[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 61 (Monday, March 31, 2014)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 17995-18002]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-07123]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 648

[Docket No. 140117052-4052-01]
RIN 0648-XD094


Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Summer Flounder, 
Scup, and Black Sea Bass Fisheries; 2014 Summer Flounder 
Specifications; 2015 Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass 
Specifications; 2014 Research Set-Aside Projects

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

ACTION: Proposed specifications; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: NMFS proposes revised specifications for the 2014 summer 
flounder fishery; specifications for the 2015 summer flounder, scup, 
and black sea bass fisheries; an increase in the commercial scup Winter 
II possession limit; and provides notice of two projects for which 
exempted fishing permits may be requested as part of the Mid-Atlantic 
Fishery Management Council's Research Set-Aside Program. The 
implementing regulations for the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea 
Bass Fishery Management Plan require NMFS to publish specifications for 
the upcoming fishing year for each of these species and to provide an 
opportunity for public comment. Furthermore, regulations under the 
Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act require that 
NMFS allow the public an opportunity to comment on applications for 
exempted fishing permits. Accordingly, in addition to proposing catch 
specifications, NMFS announces exempted fishing permit requests, in 
accordance with the fishery management plan and Magnuson-Stevens 
Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

DATES: Comments must be received on or before April 15, 2014.

ADDRESSES: An environmental assessment (EA) was prepared for the 
specifications and describes the proposed action and other considered 
alternatives, and provides an analysis of the impacts of the proposed 
measures and alternatives. Copies of the Specifications Document, 
including the EA and the Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis 
(IRFA), are available on request from Dr. Christopher M. Moore, 
Executive Director, Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, Suite 201, 
800 North State Street, Dover, DE 19901. These documents are also 
accessible via the Internet at http://www.nero.noaa.gov.
    You may submit comments, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2014-0032, by any 
one of the following methods:
     Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2014-0032. Clicking the 
preceding link will bring you to the NOAA-NMFS-2014-0032 docket folder 
for this action. To submit comments once in the docket folder, click 
the ``Comment Now!'' icon. Fill in the fields on the comment form and 
enter or attach your comment.
     Mail: John Bullard, Regional Administrator, NMFS, Greater 
Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office, 55 Great Republic Drive, 
Gloucester, MA 01930. Mark the outside of the envelope, ``Comments on 
FSB Specifications.''
    Instructions: Comments must be submitted by one of the above 
methods to ensure that the comments are received, documented, and 
considered by NMFS. 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. All comments received are a part of the public 
record and will generally be posted for public viewing on 
www.regulations.gov. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, 
address, etc.) submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly 
accessible. Do not submit confidential business information, or 
otherwise sensitive or protected information. 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 or Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats 
only.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Moira Kelly, Fishery Policy Analyst, 
(978) 281-9218.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

General Specification Background

    The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) and the 
Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (Commission) cooperatively 
manage the summer flounder, scup, and black sea bass fisheries. Fishery 
specifications in these fisheries include various catch and landing 
subdivisions, such as the commercial and recreational sector annual 
catch limits (ACLs), annual catch targets (ACTs), sector-specific 
landing limits (i.e., the commercial fishery quota and recreational 
harvest limit (RHL)), and research set-aside (RSA) established for the 
upcoming fishing year. An explanation of each subdivision appears later 
in this rule.
    Rulemaking for measures used to manage the recreational fisheries 
for these three species occurs separately and typically takes place in 
the spring of each year. The Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass 
Fishery Management Plan (FMP) and its implementing regulations 
establish the Council's process for establishing specifications. All 
requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and 
Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), including the 10 national 
standards, also apply to specifications.
    The management units specified in the FMP include summer flounder 
(Paralichthys dentatus) in U.S. waters of the Atlantic Ocean from the 
southern border of North Carolina northward to the U.S./Canada border, 
and scup (Stenotomus chrysops) and black sea bass (Centropristis 
striata) in U.S. waters of the Atlantic Ocean from 35[deg]13.3' N. lat. 
(the latitude of Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, Buxton, NC) northward to the 
U.S./Canada border.
    The Council's Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) met on 
September 17 and 18, 2013, to recommend acceptable biological catches 
(ABC) for the 2014-2015 summer flounder fishery, and the 2015 scup and 
black sea bass fisheries. The FMP's implementing regulations require 
the involvement of a monitoring committee in the specification process 
for each species. Since the Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements for the 
SSC to recommend ABC became effective, the monitoring committees' role 
has largely been to recommend any reduction in catch limits from the 
SSC-recommended ABCs to offset management uncertainty, and to recommend 
other management measures (e.g., mesh requirements, minimum commercial 
fish sizes, gear restrictions, possession restrictions, and area 
restrictions) needed for the efficient management of these three 
species' fisheries. The Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass 
Monitoring Committees met on September 19, 2013, to discuss 
specification-related recommendations for the three fisheries.

[[Page 17996]]

    Following the SSC and Monitoring Committee meetings, the Council 
and the Commission's Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass 
Management Board (Board) considered the recommendations of the SSC, the 
three monitoring committees, and public comments, and made their 
specification recommendations at a meeting on October 9, 2013. While 
the Board action was finalized at the October meeting, the Council's 
recommendations must be reviewed by NMFS to ensure that they comply 
with the FMP and applicable law. NMFS also must conduct notice-and-
comment rulemaking to propose and implement the final specifications.
    The FMP also contains formulas to divide the specification catch 
limits into commercial and recreational fishery allocations, state-by-
state quotas, and quota periods, depending on the species in question. 
The FMP allocation provisions cannot be modified through the 
specification process. Rather, the Council is required to develop and 
recommend allocation changes by amending the FMP. In this rule, NMFS 
outlines the application of the existing allocation provisions for each 
species and proposes the resulting allocations, by state and sector, as 
appropriate, for each species.
    Specifications for all three species for fishing year 2014 were 
implemented in 2012 (December 31, 2012; 77 FR 76942). The fishing years 
2013 and 2014 black sea bass specifications were revised in 2013 (June 
21, 2013; 78 FR 37475). The 2014 summer flounder specifications are 
proposed to be revised based an updated stock assessment conducted by 
the NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) in July 2013. This 
rule makes no change to the previously established scup and black sea 
bass specifications for this fishing year.

   Table 1--Summary of the Proposed 2014-2015 Summer Flounder Specifications and 2015 Scup and Black Sea Bass
                                                 Specifications
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                        Summer  flounder      Scup     Black sea
                                                                     ---------------------------------    bass
                                                                                                      ----------
                                                                         2014       2015       2015       2015
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
ABC.....................................  million lb................      21.94      22.77      33.77       5.50
                                          mt........................      9,950     10,329     15,320      2,494
Commercial ACL..........................  million lb................      12.87      13.34      26.34       2.60
                                          mt........................      5,837      6,049     11,950      1,180
Recreational ACL........................  million lb................       9.07       9.44       7.43       2.90
                                          mt........................      4,113      4,280      3,370      1,314
Commercial ACT..........................  million lb................      12.87      13.34      26.34       2.60
                                          mt........................      5,837      6,049     11,950      1,180
Recreational ACT........................  million lb................       9.07       9.44       7.43       2.90
                                          mt........................      4,113      4,280      3,370      1,314
Commercial Quota........................  million lb................      10.51      10.77      20.60       2.17
                                          mt........................      4,767      4,870      9,343        986
RHL.....................................  million lb................       7.01       7.16       6.60       2.26
                                          mt........................      3,179      3,247      2,991      1,026
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Note: Commercial Quotas and RHLs include the 3-percent RSA reduction.

Explanation of RSA

    In 2001, NMFS implemented regulations under Framework Adjustment 1 
to the FMP to allow up to 3 percent of the total allowable landings 
(TAL) for each species to be set aside each year to support scientific 
research. NMFS intends to conditionally approve two research projects 
to harvest a portion of the set-aside quota that has been recommended 
by the Council and the Commission. In anticipation of receiving 
applications for exempted fishing permits (EFP) to conduct this 
research and harvest set-aside quota, the Assistant Regional 
Administrator for Sustainable Fisheries, Greater Atlantic Region, NMFS 
(Assistant Regional Administrator), has made a preliminary 
determination that the activities authorized under the EFPs would be 
consistent with the goals and objectives of the FMP. However, further 
review and consultation may be necessary before a final determination 
is made to issue any EFP.
    These proposed specifications include the amount of quota that has 
been preliminarily set aside for research purposes (a percentage of the 
TAL for each fishery, not to exceed 3 percent, as recommended by the 
Council and Board), and a brief description of the likely 2014 Mid-
Atlantic RSA projects, including exemptions that will likely be 
required to conduct the proposed research. The RSA amounts may be 
adjusted, following consultation with RSA applicants, in the final rule 
establishing the 2014 specifications for the summer flounder, scup, 
black sea bass, longfin squid, butterfish, Atlantic bluefish, and spiny 
dogfish fisheries. If the total amount of available RSA is not awarded, 
NMFS will publish a document in the Federal Register to restore the 
unused amount to the applicable TAL.
    For 2014, the conditionally approved projects may collectively be 
awarded up to the following amounts of RSA: 542,000 lb (246 mt) of 
summer flounder; 897,281 lb (407 mt) of scup; 136,686 lb (62 mt) of 
black sea bass; 1,400,000 lb (635 mt) of longfin squid; 99,800 lb of 
butterfish (45 mt); 99,000 lb of bluefish (45 mt), and 1,250,000 lb of 
spiny dogfish (567 mt). The harvest of RSA quota would occur January 1-
December 31, 2014, by vessels conducting compensation fishing. Vessels 
harvesting RSA quota in support of approved research projects would be 
issued EFPs authorizing them to exceed Federal possession limits and to 
fish during Federal quota and season closures. These exemptions are 
necessary to facilitate compensation fishing and to allow project 
investigators to recover research expenses, as well as to adequately 
compensate fishing industry participants harvesting RSA quota. Vessels 
harvesting RSA quota would operate under all other regulations that 
govern the fishery, unless specifically exempted in a separate EFP.
    2014 RSA Proposal Summaries: One of the preliminarily selected 
projects would conduct a spring and fall bottom trawl survey in shallow 
waters between Martha's Vineyard, MA, and Cape Hatteras, NC. The 
project investigators plan to obtain data to support stock

[[Page 17997]]

assessments for Mid-Atlantic RSA species, including summer flounder, 
scup, black sea bass, longfin squid, butterfish, Atlantic bluefish, and 
spiny dogfish, and assessment-quality data for weakfish, Atlantic 
croaker, spot, several skate and ray species, smooth dogfish, horseshoe 
crab, and several unmanaged but important forage species.
    Sampling will occur at depths between approximately 20 ft (6.1 m) 
and 60 ft (18.3 m). Sampling in Block Island Sound and Rhode Island 
Sound will occur at depths between approximately 60 ft (18.3 m) and 120 
ft (36.6 m). The survey will use the trawl gear configuration used for 
the NEFSC bottom trawl survey. Sampling stations will be selected based 
on a stratified random design, with strata defined by latitudinal and 
longitudinal region and depth. Major regions are aligned with strata 
designations developed by the NEFSC bottom trawl survey. Approximately 
150 stations will be sampled during each cruise, with one station per 
30 sq. nm. Each tow will be 20 min in duration. After each tow, the 
catch will be sorted by species and modal-size groups. Biomass will be 
measured for each species-size group. For species of management 
interest, a subsample of between three and five fish will be taken, and 
each individual will be processed for length, weight, sex, maturity 
stage, and eviscerated weight. Stomachs and otoliths will be collected 
from each subsampled specimen. All other specimens will be enumerated 
and weighed. Individual length measurements will also be recorded for 
all of these specimens or a representative subsample.
    The second project is a fishery-independent black sea bass pot 
survey of five separate hard-bottom sites in southern New England and 
Mid-Atlantic waters. Unvented black sea bass pots would be fished on 
each site for 5 months from June through October in southern New 
England, and April through August in the Mid-Atlantic. The project is 
designed to collect black sea bass from areas unsampled by current 
state and Federal finfish bottom trawl surveys. The length frequency 
distribution of the catch would be compared statistically to each of 
the other collection sites, and to finfish trawl data collected by NMFS 
and state agencies. Black sea bass would be collected from five general 
zones along the coast, utilizing black sea bass pots made with coated 
wire mesh, single-mesh entry head, and single-mesh inverted parlor 
nozzle. The five survey zones include waters off of Massachusetts, 
Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, and Virginia. The survey zones 
generally correspond to the northern and southern core range of the 
species, and each is an area in which a major black sea bass fishery 
takes place. In each of these general zones, four individual sampling 
sites would be selected, each of which would be 1 sq. mi (2.6 km\2\) in 
size. Each of the individual sampling sites would be separated by at 
least 4 mi (6.4 km) in order to provide adequate spatial coverage. 
Specific sampling sites within each square-mile sampling site would be 
randomly selected each month from the sub-blocks. The traps would be 
set at the center of each sampling site once per month. The sampling 
protocol would require that a commercial vessel take 30 pots (three 10-
pot trawls) to each of the randomly selected hard-bottom sampling 
sites. This procedure would continue each month during the sampling 
season for 5 mo. Thus, 20 locations would be sampled monthly. Pots 
would be unbaited and allowed to remain in place for a minimum of 4 
days. The date, area, depth, set over days, and catch would be recorded 
and fish measured utilizing the standard NMFS sea sampling protocols. 
Fish would be measured excluding the tail tendril, which is the NMFS/
ASMFC standard. At the conclusion of each sampling cycle, pots would be 
placed on the vessel for transport back to port.
    Research vessels for the fixed gear pot survey would require an EFP 
for exemption from minimum scup and black sea bass pot vent size 
requirements to ensure that black sea bass length frequency data are 
representative and not biased. If a participating vessel holds a 
Federal lobster permit, it would also need exemption from lobster pot 
vent size requirements. Exemption from scup and black sea bass closures 
and seasons would also be needed to ensure the survey is not disrupted 
by such regulations. Exemption from scup and black sea bass minimum 
fish sizes and possession limits would also be needed for data 
collection purposes only. All undersized fish would be discarded as 
soon as practicable to minimize mortality, and fish in excess of 
possession limits would either be discarded as soon as practicable or 
landed as RSA quota.

Summer Flounder

    The summer flounder stock was declared rebuilt in 2011. The new 
(2013) stock assessment utilized to derive specification 
recommendations indicates that summer flounder were not overfished and 
that overfishing did not occur in 2012, the most recent year of 
available data.
    The overfishing limit (OFL) for 2014 was estimated to be 26.76 
million lb (12,138 mt). Based on this information, the SSC recommended 
to the Council that the 2014 ABC for summer flounder be set no higher 
than 23.94 million lb (9,950 mt). The OFL for 2015 is projected to be 
27.06 million lb (12,275 mt), and the SSC recommended that the 2015 ABC 
for summer flounder be set no higher than 22.77 million lb (10,329 mt).
    Consistent with the summer flounder regulations, the sum of the 
recreational and commercial sector ACLs is equal to the ABC. ACL is an 
expression of total catch (i.e., landings and dead discarded fish). To 
derive the ACLs, the sum of the sector-specific estimated discards is 
removed from the ABC to derive the landing allowance. The resulting 
landing allowance is apportioned to the commercial and recreational 
sectors by applying the FMP allocation criteria: 60 percent to the 
commercial fishery and 40 percent to the recreational fishery. Using 
this method ensures that each sector is accountable for its respective 
discards, rather than simply apportioning the ABC by the allocation 
percentages to derive the sector ACLs. Although the derived ACLs are 
not split exactly 60/40, the landing portions of the ACLs preserve the 
60/40 allocation split, consistent with the FMP. This process results 
in a commercial ACL of 12.89 million lb (5,837 mt) for 2014, and 13.34 
million lb (6,049 mt) for 2015. The recreational ACLs would be 9.07 
million lb (4,113 mt) for 2014 and 9.44 million lb (4,280 mt) for 2015.
    The Summer Flounder Monitoring Committee met to discuss the SSC's 
recommendations and to determine whether additional reductions in the 
catch limits were necessary to account for management uncertainty. 
Because the recreational fishery in recent years has not reached the 
RHL, discards in the commercial fishery have been relatively low, and 
the commercial landings monitoring and fishery closure system is 
timely, the Summer Flounder Monitoring Committee determined that no 
additional reductions to account for management uncertainty were 
necessary. Therefore, it was recommended that the ACTs (both commercial 
and recreational) should be set equal to their respective ACL for both 
2014 and 2015. Removing the estimated discards and, as recommended, 3 
percent of the TAL for RSA, the commercial summer flounder quotas would 
be 10.51 million lb (4,767 mt) for 2014 and 10.74 million lb (4,870 mt) 
for 2015. The RHLs would be 7.01 million lb (3,179 mt) for 2014 and 
7.16 million lb (3,247 mt) for 2015.

[[Page 17998]]



                                                    Table 2--Proposed Summer Flounder Specifications
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                                                                                                                                Comm. quota
                Year                                              ABC       Commercial  Recreational   Comm. ACT     Rec. ACT    (minus 3%   RHL  (minus
                                                                               ACL           ACL                                    RSA)       3% RSA)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2014 (Current)......................  million lb............        22.40        12.05         10.19        12.05        10.19        11.39         7.60
                                      mt....................       10,088        5,467         4,621        5,467        4,621        5,166        3,444
2014 (Proposed).....................  million lb............        21.94        12.87          9.07        12.87         9.07        10.51         7.01
                                      mt....................        9,950        5,837         4,113        5,837        4,113        4,767        3,179
2015 (Proposed).....................  million lb............        22.77        13.34          9.44        13.34         9.44        10.77         7.16
                                      mt....................       10,329        6,049         4,280        6,049        4,280        4,870        3,247
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Note: Commercial Quotas and RHLs include the 3-percent RSA reduction.

    The Council and Board considered the SSC and Summer Flounder 
Monitoring Committee recommendations before concurring with the catch 
recommendations specified in Table 2. Fishing under these catch limits 
for 2014 and 2015 is not expected to compromise the summer flounder 
stock, nor will fishing at this level present a high likelihood of 
overfishing the stock. The Council recommended all other management 
measures by remain status quo.
    Table 3 and Table 4 present the proposed allocations for 2014 and 
2015, respectively, by state, with and without the commercial portion 
of the RSA deduction. In December 2013, NMFS published a notice 
indicating what, if any, adjustments would be required to the state 
commercial summer flounder quotas as a result of commercial sector 
overages. Those overages would be applied to the new specifications for 
fishing year 2014 as well, and are presented in Table 3. Any commercial 
quota adjustments to account for overages will be published prior to 
the start of the 2015 fishing year.

                                             Table 3--2014 Proposed Summer Flounder State Commercial Quotas
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                                                           2014  initial quota      2014 initial quota,      Quota overages       Adjusted 2014 quota,
                                           FMP percent --------------------------      less RSA \1\        (through 10/31/13)     less RSA and overages
                  State                       share                              -----------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                             Lb         kg\2\          Lb        kg\2\        Lb       kg\2\         Lb         kg\2\
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
ME......................................       0.04756        5,153        2,338        4,998        227          0          0        4,998        2,267
NH......................................       0.00046           50           23           48          2          0          0           48           22
MA......................................       6.82046      739,046      335,226      716,792     32,513     28,199     12,791      688,593      312,340
RI......................................      15.68298    1,699,364      770,818    1,648,193     74,761          0          0    1,648,193      747,608
CT......................................       2.25708      244,571      110,935      237,206     10,760          0          0      237,206      107,595
NY......................................       7.64699      828,606      375,850      803,656     36,453     79,355     35,995      724,301      328,537
NJ......................................      16.72499    1,812,273      822,033    1,757,702     79,728          0          0    1,757,702      797,280
DE......................................       0.01779        1,928          874        1,870         85     52,384     23,760            0            0
MD......................................        2.0391      220,951      100,222      214,298      9,720          0          0      214,298       97,204
VA......................................      21.31676    2,309,824    1,047,719    2,240,271    101,617          0          0    2,240,271    1,016,170
NC......................................      27.44584    2,973,954    1,348,963    2,884,403    130,834          0          0    2,884,403    1,308,343
                                         ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Total \3\...........................           100   10,835,720    4,915,000   10,509,436    476,700    155,376     70,476   10,354,060    4,696,523
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Preliminary Research Set-Aside amount is 542,337 lb (246 mt).
\2\ Kilograms are as converted from pounds and do not sum to the converted total due to rounding.
\3\ Rounding of quotas results in totals exceeding 100 percent.


                         Table 4--2015 Proposed Summer Flounder State Commercial Quotas
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                Initial quota  (TAL)    Initial quota (TAL) less
                                                     FMP     --------------------------            RSA
                     State                         percent                             -------------------------
                                                    share          Lb         kg\2\          Lb         kg\2\
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
ME.............................................      0.04756        5,265        2,388        5,106        2,316
NH.............................................      0.00046           51           23           49           22
MA.............................................      6.82046      754,985      342,461      732,280      332,156
RI.............................................     15.68298    1,736,013      787,456    1,683,805      763,761
CT.............................................      2.25708      249,845      113,330      242,332      109,920
NY.............................................      7.64699      846,477      383,962      821,020      372,408
NJ.............................................     16.72499    1,851,358      839,776    1,795,681      814,507
DE.............................................      0.01779        1,969          893        1,910          866
MD.............................................       2.0391      225,716      102,385      218,928       99,304
VA.............................................     21.31676    2,359,640    1,070,333    2,288,676    1,038,126
NC.............................................     27.44584    3,038,093    1,378,079    2,946,726    1,336,612
                                                ----------------------------------------------------------------
    Total \3\..................................          100   11,069,410    5,021,085   10,736,512    4,870,000
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Preliminary Research Set-Aside amount is 587,100 lb (266 mt).
\2\ Kilograms are as converted from pounds and do not sum to the converted total due to rounding.
\3\ Rounding of quotas results in totals exceeding 100 percent.


[[Page 17999]]

Scup

    Using the appropriate control rule and applying the Council's risk 
policy, the SSC recommended an ABC for scup of 33.77 million lb (15,320 
mt) for fishing year 2015. The stock assessment review upon which the 
specifications are based indicates that scup biomass is currently lower 
than in recent years. Therefore, the proposed catch limits are lower 
than those for fishing year 2013, but are still relatively high 
compared to recent landings.
    The scup management measures specify that the ABC is equal to the 
sum of the commercial and recreational sector ACLs. The Scup Monitoring 
Committee met to discuss the SSC's recommendations and to determine 
whether additional reductions in the catch limits were necessary to 
account for management uncertainty. Because both the recreational and 
commercial fisheries have not reached their respective landings limits 
because of the very high quotas, and the landings monitoring and 
fishery closure system is timely, the Monitoring Committee determined 
that no additional reductions to account for management uncertainty 
were necessary. Therefore, it was recommended that the ACTs (both 
commercial and recreational) should be set equal to the respective ACLs 
for fishing year 2015. Therefore, the 2015 commercial sector ACL/ACT 
would be 26.35 million lb (11,950 mt) and the 2015 recreational sector 
ACL/ACT would be 7.43 million lb (3,370 mt).
    The Council recommended up to 3 percent of the landings for RSA. 
After RSA is removed, the 2015 commercial quota would be 20.60 million 
lb (9,343 mt) and the 2015 recreational harvest limit would be 6.60 
million lb (2,991 mt).

                                                          Table 5--Proposed Scup Specifications
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                Commercial   Recreational     Comm.
                  Year                                                  ABC        ACL            ACL          ACT    Rec. ACT  Comm. Quota      RHL
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2014 (Current).........................  million lb................     35.99        28.07            7.92     28.07      7.92        21.95         7.03
                                         mt........................    16,325       12,734           3,592    12,734     3,592        9,955        3,188
2015 (Proposed)........................  million lb................     33.77        26.35            7.43     26.35      7.43        20.60         6.60
                                         mt........................    15,320       11,950           3,370    11,950     3,370        9,343        2,991
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Note: Commercial Quotas and RHLs include the 3-percent RSA reduction.

    The scup commercial quota is divided into three commercial fishery 
quota periods, Winter I, Summer and Winter II. This rule proposes 
commercial scup quota for these three periods for 2015. If there is a 
commercial overage applicable to the 2015 scup commercial quota, a 
notice will be published prior to the start of the 2015 fishing year. 
The period quotas, after deducting for RSA, are detailed in Table 56. 
Unused Winter I quota may be carried over for use in the Winter II 
period.

                                      Table 6--Proposed Commercial Scup Quota Allocations for 2015 by Quota Period
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                           Initial quota              Initial quota less          Adjusted quota less
                                                                     ----------------------------  overages (through 10/31/        overages and RSA
                       Quota period                         Percent                                          2012)           ---------------------------
                                                             share         Lb            mt      ----------------------------
                                                                                                       Lb            mt            Lb            mt
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Winter I.................................................      45.11     9,578,008         4,345           N/A           N/A     9,290,668         4,214
Summer...................................................      38.95     8,270,083         3,751           N/A           N/A     8,021,980         3,639
Winter II................................................      15.94     3,384,470         1,535           N/A           N/A     3,282,936         1,489
                                                          ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Total................................................      100.0    21,232,561         9,631           N/A           N/A    20,595,585         9,342
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Notes: Metric tons are as converted from pounds and may not necessarily total due to rounding.
N/A = Not applicable.

    As described in the table 7, this rule proposes to increase in the 
Winter II commercial scup possession limit from 2,000 lb (907 kg) to 
12,000 lb (5,443 kg) for 2015. Because the commercial fishery has 
under-harvested the scup quota in recent years, the Council is 
recommending an increase in the Winter II possession limit in order to 
increase efficiency in the scup fishery. The Winter I possession limit 
will drop to 1,000 lb (454 kg) upon attainment of 80 percent of that 
period's allocation. The Winter II possession limit may be adjusted (in 
association with a transfer of unused Winter I quota to the Winter II 
period) via notification in the Federal Register.

                       Table 7--Proposed Commercial Scup Possession Limits by Quota Period
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                Federal possession limits (per
                                                                                             trip)
                       Quota period                           Percent share  -----------------------------------
                                                                                     Lb                kg
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Winter I..................................................             45.11            50,000            22,680
Summer....................................................             38.95               N/A               N/A
Winter II.................................................             15.94            12,000             5,443
                                                           -----------------------------------------------------
    Total.................................................             100.0               N/A               N/A
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


[[Page 18000]]

Black Sea Bass

    The updated stock assessment indicates that black sea bass were not 
overfished and overfishing did not occur in fishing year 2012. Black 
sea bass remains a data-poor stock, with relatively high uncertainty 
for the purposes of calculating ABC. The SSC rejected the OFL estimate 
provided from the stock assessment, stating that it was highly 
uncertain and not sufficiently reliable to use as the basis of 
management advice. In 2012, the SSC recommended an ABC of 4.50 million 
lb (2,041 mt) for a 3-year period, with a constant harvest strategy 
that would implement the same ABC for 2013-2015. The Council tasked the 
SSC to revisit this recommendation in January 2013. The SSC revised its 
recommendation for fishing years 2013 and 2014, and recommended an ABC 
of 5.50 million lb (2,494 mt). This ABC and the corresponding 
specifications were implemented in June 2013. At the September 2013 SSC 
meeting, the SSC recommended continuing this ABC into fishing year 
2015.
    The Black Sea Bass Monitoring Committee met to discuss the SSC's 
recommendation and to determine if additional reductions in the catch 
limits were necessary to account for management uncertainty. The 
Monitoring Committee determined that no additional reductions to 
account for management uncertainty were necessary because the constant 
catch strategy adequately addresses uncertainty. Therefore, it was 
recommended that the ACTs (both commercial and recreational) should be 
set equal to their respective ACL for fishing year 2015.
    The Council and Board considered the SSC and Black Sea Bass 
Monitoring Committee recommendations at their October meeting. The 
Council recommends a commercial ACL and ACT of 2.60 million lb (1,180 
mt), a recreational ACL and ACT of 2.90 million lb (1,314 mt), a 
commercial quota of 2.17 million lb (986 mt), and an RHL of 2.26 
million lb (1,026 mt). The quotas include a reduction of 3 percent, as 
recommended by the Council, for RSA.

                                                  Table 8--Proposed Black Sea Bass 2015 Specifications
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                               Commercial  Recreational
                 Year                                                ABC          ACL           ACL       Comm. ACT   Rec. ACT  Comm. Quota      RHL
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2014 (Current).......................  million lb..............         5.50         2.60          2.90         2.60      2.90         2.17         2.26
                                       mt......................        2,494        1,180         1,314        1,180     1,314          986        1,026
2015 (Proposed)......................  million lb..............         5.50         2.60          2.90         2.60      2.90         2.17         2.26
                                       mt......................        2,494        1,180         1,314        1,180     1,314          986        1,026
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Classification

    Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the 
NMFS Assistant Administrator has determined that this proposed rule is 
consistent with the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass FMP, 
other provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law, 
subject to further consideration after public comment.
    These proposed specifications are exempt from review under 
Executive Order 12866.
    An IRFA was prepared by the Council, as required by section 603 of 
the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA), to examine the impacts of these 
proposed specifications on small business entities, if adopted. A 
description of the specifications, why they are being considered, and 
the legal basis for proposing and implementing specifications for the 
summer flounder, scup, and black sea bass fisheries are contained in 
the preamble to this proposed rule. A copy of the detailed RFA analysis 
is available from NMFS or the Council (see ADDRESSES). The Council's 
analysis made use of quantitative approaches when possible. Where 
quantitative data on revenues or other business-related metrics that 
would provide insight to potential impacts were not available to inform 
the analyses, qualitative analyses were conducted. A summary of the 
2014-2015 specifications RFA analysis follows.
    The Small Business Administration defines a small business in the 
commercial harvesting sector as a firm with receipts (gross revenues) 
of up to $5.0 and $19.0 million for shellfish and for finfish business, 
respectively. A small business in the recreational fishery is a firm 
with receipts of up to $7.0 million. The categories of small entities 
likely to be affected by this action include commercial and charter/
party vessel owners holding an active Federal permit for summer 
flounder, scup, or black sea bass, as well as owners of vessels that 
fish for any of these species in state waters.
    Data from the Northeast permit application database show that, in 
2012, 1,976 vessels were permitted to take part in the summer flounder, 
scup, and/or black sea bass fisheries (both commercial and party/
charter sectors). In 2012, 1,199 vessels held a valid commercial summer 
flounder, scup, and/or black sea bass permit. However, not all of those 
vessels are active participants in one of these fisheries. According to 
NMFS dealer data, 852 vessels landed and sold summer flounder, scup, 
and/or black sea bass in 2012. Some of the vessels with summer 
flounder, scup, or black sea bass permits may be considered to be part 
of the same firm because they may have the same owners. Firms are 
classified as finfish, shellfish, or for-hire firms based on the 
activity from which they derive the most revenue. Using the $5-million 
cutoff for shellfish firms and the $19-million cutoff for finfish 
firms, there are 986 entities that are small and 6 that are large, 
assuming average revenues for the 2010-2013 period. The majority of the 
permitted vessels readily fall within the definition of small business. 
Estimates of costs associated with this rule are discussed further 
below.
    There are no new reporting or recordkeeping requirements contained 
in any of the alternatives considered for this action. In addition, 
NMFS is not aware of any relevant Federal rules that may duplicate, 
overlap, or conflict with this proposed rule.
    If the Council took no action to revise the fishing year 2014 
summer flounder specifications, then the current summer flounder 
specifications would remain in effect. This would be contrary to the 
best available science and could put the summer flounder stock in 
jeopardy of being subject to overfishing. If the Council took no action 
regarding the fishing year 2015 summer flounder, scup, and black sea 
bass specifications, several indefinite measures would remain in effect 
until otherwise changed; however, many components of the 2014 
specifications expire on December 31, 2014, including catch limits for 
all three species. There are no roll-over provisions for the quotas if 
the specifications are not made effective, and so, without specified 
quotas, NMFS would have no mechanism to close fisheries if management 
limits were

[[Page 18001]]

exceeded. This would give rise to a situation in which the goals and 
objectives of the FMP, its implementing regulations, and the Magnuson-
Stevens Act would all be violated. Therefore, the no action alternative 
is not considered to be a reasonable alternative to the preferred 
action of developing and implementing fishing year 2015 specifications, 
and it was excluded from detailed analysis in the Council's EA/RFA 
analyses.
    The Council analyzed three sets of combined catch limit 
alternatives for the fishing years 2014-2015 for the summer flounder, 
scup, and black sea bass fisheries. Of these, one alternative, labeled 
Alternative 3 for each species, contained the most restrictive options 
(i.e., lowest total landing levels): Commercial quotas of 9.18 million 
lb (4, 164 mt) for summer flounder, 10.68 million lb (4,844 mt) for 
scup, and 1.09 million lb (494 mt) for black sea bass, and recreational 
harvest limits of 6.12 million lb 2,776 mt) for summer flounder, 3.01 
million lb (1, 365 mt) for scup, and 1.14 million lb (517 mt) for black 
sea bass. The catch limits associated with Alternative 3 pre-date the 
ABC framework, thus the information for this alternative is presented 
in terms of landing levels. Please see the EA for a detailed discussion 
on this alternative. While the Alternative 3 measures would achieve the 
objectives of the proposed action for each of three species, they have 
the highest potential adverse economic impacts on small entities in the 
form of potential foregone fishing opportunities. Alternative 3 was not 
preferred by the Council because the other alternatives considered are 
expected have lower adverse impacts on small entities while achieving 
the stated objectives of sustaining the summer flounder, scup, and 
black sea bass stocks, consistent with the FMP and Magnuson-Stevens 
Act.
    Alternative 1 (Council's preferred) would maintain the existing 
scup and black sea bass specifications and revise the summer flounder 
ABC to 21.94 million lb (9,950 mt) for 2014. Alternative 1 would also 
implement the following ABCs for 2015: Summer flounder, 22.77 million 
lb (10,329 mt), scup, 33.77 million lb (15,320 mt), and black sea bass, 
5.50 million lb (2,494 mt). Alternative 2 (status quo) would maintain 
the current 2014 ABC for summer flounder of 22.24 million lb (10,088 
mt). Alternative 2 (status quo) would implement the following ABCs in 
2015: Summer flounder, 22.24 million lb (10,088 mt); scup, 35.99 
million lb (16,325 mt); and black sea bass, 5.5 million lb (2,494 mt).

Commercial Fishery Impacts

    As a result of the proposed decrease in the commercial quota and 
recreational harvest limit from the currently established 2014 levels, 
it is expected that small negative economic impacts on the summer 
flounder fisheries in 2014 and 2015 may occur. Each state's summer 
flounder allocation commercial limits will decrease under these 
adjusted commercial quotas. The 2015 proposed scup commercial quota and 
recreational harvest limits under the proposed alternative are lower 
than the quotas implemented in 2014; however, they are substantially 
higher than the 2013 commercial and recreational landings. In 2011, the 
commercial quota and recreational harvest limit each increased by 91 
percent when compared to the limits implemented in 2010. The high 2011 
commercial quota and recreational harvest limit values did not 
constrain the fishery in 2011 as had occurred in previous years when 
the commercial quota and recreational harvest limits were considerably 
lower. In fact, the scup fishery did not harvest its full 2011 
allocation. Unless market conditions change substantially in 2015, it 
is expected that commercial and recreational landings will likely be 
close to the 2013 landings. There is no indication that the market 
environment for commercially and recreationally caught scup will change 
considerably in fishing years 2014 or 2015. Therefore, there are no 
expected negative impacts from the proposed scup quotas, even though 
they are lower than those of the previous year. The 2015 proposed black 
sea bass commercial quota is an increase from 2014. As a result of the 
potential increase in landings under the black sea bass commercial 
quota and recreational harvest limits under preferred alternative 1, a 
small positive economic impact is likely, compared to 2013.

Recreational Fishery Impacts

    While the proposed specifications would establish fishing year 2014 
and 2015 recreational harvest limits for summer flounder, and fishing 
year 2015 recreational harvest limits for summer flounder, scup, and 
black sea bass, the management measure details for recreational 
fisheries will be developed by the Council separately for each fishing 
year, followed by NMFS rulemaking in the spring of that year. A 
comprehensive analysis of the impacts associated with the recommended 
recreational management measures will be provided to NMFS from the 
Council to support these activities. If recreational landings for these 
three species are the same in 2014 and 2015 as in recent years, the 
recreational harvest limits proposed are not expected to constrain 
recreational landings in 2015 for scup, but may constrain summer 
flounder recreational landings in 2014 and may constrain summer 
flounder and black sea bass landings in 2015. As such, it is unlikely 
that more restrictive limits (i.e., lower possession limits, higher 
minimum size limits, and/or shorter open seasons) will be required in 
2015 when compared to 2013 for scup, but more restrictive recreational 
harvest measures may be necessary in 2014 or 2015 for summer flounder 
and in 2015 for black sea bass. Specific recreational management 
measures (for all three species) will be determined when more complete 
data regarding recreational landings are available.

Summary

    The Council selected Alternative 1 (preferred) over Alternative 2 
(status quo) and Alternative 3 (most restrictive) stating that, while 
each alternative would provide adequate stock protection, the 
Alternative 1 measures were expected to result in the least amount of 
long-term negative economic impact to the summer flounder, scup, and 
black sea bass fisheries, and were consistent with the advice provided 
to the Council by its SSC and monitoring committees. NMFS agrees with 
the Council's IRFA analysis and rationale for recommending the catch 
limits in Alternative 1. As such, NMFS is proposing to implement the 
Council's preferred ABCs, ACLs, ACTs, Commercial Quotas, and 
Recreational Harvest Limits for 2014 and 2015:

[[Page 18002]]



                                 Table 9--Summary of 2014 and 2015 Catch Limits
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                         Summer  flounder              Scup       Black sea bass
                                                 ---------------------------------------------------------------
                                                       2014            2015            2015            2015
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
ABC (mt)........................................           9,950          10,329          15,320           2,494
ABC (lb)........................................      21,935,995      22,771,547      33,774,819       5,498,329
Commercial ACL (mt).............................           5,837           6,049          11,950           1,180
Commercial ACL (lb).............................      12,868,382      13,335,762      26,345,240       2,601,455
Recreational ACL (mt)...........................           4,113           4,280           3,370           1,314
Recreational ACL (lb)...........................       9,067,613       9,435,785       7,429,578       2,896,874
Commercial ACT (mt).............................           5,837           6,049          11,950           1,180
Commercial ACT (lb).............................      12,868,382      13,335,762      26,345,240       2,601,455
Recreational ACT (mt)...........................           4,113           4,280           3,370           1,314
Recreational ACT (lb)...........................       9,067,613       9,435,785       7,429,578       2,896,874
Commercial Quota (mt)...........................           4,914           5,021           9,632           1,016
Commercial Quota (lb)...........................      10,834,470      11,068,569      21,234,834       2,204,988
RHL (mt)........................................           3,277           3,347           3,084           1,058
RHL (lb)........................................       7,225,253       7,379,804       6,797,965       2,331,900
Commercial Quota (mt) less RSA..................           4,767           4,870           9,343             986
Commercial Quota (lb) less RSA..................      10,509,436      10,736,512      20,597,789       2,173,758
RHL (mt) less RSA...............................           3,179           3,247           2,991           1,026
RHL (lb) less RSA...............................       7,008,495       7,158,410       6,594,026       2,261,943
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


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

    Dated: March 25, 2014.
Samuel D. Rauch III,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2014-07123 Filed 3-28-14; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P