[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 246 (Monday, December 23, 2013)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 77362-77364]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-30366]


=======================================================================
-----------------------------------------------------------------------

DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 635

[Docket No. 130214139-3542-02]
RIN 0648-XD027


Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; Atlantic Bluefin Tuna 
Fisheries

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

ACTION: Temporary rule; inseason General category retention limit 
adjustment.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

SUMMARY: NMFS is adjusting the Atlantic bluefin tuna (BFT) General 
category daily retention limit from the default limit of one large 
medium or giant BFT to two large medium or giant BFT for the January 
2014 subquota period ((i.e., from January 1 through March 31, 2014, or 
until the available subquota for the period is reached, whichever comes 
first). This action is based on consideration of the regulatory 
determination criteria regarding inseason adjustments, and applies to 
Atlantic tunas General category (commercial) permitted vessels and 
Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Charter/Headboat category permitted 
vessels when fishing commercially for BFT.

DATES: Effective January 1, 2014, through March 31, 2014.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Sarah McLaughlin or Brad McHale, 978-
281-9260.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Regulations implemented under the authority 
of the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act (ATCA; 16 U.S.C. 971 et seq.) and 
the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-
Stevens Act; 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.) governing the harvest of BFT by 
persons and vessels subject to U.S. jurisdiction are found at 50 CFR 
part 635. Section 635.27 subdivides the U.S. BFT quota recommended by 
the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas 
(ICCAT) among the various domestic fishing categories, per the 
allocations established in the 2006 Consolidated Highly Migratory 
Species Fishery Management Plan (2006 Consolidated HMS FMP) (71 FR 
58058, October 2, 2006) and in accordance with implementing 
regulations. NMFS is required under ATCA and the Magnuson-Stevens Act 
to provide U.S. fishing vessels with a reasonable opportunity to 
harvest the ICCAT-recommended quota.
    The 2010 ICCAT recommendation regarding western BFT management 
resulted in baseline U.S. quotas for 2011 and for 2012 of 923.7 mt (not 
including the 25 mt ICCAT allocated to the United States to account for 
bycatch of BFT in pelagic longline fisheries in the Northeast Distant 
Gear Restricted Area). Among other things, the 2011 BFT quota rule (76 
FR 39019, July 5, 2011) implemented the base quota of 435.1 mt for the 
General category fishery (a commercial tunas fishery in which handgear 
is used). Each of the General category time periods (January, June 
through August, September, October through November, and December) is 
allocated a portion of the annual General category quota. As published 
in the final 2013 BFT quota specifications (78 FR 36685, June 19, 
2013), the baseline General category subquotas as codified have not 
been modified, and include 23.1 mt for the January subquota period. The 
2013 ICCAT recommendation regarding western BFT management does not 
result in changes to the baseline U.S. quota or subquotas for 2014.
    Unless changed, the General category daily retention limit starting 
on January 1 would be the default retention limit of one large medium 
or giant BFT (measuring 73 inches (185 cm) curved fork length (CFL) or 
greater) per vessel per day/trip (Sec.  635.23(a)(2)). This default 
retention limit would apply to General category permitted vessels and 
to HMS Charter/Headboat category permitted vessels when fishing 
commercially for BFT.
    For the January 2013 subquota period, NMFS adjusted the General 
category limit from the default level of one large medium or giant BFT 
to two large medium or giant BFT (77 FR 74612, December 17, 2012). That 
retention limit was effective from January 1, 2013, until February 15, 
2013, when NMFS closed the fishery because the January subquota had 
been met (78 FR 11788, February 20, 2013). For the June through 
December 2013 periods, NMFS adjusted the limit to three large medium or 
giant BFT (78 FR 26709, May 8, 2013, and 78 FR 50346, August 19, 2013), 
and subsequently adjusted the limit to five large medium or giant BFT 
for November 27 through December 31, 2013 (78 FR 72584, December 3, 
2013).

Adjustment of General Category Daily Retention Limit

    Under Sec.  635.23(a)(4), NMFS may increase or decrease the daily 
retention limit of large medium and giant BFT over a range of zero to a 
maximum of five per vessel based on consideration of the relevant 
criteria provided under Sec.  635.27(a)(8), which include: the 
usefulness of information obtained from catches in the particular 
category for biological sampling and monitoring of the status of the 
stock; effects of the adjustment on BFT rebuilding and overfishing; 
effects of the adjustment on accomplishing the objectives of the 
fishery management plan; variations in seasonal BFT distribution, 
abundance, or migration patterns; effects of catch rates in one area 
precluding vessels in another area from having a reasonable

[[Page 77363]]

opportunity to harvest a portion of the category's quota; and review of 
dealer reports, daily landing trends, and the availability of BFT on 
the fishing grounds.
    NMFS has considered these criteria and their applicability to the 
General category BFT retention limit for the January 2014 subquota 
period. These considerations include, but are not limited to, the 
following:
    Biological samples collected from BFT landed by General category 
fishermen and provided by BFT dealers continue to provide NMFS with 
valuable data for ongoing scientific studies of BFT age and growth, 
migration, and reproductive status. This action would be taken 
consistent with the quotas previously implemented and analyzed in the 
2011 BFT quota final rule (76 FR 39019, July 5, 2011), consistent with 
the objectives of the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP. This action will not 
have impacts beyond those already analyzed and thus is not expected to 
negatively impact the stock. A principal consideration is the objective 
of providing opportunities to harvest the full General category quota 
without exceeding it based upon the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP goal: 
``Consistent with other objectives of this FMP, to manage Atlantic HMS 
fisheries for continuing optimum yield so as to provide the greatest 
overall benefit to the Nation, particularly with respect to food 
production, providing recreational opportunities, preserving 
traditional fisheries, and taking into account the protection of marine 
ecosystems.'' For the last two years, the available January subquota 
was reached on February 15, 2013, and January 22, 2012. However, in 
other recent years, there has been an underharvest of the January 
subquota. Under the two-fish limit that applied during January 2011 and 
January 2010 (when fishing on the January subquota was authorized for 
January 1 through 31), January landings were 34 percent of the baseline 
subquota (7.9 mt out of 23.1 mt) and 11 percent (2.7 mt out of 23.8 
mt), respectively. Thus, the default one-fish limit likely would be 
overly restrictive and would not support the objective of providing 
opportunities to harvest the full January subquota without exceeding 
it. Based upon the ICCAT recommended quota, the baseline 2013 General 
category January subquota is 23.1 mt. Although NMFS has the authority 
to set the daily retention limit to up to five fish, under a higher 
limit (and higher fish availability), the rate of harvest of the 
January subquota could be accelerated and result in a relatively short 
fishing season. A short fishing season may preclude or reduce fishing 
opportunities for some individuals or geographic areas. Therefore, in 
order to maintain an equitable distribution of fishing opportunities, a 
retention limit closer to the low end of the allowable range of 
retention limits (i.e., two fish) is warranted. A potential ancillary 
benefit of a subquota period that is open for an extended duration is 
that any scientific information (including biological samples) 
collected from BFT may be from fish collected over a broader temporal 
and geographic range than currently sampled. Lastly, fishery 
participants have supported this retention limit in prior seasons.
    Therefore, based on these considerations, NMFS has determined that 
a two-fish General category retention limit is warranted for the 
January subquota. It would provide a reasonable opportunity to harvest 
the U.S. quota of BFT without exceeding it, while maintaining an 
equitable distribution of fishing opportunities, help achieve optimum 
yield in the General category BFT fishery, allow collection of a broad 
range of data for stock monitoring purposes, and be consistent with the 
objectives of the Consolidated HMS FMP. Therefore, NMFS increases the 
General category retention limit from the default limit (one) to two 
large medium or giant BFT per vessel per day/trip, effective January 1, 
2014, through March 31, 2014, or until the 23.1-mt January subquota is 
harvested, whichever comes first.
    Regardless of the duration of a fishing trip, the daily retention 
limit applies upon landing. For example (and specific to the retention 
limit for the January 2014 subquota period), whether a vessel fishing 
under the General category limit takes a two-day trip or makes two 
trips in one day, the daily limit of two fish may not be exceeded upon 
landing. This General category retention limit is effective in all 
areas, except for the Gulf of Mexico, and applies to those vessels 
permitted in the General category, as well as to those HMS Charter/
Headboat permitted vessels fishing commercially for BFT.

Monitoring and Reporting

    NMFS will continue to monitor the BFT fishery closely through the 
mandatory dealer landing reports, which NMFS requires to be submitted 
within 24 hours of a dealer receiving BFT. Depending on the level of 
fishing effort and catch rates of BFT, NMFS may determine that 
additional retention limit adjustment or closure is necessary to ensure 
available quota is not exceeded or to enhance scientific data 
collection from, and fishing opportunities in, all geographic areas.
    Closures or subsequent adjustments to the daily retention limits, 
if any, will be published in the Federal Register. In addition, 
fishermen may call the Atlantic Tunas Information Line at (888) 872-
8862 or (978) 281-9260, or access hmspermits.noaa.gov, for updates on 
quota monitoring and retention limit adjustments.

Classification

    The Assistant Administrator for NMFS (AA) finds that it is 
impracticable and contrary to the public interest to provide prior 
notice of, and an opportunity for public comment on, this action for 
the following reasons:
    The regulations implementing the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP provide 
for inseason retention limit adjustments to respond to the 
unpredictable nature of BFT availability on the fishing grounds, the 
migratory nature of the species, and the regional variations in the BFT 
fishery. Affording prior notice and opportunity for public comment to 
adjust the retention limit for the portion of the General category 
season that begins January 1, 2014, is impracticable as NMFS needs to 
wait until it has necessary data and information about the fishery 
before it can select the appropriate retention limit for a time period 
prescribed by regulation. By the time NMFS has the necessary data, 
implementing the retention limit following a public comment period 
would preclude fishermen from harvesting BFT that are legally available 
consistent with all of the regulatory criteria. Analysis of available 
data shows that the General category BFT retention limits may be 
increased with minimal risks of exceeding the ICCAT-allocated quota.
    Delays in increasing these retention limits would adversely affect 
those General and Charter/Headboat category vessels that would 
otherwise have an opportunity to harvest more than the default 
retention limit of one BFT per day/trip and may exacerbate the problem 
of low catch rates and of quota rolling from one time period to the 
next. Limited opportunities to harvest the respective quotas may have 
negative social and economic impacts for U.S. fishermen that depend 
upon catching the available quota within the time periods designated in 
the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP. Adjustment of the retention limit needs 
to be effective January 1, 2014, or as soon as possible thereafter, to 
minimize any unnecessary disruption in fishing patterns, to allow the 
impacted sectors to benefit from the adjustment, and to not preclude 
fishing

[[Page 77364]]

opportunities for fishermen in geographic areas with access to the 
fishery only during this time period (due to the seasonality of BFT 
distribution). Therefore, the AA finds good cause under 5 U.S.C. 
553(b)(B) to waive prior notice and the opportunity for public comment. 
For these reasons, there is good cause under 5 U.S.C. 553(d) to waive 
the 30-day delay in effectiveness.
    This action is being taken under Sec.  635.23(a)(4) and is exempt 
from review under Executive Order 12866.

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

    Dated: December 17, 2013.
Sean F. Corson,
Acting Deputy Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National 
Marine Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2013-30366 Filed 12-20-13; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P