[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 37 (Monday, February 25, 2013)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 12703-12705]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-04266]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 622

RIN 0648-BC38


Fisheries of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic; 
Amendment to the Corals and Reef Associated Plants and Invertebrates 
Fishery Management Plan of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands

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

[[Page 12704]]


ACTION: Notice of availability; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: The Caribbean Fishery Management Council (Council) has 
submitted Amendment 4 to the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Corals 
and Reef Associated Plants and Invertebrates of Puerto Rico and the 
U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) (Coral FMP) for review, approval, and 
implementation by NMFS. Amendment 4 to the Coral FMP proposes to modify 
management of seagrasses in the U.S. Caribbean exclusive economic zone 
(EEZ). The intent of Amendment 4 to the Coral FMP is to address the 
future management of seagrasses in the U.S. Caribbean EEZ in accordance 
with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act 
(Magnuson-Stevens Act).

DATES: Written comments must be received on or before April 26, 2013.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on Amendment 4 to the Coral FMP, 
identified by ``NOAA-NMFS-2013-0021'', by any of the following methods:
     Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to 
www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0021, click the 
``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or 
attach your comments.
     Mail: Submit written comments to Maria del Mar Lopez, 
Southeast Regional Office, NMFS, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, 
FL 33701.
    Instructions: 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 by NMFS. 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.), confidential business 
information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily 
by the sender will be publicly accessible. 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, Excel, or Adobe PDF file formats only.
    Electronic copies of the amendment may be obtained from the 
Southeast Regional Office Web site at: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/index.html.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Maria del Mar Lopez, Southeast 
Regional Office, NMFS, telephone: 727-824-5305, email: 
Maria.Lopez@noaa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Seagrasses in the EEZ off Puerto Rico and 
the USVI are managed under the Coral FMP. The Coral FMP was prepared by 
the Council and is implemented under the authority of the Magnuson-
Stevens Act by regulations at 50 CFR part 622. The Magnuson-Stevens Act 
also requires that NMFS, upon receiving a plan or amendment, publish an 
announcement in the Federal Register notifying the public that the plan 
or amendment is available for review and comment.

Background

    The Magnuson-Stevens Act requires the establishment of annual catch 
limits (ACLs) and accountability measures (AMs) to end overfishing and 
prevent overfishing from occurring. Annual catch limits are levels of 
annual catch of a stock or stock complex that are set to prevent 
overfishing from occurring. Accountability measures are management 
controls to prevent ACLs from being exceeded, and to correct or 
mitigate overages of the ACL if they occur.
    To address the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, NMFS 
published a final rule to implement the 2011 Caribbean ACL Amendment on 
December 30, 2011 (76 FR 82414), which included Amendment 3 to the 
Coral FMP. However, ACLs and AMs for seagrasses, which are included in 
the Coral FMP, were not established at that time. In Amendment 4 to the 
Coral FMP, the Council considered whether to set an ACL for seagrasses, 
designate seagrasses as ecosystem component (EC) species, or remove 
seagrasses from the Coral FMP.

Action Contained in the Amendment

    Amendment 4 to the Coral FMP proposes to modify the management of 
seagrass species included in the Coral FMP. The Coral FMP currently 
includes four individual species of seagrasses: turtle grass (Thalassia 
testudinum), manatee grass (Syringodium filiforme), shoal grass 
(Halodule wrightii), widgeon grass (Ruppia maritima), and one group of 
species, the sea vines (Halophila spp., including H. decipiens, H. 
baillonis, H. engelmannii, and H. stipulacea (exotic)), all of which 
occur in U.S. Caribbean waters. Seagrasses were included in 1994 as 
members of the coral reef resources fishery management unit (FMU) of 
the Coral FMP. The Coral FMP defined the coral reef resources FMU to 
include a vast array of plants and invertebrates that provide habitats 
that are essential to the growth, development, and survival of managed 
finfish and other marine organisms.
    The location, presence, and distribution of seagrasses in the EEZ 
are not well known. The best available scientific information indicates 
that the vast majority of seagrasses occur in shallower waters of 
Puerto Rico and the USVI due to depth associated light limitations 
found in the EEZ. Both Puerto Rico and the USVI regulate activities 
involving seagrasses through their respective coastal zone management 
programs. Seagrasses have been identified as essential fish habitat 
(EFH) for stocks within the four Council FMPs (Reef Fish, Queen Conch, 
Spiny Lobster, and Coral). Essential fish habitat is defined by the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act as those waters and substrates necessary to fish 
for spawning, breeding, feeding or for growth to maturity. 
Additionally, seagrasses have also been identified as habitat areas of 
particular concern (HAPC) within special areas in Puerto Rico 
commonwealth and USVI territorial waters (state waters).
    There is presently no known targeted or indirect harvest of any of 
the seagrass species included in the Coral FMP, either from the EEZ or 
from state waters, and future harvest is not anticipated.
    In Amendment 4 to the Coral FMP, the Council considered whether to 
take no action, set an ACL for seagrasses, designate seagrasses as EC 
species, or remove seagrasses from the Coral FMP. The Magnuson-Stevens 
Act's National Standard 7 guidelines (50 CFR 600.340) require Councils 
to prepare FMPs only for overfished fisheries and other fisheries where 
regulation would serve some useful purpose, and where the present or 
future benefit of regulation would justify the costs. Because there is 
no known harvest of seagrass species, and these species occur 
predominantly in state waters, the Council determined that Federal 
management of seagrasses is unnecessary. Further, removing seagrasses 
from the Coral FMP would not affect the designation of seagrasses as 
EFH and HAPC for stocks within the Queen Conch Resources of Puerto Rico 
and the USVI FMP, Reef Fish Fishery of Puerto Rico and the USVI FMP, 
FMP for the Spiny Lobster Fishery of Puerto Rico and the USVI, and 
Coral FMP. Seagrasses would continue to be protected by these 
designations, which require, among other things, that FMPs to minimize 
to the extent practicable adverse effects on EFH caused by fishing. In 
addition, other management measures currently in place, such as gear 
restrictions and closed areas, would continue protection to these 
important habitats.

[[Page 12705]]

Proposed Rule for Amendment 4 to the Coral FMP

    A proposed rule that would implement Amendment 4 to the Coral FMP 
has been drafted. In accordance with the Magnuson-Stevens Act, NMFS is 
evaluating Amendment 4 to the Coral FMP to determine whether it is 
consistent with the FMP, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable 
law. If the determination is affirmative, NMFS will publish the 
proposed rule in the Federal Register for public review and comment.

Consideration of Public Comments

    The Council submitted Amendment 4 to the Coral FMP for Secretarial 
review, approval, and implementation. NMFS' decision to approve, 
partially approve, or disapprove Amendment 4 to the Coral FMP will be 
based, in part, on consideration of comments, recommendations, and 
information received during the comment period on this notice of 
availability.
    Comments received by April 26, 2013, whether specifically directed 
to the amendment or the proposed rule, will be considered by NMFS in 
its decision to approve, disapprove, or partially approve the 
amendment. Comments received after that date will not be considered by 
NMFS in this decision. All comments received by NMFS on the amendment 
or the proposed rule during their respective comment periods will be 
addressed in the final rule.

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

    Dated: February 20, 2013.
Kara Meckley,
Acting Deputy Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National 
Marine Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2013-04266 Filed 2-22-13; 8:45 am]
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