[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 34 (Thursday, February 20, 2014)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 9625-9642]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-03631]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 679

[Docket No. 120723270-4100-02]
RIN 0648-BC39


Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Groundfish 
of the Gulf of Alaska; Amendment 95 to the Fishery Management Plan for 
Groundfish

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

ACTION: Final rule.

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SUMMARY: NMFS issues regulations to implement Amendment 95 to the 
Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Gulf of Alaska (FMP). 
These regulations modify halibut prohibited species catch (PSC) 
management in the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) by establishing halibut PSC 
limits for the GOA in Federal regulation and reducing the GOA halibut 
PSC limits for the trawl and hook-and-line gear sectors. The reduction 
to the trawl gear PSC limit also proportionately reduces a subset of 
trawl halibut PSC limits (also called sideboard limits) for American 
Fisheries Act, Amendment 80, and Central GOA Rockfish Program vessels. 
These regulations also incorporate three measures to minimize adverse 
economic impacts on fishing industry sectors. First, the reductions for 
these sectors will be phased-in over 3 years. Second, this action 
allows the Amendment 80 sector to roll over unused halibut PSC 
sideboard limits from one season to the subsequent season. Third, this 
action combines management of the deep-water and shallow-water halibut 
PSC limits from May 15 to June 30, which allows the aggregate halibut 
PSC limit to be used in either the deep-water or shallow-water fishery. 
This action is intended to promote the goals and objectives of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the FMP, and 
other applicable laws.

DATES: Effective March 24, 2014.

ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of the Environmental Assessment (EA), 
Regulatory Impact Review (RIR), Finding of No Significant Impact 
(FONSI) prepared for this action, collectively ``the Analysis,'' FMP, 
and proposed rule are available from http://www.regulations.gov or from 
the NMFS Alaska Region Web site at http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Obren Davis or Rachel Baker, 907-586-
7228.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Regulatory Authority

    NMFS establishes regulations to implement Amendment 95 to the FMP. 
NMFS manages the GOA groundfish fisheries in the exclusive economic 
zone off Alaska under the FMP. The North Pacific Fishery Management 
Council (Council) prepared the FMP under the authority of the Magnuson-
Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), 
16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. Regulations implementing the FMP appear at 50 
CFR part 679. General regulations governing U.S. fisheries also appear 
at subpart H of 50 CFR part 600. The International Pacific Halibut 
Commission (IPHC) and NMFS manage fishing for Pacific halibut 
(Hippoglossus stenolepis) through regulations established under the 
authority of the Northern Pacific Halibut Act of 1982.

Background

    NMFS published a Notice of Availability for Amendment 95 on August 
29, 2013 (78 FR 53419), with comments invited through October 28, 2013. 
NMFS published a proposed rule to implement Amendment 95 on September 
17, 2013 (78 FR 57106) with comments invited through October 17, 2013. 
NMFS approved Amendment 95 on November 27, 2013. NMFS received comments 
on the FMP amendment and the proposed rule from 29 different entities. 
A summary of these comments and the responses by NMFS are provided 
under ``Response to Comments'' below. Those comments did not result in 
any modification to the proposed rule.
    A detailed review of the provisions of Amendment 95, the proposed 
regulations, and the rationale for these regulations is provided in the 
preamble to the proposed rule (78 FR 57106, September 17, 2013) and is 
not repeated here. In addition to the Federal Register, the proposed 
rule is available from the NMFS Alaska Region Web site (see ADDRESSES). 
The preamble to this final rule provides a brief review of the 
regulatory changes made by this final rule.
    NMFS manages halibut PSC in groundfish fisheries under the 
authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Prohibited species catch in the 
GOA is catch that may not be retained unless required under Section 3.6 
of the FMP. The FMP and implementing regulations currently authorize 
the Council to recommend, and NMFS to approve, annual halibut PSC 
limits as a component of the proposed and final groundfish harvest 
specifications. Consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act's National 
Standard 1 and National Standard 9, NMFS uses halibut PSC limits to 
minimize halibut bycatch in the groundfish fisheries to the extent 
practicable, while achieving, on a continuing basis, the optimum yield 
from the groundfish fisheries. The use of halibut PSC limits in the 
groundfish fisheries reduces halibut bycatch and promotes conservation 
of the halibut resource.
    A PSC limit is an apportioned, non-retainable amount of fish 
provided to a groundfish fishery to limit the bycatch of that 
prohibited species (i.e., halibut) in a fishery. NMFS establishes 
halibut PSC limits to constrain the amount of halibut bycatch in the 
groundfish fishery. As described in Section 3.6 of the FMP, when a 
halibut PSC limit is reached in a specific management area, further 
fishing with specific types of gear or modes of operation is prohibited 
by those who take their halibut PSC limit in that area. Thus, halibut 
PSC limits impose an upper-limit on halibut bycatch. Halibut bycatch 
primarily occurs in the trawl and hook-and-line groundfish fisheries, 
although it also is incurred by vessels using pot and jig gear. Halibut 
bycatch in the groundfish fisheries may affect commercial, sport, and 
subsistence halibut fishing opportunities by decreasing the amount of 
halibut available for those fisheries.
    NMFS manages groundfish fisheries by closing directed fishing for a 
given species when a species' total allowable catch (TAC) or seasonal 
apportionment of a TAC is harvested. In addition, reaching an annual or 
seasonal trawl or hook-and-line halibut PSC limit results in closure of 
groundfish directed fisheries using that gear in the GOA for the 
remainder of the year or season, even if some of the groundfish TAC 
assigned to that gear for that fishery remains unharvested. NMFS 
manages halibut bycatch in the GOA by (1) establishing annual halibut 
PSC limits, and (2) apportioning those limits to fishery categories and 
seasons to accommodate halibut PSC needs in specific groundfish 
fisheries.

[[Page 9626]]

    Historically, halibut PSC limits have been set during the annual 
groundfish harvest specifications process. The Council recommends 
proposed groundfish harvest specifications in October each year for the 
subsequent 2-year period. A 2-year harvest specification cycle allows 
harvest limits to be specified for a sufficient duration to ensure that 
catch limits are in place at the start of the second year. This allows 
fisheries to begin on January 1, pending the final publication of the 
subsequent set of harvest specifications. The proposed harvest 
specifications are published in the Federal Register for a 30-day 
comment period and final harvest specifications usually are published 
between mid-February and March of each year. The total annual halibut 
PSC limit in the GOA was set at 2,273 mt in the final 2013 and 2014 
harvest specifications for the GOA (78 FR 13162, February 26, 2013). Of 
this amount, 1,973 mt is apportioned to trawl gear and 300 mt is 
apportioned to hook-and-line gear. This action reduces these limits, as 
described below under ``Actions Implemented by this Rule.''
    Section 679.21(d)(5) authorizes NMFS to seasonally apportion the 
annual trawl and hook-and-line halibut PSC limits after consultation 
with the Council. The halibut PSC limits were most recently apportioned 
into five seasons for trawl gear and three seasons for the other hook-
and-line fishery through the 2013 and 2014 GOA harvest specifications 
(78 FR 13162, February 26, 2013). During the annual harvest 
specifications process, the specific amount of halibut PSC limit is 
assigned to each of these seasons. The halibut PSC limit established 
for the demersal shelf rockfish (DSR) fishery in the eastern GOA 
management area is not subject to seasonal apportionment. Additional 
detail on the annual apportionment of halibut PSC limit by season and 
fishery is provided in the final 2013 and 2014 harvest specifications 
for the GOA (78 FR 13162, February 26, 2013).

Actions Implemented by This Rule

    This action (1) establishes GOA halibut PSC limits in Federal 
regulation; (2) reduces the GOA halibut PSC limits for vessels using 
trawl and hook-and-line gear; (3) proportionately reduces trawl halibut 
PSC sideboard limits for American Fisheries Act (AFA), Amendment 80, 
and Central GOA Rockfish Program vessels; and (4) implements two 
management measures to modify the accounting of halibut PSC sideboard 
limits for Amendment 80 vessels and halibut PSC used by trawl vessels 
from May 15 through June 30. This action minimizes halibut PSC limits 
to the extent practicable consistent with National Standard 9, while at 
the same time achieving, on a continuing basis, the optimum yield from 
the groundfish fishery. This action also supersedes the halibut PSC 
limits in the proposed 2014 and 2015 harvest specifications for the GOA 
(78 FR 74079, December 10, 2013).

Action 1: Establishment of GOA Halibut PSC Limits in Federal Regulation

    This action incorporates the overall annual GOA halibut PSC limits 
for the trawl and hook-and-line sectors in Federal regulations at Sec.  
679.21. This replaces the process of establishing halibut PSC limits 
through the annual groundfish harvest specifications process. Since the 
GOA halibut PSC limits now are published in Federal regulations, they 
may only be modified by a regulatory amendment. Although this action 
establishes annual halibut PSC limits in Federal regulation, the 
Council and NMFS will continue to use the annual harvest specification 
process to apportion the trawl and hook-and-line sector's halibut PSC 
limits between fisheries and gear categories. The Council must consider 
the best available information when recommending these apportionments 
of halibut PSC limits consistent with existing regulations at Sec.  
679.21(d)(5).

Action 2: Reduction of the GOA Halibut PSC Limits for the Hook-and-Line 
and Trawl Sectors

    This action reduces the GOA halibut PSC limits for vessels 
harvesting groundfish in the GOA. The GOA halibut PSC limit for each 
gear and fishery category is reduced from the annual halibut PSC limits 
specified in the proposed 2014 and 2015 harvest specifications for the 
GOA (78 FR 74079, December 10, 2013). These reductions apply to the 300 
mt halibut PSC limit previously specified to the hook-and-line gear 
sector and the 1,973 mt halibut PSC limit previously specified to the 
trawl gear sector. Actual reductions vary by sector. The full 
reductions for the hook-and-line DSR fishery and the hook-and-line 
catcher/processor sector are implemented upon effectiveness of this 
rule. The reductions for the trawl sector and hook-and-line catcher 
vessel sectors are phased-in over 3 years. These halibut PSC limit 
reductions are described below.
    This action reduces the PSC limits for the hook-and-line DSR 
fishery and the other hook-and-line sectors by different amounts. 
First, this action reduces the halibut PSC limit for the hook-and-line 
DSR fishery in the Southeast Outside District by 1 mt, from 10 mt in 
2013, to 9 mt in 2014 and each year thereafter. Second, this action 
reduces the halibut PSC limit for the hook-and-line catcher/processor 
sector by 7 percent in 2014, and retains that level thereafter. Third, 
the halibut PSC limit for the other hook-and-line catcher vessel sector 
is reduced over 3 years, beginning with a 7-percent reduction in 2014, 
another 5-percent reduction in 2015, and an additional 3 percent in 
2016. This results in a total reduction of 15 percent in 2016, compared 
to the 2013 halibut PSC limit, and the reduced limit is effective 
thereafter.
    This action incorporates the existing other hook-and-line halibut 
PSC limit of 290 mt in regulation. That amount is the beginning basis 
for annually apportioning the other hook-and-line halibut PSC limit 
between the hook-and-line catcher vessel and catcher/processor sectors, 
using existing formulas that divide this limit between these two 
sectors (see (Sec.  679.21(d)(4)(iii)). These calculations are 
necessary to incorporate annual changes to the Pacific cod distribution 
between the Western and Central GOA management areas, which affects how 
the other hook-and-line halibut PSC limit is divided between the 
catcher vessel and catcher/processor sectors. Each sector's 
apportionment will then be reduced by the actual percentage reductions 
implemented by this action.
    The trawl halibut PSC limit reductions implemented by this action 
are based on reductions from the currently specified trawl halibut PSC 
limit of 1,973 mt, as established in the final 2013 and 2014 harvest 
specifications for the GOA (78 FR 13162, February 26, 2013). Similar to 
the other hook-and-line catcher vessel sector, the halibut PSC limit 
for the trawl sector will be reduced by 15 percent and phased in over 3 
years. The halibut PSC limit will be reduced by 7 percent in 2014, 
another 5 percent in 2015, and an additional 3 percent in 2016. This 
results in a total reduction of 15 percent in 2016 as compared to the 
2013 halibut PSC limit. This new PSC limit will remain in effect each 
year thereafter.
    The trawl halibut PSC limit of 191.4 mt apportioned to the Central 
GOA Rockfish Program (Rockfish Program) is not reduced by this action. 
The Rockfish Program (76 FR 81248, December 27, 2011) requires NMFS to 
assign 191.4 mt of the deep-water fishery's halibut PSC limit 
apportionment to participants in the Rockfish Program. This fixed 
amount is used to support fishing for specific allocations of 
groundfish species under that program (see Table 28d to part 679). The 
Rockfish Program

[[Page 9627]]

was exempted from these halibut PSC limit reductions because 
participants in the Rockfish Program already had their apportionment of 
halibut PSC limit reduced relative to historic use of halibut PSC in 
the Central GOA rockfish fisheries upon implementation of the Rockfish 
Program on December 27, 2011.
    In order to maintain the Rockfish Program's halibut PSC limit, NMFS 
will subtract 191.4 mt of the halibut PSC limit that is apportioned to 
the Rockfish Program from the overall trawl halibut PSC limit before 
calculating the percentage reductions to the trawl halibut PSC limit 
implemented by this action. The 191.4 mt amount will be added back to 
the trawl halibut PSC limit after calculating the 7, 12, and 15 percent 
annual reduction during the phased-in implementation of the trawl 
halibut PSC limit reductions. This will prevent the percentage 
reductions to the overall annual GOA trawl halibut PSC limit from being 
applied to the halibut PSC limit apportioned to the Rockfish Program.
    The annual halibut PSC limit apportionments for the deep-water 
fishery, shallow-water fishery, and each of those fisheries' respective 
seasonal apportionments will continue to be recommended by the Council 
and published in the annual harvest specifications, rather than in 
Federal regulations. The halibut PSC limit reductions implemented by 
this action also will result in reductions to the trawl sector's 
seasonal apportionments of halibut PSC limits.
    The following tables illustrate the reductions that will be made to 
the proposed 2014 halibut PSC limits (78 FR 74079, December 10, 2013) 
in the final 2014 and 2015 harvest specifications. These examples 
portray the 7-percent reduction to the trawl and hook-and-line sectors 
that are implemented in 2014 with this action, as well as the 1 mt 
reduction to the DSR fishery's halibut PSC limit. The additional 
percentage reductions in 2015 and later years that also are implemented 
by this action are not included in the examples presented in these 
tables.
    Table 1 lists the 2014 halibut PSC limits and allowances that will 
be established for trawl and hook-and-line sectors. Table 2 portrays 
the 2014 seasonal apportionments of halibut PSC limits between the 
trawl deep-water and shallow-water fisheries. Finally, Table 3 lists 
the 2014 seasonal apportionment of halibut PSC limits between the hook-
and-line catcher vessel and catcher/processor sectors. Each of the 
specific halibut PSC limits and apportionments included in these three 
tables will be implemented through the final 2014 and 2015 harvest 
specifications for the GOA, which is an outgrowth of the proposed 2014 
and 2015 harvest specifications.
    NMFS intends to incorporate the halibut PSC limit reductions (7 
percent) implemented through this action into the final 2014 and 2015 
harvest specifications. This includes reductions to the halibut PSC 
limits, apportionments, and sideboard limits that were included in the 
proposed 2014 and 2015 harvest specifications (78 FR 74079, December 
10, 2013). The final 2014 and 2015 harvest specifications also will 
include the additional halibut PSC limit reduction (12 percent) for the 
hook-and-line catcher vessel and trawl sectors for 2015. NMFS 
anticipates that the final 2014 and 2015 harvest specifications will be 
effective in March 2014.

 Table 1--2014 Pacific Halibut PSC Limits, Allowances, and Apportionments Incorporating a 7-Percent Reduction to
         the Trawl and Other Hook-and-Line Sectors and a 1 mt Reduction to the DSR Hook-and-Line Sector
                                           [Values are in metric tons]
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                   Trawl gear                                           Hook-and-line gear
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                             Other than DSR                       DSR
           Season              Percent   Amount  ---------------------------------------------------------------
                                                       Season       Percent   Amount        Season       Amount
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
January 20-April 1..........      27.5       508  January 1-June         86       233  January 1-              9
                                                   10.                                  December 31.
April 1-July 1..............        20       370  June 10-                2         5  ...............  ........
                                                   September 1.
July 1-September 1..........        30       554  September 1-           12        32  ...............  ........
                                                   December 31.
September 1-October 1.......       7.5       139  ...............  ........  ........  ...............  ........
October 1-December 31.......        15       277  ...............  ........  ........  ...............  ........
                             --------------------                 --------------------                 ---------
    Total...................  ........     1,848  ...............  ........       270  ...............         9
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    Table 2--2014 Apportionment of Pacific Halibut PSC Trawl Limits Between the Trawl Gear Deep-Water Species
                            Fishery and the Shallow-Water Species Fishery Categories
                                           [Values are in metric tons]
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                   Shallow-water    Deep-water
                             Season                                   fishery         fishery          Total
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
January 20-April 1..............................................             416              92             508
April 1-July 1..................................................              92             277             369
July 1-September 1..............................................             185             370             555
September 1-October 1...........................................             139           (\1\)             139
Subtotal January 20-October 1...................................             832             739           1,571
October 1-December 31...........................................  ..............  ..............             277
                                                                 -----------------------------------------------
    Total.......................................................  ..............  ..............           1,848
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Any remainder.


[[Page 9628]]


  Table 3--2014 Apportionment of the ``Other Hook-and-Line Fisheries'' Annual Halibut PSC Allowance Between the
                         Hook-and-Line Gear Catcher Vessel and Catcher/Processor Sectors
                                           [Values are in metric tons]
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                   Percent     Sector                                    Sector
    ``Other hook-and-line''       Hook-and-line   of annual    annual        Season         Seasonal    seasonal
           allowance                 sector         amount     amount                      percentage    amount
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
270...........................  Catcher Vessel..       57.3        154  January 1-June             86        132
                                                                         10.                        2          3
                                                                        June 10-                   12         18
                                                                         September 1.
                                                                        September 1-
                                                                         December 31.
                                Catcher/               42.7        115  January 1-June             86         99
                                 Processor.                              10.                        2          2
                                                                        June 10-                   12         14
                                                                         September 1.
                                                                        September 1-
                                                                         December 31.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Action 3: Reduce the Halibut PSC Sideboard Limits for AFA, Amendment 
80, and Rockfish Program Vessels

    Over time, a variety of halibut PSC use limits, commonly known as 
sideboard limits, have been implemented to restrict the amount of 
halibut PSC limit available to specific participants in GOA groundfish 
fisheries. Sideboard limits serve as fishery-specific limits that 
require participants subject to the sideboard limit to stop fishing for 
specific groundfish once that sideboard limit is reached. Sideboard 
limits were adopted as part of the AFA, Amendment 80, and Central GOA 
Rockfish catch share programs to prevent program participants from 
using the flexibility provided by catch share allocations to increase 
their harvests in fisheries not subject to exclusive allocations. 
Regulations that establish halibut PSC sideboard limits are at Sec.  
679.64(b)(4) for non-exempt AFA catcher vessels subject to GOA halibut 
PSC sideboard limits, Sec.  679.92(b)(2) for the Amendment 80 sector, 
and Sec.  679.82(e) for catcher/processors that opt-out of a Rockfish 
Program cooperative and are subject to GOA halibut PSC sideboard 
limits.
    This action does not revise the regulations that establish the 
methodology for calculating the specific percentage of the trawl 
halibut PSC limit apportioned to the AFA Program, Amendment 80 sector, 
or Rockfish Program as halibut PSC sideboard limits. Rather, the AFA 
Program, Amendment 80 sector, and Rockfish Program halibut PSC 
sideboard limits will continue to be calculated during the annual 
harvest specifications process as percentages of the GOA halibut PSC 
limit apportioned to the trawl sector. However, because the annual 
trawl halibut PSC limit is reduced by this action, the annual amount of 
each of these management program's halibut PSC sideboard limit also is 
proportionately reduced. Examples of the reductions to the halibut PSC 
sideboard limits implemented by this action are provided in the 
proposed rule for this action (78 FR 57106, September 17, 2013).

Action 4: Implement Changes to the Accounting of Halibut PSC Sideboard 
Limits for Amendment 80 Vessels and Revise Halibut PSC Apportionments 
Used by Trawl Vessels From May 15 Through June 30

    This action implements two management measures that are intended to 
provide operational flexibility to trawl sectors that are constrained 
by current regulatory restrictions associated with halibut PSC 
sideboard limits and the segregation of trawl halibut PSC 
apportionments between the deep-water and shallow-water fisheries. 
These management measures will (1) allow the Amendment 80 sector to 
roll over unused halibut PSC sideboard limits from one season to the 
next season, and (2) allow NMFS to combine available trawl halibut PSC 
limit apportionments in the second season deep-water and shallow-water 
fisheries for use in either fishery from May 15 through June 30. These 
management measures will help to maintain groundfish harvest while 
minimizing halibut bycatch by these sectors to the extent practicable. 
The measures will provide the Amendment 80 sectors and deep-water and 
shallow-water trawl fisheries additional flexibility and the incentive 
to participate in fisheries at times of the year that may have lower 
halibut PSC rates relative to other times of the year. Both of these 
measures are summarized below.
    The first management measure allows the Amendment 80 sector to roll 
over unused halibut PSC sideboard limits from one season to the next 
season so that the Amendment 80 sector can, potentially, maximize their 
groundfish catch by using their halibut PSC sideboard limits more 
efficiently. Non-exempt AFA catcher vessels, Rockfish Program vessels, 
and vessels not operating under sideboard limits already have this 
flexibility. Regulations at Sec.  679.92(b)(2) prevent Amendment 80 
vessels from using more halibut PSC sideboard limit than is available 
in each deep-water or shallow-water fishery and season. If the 
Amendment 80 deep-water or shallow-water seasonal halibut PSC sideboard 
limit is reached, then all directed fishing for all species in that 
fishery close in the GOA for that season. This action amends Sec.  
679.92(b)(2) to allow Amendment 80 vessels to roll over unused halibut 
PSC sideboard limits from one season to the next season.
    The second management measure amends regulations at Sec.  
679.21(d)(4) to allow all GOA trawl participants to access, on an 
annual basis, any remaining halibut PSC limits from the first season in 
either the deep-water fishery or shallow-water fishery during the 
second season from May 15 through June 30 (except vessels managed under 
Amendment 80 halibut PSC sideboard limits). Under combined management 
of halibut PSC limits from May 15 through June 30, GOA trawl gear 
vessels will be able to use halibut PSC limits that remain in the deep-
water complex or shallow-water complex in either the deep-water or 
shallow-water fisheries. The second season will remain open as long as 
the combined halibut PSC limit is available. This combination of the 
management of the deep-water and shallow-water halibut PSC limits from 
May 15 to June 30 will allow the trawl sector to use remaining second 
season halibut PSC limits in either fishery complex and provide the 
trawl sector with greater opportunity to fully harvest TAC for more 
economically valuable species. After the second season is complete on 
June 15, NMFS will re-specify halibut PSC limits for the third season, 
and resume separate management of halibut PSC limits in the deep-water 
and shallow-water fishery complexes.

[[Page 9629]]

Changes From the Proposed Rule

    This rule does not change any of the proposed regulations contained 
in the proposed rule prepared for this action (78 FR 74079, December 
10, 2013).

Summary of Regulatory Changes

    This action makes the following changes to regulations at 50 CFR 
part 679:
     Revise Sec.  679.21, prohibited species bycatch 
management, to incorporate explicit annual GOA halibut PSC limits for 
the trawl and hook-and-line fisheries, add the incremental reduction of 
the annual PSC limit over a 3-year period, and provide NMFS the ability 
to re-specify halibut PSC limits in the second season deep-water and 
shallow-water species fishery categories to aggregate the available 
halibut PSC limits for use in either fishery.
     Revise Sec.  679.92, Amendment 80 Program halibut PSC use 
caps and sideboard limits, to remove restrictions on the roll over of 
seasonal halibut PSC sideboard limits from one season to the next 
season.
     Revise Table 38 to 50 CFR part 679 to incorporate in this 
table the seasonal halibut PSC sideboard limit roll over provisions 
made in Sec.  679.92.

Response to Comments

    NMFS received 29 comment letters containing 34 substantive comments 
during the public comment periods on the notice of availability for 
Amendment 95 and the proposed rule to implement Amendment 95. 
Commenters varied in their support for and opposition to Amendment 95. 
NMFS also received two letters that were not relevant to the proposed 
action. No changes were made to this final rule in response to the 
comment letters received. NMFS' response to the public comments on 
Amendment 95 and the proposed rule to implement Amendment 95 is 
presented below.

General Comments

    Comment 1: Several commenters expressed general support for 
Amendment 95 to the FMP and its implementing regulations.
    Response: NMFS acknowledges the comment.
    Comment 2: Several commenters asserted that the comment period for 
the proposed rule was inadequate and asked for an extension of the 
comment period. The commenters noted that from October 1, 2013, through 
October 16, 2013, portions of the Federal government were shut-down due 
to a lapse of appropriations. The commenters stated that this shutdown 
affected their ability to contact NMFS staff during a portion of the 
comment period for the notice of availability and the proposed rule to 
implement Amendment 95. Some commenters believed they were 
disadvantaged by not being able to discuss elements of the action with 
agency staff during the public comment period.
    Response: NMFS does not believe that an extended comment period was 
warranted because the government shutdown did not prevent the public 
from reviewing the proposed rule, the Analysis prepared for this 
action, or submitting comments, either electronically or in writing, on 
the notice of availability and the proposed rule during the period from 
October 1, 2013, through October 16, 2013. NMFS considered comments 
received during the comment periods on the proposed rule (September 17 
through October 17, 2013) and the notice of availability (August 29 
through October 28, 2013) in this final rule. These comment periods 
occurred prior to and after the shutdown. NMFS notes that the public 
was also afforded multiple opportunities to provide comments to the 
Council as it developed Amendment 95 (see Section 1.2.3 of the Analysis 
that describes the Council action on Amendment 95).

Comments Associated With the Range of Alternatives and Practicability 
of Halibut PSC Reductions

    Comment 3: The Secretary should partially disapprove Amendment 95. 
The proposed 15-percent reduction is not practicable for the trawl 
fleet to meet without additional management tools, such as a catch 
share program, or other measures that allow harvesters and processors 
to better manage operations and more effectively manage halibut PSC. 
The proposed 15 percent PSC limit reduction would have far reaching 
negative economic effects due to the potential reduction of groundfish 
harvest. NMFS should only implement the first 7-percent step of the 
proposed halibut PSC limit reduction for the trawl sector.
    Response: NMFS approved Amendment 95 on November 26, 2013. Section 
303(a)(3) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act requires that NMFS, acting on 
behalf of the Secretary of Commerce, can disapprove a plan amendment 
only after specifying the applicable law with which the plan amendment 
is inconsistent; the nature of such inconsistencies; and 
recommendations concerning the actions that could be taken by the 
Council to conform such plan amendment to the requirements of 
applicable law. Before approving Amendment 95, NMFS considered these 
factors and concluded that Amendment 95 is not inconsistent with 
applicable law. For the following reasons, NMFS believes that limiting 
the reduction in trawl PSC limits to only 7 percent relative to the 
current trawl PSC limits would not meet the objectives of the action to 
minimize halibut bycatch to the extent practicable.
    Amendment 95 minimizes halibut PSC to the extent practicable 
considering the management measures currently available to the GOA 
groundfish fleet, the derby-style prosecution of some components of the 
groundfish fishery, the uncertainty about the extent to which halibut 
PSC in the groundfish fishery has adverse effects on the halibut 
resource, and the need to ensure that catch in the trawl (and hook-and-
line) fisheries contributes to the achievement of optimum yield in the 
groundfish fisheries. As described in the proposed rule (78 FR 57106, 
September 17, 2013) and Section 4.6.3 of the Analysis, the Amendment 95 
halibut PSC limit reductions may result in earlier groundfish season 
closures, attendant reductions in target groundfish catches when the 
lower seasonal PSC limit is reached, and forgone groundfish revenue for 
sectors that are unable to fully prosecute TAC limits. Participants in 
the groundfish fisheries could also incur additional costs associated 
with halibut PSC avoidance.
    Although the proposed halibut PSC limit reductions may result in 
earlier season closures and an attendant reduction in target groundfish 
catches when the lower seasonal PSC limit is reached, the frequency and 
extent of early season closures and effects of such closures will vary 
across gear types and segments of the fleets to the extent that fleets 
are willing to change fishing behavior in response to lower PSC limits. 
If sector participants are successful in taking action to control 
halibut PSC use to avoid a closure, additional gross revenues may be 
gained. Historical records and NMFS' management experience in the trawl 
fisheries indicate that the amount of halibut PSC in the GOA groundfish 
fisheries can be reduced through increased communication among industry 
participants and coordination of fishing activities and effort. Section 
4.6.4 of the Analysis reviewed potential measures that could be adopted 
by participants to reduce halibut PSC and factors that are likely to 
affect the willingness of participants to adopt these measures.
    The Analysis considered not only changes in trawl sector revenues, 
but also changes in costs resulting from the

[[Page 9630]]

fleets' altered fishing behavior to minimize halibut bycatch. However, 
these effects are not possible to directly quantify with available 
information. The effects on communities are summarized in Section 4.6.7 
of the Analysis, and examined in detail in Appendix 7 to the Analysis. 
Appendix 7 also summarizes mitigating factors for possible adverse 
impacts on the primary GOA communities associated with the trawl 
groundfish fishery. The halibut PSC limit reductions implemented by 
this final rule balance the potential financial effects of reduced 
groundfish harvests and increased costs to groundfish fleets, the 
benefits of minimizing bycatch to the extent practicable, the potential 
benefits that may occur from reducing a known source of mortality to 
the halibut stock, and potential additional harvest opportunity that 
may accrue to other users of the halibut resource.
    The Council and NMFS recognize that the trawl and catcher vessel 
hook-and-line sectors will likely experience the largest economic 
constraints following implementation of this action. Therefore, 
Amendment 95 implements three measures to minimize adverse economic 
impacts on the trawl and catcher vessel hook-and-line sectors to the 
extent practicable. First, this action would phase in the reductions 
for these sectors over three years to mitigate the impact the halibut 
PSC limit reductions have on groundfish fishery revenue while the 
fleets modify their fishing behaviors and adopt measures such as those 
described in Section 4.6.4 of the Analysis to reduce halibut PSC. This 
action would reduce halibut PSC limits assigned to the trawl and 
catcher vessel sectors by 7 percent in the first year of 
implementation, an additional 5 percent in the second year, and the 
final 3 percent in the third year. Second, this action would allow the 
Amendment 80 sector to roll over unused halibut PSC sideboard limits 
from one season to the next season. Finally, this action would combine 
management of the deep-water and shallow-water halibut PSC limits from 
May 15 to June 30 for use in either fishery. These measures are 
described under Action 2 and Action 4 in the preamble.
    In addition, the Council and NMFS recognized that additional 
restrictions beyond those considered in this action would not meet the 
stated purpose and need for the action because of the relatively 
limited ability of the trawl and hook-and-line fleets to adapt to 
additional constraints on halibut PSC (see Sections 2.4 and 3.8.1.7 of 
the Analysis). The Council is actively developing an action known as 
the GOA trawl bycatch management program, with a primary objective of 
improving incentives for PSC reduction and PSC management while at the 
same time achieving, on a continuing basis, the optimum yield from the 
groundfish fishery.
    Comment 4: The EA did not consider a reasonable range of 
alternatives because the maximum PSC limit reduction analyzed was 15 
percent. The EA should have analyzed PSC limit reductions of up to 50 
percent.
    Response: The EA analyzes a reasonable range of alternatives that 
meet the purpose and need for the proposed action. As explained in 
Section 2.5 of the Analysis and in the preamble to the proposed rule 
(78 FR 57106, September 17, 2013), while some members of the public 
recommended greater halibut PSC limit reductions, greater halibut PSC 
limit reductions do not meet the purpose and need for this action (see 
Section 1.1 of the Analysis). The proposed action and its alternatives 
minimize halibut PSC to the extent practicable and achieve, on a 
continuing basis, the optimum yield from the groundfish fishery. The 
Council and NMFS developed a suite of alternatives in consideration of 
the management measures currently available to the groundfish fleet, 
the derby-style prosecution of some components of the groundfish 
fishery, the uncertainty about the extent to which halibut PSC in the 
groundfish fishery has adverse effects on the halibut resource, and the 
need to ensure that catch in the trawl and hook-and-line fisheries 
contributes to the achievement of optimum yield in the groundfish 
fisheries. Halibut bycatch cannot be avoided completely and more 
stringent PSC limit reductions would severely limit the groundfish 
fleet. Section 4.6.3 of the Analysis notes that reductions of halibut 
PSC limits beyond those considered in this action would have been 
likely, on average, to constrain the total groundfish harvests from the 
trawl and hook-and-line fleets in each year since 2003. Section 4.6.4 
of the Analysis notes that given the existing management measures in 
the trawl and hook-and-line fleets, the ability of these fleets and 
fishery managers to limit halibut PSC, while achieving optimum yield on 
a continuing basis, is limited.
    Comment 5: NMFS should disapprove Amendment 95 and remand it to the 
Council for development of alternatives that would implement higher 
levels of PSC limit reductions. The Council and NMFS did not adequately 
address key halibut stock uncertainties or fully consider the impacts 
of halibut PSC on the halibut stock and on the directed halibut 
fisheries.
    Response: NMFS approved Amendment 95 on November 26, 2013. As noted 
in the response to Comment 3, section 303(a)(3) of the Magnuson-Stevens 
Act requires that NMFS, acting on behalf of the Secretary of Commerce, 
can disapprove a plan amendment only after specifying the applicable 
law with which the plan amendment is inconsistent; the nature of such 
inconsistencies; and recommendations concerning the actions that could 
be taken by the Council to conform such plan amendment to the 
requirements of applicable law. Before approving Amendment 95, NMFS 
considered these factors and concluded that Amendment 95 is not 
inconsistent with applicable law. Specifically, NMFS considered whether 
the range of alternatives considered by the Council and NMFS was 
consistent with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). As noted 
in the responses to Comments 3 and 4, the range of alternatives 
considered is consistent with the purpose and need for the action to 
minimize halibut bycatch in the groundfish fisheries to the extent 
practicable. NMFS did not identify a need for the Council to consider a 
range of alternatives beyond those considered. NMFS notes that nothing 
in this action would preclude the Council or NMFS from considering 
additional changes in halibut PSC limits through a subsequent action. 
Delaying action pending additional analysis of halibut PSC data would 
be inconsistent with National Standard 9 obligations to minimize 
halibut bycatch to the extent practicable, and would delay the benefits 
of reducing halibut PSC to the extent practicable in groundfish 
fisheries.
    Comment 6: In addition to considering halibut PSC limit reductions 
greater than 15 percent, there should be additional consideration of 
prioritizing the apportionment of halibut PSC to gear types with 
relatively lower bycatch than other gear types and modifying the 
behavior of the fisheries with high bycatch.
    Response: NMFS interprets this comment as requesting that NMFS 
establish PSC limits based on the relative rates of halibut PSC use 
among the groundfish fisheries. This approach would be inconsistent 
with the overall purpose and need for this action, and would be outside 
the scope of this action. Furthermore, it would require that the 
Council and NMFS establish a method for assessing bycatch rates and 
apportioning halibut PSC among those gear types. Such an approach would 
not necessarily result in lower halibut PSC, but would reapportion the 
existing

[[Page 9631]]

halibut PSC limits. NMFS notes that this action does not alter the 
process for the apportionment of PSC limits among gear types, and 
during the harvest specification process the Council considers factors 
relevant to the apportionment of PSC limits among gear types. Section 
679.21(d)(3) and (4) establish the annual halibut PSC limit 
apportionments to trawl and hook-and-line gear in the GOA through the 
annual groundfish harvest specification process. The apportionment of 
halibut PSC limits by gear, fishery category, and seasons under the 
annual harvest specifications process provides the opportunity for 
groundfish harvests in specific fisheries. This apportionment process 
ensures that halibut PSC limit is available for use in groundfish 
fisheries earlier in the year (e.g., the trawl deep-water fisheries in 
the first season), but limits that use so that halibut PSC limit 
remains to support other groundfish fisheries that occur later in the 
year (e.g., the trawl shallow-water fisheries in the fourth season). 
The limits assigned to each season reflect halibut PSC likely to be 
taken during specific seasons by specific fisheries.
    The commenter did not provide a specific method to accomplish their 
recommendation, but NMFS encourages the commenter to participate in the 
Council process associated with the annual harvest specifications, 
particularly with respect to providing potential suggestions for 
apportioning halibut PSC limits.

Comments Associated With Halibut Biology and Conservation

    Comment 7: Halibut PSC limit reductions are needed in the GOA 
groundfish fisheries because halibut PSC has direct impacts on the 
halibut stock and on the directed halibut fisheries.
    Response: This action is necessary to minimize halibut PSC to the 
extent practicable. NMFS notes that the impacts of halibut PSC, and the 
reductions in halibut PSC limits implemented by this action, on the 
halibut stock and on the directed halibut fisheries are uncertain. In 
recommending Amendment 95, the Council considered the best scientific 
information available on the biological condition of the halibut stock 
(see Section 3.2 of the Analysis). Recent declines in halibut 
exploitable biomass, particularly in the GOA, underscore the need to 
minimize bycatch of halibut in the groundfish fisheries to the extent 
practicable. Since the current GOA halibut PSC limits were established, 
the total biomass and abundance of halibut has varied, and in recent 
years the stock is experiencing an ongoing decline in size-at-age for 
all ages in all areas. While the cause of this decline in size-at-age 
is not fully understood, the commercial and charter halibut sectors 
have experienced decreased catch limits as a result.
    The Council and NMFS considered the potential for GOA halibut PSC 
limit reductions to lead to future increases in the amount of halibut 
available for the direct halibut fisheries. Section 3.2.8 of the 
Analysis describes that reductions in halibut mortality resulting from 
reductions in PSC in the groundfish fisheries could contribute to 
future increases in halibut biomass, may promote improved halibut 
reproductive potential, and may contribute to increased halibut yields 
available to harvesters in the directed halibut fisheries. However, the 
Analysis also estimates that any potential increases in halibut biomass 
from reduced PSC are likely to be relatively small, and as a result, 
are unlikely to have a significant impact on the halibut stock or the 
directed halibut fisheries (see Section 2.4 of the Analysis). Overall, 
the 2011 halibut PSC in the GOA represented only approximately 12 
percent of the known removals from the halibut exploitable biomass in 
the GOA, as portrayed in Section 3.2.2 of the Analysis. Therefore, 
reductions in existing halibut PSC limits would not be expected to 
result in substantial changes in the halibut biomass or the amount 
available to other halibut resource users. As noted in Section 2.4 of 
the Analysis, the Council considered a range of alternatives to assess 
the impacts of minimizing halibut bycatch to the extent practicable 
while preserving the potential for the full harvest of the TACs 
assigned to the trawl and hook-and-line sectors. The Council considered 
the trade-offs between the halibut saved and the forgone groundfish 
catch. Based on this information, NMFS has determined that the GOA 
halibut PSC limit reductions implemented by this final rule are 
precautionary measures given the uncertainty of the impacts of halibut 
PSC on the halibut stock and other users of the halibut resource.
    Comment 8: NMFS should implement greater halibut PSC limit 
reductions in the groundfish fisheries. Halibut PSC limits have not 
changed appreciably for many years, while the catch limits in directed 
halibut fisheries have significantly decreased. While commercial and 
charter fishermen have made sacrifices to conserve the halibut resource 
as the population diminishes, the groundfish fishery has been allowed 
to continue taking the same level of bycatch. This has resulted in an 
inequitable distribution of halibut conservation measures between the 
groundfish and directed halibut fisheries.
    Response: The Council and NMFS determined that it was necessary to 
evaluate halibut PSC limits for the GOA groundfish fisheries. NMFS 
agrees that GOA halibut PSC limits have remained relatively constant in 
recent years as catch limits for the commercial and charter halibut 
fisheries have declined. However, the purpose and need for this action 
is not to reduce halibut PSC limits proportional with changes in 
directed fishery allocations. The purpose and need for the action is to 
minimize bycatch to the extent practicable while at the same time 
achieving, on a continuing basis, the optimum yield from the groundfish 
fishery by preserving the potential for the full harvest of the TACs 
assigned to the trawl and hook-and-line sectors. Sections 3.2.3 and 
3.2.5 of the Analysis describe trends in bycatch of halibut in the 
groundfish fisheries and directed halibut harvests.
    This action implements reductions to halibut PSC limits, which are 
limits specifically applicable to the groundfish fisheries. Section 2.5 
of the Analysis notes that the Council considered larger reductions to 
halibut PSC limits than those implemented by this final rule. However, 
halibut bycatch cannot be avoided completely, and more stringent PSC 
limit reductions would severely limit the ability of the groundfish 
fleet to fully harvest total allowable catches of groundfish species. 
Therefore, greater reductions in halibut PSC limits are not practicable 
and do not meet the purpose and need for this action.
    Information presented in the Section 4.6.3 of the Analysis shows 
that reductions beyond those considered in this action would have 
limited groundfish harvests, on average, in almost all years since 
2003. The proposed rule and Section 4.6.4 of the Analysis describe that 
the Council considered the ability of trawl and hook-and-line 
groundfish fisheries to reduce halibut PSC use, how much of the halibut 
PSC limit had been left unused by each sector in the past, and the 
potential effects of reduced PSC limits on GOA groundfish catch and 
revenue. Section 4.6.3 of the Analysis provided estimates of groundfish 
catch and revenue that would have been forgone in the GOA groundfish 
fisheries if halibut PSC limits had been reduced from the halibut PSC 
limits in place from 2003 through 2010. Reduced halibut PSC limits 
could potentially impact revenue generated from the groundfish 
fisheries, and some

[[Page 9632]]

groundfish fisheries may not harvest their full TAC. Currently, most of 
the groundfish fleet in the GOA is involved in competitive fisheries 
and does not have available tools, such as catch share programs or 
fishery cooperatives, that have been demonstrated to successfully 
reduce halibut PSC and still maintain current harvest levels of 
groundfish (for example, see the discussion of the Rockfish Program in 
Section 4.5.5 of the Analysis). Therefore, the Council and NMFS 
determined that reductions to halibut PSC limits beyond those 
implemented by this final rule are not practicable.
    Comment 9: The proposed halibut PSC limit reductions are critical 
to the conservation of the halibut stock and to reducing impacts on 
other halibut users and fishing communities.
    Response: Halibut PSC limit reductions may reduce a known source of 
mortality from the halibut biomass in the GOA, which in turn could 
benefit the directed halibut fisheries as well as other halibut 
resource users (also see response to Comment 8). However, as noted in 
response to Comment 7, the impacts of halibut PSC, and the reductions 
in halibut PSC limits implemented by this action on the halibut stock 
and on the directed halibut fisheries, are uncertain. In selecting the 
preferred alternative, the Council considered changes in groundfish and 
halibut management programs and fishing patterns, environmental 
conditions, fishing technology, and knowledge of halibut and groundfish 
stocks. The Council considered the trade-offs between the halibut saved 
and the forgone groundfish catch.
    The Analysis examines the impacts of potential halibut PSC limit 
reductions on the directed halibut fisheries in Section 4.6.2. This 
includes projections of the potential amount of halibut that could be 
available for harvest in the charter and commercial individual fishing 
quota (IFQ) fisheries, depending on different reduction levels to the 
hook-and-line and trawl halibut PSC limits. It also includes estimates 
of increases in revenue in the charter and commercial individual 
fishing quota (IFQ) fisheries due to halibut PSC limit reductions in 
the groundfish fisheries. The Analysis demonstrates that there may be a 
potential benefit to the directed halibut fisheries and the consumers 
of halibut harvested in those fisheries under various halibut PSC limit 
reductions.
    Comment 10: The proposed reductions in halibut PSC limits are 
minimal compared to the reductions to the directed halibut fishery 
catch limits. Therefore, NMFS should implement the full halibut PSC 
reductions in the first year of implementation as a starting point for 
future reductions to halibut PSC limits.
    Response: NMFS acknowledges that the commercial and sport halibut 
fisheries have been subject to decreased annual catch limits in recent 
years, as described in Section 4.5.1 of the Analysis. However, the 
purpose and need for the action is to minimize bycatch to the extent 
practicable while at the same time achieving, on a continuing basis, 
the optimum yield from the groundfish fishery by preserving the 
potential for the full harvest of the TACs assigned to the trawl and 
hook-and-line sectors. The trawl and catcher vessel hook-and-line 
sectors will likely experience the largest economic constraints 
following implementation of this action. Consistent with National 
Standard 8, this action phases in the 15-percent reduction over the 
course of three years to minimize the adverse economic consequences of 
Amendment 95 on the trawl and catcher vessel hook-and-line sectors to 
the extent practicable. NMFS intends that phasing in the halibut PSC 
limit reductions for these sectors will mitigate the impact Amendment 
95 will have on groundfish fishery revenue while the fleets modify 
their fishing behaviors and adopt measures such as those described in 
Section 4.6.4 of the Analysis. Additional reductions to halibut PSC 
limits may be implemented through subsequent actions should further 
minimization of halibut bycatch in the groundfish fisheries be 
practicable.
    Comment 10: Biological uncertainties associated with the halibut 
resource warrant a more precautionary approach to halibut bycatch 
management than the halibut PSC reductions proposed in Amendment 95. 
The precautionary approach requires that fisheries policies manage 
risks so as to minimize serious or irreversible damage to the resource 
until further evidence is gathered. The reductions to halibut PSC 
proposed in Amendment 95 are not precautionary enough given the 
uncertainties associated with the long-term impacts of halibut PSC 
removals on juvenile and female halibut, depressed growth rates, and 
migration patterns.
    Response: Section 3.2 of the Analysis presents a summary of the 
current condition of the Pacific halibut stock, including a discussion 
of the uncertainties mentioned by the commenter. The discussion in the 
EA is based on stock assessment and biological information that is 
primarily derived from the IPHC's research and findings. The Council 
and NMFS considered the information presented in the Analysis, the best 
available scientific information, in recommending and implementing 
Amendment 95. This action follows the precautionary principle by 
implementing conservation measures to reduce overall halibut PSC in the 
groundfish fisheries even though there is limited data and information 
to determine the impact of halibut PSC on halibut stocks. Although the 
effects of halibut PSC in the groundfish fishery on the halibut fishery 
are uncertain, this action reduces the overall potential impacts by 
reducing existing halibut PSC limits in the groundfish fisheries. The 
halibut PSC limit reductions in the groundfish fisheries minimize 
bycatch to the extent practicable given the tools currently available 
to the fleet, the derby style prosecution of the fishery, the 
uncertainty about whether the bycatch has adverse effects on the 
halibut stocks, and the need to ensure that the trawl and hook-and-line 
fisheries contribute to the achievement of optimum yield in the 
groundfish fisheries.
    Comment 11: Climate change and ocean acidification effects warrant 
a precautionary approach to halibut PSC. NMFS should consider climate 
change as an important factor that warrants a more precautionary 
approach, i.e., higher halibut PSC limit reductions.
    Response: NMFS did consider the potential effects of climate change 
in Sections 3.7 and 3.8.2 of the Analysis. Section 3.8.2 of the 
Analysis notes that ``long-term climate change and regime shifts could 
have impacts on the reproductive success of Pacific halibut depending 
on the direction of the shift. It has been shown that warm trends favor 
recruitment while cool trends weaken recruitment in most fish species 
including halibut.'' Notwithstanding this information, the extent to 
which climate change impacts halibut stocks is uncertain. This action 
adheres to the precautionary principle by implementing conservation 
measures to reduce overall halibut PSC in the groundfish fisheries to 
the extent practicable even though there is limited data and 
information to determine the extent of climate change impacts on the 
halibut resource or the extent to which halibut PSC impacts halibut 
stocks.
    NMFS continues to study a variety of environmental factors 
associated with the GOA and Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) 
ecosystems. Examples of such research may be accessed at the Web site 
for the Habitat and Ecological Processes Research Program, http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/HEPR/default.php. NMFS will continue to monitor the 
best available scientific information

[[Page 9633]]

concerning climate change and ocean acidification in coordination with 
the IPHC. This action does not preclude NMFS from considering and 
implementing additional management measures in the future in response 
to new information on climate change or ocean acidification.
    Comment 12: The EA incorrectly characterizes the environmental 
baseline and the description of status quo is wrong because the EA 
relies on environmental analyses that predate the recent and sharp 
halibut decline. Delay action pending additional scientific research 
that addresses some of the uncertainties regarding the halibut 
resource.
    Response: The EA contained in the Analysis summarizes previous NEPA 
documents for context and background, and incorporates those documents 
by reference to focus the EA analysis on the issues ripe for decision 
and eliminate repetitive discussions. The EA does not rely on these 
documents to define the environmental baseline. In the EA, the 
environmental baseline is the current existing conditions at the time 
of the analysis. The EA summarizes the most recent relevant information 
from a variety of sources to characterize the environmental baseline. 
Importantly, the EA provides the best available information from a 
variety of sources, including the IPHC on halibut biomass and explains 
recent trends in abundance (see Section 3.2.4 of the Analysis).
    In the EA, Alternative 1 is the no action alternative, which is the 
status quo. The EA correctly describes no action/status quo as the PSC 
limits that would be in place if NMFS took no action to reduce them 
under any of the action alternatives. The EA provides great detail on 
the recent relevant information from a variety of sources to 
characterize halibut PSC in the groundfish fisheries under the status 
quo PSC limits. The EA also provides detailed information on halibut 
PSC in the groundfish fisheries relative to total fishery removals (see 
Section 3.2.3 of the Analysis).
    The EA provides the information necessary to make an informed 
decision on the proposed action to reduce halibut PSC limits to the 
extent practicable. The EA sharply defines the issues, rigorously 
explores and objectively evaluates the alternatives, and provides a 
clear basis for choice among the alternatives. While NMFS and the IPHC 
are continually conducting scientific research to improve our 
understanding of the halibut resource, the EA provides sufficient 
information to make an informed decision on this action. Delaying 
action pending additional research would delay the benefits of 
minimizing halibut PSC to the extent practicable in groundfish 
fisheries, and would be inconsistent with National Standard 9 
obligations to minimize bycatch to the extent practicable.
    Comment 13: The EA does not adequately address NMFS' past, present, 
or prospective inability to monitor halibut PSC in the trawl fisheries. 
The EA fails to disclose that current halibut PSC data is flawed 
because of low coverage rates under the restructured Observer Program. 
NMFS' management uncertainties require more restrictive PSC limits.
    Response: NMFS uses observers to monitor halibut PSC. NMFS' Catch 
Accounting System (CAS) generates reliable estimates of halibut PSC in 
the groundfish fisheries using observer data. The CAS uses the highest 
resolution of data when available and, if needed for fisheries without 
high resolution data, generates estimates using observer data from 
vessels in the same gear, area, or target category. The methods NMFS 
uses to estimate bycatch through the CAS are further described in 
``Cahalan, J., J. Mondragon, and J. Gasper. 2010. Catch sampling and 
estimation in the Federal groundfish fisheries off Alaska. U.S. Dep. 
Commer., NOAA Tech. Memo. NMFS-AFSC-205, 42 p.'' This publication is 
available on the NMFS Alaska Region's Web site at http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/Publications/AFSC-TM/NOAA-TM-AFSC-205.pdf.
    The restructured Observer Program improved the quality of the 
observer data NMFS uses to estimate halibut PSC by collecting more 
representative data and deploying observers relative to fishing effort 
(fisheries with more effort receive more observers). Importantly, the 
restructured observer program uses a scientifically-based method to 
deploy observers that improves the reliability of data collection and 
addresses statistical bias in observer data caused by the old program. 
Further, to address concerns with ensuring adequate coverage for PSC 
limits, NMFS maintained a higher coverage rate for the majority of 
vessels in the partial coverage category that are managed under PSC 
limits relative to smaller vessels in the partial coverage category 
that are typically not managed under PSC limits in 2013 and 2014. 
Further information can be found in the final rule implementing the 
restructured observer program (77 FR 70062, November 21, 2012). 
Additional detail on the deployment of observers in the partial 
coverage category is available in the final 2014 Annual Deployment Plan 
on the NMFS Web site at http://www.alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/sustainablefisheries/observers/default.htm.
    NMFS has continued to improve its management of halibut PSC limits 
in the groundfish fisheries. Comprehensive recordkeeping and reporting 
requirements for catch reporting by participants in the groundfish 
fisheries, the development of more real-time electronic catch 
reporting, and the restructured Observer Program have decreased 
management uncertainty about halibut PSC in the GOA. The EA provides 
the best available information on halibut PSC in the groundfish 
fisheries (see Section 3.2.3 of the Analysis). Analysis of halibut PSC 
data is ongoing and NMFS continually improves the estimates of catch 
and bycatch in the groundfish fisheries. However, these improvements do 
not change the issues addressed by the proposed action. In taking final 
action, the Council recognized the potential for underestimation of 
halibut PSC in the groundfish fisheries and cited that as one of the 
reasons for recommending the reduced halibut PSC limit in Amendment 95 
(see Section 2.4 of the Analysis).
    Comment 14: The Council should implement a long-term halibut PSC 
limit reduction plan.
    Response: This action implements reductions to halibut PSC limits 
in the GOA groundfish fisheries. Once the reductions are fully 
implemented in 2016, the Council could choose to evaluate the effects 
of the reductions made by this action, and could recommend further 
halibut PSC limit reductions to the extent such reductions are 
practicable. Furthermore, the Council has undertaken a variety of 
efforts to limit the bycatch of halibut in the GOA groundfish fisheries 
over time, and continues to evaluate whether additional PSC 
restrictions are warranted. Appendix 3 to the Analysis summarizes the 
Council's action to reduce or limit halibut removals. NMFS encourages 
the commenter to participate in the Council process with respect to 
actions that may reduce or modify PSC limits.
    Comment 15: NMFS should direct the Council to consider alternatives 
that implement marine reserves that provide a no-trawl buffer to 
account for the impacts of bycatch on communities reliant on halibut 
subsistence.
    Response: NMFS notes that the purpose and need for the action is to 
minimize halibut bycatch in the groundfish fishery to the extent 
practicable while at the same time achieving, on a continuing basis, 
the optimum yield from the groundfish fishery. Implementing a series of 
marine

[[Page 9634]]

reserves that would limit trawling would have a range of effects on the 
groundfish fisheries outside of the scope of this action. NMFS notes 
that this action would reduce the amount of halibut PSC in trawl and 
hook-and-line fisheries, and these measures could provide additional 
harvest opportunities for other users of the halibut resource, 
including subsistence users. Currently, subsistence users are not 
constrained by any limit on the amount of allowable harvest (see 
Sections 3.2.7 and 4.6.2.3 of the Analysis). This action would not 
establish any additional limitation on subsistence users.
    Comment 16: Evaluate the need to do an environmental impact 
statement (EIS) for Amendment 95 and groundfish fishery impacts on 
halibut. If NMFS is not going to do an EIS, then make the Finding of No 
Significant Impact (FONSI) available for public review prior to 
approving Amendment 95. This action is similar to the Bering Sea 
Chinook salmon PSC action that required NMFS to complete an EIS.
    Response: NMFS did evaluate the need to do an EIS for Amendment 95 
in preparing the EA and FONSI. NMFS prepared an EA that discloses the 
potential impacts of the proposed action and its alternatives (see 
ADDRESSES). The EA analysis did not identify any potentially 
significant impacts from any of the alternatives. NMFS prepared a FONSI 
(see ADDRESSES) for Amendment 95 that describes in more detail why NMFS 
determined that the action will not significantly impact the quality of 
the human environment. Based on this FONSI, an EA is the appropriate 
NEPA analysis for this action and preparation of an EIS is not 
warranted. NMFS prepares FONSIs based on the analysis in the EA, and 
the draft EA was available for public review prior to approving 
Amendment 95.
    NMFS prepared an EIS for the action to manage Chinook salmon PSC in 
the Bering Sea pollock fishery to assist agency planning and decision-
making. That action was novel, controversial, and far more complicated 
because it involved fundamental changes to the way the Bering Sea 
pollock fishery was managed that were only possible because that fleet 
is managed under a catch share program. Assessing and understanding the 
impacts of bycatch on Chinook abundance was also more complex with 
uncertainty in ocean abundance and in rivers of origin for bycaught 
Chinook salmon.
    Comment 17: Produce a Supplemental Information Report that 
evaluates the significant changes in halibut population in light of PSC 
impacts because there have been substantial biological and ecological 
changes, important scientific research on migration, and changes in 
fishery intensity and effort since the development of these 
programmatic analyses.
    Response: NMFS agrees that there have been changes in halibut 
abundance and the halibut fisheries, as well as advancements in 
scientific understanding. The EA evaluates the impacts of halibut PSC 
in light of these changes (see Section 3.2 of the Analysis). Further, 
the IPHC comprehensively assesses these types of changes on an annual 
basis in its stock assessment process (see Section 3.2.4.2 of the 
Analysis for a description of the IPHC stock assessment process).
    The Council is in the process of preparing a Supplemental 
Information Report for the 2004 Alaska Groundfish Fisheries Final 
Programmatic Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. This 
Supplemental Information Report will include an assessment of the 
impacts of the groundfish fisheries on halibut. The Council plans on 
reviewing a draft Supplemental Information Report at its February 2014 
meeting. Interested members of the public are encouraged to participate 
in the Council process for this issue.

Comments Associated With the Effects on Other Halibut User Sectors and 
Communities

    Comment 18: The halibut PSC limit reductions imposed on the trawl 
sector through Amendment 95 will minimally benefit other halibut user 
groups, such as the halibut IFQ and charter sectors.
    Response: The purpose and need for the action is to minimize 
bycatch to the extent practicable while at the same time achieving, on 
a continuing basis, the optimum yield from the groundfish fishery by 
preserving the potential for the full harvest of the TACs assigned to 
the trawl and hook-and-line sectors. The Analysis does estimate that 
any potential increases in halibut biomass from reduced PSC is likely 
to be relatively small given that the existing halibut PSC limits in 
the GOA groundfish fishery are a relatively small proportion of the 
known removals from the halibut exploitable biomass. However, halibut 
savings from the groundfish fisheries halibut PSC limit reductions may 
modestly benefit the directed halibut fisheries in the long-term. The 
Analysis examines the impacts of potential halibut PSC limit reductions 
on the directed halibut fisheries in Section 4.6.2. This includes 
projections of the potential amount of halibut that could be available 
for harvest in the charter and commercial IFQ fisheries, depending on 
different reduction levels to the hook-and-line and trawl halibut PSC 
limits. It also includes estimates of increases in revenue in the 
charter and commercial individual fishing quota (IFQ) fisheries due to 
halibut PSC limit reductions in the groundfish fisheries. The Analysis 
demonstrates that there is a potential benefit to the directed halibut 
fisheries and the consumers of halibut harvested in those fisheries 
under various halibut PSC limit reductions. (Also see the response to 
Comment 9.)
    As noted in the response to Comment 7, the 2011 halibut PSC in the 
GOA represented only approximately 12 percent of the known removals 
from the halibut exploitable biomass in the GOA, as portrayed in 
Section 3.2.2 of the Analysis. Therefore, reductions in existing 
halibut PSC limits may not result in substantial changes in the halibut 
biomass or the amount available to other halibut resource users. (see 
Section 2.4 of the Analysis).
    Comment 19: The removal of halibut by the groundfish trawl fishery 
is causing localized depletion of halibut around GOA communities 
dependent on halibut for subsistence purposes, including Kodiak Island 
villages. Localized depletion has resulted in declines in halibut 
subsistence harvests in these areas. The Analysis does not consider the 
impacts of these issues on communities dependent on halibut for 
subsistence purposes.
    Response: NMFS notes that the purpose and need for this action is 
to minimize bycatch of halibut overall to the extent practicable. 
However, this does not include reducing halibut bycatch in specific 
areas or addressing possible localized depletion of halibut in specific 
areas. The latter issue is outside of the scope of this action. 
Sections 3.2.8 and 3.3.5.2 of the Analysis describe the potential 
localized effects of halibut PSC on the halibut resource. Section 3.2.7 
of the Analysis describes the halibut subsistence fishery. Although 
Section 3.2.7 of the Analysis notes that subsistence harvests have 
decreased in recent years, the survey conducted by the State of Alaska 
on halibut subsistence that is cited in Section 3.2.7 (http://www.alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/npfmc/PDFdocuments/halibut/Subsistence_report2010.pdf) notes that a variety of factors could affect 
subsistence harvest rates. Halibut subsistence harvest rates could be 
affected by changes in participation in the Subsistence Halibut 
Registration Certificate program administered by NMFS that allows for 
improved accounting of subsistence

[[Page 9635]]

harvests, changes in subsistence harvest survey methods, or other 
changes in subsistence harvest patterns with a range of possible causes 
that can vary from community to community. Overall, this action could 
benefit non-commercial user groups, such as subsistence halibut 
fishermen, in the long-term by minimizing a known source of halibut 
mortality. Because this action would result in a reduction in halibut 
PSC limits relative to the status quo, it would be expected to reduce 
the overall impact of halibut PSC on other users of the halibut 
resource (also see the response to Comment 9).
    Comment 20: NMFS did not sufficiently analyze the effects of this 
action on communities dependent on the halibut resource. The community 
impact analysis overemphasized adverse impacts to trawl dependent 
communities and failed to consider the adverse impacts of PSC to 
halibut dependent communities.
    Response: The Analysis examines the potential effects of halibut 
PSC limit reductions on communities engaged in groundfish fisheries, as 
well as those engaged or dependent on halibut fisheries (see Section 
4.6.7 and Appendix 7). In general, it is not possible to quantitatively 
differentiate potential impacts of the different GOA halibut PSC limit 
reduction alternatives on an individual community basis. Qualitatively, 
however, it is possible to anticipate the communities where adverse 
impacts, if any, would most likely accrue, along with the nature, 
direction, and at least rough order of magnitude of those impacts. 
Groundfish dependent communities may experience various degrees of 
adverse economic effects due to halibut PSC limit reductions, 
especially within the GOA groundfish trawl sector in Kodiak, and those 
processing operations in Kodiak substantially dependent on GOA 
groundfish trawl deliveries of flatfish in particular. Halibut-
dependent communities may experience some positive effects as halibut 
PSC limits are decreased, whereas some communities could experience a 
combination of effects since residents participate in both the 
groundfish fisheries and commercial halibut fisheries.
    Comment 21: The RIR underestimates the adverse economic impacts of 
halibut PSC to directed halibut fishery users. The RIR uses outdated 
economic information and fails to adequately account for the increased 
long-term value to participants in directed halibut fisheries in the 
GOA that would occur from reductions in halibut PSC in the groundfish 
fisheries.
    Response: Section 4.6.2 of the Analysis uses the best available 
economic information to examine the costs and benefits of halibut PSC 
limit reductions on the halibut fisheries. Section 4.6.1 describes the 
assumptions made about potential economic impacts on directed halibut 
users and the rationale for the assumptions made. Although alternative 
assumptions may be possible about the potential economic impact of the 
alternatives, the Analysis provides a clear rationale for the choices 
made.
    Cost and revenue information is not available for individual 
charter and commercial halibut fishing operations in the GOA. 
Therefore, the Analysis estimated the increased amount of halibut that 
would be available to the charter and IFQ fisheries from reduced PSC 
limits and the potential increases in revenues for the charter and IFQ 
fisheries from the estimated increased halibut harvests. A complete 
analysis of net benefits to the directed halibut fisheries would 
require information on the charter fishing fleet's costs, including 
opportunity costs, and revenues. Information would also be needed on 
the consumer surplus of the charter clients. Additionally, cost and 
revenue information would be needed for the IFQ fleet and the 
processors of their halibut catch, as well as data on consumer surplus 
of the people that purchase halibut. This information is not available 
for the charter and IFQ fisheries off Alaska.
    Comment 22: Amendment 95 and the proposed rule under-value the 
recreational halibut fishery. The Analysis uses outdated information 
and inappropriate indicators, such as the cost of charter halibut 
trips, to estimate the economic impacts of halibut PSC reductions on 
the charter halibut fisheries.
    Response: As described in the response to Comment 21, the Council 
and NMFS do not have information to quantify the net benefits of 
reduced halibut PSC limits to the charter fishery. Similarly, 
information is not available to quantify the overall economic 
contribution of the recreational halibut fishery in Alaska at a local, 
regional, or statewide level. Section 4.8 of the Analysis states that 
Amendment 95 is not expected to positively or negatively impact the 
amount of halibut available for unguided sport fishermen, since the PSC 
reductions are not anticipated to affect their overall harvest.
    Section 4.6.2.2 of the Analysis examines the effects of halibut PSC 
limit reductions on the charter halibut fisheries with available 
information. The Analysis estimated the economic impacts of Amendment 
95 on the charter sector using the projected increase in the amount of 
halibut available for harvest in the charter sector from reduced 
halibut PSC limits. Estimated increases in the amount of halibut that 
may be available to the charter halibut fishery vary depending on the 
level of halibut PSC limit reductions. The Analysis also estimated the 
increase in gross revenues for the charter sector from the projected 
increased halibut harvests. Even at the highest level of PSC reductions 
analyzed, expected revenue increases to the charter sector are 
relatively modest. Changes in gross revenue for the charter fleet were 
very small in Area 2C. Only two halibut were estimated to be added to 
the charter limit for each 5-percent decrease in the PSC limit. This 
estimate excluded migration of halibut from the IPHC's assessment 
model, so the value may be underestimated. The potential effects of 
halibut migration were excluded from the model due to the uncertainty 
in estimating the amount of migration that may occur between management 
areas. In Area 3A, the increase in the charter sector's gross revenue 
was estimated at about $10,000 for each 5-percent reduction to the 
hook-and-line PSC limit and $140,000 for each 5-percent reduction to 
the trawl PSC limit (see Section 3.2.8 in the Analysis). Area 3B does 
not have a developed charter fishery for halibut, in part due to the 
remote location of potential charter fishing ports. Therefore, the 
Analysis assumed that increases in directed halibut harvests resulting 
from halibut PSC limit reductions would accrue to the commercial IFQ 
fleet.
    Comment 23: The economic analysis for Amendment 95 is flawed 
because it underestimates the net benefits of halibut PSC reductions to 
directed halibut fisheries and fails to consider the adverse impacts of 
the ongoing reallocation of the halibut resource to the groundfish 
fishery through PSC. This undermines the ``Net Benefit'' finding.
    Response: The Council and NMFS have determined that the Analysis 
provides a comprehensive description of the projected costs and 
benefits of varying levels of halibut PSC limit reductions considered 
for this action. This includes examining the effects of halibut PSC 
limit reductions on the groundfish fisheries, which could experience 
decreased groundfish catches due to reduced halibut PSC limits. It also 
includes examining potential positive effects on other halibut 
fisheries (commercial, charter, and subsistence) due to projected

[[Page 9636]]

increases in halibut availability due to PSC limit reductions. The net 
benefit finding (see Section 4.9) summarizes the combined effects with 
respect to the net benefits to the Nation that may arise out of the 
halibut PSC limit reductions analyzed and implemented by this action. 
NMFS believes that this net benefit conclusion is valid and well-
reasoned using the best available information, and not flawed as 
characterized by the commenter. (Also see the response to Comments 21 
and 22.)

Comments Associated With Fisheries Management Issues

    Comment 24: The current management system for GOA groundfish 
fisheries creates rigid seasonal and fishery apportionment categories 
that prevent efficient use of PSC by the trawl sector, which makes it 
impracticable for the trawl fleet to adapt to a 15-percent halibut PSC 
limit reduction.
    Response: GOA halibut PSC is managed under the FMP and applicable 
Federal regulations in 50 CFR part 679. This includes halibut PSC 
limits that are apportioned by gear, season and sector. NMFS notes that 
while existing fishery management measures in the GOA may appear to be 
inflexible, they were designed to divide the available annual halibut 
PSC limits so that it is available throughout the year, and to a 
variety of different fisheries with very different operating 
characteristics. The trawl sector's PSC limits reflect the estimated 
halibut PSC in different target fisheries throughout the year. Such 
fisheries may be very dependent on the seasonal distribution and 
aggregation of groundfish species, such as Pacific cod. Historically, 
the trawl PSC limit seasonal apportionments have adequately supported 
groundfish target species. There is some flexibility in the available 
management measures. For example, unused amounts of seasonal halibut 
PSC limits may be carried forward to subsequent seasons.
    As noted in response to Comment 3, the historical records and NMFS' 
management experience in the trawl fisheries indicates that the amount 
of halibut PSC in the GOA groundfish fisheries can be used more 
efficiently by increased communication among industry participants and 
coordination of fishing activities and effort. The current management 
system for GOA groundfish fisheries does not prevent the trawl fleet 
from improving communication and coordination to avoid and more 
efficiently use halibut PSC. Furthermore, this action amends 
regulations to allow available trawl halibut PSC limit apportionments 
in the second season deep-water and shallow-water fisheries to be 
combined and made available for use in either fishery from May 15 
through June 30. This is intended to provide additional flexibility to 
the trawl fleet and help maintain this sector's groundfish harvest 
while minimizing halibut bycatch to the extent practicable. This change 
is described above under ``Action 4.''
    Comment 25: There is a disincentive for halibut PSC avoidance due 
to disparate fleets that operate in different management areas, with 
different operating characteristics, and different fisheries. Reduced 
halibut PSC limits will exacerbate the issue associated with a common 
PSC limit for trawl fisheries.
    Response: The Analysis examines the potential effects of halibut 
PSC limit reductions across gear types and segments of the fleet (see 
Section 4.6.5). This includes a discussion that considers both the 
potential for halibut avoidance measures to be effective in the various 
management areas and target fisheries of the GOA, as well as the 
potential for interactions between fisheries sectors to affect the 
inclination of participants to adopt avoidance measures. Section 4.6.5 
notes that although different fleets have different incentives and 
abilities to respond to halibut PSC limit reductions, there are a 
variety of formal and informal arrangements and tools available to all 
of the affected fleets. Section 4.6.5 also notes that because trawl and 
hook-and-line PSC limits are managed separately, fleets will need to 
coordinate among participants within the same gear category, and not 
across all participants in all fisheries.
    Comment 26: The proposed rule sets a timeline for phasing in PSC 
limit reductions, which should provide the fishing industry with time 
to adapt their fishing practices to meet these new PSC limits.
    Response: NMFS agrees. The Council chose a phased-in implementation 
of the reductions to allow affected fleets to adapt to the lower 
halibut PSC limits, thereby minimizing detrimental economic effects 
that could occur due to foregone or curtailed groundfish harvesting 
opportunities. (Also see the response to Comment 3.)

Comments Associated With the Magnuson-Stevens Act and National 
Standards

    Comment 27: The reductions to the halibut PSC limits comply with 
the mandate to achieve optimum yield, as required under National 
Standard 1 of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Optimum yield is not determined 
solely by the amount of the target fishery that may be harvested, but 
by overall benefits to the Nation.
    Response: NMFS agrees. Section 6.1 of the Analysis addresses 
National Standard 1. Specific to National Standard 1, the Analysis 
concludes that the overall benefits to the Nation may be positively 
affected by the action. Pacific halibut is a valuable species to 
commercial, recreational, and cultural entities. If halibut PSC limits 
are reduced, while concurrently limiting the amount of foregone 
groundfish catch, net benefits to the Nation will accrue.
    Comment 28: Amendment 95 and the proposed rule are not consistent 
with National Standard 3 because of weakened protections for halibut in 
the GOA relative to other jurisdictions. National Standard 3 provides 
that ``to the extent practicable, an individual stock of fish shall be 
managed as a unit throughout its range, and interrelated stocks of fish 
shall be managed as a unit or in close coordination.'' National 
Standard 3 guidelines provide that the purpose of the standard is ``to 
induce a comprehensive approach to fishery management that is not 
jeopardized when fish live in waters of more than one jurisdiction,'' 
and that ``the geographic scope of the fishery, for planning purposes, 
should cover the entire range of the stocks of fish, and not be overly 
constrained by political boundaries.'' Halibut PSC is managed 
differently in the GOA when compared to other IPHC regulatory areas. 
For example, all other IPHC regulatory areas require 100 percent 
observer coverage on trawl vessels, and trawl fisheries in IPHC 
regulatory areas 2B and 2A have been subject to greater reductions in 
halibut PSC than those that will be imposed by Amendment 95. NMFS' 
management of halibut PSC in the GOA falls short of measures 
implemented in other IPHC regulatory areas. Therefore Amendment 95 is 
inconsistent with National Standard 3.
    Response: NMFS interprets this comment as suggesting that Amendment 
95 does not implement halibut PSC management measures or limits that 
are comparable or equivalent to those that have been implemented in 
IPHC regulatory areas 2A and 2B. However, consistent with National 
Standards 1 and 9, the Council evaluated measures that minimize halibut 
bycatch in the GOA groundfish fisheries to the extent practicable while 
continuing to allow the GOA groundfish fisheries the opportunity to 
achieve optimum yield efficiently. Management measures implemented in 
IPHC regulatory areas 2A and 2B are under the jurisdiction of

[[Page 9637]]

other entities and are not within the jurisdiction of the North Pacific 
Fishery Management Council.
    The comment also suggests that NMFS, through its implementation of 
Amendment 95, does not manage halibut throughout its range or in close 
coordination with interrelated stocks of fish and is therefore 
inconsistent with Magnuson-Stevens Act National Standard 3. However, 
Amendment 95 does not directly manage halibut or halibut fisheries. 
Actions taken by the Council to manage halibut fisheries are developed 
under the authority of the Halibut Act, and National Standard 3 of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act does not apply to such actions.
    NMFS implements Amendment 95 to manage the GOA groundfish fisheries 
under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Act by reducing the upper 
limit on the amount of halibut bycatch that may be taken by the GOA 
trawl and hook-and-line groundfish fisheries. This action is consistent 
with National Standard 3 in that NMFS manages the GOA groundfish 
fisheries as a unit, throughout their range, and NMFS manages 
interrelated stocks of the groundfish fisheries as a unit or in close 
coordination. Even if National Standard 3 imposes obligations on NMFS 
to manage the GOA groundfish fisheries halibut PSC as a unit throughout 
the groundfish fisheries' range, measures taken to minimize halibut PSC 
need not be identical for each geographic area.
    Section 3.6.2.1 of the FMP describes that the IPHC manages the 
Pacific halibut stocks in its jurisdiction through regulations 
implementing the Northern Pacific Halibut Act of 1982 (16 U.S.C. 773-
773k). Halibut is not managed under the FMP. However, the Council 
manages halibut bycatch limits under the FMP and believes that 
treatment of halibut as a prohibited species is appropriate. In 
addition, the FMP states that under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, it is the 
Council's responsibility to recommend conservation and management 
measures, such as Amendment 95, that minimize halibut bycatch in the 
groundfish fisheries to the extent practicable.
    Comment 29: Amendment 95 and the proposed rule are inconsistent 
with National Standard 4 because the proposed reductions fail to take 
into account the increasing share of the halibut resource that has been 
allocated to groundfish fishery participants through PSC. The GOA 
halibut PSC limits do not promote conservation or equity because they 
do not reflect changes in the exploitable biomass and do not require 
the trawl sector to share in the costs of recovering the resource.
    Response: The Council and NMFS have determined that Amendment 95 is 
consistent with National Standard 4 (see Section 6.1 of the Analysis). 
National Standard 4 provides that ``conservation and management 
measures shall not discriminate between residents of different states. 
If it becomes necessary to allocate or assign fishing privileges among 
various U.S. fishermen, such allocation shall be (A) fair and equitable 
to all such fishermen, (B) reasonably calculated to promote 
conservation, and (C) carried out in such a manner that no particular 
individual, corporation, or other entity acquires an excessive share of 
such privileges.'' (16 U.S.C. 1851)
    Nothing in the alternatives requires consideration of considers 
residency as a criterion for the Council's decision. Residents of 
various states, including Alaska and states of the Pacific Northwest, 
participate in the major sectors affected by the proposed action. No 
discriminations are made among fishermen based on residency or any 
other criteria. No geographic apportionment of halibut PSC is provided 
through this action.
    As described in the responses to Comments 8 and 9 and in Sections 
1.1 and 1.3 of the Analysis, the objective for Amendment 95 is to 
minimize halibut PSC to the extent practicable while achieving, on a 
continuing basis, the optimum yield from the groundfish fishery. NMFS 
uses halibut PSC limits to minimize the amount of halibut bycatch in 
the groundfish fishery to the extent practicable. The halibut PSC 
limits implemented by this action are not an allocation of, or an 
allowance for, halibut bycatch in the groundfish fishery. Rather, the 
halibut PSC limits impose an absolute limit on the amount of halibut 
bycatch that may be caught by the GOA groundfish trawl and hook-and-
line fisheries.
    In developing Amendment 95, the Council considered equity among 
halibut user groups, recognizing that users in the directed halibut 
fisheries have been impacted by reductions in catch limits and 
additional harvest restrictions as the halibut stock has declined (see 
Sections 3.2.8 and 4.6.2 of the Analysis). The Council also recognized 
that reductions in halibut PSC limits likely will constrain groundfish 
harvests in some years and that these reductions could result in 
reduced revenues and increased costs for participants in those 
fisheries (see Sections 4.6.3 and 4.6.5 of the Analysis). Amendment 95 
balances these considerations to achieve the stated objective for the 
action.
    As noted in the response to Comment 8, recent declines in halibut 
exploitable biomass and decline in size-at-age, particularly in the 
GOA, underscore the need to minimize bycatch of halibut in the 
groundfish fisheries to the extent practicable. While the causes of 
these declines are not well understood, Section 3.2.8 of the Analysis 
describes that reductions in halibut mortality resulting from 
reductions in PSC in the groundfish fisheries could contribute to 
future increases in halibut biomass, may promote improved halibut 
reproductive potential, and may contribute to increased halibut yields 
available to harvesters in the directed halibut fisheries.
    Comment 30: The analysis does not adequately address National 
Standard 8 with respect to the effects of the trawl fisheries on 
subsistence use of the halibut resource.
    Response: See the response to Comment 19.
    Comment 31: The halibut PSC limit reductions meet the mandate of 
National Standard 9, which stipulates that bycatch be minimized to the 
extent practicable.
    Response: NMFS agrees with this comment.
    Comment 32: The action does not meet National Standard 9's 
requirement to minimize bycatch to the extent practicable.
    Response: This action is specifically intended to control removals 
of halibut in the groundfish fisheries in the GOA. The practicability 
of reducing halibut removals in groundfish fisheries is discussed in 
Section 4.6 of the Analysis and in the response to Comments 3 and 12.
    Comment 33: The proposed rule appears to improperly juxtapose 
National Standards 1 and 9 by presuming that the two standards are at 
odds, and that bycatch reductions are only practicable if the 
reductions allow for an optimum yield that is calculated separately 
from bycatch considerations. This in inconsistent with the Magnuson-
Stevens Act's intent and construction.
    Response: The preferred alternative that is implemented by this 
action balances the need to minimize halibut bycatch to the extent 
practicable consistent with National Standard 9, with the requirement 
to achieve optimum yield in the groundfish fishery, consistent with 
National Standard 1. In developing the preferred alternative, NMFS and 
the Council have appropriately balanced obligations under National 
Standard 1 and National Standard 9. This action provides the 
flexibility for participants in the groundfish fisheries to potentially 
harvest the TAC, which is one aspect of achieving optimum yield on a

[[Page 9638]]

continuing basis. As noted in the Analysis and in the preamble to the 
proposed rule, this action minimizes bycatch to the extent practicable 
by recognizing the range of management tools currently available to the 
groundfish fisheries to avoid halibut bycatch (also see the response to 
Comment 3). This action is likely to reduce, in some years, the ability 
for the groundfish fleet to fully harvest its allocation (see Sections 
4.6.3 and 4.6.5 in the Analysis). Although the proposed halibut PSC 
limit reductions may result in earlier season closures and an attendant 
reduction in target groundfish catches, when the lower seasonal PSC 
limit is reached, the frequency and extent of early season closures 
will vary across gear types and segments of the fleets to the extent 
that fleets are willing to change fishing behavior in response to lower 
PSC limits. The fact that this action would reduce halibut PSC, and 
likely result in a reduced ability for harvests, reflects a well-
reasoned and articulated balance between National Standard 1 and 9.
    Comment 34: To be consistent with the requirements of the Magnuson-
Stevens Act, the Council and NMFS should consider the optimum yield for 
halibut as a target species in addition to considering optimum yield 
for the fisheries in which halibut is caught as bycatch.
    Response: As described in the proposed rule and in Section 6.1 of 
the Analysis, Amendment 95 is consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act. 
The purpose of this action is to minimize halibut bycatch to the extent 
practicable and to achieve, on a continual basis, the optimum yield 
from the groundfish fishery. As described in the response to Comment 
28, Amendment 95 implements a halibut PSC management program in the GOA 
groundfish fisheries that is comprehensive and coordinated with IPHC's 
management of the Pacific halibut stock in Convention waters. The 
Analysis examined the potential effects of the alternatives considered 
under this action with respect to the effects of halibut PSC limit 
reductions on the groundfish fisheries, halibut biomass, and other user 
groups such as the directed halibut fishery (see Sections 4.6.2, 3.2.8, 
and 4.6.3 of the Analysis). The Council has recommended, and NMFS has 
implemented, a variety of programs that directly regulate different 
components of the halibut fisheries, including commercial, charter, and 
subsistence. Furthermore, as described in the response to Comment 28, 
Amendment 95 provides a halibut PSC management program in the GOA 
groundfish fisheries that is comprehensive and coordinated with IPHC's 
management of the Pacific halibut stock in Convention waters.

Classification

    The NMFS Assistant Administrator has determined that Amendment 95 
to the FMP and this rule are necessary for the conservation and 
management of the groundfish fishery and that it is consistent with the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act and other applicable law.
    This rule has been determined to be not significant for the 
purposes of Executive Order (E.O.) 12866.

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 Final Regulatory Flexibility 
Analysis, 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 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 the proposed rule and this final rule are available from the 
NMFS Web site at http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov.

Final Regulatory Flexibility Analysis

    This final regulatory flexibility analysis (FRFA) incorporates the 
Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA), a summary of the 
significant issues raised by the public comments, NMFS' responses to 
those comments, and a summary of the analyses completed to support the 
action. NMFS published the proposed rule on September 17, 2013 (78 FR 
57106), with comments invited through October 17, 2013. An IRFA was 
prepared and summarized in the ``Classification'' section of the 
preamble to the proposed rule. The FRFA describes the impacts on small 
entities, which are defined in the IRFA for this action and not 
repeated here. Analytical requirements for the FRFA are described in 
Regulatory Flexibility Act, section 304(a)(1) through (5), and 
summarized below.
    The FRFA must contain:
    1. A succinct statement of the need for, and objectives of, the 
rule;
    2. A summary of the significant issues raised by the public 
comments in response to the IRFA, a summary of the assessment of the 
agency of such issues, and a statement of any changes made in the 
proposed rule as a result of such comments;
    3. A description and an estimate of the number of small entities to 
which the rule will apply, or an explanation of why no such estimate is 
available;
    4. A description of the projected reporting, recordkeeping and 
other compliance requirements of the rule, including an estimate of the 
classes of small entities which will be subject to the requirement and 
the type of professional skills necessary for preparation of the report 
or record; and
    5. A description of 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 which affect the 
impact on small entities was rejected.
    The ``universe'' of entities to be considered in a FRFA generally 
includes only those small entities that can reasonably be expected to 
be directly regulated by the action. If the effects of the rule fall 
primarily on a distinct segment of the industry, or portion thereof 
(e.g., user group, gear type, geographic area), that segment would be 
considered the universe for purposes of this analysis.
    In preparing a FRFA, an agency may provide either a quantifiable or 
numerical description of the effects of a rule (and alternatives to the 
rule), or more general descriptive statements, if quantification is not 
practicable or reliable.

Need for and Objectives of This Final Action

    The Council developed a purpose and need statement defining the 
reasons for considering this action, as described in Section 1.1 of the 
Analysis for this action (see ADDRESSES). The Magnuson-Stevens Act 
National Standards require balancing optimum yield with minimizing 
bycatch and minimizing adverse impacts to fishery dependent 
communities. Pacific halibut bycatch taken incidentally in GOA 
groundfish fisheries is a concern because halibut is a resource that is 
shared by many other user groups, including the directed halibut 
fishery, sport, and subsistence users. Since existing GOA halibut PSC 
limits were established, the total biomass and abundance of halibut has 
varied, and in recent years the stocks have experienced an ongoing 
decline in size at a given age. Given this species

[[Page 9639]]

importance to a variety of user groups, the Council chose to evaluate 
the existing halibut PSC limits, which was followed by a recommendation 
to reduce the halibut PSC limits for the hook-and-line and trawl gear 
sectors.

Summary of Significant Issues Raised During Public Comment

    No comments were received that raised significant issues in 
response to the IRFA specifically; therefore, no changes were made to 
the rule as a result of comments on the IRFA. However, several comments 
were received on the economic impacts of Amendment 95 on different 
sectors of the industry. For a summary of the comments received and the 
agency's responses, refer to the section above titled ``Response to 
Comments,'' particularly the sections titled ``Comments Associated with 
the Range of Alternatives and Practicability of Halibut PSC 
Reductions'' and ``Comments Associated with the Effects on Other 
Halibut User Sectors and Communities.''

Number and Description of Directly Regulated Small Entities

    On June 20, 2013, the Small Business Administration 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 to 19.0 
million, Shellfish Fishing from $4.0 to 5.0 million, and Other Marine 
Fishing from $4.0 to 7.0 million. Id. at 37400 (Table 1). The new size 
standards were used to prepare the FRFA for this action.
    The entities directly regulated by this final action are those 
entities that participate in harvesting groundfish from the Federal or 
parallel groundfish fisheries of the GOA with trawl gear or hook-and-
line gear (excluding sablefish). These directly regulated entities 
include the groundfish catcher vessels and groundfish catcher/processor 
vessels active in the GOA. We also consider those entities with halibut 
PSC sideboard limits, which include non-exempt AFA catcher vessels, 
Amendment 80 catcher/processors, and catcher/processors operating in 
Rockfish Program cooperatives, to be directly regulated. Fishing 
vessels are considered small entities if their total annual gross 
receipts, from all of their activities combined, are less than $19.0 
million. This FRFA estimates the number of harvesting vessels that are 
considered small entities, but these estimates may overstate the number 
of small entities because (1) some vessels may also be active as tender 
vessels in the salmon fishery, fish in areas other than Alaska and the 
West Coast, or generate revenue from other non-fishing sources; and (2) 
all affiliations are not taken into account, especially if the vessel 
has affiliations not tracked in available data (i.e., ownership of 
multiple vessel or affiliation with processors) and may be 
misclassified as a small entity. The Analysis for this action 
identified an estimated 486 total vessels considered directly regulated 
small entities in 2012, the most recent year of available data on the 
size of regulated entities.
    There are 65 Western Alaska communities that work through six non-
profit Community Development Quota (CDQ) groups that are considered 
small entities for Regulatory Flexibility Act purposes. The CDQ groups' 
ownership of harvesting vessels that operate in the GOA means that some 
of the CDQ groups' activities could be directly regulated in the same 
manner as other small entities that own vessels harvesting groundfish 
in the GOA.
    The AFA vessels, Amendment 80 catcher/processors, and Central GOA 
Rockfish fisheries operate under sideboard limits of halibut PSC and 
are therefore directly regulated. These cooperative entities are 
structured to increase the joint profits to their members. In 2012, 
there were seven inshore AFA cooperatives, two Amendment 80 
cooperatives, and two Central GOA Rockfish cooperatives that are 
considered large entities for this action.

Description of Significant Alternatives Considered

    The Council considered an extensive series of alternatives, 
options, and suboptions to reduce halibut PSC limits in the GOA, 
including the ``no action'' alternative. The RIR presents the complete 
set of alternatives (see ADDRESSES). Alternative 1, the Status Quo/No 
Action alternative, would retain the process of changing GOA halibut 
PSC limits through the annual groundfish harvest specification process. 
Alternative 2 would amend the FMP to remove setting GOA halibut PSC 
limits from the annual harvest specification process and instead 
establish the limits in Federal regulation. Alternative 2 includes two 
options. Option 1, Status Quo/No Action, would retain the existing 
1,973 mt trawl and 300 mt hook-and-line gear halibut PSC limits 
provided in the final 2013 and 2014 annual harvest specifications for 
the GOA and place them in Federal regulation. Option 2 would revise the 
current GOA halibut PSC limits and write the new limits into Federal 
regulation. Alternative 2, Option 2, contained a number of suboptions 
for the amount of halibut PSC limit reduction by trawl and the hook-
and-line fisheries, and additional measures. Other significant 
alternatives to the rule that were considered are discussed in Section 
2.1.4 of the Analysis. Alternative 3, the preferred alternative, 
includes a suite of options and suboptions that considered a range of 
different halibut PSC limit reductions and modifications to halibut PSC 
sideboard limit management.
    Other than Alternative 1, the Status Quo/No Action Alternative, all 
of the alternatives and options that were considered, including the 
Council's preferred alternative, would implement the halibut PSC limits 
through Federal regulation to reduce uncertainty about the final annual 
halibut PSC limit, which may benefit small entities. Based on the best 
available scientific information, none of the alternatives to the 
preferred alternative appear to have the potential to accomplish the 
stated objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and other applicable 
statutes (as reflected in this action), while minimizing any 
significant adverse economic impact on small entities beyond those 
achieved under this action. This action will minimize bycatch to the 
extent practicable while providing mechanisms to reduce the impacts on 
small entities in the GOA groundfish fisheries by phasing-in reductions 
to these halibut PSC limit reduction measures over several years and 
establishing other measures described in this rule to ensure more 
efficient use of the available halibut PSC limits.

Recordkeeping and Recording Requirements

    This action does not modify recordkeeping or reporting 
requirements.

Federal Rules That May Duplicate, Overlap, or Conflict With This Action

    The Analysis did not reveal any Federal rules that duplicate, 
overlap, or conflict with this final action.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 679

    Alaska, Fisheries, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements.


[[Page 9640]]


    Dated: February 12, 2014.
Samuel D. Rauch III,
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.; 
and Pub. L. 108-447.


0
2. In Sec.  679.21,
0
a. Remove paragraph (d)(2);
0
b. Redesignate paragraphs according to the following table;

------------------------------------------------------------------------
       Redesignate  paragraph                    As paragraph
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                    (d)(4)                               (d)(2)
                    (d)(5)                               (d)(4)
                    (d)(6)                               (d)(5)
                    (d)(7)                               (d)(6)
                    (d)(8)                               (d)(7)
------------------------------------------------------------------------

0
c. Revise paragraph (d)(1), newly redesignated paragraph (d)(2), 
paragraph (d)(3) heading, paragraphs (d)(3)(i) and (d)(3)(ii), and 
newly redesignated paragraphs (d)(4)(iii)(C) and (d)(6)(ii); and
0
d. Add paragraph (d)(4)(iii)(D) to read as follows:


Sec.  679.21  Prohibited species bycatch management.

* * * * *
    (d) * * *
    (1) Notification and public comment--(i) Proposed and final 
apportionments. NMFS will publish in the Federal Register proposed and 
final apportionments of the halibut PSC limits in paragraphs (d)(2) and 
(3) of this section in the notification required under Sec.  679.20.
    (ii) Modification of apportionments. NMFS, by notification in the 
Federal Register, may change the halibut PSC apportionments during the 
year for which they were specified, based on new information of the 
types set forth in this paragraph (d).
    (iii) Public comment. NMFS will accept public comment on the 
proposed halibut PSC apportionments for a period specified in the 
notice of proposed halibut PSC apportionments published in the Federal 
Register. NMFS will consider comments received on proposed halibut PSC 
apportionments and, after consultation with the Council, will publish 
notification in the Federal Register specifying the final halibut PSC 
apportionments.
    (2) Hook-and-line gear and pot gear annual halibut PSC limit. (i) 
The annual total PSC limit of halibut caught while conducting any hook-
and-line gear fishery for groundfish in the GOA is an amount of halibut 
equivalent to the amount of halibut mortality established for each of 
the fishery categories in paragraphs (d)(2)(i)(A) and (B) of this 
section. The notification at paragraph (d)(1) of this section also may 
specify a halibut PSC limit for the pot gear fisheries.
    (A) Demersal shelf rockfish, Southeast Outside (SEO) District. The 
halibut PSC limit in the demersal shelf rockfish fishery in the SEO 
District is 9 mt.
    (B) Other hook-and-line fishery. The halibut PSC limit in the other 
hook-and-line gear fishery is established according to the provisions 
of paragraphs (d)(2)(iii) and (d)(2)(iv) of this section.
    (ii) Hook-and-line fishery categories. For purposes of apportioning 
the hook-and-line halibut PSC limit among fisheries, the following 
fishery categories are specified and defined in terms of round-weight 
equivalents of those GOA groundfish species for which a TAC has been 
specified under Sec.  679.20.
    (A) Demersal shelf rockfish, SEO District. Fishing with hook-and-
line gear in the SEO District of the Eastern GOA regulatory area during 
any weekly reporting period that results in a retained catch of 
demersal shelf rockfish that is greater than the retained amount of any 
other fishery category defined under this paragraph (d)(2)(ii).
    (B) Other hook-and-line fishery. Fishing with hook-and-line gear 
during any weekly reporting period that results in a retained catch of 
groundfish and is not a demersal shelf rockfish fishery defined under 
paragraph (d)(2)(ii)(A) of this section.
    (iii) Apportionment of the GOA halibut PSC limit among other hook-
and-line catcher vessels and catcher/processors.
    (A) Catcher vessels using hook-and-line gear in the other hook-and-
line fishery will be apportioned part of the GOA halibut PSC limit in 
proportion to the total Western and Central GOA Pacific cod 
allocations, where X is equal to annual TAC, as follows:
[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TR20FE14.000

    (B) Catcher/processors using hook-and-line gear in the other hook-
and-line fishery will be apportioned part of the GOA halibut PSC limit 
in proportion to the total Western and Central GOA Pacific cod 
allocations, where X is equal to annual TAC, as follows:
[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TR20FE14.001

    (C) No later than November 1, any halibut PSC limit allocated under 
paragraph (d)(2)(ii)(B) of this section not projected by the Regional 
Administrator to be used by one of the hook-and-line sectors during the 
remainder of the fishing year will be made available to the other 
sector.
    (iv) Other hook-and-line fishery annual PSC limit reductions. The 
annual halibut PSC limits established for the other hook-and-line 
fishery under paragraph (d)(2)(iii) of this section are reduced, as 
follows:

[[Page 9641]]



----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                           Annual PSC limit
                                          percent reduction
                                           from the annual
                                          halibut PSC limit
             Vessel category              established under                    Effective years
                                              paragraph
                                            (d)(2)(iii) of
                                            this section.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
(A) Catcher vessel......................                  7  2014.
                                                         12  2015.
                                                         15  2016 and each year thereafter.
(B) Catcher/processor...................                  7  2014 and each year thereafter.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    (3) Trawl gear annual halibut PSC limit. (i) The annual total PSC 
limit of halibut caught while conducting any trawl gear fishery for 
groundfish in the GOA is an amount of halibut equivalent to 1,973 mt of 
halibut mortality. This amount is reduced as follows:

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                          Annual trawl gear
     Percent reduction from 1,973 mt        PSC limit (mt)                     Effective years
                                                 \1\
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
7.......................................              1,848  2014.
12......................................              1,759  2015.
15......................................              1,705  2016 and each year thereafter.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ This amount maintains the 191 mt annual allocation to the Rockfish Program (see Table 28d to this part) from
  the 1,973 mt halibut PSC limit, while reducing the remainder of the annual trawl gear halibut PSC limit by the
  percentage listed in the first column.

    (ii) PSC allowance. The halibut PSC limit specified for vessels 
using trawl gear may be further apportioned as PSC allowances to the 
fishery categories listed in paragraph (d)(3)(iii) of this section, 
based on each category's proportional share of the anticipated halibut 
PSC mortality during a fishing year and the need to optimize the amount 
of total groundfish harvest under the halibut PSC limit. The sum of all 
PSC allowances will equal the halibut PSC limit established under 
paragraph (d)(3)(i) of this section.
* * * * *
    (4) * * *
    (iii) * * *
    (C) The amount of unused halibut PSC not reapportioned under the 
provisions described in Sec.  679.21(d)(4)(iii)(B) will not be 
available for use as halibut PSC by any person for the remainder of 
that calendar year.
    (D) Combined management of trawl halibut PSC limits from May 15 
through June 30. NMFS will combine management of available trawl 
halibut PSC limits in the second season deep-water and shallow-water 
species fishery categories for use in either fishery from May 15 
through June 30 during the current fishery year. Halibut PSC sideboard 
limits for the Amendment 80 and AFA sectors will continue to be defined 
as deep-water and shallow-water species fisheries from May 15 through 
June 30. NMFS will re-apportion the halibut PSC limit between the deep-
water and shallow-water species fisheries after June 30 to account for 
actual halibut PSC use by each fishery category during May 15 through 
June 30. The Regional Administrator will issue a Federal Register 
notice to reapportion the amounts of trawl halibut PSC to each species 
fishery category.
* * * * *
    (6) * * *
    (ii) Hook-and-line fisheries. If, during the fishing year, the 
Regional Administrator determines that U.S. fishing vessels 
participating in any of the three hook-and-line gear and operational 
type fishery categories listed under paragraph (d)(2) of this section 
will catch the halibut PSC allowance, or apportionments thereof, 
specified for that fishery category under paragraph (d)(1) of this 
section, NMFS will publish notification in the Federal Register closing 
the entire GOA or the applicable regulatory area, district, or 
operation type to directed fishing with hook-and-line gear for each 
species and/or species group that composes that fishing category.
* * * * *

0
3. In Sec.  679.92, revise paragraph (b)(2) introductory text to read 
as follows:


Sec.  679.92  Amendment 80 Program use caps and sideboard limits.

* * * * *
    (b) * * *
    (2) GOA halibut PSC sideboard limits. All Amendment 80 vessels, 
other than the fishing vessel GOLDEN FLEECE as specified in paragraph 
(d) of this section, may not use halibut PSC in the fishery categories 
and management areas, greater than the amounts specified in Table 38 to 
this part during January 1 through December 31 of each year. Any 
residual amount of a seasonal sideboard halibut PSC limit may carry 
forward to the next season limit. This restriction on halibut PSC usage 
does not apply to the following two exceptions:
* * * * *

0
4. Revise Table 38 to part 679 to read as follows:

[[Page 9642]]



       Table 38 to Part 679--GOA Amendment 80 Sideboard Limit for Halibut PSC for the Amendment 80 Sector
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                   The maximum percentage of the total GOA halibut PSC limit that may be used by
                                   all Amendment 80 qualified vessels subject to the halibut PSC sideboard limit
                                   as those seasons\1\ are established in the annual harvest specifications is .
          In the . . .                                                  . .
                                 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                     Season 1        Season 2        Season 3        Season 4        Season 5
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Shallow-water species fishery as            0.48            1.89            1.46            0.74            2.27
 defined in Sec.
 679.21(d)(3)(iii)(A) in the GOA
 or adjacent waters open by the
 State of Alaska for which it
 adopts a Federal fishing
 season.........................
Deep-water species fishery as               1.15           10.72            5.21            0.14            3.71
 defined in Sec.
 679.21(d)(3)(iii)(B) in the GOA
 or adjacent waters open by the
 State of Alaska for which it
 adopts a Federal fishing
 season.........................
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Any residual amount of a seasonal sideboard halibut PSC limit may carry forward to the next season limit
  (see Sec.   679.92(b)(2)).

[FR Doc. 2014-03631 Filed 2-19-14; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P