[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 55 (Thursday, March 21, 2013)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 17340-17341]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-06542]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 679

[Docket No. 130215145-3145-01]
RIN 0648-BD01


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

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

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

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SUMMARY: At the request of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council 
(Council), this notice announces a control date of March 1, 2013, that 
may be used as a reference for future management actions applicable to, 
but not limited to, qualifying landings and permit history for an 
allocation-based management or catch share program in the Western Gulf 
of Alaska (GOA) trawl groundfish fisheries. This notice is intended to 
discourage speculative entry into the fisheries while the Council 
considers whether and how allocations of fishing privileges should be 
developed under a future management program. The Council selected the 
control date based on previous fishing activity in the Western GOA 
groundfish fisheries, in which the majority of the fishery has 
concluded by March 1 each year. This notice is publishing close to the 
control date of March 1, 2013, and so will not either prompt 
speculation in advance of its publication, or disadvantage any fishers 
regarding their fishing activity after the control date, but before 
publication. This notice is also intended to promote awareness of 
possible rulemaking and provide notice to the public that any 
accumulation of landings history in the Western GOA trawl groundfish 
fisheries occurring after the control date may not be credited for 
purposes of making any allocation under a future management program.

DATES: March 1, 2013, shall be known as the control date for the 
Western GOA trawl groundfish fisheries and may be used as a reference 
for allocations in a future management program that is consistent with 
the Council's objectives and applicable Federal laws.

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

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NMFS manages the groundfish fisheries in the 
U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the GOA under the Fishery 
Management Plan for Groundfish of the Gulf of Alaska (FMP). The Council 
prepared, and NMFS approved, the FMP under the authority of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), 16 
U.S.C. 1801 et seq. Regulations governing U.S. fisheries and 
implementing the FMP appear at 50 CFR parts 600 and 679.
    This advance notice of proposed rulemaking would apply to owners 
and operators of catcher vessels and catcher/processors participating 
in Federal fisheries prosecuted with trawl gear in the Western 
Reporting Area of the GOA. The Western Reporting Area, defined at Sec.  
679.2 and shown in Figure 3 to 50 CFR part 679, includes the Western 
Regulatory Area (Statistical Area 610).
    The Council and NMFS annually establish biological thresholds and 
annual total allowable catch limits for groundfish species to 
sustainably manage the groundfish fisheries in the GOA. To achieve 
these objectives, NMFS requires vessel operators participating in GOA 
groundfish fisheries to comply with various restrictions, such as 
fishery closures, to maintain catch within specified total allowable 
catch limits. The GOA groundfish fishery restrictions also include 
prohibited species catch (PSC) limits for species that are generally 
required to be discarded when harvested. When harvest of a PSC species 
reaches the specified PSC limit for that fishery, NMFS closes directed 
fishing for the target groundfish species, even if the total allowable 
catch limit for that species has not been harvested.
    The Council and NMFS have long sought to control the amount of 
fishing in the North Pacific Ocean to ensure that fisheries are 
conservatively managed and do not exceed established biological 
thresholds. One of the measures used by the Council and NMFS is the 
license limitation program (LLP), which limits access to the 
groundfish, crab, and scallop fisheries in the Bering Sea and Aleutian 
Islands and the GOA. The LLP is intended to limit entry into federally 
managed fisheries. For groundfish, the LLP requires that persons hold 
and assign a license to each vessel that is used to fish in federally 
managed fisheries, with some limited exemptions. The preamble to the 
final rule implementing the groundfish LLP provides a more detailed 
explanation of the rationale for specific provisions in the LLP 
(October 1, 1998; 63 FR 52642).
    Over the past few years, the Council has recommended amendments to 
the FMP to reduce the use of PSC in the GOA fisheries. Under Amendment 
93 to the FMP, the Council recommended, and NMFS approved, Chinook PSC 
limits in the GOA pollock (Theragra chalcogramma) trawl fisheries (77 
FR 42629, July 20, 2012). In June 2012, the Council recommended an FMP 
amendment to reduce Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) PSC 
limits for the trawl and longline fisheries in the Central GOA and 
Western GOA. This series of actions reflects the Council's commitment 
to reduce PSC in the GOA fisheries. Participants in these fisheries 
have raised concerns that the current limited access management system 
creates a substantial disincentive for participants to take actions to 
reduce PSC usage, particularly if those actions could reduce target 
catch rates. Additionally, any participants who choose not to take 
actions to reduce PSC usage stand to gain additional target catch by 
continuing to harvest groundfish at a higher catch rate, at the expense 
of any vessels engaged in PSC avoidance. In February 2013, the Council 
unanimously adopted a purpose and need statement, and goals and 
objectives, to support the development of a management system that 
would remove this disincentive to reduce PSC usage in Western GOA trawl 
groundfish fisheries.
    The Council intends to develop a management program that would 
replace the current limited access

[[Page 17341]]

management program with allocations of allowable harvest (catch shares) 
to individuals, cooperatives, or other entities. The goal of the 
program is to improve stock conservation by creating vessel-level and/
or cooperative-level incentives to control and reduce PSC, and to 
create accountability measures for participants when utilizing target, 
secondary, and PSC species. The Council also intends for the program to 
improve operational efficiencies, reduce incentives to fish during 
unsafe conditions, and support the continued participation of coastal 
communities that are dependent on the fisheries. The Council intends to 
develop an analysis of alternatives for a catch share management 
program that meets its goals and objectives. In developing the 
alternatives for analysis, the Council will consider how other fishery 
management programs have considered and applied MSA catch share 
provisions to meet similar goals and objectives.
    The Council announced a control date of March 1, 2013, to reduce 
the incentive for, and dampen the effect of, speculative entry into the 
Western GOA trawl groundfish fisheries in anticipation of the future 
management program. The Council intended to establish a control date as 
soon as possible after its February 2013 decision to initiate 
development of a new management program for the Western GOA groundfish 
trawl fisheries. The Council selected the control date because it 
anticipated that the majority of the 2013 Western GOA trawl groundfish 
fishery would be concluded by March 1, 2013. The Council stated that it 
may not credit any catch history in those fisheries after the control 
date for purposes of making allocations under a future management 
program. The control date may be used as a reference for future 
management measures in determining how to credit landings and permit 
history acquired before or after this date for purposes of establishing 
an allocation-based management program. The establishment of a control 
date, however, does not obligate the Council to use this control date 
or take any action or prevent the Council from selecting another 
control date or imposing limits on permits acquired prior to the 
control date. Accordingly, this notification is intended to promote 
awareness that the Council may develop a catch share management program 
to achieve its objectives for the Western GOA trawl fisheries; to 
provide notice to the public that any current or future accumulation of 
fishing privilege interests in the Western GOA trawl fisheries may be 
affected, restricted, or even nullified; and to discourage speculative 
participation and behavior in the fisheries while the Council considers 
whether and how fishing privileges should be assigned or allocated in 
the future. Any measures the Council considers may require changes to 
the FMP. Such measures may be adopted in a future amendment to the FMP, 
which would include opportunity for further public participation and 
comment.
    NMFS encourages public participation in the Council's development 
of the Western GOA trawl groundfish fisheries catch share management 
program. Please consult the Council's Web site at http://www.alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/npfmc/ for information on public 
participation in the Council's decision-making process.
    This notification and control date do not impose any legal 
obligations, requirements, or expectation.

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

    Dated: March 18, 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. 2013-06542 Filed 3-20-13; 8:45 am]
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