[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 23 (Tuesday, February 4, 2014)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 6527-6530]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-02179]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 660

[Docket No. 131203999-4061-01]
RIN 0648-XD020


Fisheries Off West Coast States; Coastal Pelagic Species 
Fisheries; Annual Specifications

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

ACTION: Proposed rule.

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SUMMARY: NMFS proposes to implement an annual catch limit (ACL), 
harvest guideline (HG), annual catch target (ACT), and associated 
annual reference points for Pacific sardine in the U.S. exclusive 
economic zone (EEZ) off the Pacific coast for a one-time interim 
harvest period of January 1, 2014, through June 30, 2014, and to set 
annual harvest levels, such as overfishing limit (OFL), available 
biological catch (ABC), annual catch limit (ACL), for Pacific sardine 
for the whole calendar year 2014. This rulemaking is proposed according 
to the Coastal Pelagic Species (CPS) Fishery Management Plan (FMP), and 
reflects the proposed change to the starting date of the annual Pacific 
sardine fishery from January 1 to July 1 as published in the Federal 
Register on December 23, 2013. The proposed 2014 ACT or maximum 
directed HG is 19,846 (mt). Based on the seasonal allocation framework 
in the FMP, this equates to a first period (January 1 to June 30) 
allocation of 6,946 mt (35% of ACT). This rulemaking also proposes an 
adjusted directed non-tribal harvest allocation for this period of 
5,446 mt. This value was reduced from the total first period allocation 
by 1000 mt for potential harvest by the Quinault Indian Nation as well 
as 500 mt to be used as an incidental set aside for other non-tribal 
commercial fisheries if the 5,446 mt limit is reached and directed 
fishing for sardine is closed. This rulemaking is intended to conserve 
and manage the Pacific sardine stock off the U.S. West Coast.

DATES: Comments must be received by March 6, 2014.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document identified by NOAA-
NMFS-2013-0180 by any of the following methods:
     Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to 
www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0180, click the 
``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or 
attach your comments.
     Mail: Submit written comments to William W. Stelle, Jr., 
Regional Administrator, West Coast Region, NMFS, 7600 Sand Point Way 
NE., Seattle, WA 98115-0070; Attn: Joshua Lindsay.
     Instructions: 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 by NMFS. 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.), confidential business 
information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily 
by the sender will be publicly accessible. 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, Excel, or Adobe PDF file formats only.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Joshua Lindsay, West Coast Region, 
NMFS, (562) 980-4034.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: During public meetings each year, the 
estimated biomass for Pacific sardine is presented to the Pacific 
Fishery Management Council's (Council) Coastal Pelagic Species (CPS) 
Management Team (Team), the Council's CPS Advisory Subpanel (Subpanel) 
and the Council's Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC), and the 
biomass and the status of the fisheries are reviewed and discussed. The 
biomass estimate is then presented to the Council along with the 
calculated overfishing limit (OFL), available biological catch (ABC), 
annual catch limit (ACL) and harvest guideline (HG), along with 
recommendations and comments from the Team, Subpanel and SSC. Following 
review by the Council and after hearing public comment, the Council 
adopts a biomass estimate and makes its catch level recommendations to 
the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Each year NMFS then 
implements regulations that set the annual quota for the Pacific 
sardine fishing year that currently begins January 1 and ends December 
31.
    However, on December 23, 2013 NMFS published a proposed rule (78 FR 
77413) to change the start date of the 12-month Pacific sardine fishery 
from January 1 to July 1, thus changing the fishing season from one 
based on the

[[Page 6528]]

calendar year to a fishing year that will begin on July 1 and extend 
till the following June 30, as well as establish a one-time interim 
harvest period for the 6 months from January 1, 2014, through June 30, 
2014. The purpose of this change is to better align the timing of the 
research and science that is used in the annual stock assessments with 
the annual management schedule. Under this proposed scenario, the start 
of the next complete fishing season would begin on July 1, 2014, and 
extend through June 30, 2015. Because the current 2013 fishing season 
ended on December 31, 2013, it is necessary to implement interim 
management measures and harvest specifications for the period January 
1, 2014 to June 30, 2014, to allow for fishing opportunities to 
continue during a transition from the current start of the fishing 
season to the proposed new start on July 1. Therefore this rule assumes 
that the proposal will be approved and implemented to allow for the 
establishment of interim harvest specifications for the January 1 
through June 30, 2014, period. The purpose of this proposed rule is to 
implement the quota for the January 2014 through June 2014 period, as 
well as the other annual harvest levels (OFL, ABC and ACL) for the 
whole calendar year 2014, with the expectation that the latter will be 
replaced for the new fishing year, beginning in July 2014, based on a 
new stock assessment and Council action in April 2014. The Council is 
scheduled to address complete year (12-month) sardine management (July 
1 to June 30) at its April 2014 meeting.
    The CPS FMP and its implementing regulations require NMFS to set 
these annual catch levels for the Pacific sardine fishery based on the 
annual specification framework in the FMP. This framework includes a 
harvest control rule that determines the maximum HG, the primary 
management target for the fishery, for the current fishing season. The 
HG is based, in large part, on the current estimate of stock biomass. 
The harvest control rule in the CPS FMP is HG = [(Biomass-Cutoff) * 
Fraction * Distribution] with the parameters described as follows:
    1. Biomass. The estimated stock biomass of Pacific sardine age one 
and above.
    2. Cutoff. This is the biomass level below which no commercial 
fishery is allowed. The FMP established this level at 150,000 mt.
    3. Distribution. The average portion throughout the year of the 
Pacific sardine biomass estimated to occur in the EEZ off the Pacific 
coast in any given year. The FMP established this level at is 87 
percent.
    4. Fraction. The harvest fraction is the percentage of the biomass 
above 150,000 mt that may be harvested.
    At the November 2013 Council meeting, the Council adopted a report 
completed by NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center providing a 
biomass projection estimate for Pacific sardine of 378,120 mt. This 
report and the resulting biomass estimate were endorsed by the 
Council's SSC as the best available information on the stock status. 
Based on recommendations from its SSC and other advisory bodies, the 
Council recommended and NMFS is proposing, and OFL of 59,214 metric 
tons (mt), an ABC of 54,052 mt, an ACL of 54,052 mt (equal to the ABC), 
and a HG of 29,770. The current 2014 biomass estimate represents a 42 
percent decrease from the updated stock assessment previously adopted 
by the Council in November, 2012. This current biomass estimate is 
based on a catch-only projection model that included updated catches 
from 2012 and 2013, but did not include other fishery or survey data 
collected over the past year. New data will, however, be incorporated 
in the next full assessment that will serve as the basis for the 
complete 12-month fishery management cycle beginning July 1, 2014.
    The Council also adopted and NMFS is proposing an ACT or maximum 
directed HG of 19,846 (mt) as the maximum harvest level from which to 
calculate the first period allocation. Based the seasonal allocation 
framework in the FMP, this equates to a January 1 to June 30 allocation 
of 6,946 mt (35% of HG/ACT). The Council then adopted and NMFS is 
proposing an adjusted non-tribal harvest allocation for this period of 
5,946 mt. This number has been reduced from the total allocation for 
this period by 1,000 mt for potential harvest by the Quinault Indian 
Nation. A 500 mt incidental catch set aside is also being proposed for 
this period, leaving 5,446 mt as the non-tribal directed fishing 
allocation for the period of January 1, 2014, through June 30, 2014. 
The purpose of the incidental set-aside allotment and allowance of an 
incidental catch-only fishery is to allow for the restricted incidental 
landings of Pacific sardine in other fisheries, particularly other CPS 
fisheries, when a seasonal directed fishery is closed to reduce bycatch 
and allow for continued prosecution of other important CPS fisheries. 
If during this period the directed harvest allocation is projected to 
be taken, fishing would be closed to directed harvest and only 
incidental harvest would be allowed. For the remainder of the period, 
any incidental Pacific sardine landings would be counted against that 
period's incidental set-aside. As an additional accountability measure, 
the proposed incidental fishery would also be constrained to a 40 
percent by weight incidental catch rate when Pacific sardine are landed 
with other CPS so as to minimize the targeting of Pacific sardine and 
reduce potential discard of sardine. In the event that an incidental 
set-aside is projected to be attained, the incidental fishery will be 
closed for the remainder of the period. If the total January 1 to June 
30 allocation of Pacific sardine is reached or is expected to be 
reached, the Pacific sardine fishery would be closed until it re-opens 
at the beginning of the next fishing season. The NMFS West Coast 
Regional Administrator would publish a notice in the Federal Register 
announcing the date of any such closure.
    For the last two years, the Quinault Indian Nation requested, and 
NMFS approved, set-asides for the exclusive right to harvest Pacific 
sardine in the Quinault Usual and Accustomed Fishing Area off the coast 
of Washington State, pursuant to the 1856 Treaty of Olympia (Treaty 
with the Quinault). For the interim harvest period of January 1, 2014, 
through June 30, 2014, the Quinault Indian Nation has again requested 
that NMFS provide the Quinault with a tribal set-aside. The Quinault 
Indian Nation has requested a 1,000 mt set-aside for this interim 
period and NMFS is considering the request.
    The NMFS West Coast Regional Administrator will publish a notice in 
the Federal Register announcing the date of any closure to either 
directed or incidental fishing. Additionally, to ensure the regulated 
community is informed of any closure NMFS will also make announcements 
through other means available, including fax, email, and mail to 
fishermen, processors, and state fishery management agencies.

Classification

    Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery 
Conservation and Management Act, the Assistant Administrator, NMFS, has 
determined that this proposed rule is consistent with the CPS FMP, 
other provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and 
Management Act, and other applicable law, subject to further 
consideration after public comment.
    These proposed specifications are exempt from review under 
Executive Order 12866.
    An Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA) was prepared, as 
required by section 3 of the Regulatory

[[Page 6529]]

Flexibility Act, 5 U.S.C. 603. The IRFA describes the economic impact 
this proposed rule, if adopted, would have on small entities. A 
description of the action, why it is being considered, and the legal 
basis for this action are contained at the beginning of this section in 
the preamble and in the SUMMARY section of the preamble. The results of 
the analysis are stated below. For copies of the IRFA, and instructions 
on how to send comments on the IRFA, please see the ADDRESSES section 
above.
    The purpose of this proposed rule is to implement harvest 
specifications for the Pacific sardine fishery in the U.S. EEZ off the 
Pacific coast. The CPS FMP and its implementing regulations require 
NMFS to set an OFL, ABC, ACL and HG or ACT for the Pacific sardine 
fishery based on the specified harvest control rules in the FMP.
    On December 23, 2013, NMFS published a proposed rule (78 FR 77413) 
to change the start date of the 12-month Pacific sardine fishery from 
January 1 to July 1, thus changing the fishing season from one based on 
the calendar year to a fishing year that will begin on July 1 and 
extend until the following June 30, as well as establish a one-time 
interim harvest period for the 6 months from January 1, 2014, through 
June 30, 2014. The purpose of this change is to better align the timing 
of the research and science that is used in the annual stock 
assessments with the annual management schedule. Under this proposed 
scenario, the start of the next complete fishing season would begin on 
July 1, 2014, and go until June 30, 2015. Because the 2013 fishing 
season ended on December 31, 2013, it is necessary to implement interim 
management measures and harvest specifications for the period January 
1, 2014 to June 30, 2014, to allow for fishing opportunities to 
continue during the transition from January 1, the current start of the 
fishing season, to the proposed new start on July 1. Therefore, the 
purpose of this proposed rule is to implement the quota and associated 
management measures for the January 2014 through June 2014 interim 
harvest period, as well as the other annual harvest levels (OFL, ABC, 
and ACL) for 2014, with the expectation that these annual reference 
points will be replaced when complete year (12-month) sardine 
management (July 1 to June 30) is addressed in a subsequent rulemaking 
in Spring 2014.
    On June 20, 2013, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) 
issued a final rule revising the small business size standards for 
several industries effective July 22, 2013 (78 FR 37398). The rule 
increased the size standard for Finfish Fishing from $4.0 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. NMFS conducted 
its analysis for this action using the new size standards
    As stated above, the U.S. Small Business Administration now defines 
small businesses engaged in finfish fishing as those vessels with 
annual revenues of or below $19 million. Under the former, lower size 
standards, all entities subject to this action in previous years were 
considered small entities, and under the new standards they continue to 
be considered small. The small entities that would be affected by the 
proposed action are the vessels that fish for Pacific sardine as part 
of the West Coast CPS finfish fleet. In 2013 there were approximately 
96 vessels permitted to operate in the directed sardine fishery 
component of the CPS fishery off the U.S. West Coast, 55 vessels in the 
Federal CPS limited entry fishery off California (south of 39 N. lat.), 
and a combined 23 vessels in Oregon and Washington's state Pacific 
sardine fisheries. The average annual per vessel revenue in 2013 for 
the West Coast CPS finfish fleet was well below $19 million; therefore, 
all of these vessels are considered small businesses under the RFA. 
Because each affected vessel is a small business, this proposed rule 
has an equal effect on all of these small entities, and therefore will 
impact a substantial number of these small entities in the same manner. 
Therefore this rule will not create disproportionate costs between 
small and large vessels/businesses.
    The profitability of these vessels as a result of this proposed 
rule is based on the average Pacific sardine ex-vessel price per mt. 
NMFS used average Pacific sardine ex-vessel price per mt to conduct a 
profitability analysis because cost data for the harvesting operations 
of CPS finfish vessels was unavailable.
    For the 2013 fishing year, approximately 19,000 mt were available 
for harvest by the directed fishery during the 6-month time period of 
January 1, 2013 through June 30, 2013. Approximately 4,000 mt 
(approximately 2,500 mt in California and 1,500 mt in Oregon and 
Washington) of this allocation was harvested during that time period, 
for an estimated ex-vessel value of $850,000. Using these figures, the 
average 2013 ex-vessel price per mt of Pacific sardines was 
approximately $215 during that time period.
    The proposed annual catch target (ACT) or maximum directed HG that 
is used to calculate the first period allocation of January 1, 2014 to 
June 30, 2014 is 19,846 (mt). This value is approximately 40,000 mt 
less than the maximum directed HG used to calculate the three seasonal 
allocations in 2013. Based on the seasonal allocation framework in the 
FMP, this equates to an allocation of 6,946 mt (35% of the 19,846 HG/
ACT) for the interim harvest period of January 1, 2014 to June 30, 
2014. From this value, the proposed non-tribal directed fishing 
allocation for this period, accounting for a tribal set-aside and an 
incidental harvest allocation, is 5,446 mt. This equates to a decrease 
of approximately 12,000 mt between the first period (January-June) 
directed harvest allocation for 2014 compared to the same period in 
2013. If the fleet were to take the entire January 1 through June 30, 
2014, allocation, and assuming a coastwide average ex-vessel price per 
mt of $230 (average 2013 ex-vessel price per mt), the potential revenue 
to the fleet would be approximately $1.25 million. Therefore, because 
the proposed non-tribal directed fishing allocation for the January 1, 
2014 to June 30, 2014 period is 12,000 mt less than for the same period 
in 2013, this proposed rule will decrease the effected small entities' 
potential profitability during this same time period when compared to 
the same period last season.
    However, although there is a decrease in potential profitability to 
sardine harvesting vessels for the January 1, 2014 to June 30, 2014 
time period based on this rule compared to last season, as stated 
above, only approximately 4,000 mt of the allocated 19,000 mt were 
landed in 2013 during the first allocation period, therefore it is 
difficult to predict whether the proposed allocation will ultimately 
restrict the harvesting capacity of the fleet for this period. 
Additionally, revenue derived from harvesting Pacific sardine is 
typically only one factor determining the overall revenue for a 
majority of the vessels that harvest Pacific sardine; as a result, the 
economic impact to the fleet from the proposed action cannot be viewed 
in isolation. From year to year, depending on market conditions and 
availability of fish, most CPS/sardine vessels supplement their income 
by harvesting other species. Many vessels in California also harvest 
anchovy, mackerel, and in particular squid, making Pacific sardine only 
one component of a multi-species CPS fishery. For example, market squid 
have been readily available to the fishery in California over the last 
three years with total annual ex-vessel revenue averaging approximately 
$66 million over that time, compared to an annual average ex-

[[Page 6530]]

vessel from sardine of $16 million over that same time period.
    These vessels typically rely on multiple species for profitability 
because abundance of sardine, like the other CPS stocks, is highly 
associated with ocean conditions and different times of the year, and 
therefore are harvested at various times and areas throughout the year. 
Because each species responds to ocean conditions in its own way, not 
all CPS stocks are likely to be abundant at the same time; therefore, 
as abundance levels and markets fluctuate, it has necessitated that the 
CPS fishery as a whole rely on a group of species for its annual 
revenues. Therefore, although there will be a potential reduction in 
sardine revenue for the small entities affected by this proposed action 
when compared to the previous season, it is difficult to predict 
exactly how this reduction will impact overall annual revenue for the 
fleet.
    There are no significant alternatives to this proposed rule that 
would accomplish the stated objectives of the applicable statutes and 
would also minimize any significant economic impact of this proposed 
rule on the affected small entities. The CPS FMP and its implementing 
regulations require NMFS to set an annual HG for the Pacific sardine 
fishery based on the harvest formula in the FMP. The harvest formula is 
applied to the current stock biomass estimate to determine the HG. 
Therefore, if the estimated biomass decreases or increases from one 
year to the next, the HG will correspondingly decrease or increase. 
Because the current stock biomass estimate decreased from 2013 to 2014, 
the HG and subsequent first period allocation also decreased.
    There are no reporting, record-keeping, or other compliance 
requirements required by this proposed rule. Additionally, no other 
Federal rules duplicate, overlap, or conflict with this proposed rule.
    This action does not contain a collection-of-information 
requirement for purposes of the Paper Reduction Act.

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

    Dated: January 29, 2014.
Samuel D. Rauch III,
Deputy Assistant Administrator For Regulatory Programs, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2014-02179 Filed 2-3-14; 8:45 am]
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