[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 239 (Wednesday, December 12, 2012)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 73969-73972]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-29968]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 300

RIN 0648-BC44
[Docket No. 120814337-2337-01]


International Fisheries; Pacific Tuna Fisheries; Fishing 
Restrictions in the Eastern Pacific Ocean

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

ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: NMFS proposes regulations under the Tuna Conventions Act to 
implement Resolution C-12-09 of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna 
Commission (IATTC) by establishing limits on commercial retention of 
bluefin tuna by U.S. fishing vessels operating in the Eastern Pacific 
Ocean in 2012 and 2013. This action is necessary for the United States 
to satisfy its obligations as a member of the IATTC and to reduce 
overfishing of the stock.

DATES: Comments must be submitted in writing by January 11, 2013. A 
public hearing will be held at 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. PDT, January 11, 2013, 
in Long Beach, CA.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by 
NOAA-

[[Page 73970]]

NMFS-2012-0172, by any of the following methods:
     Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. To submit comments via the e-Rulemaking Portal, 
first click the ``submit a comment'' icon, then enter NOAA-NMFS-2012-
0172 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: Submit written comments to Heidi Taylor, NMFS 
Southwest Regional Office, 501 W. Ocean Blvd., Suite 4200, Long Beach, 
CA 90802. Include the identifier ``NOAA-NMFS-2012-0172'' in the 
comments.
     Fax: 562-980-4047; Attn: Heidi Taylor.
     Public hearing: The public is welcome to attend a public 
hearing and offer comments on this rule on January 11, 2013 from 1 p.m. 
4 p.m. at 501 W. Ocean Boulevard, Suite 4200, Long Beach, CA 90802. The 
public may also participate in the public hearing via conference line: 
1-888-760-6181; participant passcode: 7600181.
    Instructions: Comments must be submitted by one of the above 
methods to ensure they 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 only be 
accepted in Microsoft Word or Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file 
formats.
    Written comments regarding the burden-hour estimates or other 
aspects of the collection-of-information requirements contained in this 
proposed rule may be submitted to NMFS SWR and by email to OIRA_Submission@omb.eop.gov, or faxed to (202) 395-7285. Copies of the draft 
Regulatory Impact Review (RIR) and other supporting documents are 
available at http://swr.nmfs.noaa.gov/.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Heidi Taylor, NMFS SWR, 562-980-4039.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background on the IATTC

    The United States is a member of the IATTC, which was established 
under the 1949 Convention for the Establishment of an Inter-American 
Tropical Tuna Commission. The full text of the 1949 Convention is 
available at: http://www.iattc.org/PDFFiles/IATTC_convention_1949.pdf. The IATTC was established to provide an international 
arrangement to ensure the effective international conservation and 
management of highly migratory species of fish in the Convention Area 
(defined as the waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO)). Since 1998, 
conservation resolutions implemented within the IATTC have further 
defined the Convention Area as the area bounded by the coast of the 
Americas, the 50[deg] N. and 50[deg] S. parallels, and the 150[deg] W. 
meridian. The IATTC has maintained a scientific research and fishery 
monitoring program for many years, and regularly assesses the status of 
tuna and billfish stocks in the EPO to determine appropriate harvest 
limits or other measures to prevent overexploitation of these stocks 
and to promote viable fisheries. Current IATTC membership includes: 
Belize, Canada, China, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), Colombia, Costa Rica, 
Ecuador, El Salvador, the European Union, France, Guatemala, Japan, 
Kiribati, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, the 
United States, Vanuatu, and Venezuela. Bolivia and the Cook Islands are 
cooperating non-members.

International Obligations of the United States Under the Convention

    As a Contracting Party to the 1949 Convention and a member of the 
IATTC, the United States is legally bound to implement the decisions of 
the IATTC. The Tuna Conventions Act (16 U.S.C. 951-962) directs the 
Secretary of Commerce, after approval by the Secretary of State, to 
promulgate such regulations as may be necessary to implement 
recommendations adopted by the IATTC. The authority to promulgate such 
regulations has been delegated to NMFS.

IATTC Decisions in 2012

    At its 83rd Meeting, in June 2012, the IATTC adopted by consensus 
Resolution C-12-09, Conservation and Management Measures for Bluefin 
Tuna in the EPO. All active resolutions and recommendations of the 
IATTC are available on the following Web site: http://iattc.org/ResolutionsActiveENG.htm.
    The main objective of Resolution C-12-09 is to conserve Pacific 
bluefin tuna (Thunnus orientalis) by establishing limits on the 
commercial catches of in the EPO. Before Resolution C-12-09, the IATTC 
had not adopted harvest limits for Pacific bluefin tuna in the EPO. In 
particular, the IATTC recognizes the need to reduce the mortality of 
juvenile Pacific bluefin tuna. The IATTC emphasizes that the measures 
in Resolution C-12-09 are intended as an interim means for assuring 
viability of the Pacific bluefin tuna resource. Future conservation 
measures should be based in part on development of future scientific 
information and advice of the International Scientific Committee for 
Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean and the IATTC 
scientific staff. Table 1 below shows the United States commercial 
catch of Pacific bluefin tuna for the years 1999 to 2009 in the EPO. At 
this time, landings in 2010 cannot be reported due to data 
confidentiality.

 Table 1--United States Commercial Catch of Pacific Bluefin Tuna in the
                                   EPO
                            [In metric tons]
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                        Pacific bluefin
                         Year                           tuna catch  (in
                                                          metric tons)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
1999.................................................                186
2000.................................................                313
2001.................................................                196
2002.................................................                 11
2003.................................................                 36
2004.................................................                 10
2005.................................................                207
2006.................................................                  1
2007.................................................                 45
2008.................................................                  1
2009.................................................                415
2010.................................................  .................
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Source: PacFIN, extracted Aug. 16, 2011.

    In 2010, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission 
(WCPFC) adopted conservation and management measures for Pacific 
bluefin tuna to ensure that the current level of fishing mortality rate 
is not increased. Resolution C-12-09 complements action taken by WCPFC 
in 2010 that set effort quotas in the western central Pacific Ocean. 
The combination of Resolution C-12-09 and the WCPFC effort quotas are 
an important step for reducing the overfishing of bluefin tuna. In 
2011, NMFS determined overfishing is occurring on Pacific bluefin tuna 
based on stock assessment results of the International Scientific 
Committee (76

[[Page 73971]]

FR 28422 (May 17, 2011)). NMFS recommended that domestic and 
international actions should be developed to end overfishing and 
rebuild the affected stock.

Proposed Action

    NMFS is proposing to implement domestically Resolution C-12-09, 
which provides for the conservation and management of Pacific bluefin 
tuna in the EPO through the following methods: retention of bluefin 
tuna by all United States commercial fishing vessels in the EPO shall 
be prohibited (i) for the remainder of 2012 when 500 metric tons has 
been harvested by the United States commercial fishing vessels, and 
(ii) for the remainder of 2013 when 10,000 metric tons has been 
harvested by the commercial fishing vessels of all countries in 2012 
and 2013 combined. The 2013 prohibition will not be effective unless 
and until the annual commercial harvest of Pacific bluefin tuna by the 
United States fleet has reached 500 metric tons.
    To clarify, the United States commercial fishery may catch more 
than the 500 metric tons in 2013, provided the 10,000 (2012 and 2013 
combined) metric ton limit by the international fleet is not reached. 
However, if the 10,000 metric ton limit is reached, then the United 
States commercial fishery may catch up to a total of 500 metric tons of 
Pacific bluefin tuna.

Announcement of the Limit Being Reached

    To help ensure that the total catch of Pacific bluefin tuna in the 
EPO does not exceed the catch limit for each year, NMFS will report 
United States catch to the IATTC Director on a monthly basis. The IATTC 
Director, in turn will communicate on a regular basis the current catch 
levels and will inform the members of the IATTC when the total annual 
catch limit is reached. If NMFS determines, based on the information 
provided by the IATTC Director, that the applicable limit is imminent 
by a specific future date in that year, NMFS will publish a notice in 
the Federal Register announcing that specific restrictions will be 
effective on that specific future date until the end of the calendar 
year. Additionally, if the United States commercial fishing fleet has 
already caught 500 metric tons or more of Pacific bluefin tuna in 2012 
or 2013 and the overall catch limit is reached, NMFS will publish a 
notice in the Federal Register announcing that restrictions will be 
effective immediately through the end of the calendar year. Under the 
authority of the Tuna Convention Act, fishery management resolutions 
made by the IATTC and approved by the Department of State will be 
promulgated in the Federal Register. This includes necessary additional 
notifications to inform the public on an action that may impact the 
United States commercial fishing fleet. Specifically, 50 CFR 300.20, 
which implements the Tuna Convention Act, states the following:
    ``The regulations in this subpart are issued under the authority of 
the Tuna Conventions Act of 1950 (Act). The regulations implement 
recommendations of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) 
for the conservation and management of highly migratory fish resources 
in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean so far as they affect vessels and 
persons subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.''
    NMFS will also endeavor to make publicly available, such as on a 
Web site, regularly updated estimates and/or forecasts of Pacific 
bluefin tuna catches in order to help fishermen plan for the 
possibility of the limit being reached.
    The commercial catch limitation would go into effect in 2012, and 
remain in effect through 2013 unless the IATTC decides to remove or 
modify the measure in 2013. NMFS expects controls on fishing for 
Pacific bluefin tuna in the ETP to be included by the IATTC in future 
resolutions.

Classification

    The NMFS Assistant Administrator has determined that this proposed 
rule is consistent with the Tuna Conventions Act of 1950 and other 
applicable laws, subject to further consideration after public comment.
    This proposed rule has been determined to be not significant for 
purposes of Executive Order 12866.
    An initial regulatory flexibility analysis (IRFA) was prepared, as 
required by section 603 of the (RFA), 5 U.S.C. section 601 note. The 
IRFA describes the economic impact this proposed rule, if adopted, 
would have on small entities. A description of the action, why it is 
being considered, and the legal basis for this action are contained at 
the beginning of this section in the preamble and in the SUMMARY 
section of the preamble. A summary of the analysis follows. A copy of 
this analysis is available from NMFS (see ADDRESSES).
    The proposed rule would apply to owners and operators of United 
States commercial fishing vessels that catch Pacific bluefin tuna in 
the IATTC Convention Area. It is important to note that no United 
States commercial vessels specialize in harvesting bluefin tuna in the 
EPO. Bluefin tuna is caught commercially, on an irregular basis; by 
small coastal purse seine vessels operating in the Southern California 
Bight with limited additional landings by the drift gillnet fleet that 
targets swordfish and thresher shark. The Pacific bluefin commercial 
catch limitations are not expected to result in a closure of the United 
States fishery because catches from recent years have not reached the 
500 metric tons. The last year the United States exceeded 500 metric 
tons was 1998. Refer to Table 1 (found above) for United States 
commercial catch of bluefin in the EPO for years 1999 to 2010.
    The United States West Coast catch of bluefin tuna represents a 
relatively minor component of the overall EPO tuna catch. The number of 
purse seine vessels that have landed tuna in California averaged 197 
annually between 1981-90, but declined to an annual average of 11 in 
the 2001-2010 period. The decline in the number of domestic vessels is 
correlated in part with the relocation of large cannery operations. 
Currently there are no canneries functioning as primary offloaders of 
tuna in California.
    As part of the IRFA, the proposed rule impacts to small entities in 
the IATTC Convention Area were analyzed. The United States West Coast 
vessels (all gear types) operating in the EPO averaged annual landings 
of 113 metric tons of PBF during 2000-2011. The annual average catch of 
PBF had an ex-vessel value of $175,892 (unadjusted for inflation) 
during 2000-2011. About 66 percent of this value was attributed to 
small coastal pelagic purse seiners that opportunistically target 
bluefin tuna in EPO, thus any bluefin tuna conservation measures 
primarily affect these vessels. Small purse seiners averaged 98 metric 
tons of bluefin tuna landings per year, with a range from zero to 411 
metric tons per year during 2000-2011. There were up to six small purse 
seiners opportunistically targeting bluefin tuna in any one year during 
2000-2011. Bluefin tuna is also incidentally caught and landed by large 
mesh drift gillnet vessels in small quantity. The landings of bluefin 
tuna by longline and albacore surface hook-and-line vessels operating 
in EPO have been negligible in recent years.
    For the vessels (all gear types) that caught bluefin tuna, the 
share of revenue from bluefin tuna relative to the revenues from all 
species ranged from 0.11 percent to 6.96 percent during 2000-2011. The 
share of revenue from bluefin tuna averaged 2.42 percent relative to 
the revenue from the portfolio of all species for the vessels

[[Page 73972]]

that landed bluefin tuna during 2000-2011. Given the number of active 
vessels during that period (average 45 boats per year of all gear 
types), annual revenue per boat from the bluefin tuna averaged $3,866.
    The described bluefin tuna catch limit for the United States in the 
IATTC Convention Area will remain in force for 2012 and 2013. 
Approximately two small purse seiners per year on average have the 
potential to be affected by this proposed rule when adopted. All 
fisheries, whether they opportunistically target bluefin tuna or catch 
it incidentally, would be able to fish in the normal manner without any 
material changes in operations or associated revenues. The proposed 
rule is not expected to result in any change in fishing operations or 
any significant reduction in associated revenues. The economic effect 
of bluefin tuna catch limitation to the United States commercial fleet 
and small entities from the IATTC Convention Area in EPO will not be 
significant.
    NMFS compared the effects of the bluefin tuna provisions proposed 
in this rule to one alternative, which is a no action alternative. 
Under this alternative, there would be no changes to current 
regulations to limit United States commercial catches of bluefin tuna 
in the IATTC Convention Area as stipulated in Resolution C-12-09. Under 
this alternative, there would be no effects to vessel owners compared 
to the status quo. Based on recent bluefin tuna catch data and expected 
future trends, it is unlikely that there would be any benefit from not 
implementing the bluefin tuna provisions; however, the United States 
would not be implementing Resolution C-12-09 and would therefore not be 
satisfying its international obligations as a member of the IATTC.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 300

    Administrative practice and procedure, Fish, Fisheries, Fishing, 
Marine resources, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements, Treaties.

    Dated: December 6, 2012.
Samuel D. Rauch III,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, performing the 
functions and duties of the Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, 
National Marine Fisheries Service.

    For the reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 300 is 
proposed to be amended as follows:

PART 300--INTERNATIONAL FISHERIES REGULATIONS

    1. The authority citation for 50 CFR part 300, continues to read as 
follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq., 16 U.S.C. 5501 et seq., 16 
U.S.C. 2431 et seq., 31 U.S.C. 9701 et seq.

    2. In Sec.  300.24, a new paragraph (u) is added to read as 
follows:


Sec.  300.24  Prohibitions.

* * * * *
    (u) Target or retain Pacific bluefin tuna in the IATTC Convention 
Area by any United States vessel engaged in commercial fishing after 
the date specified by the Regional Administrator's notification of 
closure issued under Sec.  300.25 (h).
    3. In Sec.  300.25, a new paragraph (h) is added to read as 
follows:


Sec.  300.25  Eastern Pacific fisheries management.

* * * * *
    (h) Bluefin tuna commercial catch limits in the eastern Pacific 
Ocean.
    (1) After the date specified in a notice published by Regional 
Administrator in the Federal Register, a United States vessel engaged 
in commercial fishing may not target or retain Bluefin tuna in the 
Convention Area for the remainder of the calendar year. NMFS will 
publish such a notice prohibiting further targeting and retention of 
bluefin tuna on the projected date
    (i) for the remainder of 2012 when the United States commercial 
vessels in the Convention Area has already met or exceeded 500 metric 
tons, or
    (ii) for the remainder of 2013 when 10,000 metric tons or more have 
been harvested by the commercial fishing vessels of all countries in 
2012 and 2013 combined. The 2013 prohibition will not be effective 
unless and until the annual commercial harvest of Pacific bluefin tuna 
by the United States fleet has reached 500 metric tons.
    (2) [Reserved]

[FR Doc. 2012-29968 Filed 12-11-12; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P