[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 88 (Tuesday, May 7, 2013)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 26607-26610]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-10699]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 622

[Docket No. 120907427-3403-01]
RIN 0648-BC51


Fisheries of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic; 
Reef Fish Fishery of the Gulf of Mexico; Reef Fish Management Measures

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

ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: NMFS proposes regulations to implement management measures 
described in a framework action to the Fishery Management Plan for the 
Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico (FMP), as prepared by the 
Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Council). If implemented, 
this rule would revise the vermilion snapper recreational bag limit, 
revise the yellowtail snapper stock annual catch limit (ACL), and 
remove the requirement for reef fish vessels to have onboard and use a 
venting tool. This proposed rule is intended to help achieve optimum 
yield (OY) and prevent overfishing of vermilion and yellowtail 
snappers, reduce the regulatory burden to fishers associated with 
venting reef fish, and minimize bycatch and bycatch mortality.

DATES: Written comments must be received on or before June 6, 2013.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by 
``NOAA-NMFS-2013-0038'', 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-2013-0038, click the 
``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or 
attach your comments.
     Mail: Submit written comments to Peter Hood, Southeast 
Regional Office, NMFS, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.
    Instructions: Comments sent by any other method, to any other 
address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, 
may not be considered by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the 
public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on 
www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying 
information (e.g., name, address, etc.), confidential business 
information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily 
by the sender will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous 
comments (enter ``N/A'' in the required fields if you wish to remain 
anonymous). Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in 
Microsoft Word, Excel, or Adobe PDF file formats only.
    Electronic copies of the framework action, which includes an 
environmental assessment, regulatory impact review, and Regulatory 
Flexibility Act analysis, may be obtained from the Southeast Regional 
Office Web site at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sf/GrouperSnapperandReefFish.htm.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Peter Hood, Southeast Regional Office, 
NMFS, telephone 727-824-5305; email: Peter.Hood@noaa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The reef fish fishery of the Gulf is managed 
under the FMP. The FMP was prepared by the Council and is implemented 
through regulations at 50 CFR part 622 under the authority of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-
Stevens Act).

Background

    The Magnuson-Stevens Act requires NMFS and regional fishery 
management councils to prevent overfishing and achieve, on a continuing 
basis, OY from

[[Page 26608]]

federally managed fish stocks. The Magnuson-Stevens Act also requires 
that management measures shall, to the extent practicable, minimize 
bycatch and bycatch mortality. The reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Act, 
as amended through January 12, 2007, requires the councils to establish 
ACLs for each stock/stock complex as well as accountability measures 
(AMs) to ensure that these ACLs are not exceeded. This proposed rule 
addresses these requirements by: (1) Establishing a 10-vermilion 
snapper recreational bag limit within the 20-fish aggregate reef fish 
bag limit; (2) increasing the Gulf yellowtail snapper ACL from 725,000 
lb (328,855 kg), round weight, to 901,125 lb (408,743 kg), round 
weight; and (3) removing the requirement to have onboard and use 
venting tools when releasing reef fish. All weights discussed in this 
proposed rule are in round weight.

Management Measures Contained in This Proposed Rule

    This proposed rule would revise the yellowtail snapper stock ACL, 
revise the vermilion snapper recreational bag limit, and remove the 
requirement for a Gulf reef fish vessel to have a venting tool onboard 
and for it to be used for venting reef fish.

Vermilion Snapper Recreational Bag Limit

    Vermilion snapper are currently included within the Gulf reef fish 
aggregate recreational bag limit of 20 fish. The Council's Reef Fish 
Advisory Panel (RFAP) recommended that the Council take action to 
constrain the recreational harvest of vermilion snapper because of 
significant recent increases in recreational landings. In 2011, 
recreational landings were approximately 1.15 million lb (521,631 kg), 
compared to 457,000 lb (207,292 kg) in 2010. The Council decided that 
the vermilion snapper bag limit should be restricted to 10 fish within 
the overall 20-fish aggregate reef fish bag limit to help constrain 
vermilion snapper recreational harvest.
    The Council reasoned that while the proposed 10-fish bag limit 
would not necessarily reduce the current overall recreational harvest 
of vermilion snapper, it would serve to prevent the recreational 
harvest from increasing at a rate that could result in the vermilion 
snapper stock ACL being met before the end of the fishing year. If this 
occurred, AMs would be triggered that would close the recreational 
sector for vermilion snapper for the remainder of the fishing year. 
Additionally, this proposed bag limit is consistent with the vermilion 
snapper bag limit implemented by the Florida Fish and Wildlife 
Conservation Commission. The revised bag limit would help to constrain 
recreational harvests to minimize the opportunity for ACL to be 
exceeded by slowing the rate of potential future increases in the 
recreational harvest.

Yellowtail Snapper ACL

    In the Gulf, the yellowtail snapper ACL is not allocated between 
the commercial and recreational sectors but is managed with a single 
stock ACL. Additionally, because yellowtail snapper in the U.S. 
comprise a single stock, landings from both the South Atlantic and Gulf 
regions are combined for stock assessment purposes. The resulting 
acceptable biological catch (ABC) is allocated among both regions with 
75 percent of the ABC assigned to South Atlantic jurisdiction and 25 
percent of the ABC to Gulf jurisdiction. Currently, the stock ABC is 
2.9 million lb (1.3 million kg), with 725,000 lb (328,855 kg) allocated 
to the Gulf. This Gulf ABC value is used to determine the Gulf 
yellowtail snapper stock ACL, where the ACL is equal to the ABC, which 
was established through the Gulf's Generic ACL/AM Amendment (76 FR 
82044, December 29, 2011).
    In 2012, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) 
conducted a benchmark stock assessment of yellowtail snapper. The 
assessment was reviewed by the Scientific and Statistical Committees 
(SSCs) of both the Gulf Council and the South Atlantic Fishery 
Management Council. The assessment indicated that the yellowtail 
snapper stock was not overfished or undergoing overfishing. As a result 
of that stock status and the fact that the yellowtail snapper biomass 
is greater than what is needed to support harvesting at the maximum 
sustainable yield, both Councils SSCs determined the yellowtail snapper 
ABC would be based on equilibrium harvest levels that remain constant 
and do not fluctuate from year to year. Therefore, the SSCs agreed to 
set the overall stock ABC at 4.05 million lb (1.94 million kg). Using 
the 25 percent Gulf allocation of the overall stock ABC, the ABC for 
the Gulf was determined to be 1.0125 million lb (0.4593 million kg).
    The Council considered three alternatives in setting the Gulf 
yellowtail snapper ACL. These were: (1) Maintaining the ACL at its 
current level; (2) setting the ACL equal to the Gulf allocation of the 
ABC; or (3) applying the Council's ACL control rule to the ABC to 
account for management uncertainty. The Council decided to apply the 
ACL control rule which reduced the ACL by 11 percent from the Gulf 
allocation of the ABC. This resulted in a proposed Gulf stock ACL of 
901,125 lb (408,743 kg).

Venting Tools

    A venting tool is a device intended to deflate the abdominal cavity 
of a fish in order to release the fish with minimal damage. Currently, 
Gulf reef fishermen must possess venting tools onboard and use them 
when releasing reef fish. This measure was implemented through 
Amendment 27 to the FMP (73 FR 5117, January 29, 2008). The venting 
tool requirement was implemented to reduce bycatch and discard 
mortality in the reef fish fishery. However, several recent scientific 
studies have questioned the usefulness of venting tools in preventing 
discard mortality in fish, particularly those caught in deep waters. In 
addition, some fish caught in shallow waters may not need to be vented, 
and attempts at venting may damage fish by improper venting techniques 
and increased handling time while the fish are out of the water. 
Finally, the current requirement to use a venting tool may prevent 
fishermen from using other devices such as fish descenders, which are 
devices that take the fish back to depth without puncturing them. 
Because of these factors, the Council voted to remove the venting tool 
requirement for the Gulf reef fishery. This would provide fishermen 
with more discretion when they release reef fish but does not prohibit 
the use of venting tools or other release devices by fishers.

Additional Management Measure Contained in the Framework Action

    Vermilion snapper are not allocated between the commercial and 
recreational sectors in the Gulf and are managed with a single stock 
ACL. The current ACL for the Gulf vermilion snapper stock is 3.42 
million lb (1.55 million kg) and was set through the the Gulf's Generic 
ACL/AM Amendment (76 FR 82044, December 29, 2011). This ACL was 
established based on 1999-2008 landings data and was adjusted to 
account for scientific and management uncertainty per the Council's ABC 
and ACL control rules developed in the Generic ACL/AM Amendment.
    In 2011, a vermilion snapper update stock assessment was performed 
through the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR) process 
(SEDAR Update 2011c). This assessment used data up through 2010. The 
assessment indicated that the stock was not overfished nor undergoing 
overfishing. Based on the SEDAR update assessment,

[[Page 26609]]

the Council's SSC recommended that the vermilion snapper stock ABC be 
set at 4.41 million lb (2.00 million kg) in 2013, 4.34 million lb (1.97 
million kg) in 2014, and 4.33 million lb (1.96 million kg) in 2015, 
2016, and subsequent years.
    The Council reviewed several alternatives for setting the Gulf 
vermilion snapper stock ACL that ranged from maintaining it at the 
current 3.42 million lb (1.55 million kg) to setting it equal to the 
ABC. The RFAP and public testimony from vermilion snapper fishermen to 
the Council indicated that the stock condition appeared to be declining 
in recent years. Given this information, and considering that the last 
year of data used in the update assessment was 2010, the Council 
recommended, as a precaution, not to increase the vermilion snapper 
stock ACL at this time. Therefore the vermilion snapper stock ACL will 
remain at 3.42 million lb (1.55 million kg).

Classification

    Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the 
NMFS Assistant Administrator has determined that this proposed rule is 
consistent with the framework action, the FMP, other provisions of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law, subject to further 
consideration after public comment.
    This proposed rule has been determined to be not significant for 
purposes of Executive Order 12866.
    The Chief Counsel for Regulation of the Department of Commerce 
certified to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business 
Administration (SBA) that this rule, if implemented, would not have a 
significant adverse economic impact on a substantial number of small 
entities. The factual basis for this determination is as follows:
    The purposes of this rule are: (1) To adjust the ACL for the 
yellowtail snapper stock consistent with the ABC recommendations of the 
SSC; (2) set the vermilion snapper recreational bag limit at a level 
that minimizes the risk of overfishing by the recreational sector; and 
(3) modify the regulations requiring possession and use of venting 
tools by the reef fish fishery to minimize bycatch and bycatch 
mortality. The framework action also considered adjusting the ACL for 
vermilion snapper; however, the Council voted to retain the current ACL 
for this species. The need for the proposed actions is to prevent 
overfishing while achieving the OY of vermilion and yellowtail snapper 
on a continuing basis and to the extent practicable, and to minimize 
bycatch and the mortality of released fish in the reef fish fishery. 
The Magnuson-Stevens Act provides the statutory basis for the proposed 
action.
    No duplicative, overlapping, or conflicting Federal rules have been 
identified.
    The rule would apply directly to businesses in the Finfish Fishing 
Industry (NAICS 114111) that harvest vermilion snapper and yellowtail 
snapper in Gulf Federal waters. As of November 2012, there were 814 
individuals with a Gulf of Mexico Commercial Reef Fish Permit. These 
814 individuals are presumed to represent 814 businesses in the Finfish 
Fishing Industry that would be affected by this rule. According to SBA 
Size Standards, a business in the Finfish Fishing Industry is a small 
business if its annual receipts are less than $4 million. NMFS presumes 
for this rule that a substantial number of the 814 businesses are small 
businesses.
    This rule would not establish any new reporting or recordkeeping 
requirements. The preferred alternative (the no action alternative) for 
the action to revise the vermilion snapper stock ACL would maintain the 
vermilion snapper ACL at its current value; therefore, this action 
would have no beneficial or adverse economic impact beyond the status 
quo. The preferred alternative for the action to revise the vermilion 
snapper recreational bag limit would reduce the number of vermilion 
snapper that recreational fishermen can land within the daily aggregate 
reef fish recreational bag limit, so it would have no direct impact on 
commercial fishing businesses. The preferred alternative for the action 
to revise the yellowtail snapper stock ACL would increase the 
yellowtail snapper stock ACL from 725,000 lb (328,855 kg) to 901,125 lb 
(408,743 kg), an increase of 176,125 lb (79,889 kg, which would allow 
for increased landings of and revenues from yellowtail snapper. The 
preferred alternative for the reef fish venting tool requirement action 
would remove the need to have a venting tool onboard and to be used 
when releasing reef fish. This would then eliminate the time and cost 
of acquiring, learning how to use, and using a venting tool. 
Consequently, the combined proposed actions would not have a 
significant adverse economic impact on a substantial number of small 
businesses because they are expected to generate a net economic benefit 
to small businesses.
    The alternatives the Council did not select for the action to 
revise the vermilion snapper stock ACL would increase the ACL for 
vermilion snapper, which would generate larger short-term economic 
benefits, but likely smaller long-term economic benefits than the 
preferred alternative.
    One considered but rejected alternative for the action to revise 
the yellowtail snapper stock ACL would allow for smaller increases in 
yellowtail snapper landings, and therefore, would generate smaller 
potential net economic benefits than the preferred alternative. Another 
considered but rejected alternative would have allowed for larger 
increases in yellowtail snapper landings, and would have generated 
larger potential net economic benefits in the short-run; however, it 
could have smaller net economic benefits in the long-run.
    Lastly, the considered but rejected alternatives for the reef fish 
venting tool requirements, would retain all or part of the economic 
costs of complying with the current venting requirement, and therefore 
would have less economic benefit than the preferred alternative.
    This rule would not be expected to significantly reduce the profits 
of any small entities. Because this rule, if implemented, is not 
expected to have significant economic impact on any small entities, an 
initial regulatory flexibility analysis is not required and none has 
been prepared.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 622

    Fisheries, Fishing, Incorporation by reference, Puerto Rico, 
Reporting and recordkeeping requirements, Virgin Islands.

    Dated: April 30, 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.

    For the reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 622 is 
proposed to be amended as follows:

PART 622--FISHERIES OF THE CARIBBEAN, GULF, AND SOUTH ATLANTIC

0
1. The authority citation for part 622 continues to read as follows:

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

0
2. In Sec.  622.30, paragraph (c) is removed and the introductory 
paragraph is revised to read as follows:


Sec.  622.30  Required fishing gear.

    For a person on board a vessel to fish for Gulf reef fish in the 
Gulf EEZ, the vessel must possess on board and such person must use the 
gear as specified in paragraphs (a) and (b) of this section.
* * * * *

[[Page 26610]]

0
3. In Sec.  622.38, paragraph (b)(5) is revised to read as follows:


Sec.  622.38  Bag and possession limits.

* * * * *
    (b) * * *
    (5) Gulf reef fish, combined, excluding those specified in 
paragraphs (b)(1) through (b)(4) and paragraphs (b)(6) through (b)(7) 
of this section--20. In addition, within the 20-fish aggregate reef 
fish bag limit, no more than 2 fish may be gray triggerfish and no more 
than 10 fish may be vermilion snapper.
* * * * *
0
4. In Sec.  622.41, the second sentence of paragraph (n) is revised to 
read as follows:


Sec.  622.41  Annual catch limits (ACLs), annual catch targets (ACTs), 
and accountability measures (AMs).

* * * * *
    (n) * * * The stock ACL for yellowtail snapper is 901,125 lb 
(408,743 kg), round weight.
* * * * *
[FR Doc. 2013-10699 Filed 5-6-13; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P