[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 53 (Wednesday, March 19, 2014)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 15296-15302]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-06058]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 660

[Docket No. 130405338-4201-01]
RIN 0648-BC84


Fisheries off West Coast States; Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery 
Management Plan; Trawl Rationalization Program; Chafing Gear 
Modifications

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

ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: The proposed action modifies the existing chafing gear 
regulations for midwater trawl gear. This action includes regulations 
that affect all trawl sectors (Shorebased Individual Fishing Quota 
Program, Mothership Cooperative Program, Catcher/Processor Cooperative 
Program, and tribal fishery) managed under the Pacific Coast Groundfish 
Fishery Management Plan (PCGFMP).

DATES: Comments on this proposed rule must be received no later than 5 
p.m., local time on April 18, 2014. During the comment period, NMFS is 
specifically seeking comments on the proposed method of attachment for 
chafing gear, including the benefits and effects relative to current 
minimum mesh size restrictions and prohibition on double walled 
codends.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by 
NOAA-NMFS-2012-0218, by any of the following methods:
     Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to 
www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2012-0218, click the 
``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or 
attach your comments.
     Fax: 206-526-6736; Attn: Becky Renko.
     Mail: William W. Stelle, Jr., Regional Administrator, West 
Coast Region, NMFS, 7600 Sand Point Way NE., Seattle, WA 98115-0070; 
Attn: Becky Renko.
    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

[[Page 15297]]

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: Becky Renko, 206-526-6110; (fax) 206-
526-6736; Becky.Renko@noaa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    In January 2011, NMFS implemented a trawl rationalization program, 
a type of catch share program, for the Pacific Coast groundfish 
fishery's trawl fleet. The trawl rationalization program was adopted 
through Amendment 20 to the PCGFMP and consists of an individual 
fishing quota (IFQ) program for the shorebased trawl fleet (shoreside 
IFQ program) and cooperative programs for the at-sea mothership (MS 
coop program) and catcher/processor (CP coop program) trawl fleets. 
Since implementing the trawl rationalization program, the Pacific 
Fishery Management Council (Council) and National Marine Fisheries 
Service (NMFS) have been working to refine the program with additional 
regulatory requirements, referred to as trailing actions. One trailing 
action is the modification of the current the chafing gear requirements 
for all midwater trawl gear.
    Midwater trawl gear is the only type of trawl gear that harvesting 
vessels in the shorebased IFQ program, MS coop program, and CP coop 
program are allowed to use to target Pacific whiting. Midwater trawl 
gear may also be used by vessels in the shorebased IFQ program to 
target non-whiting species. The proposed action does not contemplate 
the use of midwater trawl gear beyond what is currently allowed by 
regulation.
    The proposed action is to consider modifications to the chafing 
gear regulations that apply to all midwater trawl gear. Chafing or 
chafer panels are webbing or other material attached to the codend to 
minimize damage to the codend netting from wear caused by the codend 
rubbing against the stern ramp and trawl alley during net retrieval and 
from contact with the ocean floor. The current chafing gear 
restrictions at 50 CFR Sec.  660.130 for midwater trawl gear are: 
restrict chafing coverage to 50 percent or less of the codend 
circumference; restrict chafing coverage to the last 50 meshes of the 
codend; prohibit sections of chafing gear from being longer than 50 
meshes; and require chafing gear to be attached outside riblines and 
restraining straps.
    In 2011, some Pacific Coast trawl vessel owners that use midwater 
gear to target Pacific whiting expressed concern that the current 
regulations limit chafing gear to the last 50 meshes of the codend. The 
vessel owners believe that this aspect of the current regulations was 
an error that inadvertently occurred when the regulations were revised 
in 2007. Prior to 2007, the regulations allowed chafing gear to cover 
the full length of midwater trawl codends. The 2007 regulatory revision 
consolidated the regulations into one section and was not intended to 
result in substantive changes to the regulations.
    Chafing gear measures were originally adopted in 1994 and were 
intended to provide vessels with greater flexibility in respect to 
types, size, and attachment of material used to protect the net without 
reducing the effectiveness of the mesh size regulation. The measures 
included restricting chafing coverage to 50 percent or less of the 
codend circumference, which was intended to leave the top half of the 
net bare to improve escapement of small fish. Restrictions on the 
length of chafing section (50 meshes in length) and requirements for 
attachment outside the riblines and restraining straps were intended to 
allow the entire length of the codend to be covered, while providing 
exit points for fish trapped between the codend mesh and the chafing 
gear.
    This proposed rule also includes minor technical revisions to 
related regulatory text. Section 660.11, General definitions, contains 
basic descriptions of small footrope, large footrope and midwater trawl 
gear. In-depth descriptions of these trawl gears found in Sec.  660.130 
were modified to eliminate redundancy and increase clarity.

Chafing Modifications for Midwater Trawl Gear

    In 2011, while revisions to the chafing gear restrictions were 
being considered, some Pacific whiting vessel owners requested that 
broader changes be considered to address the current needs of the 
fishery. From 2003 to 2010, approximately 63 percent of the vessels 
that fished for Pacific whiting were also used in the Alaska groundfish 
fishery to target Pollock with pelagic trawl gear. The chafing 
requirements for midwater trawl gear used in Pacific Coast groundfish 
fisheries are more restrictive than the Alaska groundfish fishery 
requirements. Codends for midwater trawling range in cost from $10,000 
to $200,000 each. To reduce operational costs for vessels operating in 
both regions, some vessel owners requested that the chafing gear 
requirements for midwater trawl gear in the Pacific Coast groundfish 
fishery be modified to allow for greater coverage so codends currently 
used in the Alaska fisheries could be used in both regions.
    In November 2011, the Trawl Rationalization Regulatory Evaluation 
Committee (TREC) reported on trailing actions and included a 
recommendation that the Council consider revisions to the chafing gear 
regulations to conform to current fishery needs. The Council 
recommended moving forward with revisions for 2013. In March 2012, the 
TREC presented the Council with a preliminary analysis that included 
three alternative actions for chafing gear: No Action, Alternative 1 to 
eliminate all chafing gear restrictions as they apply to midwater trawl 
gear, and Alternative 2 to amend the midwater trawl gear restrictions 
to allow for greater chafing gear coverage on the codend consistent 
with the Alaska groundfish fishery regulations. The Council discussed 
the issue and indicated that it was important to move ahead with 
chafing gear revisions for the 2013 Pacific whiting season. The Council 
selected Alternative 2 as the Final Preferred Alternative to be 
analyzed in an Environmental Assessment (EA).
    At the Council's September 2012 meeting, NMFS informed the Council 
that its Sustainable Fisheries Division (SFD) had reviewed the range of 
alternatives and found that Alternative 1, to eliminate all chafing 
gear restrictions, appeared to be inconsistent with the Council's 
``Bycatch Mitigation Plan'' and measures specified in Amendment 18 to 
the PCGFMP. Although implementation of trawl rationalization has 
reduced concerns about groundfish bycatch, the bycatch of non-
groundfish species including Endangered Species Act (ESA) listed 
species and forage fish was a concern. Section 6.6.1.2 of the PCGFMP 
describes the Council's bycatch mitigation relative to mesh size 
restrictions as follows: Regarding the ``success of minimum mesh size 
restrictions in allowing juvenile fish to escape trawl nets, the 
Council also developed restrictions preventing trawlers from using a 
double-walled codend. Further restrictions related to this objective 
include prohibitions on encircling the whole of a bottom trawl net with 
chafing gear and restrictions on the minimum mesh size of pelagic trawl

[[Page 15298]]

chafing gear (16 inches)''. Given the PCGFMP bycatch mitigation 
measures added under Amendment 18, SFD recommended narrowing the scope 
of the EA by removing the alternative for unrestricted use of chafing 
gear. SFD also requested the addition of a new alternative in the EA. 
The new alternative was to revise the regulations to be consistent with 
the midwater trawl chafing gear requirements that had been in place 
prior to 2007 and which represented gear in use in the fishery. The 
difference between the new SFD requested alternative and No Action was 
that the new alternative would allow chafing gear to cover the full 
length of a codend rather than restricting it to the last 50 meshes (No 
Action); all other provisions were the same. In addition, SFD requested 
that the Council reconsider its recommendation of a Final Preferred 
Alternative at the Council's November 2012 meeting following review of 
an analysis that included the new alternative. In response, the Council 
recommended removing the unrestricted alternative from the EA and 
adding the new SFD requested alternative with reconsideration of the 
new alternative at its November meeting. In addition, the Council 
recommended adding a variation of the new alternative consistent with a 
Groundfish Advisory Panel (GAP) request for unrestricted chafing 
section lengths and the allowance for chafing attachment to be either 
under or over the codend riblines.
    At the Council's November 2012 meeting, a preliminary EA was 
available. The EA contained three alternatives: (1) No Action, (2) 
Alternative 1, to amend the midwater trawl gear restrictions to allow 
for greater chafing gear coverage on the codend consistent with the 
Alaska groundfish fishery regulations, and (3) Alternative 2, to 
reinstate the pre-2007 regulations by allowing the full length of the 
codend to be covered. Two sub-options were considered for Alternative 
2. Alternative 2A would eliminate the restrictions on the length of 
each chafing panel (50 meshes) and allow chafing gear to be attached 
either under or over the ribelines of the codend; and, Alternative 2B 
would retain the chafing panel length restrictions. Alternative 2B is 
the status quo gear restriction currently used in the fishery.
    During public comment members of the fishing industry spoke in 
favor of less restrictive chafing gear measures. However, one commenter 
raised concerns about potential negative impacts on ESA-listed 
eulachon, ecosystem prey species, and essential fish habitat (EFH). 
This same commenter also noted that the Alaska groundfish regulations 
may have fewer chafing gear restrictions for pelagic trawl gear, but 
indicated that the Alaska groundfish regulations do have other more 
restrictive regulations pertaining to the performance of midwater trawl 
gear that are intended to mitigate possible negative impacts on forage 
fish and EFH. After considering comments from the advisory bodies and 
the public, the Council recommended implementation of Alternative 1 
with modifications recommended by the GAP (Agenda Item 1.5.b, November 
2012). The GAP recommended modifying the language of Alternative 1 
slightly to clarify that attaching the chafing gear inside or outside 
the riblines and straps should be allowed.

Non-Whiting Midwater Trawl

    The chafing gear changes proposed by this action would apply to all 
midwater trawl gear regardless of the target species. Although the 
Council initially considered the changes in respect to the Pacific 
whiting fishery, at its September 2012 meeting the Council confirmed 
its intent for the changes to apply to all midwater trawl gear. In the 
1990s, midwater trawl gear was used to target yellowtail, widow, and 
chilipepper rockfish. Since 2002, when several species that co-occur 
with the target species were declared overfished, midwater targeting 
for species other than Pacific whiting was eliminated or in the case of 
chilipepper rockfish restricted to waters seaward of the Rockfish 
Conservation Areas (RCAs). In 2012, widow rockfish was declared 
rebuilt. In 2013, the Annual Catch Limits (ACLs) for both widow 
rockfish and bocaccio were increased over 2012. The increased ACLs for 
widow rockfish and bocaccio are likely to lead to greater use of 
midwater trawling by vessels targeting non-whiting species.
    Midwater trawl gear is generally not designed to touch the ocean 
bottom, but can be effectively used off-bottom or pelagically to target 
groundfish species that ascend above the ocean floor. Because the 
proposed action provides greater flexibility for protecting the 
portions of the codend that are subject to wear from contact with the 
seafloor, an increased number of non-whiting vessels may choose to 
increase chafing gear coverage and use midwater trawl gear.
    Limited data are available to understand how the non-whiting 
midwater trawl fishery might develop and the depths, times, and areas 
where the fishery is likely to occur. The current shorebased trawl IFQ 
fishery is very different from the trip limit management structure that 
was in place the late 1990s. The midwater trawl fishery that emerges 
from the shorebased IFQ fishery could be very different from the 
fishery that historically occurred, as different sized midwater nets 
and codends may be used, and vessels may fish in different areas and at 
different times of the year or they may target a different array of 
species.

Tribal Fishery

    The chafing gear requirements would affect the tribal fishers using 
midwater trawl gear to fish in their usual and accustomed fishing 
areas. At this time, the Makah Tribe is the only tribe that conducts a 
midwater trawl fishery with trips targeting Pacific whiting and 
targeting non-whiting. The non-whiting fishery targets yellowtail 
rockfish. Because the proposed measures are to liberalize the current 
chafing gear restrictions, vessels fishing in the tribal sector may 
choose to continue using their current codends or modify their gear.

Environmental Impacts of the Proposed Action

    The primary environmental impacts from the allowance for greater 
chafing gear coverage of midwater trawl codends are the possible 
increase in the catch of small fish, such as forage fish, and changes 
in contact with EFH bottom habitat within the trawl RCAs (where bottom 
trawl has been prohibited since 2002, changing the baseline environment 
considered in previous NEPA documents on trawl gear impacts). Between 
2006 and 2011, the most common forage fish species observed in the at-
sea (MS and CP coops) and tribal sectors targeting Pacific whiting with 
midwater trawl gear were squid, American shad, jack mackerel, 
shortbelly rockfish, Pacific herring, Pacific mackerel, lanternfish, 
Pacific sardine, and a variety of smelts including eulachon. Relative 
to the catch of Pacific whiting, observer data shows that forage fish 
species make up a low proportion of the overall catch and are expected 
to continue at levels similar to those observed in recent years. 
Relative to vessels using midwater trawl gear to target non-whiting 
species, the change in catch of small fish is difficult to project 
given the lack of historical total catch (discard plus retained catch) 
data and because the emerging fishery may be substantially different 
from historical fisheries. Even with greater chafing coverage on the 
codend, midwater trawl nets are constructed with very large mesh in the 
forward sections where

[[Page 15299]]

small fish may escape capture. The incidental catch of non-groundfish 
species will continue to be monitored (all trawl vessels are required 
to carry at least one groundfish observer) and catch will be evaluated 
on an annual basis.
    Midwater trawls, also called pelagic or off-bottom trawls, are 
trawls where the doors may be in contact with the seabed (although they 
usually are not), while the footrope generally remains suspended above 
the seafloor, but may contact the bottom on occasion. Midwater trawls 
are generally towed above the ocean floor, although they may be used 
near the bottom. When fishing close to the bottom, the footropes of 
pelagic trawls can cause benthic animals to be separated from the 
bottom. Because of the large mesh in the forward sections of the net, 
most bottom animals would likely fall through the mesh and immediately 
be returned to the ocean floor. Sessile organisms that create 
structural habitat may be uprooted or pass under the footropes of 
midwater trawls towed close to the bottom, while those organisms that 
are more mobile or attached to light substrates may pass over the 
footrope with little damage. The unprotected footrope on midwater 
trawls effectively precludes the use of the nets on rough or hard 
substrates, meaning that they are not expected to affect the more 
complex habitats that occur on those substrates.
    Although the trawl RCAs were intended to minimize interactions 
between trawl vessels and overfished rockfish species, the trawl RCAs 
have effectively removed groundfish bottom trawling from a large 
portion of the EEZ since 2002. Because the RCAs have been closed to 
bottom trawling for over 10 years, the seafloor habitats have likely 
recovered considerably from pre-RCA years. In other words, it was 
necessary for the analysis in the EA to consider the effects of the 
proposed action on a recovered EFH habitat. Although the boundaries of 
the RCAs have varied between years, north of 40[deg]10' N. latitude the 
RCAs have continuously restricted much of the bottom trawling in waters 
between 75 and 200 fm. The proposed action would allow increased 
chafing coverage for all midwater trawl gear. With increased intensity 
from vessels targeting whiting plus non-whiting vessels, it is expected 
that more vessels will be making ``occasional'' contact with the 
benthic organisms and habitat than has been seen with the midwater 
fishery targeting Pacific whiting. Similarly, effort may increase in 
EFH conservation areas where only midwater trawling is allowed, and 
where bottom trawling has been prohibited since 2005.

Double-walled codends

    Regulations at Sec.  660.130(b)(1) specifically prohibit the use of 
double-walled codends. A double-walled codend is a codend constructed 
of two walls (layers) of webbing. To prevent chafing gear from being 
used to create the effect of a double-walled codend, NMFS is 
considering clarifying the prohibition relative to chafing gear in the 
final regulations.

Classification

    NMFS has made a preliminary determination that the proposed action 
is consistent with PCGFMP, the MSA, and other applicable law. In making 
its final determination, NMFS will take into account the complete 
record, including the data, views, and comments received during the 
comment period.
    An EA was prepared for this action. The EA includes socio-economic 
information that was used to prepare the RIR and IRFA. The EA is 
available on the Council's Web site at http://www.pcouncil.org/. This 
action also announces a public comment period on the EA.
    Pursuant to the procedures established to implement section 6 of 
Executive Order 12866, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has 
determined that this proposed rule is not significant.
    An initial regulatory flexibility analysis (IRFA) was prepared, as 
required by section 603 of the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA). The 
IRFA describes the economic impact this proposed rule, if adopted, 
would have on small entities. A description of the action, why it is 
being considered, and the legal basis for this action are contained at 
the beginning of this section in the preamble and in the SUMMARY 
section of the preamble. A copy of the IRFA is available from NMFS (see 
ADDRESSES) and a summary of the IRFA, per the requirements of 5 U.S.C. 
604(a) follows: The Pacific Fishery Management Council and NMFS are 
proposing to liberalize current midwater trawl chafing gear 
regulations. In revising these regulations, the Council and NMFS have 
reviewed the differences of how the regulations should be interpreted 
and enforced and current industry practices. NMFS and the Council have 
also reviewed the current status of species being harvested and similar 
regulations for Alaska fisheries. With the recent implementation of the 
Pacific Coast Groundfish trawl rationalization program, NMFS and the 
Council took into account the increased potential to target rebuilt 
rockfish species with midwater gear. In proposing these regulations, 
NMFS and Council also considered the effects upon essential fish 
habitat, protected and ESA listed species, the harvest of small fish 
(groundfish and non-groundfish including forage and juvenile fish), and 
the effects of other conservation and management measures contained in 
the PCGFMP. NMFS and the Council also considered the economic effects 
of various chafing gear alternatives, particularly upon harvesting 
vessels.
    Fishermen use chafing gear to protect their trawl nets, 
particularly codends, from abrasion. Regulations specify the limits on 
the use of chafing gear panels. The main differences among the 
alternatives reviewed by NMFS and the Council related to how much of 
the circumference and length of the codend could be covered and what 
size of chafer panels could be used. The No Action alternative 
(existing regulations) would limit chafing gear to the very end of the 
codend (the last 50 mesh lengths) and to 50 percent of the codend's 
circumference via a single panel. Under Alternative 1 (Council 
Preferred Alternative), fishermen would have the option of covering up 
to 100 percent of the length of the codend and up to approximately 75 
percent of the codend's circumference through the use of a single panel 
or multiple panels. Alternative 2A differs from Alternative 1 by 
limiting coverage to 50 percent of the codend circumference. Fishermen 
would have the option of covering up to 100 percent of the length of 
the codend and up to 50 percent of the codend's circumference with a 
single panel or multiple panels.
    Alternative 2B (Status Quo) differs from Alternative 1 in 
circumference coverage and from Alternative 2A in panel size. Under 
Alternative 2B, fishermen would have the option of covering up to 50 
percent of the length of the codend and up to 50 percent of the 
codend's circumference; however, no single panel could cover more than 
50 meshes of the codend. For example, to cover the length of a 500 mesh 
codend, 10 panels would be required. This alternative is labeled the 
``Status Quo Alternative'' as it reflects the midwater chafing gear 
restrictions that were in effect during the 2006 season. According to 
the EA, ``Up until 2011, the current regulations were interpreted and 
enforced in a manner that allowed fishers to cover the entire length of 
their codends using a series of 50-mesh panels, provided the panels did 
not exceed 50 percent of the codend circumference and the terminal end 
of each panel was unattached to allow

[[Page 15300]]

small fish to escape. Recently, these regulations have been 
reinterpreted as allowing the use of only a single 50-mesh panel (see 
Section 1.4 of the EA for a complete history). This reinterpretation 
has not yet been enforced because it would entail a sudden and 
unexpected change in regulatory enforcement and require industry to 
incur expenses while deliberations are underway on whether to realign 
the regulations with standing policy or change the policy.'' The 
Council did consider eliminating all chafing gear restrictions. The 
Council rejected this option because it could have allowed for up to 
100 percent chafing gear coverage of the net, including the main body 
and the codend, which could be damaging to biota escaping the net and 
would likely be in conflict with the PCGFMP's Amendment 18 bycatch 
mitigation program.
    This proposed rule would affect those vessels that use midwater 
trawl gear in Pacific Coast groundfish fisheries. Annual midwater 
whiting revenues were about $47 million in both 2011 and 2012 and non-
whiting midwater trawl revenues averaged about $500,000 during this 
period. Nine catcher processors, 19 mothership catcher vessels, and 27 
shoreside vessels participated in these fisheries during 2012 and 2013. 
Three different vessels operated in the non-tribal non-whiting 
shoreside midwater fishery--three in 2012 and one in 2013. The tribal 
fleet consists of 4-5 tribal whiting vessels of which 2-3 per year also 
fish in the Alaska groundfish fisheries. Five tribal midwater vessels 
operate in the tribal yellowtail rockfish fishery. These vessels do not 
participate in the Alaska groundfish fishery. As part of the permitting 
processes for 2014, NMFS asked non-tribal vessel owners to assess 
whether they are small businesses based on following criteria: A 
business involved in fish harvesting is a small business if it is 
independently owned and operated and not dominant in its field of 
operation (including its affiliates) and if it has combined annual 
receipts not in excess of $19.0 million for all its affiliated 
operations worldwide. Tribal vessels are considered small businesses. 
After taking into account vessels that fish in multiple midwater 
fisheries and affiliations, there are 28 midwater businesses, 22 of 
which are small businesses.
    The costs to replace a midwater net including its codend are as 
high as $400,000. Codends for midwater trawling range in cost from 
$10,000 to $200,000 each. Uses of chafing gear can double the life of a 
net. The number of tows, tow size, and other features of the vessel and 
its operations affect the life of a net. With chafing gear covering the 
side and bottom panels of a midwater codend, nets can be used for 5 to 
15 years or longer if vessel owners periodically replace the chafer 
panels. The EA assessed changes in costs and revenues and by fishery 
(tribal, non-tribal, whiting, and pelagic). Expected differences in net 
costs between whiting and pelagic fisheries are likely to be small; 
therefore, the EA used the costs associated with the Pacific whiting 
fishery to analyze the alternatives. Codends used for the pelagic 
rockfish fishery may be the same size or smaller, but are unlikely to 
be larger than the codends used for whiting. The useful life of a net 
used just for pelagic rockfish may be longer than a net used for 
Pacific whiting, because the volume of fish handled by a single codend 
will likely be smaller, on average. For this reason, the costs of 
whiting codends are used as a proxy, but should be considered an upper 
bound on the cost differences that might be expected for the midwater 
pelagic rockfish fishery.
    Adoption of any alternative other than the No-Action alternative 
will result in increased codend useful life because of greater 
protection from onboard abrasion sources and some wear reduction on 
those occasions when seafloor contact occurs. Under the No Action 
alternative, vessel owners will likely have to modify the chafing gear 
they use so that the gear is compliant. As a result, their nets will 
have the least amount of protection and thus have to be replaced more 
often. Currently, fishermen are using gear compliant with Alternative 
2B, and so there would be no additional costs associated with this 
alternative. The gear currently used in the fishery (compliant with 
Alternative 2B) would also be compliant with the other action 
alternatives. The other alternatives also would not necessarily require 
additional expenditures on gear.
    Alternative 1 is the Council's Final Preferred Alternative (FPA). 
Alternative 1 allows fishermen more flexibility as up to 75% of the 
cod-end's circumference could be covered, comports with the chafing 
gear currently used by the majority of the fleet in both Pacific Coast 
and Alaska fisheries, and provides the best protection for expensive 
codends. The EA states: ``Fishers that only participate in the Pacific 
Coast whiting fishery would have a one-time cost of $5,000 to $10,000 
to bring their codends into compliance. For fishers that fish in Alaska 
and the Pacific Coast fishery they would likely either obtain an 
additional codend for use in the Pacific Coast fishery or incur an 
annual chafer replacement cost of between $5,000 and $10,000 to limit 
their coverage to the terminal 50 net meshes. Data in the EA shows that 
62 percent of Pacific Coast whiting vessels also fished off Alaska 
between 2004 and 2010. These along with most other whiting vessels 
likely have codend chafing gear on their codends that is noncompliant 
with Pacific Coast whiting fishery regulations, as they were recently 
reinterpreted. The increased codend replacement cost under the PFMC 
Preferred Alternative (Alternative 1) could be as high at $9,500 per 
year with no chafer replacement after about 10 years to extend codend 
useful life or $7,321 per year with chafer replacement after about 10 
years of use. The replacement cost under the other two action 
alternatives would be expected to be higher, but very close to 
Alternative 1. This is because of lower amount of chafer coverage 
provided under those alternatives (50 percent of codend circumference) 
compared to Alternative 1 (up to 75 percent of codend circumference).'' 
For perspective, the EA assessed the costs of the No-Action Alternative 
relative to Pacific whiting revenues and found them to be about 2 
percent of the 2011 average ex-vessel value in the shoreside fishery, 
about 1 percent of that value for the mothership sector catcher vessels 
and about 1 percent of the that value for catcher processors. (Note 
that these revenues exclude revenues from other Pacific Coast and 
Alaska fisheries. Inclusion of such revenues would lower these 
percentages.)
    Increased chafing gear may potentially increase the catch of small 
or undersized fish. The EA finds under the trawl catch share program, 
vessels have substantial incentive to avoid the catch of small, 
unmarketable groundfish for which quota is required. For each pound of 
these fish caught, fishermen must use a pound of quota, forgoing their 
opportunity to use that quota to cover catch for which they can get 
paid. The effect of catching small fish which must be covered with 
quota is the reduction of vessel revenue. On this basis, regardless of 
the amount and continuity of chafing gear allowed on a codend, the 
incentive of fishermen is to configure the gear to avoid the catch of 
target fish of small size. Thus, they may not use the maximum amount of 
chafing gear, minimum mesh size, etc. to the degree allowed under any 
particular alternative. Liberalizing the chafing gear regulations 
increases the flexibility fishermen have in configuring their gear

[[Page 15301]]

and may allow fishermen to develop other means for avoiding small size 
fish. A review of various discussions in the EA suggests that 
processors and fishing communities will not be negatively impacted by 
implementation of Alternatives 1, 2A, or 2B. The No-Action alternative 
will impose costs on the fishery, reduce vessel profits and may have a 
small but likely negligible effect on communities. Increased small fish 
landings may have a small negligible effect on processors.
    Based on the discussion above, NMFS has determined that this 
proposed rule would not have a significant economic effect on a 
substantial number of small entities. This rule would revise existing 
regulations to conform to current industry chafing gear practices while 
increasing the flexibility of vessel owners to make chafing gear 
modifications according to their own individual operations and needs. 
There are no significant alternatives to the proposed rule that 
accomplish the stated objectives and that minimize the impact of the 
proposed rule on small entities. For transparency purposes, NMFS has 
prepared this IRFA. Through the rulemaking process associated with this 
action, we are requesting comments on this conclusion.
    This proposed rule does not contain a collection-of-information 
requirement subject to review and approval by OMB under the Paperwork 
Reduction Act (PRA).
    Pursuant to Executive Order 13175, this proposed rule was developed 
after meaningful consultation and collaboration with tribal officials 
from the area covered by the PCGFMP. Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act at 
16 U.S.C. 1852(b)(5), one of the voting members of the Pacific Council 
must be a representative of an Indian tribe with federally recognized 
fishing rights from the area of the Council's jurisdiction. The 
proposed regulations, which have a direct effect on the tribes, were 
deemed by the Council as ``necessary or appropriate'' to implement the 
PCGFMP as amended.
    NMFS issued Biological Opinions under the Endangered Species Act 
(ESA) on August 10, 1990, November 26, 1991, August 28, 1992, September 
27, 1993, May 14, 1996, and December 15, 1999 pertaining to the effects 
of the PCGFMP fisheries on Chinook salmon (Puget Sound, Snake River 
spring/summer, Snake River fall, upper Columbia River spring, lower 
Columbia River, upper Willamette River, Sacramento River winter, 
Central Valley spring, California coastal), coho salmon (Central 
California coastal, southern Oregon/northern California coastal), chum 
salmon (Hood Canal summer, Columbia River), sockeye salmon (Snake 
River, Ozette Lake), and steelhead (upper, middle and lower Columbia 
River, Snake River Basin, upper Willamette River, central California 
coast, California Central Valley, south/central California, northern 
California, southern California). These biological opinions have 
concluded that implementation of the PCGFMP is not expected to 
jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered or threatened 
species under the jurisdiction of NMFS, or result in the destruction or 
adverse modification of critical habitat.
    NMFS issued a Supplemental Biological Opinion on March 11, 2006 
concluding that neither the higher observed bycatch of Chinook in the 
2005 whiting fishery nor new data regarding salmon bycatch in the 
groundfish bottom trawl fishery required a reconsideration of its prior 
``no jeopardy'' conclusion. NMFS also reaffirmed its prior 
determination that implementation of the PCGFMP is not likely to 
jeopardize the continued existence of any of the affected species. 
Lower Columbia River coho (70 FR 37160, June 28, 2005) and Oregon 
Coastal coho (73 FR 7816, February 11, 2008) were recently relisted as 
threatened under the ESA. The 1999 biological opinion concluded that 
the bycatch of salmonids in the Pacific whiting fishery were almost 
entirely Chinook salmon, with little or no bycatch of coho, chum, 
sockeye, and steelhead.
    On January 22, 2013, NMFS requested the reinitiation of the 
biological opinion for listed salmonids to address changes in the 
fishery, including the trawl rationalization program and the emerging 
midwater trawl fishery. The consultation will not be completed prior to 
publication of this proposed rule to modify chafing gear regulations 
for the Pacific whiting fishery. NMFS has considered the likely impacts 
on listed salmonids for the period of time between the proposed rule 
and, if appropriate, final rule and the completion of the reinitiated 
consultation relative to sections 7(a)(2) and 7(d) of the ESA. On 
December 18, 2013, NMFS determined that ongoing fishing under the 
PCGFMP, assuming that the proposed chafing gear modifications are 
implemented in early 2014, prior to the completion of the consultation 
would not be likely to jeopardize listed salmonids or result in any 
irreversible or irretrievable commitment of resources that would have 
the effect of foreclosing the formulation or implementation of any 
necessary reasonable and prudent alternatives.
    On December 7, 2012, NMFS completed a biological opinion concluding 
that the groundfish fishery is not likely to jeopardize non-salmonid 
marine species including listed eulachon, green sturgeon, humpback 
whales, Steller sea lions, and leatherback sea turtles. The opinion 
also concludes that the fishery is not likely to adversely modify 
critical habitat for green sturgeon and leatherback sea turtles. An 
analysis included in the same document as the opinion concludes that 
the fishery is not likely to adversely affect green sea turtles, olive 
ridley sea turtles, loggerhead sea turtles, sei whales, North Pacific 
right whales, blue whales, fin whales, sperm whales, Southern Resident 
killer whales, Guadalupe fur seals, or the critical habitat for Steller 
sea lions. With this rulemaking, an informal consultation on eulachon 
was initiated on January 21, 2013. NMFS considered whether the 2012 
opinion should be reconsidered for eulachon in light of new information 
from the 2011 fishery and the proposed chafing gear modifications and 
determined that information about the eulachon bycatch in 2011 and 
chafing gear regulations did not change the anticipated extent of 
effects of the action, or provide any other basis to reinitiate the 
December 7, 2012 biological opinion. Therefore, the December 7, 2012 
biological opinion meets the requirements of section 7(a)(2) of the ESA 
and implementing regulations at 50 CFR 402 and no further consultation 
is required at this time.
    On November 21, 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) 
issued a biological opinion concluding that the groundfish fishery will 
not jeopardize the continued existence of the short-tailed albatross. 
The FWS also concurred that the fishery is not likely to adversely 
affect the marbled murrelet, California least tern, southern sea otter, 
bull trout, nor bull trout critical habitat.
    This proposed rule would not alter the effects on marine mammals 
over what has already been considered for the fishery. West Coast pot 
fisheries for sablefish are considered Category II fisheries under the 
MMPA's List of Fisheries, indicating occasional interactions. All other 
West Coast groundfish fisheries, including the trawl fishery, are 
considered Category III fisheries under the MMPA, indicating a remote 
likelihood of or no known serious injuries or mortalities to marine 
mammals. On February 27, 2012, NMFS published notice that the 
incidental taking of Steller sea lions in the West Coast groundfish 
fisheries is addressed

[[Page 15302]]

in NMFS' December 29, 2010 Negligible Impact Determination (NID) and 
this fishery has been added to the list of fisheries authorized to take 
Steller sea lions (77 FR 11493, February 27, 2012). On September 4, 
2013, based on its negligible impact determination dated August 28, 
2013, NMFS issued a permit for a period of three years to authorize the 
incidental taking of humpback whales by the sablefish pot fishery (78 
FR 54553, September 4, 2013).

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 660

    Fisheries, Fishing, and Indian fisheries.

    Dated: March 13, 2014.
Eileen Sobeck,
Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.

    For the reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 660 is 
proposed to be amended as follows:

PART 660--FISHERIES OFF WEST COAST STATES

0
1. The authority citation for part 660 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq., 16 U.S.C. 773 et seq., and 16 
U.S.C. 7001 et seq.

0
2. In Sec.  660.130, paragraphs (b)(2-)(4) and the introductory text of 
paragraph (c) are revised as follows:


Sec.  660.130  Trawl fishery--management measures.

* * * * *
    (b) * * *
    (2) Mesh size. Groundfish trawl gear, including chafing gear, must 
meet the minimum mesh size requirements in this paragraph. Mesh size 
requirements apply throughout the net. Minimum trawl mesh sizes are: 
Bottom trawl, 4.5 inches (11.4 cm); midwater trawl, 3.0 inches (7.6 
cm). Minimum trawl mesh size requirements are met if a 20-guage 
stainless steel wedge, less one thickness of the metal wedge, can be 
passed with only thumb pressure through at least 16 of 20 sets of two 
meshes each of wet mesh.
    (3) Bottom trawl gear.--(i) Large footrope trawl gear. Lines or 
ropes that run parallel to the footrope may not be augmented with 
material encircling or tied along their length such that they have a 
diameter larger than 19 inches (48 cm). For enforcement purposes, the 
footrope will be measured in a straight line from the outside edge to 
the opposite outside edge at the widest part on any individual part, 
including any individual disk, roller, bobbin, or any other device.
    (ii) Small footrope trawl gear. Lines or ropes that run parallel to 
the footrope may not be augmented with material encircling or tied 
along their length such that they have a diameter larger than 8 inches 
(20 cm). For enforcement purposes, the footrope will be measured in a 
straight line from the outside edge to the opposite outside edge at the 
widest part on any individual part, including any individual disk, 
roller, bobbin, or any other device.
    (A) Selective flatfish trawl gear. Selective flatfish trawl gear is 
a type of small footrope trawl gear. The selective flatfish trawl net 
must be a two-seamed net with no more than two riblines, excluding the 
codend. The breastline may not be longer than 3 ft (0.92 m) in length. 
There may be no floats along the center third of the headrope or 
attached to the top panel except on the riblines. The footrope must be 
less than 105 ft (32.26 m) in length. The headrope must be not less 
than 30 percent longer than the footrope. The headrope shall be 
measured along the length of the headrope from the outside edge to the 
opposite outside edge. An explanatory diagram of a selective flatfish 
trawl net is provided as Figure 1 of part 660, subpart D.
    (B) [Reserved]
    (iii) Chafing gear restrictions for bottom trawl gear. Chafing gear 
may encircle no more than 50 percent of the net's circumference and may 
be in one or more sections. Chafing gear may be used only on the last 
50 meshes, measured from the terminal (closed) end of the codend. Only 
the front edge (edge closest to the open end of the codend) and sides 
of each section of chafing gear may be attached to the codend; except 
at the corners, the terminal edge (edge closest to the closed end of 
the codend) of each section of chafing gear must not be attached to the 
net. Chafing gear must be attached outside any riblines and restraining 
straps.
    (4) Midwater (pelagic or off-bottom) trawl gear. Midwater trawl 
gear must have unprotected footropes at the trawl mouth, and must not 
have rollers, bobbins, tires, wheels, rubber discs, or any similar 
device anywhere on any part of the net. The footrope of midwater gear 
may not be enlarged by encircling it with chains or by any other means. 
Ropes or lines running parallel to the footrope of midwater trawl gear 
must be bare and may not be suspended with chains or any other 
materials. Sweep lines, including the bottom leg of the bridle, must be 
bare. For at least 20 ft (6.15 m) immediately behind the footrope or 
headrope, bare ropes or mesh of 16-inch (40.6-cm) minimum mesh size 
must completely encircle the net.
    (i) Chafing gear restrictions for midwater trawl gear. Chafing gear 
may cover the bottom and sides of the codend in either one or more 
sections. Only the front edge (edge closest to the open end of the 
codend) and sides of each section of chafing gear may be attached to 
the codend; except at the corners, the terminal edge (edge closest to 
the closed end of the codend) of each section of chafing gear must not 
be attached to the net. Chafing gear is not permitted on the top codend 
panel except as provided in paragraph (b)(4)(ii) of this section.
    (ii) Chafing gear exception for midwater trawl gear. A band of mesh 
(a ``skirt'') may encircle the net under or over transfer cables, 
lifting or splitting straps (chokers), riblines, and restraining 
straps, but must be the same mesh size and coincide knot-to-knot with 
the net to which it is attached and be no wider than 16 meshes.
    (c) Restrictions by limited entry trawl gear type. Management 
measures may vary depending on the type of trawl gear (i.e., large 
footrope, small footrope, selective flatfish, or midwater trawl gear) 
used and/or on board a vessel during a fishing trip, cumulative limit 
period, and the area fished. Trawl nets may be used on and off the 
seabed. For some species or species groups, Table 1 (North) and Table 1 
(South) of this subpart provide trip limits that are specific to 
different types of trawl gear: Large footrope, small footrope 
(including selective flatfish), selective flatfish, midwater, and 
multiple types. If Table 1 (North) and Table 1 (South) of this subpart 
provide gear specific limits for a particular species or species group, 
it is unlawful to take and retain, possess or land that species or 
species group with limited entry trawl gears other than those listed. 
The following restrictions are in addition to the prohibitions at Sec.  
660.112(a)(5).
* * * * *
[FR Doc. 2014-06058 Filed 3-18-14; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P