[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 223 (Monday, November 19, 2012)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 69426-69433]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-28057]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 648

[Docket No. 120731291-2522-01]
RIN 0648-BC40


Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Atlantic Mackerel, 
Squid, and Butterfish Fisheries; Specifications and Management Measures

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 2013-2015 specifications and management measures 
for Atlantic mackerel, and 2013 specifications for butterfish. 
Specifications for longfin squid and Illex squid were set for 3 years 
in 2012 (2012-2014) and therefore will not be included in this year's 
specification rulemaking. The proposed specifications would make 
regulatory changes to the longfin squid fishery, as well as the 
butterfish mortality cap to avoid 1-2 week closures at the end of a 
Trimester. Compared to 2012, this proposed action would increase the 
butterfish quota by 236 percent (recommended 2013 quota of 2,570 mt), 
and increase the butterfish mortality cap by 184 percent (recommended 
2013 quota of 4,500 mt). Due to the increase in the proposed butterfish 
quota, this action also proposes a variety of management measures for 
controlling effort in the directed butterfish fishery, including 
changes to trip limits, the closure threshold for the directed fishery, 
and post-closure trip limits. Finally, this rule proposes minor 
corrections to existing regulatory text, to clarify the intent of the 
regulations. These proposed specifications and management measures 
promote the utilization and conservation of the Atlantic mackerel, 
squid, and butterfish resource.

DATES: Public comments must be received no later than 5 p.m., eastern 
standard time, on December 10, 2012.

ADDRESSES: Copies of supporting documents used by the Mid-Atlantic 
Fishery Management Council (Council), including the Environmental 
Assessment (EA) and Regulatory Impact Review (RIR)/Initial Regulatory 
Flexibility Analysis (IRFA), are available from: Dr. Christopher M. 
Moore, Executive Director, Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, 
Suite 201, 800 N. State Street, Dover, DE 19901. The EA/RIR/IRFA is 
accessible via the Internet at http://www.nero.noaa.gov.
    You may submit comments, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2012-0184, by any 
one of the following methods:
     Electronic Submission: 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, then enter NOAA-NMFS-2012-0184 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.
     Mail to NOAA Fisheries, Northeast Regional Office, 55 
Great Republic Dr, Gloucester, MA 01930. Mark the outside of the 
envelope ``Comments on 2013 MSB Specifications.''
     Fax: (978) 281-9135, Attn: Lindsey Feldman;
    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 without change. 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: Lindsey Feldman, Fishery Management 
Specialist, 978-675-2179, fax 978-281-9135.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    This rule proposes specifications, which are the combined suite of 
commercial and recreational catch levels established for one or more 
fishing years. The specification process also allows for the 
modification of a select number of management measures, such as closure 
thresholds, gear restrictions, and possession limits. The Council's 
process for establishing specifications relies on provisions within the 
Atlantic Mackerel, Squid, and Butterfish (MSB) Fishery Management Plan 
(FMP) and its implementing regulations, as well as requirements 
established by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management 
Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act). Specifically, section 302(g)(1)(B) of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act states that the Scientific and Statistical 
Committee (SSC) for each Regional Fishery Management Council shall 
provide its Council ongoing scientific advice for fishery management 
decisions, including recommendations for acceptable biological catch 
(ABC), preventing overfishing, maximum sustainable yield, and achieving

[[Page 69427]]

rebuilding targets. The ABC is a level of catch that accounts for the 
scientific uncertainty in the estimate of the stock's defined 
overfishing level (OFL). The Council's SSC met on May 23 and 24, 2012, 
confirming 2013 specifications for Illex and longfin squid and 
recommending ABCs for the 2013 Atlantic mackerel (mackerel) and 
butterfish specifications.
    The MSB 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., gear and/or possession restrictions) needed 
for the efficient management of the fisheries. The MSB Monitoring 
Committee met on May 31, 2012, to discuss specification related 
recommendations for the 2013-2015 mackerel fishery, 2013 butterfish 
fishery, and changes in management measures for the longfin squid 
fishery and butterfish mortality cap.
    Following the SSC and MSB Monitoring Committee meetings described 
above, the Council considered the committees' recommendations and 
public comments at its June 12-14, 2012, meeting in New York, NY, and 
made their specification recommendations. The Council submitted these 
recommendations, along with the required analyses, for agency review on 
July 31, 2012, with final submission on September 30, 2012. NMFS must 
review the Council's recommendations to ensure that they comply with 
the FMP and applicable law, and conduct notice-and-comment rulemaking 
to propose and implement the final recommendations.
    The MSB regulations require the specification of annual catch 
limits (ACL) and accountability measure (AM) provisions for mackerel 
and butterfish (both squid species are exempt form the ACL/AM 
requirements because they have a life cycle of less than 1 year). In 
addition, the regulations require the specification of domestic annual 
harvest (DAH), domestic annual processing (DAP), and total allowable 
level of foreign fishing (TALFF), along with joint venture processing 
for (JVP) and commercial and recreational annual catch totals (ACT) for 
mackerel, the butterfish mortality cap in the longfin squid fishery, 
and initial optimum yield (IOY) for both squid species.

 Table 1--Proposed Specifications, in Metric Tons (mt), for Mackerel for 2013-2015, and Butterfish for the 2013
                                                  Fishing Year
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
            Specifications                            Mackerel                            Butterfish
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
OFL...................................  Unknown............................  Unknown
ABC...................................  43,781.............................  8,400
ACL...................................  43,781.............................  7,560
Commercial ACT........................  34,907.............................  7,560
Recreational ACT/RHL..................  2,443..............................  N/A
IOY...................................  N/A................................  N/A
DAH/DAP...............................  33,821.............................  2,570
JVP...................................  0..................................  N/A
TALFF.................................  0..................................  0
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Research Set-Aside

    The Mid-Atlantic Research Set-Aside (RSA) Program allows research 
projects to be funded through the sale of fish that has been set aside 
from the total annual quota. The RSA may vary between 0 and 3 percent 
of the overall quota for each species. The Council has recommended that 
up to 3 percent of the total ACL for mackerel, up to 3 percent of the 
IOY for Illex and longfin squid, and up to 2 percent of the butterfish 
ACT for research, where 59 mt would be set aside for butterfish discard 
on longfin squid research trips, and 151 mt would be set aside for 
directed butterfish landings, may be set aside to fund projects 
selected under the 2013 Mid-Atlantic RSA Program. NMFS solicited 
research proposals under the 2013 Mid-Atlantic RSA Program through a 
Federal Funding Opportunity announcement that published on February 17, 
2012 (Funding Opportunity Number NOAA-NMFS-NEFSC-2013-2003258 on 
grants.gov). The project selection and award process for the 2013 Mid-
Atlantic RSA Program has not concluded. Awards are expected to be made 
by the end of 2012 in time for the 2013 fishing year. If any portion of 
the MSB RSA is not awarded, NMFS will return it to the general fishery 
either through the final 2013 MSB specification rulemaking process or 
through the publication of a separate notice in the Federal Register 
notifying the public of a quota adjustment.
    These proposed specifications include a brief description of the 
applicable MSB exemptions that will likely be required to conduct the 
compensation fishing to harvest set-aside quota. The Magnuson-Stevens 
Act requires that interested parties be provided an opportunity to 
comment on all proposed exempted fishing permits (EFPs).
    Vessels harvesting RSA 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. With 
respect to the MSB FMP, such regulations include closure regulations at 
Sec.  648.24 and possession restrictions at Sec.  648.26. These 
exemptions are necessary to allow project investigators to recover 
research expenses, as well as adequately compensate fishing industry 
participants harvesting RSA quota. Vessels harvesting RSA quota would 
operate within all other regulations that govern the commercial 
fishery, unless otherwise exempted through a separate EFP. Vessels 
conducting compensation fishing would harvest RSA quota during the 
fishing year from January 1-December 31, 2013.

2013-2015 Proposed Specifications and Management Measures for Mackerel

    The status of the mackerel stock was assessed by the Transboundary 
Resources Assessment Committee (TRAC) in March 2010. The 2010 TRAC 
Status Report indicated reduced productivity in the stock and a lack of 
older fish in both the survey and catch data. However, the status of 
the mackerel stock is unknown because biomass reference points could 
not be determined. Due to uncertainty in the assessment, the TRAC 
recommended that total annual catches not exceed 80,000 mt (average 
total U.S. and Canadian landings from 2006-2008) until new information 
is available. The

[[Page 69428]]

mackerel stock-wide ABC was set at 80,000 mt for 2012, consistent with 
the TRAC recommendation. Since a new mackerel assessment is not 
expected for several years, the SSC recommended maintaining the 2012 
mackerel specification and specifying the stock-wide ABC for 3 years 
(2013-2015) at 80,000 mt. The Council recommended a U.S. ABC of 43,781 
mt (80,000 mt-36,219 mt (2010 actual Canadian catch)). Due to the 
variability in recent Canadian catch, and the inability to predict 
Canadian catch for 2013, the SSC recommended the use of Canadian catch 
from 2010 (the same amount used for setting 2012 specifications).
    Consistent with MSB Amendment 11, the Council recommended a 
recreational allocation of 2,714 mt (6.2 percent of the U.S. ABC). The 
proposed Recreational ACT of 2,443 mt (90 percent of 2,714 mt) is 
reduced to account for low precision and time lag of recreational catch 
estimates, as well as lack of recreational discard estimates. The 
Recreational ACT is equal to the Recreational Harvest Limit (RHL), 
which would be the effective cap on recreational catch.
    For the commercial mackerel fishery, the Council recommended a 
commercial fishery allocation of 41,067 mt (93.8 percent of the U.S. 
ABC, the portion of the ACL that was not allocated to the recreational 
fishery). The recommended Commercial ACT of 34,907 mt (85 percent of 
41,067) is reduced to address uncertainty in estimated 2013 Canadian 
landings, uncertainty in discard estimates, and possible misreporting. 
The Commercial ACT would be further reduced by a discard rate of 3.11 
percent (mean plus one standard deviation of discards from 1999-2008), 
to arrive at the proposed DAH of 33,821 mt. The DAH would be the 
effective cap on commercial catch, as it has been in past 
specifications.
    Consistent with the Council's recommendation, NMFS proposes 
mackerel specifications that would set the U.S. ABC/ACL at 43,781 mt, 
the Commercial ACT at 34,907 mt, the DAH and DAP at 33,821 mt, and the 
Recreational ACT at 2,443 mt.
    Additionally, as recommended by the Council, NMFS proposes to 
maintain JVP at zero (the most recent allocation was 5,000 mt of JVP in 
2004). In the past, the Council recommended a JVP greater than zero 
because it believed U.S. processors lacked the ability to process the 
total amount of mackerel that U.S. harvesters could land. However, for 
the past 9 years, the Council has recommended zero JVP because U.S. 
shoreside processing capacity for mackerel has expanded. The Council 
concluded that processing capacity was no longer a limiting factor 
relative to domestic production of mackerel.
    The Magnuson-Stevens Act provides that the specification of TALFF, 
if any, shall be the portion of the optimum yield (OY) of a fishery 
that will not be harvested by U.S. vessels. TALFF would allow foreign 
vessels to harvest U.S. fish and sell their product on the world 
market, in direct competition with U.S. industry efforts to expand 
exports. While a surplus existed between ABC and the mackerel fleet's 
harvesting capacity for many years, that surplus has disappeared due to 
downward adjustments of the specifications in recent years. Based on 
analysis and a review of the state of the world mackerel market and 
possible increases in U.S. production levels, the Council concluded 
that specifying a DAH/DAP resulting in zero TALFF will yield positive 
social and economic benefits to both U.S. harvesters and processors, 
and to the Nation. For these reasons, consistent with the Council's 
recommendation, NMFS proposes to specify DAH at a level that can be 
fully harvested by the domestic fleet, thereby precluding the 
specification of a TALFF, in order to support the U.S. mackerel 
industry. NMFS concurs that it is reasonable to assume that in 2013 the 
commercial fishery has the ability to harvest 33,821 mt of mackerel.

Butterfish

    The current status of the butterfish stock is unknown because 
biomass reference points could not be determined in the SAW 49 
assessment (February 2010); however, survey trends since the most 
recent assessment suggest an increase in butterfish abundance. In 
recommending 2013 specifications, the SSC considered multiple sources 
of information including a recent analysis of the butterfish stock by 
Dr. Paul Rago and Dr. Tim Miller from NOAA's Northeast Fisheries 
Science Center (NEFSC). Because of the uncertainty in the most recent 
butterfish stock assessment, on April 6, 2012, the Council requested 
that NEFSC offer additional analysis of the butterfish stock to aid the 
SSC in the ABC setting process for the 2013 fishing year. The Rago-
Miller analysis applied ranges of a number of different factors (such 
as natural mortality and survey catchability) to develop a range of 
likely stock biomasses that would be consistent with recent survey 
results and observed butterfish catch. The Rago-Miller analysis also 
examined a range of fishing mortalities that would result from these 
biomass estimates. The SSC used the Rago-Miller analysis, along with 
guidance (Patterson, 1992) that suggests maintaining a natural 
mortality/fishing mortality ratio of 67 percent for small pelagic 
species, to develop a proxy overfishing limit (OFL) for butterfish. 
Consistent with the 2010 butterfish assessment, the SSC assumed a high 
level of natural morality (M = 0.8) and applied the 67-percent ratio to 
result in a fishing mortality of F = 0.536, which the SSC used as a 
proxy maximum fishing mortality rate threshold for butterfish. In the 
Rago-Miller analysis, a catch of 16,800 mt would only lead to fishing 
mortality rates higher than F = 0.536 (i.e., rates consistent with 
overfishing based on the maximum fishing mortality rate threshold 
proxy) under very extreme assumptions. The SSC therefore adopted 16,800 
mt as a proxy OFL and recommended an ABC of 8,400 mt (50 percent of the 
OFL, and a 232-percent increase from the 2012 ABC). A detailed summary 
of the SSC's rationale for its 2013 butterfish ABC recommendation is 
available in its May 2012 Report (available, along with other materials 
from the SSC discussion, at: http://www.mafmc.org/meeting_materials/SSC/2012-05/SSC_2012_05.htm).
    The Council recommended setting the butterfish ACL equal to the 
ABC, and establishing a 10-percent buffer between ACL and ACT for 
management uncertainty, which would result in an ACT of 7,560 mt. Since 
discards have been roughly \2/3\ of catch (1999-2008 average), the 
Council recommended setting the DAH and DAP at 2,570 mt (7,560 mt--
4,990 mt discards). Since up to 3 percent of the ACL for butterfish may 
be set aside for scientific research, the Council recommended setting 
aside 2 percent of the butterfish ACT for research, where 59 mt would 
be set aside for butterfish discard on longfin squid research trips, 
and 151 mt would be set aside for directed butterfish landings. 
Finally, the Council recommended setting the butterfish mortality cap 
on the longfin squid fishery at 4,500 mt (184 percent increase from 
2012).
    NMFS proposes specifications, consistent with the Council's 
recommendation, that would set the butterfish ABC/ACL at 8,400 mt, the 
ACT at 7,560 mt, the DAH and DAP at 2,570 mt, and the butterfish 
mortality cap on the longfin squid fishery at 4,500 mt. Additionally, 
consistent with MSB regulations, NMFS is proposing zero TALFF for 
butterfish in 2013. Consistent with 2012, NMFS proposes that the 2013 
butterfish mortality cap be allocated by Trimester as follows:

[[Page 69429]]



  Table 2--Proposed Trimester Allocation of Butterfish Mortality Cap on
                   the Longfin Squid Fishery for 2013
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                Trimester                     Percent       Metric Tons
------------------------------------------------------------------------
I (Jan-Apr).............................              65            2925
II (May-Aug)............................             3.3           148.5
III (Sep-Dec)...........................            31.7          1426.5
                                         -------------------------------
    Total...............................             100           4,500
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Due to the increase in the recommended butterfish DAH and 
butterfish mortality cap, a variety of management measures were 
recommended by the Council to control fishing effort while allowing the 
expansion of a profitable directed butterfish fishery. The Council 
recommended a three-phase management system for the directed butterfish 
fishery (Table 3) to allow for maximum utilization of the butterfish 
resource without exceeding the stock-wide ACL. In phase 1, there would 
be no trip limit for vessels issued longfin squid/butterfish moratorium 
permits using mesh greater than or equal to 3 inches (7.62 cm), a 
2,500-lb (1.13-mt) trip limit for longfin squid/butterfish moratorium 
permits using mesh less than 3 inches (7.62 cm), and a trip limit of 
600 lb (0.27 mt) for vessels issued squid/butterfish incidental catch 
permits. Once butterfish harvest reaches the trip hold reduction 
threshold for phase 2, the trip limit for longfin squid/butterfish 
moratorium permit holders would be reduced to 5,000 lb (2.27 mt) for 
vessels using greater than or equal to 3-inch (7.62 cm) mesh and 2,500 
lb (1.13 mt) for vessels using under 3-inch (7.62 cm) mesh. When 
butterfish harvest is projected to reach the trip hold reduction 
thresholds for phase 3, the trip limit for all longfin squid/butterfish 
moratorium permit holders would be reduced to 500 lb (0.23 mt) to avoid 
quota overages. For phases 2 and 3, the quota thresholds to reduce the 
trip limits are proposed to vary bimonthly throughout the year (Tables 
4 and 5).

                                Table 3--Three-Phase Butterfish Management System
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                        Longfin squid/butterfish moratorium permit trip
                                                             limit                           Squid/butterfish
                Phase                 -------------------------------------------------- incidental catch permit
                                         >= 3 inch (7.62 cm)                                    trip limit
                                                 mesh            <3 inch (7.62 cm) mesh
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1....................................  Unlimited..............  2,500 lb (1.13 mt).....  600 lb (0.27 mt).
2....................................  5,000 lb (2.27 mt).....  2,500 lb (1.13 mt).....  600 lb (0.27 mt).
3....................................  500 lb (0.23 mt).......  500 lb (0.23 mt).......  600 lb (0.27 mt).
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


  Table 4--Proposed Butterfish Thresholds for Reducing Trip Limits for
                                 Phase 2
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                         Trip limit
                                          reduction        Butterfish
               Months                     threshold      harvest (metric
                                          (percent)           tons)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jan-Feb.............................                40             1,028
Mar-Apr.............................                47             1,208
May-Jun.............................                55             1,414
Jul-Aug.............................                63             1,619
Sept-Oct............................                71             1,825
Nov-Dec.............................                78             2,005
------------------------------------------------------------------------


  Table 5--Proposed Butterfish Thresholds for Reducing Trip Limits for
                                 Phase 3
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                         Trip limit
                                          reduction        Butterfish
               Months                     threshold      harvest (metric
                                          (percent)           tons)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jan-Feb.............................                58             1,491
Mar-Apr.............................                64             1,645
May-Jun.............................                71             1,825
Jul-Aug.............................                78             2,005
Sept-Oct............................                85             2,185
Nov-Dec.............................                91             2,339
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Finally, during phase 3, the NMFS Regional Administrator would have 
the authority to adjust the phase 3 trip limit for limited access 
vessels within the range from 250 (0.11 mt) to 750 lb (0.34 mt) so that 
butterfish harvest does not exceed the annual DAH.

Proposed Management Measures for Longfin Squid

    The Council recommended regulatory changes for the longfin squid 
fishery. Currently, vessels that intend to land 2,500 lb (1.13 mt) or 
more of longfin squid are required to notify the Northeast Fisheries 
Observer Program (NEFOP) at least 72 hr in advance of the start of a 
trip. Longfin squid vessel

[[Page 69430]]

owners have reported that the 72-hr call in notification is burdensome 
as trips are often planned with reference to weather, sea conditions, 
and longfin squid movement patterns, which can be highly variable. 
Therefore, the Council recommended, and NMFS proposes, to change the 
longfin pre-trip observer notification requirement from 72 to 48 hrs. 
In addition, to avoid closing the directed longfin fishery close to the 
end of a trimester, the Council recommended, and NMFS proposes, to 
change the closure threshold for longfin squid on April 15 (2 weeks 
prior to the end of Trimester 1) and August 15 (2 weeks prior to the 
end of Trimester 2) of each year from 90 to 95 percent.

Proposed Management Measures for the Butterfish Mortality Cap in the 
Longfin Squid Fishery

    NMFS proposes changes to management measures for the butterfish 
mortality cap in the longfin squid fishery consistent with the 
Council's recommendations. To avoid closing the directed longfin squid 
fishery due to the butterfish mortality cap in the last 2 weeks of 
Trimester 1, NMFS proposes changing the closure threshold on April 15 
of each year from 80 to 90 percent. As there is currently no closure 
mechanism for the butterfish mortality cap in Trimester 2, the entire 
annual butterfish mortality cap could potentially be harvested in 
Trimester 2, which would not leave any butterfish mortality cap quota 
for the Trimester 3 longfin squid fishery. To avoid the entire 
allocation of the butterfish mortality cap being harvested prior to the 
start of Trimester 3 on September 1, NMFS proposes to close the 
directed longfin squid fishery in Trimester 2 if 75 percent of the 
annual mortality cap is projected to be reached, consistent with the 
Council's recommendations.

Corrections

    This proposed rule also contains minor corrections to existing 
regulations. The corrections would not change the intent of any 
regulations; they would only clarify the existing regulations by 
correcting minor errors. The current regulations at Sec.  648.24 state 
that NMFS will implement any changes to the ACL due to overages from 
the previous year through notification in the Federal Register, by 
March 31 of the fishing year in which the deductions will be made. 
However, due to delayed reporting and analysis time to estimate 
discards in the MSB fisheries, finalized data are not available until 
April 15 of each year. Therefore, NMFS proposes to change the date a 
notification will be published in the Federal Register announcing any 
overage deductions from March 31 to May 1 of the fishing year in which 
the deductions will be made.
    This rule proposes a correction to Sec.  648.22(b)(2) regarding the 
mackerel ABC. This rule clarifies that the MAFMC's SSC recommends a 
stock-wide ABC, and that the Domestic ABC or ACL is calculated by 
deducting Canadian catch from the stock-wide ABC. This rule also 
proposes a correction to Sec.  648.27(c) to clarify that the pre-trip 
notification requirement for vessels issued longfin squid/butterfish 
moratorium permits is for trips with landings greater than 2,500 lb 
(1.13 mt) and not trips with landings equal to or greater than 2,500 lb 
(1.13 mt) of longfin squid.

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 Atlantic Mackerel, Squid, and Butterfish FMP, other 
provision of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law, 
subject to further consideration after public comment.
    This proposed rule has been determined to be not significant for 
purposes of Executive Order 12866.
    The Council prepared an IRFA, as required by section 603 of the 
Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA). The IRFA describes the economic 
impact this proposed rule, if adopted, would have on small entities. A 
summary of the analysis follows. A copy of this analysis is available 
from the Council or NMFS (see ADDRESSES) or via the Internet at http://www.nero.noaa.gov.

Statement of Objective and Need

    This action proposes 2013-2015 specifications for mackerel and 2013 
specifications for butterfish, along with management measures for 
longfin squid and butterfish. A complete description of the reasons why 
this action is being considered, and the objectives of and legal basis 
for this action, are contained in the preamble to this proposed rule 
and are not repeated here.

Description and Estimate of Number of Small Entities to Which the Rule 
Will Apply

    Based on permit data for 2011, 3,405 commercial or charter vessels 
possessed MSB permits for the 2011 fishing year, and similar numbers of 
vessels are expected to have MSB permits for 2013. All but a few of 
these participants can be considered small businesses under the 
guidelines of the Small Business Administration. 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 $7.0 
million, respectively. There are no large entities, as that term is 
defined in section 601 of the RFA, participating in this fishery. 
Therefore, there are no disproportionate economic impacts on small 
entities. Many vessels participate in more than one of these fisheries; 
therefore, permit numbers are not additive.

Description of Projected Reporting, Recordkeeping, and Other Compliance 
Requirements

    There are no new reporting or recordkeeping requirements contained 
in any of the alternatives considered for this action. In addition, 
there are no Federal rules that duplicate, overlap, or conflict with 
this proposed rule.

Minimizing Significant Economic Impacts on Small Entities

Proposed Actions
    The mackerel commercial DAH (33,821 mt) and recreational ACT/RHL 
(2,443 mt) proposed in this action represent no change from status quo. 
Commercial mackerel landings for 2011 were 1,463 mt, and recreational 
catch was 932 mt, and in both cases, catch was below the allocation. As 
of the publication of this rule, mackerel catch is estimated to be 
5,266 mt and is not likely to increase significantly for the remainder 
of the year, which means that 2012 catch will also be below the 2012 
DAH. Therefore, this proposed action allows the mackerel fleet the 
opportunity to harvest more than they have in the previous year. 
Overall, the proposed action is expected to generate revenue very 
similar to the 2012 revenue for vessels that participate in the 
commercial mackerel fisheries.
    The butterfish DAH proposed in this action (2,570 mt) represents a 
236-percent increase over the 2012 DAH (1,087 mt). Due to market 
conditions, there has not been a directed butterfish fishery since 
2001; therefore, recent landings have been low. The proposed increase 
in the DAH has the potential to dramatically increase revenue for 
permitted vessels because it has been an incidental catch fishery for 
several years.
    In addition, the three-phased management system proposed for the 
directed butterfish fishery, which would allow an unlimited quota until 
butterfish harvest reaches a particular threshold, would allow vessels 
to harvest substantially more butterfish

[[Page 69431]]

during the start of the fishing year, when the market is suspected to 
be available. The three-phased management system would allow the 
potentially expanded directed butterfish fishery to increase catch 
without exceeding the ACL and having to payback overages the following 
year.
    The butterfish mortality cap proposed in this action (4,500 mt) 
represents a 184-percent increase over the 2012 cap level (2,445 mt). 
The increase in the butterfish mortality cap will be less restrictive 
on the longfin squid fishery than in previous years. While longfin 
squid catch will still be restrained by the longfin squid DAH, there is 
less of likelihood that the longfin squid fishery will be closed due to 
the butterfish mortality cap. In addition, the management measures for 
the longfin squid fishery are proposed to ensure that the directed 
longfin squid fishery is not closed during the last two weeks a 
particular trimester, therefore, causing economic harm to the fishing 
industry when there is still a small amount of catch available to the 
fleet. Therefore, the implementation of these actions should result in 
an increase in revenue for the longfin squid fishery for 2013.
    The Illex and longfin squid IOYs proposed in this action (22,915 mt 
and 22,445 mt respectively) represent no change from status quo. Thus, 
implementation of this proposed action should not result in a reduction 
in revenue or a constraint on expansion of the fishery in 2013.

Alternatives to the Proposed Rule

    The Council analysis evaluated three alternatives to the proposed 
specifications for mackerel. The first (status quo) alternative 
differed from the proposed mackerel specifications, only in that the 
status quo alternative recommends specifications for one year, while 
the proposed alternative sets mackerel specifications for 3 years 
(2013-2015). The status quo alternative would set the stock-wide ABC of 
80,000 mt, Canadian catch of 36,219 mt, and a U.S. ABC of 43,781 mt. 
The second alternative (the least restrictive) would set the stock-wide 
ABC at 100,000 mt, would maintain Canadian catch at 35,219 mt, and 
would set a U.S. ABC at 63,781 mt. This alternative could generate 
increased revenue if more mackerel became available to the fishery. The 
third alternative (the most restrictive) would set the stock-wide ABC 
at 60,000 mt, would maintain Canadian catch at 36,219 mt, and would set 
a U.S. ABC at 23,781 mt. This alternative could generate the lowest 
revenue of all of the alternatives. These two alternatives were not 
selected because they were all inconsistent with the ABC recommended by 
the SSC.
    There were three alternatives to the preferred action for 
butterfish that were not selected by the Council. The first (status 
quo) alternative would have kept the butterfish ABC and ACL at 3,622 
mt, the ACT at 3,260 mt, the DAH and DAP at 1,087, and the butterfish 
mortality cap at 2,445 mt. The second alternative (least restrictive) 
would have set the ABC and ACL at 10,500 mt, the ACT at 9,450 mt, the 
DAH and DAP at 3,213 mt, and the butterfish mortality cap at 5,625 mt, 
and would generate the highest revenues of all of the alternatives. The 
fourth alternative (most restrictive) would have set the ABC and ACL at 
6,300 mt, the ACT at 5,670 mt, the DAH and DAP at 1,928 mt, and the 
butterfish mortality cap at 3,375 mt, and would generate the lowest 
revenue of all of the alternatives. These three alternatives were not 
selected because they were inconsistent with the ABC recommended by the 
SSC.
    The Council recommended the status quo as an alternative to both 
the proposed action for changing management measures for the longfin 
squid fishery and for the butterfish mortality cap. For all proposed 
management measures, the status quo alternative recommended no changes 
to the longfin squid or butterfish mortality cap management measures. 
The status quo alternative requires vessels possessing 1,000 lb (0.45 
mt) or more of butterfish to fish with a 3-inch (76-mm) minimum codend 
mesh. The status quo alternatives were considered, but not selected, 
because the proposed measures have the potential to increase economic 
opportunity for the fishing fleet while still ensuring the ACL for the 
longfin squid fishery and the butterfish mortality cap are not 
exceeded. There were also two alternatives to the proposed three-phase 
management system for the directed butterfish fishery. The first 
(status quo and most restrictive) would maintain the 5,000-lb (2.27-mt) 
trip limit for vessels issued longfin squid/butterfish moratorium 
permits using over 3-inch (76-mm) mesh, 2,000-lb (0.91-mt) trip limit 
for vessels issued longfin squid/butterfish moratorium permits using 
under 3-inch (76-mm) mesh, and the 600-lb (0.27-mt) trip limit for 
vessels issued squid/butterfish incidental catch permits. Even with the 
proposed increase in quota, the butterfish fishery may not be able to 
harvest an increased amount of butterfish with these restrictive trip 
limits. Therefore, this alternative could generate the lowest amount of 
revenue out of all of the alternatives. The second alternative would 
provide a simpler management system for the directed fishery in which 
the trip limit for vessels issued longfin squid/butterfish moratorium 
permits would be 20,000 lb (9.07 mt) for vessels issued longfin squid/
butterfish moratorium permits using greater than 3-inch (76-mm) mesh, 
2,500 lb (1.13 mt) for permits using under 3-inch (76-mm) mesh, and 
1,000 lb (4.54 mt) for vessels issued squid/butterfish incidental catch 
permits. If 80 percent of the DAH is projected to be harvested before 
October 1, the trip limit for all vessels would be reduced to 250 lb 
(0.11 mt), and if the DAH is projected to be harvested on or after 
October 1, the trip limit for all vessels would be 500 lb (0.23 mt). 
This alternative would provide the butterfish fishery the opportunity 
to increased revenues over the first alternative, but not as great as 
the proposed alternative. While these alternatives were considered, 
they were not selected because the proposed alternative has the 
potential to increase economic opportunity for vessels participating in 
the directed butterfish fishery while still ensuring the ACL is not 
exceeded. The other alternatives would not be as effective for directed 
butterfish vessels to re-establish a butterfish market.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 648

    Fisheries, Fishing, Recordkeeping and reporting requirements.

    Dated: November 14, 2012.
Alan D. Risenhoover,
Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, performing the functions and 
duties of the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, National 
Marine Fisheries Service.

    For the reasons set out 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.  648.4, paragraph (a)(5)(ii) is revised to read as 
follows:


Sec.  648.4  Vessel permits.

* * * * *
    (a) * * *
    (5) * * *
    (ii) Squid/butterfish incidental catch permit. Any vessel of the 
United States may obtain a permit to fish for or retain up to 600 lb 
(0.27 mt) of longfin squid or butterfish, or up to 10,000 lb (4.54 mt) 
of Illex squid, as an incidental catch in another directed fishery. The 
incidental catch allowance may be revised by the Regional Administrator

[[Page 69432]]

based upon a recommendation by the Council following the procedure set 
forth in Sec.  648.22.
* * * * *
    3. In Sec.  648.14, paragraphs (g)(2)(ii)(E) and (F) are revised to 
read as follows:


Sec.  648.14  Prohibitions.

* * * * *
    (g) * * *
    (2) * * *
    (ii) * * *
    (E) Possess more than 2,500 lb (1.13 mt) of butterfish, unless the 
vessel meets the minimum mesh requirements specified in Sec.  
648.23(a).
    (F) Take, retain, possess, or land mackerel after a total closure 
specified under Sec.  648.24(b)(1).
* * * * *
    4. In Sec.  648.22, revise paragraph (b)(2)(i) and (b)(2)(ii), 
redesignate paragraphs (b)(3)(v) through (b)(3)(vii) as paragraphs 
(b)(3)(vi) through (b)(3)(viii), respectively, and add new paragraph 
(b)(3)(v) to read as follows:


Sec.  648.22  Atlantic mackerel, squid, and butterfish specifications.

* * * * *
    (b) * * *
    (2) Mackerel--(i) ABC. The MAFMC's SSC shall recommend a stock-wide 
ABC to the MAFMC, as described in Sec.  648.20. The stock-wide mackerel 
ABC is reduced from the OFL based on an adjustment for scientific 
uncertainty; the stock-wide ABC must be less than or equal to the OFL.
    (ii) ACL. The ACL or Domestic ABC is calculated using the formula 
ACL/Domestic ABC = stock-wide ABC - C, where C is the estimated catch 
of mackerel in Canadian waters for the upcoming fishing year.
* * * * *
    (3) * * *
    (v) The trip limit reduction thresholds for phase 2 and phase 3 of 
the butterfish three-phase management system will be modified annually 
through the specifications process. Trip limit reduction thresholds 
vary bi-monthly and are set to allow the butterfish fishery to continue 
to operate without exceeding the stock-wide ACL. An example of the 
phase 2 and 3 trip limit reduction thresholds is shown in the table 
below:

   Proposed Butterfish Thresholds for Reducing Trip Limits for Phase 2
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                            Trip limit
                                             reduction      Butterfish
                 Months                      threshold        harvest
                                             (percent)     (Metric Tons)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jan-Feb.................................              40           1,028
Mar-Apr.................................              47           1,208
May-Jun.................................              55           1,414
Jul-Aug.................................              63           1,619
Sept-Oct................................              71           1,825
Nov-Dec.................................              78           2,005
------------------------------------------------------------------------

* * * * *
    5. In Sec.  648.23, paragraph (a)(1) is revised to read as follows:


Sec.  648.23  Mackerel, squid, and butterfish gear restrictions.

    (a) * * *
    (1) Butterfish fishery. Owners or operators of otter trawl vessels 
possessing 2,500 lb (1.13 mt) or more of butterfish harvested in or 
from the EEZ may only fish with nets having a minimum codend mesh of 3 
inches (7.62 cm) diamond mesh, inside stretch measure, applied 
throughout the codend for at least 100 continuous meshes forward of the 
terminus of the net, or for codends with less than 100 meshes, the 
minimum mesh size codend shall be a minimum of one-third of the net, 
measured from the terminus of the codend to the headrope.
* * * * *
    6. In Sec.  648.24, paragraphs (a)(1), (b)(6), (c)(1), (c)(3), and 
(c)(4) are revised to read as follows:


Sec.  648.24  Fishery closures and accountability measures.

    (a) Fishery closure procedures--(1) Longfin squid. NMFS shall close 
the directed fishery in the EEZ for longfin squid when the Regional 
Administrator projects that 90 percent of the longfin squid quota is 
harvested before April 15 of Trimester I and/or August 15 of Trimester 
II, and when 95 percent of the longfin squid DAH has been harvested in 
Trimester III. On or after April 15 of Trimester I and/or August 15 of 
Trimester II, NMFS shall close the directed fishery in the EEZ for 
longfin squid when the Regional Administrator projects that 95 percent 
of the longfin squid quota is harvested. The closure of the directed 
fishery shall be in effect for the remainder of that fishing period, 
with incidental catches allowed as specified at Sec.  648.26.
* * * * *
    (b) * * *
    (6) Mackerel ACL overage evaluation. The ACL will be evaluated 
based on a single-year examination of total catch (landings and 
discards). Both landings and dead discards will be evaluated in 
determining if the ACL has been exceeded. NMFS shall make 
determinations about overages and implement any changes to the ACL, in 
accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act, through notification 
in the Federal Register, by May 15 of the fishing year in which the 
deductions will be made.
    (c) Butterfish AMs--(1) Butterfish three-phase management system. 
The butterfish fishery operates under a three-phase management system. 
Phase 1 begins annually at the start of the fishing year on January 1. 
Trip limit reductions are implemented in phase 2 and 3 dependent upon 
the amount of butterfish harvest and the trip limit reduction 
thresholds set during the specification process as described in Sec.  
648.22.
    (i) Phase 1. During phase 1, vessels issued a longfin squid/
butterfish moratorium permit (as specified at Sec.  648.4(a)(5)(i)) 
fishing with a minimum mesh size of 3 inches (76 mm) have an unlimited 
trip limit and vessels issued a longfin squid/butterfish moratorium 
permit fishing with mesh less than 3 inches (76 mm) are prohibited from 
landing more than 2,500 lb (1.13 mt) of butterfish per trip.
    (ii) Phase 2. NMFS shall reduce the trip limit for vessels issued 
longfin squid/butterfish moratorium permits (as specified at Sec.  
648.4(a)(5)(i)) fishing with a minimum mesh size of 3 inches (76 mm) to 
5,000 lb (2.27 mt), when butterfish harvest reaches the relevant phase 
2 trip limit reduction threshold. Trip limits for vessels issued 
longfin squid/butterfish moratorium permits fishing with mesh less than 
3 inches (76

[[Page 69433]]

mm) will remain at 2,500 lb (1.13 mt) of butterfish per trip.
    (iii) Phase 3. NMFS shall subsequently reduce the trip limit for 
vessels issued longfin squid/butterfish moratorium permits to 500 lb 
(0.23 mt), regardless of minimum mesh size, when butterfish harvest is 
projected to reach the relevant phase 3 trip limit reduction threshold. 
The NMFS Regional Administrator may adjust the butterfish trip limit 
during phase 3 of the directed butterfish fishery anywhere from 250 lb 
(0.11 mt) to 750 lb (0.34 mt) to ensure butterfish harvest does not 
exceed the specified DAH.
* * * * *
    (3) Butterfish mortality cap on the longfin squid fishery. NMFS 
shall close the directed fishery in the EEZ for longfin squid when the 
Regional Administrator projects that 80 percent of the Trimester I 
butterfish mortality cap allocation has been harvested in Trimester I, 
when 75 percent of the annual butterfish mortality cap has been 
harvested in Trimester II, and/or when 90 percent of the butterfish 
mortality cap has been harvested in Trimester III.
    (4) Butterfish ACL overage evaluation. The ACL will be evaluated 
based on a single-year examination of total catch (landings and 
discards). Both landings and dead discards will be evaluated in 
determining if the ACL has been exceeded. NMFS shall make 
determinations about overages and implement any changes to the ACL, in 
accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act, through notification 
in the Federal Register, by May 15 of the fishing year in which the 
deductions will be made.
* * * * *
    7. In Sec.  648.26, paragraph (d) is revised to read as follows:


Sec.  648.26  Mackerel, squid, and butterfish possession restrictions.

* * * * *
    (d) Butterfish--(1) Phase 1. A vessel issued a longfin squid/
butterfish moratorium permit (as specified at Sec.  648.4(a)(5)(i)) 
fishing with a minimum mesh size of 3 inches (76 mm) is authorized to 
fish for, possess, or land butterfish with no possession restriction in 
the EEZ per trip, and may only land butterfish once on any calendar 
day, which is defined as the 24-hr period beginning at 0001 hours and 
ending at 2400 hours, provided that butterfish harvest has not reached 
the phase 2 trip limit reduction threshold, as described in Sec.  
648.24(c). Vessels issued longfin squid/butterfish moratorium permits 
fishing with mesh less than 3 inches (76 mm) may not fish for, possess, 
or land more than 2,500 lb (1.13 mt) of butterfish per trip at any 
time, and may only land butterfish once on any calendar day, provided 
that butterfish harvest has not reached the phase 3 trip limit 
reduction threshold, as described in Sec.  648.24(c).
    (2) Phase 2. When butterfish harvest reaches the phase 2 trip limit 
reduction threshold for the butterfish fishery (as described in Sec.  
648.24), vessels issued a longfin squid/butterfish moratorium permit 
(as specified at Sec.  648.4(a)(5)(i)) fishing with a minimum mesh size 
of 3 inches (76 mm) may not fish for, possess, or land more than 5,000 
lb (2.27 mt) of butterfish per trip at any time, and may only land 
butterfish once on any calendar day, which is defined as the 24-hr 
period beginning at 0001 hours and ending at 2400 hours. Trip limits 
for vessels issued butterfish moratorium permits fishing with mesh less 
than 3 inches (76 mm) will remain at 2,500 lb (1.13) per trip.
    (3) Phase 3. When butterfish harvest is projected to reach the trip 
limit reduction threshold for phase 3 (as described in Sec.  648.24), 
all vessels issued a longfin squid/butterfish moratorium permit, 
regardless of mesh size used, may not fish for, possess, or land more 
than 500 lb (0.23 mt) of butterfish per trip at any time, and may only 
land butterfish once on any calendar day, which is defined as the 24-hr 
period beginning at 0001 hours and ending at 2400 hours. If a vessel 
has been issued a longfin squid/butterfish incidental catch permit (as 
specified at Sec.  648.4(a)(5)(ii)), it may not fish for, possess, or 
land more than 600 lb (0.27 mt) of butterfish per trip at any time.
    8. In Sec.  648.27, paragraphs (a), (c), and (d) are revised to 
read as follows:


Sec.  648.27  Observer requirements for the longfin squid fishery.

    (a) A vessel issued a longfin squid and butterfish moratorium 
permit, as specified at Sec.  648.4(a)(5)(i), must, for the purposes of 
observer deployment, have a representative provide notice to NMFS of 
the vessel name, vessel permit number, contact name for coordination of 
observer deployment, telephone number or email address for contact; and 
the date, time, port of departure, and approximate trip duration, at 
least 48 hr, but no more than 10 days, prior to beginning any fishing 
trip, unless it complies with the possession restrictions in paragraph 
(c) of this section.
* * * * *
    (c) A vessel issued a longfin squid and butterfish moratorium 
permit, as specified in Sec.  648.4(a)(5)(i), that does not have a 
representative provide the trip notification required in paragraph (a) 
of this section is prohibited from fishing for, possessing, harvesting, 
or landing greater than 2,500 lb (1.13 mt) of longfin squid per trip at 
any time, and may only land longfin squid once on any calendar day, 
which is defined as the 24-hr period beginning at 0001 hours and ending 
at 2400 hours.
    (d) If a vessel issued a longfin squid and butterfish moratorium 
permit, as specified in Sec.  648.4(a)(5)(i), intends to possess, 
harvest, or land more than 2,500 lb (1.13 mt) of longfin squid per trip 
or per calendar day, has a representative notify NMFS of an upcoming 
trip, is selected by NMFS to carry an observer, and then cancels that 
trip, the representative is required to provide notice to NMFS of the 
vessel name, vessel permit number, contact name for coordination of 
observer deployment, and telephone number or email address for contact, 
and the intended date, time, and port of departure for the cancelled 
trip prior to the planned departure time. In addition, if a trip 
selected for observer coverage is cancelled, then that vessel is 
required to carry an observer, provided an observer is available, on 
its next trip.

[FR Doc. 2012-28057 Filed 11-16-12; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P