[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 41 (Friday, March 1, 2013)]
[Notices]
[Pages 13864-13865]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-04820]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XC266


Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; Exempted Fishing, Scientific 
Research, Display, and Chartering Permits; Letters of Acknowledgment

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

ACTION: Notice; Summary of Comments Received.

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SUMMARY: We announce the availability of public comments received 
regarding our intent to issue Exempted Fishing Permits (EFPs), 
Scientific Research Permits (SRPs), Display Permits, Letters of 
Acknowledgment (LOAs), and Chartering Permits for the collection of 
Atlantic highly migratory species (HMS) in 2013. On November 20, 2012, 
we published a Notice of Intent (NOI) announcing our intent to issue 
these permits in 2013. In general, EFPs and related permits would 
authorize collection of a limited number of tunas, swordfish, 
billfishes, and sharks from Federal waters in the Atlantic Ocean, 
Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico for the purposes of scientific data 
collection and public display. Comments were accepted on the NOI until 
December 20, 2012.

ADDRESSES:  The 2012 NOI comments received and additional information 
concerning the Atlantic HMS Exempted Fishing Permit program are 
available from Craig Cockrell or Michael Clark, Highly Migratory 
Species Management Division, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, NMFS, 
1315 East West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910. Comments received on 
the NOI are posted on the Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Management 
Division's Web site: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/hms/.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Craig Cockrell or Michael Clark, 
phone: (301) 427-8503, fax: (301) 713-1917.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: On November 20, 2012, we published a Notice 
of Intent (NOI) announcing our intent to issue EFPs, SRPs, Display 
Permits, LOAs, and Chartering permits for the collection of HMS in 
2013. In general, EFPs and related permits would authorize the 
collection and tagging of a limited number of tunas, swordfish, 
billfishes, and sharks from Federal waters in the Atlantic Ocean, 
Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico for the purposes of scientific data 
collection and public display. Comments were accepted on the NOI until 
December 20, 2012.
    In general, the goal of the annual NOI to issue EFPs, SRPs, Display 
Permits, and Chartering Permits is to inform the public that the Agency 
may receive applications for research and other purposes in 2013. 
Regulations specific to the Atlantic HMS EFP program at 50 CFR 635.32 
(a)(1) indicate that ``consistent with the provisions of Sec.  600.745 
of this chapter, except as indicated in this section, we may authorize 
activities otherwise prohibited by the regulations contained in this 
part for the conduct of scientific research, the acquisition of 
information and data, the enhancement of safety at sea, the purpose of 
collecting animals for public education or display, the investigation

[[Page 13865]]

of bycatch, economic discard and regulatory discard, or for chartering 
arrangements.'' Further, 50 CFR 635.32 (g) indicates ``we may 
consolidate requests for the purpose of obtaining public comment for 
Atlantic HMS EFPs. In such cases, we may file with the Office of the 
Federal Register, on an annual or more frequent basis as necessary, a 
notification of previously authorized activities and information 
concerning applications that we may receive in the forthcoming year.'' 
The annual NOI meets the requirements of both 50 CFR 635.32 (a)(1) and 
50 CFR 600.745 in most cases and, in cases where the requested activity 
is outside the scope of general scientific sampling and tagging, a 
separate notice is provided. Other relevant information related to the 
statutory authority for issuance of EFPs and related permits is 
described in the NOI published on November 20, 2012, and is not 
repeated here.
    The majority of EFPs and related permits described within the 
annual NOI relate to scientific sampling and tagging of Atlantic HMS. 
The majority of these types of permits and the impacts of the 
activities conducted under these permits have been previously analyzed 
in various environmental assessments and environmental impact 
statements for Atlantic HMS. As such, generally, we do not receive 
significant comments from the public. Because our intent to issue such 
permits has not changed, we will issue these types of permits without 
public comment beyond the opportunity provided in the annual NOI. 
However, occasionally we do receive applications for permits that were 
not anticipated or where the research being conducted is outside the 
scope of general scientific sampling and tagging of Atlantic HMS. When 
we receive such applications, we will provide the public additional 
opportunity to comment, consistent with regulations in 50 CFR 600.745.
    On the November 2012 NOI, we received numerous public comments, the 
majority of which expressed concern regarding EFP applications that may 
request access to the Florida East Coast or Charleston Bump time/area 
closures using pelagic longline vessels to conduct research. Commenters 
on this subject did not support this type of research. At this time, we 
have not received any applications requesting access to these, or other 
closed areas, using pelagic longline vessels. Rather, similar to NOIs 
published in the past for the Atlantic HMS EFP program, the goal of 
this past NOI was to inform the public that the Agency may be receiving 
applications for this type of research in 2013. As is true for any 
application, if applications are received in 2013 that are beyond the 
scope of the NOI, we would complete additional analyses evaluating the 
impacts on the human environment of this type of research and, if 
warranted, allow additional opportunity for the public to comment on 
the proposed activities before issuing any formal authorization or EFP. 
Specifically on closed area research, compensation fishing, and 
aquaculture requests that require exemption from regulation, we will 
provide additional opportunities for public comment when complete 
applications are received and necessary analyses have been conducted.
    We also received comments in opposition to the issuance of EFPs for 
the culture of bluefin tuna without additional opportunity for public 
comment. This comment stemmed from the issuance of an EFP in 2012 to 
scientists interested in conducting experiments to culture yellowfin 
and bluefin tuna in land-based recirculating tanks. The 2012 EFP 
authorized the collection of up to six yellowfin and bluefin tuna using 
rod and reel. The 2012 permit was issued without the Agency seeking 
additional public comment on the activity because of the limited scope 
of the activity and the fact that no tuna captured under the authority 
of the permit would be sold or released back into the ocean. The 
applicants did not catch any bluefin tuna that were under the 
recreational size limit in 2012. As stated above, due in part to the 
comment received on the NOI, we will provide additional opportunities 
for public comment when complete applications on aquaculture, closed 
area research, or compensation fishing are received and necessary 
analyses have been conducted.
    A comment was received citing a requirement at 50 CFR 600.745 
(b)(3)(i) that we seek public comment for 15-45 days on every 
application, prior to issuing a permit. As described above, we believe 
the annual NOI provides the opportunity for public comment in most 
cases. However, we will provide additional opportunity for the public 
to comment in 2013 if applications are beyond the scope of general 
scientific sampling and tagging of HMS, and specifically for any 
applications received that involve aquaculture, closed area research, 
or compensation fishing.
    We also received several comments in support of issuance of Display 
Permits for collection of Atlantic HMS for public display and 
education.
    Final decisions on the issuance of any EFPs, SRPs, Display Permits, 
and Chartering Permits will depend on the submission of all required 
information about the proposed activities; public comments received on 
the November 20, 2012, NOI; an applicant's reporting history on past 
permits issued, any prior violations of marine resource laws 
administered by NOAA; consistency with relevant NEPA documents; and any 
consultations with appropriate Regional Fishery Management Councils, 
states, or Federal agencies. We do not anticipate any significant 
environmental impacts from the issuance of EFPs and related permits as 
assessed in the 1999 Fishery Management Plan, Amendment 2 to the 2006 
Consolidated HMS FMP, 2011 Bluefin Tuna Specifications, and 2012 
Swordfish Specifications.

    Authority:  16 U.S.C. 971 et seq. and 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.

    Dated: February 26, 2013.
Kara Meckley,
Acting Deputy Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National 
Marine Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2013-04820 Filed 2-28-13; 8:45 am]
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