[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 216 (Thursday, November 7, 2013)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 66887-66889]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-26773]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 648

[Docket No. 130904778-3778-01]
RIN 0648-XC855


Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act 
Provisions; Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Atlantic 
Surfclam and Ocean Quahog Fishery; Proposed 2014-2016 Fishing Quotas

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 commercial quotas for the Atlantic surfclam and 
ocean quahog fisheries for 2014, 2015, and 2016. The proposed quotas 
are unchanged from the quotas for the 2011, 2012, and 2013 fishing 
years. This action sets allowable harvest levels of Atlantic surfclams 
and ocean quahogs, prevent overfishing, and allow harvesting of optimum 
yield. This action would also continue to suspend the minimum shell 
size for Atlantic surfclams for the 2014 fishing year. It is expected 
that the industry and dealers will benefit from the proposed status quo 
quotas, as they will be able to maintain a consistent market.

DATES: Comments must be received by November 22, 2013.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2013-0139, 
by any of the following methods:
     Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to 
www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0139, click the 
``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or 
attach your comments.
     Fax: (978) 281-9177, Attn: Jason Berthiaume.
     Mail: John K. Bullard, Regional Administrator, NMFS, 
Northeast Regional Office, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 
01930. Mark the outside of the envelope: ``Comments on the 2014-2016 
Surfclam/Ocean Quahog Specifications.''
    Instructions: All comments received are part of the public record 
and will generally be posted to www.regulations.gov without change. All 
Personal Identifying Information (for example, name, address, etc.)

[[Page 66888]]

voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publicly accessible. Do 
not submit confidential business information or otherwise sensitive or 
protected information.
    A copy of the Environmental Assessment prepared for this action is 
available upon request from the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management 
(Council), 800 North State Street, Suite 201, Dover, DE 09901.
    NMFS will accept anonymous comments. Attachments to electronic 
comments will be accepted via Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, 
WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats only.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jason Berthiaume, Fishery Management 
Specialist, 978-281-9177.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Atlantic Surfclam and Ocean Quahog 
Fishery Management Plan (FMP) requires that NMFS, in consultation with 
the Mid-Atlantic Council (Council), specify quotas for surfclam and 
ocean quahog for a 3-year period, with an annual review, from a range 
that represents the optimum yield (OY) for each fishery. It is the 
policy of the Council that the levels selected allow sustainable 
fishing to continue at that level for at least 10 years for surfclams, 
and 30 years for ocean quahogs. In addition to this, the Council policy 
also considers the economic impacts of the quotas. Regulations 
implementing Amendment 10 to the FMP (63 FR 27481, May 19, 1998) added 
Maine ocean quahogs (locally known as Maine mahogany quahogs) to the 
management unit, and provided for a small artisanal fishery for ocean 
quahogs in the waters north of 43[deg]50' N. lat., with an annual quota 
within a range of 17,000 to 100,000 Maine bu (0.6 to 3.524 million L). 
As specified in Amendment 10, the Maine mahogany ocean quahog quota is 
allocated separately from the quota specified for the ocean quahog 
fishery. Regulations implementing Amendment 13 to the FMP (68 FR 69970, 
December 16, 2003) established the ability to set multi-year quotas. An 
annual quota review is conducted by the Council every year to determine 
if the multi-year quota specifications remain appropriate. The fishing 
quotas must be in compliance with overfishing definitions for each 
species. In recommending these quotas, the Council considered the most 
recent stock assessments and other relevant scientific information.
    In June 2013, the Council voted to recommend maintaining the 2013 
quota levels of 5.333 million bu (284 million L) for the ocean quahog 
fishery, 3.400 million bu (181 million L) for the Atlantic surfclam 
fishery, and 100,000 Maine bu (3.524 million L) for the Maine ocean 
quahog fishery for 2014-2016. The proposed quotas for the 2014-2016 
Atlantic surfclam and ocean quahog fishery are shown in the table 
below.

                          Proposed 2014-2016 Atlantic Surfclam and Ocean Quahog Quotas
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
         Year                    ABC                    ACL                    ACT            Commercial Quota
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                  Ocean Quahog
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2014-2016.............  5.7 million bu (306    5.7 million bu (306    Maine ACT: 105,010    Maine Quota: 100,000
                         million L).            million L).            Maine bu (3.7         Maine bu (3.524
                                                                       million L).           million L).
                                                                      Non-Maine ACT: 5.56   Non-Maine Quota: 5.3
                                                                       million bu (298       million bu (284
                                                                       million L).           million L).
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                Atlantic Surfclam
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
         Year            Allowable biological    Annual catch limit    Annual catch target    Commercial quota
                              catch (ABC)               (ACL)                 (ACT)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2014..................  7.8 million bu (415    7.8 million bu (415    3.8 million bu (202   3.4 million bu (181
                         million L).            million L).            million L).           million L).
2015..................  6.7 million bu (202    6.7 million bu (202    3.8 million bu (202   3.4 million bu (181
                         million L).            million L).            million L).           million L).
2016..................  6.2 million bu (188    6.2 million bu (188    3.8 million bu (115   3.4 million bu (115
                         million L).            million L).            million L).           million L).
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Atlantic surfclam and ocean quahog quotas are specified in 
``industry'' bushels of 53.24 L per bushel, while the Maine ocean 
quahog quota is specified in Maine bushels of 35.24 L per bushel. 
Because Maine ocean quahogs are the same species as ocean quahogs, both 
fisheries are assessed under the same ocean quahog overfishing 
definition. When the two quota amounts (ocean quahog and Maine ocean 
quahog) are added, the total allowable harvest is still lower than the 
level that would result in overfishing for the entire stock.

Surfclams

    In 1999, the Council expressed its intention to increase the 
surfclam quota to OY over a period of 5 years (OY = 3.4 million bu (181 
million L)). The proposed 2014-2016 status quo surfclam quota was 
developed after reviewing the results of the Northeast Regional Stock 
Assessment Workshop (SAW) 56 for Atlantic surfclam, released to the 
public in 2013. The surfclam quota recommendation is consistent with 
the SAW 56 finding that the Atlantic surfclam stock is not overfished, 
nor is overfishing occurring. Based on this information, the Council is 
recommending, and NMFS is proposing, to maintain the status quo 
surfclam quota of 3.4 million bu (181 million L) for 2014-2016. This 
quota represents the maximum allowable quota under the FMP.

Ocean Quahogs

    The proposed 2014-2016 quota for ocean quahogs also reflects the 
status quo quota of 5.333 million bu (284 million L) in 2010. In April 
2013, the ocean quahog stock assessment was updated and found that the 
ocean quahog stock is not overfished, nor is overfishing occurring. 
Ocean quahog is a low productivity stock that is being fished down from 
its pre-fishery level; however, after several decades of relatively low 
fishing mortality, the stock is still above the biomass target 
reference points. Based on this information, the Council is 
recommending, and NMFS is proposing, to maintain the status quo quota 
of 5.333 million bu (284 million L) for 2014-2016.
    The proposed 2014-2016 quota for Maine ocean quahogs is the status 
quo level of 100,000 Maine bu (3.524 million L). In 2008, the State of 
Maine completed a stock assessment of the resource within the Maine 
Mahogany Quahog Zone. The findings of the Maine quahog survey did not 
change the status of the entire ocean quahog resource. The proposed 
quota represents the

[[Page 66889]]

maximum allowable quota under the FMP.

Classification

    Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the 
Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, NOAA, has determined that this 
proposed rule is consistent with the Atlantic Surfclam and Ocean Quahog 
FMP, other provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable 
law, subject to further consideration after public comment.

Reporting and Recordkeeping Requirements

    This action does not introduce any new reporting, recordkeeping, or 
other compliance requirements. This proposed rule does not duplicate, 
overlap, or conflict with other Federal rules.
    This proposed rule is exempt from the requirements of E.O. 12866.
    The Council prepared a draft EA for this action that analyzes the 
impacts of this proposed rule. A copy of the draft EA is available from 
the Federal e-Rulemaking portal www.regulations.gov. Type ``NOAA-NMFS-
2013-0139'' in the Enter Keyword or ID field and click search. A copy 
of the EA is also available upon request from the Council (see 
ADDRESSES).
    The Council prepared an initial regulatory flexibility analysis 
(IRFA), as required by section 603 of the Regulatory Flexibility Act 
(RFA), which is included in the EA for this action and supplemented by 
information contained in the preamble of this proposed rule. The IRFA 
describes the economic impact this proposed rule, if adopted, would 
have on small entities. A description of the action, why it is being 
considered, and the legal basis for this action are contained at the 
beginning of this section of the preamble and in the SUMMARY of the 
proposed rule. A summary of the IRFA follows. A copy of this analysis 
is available from the Council (see ADDRESSES).
    On June 20, 2013, the Small Business Administration (SBA) issued a 
final rule revising the small business size standards for several 
industries effective July 22, 2013 (78 FR 37398). The rule increased 
the size standard for finfish fishing from $4.0 to $19.0 million, 
shellfish fishing from $4.0 to $5.0 million, and other marine fishing 
from $4.0 to $7.0 million.
    All of the entities (fishing vessels) affected by this action are 
considered small entities under the SBA size standards for small 
shellfish fishing businesses ($5.0 million in annual gross sales). 
Therefore, there are no disproportionate effects on small versus large 
entities. Information on costs in the fishery is not readily available 
and individual vessel profitability cannot be determined directly; 
therefore, expected changes in gross revenues were used as a proxy for 
profitability.

Description and Estimate of the Number of Small Entities to Which This 
Proposed Rule Would Apply

    The proposed measures would only affect vessels holding an active 
Federal open access surfclam and/or ocean quahog permit. The SBA 
defines a small commercial shellfish fishing entity as a firm with 
gross annual receipts not exceeding $5 million. In 2012, a total of 42 
vessels reported harvesting surfclams and/or ocean quahogs from Federal 
waters under the Individual Fishing Quota system. In addition, 12 
vessels participated in the limited access Maine ocean quahog fishery, 
for a total of 54 participants in 2012. Average 2012 gross income was 
$950,000 per vessel. Each vessel in this analysis is treated as a 
single entity for purposes of size determination and impact assessment. 
All 54 commercial fishing entities fall below the SBA size threshold 
for small commercial shellfish fishing entities.

Economic Impacts of This Proposed Action Compared to Significant Non-
Selected Alternatives

1. Specifications
    The proposed quotas for 2014-2016 reflect the same quota levels set 
for 2011-2013. Therefore, it is not expected that there will be any 
different economic impacts beyond status quo resulting from the 
proposed quota level. Leaving the ocean quahog quota at the harvest 
level of 5.333 million bu (284 million L) is not expected to constrain 
the fishery. The surfclam quota is proposed to be set to the maximum 
allowed under the FMP of 3.4 million bu (181 million L).
    The Maine ocean quahog quota is proposed to be set at the maximum 
allowed under the FMP of 100,000 Maine bu (3.524 million L). It is 
anticipated that by maintaining the status quo quota level for the next 
3 years, the fishing industry will benefit from the stability of 
product demand from the seafood processors and being able to predict 
future fishery performance based on past performance from the last 3 
years.
    The non-selected alternatives for both the surfclam and ocean 
quahog would both result in more restrictive quotas. Therefore, the 
more restrictive non-selected alternatives would have a negative 
economic impact on the fishery when compared to the proposed action of 
status quo quotas.
2. Minimum Size Suspension for Atlantic Surfclams
    In regard to the suspension of the minimum size limit for Atlantic 
surfclams, the minimum size limit has been suspended since 2005. 
Therefore, because this action would not impose a minimum size limit, 
and because no net change in fishing effort, participation in the 
fishery, or fishery expenses are expected, it is anticipated that this 
action would not impose any additional costs on the industry. In fact, 
continuing to suspend the minimum size limit would likely have positive 
economic affects in contrast to not suspending the minimum size limit.
    The non-selected alternative would result in the minimum size limit 
for surfclams not being suspended. As a result, the non-selected 
selected alternative would require fishery participants to adhere to 
the surfclam minimum size limit. Measuring surfclams would result in 
additional burden which would likely reduce operational efficiency. 
Therefore, the non-selected alternative of not suspending the minimum 
size limit would have negative economic impacts and would reduce vessel 
efficiency when compared to the proposed alternative of suspending the 
minimum size limit.

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

    Dated: November 1, 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. 2013-26773 Filed 11-6-13; 8:45 am]
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