[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 7 (Friday, January 10, 2014)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 1810-1813]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-00269]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 300

[Docket No. 130722647-3647-01]
RIN 0648-BD55


International Fisheries; Pacific Tuna Fisheries; Fishing 
Restrictions for Pacific Bluefin Tuna in the Eastern Pacific Ocean

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 is proposing regulations under the Tuna Conventions Act 
to implement Resolution C-13-02 of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna 
Commission (IATTC or the Commission) by specifying limits on U.S. 
commercial catch of Pacific bluefin tuna from the eastern Pacific Ocean 
(EPO) waters of the IATTC Convention Area in 2014. This action is 
necessary for the United States to satisfy its obligations as a member 
of the IATTC.

DATES: Comments on the proposed rule and the initial regulatory 
flexibility analysis must be submitted in writing by February 10, 2014. 
A public hearing will be held from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. PDT, February 10, 
2014, in Long Beach, CA.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by 
NOAA-NMFS-2013-0119, by any of the following methods:
     Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0119, click the 
``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or 
attach your comments.
     Mail: Submit written comments to Amber Rhodes, NMFS West 
Coast Office, 501 W. Ocean Blvd., Suite 4200, Long Beach, CA 90802. 
Include the identifier ``NOAA-NMFS-2013-0119'' in the comments.
     Public hearing: The public is welcome to attend a public 
hearing and offer comments on this proposed rule from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. 
PDT, February 10, 2014 at 501 W. Ocean Boulevard, Suite 4200, Long 
Beach, CA 90802. The public may also participate in the public hearing 
via conference line: 1-888-323-9701, passcode 11543.
    Instructions: Comments must be submitted by one of the above 
methods to ensure they are received, documented, and considered by 
NMFS. 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. 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.) submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly 
accessible. Do not submit confidential business information, or 
otherwise sensitive or protected information. 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 or Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats 
only.
    Copies of the draft Regulatory Impact Review (RIR) and other 
supporting documents are available via the Federal eRulemaking Portal: 
http://www.regulations.gov, docket NOAA-NMFS-2013-0119 or contact with 
the Regional Administrator, Will Stelle, NMFS West Coast Regional 
Office, 7600 Sand Point Way, NE., Bldg 1, Seattle, WA 98115-0070, or 
RegionalAdministrator.WCRHMS@noaa.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Amber Rhodes, NMFS, 562-980-3231, or 
Heidi Taylor, NMFS, 562-980-4039.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background on the IATTC

    The United States is a member of the IATTC, which was established 
under the 1949 Convention for the Establishment of an Inter-American 
Tropical Tuna Commission. The full text of the 1949 Convention is 
available at: http://www.iattc.org/PDFFiles/IATTC_convention_1949.pdf.
    The IATTC facilitates scientific research into, as well as 
conservation and management of, highly migratory species of fish in the 
IATTC Convention Area (defined as the waters of the EPO). Since 1998, 
conservation resolutions adopted by the IATTC have further defined the 
Convention Area as the area bounded by the coast of the Americas, the 
50[deg] N. and 50[deg] S. parallels, and the 150[deg] W. meridian. The 
IATTC has maintained a scientific research and fishery monitoring 
program for many years, and regularly assesses the status of tuna and 
billfish stocks in the EPO to determine appropriate catch limits and 
other measures deemed necessary to prevent overexploitation of these 
stocks and to promote sustainable fisheries. Current IATTC member 
countries include: Belize, Canada, China, Chinese Taipei (Taiwan), 
Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, the European Union, France, 
Guatemala, Japan, Kiribati, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, Nicaragua, 
Panama, Peru, the United States, Vanuatu, and Venezuela. Bolivia, 
Honduras, Indonesia and the Cook Islands are cooperating non-members.

International Obligations of the United States Under the Convention

    As a Contracting Party to the 1949 Convention and a member of the 
IATTC, the United States is legally bound to implement IATTC 
resolutions. The Tuna Conventions Act (16 U.S.C. 951-962 and 971 et 
seq.) directs the Secretary of Commerce, after approval by the 
Secretary of State, to promulgate such regulations as may be necessary 
to implement resolutions adopted by the IATTC. The Secretary's 
authority to promulgate such regulations has been delegated to NMFS.

[[Page 1811]]

Pacific Bluefin Tuna Resolution

    At its 85th Meeting, in June 2013, the IATTC adopted Resolution C-
13-02, ``Measures for the Conservation and Management of Bluefin Tuna 
in the Eastern Pacific Ocean,'' which is the subject of this 
rulemaking; it was approved by the Secretary of State, thereby 
prompting implementation by NMFS.
    The main objective of Resolution C-13-02 is to conserve Pacific 
bluefin tuna (Thunnus orientalis) by setting limits on the commercial 
catch of Pacific bluefin tuna in the IATTC Convention Area for 2014. 
Recognizing the need to reduce fishing mortality of Pacific bluefin 
tuna throughout its pan-Pacific range, the IATTC first adopted catch 
limits for Pacific bluefin tuna in the EPO for calendar years 2012 and 
2013 with Resolution C-12-09. NMFS implemented the resolution via 
rulemaking for the United States in 2013 (see final rule at 78 FR 
33240, June 4, 2013). As with Resolution C-12-09, Resolution C-13-02 
includes two catch limits: (1) A Commission-wide limit for all 
commercial fishing vessels of all IATTC member countries and 
cooperating non-member countries (collectively known as CPCs) fishing 
in the EPO and (2) a catch limit of 500 metric tons for commercial 
vessels of each CPC with a historical record of Pacific bluefin catch 
from the EPO--such as the United States--to allow these nations some 
opportunity to catch Pacific bluefin tuna, notwithstanding the shared 
Commission-wide catch limit. For 2014, the Commission-wide catch limit 
is 5,000 metric tons and the catch limit for each CPC with a history of 
Pacific bluefin tuna catch is 500 metric tons.
    Resolution C-13-02 reaffirms ``. . . that it is necessary to take 
precautionary management measures throughout the range of the resource 
to contribute to the stability of the stock of Pacific bluefin tuna.'' 
In 2011, NMFS determined overfishing is occurring on Pacific bluefin 
tuna (76 FR 28422, May 17, 2011). Based on the results of a 2012 stock 
assessment conducted by the International Scientific Committee for Tuna 
and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean (ISC), NMFS determined 
Pacific bluefin tuna was not only experiencing overfishing but was also 
overfished (78 FR 41033, July 9, 2013). In 2012, the Commission for the 
Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the 
Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPFC) adopted a conservation and 
management measure for Pacific bluefin tuna to ensure that the level of 
fishing mortality does not increase (CMM 2012-06). The WCPFC met in 
December 2013 and adopted a resolution called Conservation and 
Management Measure for Pacific Bluefin tuna (CMM-2013-09) and the IATTC 
will convene in the summer of 2014 to discuss the future management of 
Pacific bluefin tuna. Future conservation measures for Pacific bluefin 
tuna are expected to be based in part on information and advice from 
the ISC and the IATTC's scientific staff.

Pacific Bluefin Tuna Catches

    While Pacific bluefin tuna catch by U.S. commercial vessels fishing 
in the EPO exceeded 1,000 metric tons in the early 1990's, catches have 
remained below 500 metric tons for more than a decade. The U.S. 
commercial catch of Pacific bluefin tuna for the years 1999 to 2012 in 
the EPO can be found in Table 1 below. The average annual Pacific 
bluefin tuna catch as determined by landings receipts of U.S. 
commercial vessels fishing in the EPO from 2007 to 2011 represents only 
two percent of the average annual landings for all fleets fishing in 
the EPO during that period (for information on Pacific bluefin tuna 
harvests in the EPO, see: http://isc.ac.affrc.go.jp/pdf/ISC12pdf/ISC12_Plenary_Report-FINAL.pdf).

Table 1--U.S. Commercial Annual Catch of Pacific Bluefin Tuna in the EPO
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                              Pacific
                                                           bluefin tuna
                          Year                             catch (metric
                                                               tons)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
1999....................................................             186
2000....................................................             313
2001....................................................             196
2002....................................................              11
2003....................................................              36
2004....................................................              10
2005....................................................             207
2006....................................................               1
2007....................................................              45
2008....................................................               1
2009....................................................             415
2010....................................................               1
2011....................................................             118
2012....................................................            * 42
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Source: Highly Migratory Species Stock Assessment and Fishery
  Evaluation: http://www.pcouncil.org/highly-migratory-species/stock-assessment-and-fishery-evaluation-safe-documents/current-hms-safe-document/ document/.
* Preliminary PacFIN estimate of 2012 Pacific bluefin tuna landings by
  United States, extracted February 22, 2013.

Proposed Regulations for Pacific Bluefin Tuna for 2014

    Under this proposed rule, once Pacific bluefin tuna catch limits 
have been reached, NMFS will prohibit any further targeting, retaining 
on board, transshipping, or landing of Pacific bluefin tuna in the 
Convention Area, because these activities can be effectively verified 
for enforcement purposes. Therefore, targeting, retaining on board, 
transshipping, or landing of Pacific bluefin tuna by all U.S. 
commercial vessels in the IATTC Convention Area shall be prohibited for 
the remainder of 2014 when the Commission-wide commercial catch limit 
of 5,000 metric tons of Pacific bluefin tuna is reached, and the 500 
metric tons commercial catch limit of Pacific bluefin tuna is reached 
by the U.S. fleet. If the U.S. commercial fishing fleet has not caught 
500 metric tons of Pacific bluefin tuna in the Convention Area in 2014 
when the Commission-wide 5,000 metric tons catch limit is reached, then 
the U.S. commercial fleet may continue to target, retain, transship, or 
land Pacific bluefin tuna until the 500 metric ton limit is reached. 
The U.S. commercial fleet may continue to target, retain, transship, or 
land more than the 500 metric tons of Pacific bluefin tuna in 2014 
unless and until the Commission-wide catch limit of 5,000 metric tons 
is reached.

Announcement of the Limit Being Reached

    To ensure that the total catch of Pacific bluefin tuna taken from 
the IATTC Convention Area does not exceed the Commission-wide catch 
limit for 2014, NMFS will report U.S. catch to the IATTC Director on a 
monthly basis. The IATTC Director will inform CPCs when 50 percent of 
the Commission-wide limit is reached. The Director will likewise send 
similar notices when 60, 70, and 80 percent of the Commission-wide 
limit is reached. When 90 percent is reached, the Director will send 
the corresponding notice to all CPCs, with a projection of when the 
5,000 metric ton Commission-wide limit will be reached, at which time 
CPCs are expected to take the necessary internal measures to avoid 
exceeding the limit. NMFS will provide updates on Commission-wide and 
U.S. catches to the public via the highly migratory and coastal pelagic 
species listservs and the West Coast Region Web site: http://www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/fisheries/migratory_species/bluefin_tuna_harvest_status.html. Additionally, NMFS will report 
preliminarily estimated Pacific bluefin tuna catch between monthly 
intervals if and when catches approach the limits to help participants 
in the U.S. commercial fishery plan for the possibility of the catch 
limit being reached.

[[Page 1812]]

    When NMFS is informed that the 5,000 metric ton Commission-wide 
limit has been met (based on information provided by the IATTC 
Director) and that the 500 metric ton catch limit is expected to be 
reached before the end of 2014 (based on landings receipts, data 
submitted in logbooks, and other available fishery information), NMFS 
will publish a notice in the Federal Register announcing that the 
targeting, retaining, transshipping or landing for Pacific bluefin tuna 
will be prohibited on a specified effective date through December 31, 
2014. Upon that effective date, a commercial fishing vessel of the 
United States may not be used to target, retain on board, transship, or 
land Pacific bluefin tuna captured in the Convention Area during the 
period specified in the announcement, with the exception that any 
Pacific bluefin tuna already on board a fishing vessel on the effective 
date may be retained on board, transshipped, and/or landed, to the 
extent authorized by applicable laws and regulations, provided that 
they are landed within 14 days after the effective date. NMFS 
anticipates limits to catches of Pacific bluefin tuna in the EPO to be 
included in future resolutions by the IATTC.

Classification

    The NMFS Assistant Administrator has determined that this proposed 
rule is consistent with the Tuna Conventions Act and other applicable 
laws. This proposed rule has been determined to be not significant for 
purposes of Executive Order 12866. Additionally, while there are no new 
collection-of-information requirements associated with this action that 
are subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act, existing collection-of-
information requirements associated with the Fishery Management Plan 
for U.S. West Coast Fisheries for Highly Migratory Species still apply. 
These requirements have been approved by the Office of Management and 
Budget under Control Number 0648-0204. The initial regulatory 
flexibility analysis is summarized in the following paragraphs.
    The main objective of this proposed rule is to establish catch 
limits to contribute to the conservation of the Pacific bluefin tuna 
stock. This rule would apply to owners and operators of U.S. commercial 
fishing vessels that catch Pacific bluefin tuna in the IATTC Convention 
Area. Each vessel that would be affected is considered a small business 
according to the Small Business Administration's revised size standards 
(78 FR 37398, June 20, 2013), which 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. 
Pacific bluefin tuna do not serve as the primary target species for any 
U.S. commercial vessels, but rather are incidentally or 
opportunistically caught by U.S. commercial vessels fishing in the EPO. 
Therefore, the action is not expected to have a significant or 
disproportional economic impact on these small business entities.
    NMFS will publish a notice in the Federal Register announcing that 
restrictions will be effective from the dates specified through the end 
of the calendar year. NMFS will take reasonable actions to inform 
vessel owners in advance of publishing, in a Federal Register 
announcement, the effective date for the restrictions on targeting, 
retaining, transshipping, or landing Pacific bluefin tuna captured in 
the IATTC Convention Area. In the event that the limit on Pacific 
bluefin tuna catch is reached in 2014, it will be the responsibility of 
the commercial vessel owner to ensure that no further targeting of 
Pacific bluefin tuna occurs, and that no more Pacific bluefin tuna are 
retained on board, transshipped, or landed after the specified dates 
published in the Federal Register notice announcing that the annual 
limit is expected to be reached.
    While this proposed rule does not mandate any new ``reporting'' or 
``recordkeeping'' requirements for the public, some compliance costs 
may be associated with the regulations if the restrictions on 
targeting, retaining, transshipping, or landing Pacific bluefin tuna 
captured in the IATTC Convention Area becomes effective in 2014 as a 
result of the commercial catch limits being reached. The Pacific 
bluefin tuna commercial catch limits are not expected to result in 
closing fishing of Pacific bluefin tuna in the Convention Area to U.S. 
commercial vessels because annual U.S. catches of Pacific bluefin tuna 
have not reached 500 metric tons in more than a decade. In the event of 
a closure under this rule, the cost of compliance would be de minimis. 
Compliance costs could consist of returning incidentally caught bluefin 
tuna to the ocean, forgoing associated profits, and potentially losing 
fishing opportunity if bluefin are available to the U.S. fleet during 
the time a closure is in place.
    The U.S. catch of Pacific bluefin tuna in the EPO represents a 
relatively minor component of the overall catch of Pacific bluefin tuna 
from the EPO. The average annual U.S. catch of Pacific bluefin tuna was 
113 metric tons for 1999 through 2012. Table 1 (above) illustrates U.S. 
commercial catch of bluefin tuna in the EPO for the years 1999 to 2012. 
Pacific bluefin tuna is commercially caught by U.S. vessels fishing in 
the EPO on an irregular basis. Most of the landings are made by small 
coastal purse seine vessels operating in the Southern California Bight 
with limited additional landings made by the drift gillnet fleet that 
targets swordfish and thresher shark. Lesser amounts of Pacific bluefin 
tuna are caught by surface hook and line and longline gear (typically 
less than .05 metric tons per year for these gear types combined). The 
number of purse seine vessels that have landed tuna in California 
averaged 197 annually from 1981 through 1990. However, from 2000 to 
2013, six small purse seiners have been registered with the IATTC to 
target Pacific bluefin tuna in the Convention Area each year. The 
landings data suggests that they opportunistically targeted Pacific 
bluefin tuna in alternate years since 2001. The decline in the number 
of domestic vessels is correlated in part with the relocation of large 
cannery operations.
    NMFS compared the effects of the Pacific bluefin tuna restrictions 
imposed by this rule to a no action alternative. Under the no action 
alternative, there would be no limit on U.S. commercial catches of 
Pacific bluefin tuna in the IATTC Convention Area. It is unlikely that 
any benefit to U.S. commercial fisheries would be gained from not 
implementing Resolution C-13-02 as recent trends in Pacific bluefin 
tuna catch data indicate that it is unlikely that the U.S. catch limit 
will be reached. However, failing to adopt this rule would result in 
the United States not satisfying its international obligations as a 
member of the IATTC. Furthermore, implementing Resolution C-13-02 could 
benefit the conservation of Pacific bluefin tuna by limiting catches if 
the fish were to become abundantly available to U.S. commercial vessels 
fishing in the EPO in 2014.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 300

    Administrative practice and procedure, Fish, Fisheries, Fishing, 
Marine resources, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements, Treaties.


[[Page 1813]]


    Dated: January 7, 2014.
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 300 is 
proposed to be amended as follows:

PART 300--INTERNATIONAL FISHERIES REGULATIONS

0
1. The authority citation for 50 CFR part 300, continues to read as 
follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 951-961 et seq.

0
2. In Sec.  300.24, paragraph (u) is added to read as follows:


Sec.  300.24  Prohibitions.

* * * * *
    (u) Use a United States commercial fishing vessel in the IATTC 
Convention Area in contravention of Sec.  300.25(h)(4)
0
3. In Sec.  300.25, paragraph (h) is added to read as follows:


Sec.  300.25  Eastern Pacific fisheries management.

* * * * *
    (h) Pacific bluefin tuna commercial catch limits in the eastern 
Pacific Ocean. (1) For the calendar year 2014, all commercial fishing 
vessels of IATTC member countries and cooperating non-member countries 
collectively are subject to a limit of 5,000 metric tons of Pacific 
bluefin tuna that may be captured, retained, and landed in the 
Convention Area.
    (2) Notwithstanding the collective 5,000 metric ton limit, in 
calendar year 2014 commercial vessels of the United States may capture, 
retain, transship, or land up to 500 metric tons of Pacific bluefin 
tuna.
    (3) After NMFS determines that the limits under paragraphs (h)(1) 
and (2) of this section are expected to be reached by a future date, 
and at least 7 calendar days in advance of that date, NMFS will publish 
a notice of closure in the Federal Register announcing the effective 
date that additional targeting, retaining on board, transshipping or 
landing Pacific bluefin tuna in the Convention Area shall be prohibited 
as described in paragraph (h)(4) of this section.
    (4) Beginning on the date announced in the notice of closure 
published under paragraph (h)(3) of this section through the end of the 
calendar year, a commercial fishing vessel of the United States may not 
be used to target, retain on board, transship, or land Pacific bluefin 
tuna captured in the Convention Area, with the exception that any 
Pacific bluefin tuna already on board a fishing vessel on the effective 
date of the notice may be retained on board, transshipped, and/or 
landed, to the extent authorized by applicable laws and regulations, 
provided such tuna is landed within 14 days after the effective date 
published in the notice of closure.

[FR Doc. 2014-00269 Filed 1-9-14; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P