[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 249 (Friday, December 27, 2013)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 78770-78776]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-30943]



[[Page 78770]]

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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 622

[Docket No. 130312236-3999-02]
RIN 0648-BD05


Fisheries of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic; 
Snapper-Grouper Fishery Off the Southern Atlantic States; Amendment 27

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

ACTION: Final rule.

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SUMMARY: NMFS issues this final rule to implement Amendment 27 
(Amendment 27) to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper 
Fishery of the South Atlantic Region (FMP), as prepared and submitted 
by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (South Atlantic 
Council). Amendment 27 and this final rule extend the South Atlantic 
Council's management responsibility for Nassau grouper into the Gulf of 
Mexico (Gulf) exclusive economic zone (EEZ); increase the number of 
allowable crew members to four on dual-permitted snapper-grouper 
vessels (i.e., vessels holding a South Atlantic Charter Vessel/Headboat 
Permit for Snapper-Grouper and a commercial South Atlantic Unlimited or 
a 225-Pound Trip Limit Snapper-Grouper Permit) that are fishing 
commercially; remove the prohibition on retaining any fish under the 
aggregate bag limit for grouper and tilefish or the vermilion snapper 
bag limit by captains and crew of federally permitted for-hire vessels; 
modify the snapper-grouper framework procedures to allow acceptable 
biological catch levels (ABCs), annual catch limits (ACLs), and annual 
catch targets (ACTs) to be adjusted via an abbreviated framework 
process; and remove blue runner from the FMP. The purposes of this 
final rule are to streamline management of Nassau grouper, improve 
vessel safety for dual-permitted vessels, implement consistent 
regulations regarding captains and crew retention limits for snapper-
grouper species, expedite adjustments to snapper-grouper catch limits 
when new scientific information becomes available, and minimize socio-
economic impacts to fishermen who harvest and sell blue runner.

DATES: This rule is effective January 27, 2014.

ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of Amendment 27, which includes an 
environmental assessment, a regulatory flexibility act analysis and a 
regulatory impact review, may be obtained from the Southeast Regional 
Office Web site at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Kate Michie, telephone: 727-824-5305, 
or email: kate.michie@noaa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The snapper-grouper fishery of the South 
Atlantic is managed under the FMP. The FMP was prepared by the South 
Atlantic 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).
    On September 18, 2013, NMFS published a notice of availability for 
Amendment 27 and requested public comment (78 FR 57337). On September 
27, 2013, NMFS published a proposed rule for Amendment 27 and requested 
public comment (78 FR 59635). NMFS approved Amendment 27 on December 
16, 2013. The proposed rule and Amendment 27 outline the rationale for 
the actions contained in this final rule. A summary of the actions 
implemented by Amendment 27 and this final rule is provided below.

Management Measures Contained in This Final Rule

Extension of Management Authority for Nassau Grouper in the Gulf of 
Mexico to the South Atlantic Council

    Amendment 27 and this final rule extend the South Atlantic Council 
management responsibility for Nassau grouper into Federal waters of the 
Gulf. The current restrictions on the harvest or possession of Nassau 
grouper in the Gulf EEZ and South Atlantic EEZ continue through this 
final rule.

Increase in Crew Member Limit for Dual-Permitted Vessels

    This final rule increases the crew size limit from three to four 
persons on dual-permitted vessels (vessels with both a South Atlantic 
Charter Vessel/Headboat Permit for Snapper-Grouper and a commercial 
South Atlantic Unlimited or 225-Pound Permit for Snapper-Grouper) when 
operating commercially.

Removal of Captains and Crew Bag Limit Retention Restrictions for 
Snapper-Grouper Species

    This final rule removes the current restriction that prohibits the 
captains and crew on a vessel operating as a charter vessel or headboat 
from retaining the bag limits of gag, black grouper, red grouper, 
scamp, red hind, rock hind, coney, graysby, yellowfin grouper, 
yellowmouth grouper, yellowedge grouper, snowy grouper, misty grouper, 
vermilion snapper, sand tilefish, blueline tilefish, and golden 
tilefish.

Modify the Framework Procedures in the Snapper-Grouper FMP

    This final rule allows an ABC, ACL, and ACT to be modified using an 
abbreviated framework procedure. After the South Atlantic Council has 
taken final action to change an ABC, ACL, and/or ACT, the Council 
submits a letter with supporting data and information to the NMFS 
Southeast Regional Administrator (RA) requesting the desired change to 
those applicable harvest parameters. Based on the information provided 
by the South Atlantic Council, the RA determines whether or not the 
requested modifications may be warranted. If the requested 
modifications may be warranted, NMFS develops the appropriate 
documentation to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act 
(NEPA) and other applicable law, and proposes the action through 
rulemaking.

Remove Blue Runner From the FMP

    Finally, this final rule removes blue runner from the FMP.

Comments and Responses

    NMFS received 12 unique comment submissions on Amendment 27 and the 
proposed rule. The comments were submitted by one fishing association, 
one state agency, one environmental organization, one Federal agency, 
and eight individuals. One individual and one fishing association 
expressed general support for all the actions in the amendment. One 
individual and one environmental organization expressed support for the 
Framework Procedure modifications. Two individuals opposed, and one 
favored, allowing captains and crew to retain all snapper-grouper 
species. One individual opposed increasing the number of crew members 
on dual-permitted vessels. One state agency and one individual 
supported removing blue runner from the FMP, and one individual opposed 
extending the jurisdiction for Nassau grouper management. One comment 
was beyond the scope of the actions contained within the amendment. A 
summary of the comments and NMFS' responses to those comments appears 
below.
    Comment 1: One commenter opposed extending the South Atlantic 
Council's

[[Page 78771]]

jurisdictional management authority of Nassau grouper into the Gulf.
    Response: The South Atlantic Council's assumption of management 
authority of Nassau grouper throughout its range in the Southeast 
Region is consistent with Magnuson-Stevens Act National Standard (NS) 
3, which states that an individual stock of fish shall be managed as a 
unit throughout its range, and NS 7 because it removes a duplication of 
management effort. The Gulf Council took action to remove Nassau 
grouper from the Gulf reef fish fishery management unit, for the 
purpose of allowing the South Atlantic Council to extend its area of 
jurisdiction for management of Nassau grouper to include Federal waters 
of the Gulf. Without the South Atlantic Council extending its 
jurisdiction for management of Nassau grouper into the Gulf, Nassau 
grouper would not be managed throughout its range. The majority of 
Nassau grouper are found in the South Atlantic Region; therefore, NMFS 
and both Councils determined that giving the South Atlantic Council 
sole regulatory authority over Nassau grouper in the Southeast Region 
is the most efficient arrangement for monitoring and managing the 
species.
    Comment 2: Two commenters opposed allowing captains and crew of 
for-hire vessels (charter vessels and headboats) to harvest bag limit 
quantities of all snapper-grouper species because the recreational ACLs 
could be caught faster and could result in additional fishing pressure 
on the resource. One commenter supported allowing captains and crew of 
for-hire vessels to harvest bag limit quantities of all snapper-grouper 
species.
    Response: For species with very low recreational ACLs (such as 
snowy grouper), allowing the captain and crew to retain bag limits may 
cause the ACL to be met earlier and reduce the amount of time private 
recreational anglers have access to certain species. However, the 
biological impacts analysis in Amendment 27 indicates the average 
increase in harvest of the most commonly landed snapper-grouper species 
under this action will be only 0.02 percent for the headboat sector and 
0.35 percent for the charter vessel sector. These minor increases in 
harvest are not likely to result in a significantly accelerated pace of 
harvest compared to current harvest rates for most snapper-grouper 
species. Additionally, these negligible increases are unlikely to 
result in negative biological impacts, particularly since ACLs and 
accountability measures (AMs) are in place to prevent overfishing from 
occurring. Allowing crew members of for-hire vessels to harvest and 
retain bag limit quantities of gag, black grouper, red grouper, scamp, 
red hind, rock hind, coney, graysby, yellowfin grouper, yellowmouth 
grouper, yellowedge grouper, snowy grouper, misty grouper, vermilion 
snapper, sand tilefish, blueline tilefish, and golden tilefish will 
create consistent regulations for retention of all snapper-grouper 
species by for-hire captain and crew members in the South Atlantic. 
Therefore, in the South Atlantic, this action will eliminate confusion 
about retention restrictions for snapper-grouper species, and could 
help streamline enforcement efforts within this fishery.
    Comment 3: One commenter opposed allowing a fourth crew member to 
work onboard dual-permitted vessels, because allowing the captains and 
crew to keep their bag limit would shorten the fishing seasons.
    Response: This commenter is confusing two actions in the amendment. 
There is an action to remove the prohibition for captains and crew on 
for-hire vessels to retain the snapper-grouper bag limits (discussed in 
response to Comment 2), and there is an action to extend the maximum 
crew size limit on dual-permitted vessels from three to four. 
Currently, there is no restriction on the number of crew members on 
for-hire vessels, but there is a restriction on the number of crew 
members on vessels that have both a commercial vessel permit and a for-
hire vessel permit for South Atlantic snapper-grouper. Allowing one 
additional commercial crew member to work onboard dual-permitted 
vessels may lead to increased efficiency of commercial fishing 
operations; however, the rate of harvest is not expected to 
substantially increase. Therefore, the addition of one crew member is 
not likely to result in snapper-grouper ACLs from being met earlier in 
the fishing season compared to the status quo.
    The action to increase the crew size from three people to four on 
these dual-permitted vessels will resolve a conflict between the South 
Atlantic Council's maximum crew size restrictions (no more than three 
crew members) and the United States Coast Guard's minimum crew size 
requirements (at least four crew members) for vessels required to have 
a Certificate of Inspection. This action will increase safety onboard 
dual-permitted vessels because it allows crew members to properly use 
the buddy system (i.e., diving as a pair instead of individually) while 
engaging in diving operations.
    Additionally, allowing four crew members onboard dual-permitted 
vessels in the South Atlantic would create consistent regulations with 
those that apply in the Gulf of Mexico, which will benefit fishermen 
and the administrative environment by simplifying enforcement of the 
maximum crew size restriction.
    Comment 4: One commenter supported more flexibility in management 
and minimizing regulatory delay in response to new stock assessments. 
One environmental organization supported the abbreviated Framework 
Procedure included in Amendment 27, but stressed the need for continued 
compliance with NMFS' Operational Guidelines, which established the 
circumstances under which the abbreviated Framework Process may be 
applied, and ensures adequate public notice and comment during the 
abbreviated Framework Process.
    Response: Amendment 27 and this final rule will modify the current 
Framework Procedure for the FMP to allow for an abbreviated process for 
changing ABCs, ACLs, and ACTs for species in the snapper-grouper 
fishery management unit in response to a stock assessment. The 
abbreviated Framework Procedure will be utilized for the routine 
adjustment of these harvest parameters in keeping with NMFS' 
Operational Guidelines. This action will give the South Atlantic 
Council and NMFS the ability to implement appropriate levels of harvest 
more quickly in response to the latest scientific information, while 
ensuring adequate notice and public comment. NMFS anticipates that this 
more streamlined approach will minimize administrative impacts for 
routine changes to harvest parameters. Any action implemented through 
the abbreviated Framework Process will comply with the Magnuson-Stevens 
Act and all other applicable law.
    Comment 5: One individual and one state agency supported removing 
blue runner from the FMP. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation 
Commission (FWC) specifically referenced a letter from the FWC Chairman 
to the South Atlantic Council Chairman dated May 20, 2013. The letter 
explained the intent of the FWC to extend state management measures for 
blue runner into adjacent Federal waters if Amendment 27 is approved 
for implementation.
    Response: According to Amendment 27, from 2005 through 2011, most 
recreational (99 percent) and commercial (99 percent) blue runner 
harvest were from Federal and state waters off Florida, and of that 
harvest, 76 percent of blue runner landings came from state waters. 
Blue runner is not

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commonly retained for human consumption, is primarily used as bait, and 
is currently subject to management in Florida state waters, including 
gear prohibitions, a recreational bag limit, bycatch restrictions, 
penalties for unlicensed sale of blue runner, a Saltwater Products 
License requirement, and trip ticket requirements. Additional 
restrictions (gear, area closures, etc.) apply to blue runner in waters 
off certain Florida counties. At its September 5-6, 2013, meeting the 
FWC considered a draft rule for blue runner that would:
    (1) Define blue runner as any fish of the species Caranx crysos (as 
it is currently defined in the Federal FMP, but was recently 
inadvertently mislabeled in the NMFS regulations as Caranx bartholomaei 
(yellow jack));
    (2) Establish a statewide recreational daily bag limit of 100 fish 
per person per day;
    (3) Extend this bag limit into adjacent Federal waters if Federal 
rules are removed; and
    (4) Clarify that a Saltwater Products License is required for 
commercial harvest of blue runner in both state and Federal waters.
    At its November 21-22, 2013, meeting the FWC approved this draft 
rule and stated the final rule would become effective after blue runner 
is removed from the Federal FMP.
    Because blue runner is predominantly harvested in Florida state 
waters and is infrequently harvested off states other than Florida, and 
because Florida currently manages blue runner and intends to extend its 
management for fishing vessels registered under Florida law into 
Federal waters off Florida, NMFS determined that it is appropriate to 
remove the species from the FMP without having a negative biological 
impact on the stock.

Classification

    The Regional Administrator, Southeast Region, NMFS has determined 
that this final rule is necessary for the conservation and management 
of South Atlantic snapper-grouper and is consistent with Amendment 27, 
the FMP, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law.
    This final rule has been determined to be not significant for 
purposes of Executive Order 12866.
    A final regulatory flexibility analysis (FRFA) was prepared for 
this action. The FRFA incorporates the IRFA, a summary of the 
significant economic issues raised by public comment, NMFS' responses 
to those comments, and a summary of the analyses completed to support 
the action. The FRFA follows.
    No public comments specific to the IRFA were received and, 
therefore, no public comments are addressed in this FRFA. Certain 
comments with socioeconomic implications are addressed in the comments 
and responses section. No changes in the final rule were made in 
response to public comments.
    NMFS agrees that the South Atlantic Council's choice of preferred 
alternatives would best achieve the South Atlantic Council's objectives 
for Amendment 27 to the FMP while minimizing, to the extent 
practicable, the adverse effects on fishers, support industries, and 
associated communities. The preamble to this final rule provides a 
statement of the need for and objectives of this rule.
    The final rule extends the South Atlantic Council's jurisdictional 
authority for management of Nassau grouper to include Gulf Federal 
waters and continues the harvest prohibition of Nassau grouper in the 
Gulf and South Atlantic EEZ; increases, from three to four, the number 
of crew members on any dual-permitted vessel (a vessel with both a 
South Atlantic for-hire snapper-grouper and a South Atlantic commercial 
snapper-grouper permit) when operating commercially; removes the 
snapper-grouper species retention restrictions for captains and crew of 
vessels with a South Atlantic for-hire snapper-grouper permit; modifies 
the South Atlantic Snapper-Grouper FMP framework procedure; and removes 
blue runner from the South Atlantic Snapper-Grouper FMP.
    The Magnuson-Stevens Act provides the statutory basis for this 
final rule. No duplicative, overlapping, or conflicting Federal rules 
have been identified. In addition, no new reporting, record-keeping, or 
other compliance requirements are introduced by this final rule. 
Accordingly, this final rule does not implicate the Paperwork Reduction 
Act.
    NMFS expects the final rule to directly affect commercial fishermen 
and for-hire vessel operators in the South Atlantic snapper-grouper 
fishery. The Small Business Administration (SBA) recently modified the 
small entity size criteria for all major industry sectors in the U.S., 
including fish harvesters. A business involved in finfish harvesting is 
classified as a small business if independently owned and operated, is 
not dominant in its field of operation (including its affiliates), and 
its combined annual receipts are not in excess of $19.0 million (NAICS 
code 114111, finfish fishing) for all of its affiliated operations 
worldwide. For for-hire vessels, all qualifiers apply except that the 
annual receipts threshold is $7.0 million (NAICS code 487210, 
recreational industries). The SBA periodically reviews and changes, as 
appropriate, these size criteria. On June 20, 2013, the SBA issued a 
final rule revising the small business size standards for several 
industries effective July 22, 2013 (78 FR 37398). This rule increased 
the size standard for commercial finfish harvesters from $4.0 million 
to $19.0 million. Neither this rule, nor other recent SBA rules, 
changed the size standard for for-hire vessels.
    From 2007 through 2011, an annual average of 336 vessels with valid 
commercial South Atlantic snapper-grouper permits landed at least 1 lb 
(0.45 kg) of blue runner. These vessels generated dockside revenues of 
approximately $2.1 million (2011) from all species caught in the same 
trips as blue runner, of which $111,000 (2011 dollars) were from sales 
of blue runner. Each vessel, therefore, generated an average of 
approximately $6,250 in gross revenues, of which $330 were from blue 
runner. Vessels in the coastal migratory pelagics fishery also 
harvested blue runner on some of their trips harvesting Spanish or king 
mackerel. In 2007-2011, an average of 176 vessels harvested at least 1 
lb (0.45 kg) of king mackerel and 1 lb (0.45 kg) of blue runner. These 
vessels generated an average of about $799,000 from sales of king 
mackerel and $57,000 from sales of blue runner. For the same period, an 
average of 219 vessels harvested at least 1 lb (0.45 kg) of Spanish 
mackerel and 1 lb (0.45 kg) of blue runner. These vessels generated 
about $352,000 from sales of Spanish mackerel and $33,000 from sales of 
blue runner.
    For more than two decades, the commercial and recreational harvest 
of Nassau grouper in the South Atlantic and Gulf has been prohibited, 
so no revenue information on commercial vessels dependent on Nassau 
grouper is available. Based on the revenue information presented above, 
all commercial vessels that will be affected by the rule can be 
considered small entities.
    From 2007 through 2011, an annual average of 1,813 vessels had 
valid South Atlantic charter vessel/headboat (for-hire) snapper-grouper 
permits. As of January 22, 2013, 1,462 vessels held South Atlantic for-
hire snapper-grouper permits, and about 75 are estimated to have 
operated as headboats in 2013. The for-hire fleet consists of charter 
vessels, which charge a fee on a vessel basis, and headboats, which 
charge a fee on an

[[Page 78773]]

individual angler (head) basis. Average annual revenues (2011 dollars) 
per charter vessel are estimated to be $126,032 for Florida vessels, 
$53,443 for Georgia vessels, $100,823 for South Carolina vessels, and 
$101,959 for North Carolina vessels. For headboats, the corresponding 
per vessel estimates are $209,507 for Florida vessels and $153,848 for 
vessels in the other states. Revenue figures for headboats in states 
other than Florida are aggregated for confidentiality reasons. Based on 
these average revenue figures, all for-hire operations that will be 
affected by the rule can be considered small entities.
    NMFS expects the final rule to directly affect all federally 
permitted commercial vessels harvesting blue runner and for-hire 
vessels that operate in the South Atlantic snapper-grouper fishery. All 
directly affected entities have been determined, for the purpose of 
this analysis, to be small entities. Therefore, NMFS has determined 
that this rule will affect a substantial number of small entities. In 
addition, the issue of disproportional effects on small versus large 
entities does not arise in the present case.
    Extending the South Atlantic Council's jurisdictional authority for 
management of Nassau grouper has no direct effects on the profits of 
commercial and for-hire vessels, because there are no accompanying 
changes to the management measures for this species. Any future changes 
to the management for Nassau grouper in the Gulf or South Atlantic EEZ 
will pass through the usual regulatory process, although in the future 
it will be solely under the South Atlantic Council's regulatory 
process.
    Increasing the maximum number of crew members on any dual-permitted 
vessel that is operating commercially from three to four will generally 
affect only those vessels that opt to bring on board an additional crew 
member. Vessel owners/operators will likely weigh the additional costs 
and benefits of such an action. Direct costs will be in the form of 
compensation to the additional crew member. Benefits could come in the 
form of better safety conditions, especially on trips that involve 
diving. The net effect of this action is relatively unknown in the 
short term. This action will make the South Atlantic regulation on the 
maximum crew size of dual-permitted vessels consistent with the Gulf 
regulation. Preliminary reports for the Gulf for-hire sector appear to 
indicate that safety-at-sea has improved when vessels started adding 
crew members.
    Removing the snapper-grouper bag limit retention restrictions for 
the captains and crew of for-hire vessels (i.e., allowing the captains 
and crew to possess bag limits for all snapper-grouper species with 
allowable bag limits) could potentially increase the profits of for-
hire vessels. These extra bag limits could be used as part of crew 
compensation, which would lower overall cost, or as a marketing tool to 
attract additional angler trips, which could bring in additional 
revenues. It is likely, however, that profit increases will be 
relatively minimal because of the small number of additional fish that 
could be kept if the retention restriction were removed. The total 
extra fish in a year that will result from allowing the captains and 
crew of for-hire vessels to keep bag limits is estimated to be about 51 
fish on all charter trips and 138 fish on all headboat trips. From an 
enforcement perspective, this action will reduce confusion regarding 
which snapper-grouper species may be retained by the captains and crew 
of for-hire vessels.
    Modifying the FMP framework procedure has no direct effects on 
commercial and for-hire vessel profits. This modification will allow 
for faster implementation of changes in the ABCs, ACLs, and ACTs for 
any snapper-grouper species based on the most recent stock assessment. 
The effects of those changes will be analyzed once they are considered 
by the South Atlantic Council.
    Removing blue runner from the FMP will leave this species 
relatively unregulated in the South Atlantic EEZ, where 24 percent of 
the landings occurred from 2005-2011. As a result, commercial vessels 
could harvest as many blue runner as they can, using whatever gear is 
most efficient for their operations. In principle, therefore, this 
action can be expected to result in overall profit increases to 
commercial vessels in the short term. Historically, however, blue 
runner has not been a major species targeted or landed by commercial 
snapper-grouper or coastal migratory pelagic vessels. During 2007-2011, 
revenues from blue runner accounted for an average of about 5 percent 
of total revenues generated by snapper-grouper commercial vessels that 
landed at least 1 lb (0.45 kg) of blue runner. These vessels will 
generate additional profits mainly if they increase their effort in 
harvesting blue runner. This will require some changes in their 
harvesting strategies that may only increase fishing costs. Many vessel 
operators may have deemed this cost increase not worth expending, as 
partly evidenced by the relatively small share that sales of blue 
runner contribute to total vessel revenues.
    The case with commercial vessels targeting mainly Spanish or king 
mackerel is different from that with vessels mainly dependent on 
snapper-grouper species. Under the no action alternative, a commercial 
snapper-grouper permit is required to possess and land blue runner. In 
addition, allowable gear types for harvesting any snapper-grouper 
species exclude gillnets, which are a gear type used in harvesting king 
and Spanish mackerel. Vessels which harvest king or Spanish mackerel, 
but do not possess a commercial snapper-grouper permit, must discard 
their catches of blue runner; or, even if they have the necessary 
commercial snapper-grouper permit, they may not use gillnets to harvest 
blue runner along with king and Spanish mackerel. For commercial 
vessels landing at least 1 lb (0.45 kg) of Spanish mackerel and 1 lb 
(0.45 kg) of blue runner, revenues from blue runner were about 10 
percent of revenues from Spanish mackerel in 2007-2011; and for 
commercial vessels landing at least 1 lb (0.45 kg) of king mackerel and 
1 lb (0.45 kg) of blue runner, revenues from blue runner were about 5 
percent of revenues from king mackerel in 2007-2011. Removing blue 
runner from the FMP will allow these vessels to legally maintain their 
revenues and profits at current levels. However, some of these vessels' 
revenues may be forgone if Florida extends its gillnet ban into the 
EEZ.
    Similar to commercial vessels, for-hire vessels will, in principle, 
benefit from removing blue runner from the FMP. These vessels may take 
as many trips targeting blue runner as they can. However, charter 
vessels and headboats accounted for only 2.4 percent and 2.5 percent, 
respectively, of total recreational landings of blue runner during 
2007-2011. In addition, there is no record of target trips for blue 
runner by charter vessels, and target trips for blue runner by 
headboats are unknown. Given this information on landings and target 
trips, removing blue runner from the FMP will likely have minimal 
effects on the profits of for-hire vessels.
    The long-term effects of removing blue runner from the FMP on 
commercial and for-hire vessel profits depend on whether the harvest of 
blue runner is sustainable in the absence of Federal management of the 
species. Should blue runner undergo overfishing or become overfished, 
commercial and for-hire vessel catches of blue runner would decline and 
so would their profits. However, it should be noted that about 99 
percent of blue runner are caught off Florida, so with blue runner 
being removed from the FMP, Florida

[[Page 78774]]

could extend its fishing regulations into the EEZ. This could allow for 
continued sustainable management of the species. In addition, the South 
Atlantic Council expressed its intention to continue monitoring trends 
and landings of blue runner for possible future management actions 
affecting the species, should the need arise.
    The following discussion analyzes the alternatives that were not 
preferred by the South Atlantic Council, or alternatives for which the 
South Atlantic Council chose the no action alternative.
    Two alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 
considered for extending the South Atlantic Council's jurisdictional 
authority for management of Nassau grouper. The only other alternative 
is the no action alternative. The South Atlantic Council decided two 
alternatives were sufficient, since the Secretary of Commerce has 
already designated the South Atlantic Council as the responsible 
fishery management council to manage Nassau grouper in the Gulf. These 
two alternatives are administrative in nature and therefore would have 
no direct effects on the profits of commercial and for-hire vessels.
    Three alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 
considered for modifying the crew size restriction for dual-permitted 
snapper-grouper vessels. The first alternative, the no action 
alternative, would maintain the commercial crew size limit of three 
persons. This alternative would have no effects on vessel profits, but 
it would not address safety issues particularly related to diving 
trips. The second alternative would remove entirely the commercial crew 
size limit on dual-permitted snapper-grouper vessels. This alternative 
would afford vessel owners/operators more flexibility in selecting the 
optimal crew size for every fishing trip, and thus may be expected to 
result in higher profits than any of the other alternatives. However, 
this alternative would tend to complicate the enforcement of fishing 
rules that differentiate between a commercial and a for-hire fishing 
trip. Under the alternative, dual-permitted vessels could take a for-
hire trip with every angler practically considered a crew member, and 
then sell their catch as if a commercial vessel trip was taken. In 
addition to being illegal, this practice could pose problems in 
tracking recreational versus commercial landings of snapper-grouper 
species for purposes of ACL monitoring. Moreover, accountability 
measures could be unduly imposed on one sector if sector ACLs could not 
be properly monitored.
    Three alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 
considered for modifying the bag limit restriction on snapper-grouper 
species for the captains and crew of permitted for-hire vessels. The 
first alternative, the no action alternative, would maintain the 
prohibition on captains and crew of for-hire vessels from retaining bag 
limit quantities of the following species: Gag, black grouper, red 
grouper, scamp, red hind, rock hind, coney, graysby, yellowfin grouper, 
yellowmouth grouper, yellowedge grouper, snowy grouper, misty grouper, 
vermilion snapper, sand tilefish, blueline tilefish, and golden 
tilefish. This alternative would not change the profits of for-hire 
vessels, but would also forgo any potential profit that could result 
from the preferred alternative. The second alternative would establish 
a bag limit of zero for the captains and crew of permitted for-hire 
vessels for all species included in the FMP. Under this alternative, 
captains and crew of for-hire vessels would tend to forgo annually 
about 275 fish in charter trips, and 4,291 fish in headboat trips. If 
these fish were used as part of crew compensation, losing them would 
increase the cost of fishing; if these fish were used as a marketing 
tool to attract additional angler trips, those trips and associated 
revenues would likely not occur in the future. There is, therefore, a 
substantial likelihood that this alternative would adversely affect the 
profits of for-hire vessels, although the magnitude of effects would be 
relatively small.
    Two alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 
considered for modifying the FMP framework procedure. The only other 
alternative is the no action alternative. These two alternatives are 
administrative in nature and therefore would have no direct effects on 
the profits of commercial and for-hire vessels. Only one alternative 
was considered by the Council that would meet the purpose of this 
amendment and at same time address the concerns raised by NOAA General 
Counsel (NOAA GC). The Council had initially proposed amending the 
framework procedure to allow for adjustments to ACLs via publication of 
a notice in the Federal Register. However, NOAA GC advised the Council 
that such a process would not meet current legal requirements and NMFS 
would likely disapprove it. Subsequently, the Council revised the 
alternative to incorporate NOAA GC suggestions.
    Three alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 
considered for modifying the placement of blue runner in a fishery 
management unit and/or modifying management measures for blue runner. 
The first alternative, the no action alternative, would have no effect 
on the profits of commercial and for-hire vessels in the snapper-
grouper fishery. However, commercial vessels in the coastal migratory 
pelagics fishery that do not possess a commercial snapper-grouper 
permit would have to discard their catches of blue runner unless they 
secure the necessary permit. Without the necessary permit, they would 
experience revenue and profit reductions from discarding blue runner. 
If they wanted to continue their practice of harvesting and selling 
blue runner, they would have to purchase a commercial snapper-grouper 
permit. Their cost would increase especially because the commercial 
snapper-grouper permit is under a limited access program, and the 
likely purchase price of a commercial snapper-grouper permit would be 
substantially higher than the administrative cost of securing an open 
access permit or renewing a commercial snapper-grouper permit. The 
second alternative would retain blue runner in the FMP, but would allow 
commercial harvest and sale of blue runner for vessels with a South 
Atlantic commercial Spanish mackerel permit. In addition, gillnets 
would be an allowable gear in the snapper-grouper fishery, although 
only for harvesting blue runner. This alternative would tend to 
maintain the current profitability of commercial vessels, especially in 
the coastal migratory pelagics fishery as these vessels would be 
allowed to harvest and sell blue runner without incurring additional 
costs through the purchase of commercial snapper-grouper permits. The 
third alternative would retain blue runner in the FMP, but would exempt 
the species from the commercial snapper-grouper permit requirement for 
purchase, harvest, and sale of snapper or grouper. This alternative 
would have the same effects on the profits of commercial vessels as the 
second alternative.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 622

    Fisheries, Fishing, Headboat, Reporting and recordkeeping 
requirements, South Atlantic.

    Dated: December 20, 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 amended 
as follows:

[[Page 78775]]

PART 622--FISHERIES OF THE CARIBBEAN, GULF OF MEXICO, 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.  622.1, paragraph (d), Table 1, the entry for ``FMP for the 
Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region'' is revised and 
footnote 6 is added to read as follows:


Sec.  622.1  Purpose and scope.

* * * * *
    (d) * * *

                                    Table 1--FMPs Implemented Under Part 622
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                           Responsible fishery  management
              FMP title                              council(s)                         Geographical area
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
FMP for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery   SAFMC...................................  South Atlantic \6\
 of the South Atlantic Region.
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\6\ Nassau grouper in the South Atlantic EEZ and the Gulf EEZ are managed under the FMP.

* * * * *
0
3. In Sec.  622.2, the definition for ``Charter vessel'' is revised to 
read as follows:


Sec.  622.2  Definitions and acronyms.

* * * * *
    Charter vessel means a vessel less than 100 gross tons (90.8 mt) 
that is subject to the requirements of the USCG to carry six or fewer 
passengers for hire and that engages in charter fishing at any time 
during the calendar year. A charter vessel with a commercial permit, as 
required under Sec.  622.4(a)(2), is considered to be operating as a 
charter vessel when it carries a passenger who pays a fee or when there 
are more than three persons aboard, including operator and crew, except 
for a charter vessel with a commercial vessel permit for Gulf reef fish 
or South Atlantic snapper-grouper. A charter vessel that has a charter 
vessel permit for Gulf reef fish and a commercial vessel permit for 
Gulf reef fish or a charter vessel permit for South Atlantic snapper-
grouper and a commercial permit for South Atlantic snapper-grouper 
(either a South Atlantic snapper-grouper unlimited permit or a 225-lb 
(102.1-kg) trip limited permit for South Atlantic snapper-grouper) is 
considered to be operating as a charter vessel when it carries a 
passenger who pays a fee or when there are more than four persons 
aboard, including operator and crew. A charter vessel that has a 
charter vessel permit for Gulf reef fish, a commercial vessel permit 
for Gulf reef fish, and a valid Certificate of Inspection (COI) issued 
by the USCG to carry passengers for hire will not be considered to be 
operating as a charter vessel provided--
    (1) It is not carrying a passenger who pays a fee; and
    (2) When underway for more than 12 hours, that vessel meets, but 
does not exceed the minimum manning requirements outlined in its COI 
for vessels underway over 12 hours; or when underway for not more than 
12 hours, that vessel meets the minimum manning requirements outlined 
in its COI for vessels underway for not more than 12-hours (if any), 
and does not exceed the minimum manning requirements outlined in its 
COI for vessels that are underway for more than 12 hours.
* * * * *

0
4. In Sec.  622.33, a sentence is added at the end of paragraph (a) and 
paragraph (c) is removed and reserved.
    The addition reads as follows:


Sec.  622.33  Prohibited species.

    (a) * * * (Note: Nassau grouper in the Gulf EEZ may not be 
harvested or possessed, as specified in Sec.  622.181(b)(1).)
* * * * *

0
5. In Sec.  622.38, paragraph (b)(2) is revised to read as follows:


Sec.  622.38  Bag and possession limits.

* * * * *
    (b) * * *
    (2) Groupers, combined, excluding goliath grouper--4 per person per 
day, but not to exceed 1 speckled hind or 1 warsaw grouper per vessel 
per day, or 2 gag per person per day. However, no grouper may be 
retained by the captain or crew of a vessel operating as a charter 
vessel or headboat. The bag limit for such captain and crew is zero. 
(Note: Nassau grouper in the Gulf EEZ may not be harvested or 
possessed, as specified in Sec.  622.181(b)(4).)
* * * * *

0
6. In Sec.  622.181, paragraph (b)(1) is revised and paragraph (b)(4) 
is added to read as follows:


Sec.  622.181  Prohibited and limited-harvest species.

* * * * *
    (b) * * *
    (1) Goliath grouper may not be harvested or possessed in the South 
Atlantic EEZ. Goliath grouper taken in the South Atlantic EEZ 
incidentally by hook-and-line must be released immediately by cutting 
the line without removing the fish from the water.
* * * * *
    (4) Nassau grouper may not be harvested or possessed in the South 
Atlantic EEZ or the Gulf EEZ. Nassau grouper taken in the South 
Atlantic EEZ or the Gulf EEZ incidentally by hook-and-line must be 
released immediately by cutting the line without removing the fish from 
the water.
* * * * *

0
7. In Sec.  622.187, paragraphs (b)(2), (b)(5), and (b)(8) are revised 
to read as follows:


Sec.  622.187  Bag and possession limits.

* * * * *
    (b) * * *
    (2) Grouper and tilefish, combined--3. Within the 3-fish aggregate 
bag limit:
    (i) No more than one fish may be gag or black grouper, combined;
    (ii) No more than one fish per vessel may be a snowy grouper;
    (iii) No more than one fish may be a golden tilefish; and
    (iv) No goliath grouper or Nassau grouper may be retained.
* * * * *
    (5) Vermilion snapper--5.
* * * * *
    (8) South Atlantic snapper-grouper, combined--20. However, excluded 
from this 20-fish bag limit are tomtate, South Atlantic snapper-grouper 
ecosystem component species (specified in Table 4 of Appendix A to part 
622), and those specified in paragraphs (b)(1) through (7) and 
paragraphs (b)(9) and (10) of this section.
* * * * *

[[Page 78776]]

Sec.  622.193  [Amended]

0
7. In Sec.  622.193, paragraph (s) is removed and reserved.
0
8. In Appendix A to part 622, Table 4 is revised to read as follows:

Appendix A to part 622--Species Tables

* * * * *

    Table 4 of Appendix A to Part 622--South Atlantic Snapper-Grouper
------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
-------------------------------------------------------------------------
Balistidae--Triggerfishes
  Gray triggerfish, Balistes capriscus
Carangidae--Jacks
  Bar jack, Caranx ruber
  Greater amberjack, Seriola dumerili
  Lesser amberjack, Seriola fasciata
  Almaco jack, Seriola rivoliana
  Banded rudderfish, Seriola zonata
Ephippidae--Spadefishes
  Spadefish, Chaetodipterus faber
Haemulidae--Grunts
  Margate, Haemulon album
  Tomtate, Haemulon aurolineatum
  Sailor's choice, Haemulon parrai
  White grunt, Haemulon plumieri
Labridae--Wrasses
  Hogfish, Lachnolaimus maximus
Lutjanidae--Snappers
  Black snapper, Apsilus dentatus
  Queen snapper, Etelis oculatus
  Mutton snapper, Lutjanus analis
  Blackfin snapper, Lutjanus buccanella
  Red snapper, Lutjanus campechanus
  Cubera snapper, Lutjanus cyanopterus
  Gray snapper, Lutjanus griseus
  Mahogany snapper, Lutjanus mahogoni
  Dog snapper, Lutjanus jocu
  Lane snapper, Lutjanus synagris
  Silk snapper, Lutjanus vivanus
  Yellowtail snapper, Ocyurus chrysurus
  Vermilion snapper, Rhomboplites aurorubens
Malacanthidae--Tilefishes
  Blueline tilefish, Caulolatilus microps
  Golden tilefish, Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps
  Sand tilefish, Malacanthus plumieri
Percichthyidae--Temperate basses
  Wreckfish, Polyprion americanus
Serranidae--Groupers
  Rock hind, Epinephelus adscensionis
  Graysby, Epinephelus cruentatus
  Speckled hind, Epinephelus drummondhayi
  Yellowedge grouper, Epinephelus flavolimbatus
  Coney, Epinephelus fulvus
  Red hind, Epinephelus guttatus
  Goliath grouper, Epinephelus itajara
  Red grouper, Epinephelus morio
  Misty grouper, Epinephelus mystacinus
  Warsaw grouper, Epinephelus nigritus
  Snowy grouper, Epinephelus niveatus
  Nassau grouper, Epinephelus striatus
  Black grouper, Mycteroperca bonaci
  Yellowmouth grouper, Mycteroperca interstitialis
  Gag, Mycteroperca microlepis
  Scamp, Mycteroperca phenax
  Yellowfin grouper, Mycteroperca venenosa
Serranidae--Sea Basses
  Black sea bass, Centropristis striata
Sparidae--Porgies
  Jolthead porgy, Calamus bajonado
  Saucereye porgy, Calamus calamus
  Whitebone porgy, Calamus leucosteus
  Knobbed porgy, Calamus nodosus
  Red porgy, Pagrus pagrus
  Scup, Stenotomus chrysops
 
The following species are designated as ecosystem component species:
 
  Cottonwick, Haemulon melanurum
  Bank sea bass, Centropristis ocyurus
  Rock sea bass, Centropristis philadelphica
  Longspine porgy, Stenotomus caprinus
  Ocean triggerfish, Canthidermis sufflamen
  Schoolmaster, Lutjanus apodus
------------------------------------------------------------------------

* * * * *
[FR Doc. 2013-30943 Filed 12-26-13; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P