA..............................         6.82046         800,091         363,242         776,788         352,345
RI..............................        15.68298       1,839,732         835,240       1,786,147         810,183
CT..............................         2.25708         264,772         120,207         257,061         116,601
NY..............................         7.64699         897,050         407,261         870,922         395,044
NJ..............................        16.72499       1,961,967         890,735       1,904,823         864,013

[[Page 68727]]

 
DE..............................         0.01779           2,087             947           2,026             919
MD..............................         2.03910         239,202         108,598         232,235         105,340
VA..............................        21.31676       2,500,616       1,135,282       2,427,783       1,101,224
NC..............................        27.44584       3,219,604       1,461,703       3,125,829       1,417,852
                                 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Total \3\...................       100.00001      11,730,754       5,326,000      11,389,082       5,166,000
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Preliminary Research Set-Aside amount is 587,100 lb (266 mt).
\2\ Kilograms are as converted from pounds and do not sum to the converted total due to rounding.
\3\ Rounding of quotas results in totals exceeding 100 percent.

Scup

    The OFL for scup is 47.80 million lb (21,680 mt). Using the 
appropriate control rule and applying the Council's risk policy, the 
SSC recommended an ABC for scup of 38.71 million lb (17,557 mt) for 
2013. The SSC also recommended a constant fishing mortality strategy 
for scup, using a rate of 0.142, which results in a 2014 ABC of 35.99 
million lb (16,325 mt). Similar to summer flounder, the stock 
assessment update upon which the specifications are based indicates 
that scup biomass is currently lower than in recent years. Therefore, 
the proposed catch limits are lower than 2012, but are still relatively 
high compared to recent landings.
    The scup management measures specify that the ABC is equal to the 
sum of the commercial and recreational sector ACLs. The Scup Monitoring 
Committee met to discuss the SSC's recommendations and to determine if 
additional reductions in the catch limits were necessary to account for 
management uncertainty. Because both the recreational and commercial 
fisheries have not reached their respective landings limits because of 
the very high quotas, and the landings monitoring and fishery closure 
system is timely, the Monitoring Committee determined that no 
additional reductions to account for management uncertainty were 
necessary. Therefore, it was recommended that the ACTs (both commercial 
and recreational) should be set equal to the respective ACL for 2013-
2014. Therefore, commercial sector ACL/ACT would be 30.19 million lb 
(13,694 mt) for 2013 and 28.07 million lb (12,734 mt) for 2014. The 
recreational sector ACLs/ACTs would be 8.52 million lb (3,863 mt), and 
7.92 million lb (3,592 mt) for 2013 and 2014, respectively.
    The Council recommended up to 3 percent of the landings for RSA. 
After RSA is removed, the commercial quotas would be 23.53 million lb 
(10,671 mt) for 2013 and 21.95 million lb (9,955 mt) for 2014. The 
recreational harvest limits would be 7.55 million lb (3,425 mt) for 
2013 and 7.03 million lb (3,188 mt) for 2014.

                                                          Table 5--Proposed Scup Specifications
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                          Commercial   Recreational
                Year                                            ABC          ACL            ACL        Comm. ACT     Rec. ACT   Comm. Quota      RHL
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2012...............................  million lb...........        40.88        31.89            8.99        31.89         8.99        27.91         8.45
                                     mt...................       18,543       14,464           4,079       14,464        4,079       12,659        3,831
2013...............................  million lb...........        38.71        30.19            8.52        30.19         8.52        23.53         7.55
                                     mt...................       16,325       13,694           3,863       13,694        3,863       10,671        3,425
2014...............................  million lb...........        35.99        28.07            7.92        28.07         7.92        21.95         7.03
                                     mt...................       16,325       12,734           3,592       12,734        3,592        9,955        3,188
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Note: Commercial Quotas and RHLs include the 3-percent RSA reduction.

    The scup commercial quota is divided into three commercial fishery 
quota periods. There are no previous commercial overages applicable to 
the 2013 scup commercial quota. The period quotas, after deducting for 
RSA, are detailed in tables 6 and 7. Unused Winter I quota may be 
carried over for use in the Winter II period. The Council recommended 
all other management measures remain status quo.

                                      Table 6--Proposed Commercial Scup Quota Allocations for 2013 by Quota Period
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                        Initial quota          Initial quota less        Adjusted quota less       Federal possession
                                                 -------------------------- overages  (through 10/31/     overages and RSA         limits  (per trip)
           Quota period                Percent                                        2012)          ---------------------------------------------------
                                        share          lb           mt     --------------------------
                                                                                 lb           mt           lb           mt           lb           mt
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Winter I..........................         45.11   10,940,583        4,963          N/A          N/A   10,612,366        4,814       50,000       22,680
Summer............................         38.95    9,446,591        4,285          N/A          N/A    9,163,193        4,156          N/A          N/A
Winter II.........................         15.94    3,865,948        1,754          N/A          N/A    3,749,969        1,701        2,000          907
                                   ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Total.........................        100.0    24,253,122       11,001          N/A          N/A   23,525,528       10,671          N/A          N/A
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Notes: The Winter I possession limit will drop to 1,000 lb (454 kg) upon attainment of 80 percent of that period's allocation. The Winter II possession
  limit may be adjusted (in association with a transfer of unused Winter I quota to the Winter II period) via notification in the Federal Register.
Metric tons are as converted from pounds and may not necessarily total due to rounding.

[[Page 68728]]

 
N/A = Not applicable.


                                      Table 7--Proposed Commercial Scup Quota Allocations for 2014 by Quota Period
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                        Initial quota          Initial quota less        Adjusted quota less       Federal possession
                                                 -------------------------- overages  (through 10/31/     overages and RSA         limits  (per trip)
           Quota period                Percent                                        2012)          ---------------------------------------------------
                                        share          lb           mt     --------------------------
                                                                                 lb           mt           lb           mt           lb           mt
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Winter I..........................         45.11   10,206,495        4,630          N/A          N/A    9,900,300        4,491       50,000       22,680
Summer............................         38.95    8,812,746        3,997          N/A          N/A    8,548,364        3,877          N/A          N/A
Winter II.........................         15.94    3,606,551        1,636          N/A          N/A    3,498,355        1,587        2,000          907
    Total.........................        100.0    22,625,792       10,263          N/A          N/A   21,947,018        9,955          N/A          N/A
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Notes: The Winter I possession limit will drop to 1,000 lb (454 kg) upon attainment of 80 percent of that period's allocation. The Winter II possession
  limit may be adjusted (in association with a transfer of unused Winter I quota to the Winter II period) via notification in the Federal Register.
Metric tons are as converted from pounds and may not necessarily add due to rounding.
N/A = Not applicable.

Black Sea Bass

    The updated stock assessment indicates that black sea bass were not 
overfished and overfishing did not occur in 2011. Black sea bass 
remains a data-poor stock, with relatively high uncertainty for the 
purposes of calculating ABC. The SSC rejected the OFL estimate provided 
from the stock assessment, stating that it was highly uncertain and not 
sufficiently reliable to use as the basis of management advice. The ABC 
recommendation is the status quo ABC of 4.50 million lb (2,041 mt). The 
SSC recommended a 3-year specification period, with a constant harvest 
strategy that would implement the same ABC for 2013-2015. However, the 
Council only endorsed the ABC for 2013, and recommended the ACL, ACT, 
and quotas for 2013 only. The Council was concerned with the SSC's 
determination that black sea bass was a ``Level 4'' fishery under the 
Council's ABC control rule, despite some data improvements that may 
have led to a ``Level 3'' determination that could result in higher 
catch limits. The SSC debated the categorization of black sea bass 
extensively at its July meeting, but in the end determined that 
continuing the Level 4 designation was appropriate. The Council decided 
to recommend specifications for just 2013 in the hope that additional 
information will be available for the SSC in the coming year.
    The Black Sea Bass Monitoring Committee met to discuss the SSC's 
recommendations and to determine if additional reductions in the catch 
limits were necessary to account for management uncertainty. The 
Monitoring Committee determined that no additional reductions to 
account for management uncertainty were necessary because the constant 
catch strategy adequately addresses uncertainty. Therefore, it was 
recommended that the ACTs (both commercial and recreational) should be 
set equal to their respective ACL for 2013.
    The Council and Board considered the SSC and Black Sea Bass 
Monitoring Committee recommendations at their August meeting. The 
Council recommends a commercial ACL and ACT of 2.13 million lb (966 
mt), a recreational ACL and ACT of 2.37 million lb (1,075 mt), a 
commercial quota of 1.78 million lb (805 mt), and an RHL of 1.85 
million lb (838 mt). The quotas include a reduction of 3 percent, as 
recommended by the Council, for RSA. While the ABC is the same as last 
year, the ACL/ACTs and quotas are different from 2012 because the 
updated discard estimate is higher than the previous year.
    Recent data indicate that the 2012 recreational black sea bass ACL 
has been exceeded, and may be further exceeded, by a significant 
amount. The regulations require that we deduct the amount of landings 
that exceeded the RHL from a single subsequent year's ACT. Therefore, 
the proposed ACT and RHL may be adjusted in the final rule to account 
for this overage.

                                                  Table 8--Proposed Black Sea Bass 2013 Specifications
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                          Commercial   Recreational
                Year                                            ABC          ACL            ACL        Comm. ACT     Rec. ACT   Comm. quota      RHL
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2012...............................  million lb...........         4.50         1.98            2.52         1.98         1.86         1.71         1.32
                                     mt...................        2,041          898           1,143          898          844          774          598
2013...............................  million lb...........         4.50         2.13            2.37         2.13         2.37         1.78         1.85
                                     mt...................        2,041          966           1,075          966         1075          805          838
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Classification

    Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the 
NMFS Assistant Administrator has determined that this proposed rule is 
consistent with the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass FMP, 
other provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law, 
subject to further consideration after public comment.
    These proposed specifications are exempt from review under 
Executive Order 12866.
    An IRFA was prepared by the Council, as required by section 603 of 
the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA), to examine the impacts of these 
proposed specifications on small business entities, if adopted. A 
description of the specifications, why they are being considered, and 
the legal basis for proposing and implementing specifications for the 
summer flounder, scup, and black sea bass fisheries are contained in 
the preamble to this proposed rule. A copy of the detailed RFA analysis 
is available from NMFS or the Council (see ADDRESSES). The Council's 
analysis made use of quantitative approaches when possible. Where 
quantitative data on revenues or other business-related metrics that 
would provide insight to potential impacts were not available to inform 
the

[[Page 68729]]

analyses, qualitative analyses were conducted. A summary of the 2013-
2014 specifications RFA analysis follows.
    Small businesses operating in commercial and recreational (i.e., 
party and charter vessel operations) fisheries have been defined by the 
Small Business Administration as firms with gross revenues of up to 
$4.0 and $6.5 million, respectively. See 13 C.F.R. Sec.  121.201. The 
categories of small entities likely to be affected by this action 
include commercial and charter/party vessel owners holding an active 
Federal permit for summer flounder, scup, or black sea bass, as well as 
owners of vessels that fish for any of these species in state waters. 
All federally permitted vessels fall into the definition of small 
businesses; thus, there would be no disproportionate impacts between 
large and small entities as a result of the proposed rule.
    The Council estimates that the proposed 2013-2014 specifications 
could affect 2,039 vessels that held a Federal summer flounder, scup, 
and/or black sea bass permit in 2011 (the most recent year of complete 
permit data). However, the more immediate impact of this rule will 
likely be realized by the approximately 870 vessels that actively 
participated in these fisheries (i.e., landed these species) in 2011. 
Estimates of costs associated with this rule are discussed further 
below.
    There are no new reporting or recordkeeping requirements contained 
in any of the alternatives considered for this action. In addition, 
NMFS is not aware of any relevant Federal rules that may duplicate, 
overlap, or conflict with this proposed rule.
    If the Council took no action regarding the 2013 specifications, 
several indefinite measures would remain in effect until otherwise 
changed; however, many components of the 2012 specifications expire on 
December 31, 2012. These include catch limits for all three species. 
There are no roll-over provisions for the quotas if the 2013 
specifications are not made effective, and so, without specified 
quotas, NMFS would have no mechanism to close fisheries if management 
limits were exceeded. This would give rise to a situation in which the 
goals and objectives of the FMP, its implementing regulations, and the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act would all be violated. Therefore, the no action 
alternative is not considered to be a reasonable alternative to the 
preferred action of developing and implementing 2013 specifications, 
and it was excluded from detailed analysis in the Council's EA/RFA 
analyses.
    The Council analyzed three sets of combined catch limit 
alternatives for the 2013-2014 summer flounder, scup, and black sea 
bass fisheries. Of these, one alternative, labeled Alternative 3 for 
each species, contained the most restrictive options (i.e., lowest 
total landing levels). While the Alternative 3 measures would achieve 
the objectives of the proposed action for each of three species, they 
have the highest potential adverse economic impacts on small entities 
in the form of potential foregone fishing opportunities. Alternative 3 
was not preferred by the Council because the other alternatives 
considered are expected have lower adverse impacts on small entities 
while achieving the stated objectives of sustaining the summer 
flounder, scup, and black sea bass stocks, consistent with the FMP and 
Magnuson-Stevens Act.
    Alternative 1 (Council's preferred) would implement the following 
ABCs in 2013: Summer flounder, 22.34 million lb (10,133 mt); scup, 
38.71 million lb (17,577 mt); and black sea bass, 4.5 million lb (2,041 
mt). Alternative 1 would also implement the following ABCs for 2014: 
Summer flounder, 22.40 million lb (10,088 mt), and scup, 35.99 million 
lb (16,325 mt). Alternative 2 (status quo) would implement the 
following ABCs in 2013 and 2014: Summer flounder, 25.58 million lb 
(11,603 mt); scup, 40.88 million lb (18,543 mt); and black sea bass 
(2013 only), 4.5 million lb (2,041 mt).

Commercial Fishery Impacts

    As a result of the proposed decrease in commercial and recreational 
landings from 2012 levels, it is expected that small negative economic 
impacts on the summer flounder fisheries in 2013 and 2014 may occur. 
Each state's summer flounder allocation commercial limits will decrease 
under these adjusted commercial quotas. The proposed scup commercial 
quota and recreational harvest limits under the proposed alternative 
are lower than the quotas implemented in 2012; however, they are 
substantially higher than the 2011 commercial and recreational 
landings. In 2011, the commercial quota and recreational harvest limit 
each increased by 91 percent when compared to the limits implemented in 
2010. The high 2011 commercial quota and recreational harvest limit 
values did not constrain the fishery in 2011 as had occurred in 
previous years when the commercial quota and recreational harvest 
limits were considerably lower. In fact, the scup fishery did not 
harvest its full 2011 allocation. Unless market conditions change 
substantially in 2013, it would be expected that commercial and 
recreational landings will likely be close to the 2011 landings. There 
is no indication that the market environment for commercially and 
recreationally caught scup will change considerably in years 2013 or 
2014. Therefore, there are no expected negative impacts from the 
proposed scup quotas, even though they are lower than the previous 
year. As a result of the potential increase in landings under the black 
sea bass commercial quota and recreational harvest limits under 
preferred alternative 1, it is expected that a small positive economic 
impacts are likely to occur when compared to 2012.

Recreational Fishery Impacts

    While the specifications proposed would establish a 2013 and 2014 
recreational harvest limit for summer flounder, scup, and black sea 
bass, the management measure details for recreational fisheries will be 
developed by the Council in December 2012, followed by NMFS rulemaking 
in the first quarter of 2013. A comprehensive analysis of the impacts 
associated with the recommended recreational management measures will 
be provided to NMFS from the Council to support these activities. If 
recreational landings for these three species are the same in 2012 as 
in 2011 (5.96 million lb for summer flounder, 3.66 million lb for scup, 
and 1.27 million for black sea bass), the recreational harvest limits 
proposed for 2013 (7.62 million lb for summer flounder, 7.56 million 
for scup, and 1.84 million for black sea bass) and 2014 (6.12 million 
lb for summer flounder and 3.01 million for scup) are not expected to 
constrain recreational landings in 2013, but may constrain summer 
flounder recreational landings in 2014. As such, it is unlikely that 
more restrictive limits (i.e., lower possession limits, higher minimum 
size limits, and/or shorter open seasons) will be required in 2013 when 
compared to 2012, but more restrictive recreational harvest measures 
may be necessary in 2014 for summer flounder. Specific recreational 
management measures (for all three species) will be determined in 
December when more complete data regarding 2012 recreational landings 
are available.

Summary

    The Council selected Alternative 1 (preferred) over Alternative 2 
(status quo) and Alternative 3 (most restrictive) stating that, while 
each alternative would provide adequate stock protection, the 
Alternative 1 measures were expected to result in the least amount of 
long-term negative economic impact to the summer flounder, scup,

[[Page 68730]]

and black sea bass fisheries, and were consistent with the advice 
provided to the Council from the SSC and its monitoring committees. 
NMFS agrees with the Council's IRFA analysis and rationale for 
recommending the catch limits in Alternative 1. As such, NMFS is 
proposing to implement the Council's preferred ABCs, ACLs, ACTs, 
Commercial Quotas, and Recreational Harvest Limits for 2013 and 2014:

                                 Table 9--Summary of 2013 and 2014 Catch Limits
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                      Summer Flounder                      Scup                  Black Sea Bass
                             --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                   2013            2014            2013            2014            2013       2014
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ ------
ABC (mt)....................          10,133          10,088          17,557          16,325           2,041
ABC (lb)....................      22,339,440      22,240,230      38,706,560      35,990,460       4,499,635
Commercial ACL (mt).........           5,491           5,467          13,694          12,734           965.6
Commercial ACL (lb).........      12,105,580      12,052,670      30,190,100      28,073,660       2,108,942
Recreational ACL (mt).......           4,642           4,621           3,863           3,592         1,075.4
Recreational ACL (lb).......      10,233,860      10,187,560       8,516,457       7,919,004       2,370,851
Commercial ACT (mt).........           5,491           5,467          13,694          12,734           965.6
Commercial ACT (lb).........      12,105,580      12,052,670      30,190,100      28,073,660       2,108,942
Recreational ACT (mt).......           4,642           4,621           3,863           3,592         1,075.4
Recreational ACT (lb).......      10,233,860      10,187,560       8,516,457       7,919,004       2,370,851
Commercial Quota (mt).......           5,350           5,326          11,001          10,263             830
Commercial Quota (lb).......      11,793,595      11,730,754      24,253,122      22,625,792       1,829,837
RHL (mt)....................           3,656           3,551           3,531           3,287             864
RHL (lb)....................       7,861,639       7,827,547       7,784,363       7,245,708       1,904,794
Commercial Quota (mt) less             5,189           5,166          10,671           9,955           805.2
 RSA........................
Commercial Quota (lb) less        11,439,790      11,389,080      23,525,530      21,947,020       1,775,162
 RSA........................
RHL (mt) less RSA...........           3,459           3,444           3,425           3,188             838
RHL (lb) less RSA...........       7,625,790       7,592,720       7,550,832       7,028,337       1,847,474
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


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

    Dated: November 13, 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.
[FR Doc. 2012-27973 Filed 11-15-12; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P