[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 50 (Thursday, March 14, 2013)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 16220-16242]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-05976]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 648

[Docket No. 120912442-3197-01]
RIN 0648-XC240


Magnuson-Stevens Act Provisions; Fisheries of the Northeastern 
United States; Northeast Multispecies Fishery; 2013 Sector Operations 
Plans and Contracts and Allocation of Northeast Multispecies Annual 
Catch Entitlements

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

ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: We propose to approve 18 sector operations plans and contracts 
for fishing year (FY) 2013, provide allocations of Northeast (NE) 
multispecies to these sectors, and grant regulatory exemptions. We 
request comment on the proposed sector operations plans and contracts; 
the environmental assessment (EA) analyzing the impacts of the 
operations plans; and our proposal to grant 25 of the 39 regulatory 
exemptions requested by the sectors. Approval of sector operations 
plans is necessary to allocate quotas to the sectors and for the 
sectors to operate. The NE Multispecies Fishery Management Plan (FMP) 
allows limited access permit holders to form sectors, and requires 
sectors to submit their operations plans and contracts to us, NMFS, for 
approval or disapproval. Approved sectors are exempt from certain 
effort control regulations and receive allocation of NE multispecies 
(groundfish) based on its members' fishing history.
    Written comments must be received on or before March 29, 2013.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by 
NOAA-NMFS-2013-0007, 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-2013-0007, click the 
``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or 
attach your comments.
     Mail: Submit written comments to Allison Murphy, 55 Great 
Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930.
     Fax: 978-281-9135; Attn: Allison Murphy.
    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.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Allison Murphy, Sector Policy Analyst, 
phone (978) 281-9122, fax (978) 281-9135.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    Amendment 13 to the FMP (69 FR 22906, April 27, 2004) established a 
process for forming sectors within the NE multispecies fishery, 
implemented restrictions applicable to all sectors, and authorized 
allocations of a total allowable catch (TAC) for specific NE 
multispecies species to a sector. Amendment 16 to the FMP (74 FR 18262, 
April 9, 2010) expanded sector management, revised the two existing 
sectors to comply with the expanded sector rules (summarized below), 
and authorized an additional 17 sectors. Framework Adjustment (FW) 45 
to the FMP (76 FR 23042, April 25, 2011) further revised the rules for 
sectors and authorized 5 new sectors (for a total of 24 sectors). FW 
48, as proposed by the New England Fishery Management Council 
(Council), would eliminate dockside monitoring (DSM) requirements, 
revise at-sea monitoring (ASM) requirements, and modify minimum sizes 
for NE multispecies stocks. If approved, FW 48 is expected to be in 
effect at the start of FY 2013 (May 1, 2013).
    The FMP defines a sector as ``[a] group of persons (three or more 
persons, none of whom have an ownership interest in the other two 
persons in the sector) holding limited access vessel permits who have 
voluntarily entered into a contract and agree to certain fishing 
restrictions for a specified period of time, and which has been granted 
a TAC(s) [sic] in order to achieve objectives consistent with 
applicable FMP goals and objectives.'' Sectors are self-selecting, 
meaning each sector can choose its members.
    The NE multispecies sector management system allocates a portion of 
the NE multispecies stocks to each sector. These annual sector 
allocations are known as annual catch entitlements (ACE). These 
allocations are a portion of a stock's annual catch limit (ACL) 
available to commercial NE multispecies vessels, and are based on the 
collective fishing history of a sector's members. Currently, sectors 
may receive allocations of most large-mesh NE multispecies stocks with 
the exception of Atlantic halibut, windowpane flounder, Atlantic 
wolffish, and the Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic (SNE/MA) stock of 
winter flounder; however, FW 50 proposes to allocate SNE/MA winter 
flounder to the NE multispecies fishery. A sector determines how to 
harvest its ACEs and may decide to consolidate operations to fewer 
vessels.
    Because sectors elect to receive an allocation under a quota-based 
system, the FMP grants sector vessels several ``universal'' exemptions 
from the FMP's effort controls. These universal exemptions apply to: 
Trip limits on allocated stocks; the Georges Bank (GB) Seasonal Closure 
Area; NE multispecies days-at-sea (DAS) restrictions; the requirement 
to use a 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) mesh codend when fishing with selective 
gear on GB; and portions of the Gulf of Maine (GOM) Rolling Closure 
Areas. The FMP currently prohibits sectors from requesting exemptions 
from year-round mortality closed areas (CA), permitting restrictions, 
gear restrictions designed to minimize habitat impacts, and reporting 
requirements (excluding DAS reporting requirements or DSM 
requirements). FW 48, expected to be effective on May 1, 2013, proposes 
to allow sectors to request access to portions of the year-round 
mortality CAs that were not put in place to protect essential fish 
habitat. Sectors have, consequently, requested

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exemptions from year-round mortality CAs in their 2013 operations 
plans.
    We received operations plans and preliminary contracts for FY 2013 
from 18 sectors, while 6 sectors did not submit operations plans or 
contracts. The operations plans are similar to previously approved 
versions, but include additional exemption requests and proposals for 
industry-funded ASM plans. Two sectors submitted proposals to fish when 
one or more of their allocations are exhausted.
    We have made a preliminary determination that the proposed 18 
sector operations plans and contracts, and 25 of the 39 regulatory 
exemptions, are consistent with the goals of the FMP and meet sector 
requirements outlined in the regulations at Sec.  648.87. We summarize 
many of the sector requirements in this proposed rule and request 
comments on the proposed operations plans, the accompanying EA, and our 
proposal to grant 25 of the 39 regulatory exemptions requested by the 
sectors, but deny the rest. Copies of the operations plans and 
contracts, and the EA, are available at http://www.regulations.gov and 
from NMFS (see ADDRESSES). Northeast Fishery Sector IV and Sustainable 
Harvest Sector 3 propose to operate as private lease-only sectors. The 
Sustainable Harvest Sector 3 has not explicitly prohibited fishing 
activity, and may transfer permits to active vessels.
    Six sectors chose not to submit operations plans and contracts for 
FY 2012: The GB Cod Hook Sector; Northeast Fishery Sector I; the State 
of Maine Permit Bank Sector; the State of New Hampshire Permit Bank 
Sector; the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Permit Bank Sector; and the 
State of Rhode Island Permit Bank Sector. Amendment 17 to the FMP 
allows a state-operated permit bank to receive an allocation without 
needing to comply with the administrative and procedural requirements 
for sectors (77 FR 16942, March 23, 2012). These permit banks are 
required to submit a list of participating permits to us by a date 
specified in the permit bank's Memorandum of Agreement, typically April 
1.

Sector Allocations

    Sectors typically submit membership information to us on December 1 
prior to the start of the FY. Due to uncertainty regarding ACLs for 
several stocks in FY 2013 and a corresponding delay in distributing a 
letter describing each vessel's potential contribution to a sector's 
quota for FY 2013, we have extended the deadline to join a sector until 
March 29, 2013. Based on sector enrollment trends from the past 3 FYs, 
we expect sector participation in FY 2013 will be similar to FY 2012. 
Thus, we are using FY 2012 rosters as a proxy for FY 2013 sector 
membership and calculating the FY 2013 projected allocations in this 
proposed rule. In addition to the membership delay, all permits that 
change ownership after December 1, 2012, retain the ability to join a 
sector through April 30, 2013. All permits enrolled in a sector, and 
the vessels associated with those permits, have until April 30, 2013, 
to withdraw from a sector and fish in the common pool for FY 2013. We 
will publish final sector ACEs and common pool sub-ACL totals, based 
upon final rosters, as soon as possible after the start of FY 2013.
    We calculate the sector's allocation for each stock by summing its 
members' potential sector contributions (PSC) for a stock and then 
multiplying that total percentage by the available commercial sub-ACL 
for that stock, as proposed by FW 50. Since FW 50 includes a range of 
ACLs for GB yellowtail flounder, we are displaying the sector's 
allocation for this stock as to be determined (TBD). Table 2 shows the 
total percentage of each commercial sub-ACL each sector would receive 
for FY 2013, based on their FY 2012 rosters. Tables 3 and 4 show the 
allocations each sector would be allocated for FY 2013, based on their 
FY 2012 rosters. At the start of the FY, we provide the final 
allocations, to the nearest pound, to the individual sectors, and we 
use those final allocations to monitor sector catch. While the common 
pool does not receive a specific allocation, the common pool sub-ACLs 
have been included in each of these tables for comparison.
    We do not assign an individual permit a PSC for Eastern GB cod or 
Eastern GB haddock; instead, we assign a permit a total PSC for these 
GB stocks. Each sector's GB cod and GB haddock allocation is then 
divided into an Eastern ACE and a Western ACE, based on each sector's 
percentage of the GB cod and haddock ACLs. For example, if a sector is 
allocated 4 percent of the GB cod ACL and 6 percent of the GB haddock 
ACL, the sector is allocated 4 percent of the commercial Eastern U.S./
Canada Area GB cod TAC and 6 percent of the commercial Eastern U.S./
Canada Area GB haddock TAC as its Eastern GB cod and haddock ACEs. 
These amounts are then subtracted from the sector's overall GB cod and 
haddock allocations to determine its Western GB cod and haddock ACEs. A 
sector may only harvest its Eastern GB cod and haddock ACEs in the 
Eastern U.S./Canada Area.
    At the start of FY 2013, we will withhold 20 percent of each 
sector's FY 2013 allocation until we finalize FY 2012 catch 
information. Further, we will allow sectors to transfer ACE for 2 weeks 
to reduce or eliminate any overages. If necessary, we will reduce any 
sector's FY 2013 allocation to account for a remaining overage in FY 
2012. We will notify the Council and sector managers of this deadline 
in writing and will announce this decision on our Web site at http://www.nero.noaa.gov/.
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Sector Operations Plans and Contracts

    We received 18 sector operations plans and contracts by the 
September 4, 2012, deadline. Each sector has elected to submit a single 
document that is both its contract and operations plan. Therefore, 
these submitted operations plans not only contain the rules under which 
each sector would fish, but also provide the legal contract that binds 
each member to the sector. The sector formerly known as the Port Clyde 
Community Groundfish Sector has submitted its operations plan under a 
new name, the Maine Coast Community Groundfish Sector. Despite the 
extended time for joining a sector, most sectors have already 
demonstrated that at least three members plan to join the sector for FY 
2013. The Tri-State Sector has not yet complied with this requirement, 
and will not be approved in the final rule unless it can demonstrate 
that three members plan to join the sector. Most sectors proposed 
operations plans are for a single FY, i.e., FY 2013. NEFS 4 submitted a 
2-year operations plan, however, because the EA only analyzes 
operations in FY 2013, we are only proposing to approve NEFS 4 to 
operate in FY 2013. Each sector's operations plan, and sector members, 
must comply with the regulations governing sectors, which are found at 
Sec.  648.87. In addition, each sector must conduct fishing activities 
as detailed in its approved operations plan.
    Any permit holder with a limited access NE multispecies permit that 
was valid as of May 1, 2008, is eligible to participate in a sector, 
including an inactive permit currently held in confirmation of permit 
history (CPH). If a permit holder officially enrolls a permit in a 
sector and the FY begins, then that permit must remain in the sector 
for the entire FY, and cannot fish in the NE multispecies fishery 
outside of the sector (i.e., in the common pool) during the FY. 
Participating vessels are required to comply with all pertinent Federal 
fishing regulations, except as specifically exempted in the letter of 
authorization (LOA) issued by the Regional Administrator, which details 
any approved exemptions from regulations. If, during a FY, a sector 
requests an exemption that we have already approved, or proposes a 
change to administrative provisions, we may amend the sector operations 
plans. Should any amendments require modifications to LOAs, we would 
include these changes in updated LOAs and provide these to the 
appropriate sector members.
    Each sector is required to ensure that it does not exceed its ACE 
during the FY. Sector vessels are required to retain all legal-sized 
allocated NE multispecies stocks, unless a sector is granted an 
exemption allowing its member vessels to discard legal-sized 
unmarketable fish at sea. Catch (defined as landings and discards) of 
all allocated NE multispecies stocks by a sector's vessels count 
against the sector's allocation. Catch from a sector trip (e.g., not 
fishing under provisions of a NE multispecies exempted fishery or with 
exempted gear) targeting dogfish, monkfish, skate, and lobster (with 
non-trap gear) would be deducted from the sector's ACE because these 
trips use gear capable of catching groundfish. Catch from a trip in an 
exempted fishery does not count against a sector's allocation because 
the catch is assigned to a separate ACL sub-component.
    We provide sectors with calculated discard rates to apply to 
unobserved sector trips, based on discard rates from observed trips. 
Amendment 16 required sectors to develop independent third-party DSM 
programs to verify landed weights reported by the dealer. We previously 
funded DSM for FY 2010 and part of FY 2011, but suspended DSM for the 
remainder of FY 2011 and 2012. However, the Council, through FW 48, has 
proposed to eliminate the requirement for DSM for FY 2013. Therefore, 
as the most conservative option, we are proposing the sector's DSM 
programs as described in their operations plans, which mirror standards 
included in the regulations at Sec.  648.87b)(5).
    For FYs 2010 and 2011, there was no requirement for an industry-
funded ASM program, but NMFS was able to fund an ASM program with a 
target ASM coverage rate of 30 percent of all trips. For FY 2012, we 
conducted an analysis to determine the FY 2012 ASM coverage rate that 
would be necessary to achieve the same level of precision as attained 
by the target 30-percent ASM coverage rate used for FY's 2010 and 2011, 
and ultimately set a target ASM coverage rate for FY 2012 of 25 
percent, which was 17 percent more than the 8-percent Northeast Fishery 
Observer Program (NEFOP) coverage that supports the Standardized 
Bycatch Reporting Methodology (SBRM) and stock assessments.
    Sectors are required to design, implement, and fund an ASM program 
in FY 2013 that will provide a level of ASM coverage specified by NMFS. 
Amendment 16 regulations require NMFS to specify a level of ASM 
coverage that is sufficient to at least meet the same coefficient of 
variation (CV) specified in the SBRM and also to accurately monitor 
sector operations. FW 48 includes proposed provisions intended to 
clarify what level of ASM coverage is expected to meet these goals. 
Regarding meeting the SBRM CV level, FW 48 proposes that this 
determination should be made at the overall stock level which is 
consistent with the level NMFS determined was necessary in FY 2012. FW 
48 also amends the goals of the sector monitoring program to include 
achieving an accuracy level sufficient to minimize effects of potential 
monitoring bias.
    Taking these proposed provisions of FW 48 into account, and 
interpreting the ASM monitoring provision in the context of Magnuson-
Stevens Act requirements and National Standards, we have determined 
that the appropriate level of ASM coverage should be set at the level 
that meets the CV requirement specified in the Standardized Bycatch 
Reporting Methodology and minimizes the cost burden to sectors and NMFS 
to the extent practicable, while still providing a reliable estimate of 
overall catch by sectors needed for monitoring ACEs and ACLs. Based on 
this standard, NMFS has determined that the appropriate ASM coverage 
rate for FY 2013 is 14 percent, in addition to the expected 8-percent 
coverage rate provided under NEFOP. We expect these two programs to 
result in coverage of 22 percent of all sector trips, and we will use 
the discards from these observed and monitored trips to calculate 
discards for unobserved sector trips. We have published a more detailed 
summary of the supporting information, explanation and justification 
for this decision at: http://www.nero.noaa.gov/ro/fso/reports/Sectors/ASM/FY2013_Multispecies_Sector_ASM_Requirements_Summary.pdf.
    This summary, in addition to providing sectors and the public with 
a full and transparent explanation of the appropriate level of ASM 
coverage of sector operations, complies with a settlement agreement 
entered into by NMFS and Oceana, Inc. The settlement agreement resolved 
a lawsuit brought by Oceana challenging the approval of the 2012 sector 
operations plans primarily on grounds that the agency failed to 
adequately justify and explain that the ASM coverage rate specified for 
FY 2012 would accurately monitor the catch to effectively enforce catch 
limits in the groundfish fishery.
    FW 48 includes an option to remove the requirement for industry to 
pay for ASM coverage in FY 2013, but the decision to approve or 
disapprove this proposed measure will be made by NMFS in its review of 
FW 48. Therefore, as the most conservative option, we are

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proposing the sector's ASM programs as described in their operations 
plans. We gave sectors the option to design their own programs in 
compliance with regulations, or opt for the program that we have 
previously utilized during FYs 2010-2012. ASM programs proposed by the 
sectors are described in detail later in this rule.
    Sectors are required to monitor their allocations and catch, and 
submit weekly catch reports to us. If a sector reaches an ACE threshold 
(specified in the operations plan), the sector must provide sector 
allocation usage reports on a daily basis. Once a sector's allocation 
for a particular stock is caught, that sector is required to cease all 
fishing operations in that stock area until it acquires more fish, 
unless that sector has an approved plan to fish without ACE for that 
stock. ACE may be transferred between sectors, but transfers to or from 
common pool vessels is prohibited. Within 60 days of when we complete 
year-end catch accounting, each sector is required to submit an annual 
report detailing the sector's catch (landings and discards), 
enforcement actions, and pertinent information necessary to evaluate 
the biological, economic, and social impacts of each sector.
    Each sector contract provides procedures to enforce the sector 
operations plan, explains sector monitoring and reporting requirements, 
presents a schedule of penalties, and provides sector managers with the 
authority to issue stop fishing orders to sector members who violate 
provisions of the operations plan and contract. A sector and sector 
members can be held jointly and severally liable for ACE overages, 
discarding legal-sized fish, and/or misreporting catch (landings or 
discards). Each sector operations plan submitted for FY 2013 states 
that the sector would withhold an initial reserve from the sector's ACE 
sub-allocation to each individual member to prevent the sector from 
exceeding its ACE. Each sector contract details the method for initial 
ACE sub-allocation to sector members. For FY 2013, each sector has 
proposed that each sector member could harvest an amount of fish equal 
to the amount each individual member's permit contributed to the 
sector.

Requested FY 2013 Exemptions

    Sectors requested 39 exemptions from the NE multispecies 
regulations through their FY 2013 operations plans. We evaluate each 
exemption to determine whether it is consistent with the goals and 
objectives of the FMP. Requests are grouped into several categories in 
this rule: Exemptions previously approved that we propose to approve 
for FY 2013 (numbers 1-16); exemptions previously approved for which we 
have concern (17-19); requested exemptions that were previously denied, 
but we are proposing for approval (numbers 20-22); new exemption 
requests we propose to approve for FY 2013 (numbers 23-25); requested 
exemptions that we propose to deny because they are being considered in 
a future rulemaking (26-30); requested exemptions that we propose to 
deny because they are prohibited (numbers 31-35), and requested 
exemptions that we propose to deny because they were previously 
rejected and no new information was provided (numbers 36-39). A 
discussion of the 25 exemptions proposed for approval appears below. We 
request public comment on the proposed sector operations plans and our 
proposal to grant 25 requested exemptions and deny 14 requested 
exemptions, as well as the EA prepared for this action. We are 
particularly interested in receiving comments on several exemptions and 
other sector provisions, as discussed below.

Exemptions We Propose To Approve in FY 2013 (1-16)

    In FY 2012, we exempted sectors from the following requirements, 
all of which have been requested for FY 2013: (1) 120-day block out of 
the fishery required for Day gillnet vessels; (2) 20-day spawning block 
out of the fishery required for all vessels; (3) prohibition on a 
vessel hauling another vessel's gillnet gear; (4) limits on the number 
of gillnets that may be hauled on GB when fishing under a NE 
multispecies/monkfish DAS; (5) limits on the number of hooks that may 
be fished; (6) DAS Leasing Program length and horsepower restrictions; 
(7) prohibition on discarding; (8) daily catch reporting by sector 
managers for sector vessels participating in the CA I Hook Gear Haddock 
Special Access Program (SAP); (9) powering vessel monitoring systems 
(VMS) while at the dock; (10) DSM for vessels fishing west of 72[deg] 
30' W. long.; (11) DSM for Handgear A-permitted sector vessels; (12) 
DSM for monkfish trips in the monkfish Southern Fishery Management Area 
(SFMA); (13) Prohibition on fishing inside and outside of the CA I Hook 
Gear Haddock SAP while on the same trip; (14) 6.5-inch (16.51-cm) 
minimum mesh size requirement for trawl nets to target redfish in the 
GOM, including the use codend mesh size as small as 4.5-inch (11.4-cm); 
(15) Prohibition on a vessel hauling another vessel's hook gear; and 
(16) the requirement to declare intent to fish in the Eastern U.S./
Canada SAP and the CA II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP prior to 
leaving the dock. A detailed description of these 16 previously 
approved exemptions can be found in the FY 2012 proposed rule for 
sector operations (77 FR 8780, February 15, 2012), which is also 
available at: http://www.nero.noaa.gov/sfd/multifr/77FR8780.pdf.
    Recently, we expanded the exemption from 6.5-inch (16.51-cm) 
minimum mesh size requirement for trawl nets to target redfish in the 
GOM, to include the use of codend mesh size as small as 4.5-inch (11.4-
cm) (78 FR 14226, March 5, 2013) which is available at: http://www.nero.noaa.gov/regs/2013/March/13redfishfr.pdf. We approved this 
exemption based on catch information from ongoing research. Along with 
the exemption that would allow sectors to use a codend with mesh as 
small as 4.5 inches (11.43 cm) when an observer or at-sea monitor is 
onboard, we provided sectors with the opportunity to develop industry-
funded at-sea monitoring programs for trips specifically targeting 
redfish. Monitoring all trips targeting redfish is necessary to 
adequately monitor bycatch thresholds and ensure compliance.
    For 2013, we have received requests to use several new exemptions 
when only an observer or at-sea monitor is onboard, and are proposing 
to require industry-funded monitoring on 100 percent of trips using one 
of these exemptions or certain other proposed provisions, discussed in 
Other Sector Provisions. We have numerous concerns about the impact of 
additional monitoring requirements on existing required monitoring 
programs. We also are concerned that the cost of this monitoring may 
limit the benefit of these exemptions to industry.
    First, we are concerned that allowing trips that are randomly 
selected for federally-funded NEFOP or ASM coverage through the pre-
trip notification system (PTNS) to use one of these exemptions/
provisions would provide an incentive to use the exemption/provision on 
this trip. This would reduce the number of observers/monitors available 
to cover standard sector trips (i.e., trips not utilizing these 
exemptions/provisions). If fewer observers/monitors deploy on standard 
sector trips, these exemptions/provisions may undermine the ability to 
meet required coverage levels on standard sector trips, and the 
reliability of discard rates calculated for unobserved trips.
    Second, since trips utilizing the 4.5-inch (11.4-cm) redfish 
exemption are not representative of standard sector trips, we are 
concerned that including

[[Page 16227]]

the data from the 4.5-inch (11.4-cm) redfish exemption in the pool of 
data used to calculate discard rates for unobserved standard sector 
trips would bias discard estimates. To address this concern, we propose 
to allow sectors to use the 4.5-inch (11.4-cm) redfish exemption only 
if an industry-funded monitor is onboard the trip, and to prohibit a 
sector vessel from using this exemption if a federally funded observer 
or at-sea monitor is onboard. Sectors using this exemption would 
therefore be required to pay for 100 percent of the at-sea cost for a 
monitor on 100 percent of 4.5-inch (11.4-cm) redfish exemption trips. A 
sector vessel wishing to use this exemption would not call into PTNS, 
but would provide notification through a separate system, to prevent a 
federally funded observer/monitor from being assigned to the trip. To 
aid in identifying these trips for monitoring purposes, we would 
require a vessel utilizing this exemption to submit trip start hail 
identifying the trip as one that use the 4.5-inch (11.4-cm) redfish 
exemption.
    Third, given the need to have additional at-sea monitors available 
to cover these trips and the administrative costs to NMFS associated 
with industry-funded monitors, we are concerned that100-percent 
monitoring coverage for one or more of these exemptions/provisions 
could prevent us from providing the required regulatory observer or ASM 
coverage.
    If approved, we would monitor the impacts of the 4.5-inch (11.4-cm) 
redfish exemption and the associated industry-funded monitoring on 
stocks and required monitoring programs. We propose to revoke the 4.5-
inch (11.4-cm) redfish exemption during the FY, if necessary, to 
mitigate any negative impacts. For example, if we were to find an 
increase in the number of ASM waivers being issued to standard sector 
trips from FY 2012, we may consider revoking these exemptions/
provisions to decrease the number of monitors being deployed on 
exemption/provision trips to increase monitoring coverage for standard 
sector trips.
    We specifically request comment on requiring industry-funded 
monitoring on 100 percent of trips using one or more of these 
exemptions/provisions and the degree to which industry would be able to 
take advantage of these exemptions/provisions, if required to pay for 
this monitoring. We also request comment on revoking this exemption 
during the FY, if necessary to mitigate impacts.

Exemptions of Concern That We Previously Approved (17-19)

    In FY 2012, we granted sectors exemptions from the following 
requirements, all of which have been requested again for FY 2013: (17) 
Limits on the number of gillnets imposed on Day gillnet vessels; (18) 
the GOM sink gillnet mesh exemption in May, and January through April; 
and (19) gear requirements in the Eastern U.S./Canada Management Area. 
We are concerned about continuing to grant these requests based on data 
analyzed for this rule and are requesting additional comment on these 
exemptions. Below is a description of these exemptions and our 
concerns:

17. Limits on the Number of Gillnets Imposed on Day Gillnet Vessels

    The NE Multispecies FMP limits the number of gillnets a Day gillnet 
vessel may fish in the groundfish regulated mesh areas (RMA) to prevent 
an uncontrolled increase in the number of nets being fished, thus 
undermining the applicable DAS effort controls. The limits are specific 
to the type of gillnet within each RMA: 100 gillnets (of which no more 
than 50 can be roundfish gillnets) in the GOM RMA (Sec.  
648.80(a)(3)(iv)); 50 gillnets in the GB RMA (Sec.  648.80(a)(4)(iv)); 
and 75 gillnets in the Mid-Atlantic (MA) RMA (Sec.  648.80(b)(2)(iv)). 
We previously approved this exemption in FYs 2010, 2011, and 2012 to 
allow sector vessels to fish up to 150 nets (any combination of 
flatfish or roundfish nets) in any RMA to provide greater operational 
flexibility to sector vessels in deploying gillnet gear. Sectors argued 
that the gillnet limits were designed to control fishing effort and are 
no longer necessary because sectors' ACEs limit overall fishing 
mortality. However, a preliminary effort analysis of all sector vessels 
using gillnet gear indicates an increase in gear used in the RMA with 
no corresponding increase in catch efficiency, resulting in no increase 
in efficiency and more gear being deployed, which could lead to an 
increase in interactions with protected species. We are concerned that 
continued approval of the exemption on gillnet limits could ultimately 
lead to a rise in interactions with protected species and are 
requesting comment on approving this exemption for FY 2013.

18. GOM Sink Gillnet Mesh Exemption in May, and January Through April

    The minimum mesh size requirements of 6.5 inches (16.5 cm) in the 
GOM RMA was implemented to reduce overall mortality on groundfish 
stocks, to reduce discarding, and improve survival of sub-legal 
groundfish. We previously approved two separate seasonal exemptions 
from the minimum mesh size requirement in the GOM for FYs 2010-2012 to 
allow a sector vessel to use 6-inch (15.24-cm) mesh stand up gillnets 
in the GOM RMA. The initial exemption allowed use of the exemption 
January-April. The second exemption added the month of May. We are now 
combining these requests into a single exemption. Both exemptions 
provide the opportunity to catch more GOM haddock, a stock previously 
considered rebuilt, during the months that haddock are most prevalent.
    A sector vessel using this exemption would be prohibited from using 
tie-down gillnets in the GOM during this period. Sector vessels may 
transit the GOM RMA with tie-down gillnets, provided the nets are 
properly stowed and not available for immediate use in accordance with 
one of the methods specified at Sec.  648.23(b). Day gillnet vessels in 
sectors granted the exemption from Day gillnet net limits (exemption 
17) will not be subject to the general net limit in the GOM RMA, and 
will be able to fish up to 150 nets in the GOM RMA. If approved, the 
LOA issued to a sector vessel that requests this exemption would 
specify the 150 net restriction to help ensure that the provision is 
enforceable. If approved, The LOA would not include limits for trip 
gillnet vessels, because there is currently no limit on the number of 
nets that participating Trip gillnet vessels may fish with, possess, 
haul, or deploy, during this period, because Trip gillnet vessels are 
required to remove all gillnet gear from the water before returning to 
port at the end of a fishing trip.
    We have two concerns for which we are seeking comment. First, we 
officially notified the Council on May 30, 2012, that the GOM haddock 
stock is subject to overfishing and is approaching an overfished 
condition, based on results from an operational stock assessment. As 
the GOM haddock ACL and corresponding sector ACEs are reduced, GOM 
haddock may become a limiting stock, and a sector may no longer need to 
deploy nets below the minimum mesh size to catch its allocation.
    Second, we previously authorized vessels granted this exemption to 
fish up to 150 6-inch (15.24-cm) mesh stand-up gillnets in the GOM RMA, 
and are proposing the same 150 6-inch (15.24-cm) mesh stand-up gillnet 
limit for FY 2013; however, we are concerned that additional nets could 
lead to an increase in interactions with protected species, as 
described in Exemption 17. Given

[[Page 16228]]

these concerns, we request public comment on the feasibility of 
allowing up to 150 nets when fishing under this exemption, as well as 
overall approval of the GOM Sink Gillnet Mesh exemption in FY 2013.

19. Gear Requirements in the Eastern U.S./Canada Management Area

    The regulations require a NE multispecies vessel fishing with trawl 
gear in the Eastern U.S./Canada Area to use either a Ruhle trawl, a 
haddock separator trawl, or a flounder trawl (Sec.  648.85(a)(3)(iii)) 
to ensure that the U.S./Canada quotas are not exceeded. We approved an 
exemption from this requirement in FYs 2011 and 2012 to enhance 
operational flexibility of sectors, reasoning that their overall 
fishing mortality would continue to be restrained by the sector ACEs.
    The proposed FY 2013 ACLs for GB cod and GB yellowtail flounder 
approved by the Council in FW 50 are dramatically smaller than previous 
years when we granted this exemption. While each sector remains 
constrained by its ACE, continued approval of this exemption could 
limit a sector's ability to target the relatively healthy GB haddock 
stock. Use of less-selective gears under this exemption could 
inadvertently hasten the catch of GB cod and yellowtail flounder. This 
would result in sectors catching their entire FY 2013 allocation for 
these stocks before they can catch their allocation of GB haddock.
    The SAP exemptions discussed below also provide the opportunity for 
a vessel to catch GB haddock during particular seasons as long as the 
vessel is using selective gear. Since these SAPs are geographically 
within the Eastern U.S./Canada Area, extending this gear exemption to 
the SAP areas may be inconsistent with the original intent of the SAPs. 
Because of our concern, we propose to restrict this exemption from gear 
requirements to areas outside of any SAP and are seeking comment on 
this approach.

Previously Disapproved Exemptions Under Consideration for Approval (20-
22)

    Sectors requested previously disapproved exemptions from the 
following requirements for FY 2013: (20) Seasonal restrictions for the 
Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP; (21) seasonal restrictions for the CA 
II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP; and (22) DSM requirements for 
vessels using hand-operated jig gear. A detailed description of each 
exemption is included below:

20. Seasonal Restriction for the Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP

    The Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP consists of a portion of the 
Eastern U.S./Canada Area and a portion CA II. We implemented this SAP 
in FW 40A to provide a vessel with additional opportunity to target 
haddock while fishing on a Category B DAS in, and near, CA II (69 FR 
67780, November 19, 2004). The May 1 through December 31 opening of the 
SAP allowed a vessel to fish in the area using gear that reduces the 
catch of cod and other stocks of concern. In FW 42 (71 FR 62156; 
October 23, 2006), we extended the approval of this SAP and shortened 
the season to August 1 through December 31 to further reduce cod catch. 
We subsequently approved additional gear types for use in this SAP 
through other actions.
    For FY 2012, sectors requested an exemption from the seasonal 
restrictions of the Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP, to access the SAP 
area year-round. Because it was unclear whether the Council intended to 
allow or prohibit access to these SAPs, we disapproved these exemptions 
for FY 2012. We subsequently proposed the exemption, but expressed 
concern that an exemption from the seasonal restrictions of SAPs could 
have negative effects on allocated stocks by allowing an increase in 
effort in a time and place where those stocks, particularly haddock, 
aggregate to spawn. The Council subsequently discussed these exemptions 
in June 2012. In a letter dated June 22, 2012, the Council asked us to 
open the Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP to trawl vessels using 
selective gear on May 1, which would provide additional fishing 
opportunities for the NE multispecies fishery to target healthy stocks.
    Sectors argue that because their catch is restricted by ACE, their 
access to the SAP area, including the northern tip of CA II, should not 
be seasonally restricted. Sectors further argue that impacts to the 
physical environment and essential fish habitat (EFH) will be 
negligible because any increase in effort will be minor and the portion 
of CA II included in this SAP is outside any habitat areas of 
particular concern (HAPC).
    Data provided by the NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center 
(NEFSC) suggest that fishing activity in CA II may disrupt spawning 
stocks of GB winter flounder between March and May, and GB cod between 
February and April. Therefore, we are concerned that granting this 
exemption year round, as requested by the sectors, may negatively 
affect allocated stocks by allowing an increase in effort in a time and 
place where those stocks aggregate to spawn. We propose to extend the 
SAP season, which typically is open from August 1 through December 31; 
however, due to spawning concerns, we are proposing to allow access to 
this area from June 1 through December 31, and request comment on 
whether this limited season is appropriate. For FYs 2011 and 2012, we 
granted sectors an exemption from the selective trawl gear requirements 
of the Eastern U.S./Canada Area, allowing sector vessels to use a 
standard otter trawl in this SAP. To remain consistent with the 
Council's June 22, 2012, request, we propose limiting a sector vessel 
to using selective trawl gear when fishing in this SAP.

21. Seasonal Restriction for the CA II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP

    We implemented the CA II Yellowtail Flounder SAP through Amendment 
13 in 2004 to provide an opportunity for vessels to target yellowtail 
flounder in CA II on a Category B DAS. This SAP requires a vessel to 
use either a flounder net or other gears approved for use in the 
Eastern U.S./Canada Area during the open season from June 1 through 
December 31. In 2005, we extended the approval of this SAP though FW 
40B, but shortened the season to July 1 through December 31 to reduce 
interference with spawning yellowtail flounder (70 FR 31323, June 1, 
2005).
    Through Amendment 16, we further revised this SAP in 2010 by 
opening the SAP to target haddock from August 1 through January 31, 
when the SAP is not open for targeting of GB yellowtail flounder. 
Sectors are currently required to comply with the SAP reporting 
requirements and the restricted season of August 1 through January 31 
(Sec.  648.85(b)(3)(iii)). When the season is open only to target 
haddock, a vessel may only use approved trawl gear or hook gear; the 
flounder net is not authorized. We implemented these gear requirements 
to limit vessels from catching yellowtail flounder when the SAP was 
open only for targeting haddock.
    Unlike the Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP, the CA II Yellowtail 
Flounder/Haddock SAP provides access to a large area of CA II. Sectors 
are required to use the same approved gears as the common pool (i.e., 
haddock separator trawl, Ruhle trawl, or hook gear) to reduce the 
advantage sector vessels have over common pool vessels. We initially 
put the seasonal restriction in place to allow vessels to target denser 
populations of yellowtail flounder and haddock while avoiding cod in 
the

[[Page 16229]]

summer, and spawning NE multispecies in the spring. Sectors argue that 
their catch is restricted by ACE and their access to the SAP area in CA 
II should not be restricted. Sectors further argue that impacts to the 
physical environment and EFH will be negligible because any increase in 
effort will be minor and the portion of CA II included in this SAP is 
outside any habitat areas of particular concern (HAPC).
    Data provided by the NEFSC suggest that fishing activity in CA II 
may disrupt spawning stocks of GB winter flounder between March and 
May, and GB cod between February and April. For FY 2013, we are 
concerned that granting this exemption year round may negatively effect 
allocated stocks by allowing an increase in effort in a time and place 
where those stocks aggregate to spawn. We are proposing to extend the 
SAP season, which typically is open from August 1 through January 31; 
however, due to spawning concerns we are proposing to allow access to 
this area from June 1 through January 31, and request comment on 
whether this limited season is appropriate. For FYs 2011 and 2012, we 
granted sectors an exemption from the selective trawl gear requirements 
of the Eastern U.S./Canada Area, allowing sector vessels to use a 
standard otter trawl in this SAP. To remain consistent with the 
Council's June 22, 2012, request, we propose limiting a sector vessel 
to using selective trawl gear when fishing in this SAP.

22. DSM Requirements for Vessels Using Hand-Operated Jig Gear

    In the NE multispecies fishery, we define jigging as fishing with 
handgear, handline, or rod and reel gear using a jig, which is a 
weighted object attached to the bottom of the line used to sink the 
line and/or imitate a baitfish, and which is moved with an up and down 
motion (Sec.  648.2). Jigging gear is not exempted gear and, therefore, 
a vessel using this gear is required to participate in the DSM program 
so that offload of all NE multispecies trips are adequately monitored.
    We received a request to exempt sector vessels using jig gear from 
DSM requirements, noting that vessels utilizing this gear type are able 
to target cod with little incidental catch of other allocated 
groundfish species. The sector argues that the cost of monitoring these 
trips is disproportionately high, due to the comparatively small amount 
of catch that this gear type yields.
    To gauge the potential impact of approving this exemption, we 
reviewed observer and ASM data from the 12 monitored trips in FYs 2010 
and 2011 that used jig gear. For these trips, discards accounted for 
approximately 6 percent of the roughly 16,000 lb (7,257 kg) of catch. 
We believe these discards to be a de minimis amount, and are proposing 
this exemption for approval. This exemption request may be unnecessary, 
if we approve a proposed provision in FW 48 that would remove DSM 
requirements beginning in FY 2013.

New Exemptions Proposed for FY 2013 (23-25)

    Sectors requested three new exemptions from the following 
requirements for FY 2013: (23) The prohibition on fishing in the SNE/MA 
winter flounder stock area with winter flounder onboard; (24) 
prohibition on combining small-mesh exempted fishery and sector trips; 
and (25) sampling exemption. A detailed description of each exemption 
is included below:

23. Prohibition on Fishing in the SNE/MA Winter Flounder Stock Area 
With Winter Flounder on Board

    Amendment 16 prohibited all NE multispecies vessels from fishing 
for, possessing, or landing SNE/MA winter flounder (Sec.  
648.85(b)(6)(v)(F)). A vessel with GOM or GB winter flounder on board 
may transit through the SNE/MA winter flounder stock area, but may not 
fish in the SNE/MA winter flounder stock area, and its gear must be 
stowed in accordance with the provisions of Sec.  648.23(b). This 
restriction is in place to ensure that the winter flounder on board the 
vessel did not come from the SNE/MA winter flounder stock area.
    Sectors have requested an exemption from the prohibition on fishing 
in the SNE/MA winter flounder stock area when GOM or GB winter flounder 
is on board the vessel when either a NEFOP observer or an at-sea 
monitor is onboard. Sectors assert that the data collection protocols 
used by observers and at-sea monitors, including documentation of catch 
(both landings and discards), as well as stock area, would provide the 
data necessary to differentiate the catch of winter flounder and 
correctly apportion the winter flounder onboard to the appropriate 
stock area. Sectors believe that, if approved, this exemption would 
increase flexibility and efficiency of fishing vessels, allowing 
vessels to move freely between stock areas when an observer or at-sea 
monitor is onboard, increase gross revenue per trip, and decrease 
operating costs.
    As explained above, we have received requests to use several new 
exemptions when only an observer or at-sea monitor is onboard, and we 
are proposing to require industry-funded monitoring on 100 percent of 
trips using one of these exemptions or certain other proposed 
provisions, discussed in Other Sector Provisions. We have numerous 
concerns with the impact of additional monitoring requirements on 
existing required monitoring programs. We also are concerned that the 
cost of this monitoring may limit the benefit of these exemptions to 
industry.
    First, we are concerned that allowing trips that are randomly 
selected for federally-funded NEFOP or ASM coverage through the pre-
trip notification system (PTNS) to use one of these exemptions/
provisions would provide an incentive to use the exemption/provision on 
this trip. This would reduce the number of observers/monitors available 
to cover standard sector trips (i.e., trips not utilizing these 
exemptions/provisions). If fewer observers/monitors deploy on standard 
sector trips, these exemptions may undermine the ability to meet 
required coverage levels on standard sector trips, and the reliability 
of discard rates calculated for unobserved trips.
    Second, since a trip returning to fish in the SNE/MA winter 
flounder stock area with winter flounder onboard is not representative 
of standard sector trips where this behavior is not allowed, we are 
concerned that including the data from these exemption trips in the 
pool of data used to calculate discard rates for unobserved standard 
sector trips would bias discard estimates. To address this concern, we 
are considering allowing sectors to fish in the SNE/MA winter flounder 
stock area with winter flounder onboard only if an industry-funded 
monitor is onboard the trip, and to prohibit a sector vessel from using 
this exemption if a federally funded observer or at-sea monitor is 
onboard. Sectors using this exemption may therefore be required to pay 
for 100 percent of the at-sea cost for a monitor on 100 percent these 
exemption trips. A sector vessel wishing to fish in the SNE/MA winter 
flounder stock area with winter flounder onboard would likely not call 
into PTNS, but would likely provide notification through a separate 
system, to prevent a federally funded observer/monitor from being 
assigned to the trip. To aid in identifying these trips for monitoring 
purposes, we would likely require a vessel utilizing this exemption to 
submit trip start hail identifying the trip as one that use a closed 
area exemption.
    Third, given the need to have additional at-sea monitors available 
to cover these trips and the administrative costs to NMFS associated 
with industry-funded monitors, we are concerned that

[[Page 16230]]

100-percent monitoring coverage for one or more of these exemptions/
provisions could prevent us from providing the required regulatory 
observer or ASM coverage.
    If approved in a future action, we would monitor the impacts of 
fishing in the SNE/MA winter flounder stock area with winter flounder 
onboard and the associated industry-funded monitoring on stocks and 
required monitoring programs. We propose to revoke this exemption 
during the FY, if necessary, to mitigate any negative impacts. For 
example, if we were to find an increase in the number of ASM waivers 
being issued to standard sector trips from FY 2012, we may consider 
revoking these exemptions/provisions to decrease the number of monitors 
being deployed on exemption/provision trips to increase monitoring 
coverage for standard sector trips.
    We specifically request comment on requiring industry-funded 
monitoring on 100 percent of trips using one or more of these 
exemptions/provisions and the degree to which industry would be able to 
take advantage of the exemptions/provisions, if required to pay for 
this monitoring. We also request comment on revoking this exemption/
provision during the FY, if necessary to mitigate impacts.
    At its January 30, 2013, meeting, the Council approved a motion to 
set an ACL for the SNE/MA winter flounder stock for the commercial 
fishery, and allocate this stock to sectors. Final approval of these 
measures will be considered in FW 50. If this FW 50 measure is 
approved, this exemption is no longer needed. We propose this exemption 
in the event that the FW 50 measure is disapproved. If approved, this 
exemption may require increased attention to the winter flounder 
stocks, but we believe that it will remain feasible to adequately 
monitor catch. However, as we will be relying on observer/monitor data 
to monitor this exemption, we have some concern that observers and at-
sea monitors could be viewed as playing an enforcement role in this 
situation.

24. Prohibition on Combining Small Mesh Exempted Fishery and Sector 
Trips

    We implemented minimum mesh size restrictions for the GOM, GB, and 
SNE regulated mesh areas (RMAs) (Sec.  648.80(a)(3)(i), (a)(4)(i), 
(b)(2)(i)) under Amendment 13 (69 FR 22906, 4/27/04) and FW 42, to 
reduce overall mortality on groundfish stocks, change the selection 
pattern of the fishery to target larger fish, improve survival of 
sublegal fish, and allow sublegal fish more opportunity to spawn before 
entering the fishery. FW 42 set requirements for trawl codends in the 
SNE RMA to be made of either square or diamond mesh no smaller than 6.5 
inches (16.51 cm), in an effort to reduce discards of yellowtail 
flounder and increase the rate of yellowtail flounder rebuilding.
    Approved large and small mesh exempted fisheries, as described in 
the regulations, allow a vessel to fish for particular species, such as 
whiting or northern shrimp, in designated areas using mesh sizes 
smaller than the minimum mesh size allowed in each regulated mesh area. 
To approve an exempted fishery, after consultation with the Council, we 
must determine minimal bycatch of regulated NE multispecies (i.e., less 
than 5 percent, by weight, of total catch), and that the exempted 
fishery will not jeopardize fishery mortality objectives, publish a 
proposed rule, solicit comment, and publish a final rule. Exempted 
fishery regulations allow vessels to fish with small mesh, but prohibit 
the retention of regulated NE multispecies.
    Sectors requested an exemption that would allow their vessels to 
possess and use both small mesh in an exempted fishery, and large mesh 
as they normally would on a standard sector trip, on the same fishing 
trip for the following small-mesh exemption areas: The Cultivator Shoal 
Whiting Fishery Exemption Area, the Southern New England Small Mesh 
Exemption Area, and the Mid-Atlantic Small Mesh Exemption Area. The 
Cultivator Shoal Whiting Fishery is open annually from June 15 through 
October 31. A vessel participating in this exempted fishery must obtain 
an LOA, comply with specific gear requirements, may not possess 
regulated NE multispecies species, and must properly stow gear capable 
of catching NE multispecies. A vessel may participate in either the SNE 
or MA Small Mesh exempted fishery year-round, without needing an LOA.
    Sectors have stated that they would only utilize this exemption 
when either a NEFOP observer or an at-sea monitor is aboard the vessel. 
The sectors propose to count any allocated NE multispecies caught on 
these combined trips against the sector's allocation. The goal is to 
allow a vessel to engage in exempted fisheries while on a sector trip 
and to increase efficiency of time at sea and gross revenue per trip 
while decreasing vessel-operating costs.
    We have received requests to use several new exemptions when only 
an observer or at-sea monitor is onboard, and we propose to require 
industry-funded monitoring on 100 percent of trips using one of these 
exemptions or certain other proposed provisions, discussed in Other 
Sector Provisions. We have numerous concerns with the impact of 
additional monitoring requirements on existing required monitoring 
programs. We also are concerned that the cost of this monitoring may 
limit the benefit of these exemptions to industry.
    First, we are concerned that allowing trips that are randomly 
selected for federally-funded NEFOP or ASM coverage through the pre-
trip notification system (PTNS) to use one of these exemptions/
provisions would provide an incentive to use the exemption/provision on 
this trip. This would reduce the number of observers/monitors available 
to cover standard sector trips (i.e., trips not utilizing these 
exemptions/provisions). If fewer observers/monitors deploy on standard 
sector trips, these exemptions/provisions may undermine the ability to 
meet required coverage levels on standard sector trips, and the 
reliability of discard rates calculated for unobserved trips.
    Second, since a vessel fishing combining sector and small-mesh 
trips are not representative of standard sector trips, we are concerned 
that including the data from this exemption in the pool of data used to 
calculate discard rates for unobserved standard sector trips would bias 
discard estimates. To address this concern, we propose to allow a 
sector vessel to combine sector and small-mesh trips only if an 
industry-funded monitor is onboard the trip, and to prohibit a sector 
vessel from using this exemption if a federally funded observer or at-
sea monitor is onboard. Sectors combining sector and small-mesh trips 
would therefore be required to pay for 100 percent of the at-sea cost 
for a monitor on 100 percent these exemption trips. A sector vessel 
wishing to use this exemption would not call into PTNS, but would 
provide notification through a separate system, to prevent a federally 
funded observer/monitor from being assigned to the trip.
    To aid in identifying these trips, a vessel intending to utilize 
this exemption on a sector trip would be required to submit a trip 
start hail identifying the trip as one that will fish on a sector trip 
and in one of the small mesh exempted fishery areas under the 
exemption. Since behavior on a trip using this exemption may differ 
from another standard sector trip, data from a trip using this 
exemption would not be applied to the calculated discard rate for 
unobserved trips, nor would the trip count toward the targeted ASM 
coverage rate for that stratum. To ensure that this

[[Page 16231]]

exemption does not negatively affect fish stocks, we would establish a 
catch threshold that, if exceeded by a sector, could result in the NMFS 
Northeast Regional Administrator rescinding the approval of this 
exemption for that sector. To help mitigate catches of groundfish in 
these exempted fisheries, total groundfish discards would not be 
allowed to exceed 5 percent of all catch when trawling with small-mesh 
nets. This threshold was determined to be consistent with incidental 
catch information used to establish these exempted fishery programs. We 
would retain the authority to further adjust this threshold, if 
necessary, to help ensure that vessels are catching minimal amounts of 
groundfish when fishing with small-mesh nets under this exemption. We 
request comment on our approach to this exemption.
    Third, given the need to have additional at-sea monitors available 
to cover these trips and the administrative costs to NMFS associated 
with industry-funded monitors, we are concerned that100-percent 
monitoring coverage for one or more of these exemptions/provisions 
could prevent us from providing the required regulatory observer or ASM 
coverage.
    We have some concern that, through this exemption, a vessel could 
target allocated NE multispecies with small mesh, and therefore 
increase catch of juvenile fish, negatively affecting fish stocks. 
Currently, large and small-mesh exempted fishery trips are only subject 
to the 8-percent NEFOP monitoring requirements, and do not receive ASM 
coverage. Therefore, the vast majority of NEFOP observers and at-sea 
monitors do not receive the training necessary to accurately observe 
the small-mesh portion of these trips as proposed, and we are concerned 
about accurately monitoring both portions of these proposed trips. In 
addition, we have some concern that observers and at-sea monitors could 
be viewed as playing an enforcement role when monitoring these trips as 
proposed. If approved, we would monitor the impacts of combining sector 
and small-mesh trips and the associated industry-funded monitoring on 
stocks and required monitoring programs. We propose to revoke this 
exemption during the FY, if necessary, to mitigate any negative 
impacts. For example, if we were to find an increase in the number of 
ASM waivers being issued to standard sector trips from FY 2012, we may 
consider revoking these exemptions/provisions to decrease the number of 
monitors being deployed on exemption/provision trips to increase 
monitoring coverage for standard sector trips.
    We specifically request comment on requiring industry-funded 
monitoring on 100 percent of trips using one or more of these 
exemptions/provisions and the degree to which industry would be able to 
take advantage of the exemptions/provisions, if required to pay for 
this monitoring. We also request comment on revoking this exemption/
provision during the FY, if necessary to mitigate impacts.

25. Sampling Exemption

    Conducting scientific research on regulated fishing trips may 
require special permits, depending on the activities proposed. A 
temporary research permit authorizes a federally permitted fishing 
vessel that is accompanied by a research technician, typically staff 
for the principal investigator, to temporarily retain fish that are not 
compliant with applicable fishing regulations to collect catch data 
such as length and weight. Under a temporary possession permit, a 
vessel may be exempt from specific regulations, including: Minimum fish 
sizes, closures, and possession limits. Sampled fish are returned to 
the sea as soon as practicable after sampling.
    Some sectors proposed independent sampling programs, where data 
would be collected from fish that otherwise must be immediately 
discarded, as described above. Since sectors already provide much of 
the information required in an application as part of the sector's 
operations plan, we propose to approve sectors for temporary possession 
permits for research purposes. If approved, this provision would be 
included in a sector vessel's LOA, which will aid enforcement officials 
in determining approved activities, with the same restrictions as when 
a temporary permit is obtained through the application process.

Exemptions We Propose To Deny for FY 2013 Due to Separate Rulemaking

    Amendment 16 prohibited sectors from requesting access to year-
round closured areas. To increase operational flexibility for vessels 
participating in sectors as mitigation for reduced ACLs, the Council 
has included a measure in FW 48 to allow a sector to request access to 
year-round mortality closure areas through its sector operations plan. 
Sectors would not be allowed to request access to areas that are closed 
to protect EFH.
    Sectors have requested exemptions for access to the following five 
year round CAs: (26) Year-round access to the Cashes Ledge Closure 
Area; (27) year-round access to CA I; (28) year-round access to CA II; 
(29) year-round access to the Western GOM Closure Area; and (30) year-
round access to the Nantucket Lightship Closed Area. Including these 
five exemption requests in this rulemaking could delay the approval of 
sector operations plans and allocations beyond May 1, 2013, due to the 
rigorous analysis necessary. We intend to deny all exemption requests 
for access to year-round mortality CAs through this rule, but intend to 
consider all exemption requests for access to year-round mortality 
closured areas in a separate action, and anticipate implementation of 
that action early in FY 2013.
    While analysis of these exemptions and development of additional 
requirements to fish in CAs is not yet complete, we are considering 
requiring 100 percent monitoring on trips using CA exemptions. As 
explained above, we have received requests to use several new 
exemptions when only an observer or at-sea monitor is onboard, and are 
proposing to require industry-funded monitoring on 100 percent of trip 
using one of these exemptions or certain other proposed provisions, 
discussed in Other Sector Provisions. We have numerous concerns with 
the impact of additional monitoring requirements on existing required 
monitoring programs. We also are concerned that the cost of this 
monitoring may limit the benefit of these exemptions to industry.
    First, we are concerned that allowing trips that are randomly 
selected for federally-funded NEFOP or ASM coverage through the pre-
trip notification system (PTNS) to use one of these exemptions/
provisions would provide an incentive to use the exemption/provision on 
this trip. This would reduce the number of observers/monitors available 
to cover standard sector trips (i.e., trips not utilizing these 
exemptions/provisions). If fewer observers/monitors deploy on standard 
sector trips, these exemptions/provisions may undermine the ability to 
meet required coverage levels on standard sector trips, and the 
reliability of discard rates calculated for unobserved trips.
    Second, since trips in the closed areas may not be representative 
of standard sector trips, we are concerned that including the data from 
these exemptions in the pool of data used to calculate discard rates 
for unobserved standard sector trips would bias discard estimates. To 
address this concern, we are considering allowing sectors to fish in 
closed areas only if an industry-funded monitor is onboard the trip, 
and to prohibit a sector vessel from using these exemptions if a 
federally funded observer or at-sea monitor is onboard.

[[Page 16232]]

Sectors fishing in a closed area may therefore be required to pay for 
100 percent of the at-sea cost for a monitor on 100 percent these 
exemption trips. A sector vessel wishing to use this exemption likely 
would not call into PTNS, but would likely provide notification through 
a separate system, to prevent a federally funded observer/monitor from 
being assigned to the trip. To aid in identifying these trips for 
monitoring purposes, we may require a vessel utilizing this exemption 
to submit trip start hail identifying the trip as one that fishes in a 
closed area.
    Third, given the need to have additional at-sea monitors available 
to cover these trips and the administrative costs to NMFS associated 
with industry-funded monitors, we are concerned that 100-percent 
monitoring coverage for one or more of these exemptions/provisions 
could prevent us from providing the required regulatory observer or ASM 
coverage.
    If approved, we would monitor the impacts of fishing in closed 
areas and the associated industry-funded monitoring on stocks and 
required monitoring programs. We propose to revoke these exemptions 
during the FY, if necessary, to mitigate any negative impacts. For 
example, if we were to find an increase in the number of ASM waivers 
being issued to standard sector trips from FY 2012, we may consider 
revoking these exemptions/provisions to decrease the number of monitors 
being deployed on exemption/provision trips to increase monitoring 
coverage for standard sector trips.
    We specifically request comment on requiring industry-funded 
monitoring on 100 percent of trips using one or more of these 
exemptions/provisions and the degree to which industry would be able to 
take advantage of the exemptions/provisions, if required to pay for 
this monitoring. We also request comment on revoking this exemption/
provision during the FY, if necessary to mitigate impacts.

Requested Exemptions We Propose To Deny Because They Are Prohibited

    We propose denying, and do not analyze in the EA, the following 
five exemption requests, because they are prohibited or not authorized 
by the NE multispecies regulations: (31) ASM requirements; (32) ASM 
requirements for vessels using jig gear; (33) ASM requirements for 
handgear vessels; (34) Year-round access to the Eastern U.S./Canada 
Area for trawl vessels; and (35) the prohibition on a vessel hauling 
another vessel's trap gear.
    Sectors are prohibited from requesting exemptions from permitting 
restrictions, gear restrictions designed to minimize habitat impacts, 
and reporting requirements (excluding DAS reporting requirements and 
DSM requirements). In a letter dated September 1, 2010, we notified the 
Council that we interpret the reporting requirement exemption 
prohibition broadly to apply to all monitoring requirements, including 
ASM, DSM, ACE monitoring, and the counting of discards against sector 
ACE. In this letter (copies are available from NMFS, see ADDRESSES), we 
also requested that the Council define which reporting requirements 
sectors may not be exempted from. On November 18, 2010, the Council 
addressed this letter by voting to include in FW 45 the removal of DSM 
from the list of regulations that sectors may not be exempted from, but 
did not take such action for ASM. Therefore, we will not consider 
requests for exemptions from ASM.
    We propose to deny two additional FY 2013 exemption requests (year-
round access to the Eastern U.S./Canada Area for trawl vessels and the 
prohibition on a vessel hauling another vessel's trap gear) because 
they fall outside the authorization for exemptions provided in the NE 
multispecies regulations. The Regional Administrator may impose 
restrictions or in-season adjustments on a vessel fishing in the 
Eastern U.S./Canada Area, consistent with the Administrative Procedure 
Act, including: Gear restrictions; modification of access to the area 
or the number of trips in the area; or closure of the area to prevent 
over-harvesting or to facilitate achieving a quota. Since this 
discretion is left to the Regional Administrator, this request will be 
considered when determining access to the Eastern U.S./Canada Area, but 
cannot be considered under the exemption process. Also, tagging 
requirements for trap gear are not included in the NE multispecies 
regulations. Vessels holding an American lobster permit are bound by 
the American lobster tagging requirements.

Requested Exemptions We Propose To Deny Because They Were Previously 
Rejected and No New Information Was Provided

    We propose to deny the following four exemption requests because 
they were previously rejected, and the requesting sectors provided no 
new information that would change our previous decision: (36) Minimum 
Hook Size for Demersal Longline; (37) Access to the April GOM Rolling 
Closure (Blocks 124 and 132); (38) Access to the May GOM Rolling 
Closure (Block 138); and (39) all DSM requirements. We did not analyze 
these exemptions in the FY 2013 sector EA because no new information 
was available to change the analyses previously published in past EAs. 
Detailed information on these exemption requests and the reasons they 
were previously denied is contained in the proposed and final sector 
rule for FY 2012 (77 FR 8780, February 15, 2012; and 77 FR 26129, May 
2, 2012, respectively), and its accompanying EA (as well as previous 
years' rules and EAs).

Additional Sector Provisions

Provisions To Fish Without ACE

    Under regulations at Sec.  648.87(b)(2)(xiv), a sector may propose 
a program to fish on a sector trip in fisheries that are known to have 
a bycatch of NE multispecies when it does not have ACE for certain NE 
multispecies stocks, if the sector can show that the limiting NE 
multispecies will be avoided. The regulations currently restrict this 
provision to participation in other fisheries (e.g., dogfish, monkfish, 
and skate) that have a bycatch of groundfish that would count against 
the sector's ACE. We had intended to make a correction to this 
regulation to make the regulations consistent with Section 4.2.3.4 
(Mortality/Conservation Controls) of Amendment 16, which would allow a 
sector to request authorization to target allocated NE multispecies 
under this provision in FY 2013. That section of Amendment 16 specified 
that a sector operations plan should detail ``* * * a plan for 
operations or stopping once the ACEs of one or more species are 
taken.'' That paragraph concluded by stating, ``The plan must provide 
assurance that the sector would not exceed the ACEs allocated to it 
(either through landings or discards).'' Knowing that we intended to 
make this correction, sectors submitted requests to target allocated NE 
multispecies stocks. However, based on a review of Amendment 16, we 
believe that additional impacts analysis may be necessary, and intend 
to make this correction in a future action for FY 2014.
    Prior to developing requests to fish with no ACE for a particular 
stock, we provided sectors with guidance that they must provide 
specific operational requirements (location, time, and gear), the 
species or stocks they intend to target, and demonstrate zero catch of 
any stock for which they do not have ACE (``limiting stock'') using 
their observer and ASM data from FY 2011. We received multiple requests 
from the GB Cod Fixed Gear Sector and NEFS 5

[[Page 16233]]

to fish under this provision. These requests are summarized in the 
table below.

                                                      Table 4--Sector Requests To Fish With No ACE
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                                                         Overlap with
       Requesting sector            Target stock       Limiting stock          Season             Location        Gear restrictions   existing exempted
                                                                                             (statistical area)                        fishery?[dagger]
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
NEFS 5.........................  Monkfish..........  GB West Cod.......  September thru      539, 613 and 616..  Trawl.............  Yes.
                                                                          April.
NEFS 5.........................  Monkfish..........  GB Yellowtail.....  June..............  522...............  Trawl.............  No.
NEFS 5.........................  Summer Flounder...  GB West Cod.......  October thru April  611, 613 and 616..  Trawl.............  No.
NEFS 5.........................  Little Skate        GB West Cod.......  February..........  537 and 613.......  Trawl.............  Yes.
                                  (bait).
NEFS 5.........................  Winter Skate Wing.  GB West Cod.......  June..............  522...............  Trawl.............  No.
NEFS 5.........................  Witch flounder....  GB West Cod.......  February thru       539...............  Trawl.............  No.
                                                                          April.
NEFS 5.........................  GB yellowtail       GB West Cod.......  January thru April  525 and 613.......  Trawl.............  No.
                                  flounder.
Fixed Gear Sector..............  Monkfish..........  one or more ACE     November through    521...............  Extra Large Mesh    No.
                                                      stocks.             June.                                   Gillnet.
Fixed Gear Sector..............  Monkfish..........  one or more ACE     Year-round........  526...............  Extra Large Mesh    No.
                                                      stocks.                                                     Gillnet.
Fixed Gear Sector..............  Monkfish..........  one or more ACE     May through March.  537...............  Extra Large Mesh    Yes.
                                                      stocks.                                                     Gillnet.
Fixed Gear Sector..............  Spiny Dogfish.....  one or more ACE     Year-round........  521...............  Extra Large Mesh    Yes.
                                                      stocks.                                                     Gillnet.
Fixed Gear Sector..............  Spiny Dogfish.....  one or more ACE     Year-round........  526...............  Extra Large Mesh    No.
                                                      stocks.                                                     Gillnet.
Fixed Gear Sector..............  Winter Skate......  one or more ACE     November through    521...............  Extra Large Mesh    No.
                                                      stocks.             June.                                   Gillnet.
Fixed Gear Sector..............  Winter Skate......  one or more ACE     Year-round........  526...............  Extra Large Mesh    No.
                                                      stocks.                                                     Gillnet.
Fixed Gear Sector..............  Winter Skate......  one or more ACE     Year-round........  537...............  Extra Large Mesh    Yes.
                                                      stocks.                                                     Gillnet.
Fixed Gear Sector..............  Spiny Dogfish.....  one or more ACE     Year-round........  514...............  Large Mesh Gillnet  Yes.
                                                      stocks.
Fixed Gear Sector..............  Spiny Dogfish.....  one or more ACE     August through      521...............  Large Mesh Gillnet  Yes.*
                                                      stocks.             June.
Fixed Gear Sector..............  Winter Skate......  one or more ACE     Year-round........  521...............  Large Mesh Gillnet  No.
                                                      stocks.
Fixed Gear Sector..............  Spiny Dogfish.....  one or more ACE     Year-round........  514...............  Longline..........  No.
                                                      stocks.
Fixed Gear Sector..............  Spiny Dogfish.....  one or more ACE     September through   521...............  Longline..........  Yes.*
                                                      stocks.             June.
Fixed Gear Sector..............  Spiny Dogfish.....  one or more ACE     Year-round........  521...............  Handgear..........  Yes.*
                                                      stocks.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* Overlap with a proposed exempted fishery.
[dagger]Exempted fisheries have been demonstrated to catch less than 5 percent bycatch of regulated NE multispecies and not jeopardize fishing morality
  objectives.

    Many of these proposals to continue fishing after the sector 
catches one or more ACEs have some geographical and temporal overlap 
with existing, or proposed, large-mesh exempted fisheries, including: 
The SNE Monkfish and Skate Exemption Area for both trawl and gillnet 
vessels; the Mid-Atlantic Exemption Area; the GOM/GB Dogfish Exemption 
Area for gillnet vessels; and a proposed GB Dogfish Exemption for 
gillnet, longline, and handgear vessels (77 FR 64305; October 19, 
2012). These exempted fisheries were, or are in the process of being, 
established because the incidental catch of regulated NE multispecies 
stocks has been demonstrated to be less than 5 percent of all catch, 
and the exempted fishery will not jeopardize fishing mortality 
objectives. A vessel participating in an exempted fishery declares out 
of the NE multispecies fishery and therefore may not retain any 
regulated NE multispecies caught. Any sector vessel may currently fish 
in these large-mesh exempted fisheries, as well as small-mesh exempted 
fisheries, outside of the sector program without requiring ACE. 
Descriptions and additional information on approved exempted fisheries 
are available on our Web site at: http://www.nero.noaa.gov/nero/regs/info.html.
    We reviewed both vessel trip report (VTR) and observer/ASM data 
from FYs 2010 and 2011 for the requests to fish without ACE. This data 
indicate that very few sector trips from FYs 2010 and 2011 met the 
standard of zero catch of the limiting stock outlined in the guidance 
we issued to sectors. However, the data for several of the requests 
indicate that the limiting stock was less than 1 percent of the total 
catch. The requests meeting the less than 1-percent threshold are 
summarized below and are proposed for approval.

[[Page 16234]]



                           Table 5--Requests To Fish Without ACE Proposed for Approval
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                    Stat
            Sector                Limiting stock    area          Gear          Target stock       Time period
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
GB Cod Fixed Gear Sector......  All ACE Stocks...     526  Extra Large Mesh   Monkfish........  Year Round.
                                                            Gillnet.          Dogfish.........
                                                                              Winter Skate....
                                                  --------------------------------------------------------------
                                                      537  Extra Large Mesh   Monkfish........  May-March.
                                                            Gillnet.
                                                                             -----------------------------------
                                                                              Winter Skate....  Year Round.
                                                          ------------------------------------------------------
                                                           Large Mesh         Winter Skate....  Year Round.
                                                            Gillnet.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
NEFS 5........................  GB West Cod......     611  Standard Otter     Summer Flounder.  Oct-April.
                                                            Trawl.
                                                  --------                   ------------------
                                                      613                     Summer Flounder
                                                   ......                     Monkfish
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Unlike approved exemptions, which may be granted to any interested 
sector, these provisions to fish without ACE are sector-specific. 
Should any of these provisions be approved, it would be based on the 
documented behavior of individual sectors; therefore, the approval 
would be limited to the requesting sector.
    For this provision, NEFS 5 proposed to require its participating 
vessels to submit trip start and trip end hails to the sector manager. 
If an NEFS 5 vessel encountered a limiting stock, the sector proposed 
requiring the vessel to land any amount of that limiting stock of legal 
size, and prevent that vessel from taking a subsequent fishing trip 
until that specific ACE is covered through a transfer. Under this 
proposal, the NEFS 5 may charge the member additional fees for 
encountering the limiting stock. The GB Cod Fixed Gear sector did not 
propose such provisions. To implement a consistent program for both 
sectors, we are proposing the following requirements for a vessel 
participating in an approved program to fish without ACE.
    To aid in identifying these trips, a vessel intending to utilize 
this exemption on a sector trip would be required to submit a trip 
start hail identifying the trip as one that will fish in an approved 
program to fish with no ACE for a given stock. These hail reports would 
help us, as well as the sector manager, identify a trip fishing under 
this provision for monitoring purposes. Either sector may also require 
its participating vessels to submit a trip end hail, as detailed in the 
operations plan.
    We also propose to allow these sectors to catch a de minimis amount 
of the limiting stock (up to100 lb (45.36 kg)), prior to canceling a 
sector's ability to utilize that approved program. The sector would be 
required to account for any amount of the limiting stock that is landed 
and therefore would need to transfer in additional ACE by the end of 
the FY to cover such an overage. Once a sector reaches the de minimis 
threshold of 100 lb (45.36 kg), the sector may transfer in additional 
ACE and resume normal fishing activity, but may not attempt to fish 
under this provision for the remainder of this FY.
    We propose to require 100-percent ASM coverage of trips wishing to 
fish under this provision. We have significant concern with approving a 
provision to allow a sector to fish without ACE, and believe that 100-
percent ASM coverage would be necessary for accurate monitoring, given 
the very low 2013 quotas for some of the stocks. Because all sector 
trips that currently are not assigned an observer or monitor receive a 
calculated discard rate based on the total catch from that trip and 
actual discards from monitored trips in the same area with the same 
gear, we cannot apply a calculated discard rate for the limiting stock 
or the sector could automatically exceed its ACE for the limiting stock 
on every trip. Requiring 100-percent monitoring ensures that the trip 
will have accurate discard information.
    As explained above, we have received requests to use several new 
exemptions when only an observer or at-sea monitor is onboard, and are 
proposing to require industry-funded monitoring on 100 percent of trips 
using one of these exemptions or certain other proposed provisions, 
discussed in Other Sector Provisions. We have numerous concerns with 
the impact of additional monitoring requirements on existing required 
monitoring programs. We are also concerned that the cost of this 
monitoring may limit the benefit of these exemptions to industry.
    First, we are concerned that allowing trips that are randomly 
selected for federally-funded NEFOP or ASM coverage through the pre-
trip notification system (PTNS) to use one of these exemptions/
provisions would provide an incentive to use the exemption/provision on 
this trip. This would reduce the number of observers/monitors available 
to cover standard sector trips (i.e., trips not utilizing these 
exemptions/provisions). If fewer observers/monitors deploy on standard 
sector trips, this provision may undermine the ability to meet required 
coverage levels on standard sector trips, and the reliability of 
discard rates calculated for unobserved trips.
    Second, since trips fishing with no ACE of a limiting stock are not 
representative of standard sector trips, we are concerned that 
including the data from this provision in the pool of data used to 
calculate discard rates for unobserved standard sector trips would bias 
discard estimates. To address this concern, we are proposing to allow 
sectors to fish with no ACE of a limiting stock only if an industry-
funded monitor is onboard the trip, and to prohibit a sector vessel 
from using this provision if a federally funded observer or at-sea 
monitor is onboard. Sectors fishing with no ACE of a limiting stock 
would therefore be required to pay for 100 percent of the at-sea cost 
for a monitor on 100 percent this provision trips. A sector vessel 
wishing to use this provision would not call into PTNS, but would 
provide notification through a separate system, to prevent a federally 
funded observer/monitor from being assigned to the trip. To aid in 
identifying these trips for monitoring purposes, we would require a 
vessel utilizing this provision to submit trip start hail identifying 
the trip as one that is fishing with no ACE of a limiting stock.
    Third, given the need to have additional at-sea monitors available 
to

[[Page 16235]]

cover these trips and the administrative costs to NMFS associated with 
industry-funded monitors, we are concerned that100-percent monitoring 
coverage for one or more of these exemptions/provisions could prevent 
us from providing the required regulatory observer or ASM coverage.
    If approved, we would monitor the impacts of fishing with no ACE of 
a limiting stock and the associated industry-funded monitoring on 
stocks and required monitoring programs. We propose to revoke this 
provision during the FY, if necessary, to mitigate any negative 
impacts. For example, if we were to find an increase in the number of 
ASM waivers being issued to standard sector trips from FY 2012, we may 
consider revoking these exemptions/provisions to decrease the number of 
monitors being deployed on exemption/provision trips to increase 
monitoring coverage for standard sector trips.
    We specifically request comment on requiring industry-funded 
monitoring on 100 percent of trips using one or more of these 
exemptions/provisions and the degree to which industry would be able to 
take advantage of the exemptions/provisions, if required to pay for 
this monitoring. We also request comment on revoking this exemption/
provision during the FY, if necessary to mitigate impacts.
    We have significant concern with approving a provision to allow a 
sector to fish without ACE, given the very low 2013 quotas for some NE 
multispecies stocks. We request comment on these proposed programs to 
fish with no ACE.

Inshore GOM Restrictions

    Several sectors (with the exception of the Northeast Coastal 
Communities Sector, NEFS 4, Port Clyde Community Groundfish Sector, and 
the Tri-State Sector) have proposed a provision to limit and more 
accurately document a vessel's behavior when fishing in what they 
consider the inshore portion of the GOM Broad Stock Area (BSA), or the 
area to the west of 70[deg] 15' W. long. A trip that is carrying an 
observer or at-sea monitor would remain free to fish without 
restriction. As proposed under the Inshore GOM Restriction provision, 
if a vessel is not carrying an observer or at-sea monitor and fishes 
any part of its trip in the GOM west of 70[deg] 15' W. long, the vessel 
would be prohibited from fishing outside of the GOM BSA. Also, if a 
vessel is not carrying an observer or at-sea monitor and fishes any 
part of its trip outside the GOM BSA, this provision would prohibit a 
vessel from fishing west of 70[deg] 15' W. long. in the GOM BSA. The 
sector's proposal includes a requirement for a vessel to declare 
whether or not it intends to fish in the inshore GOM area through the 
trip start hail. We are providing sector managers with the ability to 
monitor this provision through the Sector Information Management Module 
(SIMM), a Web site where we currently provide roster, trip, discard, 
and observer information to sector managers. If approved, final 
declaration requirements would be outlined in the final rule and 
included in each vessel's LOA. We propose to allow a sector to use a 
federally funded NEFOP observer or at-sea monitor on these trips 
because we do not believe will create bias in coverage or discard 
estimates, as fishing behavior is not expected to change as a result of 
this provision, as fishing behavior is not expected to change as a 
result of this provision.

At-Sea Monitoring Proposals

    For FY 2013, each sector is required to develop and fund an ASM 
program that must be reviewed and approved by NMFS. In the event that a 
proposed ASM program could not be approved, all sectors were asked to 
include an option to use the current NMFS-designed ASM program as a 
back-up. NEFS 4 has not included provisions for an ASM program because 
the sector operates as a private permit bank and explicitly prohibits 
fishing. Sustainable Harvest Sectors 1 and 3 have proposed to utilize 
the ASM program that we developed and used for FYs 2010-2012. We 
propose this program for the Sustainable Harvest Sectors because we 
believe the existing program to be consistent with goals and objectives 
of monitoring, and with regulatory requirements. As requested, the 
remaining 15 sectors stated that they would use the NMFS-developed ASM 
program in the event that we did not approve their individual ASM 
program for FY 2013.
    We propose to approve the ASM programs proposed by the GB Cod Fixed 
Gear Sector, the Northeast Coastal Communities Sector, the Port Clyde 
Community Groundfish Sector, and the Tri-State Sector. These programs 
state that they will: Contract with a NMFS-approved ASM provider, meet 
the specified coverage level, and utilize the PTNS for random selection 
of monitored trips and notification to providers. In addition, these 
proposed ASM programs detail protocols for waivers, incident reporting, 
and safety requirements. We believe that the proposed programs are 
consistent with goals and objectives of monitoring, and with regulatory 
requirements.
    The NEFS 2-13 (excluding NEFS 4) submitted similar ASM proposals, 
which included two alternatives. The first alternative included a 
``fixed discard rate method,'' where a fixed discard rate would be 
applied to each stratum (sector, stock, gear combination) throughout 
the year, and adjusted as necessary based on NEFOP observer coverage, 
and no ASM coverage would be required. The second proposal is a program 
that would meet the required coverage levels, as well as vessel call-in 
requirements and selection protocols through the NMFS pre-trip 
notification system. We propose to deny the ``fixed discard rate 
method'' because it is not consistent with the 2009 Peer Review of the 
discard rate methodology, which recommended continual and retroactive 
in-season updates to the discard rates for all trips using data from 
the ASM and NEFOP programs. Further, the 2009 Peer Review recommended 
revisiting the methodology after at least 3 full years of data are 
collected. Given that sectors are in the midst of their third year of 
operations (FY 2012), it is too soon to revisit the methodology. A 
review of the cumulative discard methodology is planned for the summer/
fall of 2013. At that time, we will reconsider other possible methods 
of determining discards. The ``fixed discard rate method'' did not meet 
the coverage rate requirements specified in the regulations at Sec.  
648.87(b)(1)(v)(B)(3)(ii). Finally, the ``fixed discard rate method'' 
did not include a proposed ASM program that addressed the ASM 
operations requirements at Sec.  648.87(b)(6). Consequently, we propose 
to deny the ``fixed discard rate method.''
    The second alternative mirrors the ASM programs proposed by other 
sectors, and states that the NEFS 2, 3, and 5-13 will: Contract with a 
NMFS-approved ASM provider, meet the specified coverage level, and 
utilize the PTNS for random selection of monitored trips and 
notification to providers. In addition, these proposed ASM programs 
detail protocols for waivers, incident reporting, and safety 
requirements. We therefore propose to approve Alternative 2 for ASM for 
NEFS 2, 3, and 5-13 and believe the proposed Alternative is consistent 
with goals and objectives of monitoring and with regulatory 
requirements.
    The current regulations require a sector to fund its ASM program 
beginning in FY 2013. We hope to be able to help the industry's 
transition to entirely funding its ASM costs through a short-term 
program that mitigates the industry's costs in FY 2013. However, the 
portion of industry's ASM costs that

[[Page 16236]]

we can defray, and a mechanism for this transitional program, are not 
yet settled. Additional information on funding and implementation of 
ASM for FY 2013 will be provided at a future date. We are working on a 
solution to help with this transition that will be flexible and help 
defray the industry's costs to the extent we are able.

Additional Industry-Funded ASM

    This rule proposes several exemptions requiring observer or ASM 
coverage. Additional monitoring coverage for these exemptions and 
provisions was not included in any FY 2013 operations plan; however, 
additional coverage could be considered, if a sector requests an 
industry-funded ASM program through its operations plans. If approved, 
any additional industry-funded ASM plan would be implemented through an 
amendment to the sector's operations plan.
    For 2013, we have received requests to use several new exemptions 
when only an observer or at-sea monitor is onboard, and are proposing 
to require industry-funded monitoring on 100 percent of trip using one 
of these exemptions or certain other proposed provisions, discussed in 
Other Sector Provisions. We have numerous concerns with the impact of 
additional monitoring requirements on existing required monitoring 
programs. We also are concerned that the cost of this monitoring may 
limit the benefit of these exemptions to industry.
    First, we are concerned that allowing trips that are randomly 
selected for federally-funded NEFOP or ASM coverage through the pre-
trip notification system (PTNS) to use one of these exemptions/
provisions would provide an incentive to use the exemption/provision on 
this trip. This would reduce the number of observers/monitors available 
to cover standard sector trips (i.e., trips not utilizing these 
exemptions/provisions). If fewer observers/monitors deploy on standard 
sector trips, these exemptions/provisions may undermine the ability to 
meet required coverage levels on standard sector trips, and the 
reliability of discard rates calculated for unobserved trips.
    Second, since trips utilizing these exemptions/provisions are not 
representative of standard sector trips, we are concerned that 
including the data from these exemptions/provisions in the pool of data 
used to calculate discard rates for unobserved standard sector trips 
would bias discard estimates. To address this concern, we are proposing 
to allow sectors to use the exemptions/provisions only if an industry-
funded monitor is onboard the trip, and to prohibit a sector vessel 
from using this exemption/provision if a federally funded observer or 
at-sea monitor is onboard. Sectors using this exemption/provision would 
therefore be required to pay for 100 percent of the at-sea cost for a 
monitor on 100 percent these exemption/provision trips. A sector vessel 
wishing to use this exemption/provision would not call into PTNS, but 
would provide notification through a separate system, to prevent a 
federally funded observer/monitor from being assigned to the trip. To 
aid in identifying these trips for monitoring purposes, we would 
require a vessel utilizing this exemption to submit trip start hail 
identifying the trip as one that use the exemption/provision.
    Third, given the need to have additional at-sea monitors available 
to cover these trips and the administrative costs to NMFS associated 
with industry-funded monitors, we are concerned that 100-percent 
monitoring coverage for one or more of these exemptions/provisions 
could prevent us from providing the required regulatory observer or ASM 
coverage.
    If approved, we would monitor the impacts of this exemption/
provision and the associated industry-funded monitoring on stocks and 
required monitoring programs. We propose to revoke this exemption/
provision during the FY, if necessary, to mitigate any negative 
impacts. For example, if we were to find an increase in the number of 
ASM waivers being issued to standard sector trips from FY 2012, we may 
consider revoking these exemptions/provisions to decrease the number of 
monitors being deployed on exemption/provision trips to increase 
monitoring coverage for standard sector trips.
    We specifically request comment on requiring industry-funded 
monitoring on 100 percent of trips using one or more of these 
exemptions/provisions and the degree to which industry would be able to 
take advantage of the exemptions/provisions, if required to pay for 
this monitoring. We also request comment on revoking this exemption/
provision during the FY, if necessary to mitigate impacts.

Approved ASM and DSM Providers

    We published a notice (78 FR 10136) on February 13, 2013, 
announcing approved providers for ASM and DSM in the NE multispecies 
fishery for FY 2013, which included incorrect approval information. 
Table 6 correctly indicates the companies approved to provide ASM and 
DSM. A bulletin dated February 12, 2013, was provided to the industry 
with the correct information.

                                                                             Table 6--Approved Monitoring Providers
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                               At-sea         Dockside
              Provider name                  monitoring      monitoring              Address                  Phone              Fax                              Web site
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A.I.S., Inc..............................               X               X  89 North Water Street, New     (508) 990-9054    (508) 990-9055  www.aisobservers.com
                                                                            Bedford, MA 02747.
MRAG Americas............................               X               X  65 Eastern Ave., Unit B2C,     (978) 768-3880    (978) 768-3878  www.mragamericas.com
                                                                            Essex, MA 01929.
Atlantic Catch Data, Ltd.................               X               X  99 Wyse Road, Suite 815,       (902) 422-4745    (902) 422-9780  www.atlanticcatchdata.ca
                                                                            Dartmouth, Nova Scotia,
                                                                            CANADA B3A 4S5.

[[Page 16237]]

 
East West Technical Services, LLC........               X  ..............  34 Batterson Drive, New        (860) 223-5165    (860) 223-6005  www.ewts.com
                                                                            Britain, CT 06053.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Withdrawing a Sector Exemption In-Season

    Previously, we have retained the right to revoke several exemptions 
in-season if a sector is not meeting certain requirements. To date, we 
have not used this authority, but are proposing a process for revoking 
a sector exemption. A sector exemption may be revoked if we determine 
that it jeopardizes management measures or rebuilding efforts, results 
in unforeseen negative impacts on other managed fish stocks, habitat, 
or protected resources, causes enforcement concerns, or if catch from 
trips utilizing the exemption cannot properly be monitored. At that 
time, we will weigh the need to revoke the exemption as quickly as 
possible to prevent conservation or management objectives from being 
undermined with the necessity or practicability of, or public interest 
in, a delay to receive comments.

Sector EA

    In order to comply with NEPA, one EA was prepared encompassing all 
18 operations plans. The sector EA is tiered from the Environmental 
Impact Statement (EIS) prepared for Amendment 16. The EA examines the 
biological, economic, and social impacts unique to each sector's 
proposed operations, including requested exemptions, and provides a 
cumulative effects analysis (CEA) that addresses the combined impact of 
the direct and indirect effects of approving all proposed sector 
operations plans. The summary findings of the EA conclude that each 
sector would produce similar effects that have non-significant impacts. 
Visit http://www.regulations.gov to view the EA prepared for the 18 
sectors that this rule proposes to approve.

Classification

    The Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. 553) requires advance 
notice of rulemaking and opportunity for public comment. Due to 
unexpected changes in stock status, the Council required additional 
time to determine stock allocations for FY 2013, which delayed our 
ability to present this to the public. We are providing a 15-day 
comment period for this rule. A longer comment period would be 
impracticable and contrary to the public interest since we must publish 
a final rule prior to the start of FY 2013 on May 1 to enable sectors 
to fish. A vessel enrolled in a sector may not fish in FY 2013 unless 
its sectors' operations plan is approved. If the final rule is not 
published prior to May 1, the permits enrolled in sectors must either 
stop fishing until their operations plan is approved, or elect to fish 
in the common pool for the entirety of FY 2013. Both of these options 
would have negative impacts for the permits enrolled in the sectors. 
Delaying the implementation beyond May 1, 2013, would result in an 
unnecessary economic loss to the sector members because vessels would 
be prevented from fishing in a month when sector vessels landed 
approximately 10 percent of several allocations, including GB cod east 
and GB winter flounder. Finally, without a seamless transition between 
FY 2012 and 2013, a delay would require sector vessels to remove gear 
that complies with an exemption, and redeploy the gear once the final 
rule is effective. Taking these additional trips would require 
additional fuel and staffing when catch may not be landed.
    Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery 
Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), the NMFS 
Assistant Administrator has determined that this proposed rule is 
consistent with the NE Multispecies FMP, other provisions of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law, subject to further 
consideration after public comment.
    This action is exempt from review under Executive Order (E.O.) 
12866.
    The Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA), 5 U.S.C. 601-612, requires 
agencies to assess the economic impacts of their proposed regulations 
on small entities. The objective of the RFA is to consider the impacts 
of a rulemaking on small entities, and the capacity of those affected 
by regulations to bear the direct and indirect costs of regulation. 
Size standards have been established for all for-profit economic 
activities or industries in the North American Industry Classification 
System. The SBA defines a small business in the commercial fishing and 
recreational fishing sector, as a firm with receipts (gross revenues) 
of up to $4 million. The Small Business Act defines affiliation as: 
Affiliation may arise among two or more persons with an identity of 
interest. Individuals or firms that have identical or substantially 
identical business or economic interests (such as family members, 
individuals or firms with common investments, or firms that are 
economically dependent through contractual or other relationships) may 
be treated as one party with such interests aggregated (13 CFR 
121.103(f)).
    An Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA) has been 
prepared, as required by section 603 of the RFA. The Final Regulatory 
Flexibility Analysis (FRFA) will be prepared after the comment period 
for this proposed rule, and will be published with the final rule. The 
IRFA describes the economic impact that this proposed rule, if adopted, 
would have on small entities. The IRFA consists of this section, the 
SUMMARY section of the preamble of this proposed rule, and the EA 
prepared for this action. A description of the action, why it is being 
considered, and the legal basis for this action are contained in the 
preamble to this proposed rule and in Sections 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 of the 
EA prepared for this action, and is not repeated here. A summary of the 
analysis follows. A copy of this analysis is available from NMFS (see 
ADDRESSES).
    This action will likely affect approximately 303 ownership 
entities, which represents the number of entities we expect to enroll 
in sectors that have requested exemptions. A total of 301 ownership 
entities would be considered a small entity, based on the definition as 
stated above. The economic impact resulting from this action on these 
small entities is positive, since the action, if implemented, would 
provide additional operational flexibility to vessels participating in 
NE multispecies sectors for FY 2013. In addition, this action would 
further mitigate negative impacts from the implementation of Amendment 
16, FW 44, and FW 45, and upcoming FW 48, and FW 50, which have placed

[[Page 16238]]

additional effort restrictions on the NE multispecies fleet.

Description of the Reasons Why Action by Agency Is Being Considered

    The flexibility afforded sectors includes exemptions from certain 
specified regulations as well as the ability to request additional 
exemptions. Sector members no longer have NE multispecies catch limited 
by DAS allocations and are instead limited by their available ACE. In 
this manner, the economic incentive changes from maximizing the value 
of throughput of all species on a DAS to maximizing the value of the 
sector ACE, which places a premium on timing landings to market 
conditions, as well as changes in the selectivity and composition of 
species landed on fishing trips. Further description of the purpose and 
need for the proposed action is contained in Section 2.0 of the EA 
prepared for this action.
    Sector measures were intended to provide a mechanism for vessels to 
pool harvesting resources and consolidate operations in fewer vessels, 
if desired, and to provide a mechanism for capacity reduction through 
consolidation. Reasons why fewer vessels fished in FY 2011, in 
comparison to FY 2010, may be related to owners with multiple vessels 
fishing fewer vessels. It is also likely that some vessels that have 
not landed NE multispecies have received revenue from leasing their NE 
multispecies allocation or have been fishing in other fisheries. Fewer 
vessels are actively fishing for, and landing, regulated species and 
ocean pout, with 10 percent of the fishing vessels earning more than 
half of the revenues from such stocks since 2005, thus seemingly 
continuing a trend of consolidation in the fishery. However, this trend 
began before the implementation and expansion of the sector program, 
and based on limited data available to date, the trend is not 
significantly out of proportion to FYs prior to the expansion of sector 
management by Amendment 16.

The Objectives and Legal Basis for the Proposed Action

    The objective of the proposed action is to authorize the operations 
of 18 sectors in FY 2013, and to allow the benefits of sector 
operations to accrue to permits enrolled in sectors and the New England 
communities where they dock and land. The legal basis for the proposed 
action is the NE Multispecies FMP and promulgating regulations at Sec.  
648.87.

Estimate of the Number of Small Entities

    The SBA size standard for commercial fishing entities (North 
American Industry Classification System code 114111) is $4 million in 
annual sales. Section 3 of the Small Business Act defines affiliation 
as: Affiliation may arise among two or more persons with an identity of 
interest. Individuals or firms that have identical or substantially 
identical business or economic interests (such as family members, 
individuals or firms with common investments, or firms that are 
economically dependent through contractual or other relationships) may 
be treated as one party with such interests aggregated (13 CFR 
121.103(f)). We have recently worked to identify ownership 
affiliations, and incorporated that data into this analysis; 
consequently, this analysis may differ from analysis conducted in 
previous years. Although work to more accurately identify ownership 
affiliations is ongoing; for the purposes of this analysis, ownership 
entities are defined as an association of fishing permits held by 
common ownership personnel as listed on permit application 
documentation. Only permits with identical ownership personnel are 
categorized as an ownership entity. The maximum number of entities that 
could be affected by the proposed exemptions is expected to be 
approximately 303 ownership entities (301 qualifying as small 
entities)--the number of entities anticipated to enroll in the 18 
sectors that have submitted an operations plan for FY 2013. Since 
individuals may withdraw from a sector at any time prior to the 
beginning of FY 2013, the number of permits participating in sectors on 
May 1, 2013, and the resulting sector ACE allocations, are likely to 
change. Additionally, new permit holders who acquire their permits 
through an ownership change that occurred after December 1, 2012, may 
enroll their permit in a sector or change the permit's sector 
affiliation through April 30, 2013.

Reporting, Recordkeeping and Other Compliance Requirements

    This proposed rule contains no collection-of-information 
requirement subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act. The proposed action 
reduces reporting requirements compared to the no-action alternative. 
Exemptions implemented through this action would be documented in a LOA 
issued to each vessel participating in an approved sector. The 
exemptions from the 20-day spawning block and the 120-day gillnet block 
would reduce the reporting burden for ownership entities with sector 
vessels, because exemptions from these requirements eliminate the need 
to report the blocks to the NMFS Interactive Voice Response system.
    Ownership entities that include any sector vessels receiving an 
exemption from the gillnet limit (up to 150 nets) would also be exempt 
from current tagging requirements, and would instead be required to tag 
gillnets with one tag per net. Compliance with the tagging requirement 
would not necessarily require ownership entities with sector vessels to 
purchase additional net tags, as each vessel is already issued up to 
150 tags. However, ownership entities with sector vessels that have not 
previously purchased the maximum number of gillnet tags may find it 
necessary to purchase additional tags to comply with this requirement 
at a cost of $1.20 per tag.
    The exemption to allow a vessel to haul another vessel's gillnet 
would require each ownership entity to tag all gear it is authorized to 
haul. Because of the existing 150-tag limit, no additional tags could 
be purchased.
    The exemption from the limit on the number of hooks does not 
involve reporting requirements, but may result in increased costs for 
hooks and rigging (groundline, gangions, anchors) if a ownership entity 
chooses to increase the amount of gear fished. Circle hooks of the 
legal minimum size (12/0) cost about $0.19 each without rigging.
    The GOM Sink Gillnet exemption does not involve additional 
reporting requirements. However, to fully utilize this exemption, 
ownership entities with sector vessels would need to purchase 6-inch 
(15.2-cm) mesh gillnet nets. At the time this IRFA was prepared, no 
cost information was available for a 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh gillnet 
panel. However, the cost of a 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) mesh 300-ft (91.4-m) 
gillnet panel, complete with floats and break-away links, is estimated 
at $310. The quantity of 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh gillnets purchased by a 
vessel to participate in this program would depend on the vessel's 
gillnet designation (a Day gillnet vessel would have a 150-net limit) 
and the perceived economic benefits of utilizing the exemption, which 
may be based on market conditions.
    In order to utilize the exemption from the minimum trawl mesh size 
to target redfish, an ownership entity would need to purchase or 
utilize a codend of small mesh. At the time this IRFA was prepared, no 
cost information was available for a 4.5-inch (11.43-cm) mesh codend. 
The purchase of a 4.5-inch (11.43-cm) mesh codend would depend

[[Page 16239]]

on a ownership entities perceived economic benefit of utilizing the 
exemption, which may be based on market conditions.
    Exempting sectors from the requirement to submit a daily catch 
report for all vessels participating in the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP 
will not change the reporting burden of individual participating 
ownership entities, as vessels would merely change the recipient of 
their current daily report.
    Other exemptions proposed in this action involve no additional 
reporting requirements. Sector reporting and recordkeeping regulations 
do not exempt participants from state and Federal reporting and 
recordkeeping, but are mandated above and beyond current state and 
Federal requirements. A full list of compliance, recording, and 
recordkeeping requirements can be found in the final rules implementing 
Amendment 16, each approved FY 2012 sector operations plan, and in the 
draft FY 2013 sector operations plans.

Duplication, Overlap or Conflict With Other Federal Rules

    The proposed action is authorized by the regulations implementing 
the NE Multispecies FMP. It does not duplicate, overlap, or conflict 
with other Federal rules.

Alternatives Which Minimize Any Significant Economic Impact of Proposed 
Action on Small Entities

    The proposed action would create a positive economic impact for the 
participating ownership entities that include sector vessels because it 
would mitigate the impacts from restrictive management measures 
implemented under NE Multispecies FMP. Little quantitative data on the 
precise economic impacts to individual ownership entities is available. 
The 2011 Final Report on the Performance of the Northeast Multispecies 
(NE multispecies) Fishery (May 2010-April 2011) (copies are available 
from NMFS, see ADDRESSES) documents that all measures of gross nominal 
revenue per trip and per day absent in 2011 were higher for the average 
sector vessel than in 2010, and lower for the average common pool 
vessel than in 2010, except for average revenue per day on a groundfish 
trip for vessels under 30' in length and for vessels 75' and above. 
However, the report stipulates that this comparison is not useful for 
evaluating the relative performance of DAS and sector-based management 
because of fundamental differences between these groups of vessels, 
which were not accounted for in the analyses. Accordingly, quantitative 
analysis of the impacts of sector operations plans is still limited. 
NMFS anticipates that by switching from effort controls of the common 
pool regime to operating under a sector ACE, sector members will have a 
greater opportunity to remain economically viable while adjusting to 
changing economic and fishing conditions. Thus, the proposed action 
provides benefits to sector members that they would not have under the 
No Action Alternative.

Economic Impacts on Small Entities Resulting From Proposed Action

    The EIS for Amendment 16 compares economic impacts of sector 
vessels with common pool vessels and analyzes costs and benefits of the 
universal exemptions. The final rule for the approval of the FY 2010 
sector operations plans and contracts (75 FR 18113, April 9, 2010) and 
its accompanying EAs discussed the economic impacts of the exemptions 
requested by sectors that year. The final rule for the supplemental 
sector rule (75 FR 80720, December 23, 2010) and its accompanying 
supplemental EA discussed the impacts of additional exemptions 
requested by sectors. The final rule for the approval of the FY 2011 
sector operations plans and contracts (76 FR 23076, April 25, 2011) and 
its accompanying EA discussed the economic impacts of the exemptions 
requested by sectors that year. The final rule for the approval of the 
FY 2012 sector operations plans and contracts (77 FR 26129, May 2, 
2012) and its accompanying EA discussed the economic impacts of the 
exemptions requested by sectors that year.
    The EA prepared for this rule evaluates the impacts of each 
exemption individually relative to the no-action alternative (i.e., no 
sectors are approved), and the exemptions may be approved or 
disapproved individually or as a group. The impacts associated with the 
implementation of each of the exemptions proposed in this rule are 
analyzed as if each exemption would be implemented for all sectors; 
however, each exemption will only be implemented for the sector(s) 
which requested that exemption.
    Increased ``operational flexibility'' generally has positive 
impacts on human communities as sectors and their associated exemptions 
grant fishermen some measure of increased operational flexibility. By 
removing the limitations on vessel effort (amount of gear used, number 
of days declared out of fishery, trip limits and area closures) sectors 
help create a more simplified regulatory environment. This simplified 
regulatory environment grants fishers greater control over how, when, 
and where they fish, without working under increasingly complex fishing 
regulations with higher risk of inadvertently violating one of the many 
regulations. The increased control granted by the sectors and their 
associated exemptions may also allow fishermen to maximize the ex-
vessel price of landings by timing them based on the market. Generally, 
increased operational flexibility can result in reduced costs and/or 
increased revenues. All exemptions contained in the proposed FY 2013 
sector operations plans are expected to generate positive social and 
economic effects for sector members and ports. In general, profits can 
be increased by increasing revenues or decreasing costs. Similarly, 
profits decrease when revenues decline or costs rise. The following 
discussion concentrates on cost and revenues in order to focus on the 
mechanism by which profits are expected to change due to the exemptions 
granted by this action.

Exemption From the Day Gillnet 120-Day Block Out of the Fishery

    Existing regulations require that vessels using gillnet gear remove 
all gillnet gear from the water for 120 days per year. Under an output-
control management system, this type of input control is unnecessary. 
Many affected ownership entities have purchased additional vessels in 
order to be able to fish continuously. The exemption from the 120-day 
block allows sector members to reduce costs by retiring the redundant 
vessel. Furthermore, this exemption may allow ownership entities with 
sector vessels to take advantage of other exemptions, such as the 
exemption from the GB Seasonal Closure in May and portions of the GOM 
Rolling Closure Areas.

Exemption From the 20-Day Spawning Block Out of the Fishery

    Exemption from the 20-day spawning block would improve operational 
flexibility by allowing participants to match trip planning decisions 
to environmental and economic conditions. The increased operational 
flexibility may result in higher revenues (improved timing of delivery 
to market) or lower costs for participating ownership entities.

Exemption From the Prohibition on a Vessel Hauling Another Vessels' 
Gillnet Gear

    This community fixed-gear exemption would allow sector vessels in 
the Day gillnet category to share gillnet gear. This exemption would 
reduce the total

[[Page 16240]]

amount of gear that would have to be purchased, maintained, and tended 
by ownership entities participating in sectors, resulting in lower 
costs and possibly lower amount of gear fished.

Exemption From the Limitation on the Number of Gillnets That May Be 
Hauled on GB When Fishing Under a NE Multispecies/Monkfish DAS

    This exemption would increase operational flexibility by allowing a 
sector vessel to haul its monkfish gillnets and NE multispecies 
gillnets on the same trip. This exemption may reduce costs for those 
ownership entities participating in a sector.

Exemption From the Limitation on the Number of Hooks That May Be Fished

    This exemption would increase operational flexibility by allowing 
operators to adapt to environmental and economic conditions. This 
exemption may result in higher revenues or reduced costs.

Exemption From DAS Leasing Program Length and Horsepower Restrictions

    This exemption would increase operational flexibility by allowing 
participating sector members to deploy fishing gear according to 
operational and market needs. The increased operational flexibility is 
likely to result in either higher revenues or lower costs for 
participating ownership entities. Because DAS are no longer required 
while fishing for NE multispecies, ownership entities with vessels 
participating in other fisheries (e.g., monkfish) which require the use 
of DAS are likely to be positively impacted by this exemption.

Exemption From Prohibition of Discarding Legal-Size Allocated Species

    Sector vessels are required to retain legal-size unmarketable fish, 
which must be stored on the vessel while at sea. This requirement may 
create unsafe work conditions and reduce safety at sea. In addition, 
sector vessels must determine a method of disposal for landed 
unmarketable fish. An exemption from this regulation would allow sector 
vessels to discard unmarketable fish, thereby enabling ownership 
entities that include sector vessels to increase flexibility, improve 
safety conditions at sea, and reduce costs associated with disposing of 
the landed unmarketable fish.

Exemption From the Requirement That the Sector Manager Submit Daily 
Catch Reports for the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP

    Eliminating the daily catch reporting by sector managers would 
reduce the administrative burden on the sector managers. The reporting 
burden of individual participating vessels remains unchanged. In 
addition to reducing administrative burden, this exemption may result 
in slightly lower operating costs for sectors.

Exemption From the Requirement To Power a VMS While at the Dock

    Maintaining a VMS signal while at the dock, or tied to a mooring, 
requires constant power be delivered to the vessel or constant use of 
onboard generators. This exemption will reduce the operating costs for 
fishing operations and would result in some improved profitability.

Exemption From DSM Requirements for Handgear A-Permitted Sector 
Vessels, Vessels Fishing West of 72[deg]30' W. Long., and Vessels on 
Monkfish DAS When Using 10-Inch (25.4-cm) or Greater Mesh in the 
Monkfish SFMA

    FW 45 revised DSM requirements and stipulated that sectors must 
comply with any DSM program specified by NMFS in FY 2013. This 
exemption would reduce the regulatory cost and burden of any DSM 
coverage level above zero. The vessels qualifying for these exemptions 
generally are the smallest operations, or have the smallest amount of 
NE multispecies catch, and so would otherwise be disproportionately 
burdened compared to larger operations.

Exemption From the Prohibition on Fishing Inside and Outside the CA I 
Hook Gear Haddock SAP While on the Same Trip

    FW 40A established the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP. Multispecies 
vessels fishing on a trip within this SAP are prohibited from deploying 
fishing gear outside of the SAP on the same trip when they are declared 
into the SAP. This exemption would increase operational flexibility by 
allowing sector vessels to fish both inside and outside the SAP on the 
same trip. This exemption would reduce costs to ownership entities by 
reducing the amount of travel time to haul gear in the SAP and in other 
areas.

Exemption From the 6.5-Inch (16.5-Cm) Minimum Mesh Size Requirement for 
Trawl Nets

    This exemption would allow sector vessels to use codends below the 
minimum mesh size to target redfish. To take advantage of this 
exemption, participating ownership entities would need to purchase a 
net below the 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) minimum size; however, this gear 
change would be voluntary and the gear would be adopted only if the 
ownership entities anticipated positive returns from the switch. The 
exemption could increase the operational flexibility of ownership 
entities with sector vessels and could increase revenues of sector 
fishermen if they are able to increase the catch rate of redfish.

Exemption From the Prohibition on a Vessel Hauling Another Vessel's 
Hook Gear

    This exemption would reduce the total amount of gear that would 
have to be purchased and maintained by participating sector members, 
resulting in lower costs and a possible reduction in total gear fished.

Exemption From the Requirement To Declare Intent To Fish in the Eastern 
U.S./Canada SAP and the CA II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP Prior to 
Leaving the Dock

    Multispecies vessels are currently required to declare that they 
will be fishing in the Eastern U.S./CA Haddock SAP or the CA II 
Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP prior to leaving the dock. The 
requested exemption would reduce the administrative burden of declaring 
intent to fish and increase operational flexibility by allowing the 
vessel to make trip planning decisions while at-sea. This exemption 
could reduce costs to ownership entities by reducing the amount of 
travel time for vessels to fish in the SAP without first returning to 
port.

Exemption From the Limit on the Number of Nets for Day Gillnet Vessels

    This exemption would increase operational flexibility by allowing 
participating sector members to deploy fishing gear according to 
operational and market needs. The increased flexibility is likely to 
result in higher revenues or lower costs for participating ownership 
entities.

[[Page 16241]]

GOM Sink Gillnet Exemption (May, and January Through April)

    This exemption would allow sector members to use 6-inch (15.2-cm) 
mesh gillnets in the GOM RMA in May, 2013 and from January 1, 2014, 
through April 30, 2014. This exemption will allow participating 
ownership entities with sector vessels to retain more GOM haddock and 
increase revenues. To take advantage of this exemption, participating 
ownership entities would need to purchase 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh 
gillnets; however, this gear change would be voluntary and the gear 
would be adopted only if the ownership entities anticipated positive 
returns from the switch. In FY 2011, 82.7 percent of the available GOM 
haddock ACE was not caught.

Exemption From the Trawl Gear Requirements in the U.S./Canada 
Management Area

    This exemption would allow the use of any NE multispecies trawl 
gear, rather than approved conservation gears, provided the gear 
conforms to regulatory requirements for using trawl gear to fish for NE 
multispecies in the GB RMA. This exemption would result in greater 
operational flexibility to participating ownership entities with sector 
vessels. This increased operational flexibility may translate into 
lower costs if ownership entities can reduce the amount of gear, effort 
or type of gear necessary to catch NE multispecies in the U.S./Canada 
Management Area.

Exemption From Seasonal Restriction for the Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock 
SAP

    The Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP was implemented by FW 40A in 
2004 to provide an opportunity to target haddock. In 2006, FW 42 
shortened the season of this SAP to August 1 through December 31 to 
reduce cod catch. For ownership entities that include sector vessels, 
the SAP provides access to the northern tip of CA II, which may 
increase haddock catch and revenue for fishermen.

Exemption From Seasonal Restriction for the CA II Yellowtail Flounder/
Haddock SAP

    The CA II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP was implemented by 
Amendment 13 in 2004 to provide an opportunity to target yellowtail 
flounder in CA II. In 2005, FW 40B shortened the season of this SAP to 
July 1 through December 31 to reduce interference with spawning 
yellowtail flounder. Amendment 16 further revised this SAP to allow 
participating vessels to target haddock from August 1 through January 
31. This exemption would increase a sector's operational flexibility 
and efficiency by allowing the opportunity to fish year-round in the 
SAP area. It could allow for a greater catch of haddock and increased 
revenues for fishermen.

Prohibition on Fishing in the SNE/MA Winter Flounder Stock Area With 
Winter Flounder Onboard

    Amendment 16 prohibited all NE multispecies vessels from fishing 
for, possessing, or landing SNE/MA winter flounder (Sec.  
648.85(b)(6)(v)(F)). However, a vessel may fish for other species in 
the SNE/MA winter flounder stock area but can only transit the SNE/MA 
winter flounder stock area with GOM or GB winter flounder on board the 
vessel. This exemption would allow a vessel to fish in the SNE/MA 
winter flounder stock area after retaining GOM or GB winter flounder, 
when an observer is on board. By increasing operational flexibility 
this exemption would likely increase the expected profits of sector 
fishermen.

Prohibition on Combining Small-Mesh Exempted Fishery and Sector Trips

    Exempted fisheries allow a vessel to fish for specific species, 
such as whiting or northern shrimp, in designated areas using mesh 
sizes smaller than the minimum mesh size allowed in each regulated mesh 
area. This exemption would increase a sector's operational flexibility 
and efficiency by allowing the opportunity to combine a sector trip 
with a trip into an exempted fishery. It could allow for a greater 
catch of both allocated and non-allocated stocks and increased revenues 
for fishermen.

Sampling Exemption

    This exemption would allow sector vessels to temporarily retain NE 
multispecies below the minimum size to collect scientific information. 
This exemption is largely administrative, but the findings from this 
research could ultimately contribute to stock assessment or other 
fisheries science and could be used to improve the health and 
productivity of fish stocks.

Exemption From DSM Requirements for Jig Vessels

    FW 45 revised DSM requirements and stipulated that sectors must 
comply with any DSM program specified by NMFS in FY 2013. This 
exemption would reduce the regulatory cost and burden of any DSM 
coverage level above zero. The ownership entities with vessels 
qualifying for these exemptions generally are the smallest operations, 
or have the smallest amount of NE multispecies catch, and so would 
otherwise be disproportionately burdened compared to larger operations.

Other Significant Alternatives

    Amendment 16 allowed each sector to submit an operations plan, 
including specific exemption requests and other fishing provisions. The 
purpose and need of this action is to facilitate the implementation of 
the FY 2013 sector operations plans and associated exemptions. 
Therefore, we can only propose to approve, partially approve, or deny 
what the sectors have proposed.
    There were several exemptions requested by the sectors for FY 2013 
that the regulations implemented by Amendment 16 prohibited NMFS from 
considering. NMFS also received requests for exemptions that NMFS 
previously disapproved in FYs 2010, 2011 or 2012; however, no new data 
or information has become available that would convince NMFS to 
reconsider the previously disapproved exemptions further in FY 2013.
    Some sectors proposed additional provisions as part is its 
operations plans. Like the exemptions highlighted above, these 
provisions may provide additional operational flexibility and may 
generate positive social and economic effects for sector members and 
ports. The following discussion concentrates on cost and revenues in 
order to focus on the mechanism by which profits are expected to change 
due to the provisions approved by this action.

Fishing With No ACE

    Two sectors have requested approval to continue fishing operations 
despite having used its entire ACE for at least one allocated stock. 
This provision would provide the two requesting sectors with additional 
operational flexibility and could potential land a greater proportion 
of their ACE and other non-target stocks, such as monkfish, dogfish, 
and skates.

[[Page 16242]]

Inshore GOM Declaration

    Most sectors have also included a provision to limit and more 
accurately document a vessel's behavior when fishing in the GOM Broad 
Stock Area (BSA). A sectors usage of this provision is voluntary, and 
is not expected to substantially change fishing behavior. Usage of this 
provision is expected to have negligible effects on most ownership 
entities; however, there is the potential for a decrease in flexibility 
for some vessels that would fish on Georges Bank and then the Gulf of 
Maine on the same trip. However, the analysis indicates that this would 
affect very few ownership entities.
    Regulations under the Magnuson-Stevens Act require publication of 
this notification to provide interested parties the opportunity to 
comment on proposed sector operations plans and TAC allocations.

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

    Dated: March 11, 2013.
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. 2013-05976 Filed 3-13-13; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P