[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 247 (Wednesday, December 26, 2012)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 75966-75967]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-30962]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 679

[Docket No. 121121645-2645-01]
RIN 0648-BC80


Control Date for Qualifying Landings History in the Central Gulf 
of Alaska Trawl Groundfish Fisheries

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

ACTION: Advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR); control date.

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SUMMARY: At the request of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council 
(Council), this notice announces a control date of December 31, 2012, 
that may be used as a reference for future management actions 
applicable to, but not limited to, qualifying landings and permit 
history for an allocation-based management or catch share program in 
the Central Gulf of Alaska (GOA) trawl groundfish fisheries. This date 
corresponds to the end of the fishing year for this fishery, so that 
the full catch history for 2012 may be considered in any such future 
management actions. We also expect that this notice will publish close 
to the control date of December 31, 2012, and so will not either prompt 
speculation in advance of the control date, or disadvantage any fishers 
regarding their fishing activity after the control date, but before 
publication. This notice is intended to promote awareness of possible 
rulemaking and provide notice to the public that any accumulation of 
landings history in the Central GOA trawl groundfish fisheries 
occurring after the control date may not be credited for purposes of 
making any allocation under a future management program. This notice is 
also intended to discourage speculative entry into the fisheries while 
the Council considers whether and how allocations of fishing privileges 
should be developed under a future management program.

DATES: December 31, 2012, shall be known as the control date for the 
Central GOA trawl groundfish fisheries and may be used as a reference 
for allocations in a future management program that is consistent with 
the Council's objectives and applicable Federal laws.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Rachel Baker: 907-586-7228 or 
rachel.baker@noaa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NMFS manages the groundfish fisheries in the 
U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the GOA under the Fishery 
Management Plan for Groundfish of the Gulf of Alaska (FMP). The Council 
prepared, and NMFS approved, the FMP under the authority of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), 16 
U.S.C. 1801 et seq. Regulations governing U.S. fisheries and 
implementing the FMP appear at 50 CFR parts 600 and 679.
    This advance notice of proposed rulemaking would apply to owners 
and operators of catcher vessels and catcher/processors participating 
in Federal fisheries prosecuted with trawl gear in the Central 
Reporting Area of the GOA. The Central Reporting Area, defined at Sec.  
679.2 and shown in Figure 3 to 50 CFR part 679, includes the Central 
Regulatory Area (Statistical Areas 620 and 630).
    The Council and NMFS annually establish biological thresholds and 
annual total allowable catch limits for groundfish species to 
sustainably manage the groundfish fisheries in the GOA. To achieve 
these objectives, NMFS requires vessel operators participating in GOA 
groundfish fisheries to comply with various restrictions, such as 
fishery closures, to maintain catch within specified total allowable 
catch limits. The GOA groundfish fishery restrictions also include 
prohibited species catch (PSC) limits for species that are generally 
required to be discarded when harvested. When harvest of a PSC species 
reaches the specified PSC limit for that fishery, NMFS closes directed 
fishing for the target groundfish species, even if the total allowable 
catch limit for that species has not been harvested.
    The Council and NMFS have long sought to control the amount of 
fishing in the North Pacific Ocean to ensure that fisheries are 
conservatively managed and do not exceed established biological 
thresholds. One of the measures used by the Council and NMFS is the 
license limitation program (LLP) which limits access to the groundfish, 
crab, and scallop fisheries in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands and 
the GOA. The LLP is intended to limit entry into federally managed 
fisheries. For groundfish, the LLP requires that persons hold and 
assign a license to each vessel that is used to fish in federally 
managed fisheries, with some limited exemptions. The preamble to the 
final rule implementing the groundfish LLP provides a more detailed 
explanation of the rationale for specific provisions in the LLP 
(October 1, 1998; 63 FR 52642).
    Over the course of the past few years, the Council has recommended 
amendments to the FMP to reduce the use of PSC in the GOA fisheries. 
Under Amendment 93 to the FMP, the Council recommended, and NMFS 
approved, Chinook PSC limits in the GOA pollock (Theragra chalcogramma) 
trawl fisheries (77 FR 42629, July 20, 2012). In June 2012, the Council 
recommended an FMP amendment to reduce halibut PSC limits for the trawl 
and longline fisheries in the Central GOA and Western GOA. This series 
of actions reflects the Council's commitment to reduce PSC in the GOA 
fisheries. Participants in these fisheries, particularly the Central 
GOA trawl fisheries, have raised concerns that the current limited 
access management system creates a substantial disincentive for 
participants to take actions to reduce PSC usage, particularly if those 
actions could reduce target catch rates. Additionally, any participants 
who choose not to take actions to reduce PSC usage stand to gain 
additional target catch by continuing to harvest groundfish at a higher 
catch rate, at the expense of any vessels engaged in PSC avoidance. In 
October 2012, the Council unanimously adopted a purpose and need 
statement, and goals and objectives, to support the development of a 
management system that would remove this disincentive to reduce PSC 
usage.
    The Council intends to develop a management program that would 
replace the current limited access management program with allocations 
of allowable harvest (catch shares) to individuals, cooperatives, or 
other entities. The goal of the program is to improve stock 
conservation by creating vessel-level and/or cooperative-level 
incentives to control and reduce PSC, and to create accountability 
measures for participants when utilizing target, secondary, and PSC 
species. The Council also intends for the program to improve 
operational efficiencies, reduce incentives to fish during unsafe 
conditions, and support the continued participation of coastal 
communities that are dependent on the fisheries. The Council intends to 
develop an analysis of alternatives for a catch share management 
program that meets its goals and objectives. In developing the

[[Page 75967]]

alternatives for analysis, the Council will consider how other fishery 
management programs have considered and applied MSA catch share 
provisions to meet similar goals and objectives.
    To dampen the effect of speculative entry into the Central GOA 
trawl groundfish fisheries in anticipation of the future catch share 
program, the Council announced a control date of December 31, 2012. The 
Council stated that it may not credit any catch history in those 
fisheries after the control date for purposes of making allocations 
under a future management program. The control date may be used as a 
reference for future management measures in determining how to credit 
landings and permit history acquired before or after this date for 
purposes of establishing an allocation-based management program. The 
establishment of a control date, however, does not obligate the Council 
to use this control date or take any action or prevent the Council from 
selecting another control date or imposing limits on permits acquired 
prior to the control date. Accordingly, this notification is intended 
to promote awareness that the Council may develop a catch share 
management program to achieve its objectives for the Central GOA trawl 
fisheries; to provide notice to the public that any current or future 
accumulation of fishing privilege interests in the Central GOA trawl 
fisheries may be affected, restricted, or even nullified; and to 
discourage speculative participation and behavior in the fisheries 
while the Council considers whether and how fishing privileges should 
be assigned or allocated in the future. Any measures the Council 
considers may require changes to the FMP. Such measures may be adopted 
in a future amendment to the FMP, which would include opportunity for 
further public participation and comment.
    NMFS encourages public participation in the Council's development 
of the Central GOA trawl groundfish fisheries catch share management 
program. Please consult the Council's web site at http://www.alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/npfmc/ for information on public 
participation in the Council's decision-making process.
    This notification and control date do not impose any legal 
obligations, requirements, or expectation.

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

    Dated: December 17, 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. 2012-30962 Filed 12-21-12; 8:45 am]
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