[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 51 (Monday, March 17, 2014)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 14639-14657]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-05762]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 648

[Docket No. 131115971-4214-01]
RIN 0648-XC995


Magnuson-Stevens Act Provisions; Fisheries of the Northeastern 
United States; Northeast Multispecies Fishery; 2014 Sector Operations 
Plans and Contracts and Allocation of Northeast Multispecies Annual 
Catch Entitlements

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

ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: We propose to approve 19 sector operations plans and contracts 
for fishing year (FY) 2014, provide Northeast (NE) multispecies annual 
catch entitlements (ACE) to these sectors, and grant regulatory 
exemptions. We request comment on the proposed sector operations plans 
and contracts; the environmental assessment (EA) analyzing the impacts 
of the operations plans; and our proposal to grant 20 of the 28 
regulatory exemptions requested by the sectors. Approval of sector 
operations plans is necessary to allocate ACE to the sectors and for 
the sectors to operate. The NE Multispecies Fishery Management Plan 
(FMP) allows limited access permit holders to form sectors, and 
requires sectors to submit their operations plans and contracts to us, 
NMFS, for approval or disapproval. Approved sectors are exempt from 
certain effort control regulations and receive allocation of NE 
multispecies (groundfish) based on its members' fishing history.
    This rule also announces the target at-sea monitoring (ASM) 
coverage rate for sector trips for FY 2014.

DATES: Written comments must be received on or before April 1, 2014.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by 
NOAA-NMFS-2014-0001, by any of the following methods:
     Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to 
www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2014-0001, click the 
``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or 
attach your comments.

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     Mail: Submit written comments to Brett Alger, 55 Great 
Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930.
     Fax: 978-281-9135; Attn: Brett Alger.
    Instructions: Comments sent by any other method, to any other 
address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, 
may not be considered by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the 
public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on 
www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying 
information (e.g., name, address, etc.), confidential business 
information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily 
by the sender will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous 
comments (enter ``N/A'' in the required fields if you wish to remain 
anonymous). Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in 
Microsoft Word, Excel, or Adobe PDF file formats only.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Brett Alger, Fishery Management 
Specialist, phone (978) 675-2153, fax (978) 281-9135. To review Federal 
Register documents referenced in this rule, you can visit http://www.nero.noaa.gov/sfd/sfdmultifr.html.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    Amendment 13 to the FMP (69 FR 22906, April 27, 2004) established a 
process for forming sectors within the NE multispecies fishery, 
implemented restrictions applicable to all sectors, and authorized 
allocations of a total allowable catch (TAC) for specific NE 
multispecies species to a sector. Amendment 16 to the FMP (74 FR 18262, 
April 9, 2010) expanded sector management, revised the two existing 
sectors to comply with the expanded sector rules (summarized below), 
and authorized an additional 17 sectors. Framework Adjustment (FW) 45 
to the FMP (76 FR 23042, April 25, 2011) further revised the rules for 
sectors and authorized 5 new sectors (for a total of 24 sectors). FW 48 
to the FMP (78 FR 26118) eliminated dockside monitoring requirements, 
revised ASM requirements, removed the prohibition on requesting an 
exemption to allow access in year-round groundfish closures, and 
modified minimum fish sizes for NE multispecies stocks.
    The FMP defines a sector as ``[a] group of persons (three or more 
persons, none of whom have an ownership interest in the other two 
persons in the sector) holding limited access vessel permits who have 
voluntarily entered into a contract and agree to certain fishing 
restrictions for a specified period of time, and which has been granted 
a TAC(s) [sic] in order to achieve objectives consistent with 
applicable FMP goals and objectives.'' Sectors are self-selecting, 
meaning each sector can choose its members.
    The NE multispecies sector management system allocates a portion of 
the NE multispecies stocks to each sector. These annual sector 
allocations are known as ACE. These allocations are a portion of a 
stock's annual catch limit (ACL) available to commercial NE 
multispecies vessels, based on the collective fishing history of a 
sector's members. Currently, sectors may receive allocations of most 
large-mesh NE multispecies stocks with the exception of Atlantic 
halibut, windowpane flounder, Atlantic wolffish, and ocean pout. A 
sector determines how to harvest its ACEs and may decide to consolidate 
operations to fewer vessels.
    Because sectors elect to receive an allocation under a quota-based 
system, the FMP grants sector vessels several ``universal'' exemptions 
from the FMP's effort controls. These universal exemptions apply to: 
Trip limits on allocated stocks; the Georges Bank (GB) Seasonal Closure 
Area; NE multispecies days-at-sea (DAS) restrictions; the requirement 
to use a 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) mesh codend when fishing with selective 
gear on GB; portions of the Gulf of Maine (GOM) Rolling Closure Areas; 
and the ASM coverage rate for sector vessels fishing on a monkfish DAS 
in the Southern New England (SNE) Broad Stock Area (BSA) with extra-
large mesh gillnets. The FMP prohibits sectors from requesting 
exemptions from permitting restrictions, gear restrictions designed to 
minimize habitat impacts, and reporting requirements.
    We received operations plans and preliminary contracts for FY 2014 
from 19 sectors. The operations plans are similar to previously 
approved versions, but include additional exemption requests and 
proposals for industry-funded ASM plans. Five sectors did not submit 
operations plans or contracts. Four of these sectors now operate as 
state-operated permit banks as described below.
    We have made a preliminary determination that the proposed 19 
sector operations plans and contracts, and 20 of the 28 regulatory 
exemptions, are consistent with the FMP's goals and objectives, and 
meet sector requirements outlined in the regulations at Sec.  648.87. 
We summarize many of the sector requirements in this proposed rule and 
request comments on the proposed operations plans, the accompanying EA, 
and our proposal to grant 20 of the 28 regulatory exemptions requested 
by the sectors, but deny the rest. Copies of the operations plans and 
contracts, and the EA, are available at http://www.regulations.gov and 
from NMFS (see ADDRESSES). Two of the 19 sectors, Northeast Fishery 
Sector IV and Sustainable Harvest Sector 3, propose to operate as 
private lease-only sectors. Sustainable Harvest Sector 3 has not 
explicitly prohibited fishing activity and may transfer permits to 
active vessels.
    The five sectors that chose not to submit operations plans and 
contracts for FY 2014 are the Tri-State Sector, and four state-operated 
permit bank sectors as follows: The State of Maine Permit Bank Sector, 
the State of New Hampshire Permit Bank Sector, the Commonwealth of 
Massachusetts Permit Bank Sector, and the State of Rhode Island Permit 
Bank Sector. Amendment 17 to the FMP allows a state-operated permit 
bank to receive an allocation without needing to comply with the 
administrative and procedural requirements for sectors (77 FR 16942, 
March 23, 2012). These permit banks are required to submit a list of 
participating permits to us by a date specified in the permit bank's 
Memorandum of Agreement, typically April 1.

Sector Allocations

    Sectors typically submit membership information to us on December 1 
prior to the start of the FY, which begins each year on May 1. Due to 
uncertainty regarding ACLs for several stocks in FY 2014 and a 
corresponding delay in distributing a letter describing each vessel's 
potential contribution to a sector's quota for FY 2013, we extended the 
deadline to join a sector until March 6, 2014. Based on sector 
enrollment trends from the past 4 FYs, we expect sector participation 
in FY 2014 will be similar. Thus, we are using FY 2013 rosters as a 
proxy for FY 2014 sector membership and calculating the FY 2014 
projected allocations in this proposed rule. In addition to the 
membership delay, all permits that change ownership after December 1, 
2013, retain the ability to join a sector through April 30, 2014. All 
permits enrolled in a sector, and the vessels associated with those 
permits, have until April 30, 2014, to withdraw from a sector and fish 
in the common pool for FY 2014. We will publish final sector ACEs and 
common pool sub-ACL totals, based upon final rosters, as soon as 
possible after the start of FY 2014.
    We calculate the sector's allocation for each stock by summing its 
members' potential sector contributions (PSC) for a stock, as shown in 
Table 1. The

[[Page 14641]]

information presented in Table 1 is the total percentage of each 
commercial sub-ACL each sector would receive for FY 2014, based on 
their FY 2013 rosters. Tables 2 and 3 show the allocations each sector 
would be allocated for FY 2014, based on their FY 2013 rosters. At the 
start of the FY after sector enrollment is finalized, we provide the 
final allocations, to the nearest pound, to the individual sectors, and 
we use those final allocations to monitor sector catch. While the 
common pool does not receive a specific allocation, the common pool 
sub-ACLs have been included in each of these tables for comparison.
    We do not assign an individual permit separate PSCs for the Eastern 
GB cod or Eastern GB haddock; instead, we assign a permit a PSC for the 
GB cod stock and GB haddock stock. Each sector's GB cod and GB haddock 
allocations are then divided into an Eastern ACE and a Western ACE, 
based on each sector's percentage of the GB cod and GB haddock ACLs. 
For example, if a sector is allocated 4 percent of the GB cod ACL and 6 
percent of the GB haddock ACL, the sector is allocated 4 percent of the 
commercial Eastern U.S./Canada Area GB cod TAC and 6 percent of the 
commercial Eastern U.S./Canada Area GB haddock TAC as its Eastern GB 
cod and haddock ACEs. These amounts are then subtracted from the 
sector's overall GB cod and haddock allocations to determine its 
Western GB cod and haddock ACEs. A sector may only harvest its Eastern 
GB cod and Eastern GB haddock ACEs in the Eastern U.S./Canada Area.
    At the start of FY 2014, we will withhold 20 percent of each 
sector's FY 2014 allocation until we finalize FY 2013 catch 
information. Further, we will allow sectors to transfer ACE for the 
first 2 weeks of the FY to reduce or eliminate any overages. If 
necessary, we will reduce any sector's FY 2014 allocation to account 
for a remaining overage in FY 2013. We will notify the New England 
Fishery Management Council (Council) and sector managers of this 
deadline in writing and will announce this decision on our Web site at 
http://www.nero.noaa.gov/.
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P

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[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP17MR14.007


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[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP17MR14.008


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[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP17MR14.009


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BILLING CODE 3510-22-C

Sector Operations Plans and Contracts

    We received 19 sector operations plans and contracts by the 
September 3, 2013, deadline. Seventeen sectors operated in FY 2013, and 
two additional sectors, Northeast Fishery Sector I and the GB Cod Hook 
Sector, that did not operate last year, have submitted plans for FY 
2014. In order to approve a sector's operations plan for FY 2014, that 
sector must have been compliant with reporting requirements from all 
previous years, including the year-end reporting requirements found at 
Sec.  648.87(vi)(C). Submitted operations plans, provided on our Web 
site as a single document for each sector, not only contain the rules 
under which each sector would fish, but also provide the legal contract 
that binds each member to the sector for the length of the sector's 
operations plan, which currently is a single FY. Each sector's 
operations plan, and sector members, must comply with the regulations 
governing sectors, found at Sec.  648.87. In addition, each sector must 
conduct fishing activities as detailed in its approved operations plan.
    Any permit holder with a limited access NE multispecies permit that 
was valid as of May 1, 2008, is eligible to participate in a sector, 
including an inactive permit currently held in confirmation of permit 
history. If a permit holder officially enrolls a permit in a sector and 
the FY begins, then that permit must remain in the sector for the 
entire FY, and cannot fish in the NE multispecies fishery outside of 
the sector (i.e., in the common pool) during the FY. Participating 
vessels are required to comply with all pertinent Federal fishing 
regulations, except as specifically exempted in the letter of 
authorization (LOA) issued by the Regional Administrator, which details 
any approved exemptions from regulations. If, during a FY, a sector 
requests an exemption that we have already approved, or proposes a 
change to administrative provisions, we may amend the sector operations 
plans. Should any amendments require modifications to LOAs, we would 
include these changes in updated LOAs and provide these to the 
appropriate sector members.
    Each sector is required to ensure that it does not exceed its ACE 
during the FY. Sector vessels are required to retain all legal-sized 
allocated NE multispecies stocks, unless a sector is granted an 
exemption allowing its member vessels to discard legal-sized 
unmarketable fish at sea. Catch (defined as landings and discards) of 
all allocated NE multispecies stocks by a sector's vessels count 
against the sector's allocation. Catch from a sector trip (e.g., not 
fishing under provisions of a NE multispecies exempted fishery or with 
exempted gear) targeting dogfish, monkfish, skate, and lobster (with 
non-trap gear) would be deducted from the sector's ACE because these 
trips use gear capable of catching groundfish. Catch from a trip in an 
exempted fishery does not count against a sector's allocation because 
the catch is assigned to a separate ACL sub-component.
    For FYs 2010 and 2011, there was no requirement for an industry-
funded ASM program and NMFS was able to fund an ASM program with a 
target ASM coverage rate of 30 percent of all trips. In addition, we 
provided 8-percent observer coverage through the Northeast Fishery 
Observer Program (NEFOP), which helps to support the Standardized 
Bycatch Reporting Methodology (SBRM) and stock assessments. This 
resulted in an overall target coverage rate of 38 percent, between ASM 
and NEFOP, for FYs 2010 and 2011. For FY 2012, we conducted an analysis 
to determine the total coverage that would be necessary to achieve the 
same level of precision as attained by the 38-percent total coverage 
target used for FY's 2010 and 2011, and ultimately set a target 
coverage rate of 25 percent for FY 2012, which was 17 percent ASM, and 
8 percent NEFOP. For FY 2013, we conducted the same analysis, and set a 
target coverage rate of 22 percent for FY 2013, which was 14 percent 
ASM, and 8 percent NEFOP. Since the beginning of FY 2012, industry was 
required to pay for ASM coverage, while we continued to fund NEFOP. 
However, we were able to fund both ASM and NEFOP in FY 2012 and 2013. 
As announced on February 21, 2014, NMFS will cover the ASM costs for 
groundfish sectors to meet the requirements under the NE Multispecies 
FMP in FY 2014, as well.
    Amendment 16 regulations require NMFS to specify a level of ASM 
coverage that is sufficient to at least meet the same coefficient of 
variation (CV) specified in the SBRM and also to accurately monitor 
sector operations. FW 48 clarified what level of ASM coverage was 
expected to meet these goals. Regarding meeting the SBRM CV level, FW 
48 determined that it should be made at the overall stock level, which 
is consistent with the level NMFS determined was necessary in FY 2013. 
FW 48 also amended the goals of the sector monitoring program to 
include achieving an accuracy level sufficient to minimize effects of 
potential monitoring bias.
    Taking the provisions of FW 48 into account, and interpreting the 
ASM monitoring provision in the context of Magnuson-Stevens Act 
requirements and National Standards, we have determined that the 
appropriate level of ASM coverage should be set at the level that meets 
the CV requirement specified in the SBRM and minimizes the cost burden 
to sectors and NMFS to the extent practicable, while still providing a 
reliable estimate of overall catch by sectors needed for monitoring 
ACEs and ACLs. Based on this standard, NMFS has determined that the 
appropriate target coverage rate for FY 2014 is 26 percent. Using both 
NEFOP and ASM, we expect to cover 26 percent of all sector trips, with 
the exception of trips using a few specific exemptions, as described 
later in this rule. Discards derived from these observed and monitored 
trips will be used to calculate discards for unobserved sector trips. 
We have published a more detailed summary of the supporting 
information, explanation and justification for this decision at: http://www.nero.noaa.gov/ro/fso/reports/Sectors/ASM/FY2014_Multispecies_Sector_ASM_Requirements_Summary.pdf.
    This summary, in addition to providing sectors and the public with 
a full and transparent explanation of the appropriate level of ASM 
coverage of sector operations, complies with a settlement agreement 
entered into by NMFS and Oceana, Inc. The settlement agreement resolved 
a lawsuit brought by Oceana challenging the approval of the 2012 sector 
operations plans primarily on grounds that the agency failed to 
adequately justify and explain that the ASM coverage rate specified for 
FY 2012 would accurately monitor the catch to effectively enforce catch 
limits in the groundfish fishery.
    The draft operations plans submitted in September 2013 included 
industry-funded ASM plans for FY 2014. However, because NMFS will be 
funding and operating ASM for sectors in FY 2014, we are not proposing 
to approve these ASM plans and would remove them from the final sector 
operations plans.
    Sectors are required to monitor their allocations and catch, and 
submit weekly catch reports to us. If a sector reaches an ACE threshold 
(specified in the operations plan), the sector must provide sector 
allocation usage reports on a daily basis. Once a sector's allocation 
for a particular stock is caught, that sector is required to cease all 
fishing operations in that stock area until it acquires more ACE, 
unless that sector has an approved plan to fish without ACE for that 
stock. ACE may be

[[Page 14646]]

transferred between sectors, but transfers to or from common pool 
vessels is prohibited. Within 60 days of when we complete year-end 
catch accounting, each sector is required to submit an annual report 
detailing the sector's catch (landings and discards), enforcement 
actions, and pertinent information necessary to evaluate the 
biological, economic, and social impacts of each sector.
    Each sector contract provides procedures to enforce the sector 
operations plan, explains sector monitoring and reporting requirements, 
presents a schedule of penalties for sector plan violations, and 
provides sector managers with the authority to issue stop fishing 
orders to sector members who violate provisions of the operations plan 
and contract. A sector and sector members can be held jointly and 
severally liable for ACE overages, discarding legal-sized fish, and/or 
misreporting catch (landings or discards). Each sector operations plan 
submitted for FY 2014 states that the sector would withhold an initial 
reserve from the sector's ACE sub-allocation to each individual member 
to prevent the sector from exceeding its ACE. Each sector contract 
details the method for initial ACE sub-allocation to sector members. 
For FY 2014, each sector has proposed that each sector member could 
harvest an amount of fish equal to the amount each individual member's 
permit contributed to the sector.

Requested FY 2014 Exemptions

    Sectors requested 28 exemptions from the NE multispecies 
regulations through their FY 2014 operations plans. We evaluate each 
exemption to determine whether it allows for effective administration 
of and compliance with the operations plan and sector allocation, and 
that it is consistent with the goals and objectives of the FMP. Twenty 
of the 28 requests are grouped into several categories in this rule, as 
follows: Sixteen exemptions that were previously approved and are 
proposed for approval for FY 2014; one exemption previously approved 
for which we have concern; one exemption that was previously denied, 
but we are reconsidering based on a modified request for FY 2014; 
exemption requests related to accessing year-round groundfish mortality 
closures; and a new exemption request we propose to approve for FY 
2014. The remaining eight exemption requests, each of which are 
proposed for denial, are grouped into two categories: Two requested 
exemptions that we propose to deny because they were previously 
rejected and no new information was provided; and six requested 
exemptions that we propose to deny because they are prohibited.
    A discussion of all 28 exemption requests appears below; we request 
public comment on the proposed sector operations plans and our proposal 
to grant 20 requested exemptions and deny 8 requested exemptions, as 
well as the EA prepared for this action.

Exemptions We Propose To Approve (16)

    In FY 2013, we exempted sectors from the following requirements, 
all of which have been requested for FY 2014: (1) 120-day block out of 
the fishery required for Day gillnet vessels, (2) 20-day spawning block 
out of the fishery required for all vessels, (3) prohibition on a 
vessel hauling another vessel's gillnet gear, (4) limits on the number 
of gillnets that may be hauled on GB when fishing under a NE 
multispecies/monkfish DAS, (5) limits on the number of hooks that may 
be fished, (6) DAS Leasing Program length and horsepower restrictions, 
(7) prohibition on discarding, (8) daily catch reporting by sector 
managers for sector vessels participating in the Closed Area (CA) I 
Hook Gear Haddock Special Access Program (SAP), (9) powering vessel 
monitoring systems (VMS) while at the dock, (10) prohibition on fishing 
inside and outside of the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP while on the same 
trip, (11) prohibition on a vessel hauling another vessel's hook gear, 
(12) the requirement to declare intent to fish in the Eastern U.S./
Canada SAP and the CA II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP prior to 
leaving the dock, (13) gear requirements in the Eastern U.S./Canada 
Management Area, (14) seasonal restrictions for the Eastern U.S./Canada 
Haddock SAP, (15) seasonal restrictions for the CA II Yellowtail 
Flounder/Haddock SAP, and (16) sampling exemption. A detailed 
description of the previously approved exemptions and rationale for 
their approval can be found in the applicable final rules identified in 
Table 4 below:

                     Table 4--Exemptions From Previous FYs Proposed for Approval in FY 2014
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          Exemptions                    Rulemaking                     Date                    Citation
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1-9, 13......................  FY 2011--Sector Operations    April 25, 2011.........  76 FR 23076.
                                Final Rule.
10-12........................  FY 2012--Sector Operations    May 2, 2012............  77 FR 26129.
                                Final Rule.
14-16........................  FY 2013--Sector Operations    May 2, 2013............  78 FR 25591.
                                Interim Final Rule.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
NE Multispecies FR documents can be found at http://www.nero.noaa.gov/sfd/sfdmultifr.html.

Exemption of Concern That We Previously Approved (1)

(17) Limits on the Number of Gillnets on Day Gillnet Vessels
    The FMP limits the number of gillnets a Day gillnet vessel may fish 
in the groundfish regulated mesh areas (RMA) to prevent an uncontrolled 
increase in the number of nets being fished, thus undermining 
applicable DAS effort controls. The limits are specific to the type of 
gillnet within each RMA: 100 gillnets (of which no more than 50 can be 
roundfish gillnets) in the GOM RMA (Sec.  648.80(a)(3)(iv)); 50 
gillnets in the GB RMA (Sec.  648.80(a)(4)(iv)); and 75 gillnets in the 
Mid-Atlantic (MA) RMA (Sec.  648.80(b)(2)(iv)). We previously approved 
this exemption in FYs 2010, 2011, and 2012 to allow sector vessels to 
fish up to 150 nets (any combination of flatfish or roundfish nets) in 
any RMA to provide greater operational flexibility to sector vessels in 
deploying gillnet gear. Sectors argued that the gillnet limits were 
designed to control fishing effort and are no longer necessary because 
a sector's ACE limits overall fishing mortality.
    Previous effort analysis of all sector vessels using gillnet gear 
indicated an increase in gear used in the RMA with no corresponding 
increase in catch efficiency, which could lead to an increase in 
interactions with protected species. While a sector's ACE is designed 
to limit a stock's fishing mortality, fishing effort may affect other 
species. This increased effort could ultimately lead to a rise in 
interactions with protected species.
    For FY 2013, we received several comments in support of the 
continued approval of the exemption without any restrictions, noting 
negative financial impacts if the exemption were not approved and that 
efforts were made to

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increase pinger compliance to mitigate concerns for harbor porpoise. We 
recognize that pinger compliance is generally increasing in recent 
years; however, the increase is not seen across all sectors, nor across 
all gillnet vessels outside of the groundfish fishery. Correspondingly, 
while recent indications reflect a decrease in harbor porpoise takes, 
takes have not decreased to a suitable level. We also heard from 
several commenters who raised concerns for cod, impacts to non-target 
species, and the risk for lost gear. Based on the comments received and 
the concern for protected species and spawning cod, we restricted the 
use of this exemption to seasons with minimal cod spawning in the GOM, 
i.e., late spring. Therefore, a vessel fishing in the GOM RMA was able 
to use this exemption seasonally, but was restricted to the 100-net 
gillnet limit in blocks 124 and 125 in May, and in blocks 132 and 133 
in June. A vessel fishing in GB RMA, SNE RMA, MA RMA, and the GOM 
outside of these times and areas did not have this additional 
restriction. We are proposing this exemption with the same GOM seasonal 
restrictions that we approved in FY 2013, and we request comment on 
approving this exemption again for FY 2014.

Previously Disapproved Exemption Under Consideration for Approval (1)

(18) Prohibition on Combining Small Mesh Exempted Fishery and Sector 
Trips
    We received an exemption request in FY 2013 to allow sector vessels 
to fish in small-mesh exempted fisheries (e.g., whiting, squid) and in 
the large-mesh groundfish fishery on the same trip. A full description 
of the request and relevant regulations is in the FY 2013 Sector 
Proposed Rule (78 FR 16220, see page 16230, March 14, 2013). In the 
proposed rule, we raised several concerns about the exemption, 
including the ability to monitor these trips, the impacts that the 
exemption could have on juvenile fish, and the enforceability of using 
multiple mesh sizes on the same trip (i.e., participating in multiple 
directed fisheries on a single trip). We received comments in support 
and against the exemption request. Ultimately, it was disapproved in 
the FY 2013 Sector Interim Final Rule (78 FR 25591, May 2, 2013) for 
many of the concerns stated above.
    For FY 2014, sectors have requested a similar exemption that would 
allow vessels to possess and use small-mesh and large-mesh trawl gear 
on a single trip, within portions of the SNE RMA. To address some of 
the concerns from FY 2013, sectors proposed that vessels using this 
exemption to fish with smaller mesh would fish in two discrete areas 
that have been shown to have minimal amounts of regulated species and 
ocean pout. The coordinates and maps for these two areas are show 
below:

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP17MR14.010

    Sector Small-Mesh Fishery Exemption Area 1 is bounded by the 
following coordinates connected in the order listed by straight lines, 
except where otherwise noted:

------------------------------------------------------------------------
            Point                N. latitude      W. longitude     Note
------------------------------------------------------------------------
A...........................  40[deg]39.2'      73[deg]07.0'      ......
B...........................  40[deg]34.0'      73[deg]07.0'      ......
C...........................  41[deg]03.5'      71[deg]34.0'      ......
D...........................  41[deg]23.0'      71[deg]11.5'      ......
E...........................  41[deg]27.6'      71[deg]11.5'       (\1\)
F...........................  41[deg]18.3'      71[deg]51.5'      ......
G...........................  41[deg]04.3'      71[deg]51.5'       (\2\)
A...........................  40[deg]39.2'      73[deg]07.0'      ......
------------------------------------------------------------------------
(\1\) From POINT E to POINT F along the southernmost coastline of Rhode
  Island and crossing all bays and inlets following the COLREGS
  Demarcation Lines defined in 33 CFR part 80.
(\2\) From POINT G back to POINT A along the southernmost coastline of
  Long Island, NY and crossing all bays and inlets following the COLREGS
  Demarcation Lines defined in 33 CFR part 80.

    Sector Small-Mesh Fishery Exemption Area 2 is bound by the 
following coordinates connected in the order listed by straight lines:

[[Page 14648]]



 
------------------------------------------------------------------------
            Point                  N. latitude          W. longitude
------------------------------------------------------------------------
H...........................  41[deg]00.0' N        71[deg]20.0' W.
I...........................  41[deg]00.0' N        70[deg]00.0' W.
J...........................  40[deg]27.0' N        70[deg]00.0' W.
K...........................  40[deg]27.0' N        71[deg]20.0' W.
H...........................  41[deg]00.0' N        71[deg]20.0' W.
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Second, sectors proposed that one of the following trawl gear 
modifications would be required for use when using small mesh: Drop 
chain sweep with a minimum of 12 inches (30.48 cm) in length; a large 
mesh belly panel with a minimum of 32-inch (81.28-cm) mesh size; or an 
excluder grate secured forward of the codend with an outlet hole 
forward of the grate with bar spacing of no more than 1.97 inches (5.00 
cm) wide. These gear modifications, when fished properly, have been 
shown to reduce the catch of legal and sub-legal groundfish stocks. 
Requiring these modifications is intended to also reduce the incentive 
for a sector vessel to target groundfish with small mesh.
    Sectors have requested subjecting a vessel using this exemption to 
the same NEFOP and ASM coverage as standard groundfish trips (i.e., a 
total of 26 percent in FY 2014). The vessel would be required to 
declare their intent to use small mesh to target non-regulated species 
by submitting a Trip Start Hail through its VMS unit prior to 
departure; this would be used for monitoring and enforcement purposes. 
Trips declaring this exemption must stow their small-mesh gear and use 
their large-mesh gear first, and once finished with the large mesh, 
would have to submit a Multispecies Catch Report via VMS with all catch 
on board at that time. Once the Catch Report was sent, the vessel could 
then deploy small mesh with the required modifications in the specific 
areas (see map above), outside of the Nantucket Lightship CA, at which 
point, the large mesh could not be redeployed. Any legal-sized 
allocated groundfish stocks caught during these small-mesh hauls must 
be landed and the associated landed weight (dealer or vessel trip 
report (VTR)) would be deducted from the sector's ACE.
    Vessels using this exemption would have their trips assessed using 
a new discard strata (i.e., area fished and gear type) and would be 
treated separately from sector trips that do not declare this 
exemption. After 1 year, an analysis would be conducted to determine 
whether large-mesh hauls on these trips should remain as a separate 
stratum or be part of an existing stratum. Vessels using this exemption 
would be required to retain all legal-sized groundfish when using small 
mesh, and all groundfish catch would be counted against a sector's ACE.
    Recognizing that this year's modified request addressed some of our 
past concerns, we worked with the sectors to better understand the new 
request and their attempt to develop additional solutions to the issues 
we raised in the past. However, we remain concerned about the 
exemption, as proposed, regarding impacts on the resource, as well as 
monitoring and enforcing the exemption.
    First, we are concerned about vessels potentially catching 
groundfish in these requested exemption areas with small-mesh nets. 
While the requested exemption areas do appear to have minimal amounts 
of groundfish, they are not completely void of these stocks. In fact, 
beginning in FY 2014, accountability measures (AMs) for the groundfish 
fishery will be implemented adjacent to the requested exemption areas 
to address high discards of windowpane flounder. This exemption 
provides an opportunity for vessels to target or incidentally catch 
allocated NE multispecies in these requested exemption areas while 
fishing with small-mesh nets.
    We are also concerned about the possible increase in bycatch of 
juvenile fish. There is a change in selectivity from a 6.5-inch (16.5-
cm) codend to a 2.5-inch (6.35-cm) codend, and a vessel using a small-
mesh net may increase the catch of juvenile groundfish. The increased 
amount of bycatch may not affect an individual sector because the 
sector may have adequate ACE to cover the discards. However, because 
discards in the commercial groundfish fishery are calculated and 
monitored by weight, and not by number of fish, the smaller-mesh net 
could result in more fish by number that are discarded when fishing 
with the much smaller codend. An increased discard of juvenile fish may 
adversely affect groundfish stocks.
    The three gear modifications proposed for this exemption could 
mitigate catch of regulated species when properly installed. All three 
modifications have been demonstrated to reduce the catch of regulated 
species, but none have been shown to completely eliminate it. While the 
modifications have the potential to harvest regulated species, such as 
cod, especially if the gears are not fished properly, the excluder 
grate modification may reduce catch of larger groundfish, but may still 
capture juveniles, even when fished properly.
    Second, there are several concerns with monitoring this exemption. 
Small-mesh exempted fishery trips outside of this proposed exemption 
are only subject to the NEFOP monitoring requirements and do not 
receive ASM coverage. As a result, the vast majority of NEFOP observers 
and ASMs do not receive the training necessary for observing small-mesh 
fisheries. Because of this lack of training, we are concerned about 
accurately observing both the large-mesh and small-mesh portions of 
these proposed trips. Additionally, while this exemption is proposed to 
have a target coverage of 26 percent (NEFOP and ASM combined), this 
exemption would be treated separately from standard sector trips to 
accurately monitor species caught and discarded by area and gear type. 
As such, we are concerned about the effects of this exemption on the 
administration of our monitoring programs. For example, having to 
process data from these unique trips and distribute ASMs across more 
trips, could cause inefficiencies and affect our abilities to meet the 
target coverage of 26 percent that is required for overall sector 
monitoring. This specific concern is not unique to this exemption, and 
is raised again later in this rule for other exemptions.
    Another monitoring concern is our ability to monitor fish caught in 
non-groundfish fisheries and whether the proposed changes in our 
accounting for this catch in these fisheries is required. Vessels 
fishing with small-mesh nets outside of the groundfish fishery, such as 
squid vessels, are required to discard all groundfish, legal and sub-
legal. Because of this incidental groundfish catch in non-groundfish 
fisheries, a portion of the ACL of most groundfish stocks is reserved 
under the ``other sub-component'' category to account for the bycatch. 
This portion of the ACL is not an allocation in the other sub-component 
category, and there are currently no AMs for the non-groundfish 
fisheries in this sub-component category. Instead, if groundfish 
bycatch in the other sub-component category contributes to an overage 
of the groundfish ACL, the commercial groundfish fishery is held 
accountable for 100 percent of the overage. We monitor the amount of 
groundfish bycatch caught in non-groundfish fisheries through annual 
catch estimates, and the Council uses this information to determine if 
the amount of bycatch warrants allocating a sub-ACL and corresponding 
AMs to a specific non-groundfish fishery.
    Allowing vessels using this exemption to discard legal-sized 
groundfish would significantly compromise both the ability to ensure 
that vessels are not retaining legal-sized groundfish from the small-
mesh portion

[[Page 14649]]

of the trip, and prevent vessels from discarding groundfish caught from 
the large-mesh portion of the trip, while squid fishing. To address 
these enforcement concerns, this proposal requires vessels to land all 
legal-sized groundfish, bycatch that would normally count against the 
other sub-component would now count against the groundfish sub-ACL. 
This change in practice and accounting could hinder our ability to 
monitor the level of groundfish bycatch in non-groundfish fisheries, 
particularly the small-mesh fisheries. The frequency that this 
exemption is used, the magnitude of groundfish bycatch on these trips, 
and whether the bycatch includes a large portion of the non-allocated 
stocks (e.g., windowpane flounder) could adversely affect our ability 
to determine whether bycatch is increasing or poses any management 
concerns. This would also then potentially adversely affect the 
Council's determination of whether the amount of bycatch warrants 
allocating a sub-ACL and corresponding AMs to a non-groundfish fishery.
    Lastly, there are enforcement concerns about the landings and 
discards of groundfish while the vessel uses small mesh on a sector 
trip under this exemption. At present, vessels are primarily bound by 
one minimum mesh size throughout their trip to target a single fishery, 
e.g., vessels use a 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) mesh codend to target groundfish 
on a sector trip. In order to use multiple mesh sizes on a trip to 
target other fisheries, vessels must declare out of the groundfish 
fishery, and for example, use a 5.5-inch (13.97-cm) mesh codend to 
target fluke, or a 2.5-inch (6.35-cm) mesh codend to target squid. 
Under the proposed exemption, a vessel would participate in multiple 
targeted fisheries, using multiple mesh sizes on the same fishing trip, 
which creates additional complexity of being able to associate the 
catch on board the vessel with the correct mesh size that was used. 
After a vessel has retained groundfish on board caught using large 
mesh, the vessel could use small mesh to target groundfish prior to 
entering one of the exemption areas, which would be illegal and 
difficult to detect. Under a typical small-mesh trip, a vessel is not 
allowed to be in possession of any regulated species at any time.
    If approved, we will closely monitor the catch from these exempted 
trips. If it is determined that this exemption is having a negative 
impact on groundfish stocks, we would retain the authority to revoke 
this exemption during the FY.

Exemption Requests Related to Accessing Groundfish Closed Areas (1)

(19) Prohibition on Groundfish Trips in Year-Round Closed Areas
    In FY 2013, we disapproved an exemption that would have allowed 
sector vessels restricted access to portions of CAs I and II, provided 
each trip carried an industry-funded ASM. For a detailed description of 
the exemption request and justifications for disapproval, see the final 
rule (78 FR 41772, December 16, 2013). When we proposed allowing sector 
access to these areas, we announced that we did not have funding to pay 
for monitoring the additional trips for exemptions requiring a 100-
percent coverage level. Industry members indicated that it was too 
expensive to participate in the exemption, given the requirement to pay 
for a monitor on every trip. This, in combination with extensive 
comment opposing access to these areas to protect depleted stocks and 
our concern about the impacts on depleted stocks such as GB cod and GB 
yellowtail flounder, resulted in disapproval.
    In FY 2014, we remain unable to fund monitoring costs for 
exemptions requiring a 100-percent coverage level. In addition, we have 
some concerns about funding and administering the shore-side portion of 
any monitoring program for an exemption that requires additional ASM, 
such as the exemption to access CAs I and II. For example, an increase 
in monitored trips would result in an increased need for data 
processing for those trips, which could cause delays that adversely 
affect our existing programs. Also, distributing ASMs across CA trips 
or other exemption's trips could affect our ability to meet the target 
coverage of 26 percent required for overall sector monitoring because 
an exemption requiring additional coverage places additional strain on 
the existing pool of ASM. If we are unable to fund the shore-side 
portion of an industry-funded ASM program, or if we determine that 
there are significant effects on data or ASM availability, approval of 
this exemption would be in jeopardy.
    As discussed in the FY 2013 interim final rule allowing access to 
the Nantucket Lightship CA for sectors rule (78 FR 41772, December 16, 
2013), we are interested in conducting research through an exempted 
fishing permit(s) (EFP) to gather catch data from CAs I and II. Results 
from any EFPs conducted in these areas could better inform the 
industry, the public, and NMFS, regarding the economic efficacy of 
accessing these CAs, while providing information specific to bycatch of 
depleted stocks.
    The Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office and the Northeast 
Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) are currently working to develop ideas 
for a short-term EFP that would allow a small number of groundfish 
trips into CAs I and II. These trips would attempt to address the 
following questions: (1) Could enough fish be caught to adequately 
offset the industry's additional expense of having an ASM on board, and 
(2) could catch of groundfish stocks of concern be addressed?
    Industry has claimed that requiring 100-percent industry-funded ASM 
coverage when fishing in a CA makes the exemption economically 
unfeasible. Because there have been no commercial groundfish trips in 
these areas for close to two decades, industry is hesitant to make 
these initial assessment trips at their expense. Allowing a small 
number of trips into CAs I and II through an EFP could provide enough 
catch data to help the fishing industry determine whether trips into 
the area with an industry-funded monitor could be profitable. These 
``test'' trips would provide recent and reliable catch information from 
CAs I and II, including catch rates of both abundant and depleted 
stocks. This information could help industry determine whether the cost 
of an ASM could be offset by increased landings of a stock with 
relatively high abundance (e.g., GB haddock), while avoiding stocks 
that are limiting to them. Although there have been studies in the past 
that examine catch rates of selective trawl gear, these studies have 
not been conducted inside the CAs being proposed for access.
    While we continue to consider ways to develop an EFP proposal that 
is focused on access into CAs I and II, industry is also free to 
develop an EFP proposal to address any number of questions associated 
with fishing in a CA as well. EFP requests would be expeditiously 
reviewed and authorized, when merited. Permits would not be approved if 
the exempted activities could undermine measures that were established 
to conserve and manage fisheries or reduce interactions with protected 
species. Contingent on the results of any EFPs associated with this 
exemption that we have available during FY 2014, assuming that we could 
fund and administer the shore-side portion of a monitoring program, and 
there is sufficient ASM available, we are proposing to allow sectors 
access to CAs I and II in precisely the same manner that was proposed 
for FY 2013 (see 78 FR 41772, July 11, 2013). Given the

[[Page 14650]]

extra time it would take to implement an EFP and consider the results, 
the decision to approve an exemption allowing access to CA I and II 
would be done in a separate rulemaking sometime during FY 2014. This 
would be separate from a final rule addressing all other sector 
exemption requests in this proposed rule, including the request to 
access the Nantucket Lightship CA. A brief summary of the proposed 
action and rationale for granting sector exemptions allowing access to 
CAs I and II, and the Nantucket Lightship CA is below.
[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP17MR14.011

Closed Area I Exemption Area

    The waters in a portion of CA I, defined by straight lines 
connecting the following points in the order stated here:

------------------------------------------------------------------------
            Point                    N. lat.              W. long.
------------------------------------------------------------------------
A...........................  41[deg]04'            69[deg]01'
B...........................  41[deg]26'            68[deg]30'
C...........................  40[deg]58'            68[deg]30'
D...........................  40[deg]55'            68[deg]53'
A...........................  41[deg]04'            69[deg]01'
------------------------------------------------------------------------

Closed Area II Exemption Area

    The waters in a portion of CA II, defined by straight lines 
connecting the following points in the order stated stated here:

------------------------------------------------------------------------
            Point                  N. lat.          W. long.       Note
------------------------------------------------------------------------
A...........................  41[deg]30'        (66[deg]34.8')     (\1\)
B...........................  41[deg]30'        67[deg]20'        ......
C...........................  41[deg]50'        67[deg]20'        ......
D...........................  41[deg]50'        67[deg]10'        ......
E...........................  42[deg]00'        67[deg]10'        ......
F...........................  42[deg]00'        (67[deg]00.63')   (\2\),
                                                                   (\3\)
A...........................  41[deg]30'        (66[deg]34.8')     (\1\)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ The intersection of 41[deg]30' N. latitude and the U.S.-Canada
  Maritime Boundary, approximate longitude in parentheses.
\2\ The intersection of 42[deg]00' N. latitude and the U.S.-Canada
  Maritime Boundary, approximate longitude in parentheses.
\3\ From POINT F back to POINT A along the U.S.-Canada Maritime
  Boundary.

Nantucket Lightship Closed Area--Western Exemption Area

    The waters in the western portion of the Nantucket Lightship CA, 
defined by straight lines connecting the following points in the order 
stated here:

------------------------------------------------------------------------
            Point                    N. lat.              W. long.
------------------------------------------------------------------------
A...........................  40[deg]50'            70[deg]20'
B...........................  40[deg]50'            70[deg]00'
C...........................  40[deg]20'            70[deg]00'
D...........................  40[deg]20'            70[deg]20'
A...........................  40[deg]50'            70[deg]20'
------------------------------------------------------------------------

Nantucket Lightship Closed Area--Eastern Exemption Area

    The waters in the eastern portion of the Nantucket Lightship CA, 
defined by straight lines connecting the following points in the order 
stated here:

------------------------------------------------------------------------
            Point                    N. lat.              W. long.
------------------------------------------------------------------------
A...........................  40[deg]50'            69[deg]30'
B...........................  40[deg]50'            69[deg]00'
C...........................  40[deg]20'            69[deg]00'
D...........................  40[deg]20'            69[deg]30'
A...........................  40[deg]50'            69[deg]30'
------------------------------------------------------------------------

1. Closed Area I Exemption Area

    If this proposed exemption is approved without any changes in 
response to any EFP results during FY 2014, the central portion of CA I 
would be opened seasonally to selective gear from the date the final 
rule approving this exemption is published, through December 31, 2014. 
Trawl vessels would be restricted to selective trawl gear, including 
the separator trawl, the Ruhle trawl, the mini-Ruhle trawl, rope trawl, 
and any other gear authorized by the Council in a management action.

[[Page 14651]]

Hook gear would be permitted in this area, as well. Because GB cod is 
overfished and subject to overfishing, and gillnets cannot selectively 
capture haddock without catching cod, vessels would be prohibited from 
fishing with gillnets in this area. Flounder nets would be prohibited 
in this area to help protect GB yellowtail flounder, which is also 
overfished and subject to overfishing.
    Allowing vessels into the CA I Exemption Area would increase their 
opportunities to target healthy stocks of GB haddock. Although the 
Council specified in FW 48 that vessels could fish in the area until 
February 15, we are proposing to prohibit vessels from fishing in the 
CA I Exemption Area after December 31 due to impacts on GB cod 
spawning. Since the closure of this area in 1994, GB haddock has 
rebounded and is a healthy stock. On the other hand, GB cod and GB 
yellowtail flounder are overfished and subject to overfishing. This 
proposed action would allow fishing for GB haddock and other healthy 
stocks, while selective gear would help minimize catch of GB cod and GB 
yellowtail flounder.
    Since this area was initially closed, an area within the proposed 
CA I Exemption Area has been open to allow a special access program for 
groundfish hook vessels fishing for haddock. In addition, a portion of 
CA I proposed to be reopened in this rule has been a part of the 
Scallop Access Area Rotational Management Program since 2004. As a 
result, the seabed in this area has been disturbed by scallop dredges 
and is therefore not a preserved habitat area. Furthermore, analyses 
for the Habitat Omnibus Amendment did not identify this area as 
vulnerable to trawl gear and this area is not identified for any 
proposed essential fish habitat (EFH) protections. There are minimal 
concerns regarding impacts to protected species in this area. While 
there were initial concerns about effort shifts from lobster gear in 
the area, an analysis of lobster effort in the area indicates that 
there is very little lobster effort in the proposed CA I Exemption 
Area. Because of this, it is not anticipated that lobster gear 
displaced from this area would result in increased interactions with 
protected species. More information on lobster effort in the proposed 
areas is available in the accompanying EA.

2. Closed Area II Exemption Area

    If this proposed exemption is approved without any changes in 
response to any EFP results during FY 2014, the central portion of CA 
II would be opened seasonally to selective gear from the date of the 
final rule approving this exemption is published, through December 31, 
2014. The gear restrictions in CA II are the same as those proposed for 
CA I--selective trawl and hook gear only. Vessels fishing with 
selective trawl and hook gear would be permitted in this area when 
specified (see below). Vessels would be prohibited from fishing with 
gillnets and flounder nets in this exemption area. As noted above, GB 
haddock has fully recovered, is rebuilt, and is consistently under-
harvested. Selective gear is proposed to minimize the catch of GB cod 
and yellowtail flounder, both of which are considered overfished and 
subject to overfishing.
    The offshore lobster industry and sector trawl vessels proposed a 
rotational gear-use agreement for the CA II Exemption Area and the FY 
2013 proposed sector rule included this proposed agreement (a copy of 
the agreement is included as an appendix in the EA). The restrictions 
proposed in the rotational gear use agreement have been adopted by the 
Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which modified the 
Interstate Fisheries Management Plan for American Lobster through 
Addendum XX to the lobster plan. This FY 2014 proposed rule 
incorporates most portions of that agreement; a more detailed 
explanation is below.
    The proposed seasons and gear requirements incorporate the 
rotational gear-use agreement and mitigate fishing effort on yellowtail 
flounder and spawning cod:
     May 1-June 15: Only sector trawl vessels could access the 
area; lobster and hook gear vessels prohibited.
     June 16-October 31: Sector trawl vessels would be 
prohibited, lobster and sector hook gear vessels only.
     November 1-December 31: Only sector trawl vessels could 
access the area; lobster and hook gear vessels prohibited.
     January 1-April 30: Lobster vessels permitted; sector 
groundfish vessels would be prohibited in CA II during this time.
    The gears and seasons listed above match the agreement between the 
offshore lobster industry and sector trawl vessels, including the 
groundfish prohibition of fishing in CA II after December 31. A January 
1 through April 30 closure reflects the need to avoid impacts on 
spawning stocks of GB cod. Because approval of this exemption would 
only be considered after the outcome of an EFP, any action approving 
access to the CA II Exemption Area would likely occur part-way through 
FY 2014, rendering some of the agreement moot.
    The agreement between the offshore lobster industry and sector 
vessels reduces concerns of gear conflicts in the area. Analyses for 
the EA indicate that only a small portion of the annual lobster catch 
from this portion of CA II is harvested during November. No trips were 
reported in the proposed area during December 2011 or 2012. As a 
result, the displacement of lobster effort into other areas is expected 
to be minimal. Because of this, it is not anticipated that lobster gear 
displaced from this area would result in increased interactions with 
protected species in other locations.
    Similar to CA I, allowing vessels into this area would increase 
their opportunities to target healthy stocks of GB haddock, and 
selective gear would be required to reduce bycatch of overfished 
stocks. Although the Council specified in FW 48 that vessels could fish 
in the CA II Exemption Area until February 15, we are proposing to 
prohibit vessels from this area after December 31 due to impacts on GB 
cod spawning. While this area has been closed year-round to groundfish 
fishing since 1994, the majority of the seabed in this area is sand and 
is impacted by strong currents. As a result, this area is not 
considered to be vulnerable to trawl gear. Some areas are shallow 
enough that the bottom is affected by wave action; therefore, bottom 
trawling in this area would likely have minimal impact on benthic 
habitats. Furthermore, analyses for the Habitat Omnibus Amendment have 
not identified this area for any proposed EFH protections. There are 
minimal concerns regarding impacts to protected species in this area.

100% Industry-Funded At-Sea Monitoring Requirement When Accessing 
Closed Areas I and II

    Should access to CAs I and/or II be approved after analysis of the 
results of an EFP, NMFS intends to maintain the 100-percent industry-
funded monitoring requirement for these trips. The intent of the EFP 
would be to provide industry with enough information to determine 
whether it would be economically viable to go into these areas with an 
industry-funded monitor. While a short-term EFP would provide us with 
some data on catch rates and the use of selective gear, the short 
duration of the EFP would not provide us with different seasonal 
information to warrant less than 100-percent ASM coverage. As we stated 
in the FY 2013 sector final rule, monitoring every trip would allow us 
to respond more quickly, should there be an unanticipated impact in 
these areas, such as increased harvests of juveniles, large adult 
spawners, or impacts on

[[Page 14652]]

protected species. As mentioned earlier, we are particularly concerned 
about impacts to the severely overfished stocks of GB cod and 
yellowtail flounder. Because CAs I and II were initially developed to 
afford protection for overfished groundfish stocks and we have no catch 
data for these areas, we believe that it is critical that we receive 
reliable catch information from these areas.

3. Nantucket Lightship CA Exemption

    In FY 2013, we approved an exemption that allowed sector vessels 
access to the Eastern and Western Exemption Areas within the Nantucket 
Lightship CA for the duration of FY 2013. For a detailed description of 
the exemption request and justifications for approving it, see the 
final rule (78 FR 41772, December 16, 2013). In summary, trawl vessels 
were restricted to using selective trawl gear, flounder nets were 
prohibited, hook vessels were permitted, and gillnet vessels were 
restricted to fishing 10-inch (25.4-cm) or larger diamond mesh. Gillnet 
vessels were required to use pingers when fishing in the Western 
Exemption Area from December 1--May 31 because this area lies within 
the existing SNE Management Area of the Harbor Porpoise Take Reduction 
Plan. Unlike the CA I and II proposal, we specified that at-sea 
observer coverage would come from the combined NEFOP and ASM target 
coverage level of 22 percent in FY 2013 for the Nantucket Lightship CA 
after further review and in response to public comments. Consistent 
with that requirement, we now propose that this exemption be continued 
for FY 2014, with observed trips included in the overall target sector 
coverage level of 26 percent for NEFOP and ASM combined.
    For FY 2014, we are proposing access to the Eastern and Western 
Exemption Areas within the Nantucket Lightship CA, with a slight 
modification from what was approved in FY 2013. To address comments 
from trawl fishermen that the FY 2013 gear restrictions prevented them 
from fishing in this area as intended, we reviewed our decision and 
found that a ``source population'' of SNE/MA yellowtail flounder that 
we previously expressed concern about is found primarily in the Eastern 
Area of the Nantucket Lightship CA. The data suggest that yellowtail 
flounder are not concentrated nearly as much in the Western Exemption 
Area. Based on this, we are proposing to allow all legal trawl gear to 
be fished in the Western Exemption Area, while still maintaining the 
selective trawl gear requirements and prohibition on flounder nets in 
the Eastern Exemption Area.
    If approved, this measure would allow sector vessels to access the 
eastern and western portions of the Nantucket Lightship CA. The central 
area is EFH and is not proposed to be re-opened. Trawl vessels would be 
restricted to the use of selective trawl gear in the Eastern Exemption 
Area, including the separator trawl, the Ruhle trawl, the mini-Ruhle 
trawl, rope trawl, and any other gear authorized by the Council in a 
management action. Flounder nets would be prohibited. However, in the 
Western Exemption Area, all legal trawl gear would be permitted. In 
both areas, gillnet vessels would be restricted to fishing 10-inch 
(25.4-cm) diamond mesh or larger. This would allow gillnet vessels to 
target monkfish and skates while reducing catch of flatfish. Because 
the western area lies within the SNE Management Area of the Harbor 
Porpoise Take Reduction Plan, gillnet vessels would be required to use 
pingers when fishing in the Nantucket Lightship CA--Western Exemption 
Area between December 1 and May 31.
    Opening the eastern and western portions of the Nantucket Lightship 
CA to trawl gear is not expected to have any significant adverse 
habitat impacts. While this area has been closed year-round to 
groundfish fishing since 1994, the eastern portion proposed to be 
reopened in this rule has been a part of the Scallop Access Area 
Rotational Management Program since 2004--so it has been subject to 
fishing by mobile bottom-tending gear. The western portion is referred 
to as the ``mudhole'' with a benthic habitat not vulnerable to bottom 
trawling. Therefore, bottom impacts from opening this area are 
anticipated to be minimal. Furthermore, analyses for the Habitat 
Omnibus Amendment have not identified this area for any proposed EFH 
protections. There are minimal concerns regarding impacts to protected 
species in this area.

New Exemption Proposed (1)

(20) 6-inch (15.2-cm) Mesh Size of Greater for Directed Redfish Trips
    Minimum mesh size restrictions (Sec.  648.80(a)(3)(i), (a)(4)(i), 
(b)(2)(i), and (c)(2)(i)) were implemented under previous groundfish 
actions to reduce overall mortality on groundfish stocks, change the 
selection pattern of the fishery to target larger fish, improve 
survival of sublegal fish, and allow sublegal fish more opportunity to 
spawn before entering the fishery. Beginning in FY 2012, sectors were 
allowed to use a 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh codend to target redfish in the 
Gulf of Maine. Subsequently, based on catch information from ongoing 
redfish research showing areas with large amounts of redfish, at the 
end of FY 2012 and into FY 2013 sectors were allowed to use a 4.5-inch 
(11.4-cm) mesh codend to target redfish. To date, the exemption has 
required 100-percent monitoring with either an ASM or observer onboard 
every trip, primarily because of concerns over a greater retention of 
sub-legal groundfish, as well as non-allocated species and bycatch. 
Once sectors were allowed the use of a 4.5-inch (11.4-cm) mesh codend 
under the redfish exemption, all trips were monitored for target and 
bytcatch thresholds to ensure compliance with the intent of the 
exemption, which is to target redfish. Additionally, the thresholds 
were monitored at the sub-trip level, whereby hauls using mesh 4.5 
inches (11.4 cm) and greater were monitored separately from hauls not 
using the exemption (i.e., hauls using mesh 6.5 inches (16.5 cm) and 
greater). While this provided additional flexibility to switch codends 
during the trip and, therefore, allowed vessels to switch between using 
and not using the exemption on a given trip, it added an additional 
layer of monitoring for these trips. Having monitors on every redfish 
exemption trip has allowed NMFS to observe changes in catch rates of 
target and non-target species when using different codend mesh sizes, 
helping to ensure that we can monitor the use of the exemption (i.e., 
accurately monitor catch thresholds), when requested to do so, on a 
haul-by-haul level.

                                  Table 5--Redfish Exemptions From Previous FYs
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
            Exemptions                      Rulemaking                   Date                   Citation
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
6.0 inch with 100% NMFS-funded      FY 2012 Sector Operations   May 2, 2012..........  77 FR 26129.
 coverage.                           Final Rule.
4.5 inch with 100% NMFS-funded      FY 2012 Redfish Exemption   March 5, 2013........  78 FR 14226.
 coverage.                           Final Rule.
4.5 inch with 100% Industry-funded  FY 2013 Sector Operations   May 2, 2013..........  78 FR 25591.
 coverage.                           Interim Final Rule.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
NE Multispecies FR documents can be found at http://www.nero.noaa.gov/sfd/sfdmultifr.html.


[[Page 14653]]

    As of the end of FY 2012, 14 trips had used the exemption allowing 
a 4.5-inch (11.4-cm) mesh codend, and all trips were monitored by 
either a federally funded NEFOP observer or ASM. While most trips were 
effectively able to target redfish and minimize groundfish discards, 
not all trips were able to meet the target and bycatch thresholds. In 
preparation for the FY 2013 rule, we raised numerous concerns about the 
impacts of implementing additional monitoring requirements and using 
federally funded monitoring for the exemption. We found that allowing 
trips that are randomly selected for federally funded NEFOP or ASM 
coverage provided an incentive to take an exemption trip when selected 
for coverage, thereby reducing the number of observers/monitors 
available to cover standard sector trips (i.e., trips not utilizing 
this exemption). If fewer observers/monitors deploy on standard sector 
trips, then the exemption undermines both the ability to meet required 
coverage levels and the reliability of discard rates calculated for 
unobserved standard sector trips. Therefore, beginning in FY 2013, we 
required sectors using this exemption to pay for 100 percent of the at-
sea cost for a monitor on all redfish exemption trips. To date, sectors 
have not submitted an ASM proposal to monitor trips using this 
exemption in FY 2013 and, therefore, no trips have used the exemption 
in FY 2013.
    For FY 2014, we are proposing an exemption that would allow vessels 
to use a 6-inch (15.2-cm) or larger mesh codend to target redfish when 
fishing in the Redfish Exemption Area (see below). The vessels 
participating in the redfish fishery would be subject to the same NEFOP 
and ASM target coverage as standard groundfish trips (i.e., less than 
100 percent of trips would be monitored). NMFS believes that the 
standard target coverage is appropriate for FY 2014 for the following 
reasons. First, there are fewer concerns regarding the retention of 
sub-legal groundfish and non-allocated species when using a 6-inch 
(15.2-cm) or larger mesh codend, versus when the exemption allowed the 
use of 4.5-inch (11.4-cm) or larger codend. Second, at the request of 
the sectors, we would monitor the exemption for an entire trip, rather 
than for part of a trip. That is, regardless of how many 6-inch (15.2-
cm) or 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) mesh codend hauls are made on a given trip, 
it would not change the applicability of any restrictions associated 
with the exemption (e.g., thresholds). This approach would allow 
vessels to retain the flexibility to switch codends during a redfish 
trip and allow us to monitor the thresholds at the trip level versus 
the haul level. Because a 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh and a 6.5-inch (16.5-
cm) mesh codend net fall under the same ``large'' mesh category for 
both stock assessments and the SBRM, there is less concern for 
monitoring the differences in selectivity and bycatch patterns compared 
to trips that had previously been allowed the use of a 4.5-inch (11.4-
cm) mesh codend net, which falls under a different category for stock 
assessments and the SBRM. For all trips, VTRs would be used to identify 
whether or not the 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh codend net was actually used 
on the trip. Lastly, both observed and unobserved redfish trips would 
be considered a separate strata from non-redfish trips. There are 
expected behavioral and catch rate differences given the thresholds 
that apply to the exemption, and because of the requirement to use the 
exemption in a defined area.
    Under this exemption, a vessel would be required to declare its 
intent to use 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh codend nets to target redfish by 
submitting a Trip Start Hail through its VMS unit prior to departure. 
The hail would be used for monitoring and enforcement purposes. A 
vessel may fish using a 6-inch codend (15.2-cm), or greater, on a 
standard trawl within the GOM and GB BSAs, exclusively in the Redfish 
Exemption Area defined below. However, consistend with current 
requirements, each time the vessel switches codend mesh size or 
statistical area, it must fill out a new VTR. For all trips (by sector, 
by month) declaring this exemption, NMFS would continue to monitor 
landings for the entire trip to determine if 80 percent of the total 
groundfish catch is redfish; and for observed trips only, determine if 
total groundfish discards, including redfish, is less than 5 percent of 
total catch. The NMFS Greater Atlantic Regional Administrator (RA) 
reserves the right to rescind the approval of this exemption for the 
sector in question if a sector does not meet these thresholds. The 
thresholds are based upon Component 2 of the REDNET report (Kanwitt 
2012) and observer data for trips conducted in FY 2012. REDNET is a 
group that includes the Maine Department of Marine Resources, the 
Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, and the University of 
Massachusetts School for Marine Science and Technology joined with 
other members of the scientific community and the industry to develop a 
research plan to develop a sustainable, directed, redfish trawl fishery 
in the GOM.
    Vessels that have declared into this exemption may also fish in the 
GB BSA under the universal exemption that allows the use of a 6-inch 
(15.2-cm) mesh codend nets in the GB BSA while using selective trawl 
gear (e.g., haddock separator trawl, Ruhle trawl). These would be areas 
on GB, south of the Redfish Exemption Area. Vessels that declare the 
redfish exemption may also use codends with a 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) mesh 
codend, or larger, in any open area on the same trip. This is similar 
to the flexibility given to vessels using a 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh 
codend in the GB BSA while using selective trawl gear, and then fishing 
in another BSA with a 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) mesh codend using a standard 
trawl. Allowing vessels to fish both inside and outside the Redfish 
Exemption Area on the same trip provides flexibility to target other 
allocated stocks after successfully targeting redfish; however, all 
catch from each trip declaring this exemption would be considered in 
evaluating compliance with the thresholds. Because this exemption is 
designed for vessels to target redfish in the defined area, but allows 
the flexibility of using multiple mesh sizes and/or trawl types in 
multiple areas, all on the same trip, the NOAA Office of Law 
Enforcement (OLE) has expressed some concern about enforcing the 
exemption. Therefore, we are specifically seeking comment on this 
exemtpion, given the enforcement concerns.

[[Page 14654]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP17MR14.012

    The Redfish Exemption Area is bounded on the east by the U.S.-
Canada Maritime Boundary, and bounded on the north, west, and south by 
the following coordinates, connected in the order listed by straight 
lines:

------------------------------------------------------------------------
            Point                  N. lat.          W. long.       Note
------------------------------------------------------------------------
A...........................  44[deg]27.25'     67[deg]02.75'     ......
B...........................  44[deg]16.25'     67[deg]30.00'     ......
C...........................  44[deg]04.50'     68[deg]00.00'     ......
D...........................  43[deg]52.25'     68[deg]30.00'     ......
E...........................  43[deg]40.25'     69[deg]00.00'     ......
F...........................  43[deg]28.25'     69[deg]30.00'     ......
G...........................  43[deg]16.00'     70[deg]00.00'     ......
H...........................  42[deg]00.00'     70[deg]00.00'     ......
I...........................  42[deg]00.00'     (67[deg]00.63')    (\1\)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
(\1\) The intersection of 42[deg]00' N. latitude and the U.S.-Canada
  Maritime Boundary, approximate longitude in parentheses.

    The proposed FY 2014 Redfish Exemption Area would have slight 
modifications from previous years. In the west, the boundary has 
shifted from 69[deg]55' W. long. to 70[deg]00' W. long. This change 
incorporates the request to fish in some areas of deeper water that 
were previously not accessible on a redfish trip. Vessels would 
continue to be excluded from the Western GOM CA. In the south, the 
boundary of 42[deg]00' N. lat. would extend all the way to the Hague 
Line, which also adds some areas with deeper water that was previously 
not accessible on a redfish trip. Vessels would still be required to 
comply with the seasonal restrictions of accessing the northern 
portions of CA II through the Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP. Lastly, 
a northern boundary would be added to mimic the 44460 Loran line, which 
was a historic reference for vessels wishing to fish in waters greater 
than 50 fathoms (91.4 m). The new northern boundary is being added to 
address concerns from the NEFSC that juvenile groundfish are primarily 
found in shallower water (<50 fathoms (91.4 m)) in the northern GOM. 
Prohibiting the use of small mesh in these shallower area would afford 
protection for these juvenile fish.
    We specifically request comment on reducing the monitoring on these 
trips to the same level as standard sector trips (i.e., less than 100 
percent of trips), and the degree to which industry would be able to 
take advantage of this exemption. We also request comment on revoking 
this exemption during the FY, if necessary to mitigate impacts. Lastly, 
we request comment on the enforceability of vessels using this 
exemption when also fishing outside of the redfish area on the same 
trip.
    If the small-mesh redfish exemption is approved, we intend to 
monitor the exemption very carefully. For example, should it be 
determined that vessels are not using the exemption when assigned an 
observer or ASM, and only using it when unobserved, we would have 
concerns about monitoring the exemption. Additionally, if vessels were 
switching between 6-inch (15.2-cm) and 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) mesh codends, 
and not sending the appropriate information on their VTR(s), we would 
have concerns. Given these concerns, we remind sectors that the RA 
retains authority to rescind approval of this exemption, if it is 
needed.

Requested Exemptions We Propose To Deny Because They Were Previously 
Rejected and No New Information Was Provided (2)

    We propose to deny the following two exemption requests because 
they were previously rejected as proposed, and the requesting sectors 
provided no new information that would change our previous decision: 
(21) GOM Sink Gillnet Mesh Exemption in May, and January through April; 
and (22) 6.5-inch (16.51-cm) minimum mesh size requirement for trawl 
nets to target redfish in the GOM with codend mesh size as small as 
4.5-inch (11.4-cm) with 100 percent NMFS-funded observers or ASMs. We 
did not analyze these exemptions in the FY 2014 sector EA because no 
new information was available to change the analyses previously 
published in past EAs.
    The GOM Sink Gillnet Mesh Exemption was proposed for FY 2013,

[[Page 14655]]

however, due to concerns regarding the stock status of GOM haddock and 
the potential increase in interactions with protected species, the 
exemption was denied for FY 2013 (78 FR 25591, May 2, 2013). The 
justifications for denying this exemption request in FY 2013, remain 
for FY 2014.
    We received an exemption request for redfish trips using a 4.5-inch 
(11.4-cm) mesh size for FY 2013 and, at the time, raised concern about 
providing NMFS-funded observers or ASMs for this exemption in both the 
proposed rule (78 FR 16220, March 14, 2013) and the final rule (78 FR 
25591, May 2, 2013). In summary, we found that allowing trips that are 
randomly selected for federally-funded NEFOP or ASM coverage provided 
an incentive to take an exemption trip when selected for coverage, 
thereby reducing the number of observers/monitors available to cover 
standard sector trips (i.e., trips not utilizing this exemption). Given 
these concerns, we approved the exemption for FY 2013, but required 
industry-funded monitoring for at-sea costs on 100 percent of the trips 
using the exemption. We have required 100 percent industry-funded 
monitoring due to concerns over a greater retention of sub-legal 
groundfish, non-allocated species bycatch, and because of the 
additional requirements of monitoring the exemption at the sub-trip 
level.
    The redfish request to use a 4.5-inch (11.4-cm) mesh codend nets 
for FY 2014 with a NMFS-funded observer or ASM onboard, rather than 
with an industry-funded monitor, is identical to the request for FY 
2013. We continue to have similar concerns about this requested 
exemption as we did last year, primarily because the request requires a 
NMFS-funded observer or ASM. Because of the reasons described above for 
not approving access to this exemption when using a federally funded 
NEFOP or ASM, we are proposing to deny this exemption request.
    A second redfish exemption request, described above (exemption 
20), is proposed for approval.

Requested Exemptions We Propose To Deny Because They Are Prohibited (6)

    We propose denying the following six exemption requests and do not 
analyze them in the EA because they are prohibited or not authorized by 
the NE multispecies regulations. These include exemptions from: (23) 
pre-trip notification system (PTNS) requirements, (24) ASM and observer 
requirements for vessels using the electronic monitoring (EM) program, 
(25) prohibition on permit splitting, and (26) ASM requirements for 
handgear vessels. In addition, sector have requested that we: (27) 
Exclude 10-inch (25.4-cm) mesh or greater gillnets from the list of 
``gear capable of catching groundfish/multispecies'', and (28) exempt 
10-inch (25.4-cm) mesh or greater gillnets from all groundfish 
regulations.
    PTNS is not a regulatory requirement; rather, it is a means for 
selecting and distributing observer and ASM coverage in the fishery. 
PTNS is required for all sector trips as part of the NMFS monitoring 
program until a sector has an approved ASM program that includes a 
system for distributing monitoring. Sectors are prohibited from 
requesting exemptions from permitting restrictions (i.e., including 
permit splitting) and gear restrictions designed to minimize habitat 
impacts. Because sectors are also prohibited from requesting exemptions 
from reporting requirements (including ASM requirements), we will not 
consider requests for exemptions from ASM. Moreover, we have not 
approved EM as an acceptable monitoring tool for the NE multispecies 
fishery at this time, so it cannot replace observers or ASM. NMFS and 
the Council are currently in the final phase of studying the 
applicability of EM.
    Amendment 16 authorized NMFS to grant sectors exemptions from 
specified multispecies management measures. Exemption requests 
27 and 28, are an attempt to exclude certain trips 
from all groundfish management measures, except ACLs. The sector 
requesting the exemption submitted catch data to support the exemption 
request. However, the data submitted were only from trips using 
gillnets with 10-inch (25.4-cm) mesh or greater, that had low 
groundfish catch, rather than all trips using the gear, regardless of 
the amount of groundfish caught. While groundfish catch by this gear 
may be minimal during certain times of the year, in certain areas, or 
by certain vessels, the catch data submitted are not representative of 
all trips that use extra-large mesh gillnets. In fact, there are data 
showing that some vessels use extra-large mesh gillnets to target 
groundfish in the GOM and GB in some cases have caught significant 
amounts of groundfish as bycatch when targeting other fisheries. It 
would be more appropriate to consider specific areas and times where 
10-inch (25.4-cm) mesh or greater gillnets could be used with minimal 
groundfish catch independent of the sector exemption request process; 
specifically, through an exempted fishery request for targeting non-
groundfish species (i.e., monkfish, skates).
    NMFS may only grant sectors exemptions from certain groundfish 
regulations, and such exemptions apply only to groundfish trips made by 
sector vessels. An exemption from the definition of gear capable of 
catching groundfish is not possible because it would effectively define 
the trip in question as a non-groundfish trip, which would make the 
trip ineligible for sector exemptions. Further, we believe Amendment 16 
prohibits NMFS from granting either an exemption from the definition of 
gear capable of catching groundfish, or from all groundfish 
regulations, because it would be a de facto exemption from reporting 
requirements (e.g., PTNS call-in requirements, ASM requirements, and 
application of the discard calculation methodology), which was 
expressly prohibited by Amendment 16.

Additional Sector Provisions

Inshore GOM Restrictions

    Several sectors (with the exception of NEFS 4) have proposed a 
provision to limit and more accurately document a vessel's behavior 
when fishing in what they consider the inshore portion of the GOM BSA, 
or the area to the west of 70[deg] 15' W. long. A vessel that is 
carrying an observer or ASM would remain free to fish without 
restriction. As proposed under the Inshore GOM Restriction provision, 
if a vessel is not carrying an observer or ASM and fishes any part of 
its trip in the GOM west of 70[deg] 15' W. long, the vessel would be 
prohibited from fishing outside of the GOM BSA. Also, if a vessel is 
not carrying an observer or ASM and fishes any part of its trip outside 
the GOM BSA, this provision would prohibit a vessel from fishing west 
of 70[deg] 15' W. long. in the GOM BSA. The sector's proposal includes 
a requirement for a vessel to declare whether or not it intends to fish 
in the inshore GOM area through the trip start hail. We are providing 
sector managers with the ability to monitor this provision through the 
Sector Information Management Module (SIMM), a Web site where we 
currently provide roster, trip, discard, and observer information to 
sector managers. If approved, final declaration requirements would be 
outlined in the final rule and included in each vessel's LOA. We 
propose to allow a sector to use a federally funded NEFOP observer or 
ASM on these trips because we do not believe it will create bias in 
coverage or discard estimates, as fishing behavior is not expected to 
change as a result of this provision.

[[Page 14656]]

Prohibition on a Vessel Hauling Another Vessel's Trap Gear to Target 
Groundfish

    The NCCS requested an exemption to allow a vessel to haul another 
vessel's fish trap gear, similar to the current exemptions that allow a 
vessel to haul another vessels gillnet gear, or hook gear. These 
exemptions have generally been referred to as ``community'' gear 
exemptions. Unlike hook and gillnet gear, the NE multispecies FMP does 
not prohibit a vessel from hauling another vessel's trap gear, 
therefore, we cannot grant an exemption. Because of this, it is more 
appropriate to consider community fish trap gear as a ``provision'' of 
the sector operations plan, rather than a requested exemption.
    Regulations at Sec.  648.84(a) require a vessel to mark all bottom-
tending fixed gear, which would include fish trap gear used to target 
groundfish. To facilitate enforcement of that regulation, we propose 
requiring that any community fish trap gear be tagged by each vessel 
that plans on hauling the gear. This would allow one vessel to deploy 
the trap gear and another vessel to haul the trap gear, provided both 
vessels tag the gear prior to deployment. This requirement could be 
captured in the sector's operations plan to provide the opportunity for 
the sector to monitor the use of this provision and ensure that the OLE 
and the U.S. Coast Guard can enforce the provision.

At-Sea Monitoring Proposals

    Prior to the publication of this proposed rule, we announced that 
we would pay for ASM on sector trips during FY 2014, in addition to 
trips assigned a NEFOP observer. Therefore, the sector's ASM proposals 
for FY 2014 are no longer applicable, and will be removed from the 
sector's final operations plans.

Sector EA

    In order to comply with NEPA, one EA was prepared encompassing all 
19 operations plans. The sector EA is tiered from the Environmental 
Impact Statement (EIS) prepared for Amendment 16. The EA examines the 
biological, economic, and social impacts unique to each sector's 
proposed operations, including requested exemptions, and provides a 
cumulative effects analysis (CEA) that addresses the combined impact of 
the direct and indirect effects of approving all proposed sector 
operations plans. The summary findings of the EA conclude that each 
sector would produce similar effects that have non-significant impacts. 
Visit http://www.regulations.gov to view the EA prepared for the 19 
sectors that this rule proposes to approve.

Classification

    The Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. 553) requires advance 
notice of rulemaking and opportunity for public comment. The Council 
required additional time to determine stock allocations for some stocks 
for FY 2014, which delayed our ability to present this to the public. 
We are therefore providing a 15-day comment period for this rule. A 
longer comment period would be impracticable and contrary to the public 
interest since we must publish a final rule prior to the start of FY 
2014 on May 1, 2014, to enable sectors to fish at the start of the FY. 
A vessel enrolled in a sector may not fish in FY 2014 unless its 
operations plan is approved. If the final rule is not published prior 
to May 1, the permits enrolled in sectors must either stop fishing 
until their operations plan is approved or elect to fish in the common 
pool for the entirety of FY 2014. Both of these options would have very 
negative impacts for the permits enrolled in the sectors. Delaying the 
implementation beyond May 1, 2014, would result in an unnecessary 
economic loss to the sector members because vessels would be prevented 
from fishing in a month when sector vessels landed approximately 10 
percent of several allocations, including GB cod east and GB winter 
flounder. Finally, without a seamless transition between FY 2013 and 
2014, a delay would require sector vessels to remove gear that complies 
with an exemption, and redeploy the gear once the final rule is 
effective. Talking these additional trips would require additional fuel 
and staffing when catch may not be landed.
    Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery 
Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), the NMFS 
Assistant Administrator has determined that this proposed rule is 
consistent with the NE Multispecies FMP, other provisions of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law, subject to further 
consideration after public comment.
    This proposed action is exempt from the procedures of Executive 
Order 12866 because this action contains no implementing regulations.
    The Chief Counsel for Regulation of the Department of Commerce 
certified to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business 
Administration (SBA) that this proposed rule, if adopted, would not 
have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small 
entities.
    As outlined in the preamble to this proposed rule, the purpose of 
this action is the implementation of FY 2014 sector operations plans 
and associated regulatory exemptions. In an effort to rebuild the NE 
multispecies complex, other actions have reduced the allocations of 
several stocks managed by the NE Multispecies FMP. This action is 
needed to provide flexible fisheries management that alleviates 
potential social and economic hardships resulting from those 
reductions. This action seeks to fulfill the purpose and need while 
meeting the biological objectives of the NE Multispecies FMP, as well 
as the goals and objectives set forth by the Council in the NE 
Multispecies FMP.
    The regulated entities most likely to be affected by the proposed 
action are the 130 groundfish-dependent ownership entities that own 
permits currently enrolled in sectors, all of which are considered 
small under the SBA's definition of a small business.
    Under the proposed rule, sector operations plans for FY 2014 would 
be approved, allowing sector participants to use the universal sector 
exemptions granted under Amendment 16 to the NE Multispecies FMP. In 
addition to the universal sector exemptions granted under the approval 
of individual sector operations plans, sector participants have 
requested relaxation of 28 other gear, area, administrative, and 
seasonal restrictions. This rule proposes to grant 20 of these 
exemptions. Because all of the regulated entities are considered small 
businesses per the SBA guidelines, the impacts of participating in 
sectors and using the universal exemptions and additional exemptions 
requested by individual sectors are not considered to be 
disproportional.
    All of the requested sector-specific exemptions in this proposed 
rule are expected to have a positive economic impact on participants, 
as they further increase the flexibility of fishermen to land their 
allocation at their discretion. By choosing when and how to land their 
allocations sector participants have the potential to reduce marginal 
costs, increase revenues, and ultimately increase profitability. Again, 
it is expected that fishermen will only use sector-specific exemptions 
that they believe will maximize utility, and that long-term stock 
impacts from the collective exemptions will be minimal and will be 
outweighed by benefits from operational flexibility.
    This rule would not impose significant negative economic impacts. 
No small entities would be placed at a competitive disadvantage to 
large entities, and the regulations would not reduce the profit for any 
small entities.

[[Page 14657]]

As a result, an initial regulatory flexibility analysis is not required 
and none has been prepared.

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

    Dated: March 11, 2014.
Samuel D. Rauch III,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2014-05762 Filed 3-14-14; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P