[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 11 (Thursday, January 16, 2014)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 2794-2804]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-00780]



[[Page 2794]]

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

DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 679

[Docket No. 120405263-3999-02]
RIN 0648-BB76


Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Tanner Crab 
Area Closure in the Gulf of Alaska and Gear Modification Requirements 
for the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea Groundfish Fisheries

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

ACTION: Final rule.

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

SUMMARY: NMFS issues regulations to implement Amendment 89 to the 
Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Gulf of Alaska (GOA 
groundfish FMP) and revise regulations governing the configuration of 
modified nonpelagic trawl gear. First, this rule establishes a 
protection area in Marmot Bay, northeast of Kodiak Island, and closes 
that area to fishing with trawl gear except for directed fishing for 
pollock with pelagic trawl gear. The closure will reduce bycatch of 
Tanner crab (Chionoecetes bairdi) in Gulf of Alaska (GOA) groundfish 
fisheries. Second, this rule requires that nonpelagic trawl gear used 
in the directed flatfish fisheries in the Central Regulatory Area of 
the GOA be modified to raise portions of the gear off the sea floor. 
The modifications to nonpelagic trawl gear used in these fisheries will 
reduce the unobserved injury and mortality of Tanner crab, and will 
reduce the potential adverse impacts of nonpelagic trawl gear on bottom 
habitat. Finally, this rule makes a minor technical revision to the 
modified nonpelagic trawl gear construction regulations to facilitate 
gear construction for those vessels required to use modified nonpelagic 
trawl gear in the GOA and Bering Sea groundfish fisheries. This rule is 
intended to promote the goals and objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens 
Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), the GOA 
groundfish FMP, and other applicable law.

DATES: Effective February 18, 2014.

ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of Amendment 89 to the GOA groundfish FMP, 
the proposed rule, the Environmental Assessment/Regulatory Impact 
Review/Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (EA/RIR/IRFA) for the 
Area Closures for Tanner Crab Protection in Gulf of Alaska Groundfish 
Fisheries (Area Closures EA/RIR/IRFA), and the EA/RIR/IRFA for Trawl 
Sweep Modification in the Flatfish Fishery in the Central Gulf of 
Alaska (Trawl Sweep EA/RIR/IRFA) are available from http://www.regulations.gov or from the NMFS Alaska Region Web site at http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Melanie Brown, 907-586-7228.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NMFS manages the groundfish fisheries in the 
exclusive economic zone off Alaska under the GOA groundfish FMP and 
under the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Bering Sea and 
Aleutian Islands Management Area. The North Pacific Fishery Management 
Council (Council) prepared the fishery management plans under the 
authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management 
Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. Regulations 
governing U.S. fisheries and implementing the fishery management plans 
appear at 50 CFR parts 600 and 679.
    The Notice of Availability of Amendment 89 was published in the 
Federal Register on June 3, 2013, with a 60-day comment period that 
ended August 2, 2013 (78 FR 33040). The Secretary of Commerce approved 
Amendment 89 on August 26, 2013. NMFS published a proposed rule to 
implement Amendment 89 and the revision to the modified nonpelagic 
trawl gear construction regulations on June 17, 2013 (78 FR 36150). The 
30-day comment period on the proposed rule ended July 17, 2013. NMFS 
received a total of 8 comment letters on Amendment 89 and the proposed 
rule during the comment periods. The letters contained 11 unique 
comments. A summary of these comments and NMFS' responses are provided 
in the ``Comments and Responses'' section of this preamble.
    This final rule implements the following actions for the management 
of the trawl fisheries in the Central GOA Regulatory Area and for 
modified nonpelagic trawl gear construction standards for the GOA and 
Bering Sea (BS) flatfish fisheries. The proposed rule preamble provides 
additional information on the three regulatory actions implemented by 
this final rule, including detailed information on the development of 
the actions, the impacts and effects of the actions, and the Council's 
and NMFS' rationale for the actions (78 FR 36150, June 17, 2013). The 
proposed rule is available from the NMFS Alaska Region Web site (see 
ADDRESSES).

Action 1: Marmot Bay Tanner Crab Protection Area

    This rule establishes a protection area called the Marmot Bay 
Tanner Crab Protection Area (Marmot Bay Area). The Marmot Bay Area is 
northeast of Kodiak Island and extends westward from 151 degrees 47 
minutes W longitude to State waters between 58 degrees N latitude and 
58 degrees 15 minutes N latitude. With one exception, this rule closes 
the Marmot Bay Area year-round to directed fishing for groundfish by 
vessels using trawl gear. Directed fishing for pollock by vessels using 
pelagic trawl gear is exempt from this closure. The term ``directed 
fishing'' is defined in regulation at Sec.  679.2.
    The Marmot Bay Area shares borders with the Marmot Flats and Outer 
Marmot Bay Areas, shown in Figure 5 to part 679. The Marmot Flats Area 
is closed year-round to directed fishing with nonpelagic trawl gear 
(see Sec.  679.22(b)(1)(i) and Figure 5 to part 679). The Outer Marmot 
Bay Area is open to directed fishing with nonpelagic trawl gear unless 
otherwise closed. The Marmot Bay Area overlaps with a portion of the 
Outer Marmot Bay Area. In this area of overlap, the more restrictive 
measures implemented for the Marmot Bay Area apply. Overall, the effect 
of the Marmot Bay Area closure is to extend, to the north and east, 
areas of State and Federal waters that are closed year-round to 
nonpelagic trawl gear. Additionally, the Marmot Bay Area closure 
prohibits the use of all trawl gear, other than pelagic trawl gear used 
to conduct directed fishing for pollock.

Action 2: Modification of Nonpelagic Trawl Gear Used in the Central GOA 
Directed Flatfish Fisheries

    This rule requires vessels using nonpelagic trawl gear when 
directed fishing for flatfish in the Central GOA to comply with the 
gear performance standard and construction requirements specified in 
Sec.  679.24(f). Section 679.24(f) requires the use of elevating 
devices to raise the elevated section of the sweeps at least 2.5 inches 
and requires these elevating devices be installed on each end of the 
elevated section and be spaced along the entire length of the elevated 
section of the sweeps no less than 30 feet (9.1 m) apart. These are the 
same performance standard and gear construction requirements applied to 
vessels in the Bering Sea flatfish fisheries.
    To allow for construction flexibility and wear and tear that might 
occur during a tow, Sec.  679.24(f) provides for

[[Page 2795]]

two different sweep configurations that specify the maximum spacing of 
elevating devices. The first configuration uses elevating devices that 
have a clearance height of 3.5 inches (8.9 cm) or less with spacing 
between the elevating devices of no more than 65 feet (19.8 m). The 
second configuration uses elevating devices that have a clearance 
height greater than 3.5 inches (8.9 cm) with spacing between the 
elevating devices of no more than 95 feet (29 m). Either configuration 
combined with the minimum spacing for elevating devices of no less than 
30 feet (9.1 m) meets the combined gear construction requirements and 
performance standard for modified nonpelagic trawl gear.

Action 3: Technical Revision to the Modified Nonpelagic Trawl Gear 
Construction Requirements in the BSAI

    This rule implements a revision to one component of the regulations 
at Sec.  679.24(f) concerning construction requirements for modified 
nonpelagic trawl gear to increase the length limit for the lines that 
connect the doors and the net to the elevated portions of the sweeps 
from 180 feet (54.8 m) to 185 feet (56.4 m). This limit is shown on 
Figure 26 to part 679. Specifically, the revision slightly increases 
the maximum length to 185 feet (56.4 m) for the lines between the door 
bridles and the elevated section of the trawl sweeps, and between the 
net, or headline extension, and the elevated section of the trawl 
sweeps. This revision applies to the construction requirements for 
modified nonpelagic trawl gear currently required in the Bering Sea 
flatfish fisheries and in this rule for the Central GOA flatfish 
fisheries.

Summary of Regulatory Revisions Required by the Actions

    The actions described above require the following changes to 
regulations. This final rule revises two definitions and adds one 
definition in regulations at Sec.  679.2. The definition of ``federally 
permitted vessel'' is revised to include the application of this 
definition to those vessels required to use modified nonpelagic trawl 
gear in the Central GOA flatfish fisheries. This revision identifies 
vessels required to comply with the modified nonpelagic trawl gear 
requirements and is consistent with existing modified nonpelagic trawl 
gear requirements.
    The definition of ``directed fishing'' is revised to add a 
definition of the directed flatfish fisheries in the GOA. This revision 
lists the flatfish target species that are used in determining when 
modified nonpelagic trawl gear is required under Sec.  679.24(f) based 
on directed fishing for flatfish. This revision is necessary to 
identify the target species that determines when a vessel is directed 
fishing for flatfish so the requirement to use modified nonpelagic 
trawl gear can be applied.
    A definition of the Marmot Bay Tanner Crab Protection Area is added 
to Sec.  679.2. This definition is necessary to identify the location 
of the area and to define this area consistent with other fishery 
management areas with similar restrictions.
    Section 679.7(b) is revised to prohibit a federally permitted 
vessel from directed fishing for flatfish in the Central GOA without 
using modified nonpelagic trawl gear. This revision is necessary to 
require the use of modified nonpelagic trawl gear for directed fishing 
for flatfish in the Central GOA Regulatory Area and to ensure that the 
modified nonpelagic trawl gear meets the performance standard and 
construction requirements specified at Sec.  679.24(f).
    Section 679.22 is revised to add the Marmot Bay Tanner Crab 
Protection Area as an area closed to trawling in the GOA. The closure 
includes an exemption for vessels directed fishing for pollock with 
pelagic trawl gear. This revision is necessary to identify the area 
closed, the applicable gear type, and the target fishery exempted from 
the closure.
    Section 679.24(f) is revised to include reference to the Central 
GOA flatfish fisheries. This revision is necessary to require vessels 
using nonpelagic trawl gear to directed fish for flatfish in the 
Central GOA to comply with the modified nonpelagic trawl gear 
requirements in this section.
    Figure 5 to part 679 is revised to add an illustration and 
definition of the Marmot Bay Tanner Crab Protection Area. This area 
includes Federal waters westward from 151 degrees 47 minutes W 
longitude to State waters between 58 degrees 0 minutes N latitude and 
58 degrees 15 minutes N latitude. Use of trawl gear, other than pelagic 
trawl gear used in directed fishing for pollock, is prohibited at all 
times in the Marmot Bay Tanner Crab Protection Area. This revision is 
necessary to identify the Marmot Bay Tanner Crab Protection Area as 
described in Amendment 89. Due to the revision of Figure 5 to part 679, 
the table of coordinates for this figure is revised to reflect the 
removal of letters that identified coordinate locations on several, 
already established protection areas. In addition, the coordinates in 
the current table are corrected from degree, minutes, seconds to 
degree, decimal minutes. This revision improves the clarity of the 
table coordinates in combination with the revised figure and ensures 
the correct coordinates are listed in the consistent format used for 
other closure areas in the regulations.
    Figure 26 to part 679 is revised to show the 185-foot (56.4 m) 
limit for the lines connecting the elevated section of the sweeps to 
the door bridles and to the net or headline extensions. The revision to 
Figure 26 is necessary to illustrate the changes to the construction 
requirements for modified nonpelagic trawl gear.

Summary of Changes From Proposed Rule

    NMFS did not make any changes in this final rule to the regulatory 
text contained in the proposed rule.

Comments and Responses

    NMFS received 8 letters of comment containing 11 unique comments on 
the notice of availability for Amendment 89 (78 FR 33040, June 3, 2013) 
and on the proposed rule (78 FR 36150, June 17, 2013). A summary of the 
comments received and NMFS' responses follow.
    Comment 1: We support the requirement to use modified nonpelagic 
trawl gear to protect bottom habitat and to reduce unobserved Tanner 
crab mortality.
    Response: NMFS acknowledges the comment.
    Comment 2: Members of the Central GOA flatfish fishing fleet cannot 
afford any more closures. The number of fishing locations for trawl 
vessels operating in flatfish fisheries is limited due to Steller sea 
lion protection measures and other habitat protection measures. 
Operators of trawl vessels, especially trawl vessels in the rock sole 
fishery, need the ability to move to areas that would be closed by this 
rule to avoid salmon and halibut bycatch and to have a protected 
location for efficient and safe fishing, especially for smaller trawl 
vessels. The Marmot Bay Area closure should be modified to apply only 
to the deep water flatfish complex fishery so that other flatfish 
fisheries, such as the rock sole fishery, would not be affected. This 
modification would protect Tanner crab, which is more likely to occur 
in deeper, mud habitat affected by the deep water flatfish complex 
fishery. The rock sole fishery occurs in shallower, rocky habitat, and 
does not impact Tanner crab.
    Response: The Council considered the effects on the shallow-water 
flatfish fishing fleet when developing its recommendations for this 
action (see Section 3.1 of the Area Closures EA/RIR/IRFA). In the Area 
Closures EA/

[[Page 2796]]

RIR/IRFA, the crab survey, crab fishery, and shallow-water flatfish 
fishery figures show that the location of Tanner crab overlaps with the 
location of the shallow-water flatfish fishery in the closure area (see 
Figures 14, 15, 25, and Color Figure 5 in the Area Closures EA/RIR/
IRFA). Limiting the closure area to the deep-water flatfish complex 
fishery will not remove the potential adverse effects of the shallow-
water flatfish complex fishery on Tanner crab, including trawl effects 
on benthic habitat and Tanner crab injury and mortality.
    NMFS determined that the Council's recommended closure of the 
Marmot Bay Area is necessary and appropriate based on: (1) The high 
rate of Tanner crab mortality by vessels using nonpelagic trawl gear in 
the Marmot Bay Area relative to other areas in the Central GOA; (2) the 
observation of mature male and female Tanner crab populations within 
the Marmot Bay Area; (3) the occurrence of known Tanner crab habitat 
within the Marmot Bay Area; (4) the high rate of Tanner crab bycatch by 
vessels using trawl gear relative to pot gear within the Marmot Bay 
Area; and (5) the limited historical fishing in this area overlapping 
with the occurrence of Tanner crab, which reduces the economic impact 
on fishery participants while minimizing the adverse impacts to Tanner 
crab from nonpelagic trawl gear.
    NMFS agrees with the commenter's assertion that avoiding salmon and 
halibut bycatch may include moving fishing activities to other 
locations and that having fewer locations to choose from may reduce 
fishing efficiency. However, only two to three percent of the annual 
nonpelagic trawl shallow-water flatfish catch, which includes the rock 
sole fishery, has occurred in the Marmot Bay Area compared to total 
shallow-water flatfish catch in Area 630, the area of the Central GOA 
affected by this rule (see Table 37 in the Area Closures EA/RIR/IRFA). 
Based on these data indicating limited historical flatfish fishing 
activity in the closure area, it is likely that these vessels can find 
efficient and safe locations outside the closure area to fish for rock 
sole and other flatfish species and avoid halibut and salmon bycatch.
    Comment 3: The Marmot Bay Area closure area should be limited to 
Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G) statistical area 525807 and 
should not include ADF&G statistical area 515802. Statistical area 
515802 has bountiful rock sole that is harvested with nonpelagic trawl 
gear at 17 to 30 fathoms, and in our experience this catch has not 
resulted in Tanner crab bycatch. Tanner crab occurs primarily in the 
western portion of the proposed Marmot Bay Area, which includes 
statistical area 525807. Closing the eastern portion of the proposed 
Marmot Bay Area, which includes ADF&G statistical area 515802, to the 
rock sole fishery is unjust and will have an economic impact on fishing 
businesses, the processors dependent on deliveries, and on the Kodiak 
community.
    Response: The Council carefully considered the boundaries of the 
Marmot Bay Area to protect Tanner crab and understood the potential 
impact on shallow-water flatfish fishing, which includes rock sole. The 
Council considered closing only ADF&G statistical area 525807, but 
extended the closure area to include a portion of ADF&G statistical 
area 515802, based on data indicating that Tanner crab occur eastward 
of ADF&G statistical area 525807, which includes ADF&G statistical area 
515802. The Council's final recommendation established the boundaries 
of the Marmot Bay Area closure based on crab survey data that showed 
Tanner crab occurring in ADF&G statistical area 515802 (see section 
3.1.4 of the Area Closure EA/RIR/IRFA). Specifically, information in 
Color Figures 2, 4, 5, and 6 in the Area Closures EA/RIR/IRFA show 
groundfish catch in ADF&G statistical area 515802. Color Figure 5 shows 
that shallow-water flatfish catch occurs in ADF&G statistical area 
515802. Figure 26 in the Area Closures EA/RIR/IRFA shows the directed 
Tanner crab fishery occurring in much of ADF&G statistical area 515802 
where shallow-water flatfish fishing has also occurred (see also Color 
Figure 5). The Council and NMFS determined that it is likely that 
Tanner crab occur in this location and may be impacted by nonpelagic 
trawling based on the amount of Tanner crab prohibited species catch 
(PSC) observed in nonpelagic trawls used in flatfish fisheries the 
Marmot Bay Area, including the rock sole fishery (see Table 17 in the 
Area Closures EA/RIR/IRFA) and based on the potential effects of 
nonpelagic trawl gear on benthic habitat. The Council considered the 
potential economic effects on vessels participating in the nonpelagic 
trawl fishery compared to the benefits to Tanner crab resources in 
making their closure recommendation. Under this rule, NMFS anticipates 
that the imposition of this trawl closure will not prevent the GOA 
groundfish fisheries from achieving the annual total allowable catch 
(TAC) for these species. Because catch from the Marmot Bay Area 
represents only a small proportion of the total groundfish catch by 
vessels using nonpelagic trawl gear, NMFS anticipates that vessels will 
be able to catch the TACs of groundfish species that have been caught 
in the Marmot Bay Area in neighboring areas not closed to this gear. 
For more detail, see Section 3.1 and Section 6.6 of the Area Closures 
EA/RIR/IRFA and the preamble to the proposed rule (June 17, 2013; 78 FR 
36150).
    Comment 4: We disagree with the statement in the proposed rule that 
there are no conservation measures currently in the GOA to address 
adverse interactions with Tanner crab by groundfish vessels using trawl 
gear. Tanner crab is designated as a prohibited species in the 
groundfish fisheries, which requires immediate discard. This is a 
conservation measure. Nonpelagic trawl closures to protect king crab 
and to protect Steller sea lions also protect Tanner crab. In 1989, the 
EA/RIR/IRFA prepared for extending the king crab closures under 
Amendment 18 to the GOA groundfish FMP indicates that these king crab 
closures protected about 75 percent of the Tanner crab stocks year-
round.
    Response: The preamble of the proposed rule states that no specific 
conservation measures exist in the Central GOA to address adverse 
interactions with Tanner crab by vessels using trawl gear to directed 
fish for groundfish. NMFS made this statement because this rule 
implements conservation measures specifically developed to address 
adverse effects on Tanner crab from the groundfish fisheries. The 
Marmot Bay Area is specifically intended to minimize Tanner crab 
bycatch and effects on their habitat to the extent practicable. NMFS 
agrees that other conservation measures taken to protect habitat, 
marine mammals, or other crab species also may have beneficial effects 
on Tanner crabs, but none of these measures were specifically developed 
for that purpose. While the designation of Tanner crab as a prohibited 
species prevents groundfish fishermen from retaining the species, the 
designation alone does not provide any limit on the total amount of 
Tanner crab caught as bycatch or provide any other protection from 
potential adverse effects of groundfish fisheries.
    Comment 5: The potential benefits to Tanner crab from the Marmot 
Bay Area closure would be so small that the effect on the stock and the 
Tanner crab fishery would be immeasurable. The observed Tanner crab 
mortality in the Central GOA trawl fishery is less than 0.4 percent of 
the assessed crab population in the Central GOA. Depending on the

[[Page 2797]]

assumptions made, the estimated number of male Tanner crabs saved from 
implementing the closure area is 435 to 163 crabs. The allowable Tanner 
crab bycatch rate in the GOA scallop fishery is 0.5 percent of total 
crab stock abundance based on the most recent survey data when the GOA 
Tanner crab fishery is closed and 1.0 percent when the GOA Tanner crab 
fishery is open. Why are these Tanner crab bycatch rates in the scallop 
fishery acceptable, but the Federal nonpelagic groundfish trawl fishery 
is held to a more restrictive Tanner crab bycatch rate?
    Response: The purpose of this action is to provide additional 
protection to GOA Tanner crab from the potential adverse effects of 
groundfish fisheries. To that end, the Council and NMFS examined 
various areas in which Tanner crab and groundfish fishing overlap in 
the GOA and considered whether to close these areas year-round or 
seasonally to pot and/or trawl gear. The Council and NMFS considered 
the beneficial impacts of the Marmot Bay Area closure on Tanner crab 
resources with the potential economic costs on participants in the 
nonpelagic trawl groundfish fisheries that will be excluded from this 
area. Though the rate of bycatch and number of crabs potentially saved 
is less than under the scallop fishery, the Council found that the 
closure area is practicable for minimizing Tanner crab bycatch in the 
groundfish fisheries.
    Consistent with National Standards 1, 5, and 9, the Council and 
NMFS determined that the Marmot Bay Area closure, relative to other 
closure areas considered, balances the requirement to minimize bycatch 
to the extent practicable while continuing to allow the GOA groundfish 
fisheries the opportunity to achieve optimal yield efficiently. Though 
the potential impact on Tanner crab mortality in the closure area is 
small in relation to the entire Tanner crab stock in the GOA, the 
Council determined and NMFS agrees that the Marmot Bay Area closure 
will benefit Tanner crab through a reduction in PSC and unobserved 
mortality while minimizing the economic impact on participants in 
nonpelagic trawl fisheries. Moroever, data shows limited historical 
flatfish fishing activity in the closure area, and it is likely that 
these vessels can find efficient and safe locations outside the closure 
area to continue fishing. (See Section 6.5.2 of the Area Closures EA/
RIR/IRFA.)
    National Standard 9 states that conservation and management 
measures shall, to the extent practicable, minimize bycatch and, to the 
extent bycatch cannot be avoided, minimize the mortality of such 
bycatch. In establishing the Marmot Bay Area closure, the Council and 
NMFS determined what Tanner crab bycatch management measures were 
practicable for the GOA groundfish fisheries. The Council and NMFS have 
not established a Tanner crab bycatch rate that applies to all Federal 
fisheries. Instead, the Council and NMFS have developed management 
measures for the various Federal fisheries that minimize bycatch to the 
extent practicable for that fishery. Tanner crab bycatch in the scallop 
dredge fishery is controlled through the use of crab bycatch limits. 
The Scallop FMP does not include provisions defining ``prohibited 
species,'' thus the distinction made under the Groundfish FMPs between 
bycatch and PSC does not apply to this (or other) non-groundfish FMPs 
regulating the BSAI and GOA (See Section 3.4.2 of the Area Closures EA/
RIR/IRFA). Section 3.4.2 of the Area Closures EA/RIR/IRFA provides 
information showing that although Tanner crab bycatch limits for the 
scallop fishery are set at 0.5 percent or 1.0 percent of the total 
Tanner crab stock abundance estimate based on most recent survey data, 
estimated catch of Tanner crab in the Kodiak Northeast District scallop 
fishery between 2000 and 2009 has been significantly less than the 
annual Tanner crab bycatch limit.
    Comment 6: Using closures to protect crab stocks has not improved 
crab stock abundance. The Kodiak king crab closures have been in place 
for 20 years with no improvement of the king crab stock abundance. NMFS 
should consider other methods to improve Tanner crab stocks, such as 
those employed by other Councils, including opening historical closures 
and using management methods that are more effective at balancing the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act national standards.
    Response: The purpose of this action is not to improve Tanner crab 
stock abundance, but to further protect Tanner crab stocks from adverse 
effects of GOA groundfish fisheries. The Council and NMFS may use 
different management measures to protect a PSC species, including 
controlling or reducing bycatch in the groundfish fisheries or reducing 
impacts on the habitat that supports the PSC species. The selection of 
the management measure(s) depends on what is practicable to minimize 
the bycatch of the species and to reduce potential adverse effects.
    The closure of the Marmot Bay Area and the modified trawl gear 
requirement were based on the analysis of alternative methods to reduce 
adverse effects on Tanner crab to the extent practicable and based on 
the best available information. The opening of existing closure areas 
would require analysis of the potential impacts of opening closed areas 
to determine if the closures are not effective at reducing Tanner crab 
bycatch to the extent practicable and the other environmental and 
economic effects that may occur with the opening of an existing closure 
area. The analyses for this rule did not examine the effects of King 
crab closures on Tanner crab stocks, modifying existing closure areas, 
or other measures to improve the abundance of Tanner crab stocks as 
those actions are not within the scope of this action.
    This rule is consistent with effective past measures the Council 
has recommended, and NMFS has implemented, to reduce impacts of 
nonpelagic trawl gear on crab populations, directly by limiting injury 
and mortality, and indirectly by reducing potential adverse habitat 
impacts. Because overall Tanner crab bycatch in the GOA groundfish 
fisheries can be small in relation to the Tanner crab population, but 
potentially concentrated in certain areas or at certain times, the 
Council and NMFS determined that time and area closures are more 
effective than Tanner crab PSC limits in reducing the potential impacts 
of nonpelagic trawl gear on Tanner crab stocks. Additionally, this rule 
requires that nonpelagic trawl gear used in the directed flatfish 
fisheries in the Central GOA be modified to raise portions of the gear 
off the sea floor. This requirement can reduce the adverse effects of 
nonpelagic trawl gear on Tanner, snow, and red king crabs by reducing 
the unobserved mortality and injury of these species.
    Comment 7: We recommend that the name of the Marmot Bay Tanner Crab 
Protection Area be changed to the Marmot Bay Area to be consistent with 
names used in the Central GOA for other nonpelagic trawl closure areas 
and to remove the incorrect impression that this closure area is the 
only conservation measure for Tanner crab.
    Response: The Council and NMFS selected the name for this closure 
area to reflect the sole purpose of the area, which is to protect 
Tanner crab. NMFS determined that there is no legal or policy reason 
that requires the use of similar names for the various crab closure 
areas in the Central GOA. Additionally, the other crab closure areas in 
the Central GOA were established to protect king crab and have names 
that reflect the primary reason for the closure (i.e., Kodiak Island 
Type I, II and III closures).

[[Page 2798]]

Finally, NMFS determined that the name for the area indicates the 
purpose of the area, which is helpful in understanding the reason for 
the action for anyone not familiar with the development of the closure 
area. For these reasons, NMFS determined that the changes suggested by 
the comment are not necessary.
    Comment 8: The preamble to the proposed rule on page 36151, second 
column, seventh paragraph lists the actions taken by the Council to 
protect Tanner crabs. Action 2 in the list incorrectly states that 
modified ``pelagic'' trawl gear would be required when directed fishing 
for flatfish in the Central GOA. Action 2 should have stated that the 
Council recommended the use of modified ``nonpelagic'' trawl gear when 
directed fishing for flatfish in the Central GOA.
    Response: NMFS agrees that the preamble of the proposed rule at the 
location cited by the commenter incorrectly used the term ``modified 
pelagic trawl gear,'' where the term ``modified nonpelagic trawl gear'' 
should have been used. NMFS reviewed the preamble, as well as the 
proposed regulatory text, and found that this was the only location in 
the proposed rule that made an incorrect reference to modified pelagic 
trawl gear. Because the proposed rule is clear that the modifications 
being proposed apply to nonpelagic trawl gear used when directed 
fishing for flatfish in the Central GOA, NMFS determined that the 
proposed rule provided the public with a clear understanding of the 
changes being proposed and the public could reasonably comment on them.
    Comment 9: We support the Marmot Bay Tanner Crab Protection Area 
closure to reduce the impacts of the trawl fleet on Tanner crab 
resources.
    Response: NMFS acknowledges the comment.
    Comment 10: NMFS should implement enhanced observer coverage in 
ADF&G Statistical Area 525702 and in the Chiniak Gully. These are 
locations of potentially high Tanner crab bycatch in the groundfish 
fisheries, and the restructured observer program implemented in 2013 
will not provide the additional data needed to understand the impact on 
Tanner crab resources in these locations.
    Response: As noted in detail in the preamble to the proposed rule 
(June 17, 2013; 78 FR 36150), the Council included as part of its 
recommendation for improved estimates of Tanner crab bycatch that NMFS 
``incorporate, to the extent possible, in [the restructured Observer 
Program], an observer deployment strategy that ensures adequate 
coverage to establish statistically robust observations'' in three 
specific areas near Kodiak, AK, including the ones referenced by the 
commenter. The restructured observer program was effective beginning 
January 1, 2013 (November 21, 2012; 77 FR 70062). NMFS has determined 
that the Council's recommendation has been implemented by the 
restructured observer program and no additional observer specific 
measures are needed with GOA Amendment 89. NMFS will use the 
regulations and deployment process established under the restructured 
Observer Program to obtain fishery catch and bycatch data without 
specifying additional observer coverage requirements in specific areas 
in the GOA. Establishing additional observer requirements in specific 
areas would result in biased data, which does not meet the data quality 
goals under the restructured Observer Program. Collecting Tanner crab 
bycatch data under the provisions of the restructured Observer Program 
meets the intent of the restructured observer program to provide 
unbiased observer data to better inform fisheries management. In order 
to ensure that the Council's intent to obtain better observer data is 
being met, NMFS will present an observer deployment plan annually for 
the Council's review.
    Comment 11: We agree with NMFS' decision to rely on Tanner crab 
bycatch data from the restructured observer program rather than 
requiring enhanced observer coverage in certain areas. The restructured 
observer program will provide science-based data needed to understand 
Tanner crab bycatch in all of the fleets that may affect Tanner crab. 
Adding an area-specific requirement for observing Tanner crab bycatch 
would undermine the unbiased collection of bycatch data that is 
expected from the restructured observer program.
    Response: NMFS acknowledges the comment.

Classification

    The NMFS Assistant Administrator determined that Amendment 89 to 
the GOA groundfish FMP is necessary for the conservation and management 
of the GOA groundfish fishery and that it is consistent with the 
Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and other 
applicable law.
    This rule has been determined to be not significant for the 
purposes of Executive Order 12866.

Final Regulatory Flexibility Analysis

    A final regulatory flexibility analysis (FRFA) is required by the 
Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA). This FRFA incorporates the initial 
regulatory flexibility analyses (IRFAs) prepared for the proposed rule 
and addresses the applicable requirements of section 604 of the RFA. A 
statement of the need for, and objectives of, this final rule is 
described in the preamble to this rule and is not repeated here. This 
information also was provided in the preamble to the proposed rule.

Comments on the IRFAs

    NMFS published a proposed rule to implement Amendment 89 and a 
regulatory amendment on June 17, 2013 (78 FR 36150), with comments 
invited through July 17, 2013. NMFS received 8 letters of comment from 
the public on Amendment 89 and the proposed rule. None of these 
comments specifically addressed the IRFAs, but Comments 2 and 3 
expressed concerns about the potential cost of the Marmot Bay Area 
closure to commercial fishermen. NMFS' responses to these comments 
explain that the Council and NMFS considered potential costs to 
industry and recommended the smallest possible closure area to 
accomplish the objective of crab protection measures. In addition, the 
Council noted, and NMFS agrees that fishermen prohibited from fishing 
in the Marmot Bay Area have other fishing opportunities elsewhere in 
the GOA.
    No comments on the proposed rule were filed with NMFS by the Chief 
Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business Administration.

Number and Description of Small Entities Regulated by the Action

    The determination of the number and description of small entities 
regulated by these actions is based on small business size standards 
established by the Small Business Administration (SBA). 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, 
June 20, 2013). The rule increased the size standard for Finfish 
Fishing from $ 4.0 million to $ 19.0 million, Shellfish Fishing from $ 
4.0 million to $ 5.0 million, and Other Marine Fishing from $ 4.0 
million to $ 7.0 million. Id., at 37400 (Table 1).
    Pursuant to the RFA, and prior to SBA's June 20, 2013, final rule, 
two IRFAs were prepared for these actions using SBA's former size 
standards. The IRFAs were summarized in the ``Classification'' section 
of the preamble to the proposed rule. NMFS has reviewed the IRFAs in 
light of the new size standards. NMFS did not conduct a re-analysis of 
how many entities directly regulated by these actions

[[Page 2799]]

would be categorized as small entities under the new size standards. 
However, for purposes of this FRFA, all directly regulated entities are 
assumed to be small entities. This is a conservative approach for this 
analysis.

Action 1: Area Closure

    The entities directly regulated by Action 1 are those entities that 
participate in the groundfish fisheries using trawl gear in the Marmot 
Bay Area (except for pelagic trawl vessels directed fishing for 
pollock). From 2003 through 2009, 68 vessels used nonpelagic trawl gear 
in the Central GOA and therefore would be directly regulated by Action 
1. Of these 68 vessels, 26 vessels had gross earnings of less than $4.0 
million so were categorized as small entities in the IRFA. For purposes 
of this FRFA, all 68 nonpelagic trawl vessels directly regulated by 
Action 1 are assumed to be small entities.

Action 2: Trawl Modification

    The entities directly regulated by Action 2 are those entities that 
participate in the Central GOA flatfish fisheries. For Action 2, 51 
vessels participated in the Central GOA flatfish fisheries in one or 
more years between 2003 and 2010, making these vessels directly 
regulated under Action 2. Of these 51 vessels, two catcher/processors 
and eight catcher vessels that participated in the Central GOA flatfish 
fisheries had gross earnings of less than $4.0 million so were 
categorized as small entities in the IRFA. For purposes of this FRFA, 
all 51 vessels are assumed to be small entities.

Action 3: Correction to Gear Construction Requirements

    For Action 3, the same 51 vessels that are assumed to be small 
entities under Action 2 also would be small entities for Action 3. 
Because Action 3 also affects gear construction by flatfish vessels 
fishing in the Bering Sea subarea, this FRFA includes small entity 
information published in the Final Rule for Amendment 94 to the BSAI 
groundfish FMP (75 FR 61642, October 6, 2010). In 2007, all of the 
catcher/processors (CPs) targeting flatfish in the Bering Sea subarea 
(46 vessels) exceeded the $4.0 million threshold that the SBA used at 
that time to define small fishing entities. Due to their combined 
groundfish revenues, the CPs would be considered large entities for 
purposes of the RFA at that time, but due to the increase in the SBA 
small business size standard some of these vessels may not exceed the 
new threshold and may be considered small entities. Based on their 
combined groundfish revenues, none of the four catcher vessels that 
participated in 2007 exceeded the SBA's small entity threshold, and 
these vessels are considered small entities for purposes of the RFA. It 
is likely that some of these vessels also are linked by company 
affiliation, which may then categorize them as large entities, but 
there is no available information regarding the ownership status of 
these vessels at an entity level. Because NMFS is unable to conduct a 
thorough re-analysis of how many entities directly regulated by these 
actions would be categorized as small entities under the new size 
standards, all the vessels directly regulated by Action 3 are assumed 
to be small entities. Therefore, the FRFA may overestimate the number 
of small entities directly regulated by Action 3.

Recordkeeping, Reporting, and Compliance Requirements

    These actions will not change recordkeeping and reporting 
requirements. Vessel operators will be required to comply with the 
specified area closure and gear requirements. Description of 
Significant Alternatives to the Final Action that Minimize Adverse 
Impacts on

Small Entities

    An FRFA must describe the steps the agency has taken to minimize 
the significant economic impact on small entities consistent with the 
stated objectives of applicable statutes, including a statement of the 
factual, policy, and legal reasons for selecting the alternative 
adopted in the final rule and why each one of the other significant 
alternatives to the rule considered by the agency that affect the 
impact on small entities was rejected. ``Significant alternatives'' are 
those that achieve the stated objectives for the action, consistent 
with prevailing law with potentially lesser adverse economic impacts on 
small entities, as a whole.

Action 1: Area Closure

    During consideration of this action, the Council evaluated a number 
of alternatives to the preferred alternative, including (1) no action, 
(2) four permanent or seasonal area closures in which trawl or pot 
fishing would be prohibited, (3) four area closures in which trawl and 
pot fishing would only be allowed with increased observer coverage, (4) 
an exemption to the closures for vessels using pelagic trawl gear, and 
(5) an exemption to the closures for vessels using modified nonpelagic 
trawl gear. The ``No Action'' alternative would not have met the 
Council's objectives for this action, and would have provided no 
specific conservation measures in the GOA to address adverse 
interactions with Tanner crab by trawl and pot sectors targeting 
groundfish.
    None of the other alternatives would have both met the objectives 
of the action and had a smaller adverse economic impact on small 
entities when compared with the preferred alternative. Under the second 
alternative described above, the impact on these vessels would be 
proportional to the extent that they rely on the area for target 
fishing, the extent to which they are able to offset catches foregone 
in the closed areas, and the net costs of making the adjustment. 
Observer data suggests that the nonpelagic trawl fisheries would be 
most impacted by area closures. Seasonal closures might reduce the 
adverse impacts on groundfish fishermen as vessels could fish in the 
areas for the remainder of the year, but would not meet the objectives 
of the action. Under the third alternative above, costs would increase 
to owners of 90 vessels that continued to fish in the closure areas 
that are not already required to have 100 percent or greater observer 
coverage. Table 57 in the Area Closures EA/RIR/IRFA shows the increased 
costs for observer coverage for vessels fishing in the proposed closure 
area. The fourth alternative, to exempt vessels using pelagic trawl 
gear from the Marmot Bay Area closure, would have the same effect as 
the preferred alternative because vessels using pelagic trawl gear in 
this area are directed fishing for pollock. The preferred alternative 
would prevent the use of pelagic trawl gear to directly fish for other 
groundfish species in this area, further protecting the area to any 
potential effects of pelagic trawl gear on habitat. Under the fifth 
alternative, an exemption to the closures for vessels using modified 
nonpelagic trawl gear, the average cost of the modification to 
fishermen using net reels, for the gear configuration used in the 
Central GOA, is initially approximately $12,600 and approximately 
$3,000 in annual maintenance. For vessels using main line winches to 
set and haul back the modified sweeps there may also be one-time costs 
for modifying the vessel to accommodate the sweep modification of 
$20,000 to $25,000 or higher, depending on current vessel 
configuration. This cost may be offset if the modification extends the 
useful life of the sweeps and reduces the frequency with which new gear 
must be purchased (See Section 6.6 of the Area Closures EA/RIR/IRFA).
    Six of the eight public comments asked for the Marmot Bay Area to 
be either reduced or not implemented to

[[Page 2800]]

provide for continued fishing in the area for shallow-water flatfish 
and particularly rock sole. The Council and NMFS considered the balance 
between forgone access to this area for shallow-water flatfish fishing 
and the potential protection of Tanner crab resources in the Central 
GOA and determined that the benefits of protecting Tanner crab from the 
effects of trawling outweighed the loss of this location for shallow-
water flatfish harvests. As noted in the response to Comment 2, only 
two to three percent of the annual nonpelagic trawl shallow-water 
flatfish catch, which includes the rock sole fishery, has occurred in 
the Marmot Bay Area compared to total shallow-water flatfish catch in 
Area 630 (see Table 37 in the Area Closures EA/RIR/IRFA). No changes 
were made in the final rule from the proposed rule.

Actions 2 and 3: Trawl Modification and Gear Construction

    The Council considered two alternatives for Actions 2 and 3. The 
first is the ``No Action'' alternative, which does not require any 
modification to trawl sweeps for vessels targeting GOA flatfish, nor 
does it change the maximum length for the lines that connect the doors 
and the net to the elevated portions of the sweeps from 180 feet to 185 
feet. The other alternative, the Council's preferred alternative, 
requires vessels targeting Central GOA flatfish to modify their gear to 
reduce bottom contact. For all vessels, the additional cost of 
purchasing the modified gear appears to be $3,000 to $3,400, annually. 
Additionally, for vessels with net reels, there may be an additional 
cost for keeping replacement elevating devices on board, at a cost of 
approximately $700 for a full replacement set. For vessels requiring a 
structural change to accommodate the modified trawls sweeps and 
continue to maintain the same catch rates, estimates provided by 
industry range from $20,000 to $25,000 (see Section 2.11 of the Trawl 
Sweep EA/RIR/IRFA).
    The preferred alternative also extends the areas exempted from 
elevating devices on the net bridles and door bridles from 180 feet to 
185 feet to accommodate hammerlocks attached to net and door bridles. 
This extension of the exempt areas applies to trawl sweep gear 
modifications in the Bering Sea and Central GOA. This change to the 
gear construction requirement allows for accommodating the connecting 
devices with the current trawl sweeps, thus saving industry costs by 
constructing the gear using standardized parts. Based upon the best 
available scientific information, the aforementioned analyses, as well 
as consideration of the objectives of the action, it appears that there 
are no alternatives to this action with potentially less adverse 
economic impact while also accomplishing the stated objectives of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act and other applicable statutes.
    Taking public comment into consideration, NMFS has identified no 
additional significant alternatives that accomplish statutory 
objectives and minimize any significant economic impacts of the 
proposed rule on small entities.

Small Entity Compliance Guide

    Section 212 of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness 
Act of 1996 states that, for each rule or group of related rules for 
which an agency is required to prepare a FRFA, the agency shall publish 
one or more guides to assist small entities in complying with the rule, 
and shall designate such publications as ``small entity compliance 
guides.'' The agency shall also explain the actions a small entity is 
required to take to comply with a rule or group of rules. The preambles 
to the proposed rule and this final rule serve as the small entity 
compliance guide. This action does not require any additional 
compliance from small entities that is not described in the preambles. 
Copies of this final rule are available from NMFS at the following Web 
site: http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 679

    Alaska, Fisheries, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements.

    Dated: January 13, 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 679 is amended 
as follows:

PART 679--FISHERIES OF THE EXCLUSIVE ECONOMIC ZONE OFF ALASKA

0
1. The authority citation for part 679 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 773 et seq.; 1801 et seq.; 3631 et seq.; 
Pub. L. 108-447.


0
2. In Sec.  679.2, add paragraph (6) to the definition of ``Directed 
fishing'', revise the definition of ``Federally permitted vessel'' and 
add in alphabetical order the definition of ``Marmot Bay Tanner Crab 
Protection Area'' to read as follows:


Sec.  679.2  Definitions.

* * * * *
    Directed fishing means:
* * * * *
    (6) With respect to the harvest of flatfish in the Central GOA 
Regulatory Area, for purposes of modified nonpelagic trawl gear 
requirements under Sec. Sec.  679.7(b)(9) and 679.24(f), fishing with 
nonpelagic trawl gear during any fishing trip that results in a 
retained aggregate amount of shallow-water flatfish, deep-water 
flatfish, rex sole, arrowtooth flounder, and flathead sole that is 
greater than the retained amount of any other trawl fishery category as 
defined at Sec.  679.21(d)(3)(iii).
* * * * *
    Federally permitted vessel means a vessel that is named on either a 
Federal fisheries permit issued pursuant to Sec.  679.4(b) or on a 
Federal crab vessel permit issued pursuant to Sec.  680.4(k) of this 
chapter. Federally permitted vessels must conform to regulatory 
requirements for purposes of fishing restrictions in habitat 
conservation areas, habitat conservation zones, habitat protection 
areas, and the Modified Gear Trawl Zone; for purposes of anchoring 
prohibitions in habitat protection areas; for purposes of requirements 
for the BS and GOA nonpelagic trawl fishery pursuant to Sec.  
679.7(b)(9), Sec.  679.7(c)(5), and Sec.  679.24(f); and for purposes 
of VMS requirements.
* * * * *
    Marmot Bay Tanner Crab Protection Area means a habitat protection 
area of the Gulf of Alaska specified in Figure 5 to this part that is 
closed to directed fishing for groundfish with trawl gear, except 
directed fishing for pollock by vessels using pelagic trawl gear.
* * * * *

0
3. In Sec.  679.7, add paragraph (b)(9) to read as follows:


Sec.  679.7  Prohibitions.

* * * * *
    (b) * * *
    (9) Conduct directed fishing for flatfish, as defined in Sec.  
679.2, with a vessel required to be federally permitted in the Central 
GOA Regulatory Area, as defined in Figure 3 to this part, without 
meeting the requirements for modified nonpelagic trawl gear specified 
at Sec.  679.24(f) and illustrated in Figures 25, 26, and 27 to this 
part.
* * * * *

0
4. In Sec.  679.22, add paragraph (b)(3) to read as follows:

[[Page 2801]]

Sec.  679.22  Closures.

* * * * *
    (b) * * *
    (3) Marmot Bay Tanner Crab Protection Area. No federally permitted 
vessel may fish with trawl gear in the Marmot Bay Tanner Crab 
Protection Area, as described in Figure 5 to this part, except 
federally permitted vessels directed fishing for pollock using pelagic 
trawl gear.
* * * * *

0
5. In Sec.  679.24, revise the introductory text of paragraph (f) to 
read as follows:


Sec.  679.24  Gear limitations.

* * * * *
    (f) Modified nonpelagic trawl gear. Nonpelagic trawl gear modified 
as shown in Figure 26 to this part must be used by any vessel required 
to be federally permitted and that is used to directed fish for 
flatfish, as defined in Sec.  679.2, in any reporting area of the BS or 
in the Central GOA Regulatory Area or directed fish for groundfish with 
nonpelagic trawl gear in the Modified Trawl Gear Zone specified in 
Table 51 to this part. Nonpelagic trawl gear used by these vessels must 
meet the following standards:
* * * * *

0
6. Revise Figure 5 to part 679 to read as follows:
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P

[[Page 2802]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TR16JA14.004


[[Page 2803]]


[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TR16JA14.005


0
7. Revise Figure 26 to part 679 to read as follows:
Figure 26 to Part 679--Modified Nonpelagic Trawl Gear
    This figure shows the location of elevating devices in the elevated 
section of modified nonpelagic trawl gear, as specified under Sec.  
679.24(f). The top image shows the location of the end elevating 
devices in the elevated section for gear with net bridles no greater 
than

[[Page 2804]]

185 feet in length. The bottom image shows the location of the 
beginning elevating devices near the doors and the end elevating 
devices near the net for gear with net bridles no greater than 185 feet 
in length.
[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TR16JA14.006

[FR Doc. 2014-00780 Filed 1-15-14; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-C