[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 70 (Friday, April 11, 2014)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 20161-20164]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-08202]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 648

[Docket No. 140214138-4138-01]
RIN 0648-XD139


Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Atlantic Bluefish 
Fishery; 2014 Atlantic Bluefish Specifications

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 specifications for the 2014 Atlantic bluefish 
fishery, including an annual catch limit, total allowable landings, a 
commercial quota and recreational harvest limit, and a recreational 
possession limit. The intent of this action is to establish the 
allowable 2014 harvest levels and other management measures to achieve 
the target fishing mortality rate, consistent with the Atlantic 
Bluefish Fishery Management Plan.

DATES: Comments must be received on or before April 28, 2014.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2014-0026, 
by any one 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-2014-0026, click the 
``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or 
attach your comments.
     Mail: Submit written comments to John Bullard, Regional 
Administrator, NMFS, Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office, 55 
Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930.
    Instructions: Comments sent by any other method, to any other 
address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, 
may not be considered by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the 
public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on 
www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying 
information (e.g., name, address, etc.), confidential business 
information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily 
by the sender will be publically 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.
    Copies of the specifications document, including the supplemental 
Environmental Assessment and Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis 
(EA/IRFA) and other supporting documents for the specifications, are 
available from Dr. Christopher M. Moore, Executive Director, Mid-
Atlantic Fishery Management Council, Suite 201, 800 N. State Street, 
Dover, DE 19901. The specifications document is also accessible via the 
Internet at: http://www.nero.noaa.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Carly Bari, Fishery Management 
Specialist, (978) 281-9224.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Background

    The Atlantic bluefish fishery is managed cooperatively by the Mid-
Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) and the Atlantic States 
Marine Fisheries Commission (Commission). The management unit for 
bluefish specified in the Atlantic Bluefish Fishery Management Plan 
(FMP) is U.S. waters of the western Atlantic Ocean. Regulations 
implementing the FMP appear at 50 CFR part 648, subparts A and J. The 
regulations requiring annual specifications are found at Sec.  648.162.
    The FMP requires the Council to recommend, on an annual basis, the 
annual catch limit (ACL), annual catch target (ACT), and total 
allowable landings (TAL) that will control fishing mortality (F). An 
estimate of annual discards is deducted from the ACT to calculate the 
TAL that can be harvested during the year by the commercial and 
recreational fishing sectors. The FMP requires that 17 percent of the 
ACT be allocated to the commercial fishery, with the remaining 83 
percent allocated to the recreational fishery. The Council may also 
recommend a research set-aside (RSA) quota, which is deducted from the 
bluefish TAL (after any applicable transfer) in an amount proportional 
to the percentage of the overall TAL as allocated to the commercial and 
recreational sectors.
    The annual review process for bluefish requires that the Council's 
Bluefish Monitoring Committee and Scientific and Statistical Committee 
(SSC) review and make recommendations based on the best available 
scientific information, including, but not limited to, commercial and 
recreational catch/landing statistics, current estimates of fishing 
mortality, stock abundance, discards for the recreational fishery, and 
juvenile recruitment. Based on the

[[Page 20162]]

recommendations of the Monitoring Committee and SSC, the Council makes 
a recommendation to the NMFS Greater Atlantic Regional Administrator. 
Because this FMP is a joint plan, the Commission also meets during the 
annual specification process to adopt complementary measures.
    The Council's recommendations must include supporting documentation 
concerning the environmental, economic, and social impacts of the 
recommendations. NMFS is responsible for reviewing these 
recommendations to ensure that they achieve the FMP objectives, and may 
modify them if they do not. NMFS then publishes proposed specifications 
in the Federal Register, and after considering public comment, NMFS 
will publish final specifications in the Federal Register.

Proposed Specifications

Updated Model Estimates

    According to Amendment 1 to the FMP, overfishing for bluefish 
occurs when fishing mortality exceeds the fishing mortality rate that 
allows maximum sustainable yield (FMSY), or the maximum F 
threshold to be achieved. The stock is considered overfished if the 
biomass (B) falls below the minimum biomass threshold, which is defined 
as \1/2\ BMSY. Amendment 1 also established that the long-
term target F is 90 percent of FMSY (FMSY = 0.19; 
therefore Ftarget = 90 percent of FMSY, or 0.17), 
and the long-term target B is BMSY = 324 million lb (147,052 
mt).
    An age-structured assessment program (ASAP) model for bluefish was 
approved by the 41st Stock Assessment Review Committee (SARC 41) in 
2005 to estimate F and annual biomass. In September 2013, the ASAP 
model was updated in order to estimate the current status of the 
bluefish stock (i.e., 2012 biomass and F estimates) and enable the 
Monitoring Committee and SSC to recommend 2014 specifications using 
landings information and survey indices through the 2012 fishing year. 
The results of the assessment update were as follows: (1) An estimated 
stock biomass for 2012, B2012 = 277.359 million lb (125,808 
mt); and (2) an estimated fishing mortality rate for 2012, 
F2012 = 0.097. Based on the updated 2012 estimate of 
bluefish stock biomass, the bluefish stock is not considered 
overfished: B2012 is slightly less than BMSY, but 
well above the minimum biomass threshold, \1/2\ BMSY , of 
162 million lb (73,526 mt). Estimates of F have declined from 0.41 in 
1991 to 0.097 in 2012. The updated model results also conclude that the 
Atlantic bluefish stock is not experiencing overfishing; i.e., the most 
recent F (F2012 = 0.097) is less than the maximum F 
overfishing threshold specified by SARC 41 (FMSY = 0.19). 
Bluefish was declared rebuilt in 2009.

2014 Catch Limits

    Following the framework implemented by the Council's ACL Omnibus 
Amendment, the Council recommended that ACL be set to acceptable 
biological catch (ABC) for 2014 (24.432 million lb, 11,082 mt). No 
deductions were recommended to account for management uncertainty; 
therefore, ABC=ACL=ACT. The ACT is initially allocated between the 
recreational fishery (83 percent) and the commercial fishery (17 
percent). After deducting an estimate of recreational discards 
(commercial discards are considered negligible), the recreational 
harvest limit (RHL) would be 16.927 million lb (7,678 mt) and the 
commercial quota would be 4.153 million lb (1,884 mt).
    The FMP specifies that, if 17 percent of the TAL is less than 10.5 
million lb, and the recreational fishery is not projected to land its 
harvest limit for the upcoming year, the commercial fishery may be 
allocated up to 10.5 million lb as its quota, provided that the 
combination of the projected recreational landings and the commercial 
quota does not exceed the TAL. The RHL would then be adjusted downward 
so that the TAL would be unchanged.
    The Council projected an estimated annual recreational harvest for 
2014 of 13.179 million lb (5,978 mt). As such, it is expected that a 
transfer of up to 3.340 million lb (1,515 mt) from the recreational 
sector to the commercial sector could be approved. This option 
represents the preferred alternative recommended by the Council in its 
specifications document. The actual transfer amount in the final rule, 
if any, will depend on the final 2013 recreational landings data.

RSA

    The Council preliminarily approved two research projects that would 
utilize bluefish RSA quota and forwarded them to NOAA's Grants 
Management Division. The Council preliminarily approved 632,418 lb (287 
mt) of RSA quota for use by these projects during 2014. Proportional 
adjustments of these amounts to the commercial and recreational 
allocations would result in a final commercial quota of 7.269 million 
lb (3,297 mt), and a final RHL of 13.179 million lb (5,978 mt). NMFS 
staff will update the commercial and recreational allocations based on 
the final 2014 RSA awards as part of the final rule for the 2014 
specifications.

Proposed Recreational Possession Limit

    The Council recommended, and NMFS proposes, to maintain the current 
recreational possession limit of up to 15 fish per person to achieve 
the RHL for 2014.

Proposed State Commercial Allocations

    The proposed state commercial allocations for the recommended 2014 
commercial quota are shown in Table 1, based on the percentages 
specified in the FMP. These quotas do not reflect any adjustments for 
quota overages that may have occurred in some states in 2013. Any 
potential deductions for states that exceeded their quota in 2013 will 
be accounted for in the final rule.

      Table 1--Proposed Bluefish Commercial State-by-State Allocations for 2014 (Including RSA Deductions)
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                                                                                   2014 Council-   2014 Council-
                                                                                     Proposed        Proposed
                              State                                Percent share    commercial      commercial
                                                                                    quota (lb)      quota (kg)
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ME..............................................................          0.6685          48,593          22,041
NH..............................................................          0.4145          30,130          13,667
MA..............................................................          6.7167         488,233         221,459
RI..............................................................          6.8081         494,877         224,472
CT..............................................................          1.2663          92,047          41,752
NY..............................................................         10.3851         754,888         342,411
NJ..............................................................         14.8162       1,076,980         488,510
DE..............................................................          1.8782         136,525          61,927
MD..............................................................          3.0018         218,199          98,973

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VA..............................................................         11.8795         863,514         391,683
NC..............................................................         32.0608       2,330,480       1,057,088
SC..............................................................          0.0352           2,559           1,161
GA..............................................................          0.0095             691             313
FL..............................................................         10.0597         731,233         331,682
                                                                 -----------------------------------------------
    Total.......................................................        100.0001       7,268,949       3,297,140
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Classification

    Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery 
Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), the NMFS 
Assistant Administrator has determined that this proposed rule is 
consistent with the Atlantic Bluefish 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, as required by section 603 of the Regulatory 
Flexibility Act (RFA), which describes the economic impact this 
proposed rule, if adopted, would have on small entities.

Description of the Reasons Why Action by the Agency Is Being Considered

    A description of the action and why it is being considered are 
contained at the beginning of this preamble and in the SUMMARY.

Statement of the Objective of, and Legal Basis for, This Proposed Rule

    The statement of the objective and the legal basis for this action 
are contained at the beginning of this preamble and in the SUMMARY.

Description and Estimate of the Number of Small Entities to Which This 
Proposed Rule Would Apply

    An active participant in the commercial sector was defined as any 
vessel that reported having landed 1 or more pound (0.45 kg) in the 
Atlantic bluefish fishery in 2011. The active participants in the 
commercial sector were defined using two sets of data. The Northeast 
seafood dealer reports were used to identify 742 vessels that landed 
bluefish in states from Maine through North Carolina in 2011. However, 
the Northeast dealer database does not provide information about 
fishery participation in South Carolina, Georgia, or Florida. South 
Atlantic Trip Ticket reports were used to identify 768 vessels that 
landed bluefish in North Carolina and 791 vessels that landed bluefish 
on Florida's east coast in 2011.\1\ Bluefish landings in South Carolina 
and Georgia were near zero in 2011, representing a negligible 
proportion of the total bluefish landings along the Atlantic Coast. 
Therefore, this analysis assumed that no vessel activity for these two 
states took place in 2011. In recent years, approximately 2,000 party/
charter vessels may have been active in the bluefish fishery and/or 
have caught bluefish.
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    \1\ Some of these vessels were also identified in the Northeast 
dealer data; therefore, double counting is possible.
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Description of the Projected Reporting, Recordkeeping, and Other 
Compliance Requirements of This Proposed Rule

    There are no new reporting or recordkeeping requirements contained 
in any of the alternatives considered for this action.

Federal Rule Which May Duplicate, Overlap, or Conflict With This 
Proposed Rule

    NMFS is not aware of any relevant Federal rules that may duplicate, 
overlap, or conflict with this proposed rule.

Description of Significant Alternatives to the Proposed Action Which 
Accomplish the Stated Objectives of Applicable Statues and Which 
Minimize Any Significant Economic Impact on Small Entities

    Small businesses operating in commercial and recreational (i.e., 
party and charter vessel operations) finfish fisheries have been 
defined by the Small Business Administration as firms with gross 
revenues of up to $19.0 and $7.0 million, respectively. 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 Atlantic bluefish, as well as owners of vessels that fish 
for Atlantic bluefish in state waters. All federally permitted vessels 
fall into the definition of small businesses; thus, there would be no 
disproportionate impacts between large and small entities as a result 
of the proposed rule.
    When the 2014 specifications were set last year, there were three 
alternatives considered in the IRFA of the Original EA. Since the 
bluefish stock was updated in 2013, the Council recommended an 
additional alternative to be considered for the 2014 specifications 
through a supplement to the Original EA. The IRFA in the Draft 
Supplemental EA for this action addresses two alternatives (including a 
no action/status quo alternative) for the 2014 Atlantic bluefish 
fishing year. No additional alternatives are considered in this action 
because there is no other alternative that would both achieve the 
stated goals and objectives of the FMP and minimize cost to the 
fishery. Any other alternative considered would need to be more 
restrictive than the proposed action due to the specifications process 
and the National Standard 1 guideline requirement that catch limits 
cannot exceed the SSC's recommended ABC. Both quota alternatives 
considered in this analysis are based on various commercial harvest 
levels for bluefish (a low and medium level of harvest). For analysis 
of impacts of both alternatives, the maximum potential RSA quota of 3 
percent of the TAL (703,385 lb (319 mt) for the No Action Alternative 
and 632,418 lb (287 mt) for the Preferred Action Alternative) was used. 
For analysis of impacts of the No Action Alternative, the recommended 
transfer of 4.342 million lb (1,970 mt) from the recreational sector to 
the commercial sector was used. For analysis of impacts of the 
Preferred Action Alternative, the transfer of 3.340 million lb (1,515 
mt) from the recreational sector to the commercial sector was used.
    The No Action Alternative would implement a TAL of 23.446 million 
lb

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(10,635 mt). The Preferred Action Alternative would implement a TAL of 
21.081 million lb (9,562 mt). The proposed 2014 Atlantic bluefish 
specification alternatives are shown in Table 2, along with the 
resulting commercial quota and RHL after any applicable transfer 
described earlier in the preamble and after deduction of the RSA quota. 
The Preferred Action Alternative (Council's preferred) would allocate 
7.269 million lb (3,297 mt) to the commercial sector, and 13.179 
million lb (5,978 mt) to the recreational sector for 2014. The No 
Action Alternative would allocate 8.674 million lb (3,934 mt) to the 
commercial sector and leave 14.069 million lb (6,381 mt) available to 
the recreational sector.

                         Table 2--Proposed 2014 Atlantic Bluefish Specification Alternatives for TAL, Commercial Quota, and RHL
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                                                                                            Commercial
               Year                     Alternatives       TAL  (million     TAL  (mt)         quota        Commercial     RHL  (million     RHL  (mt)
                                                                lb)                        (million lb)     quota  (mt)         lb)
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2014..............................  No Action...........          23.446          10,635           8.674           3,934          14.096           6,381
                                    Preferred Action....          21.081           9,562           7.269           3,297          13.179           5,978
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Commercial Fishery Impacts

    To assess the impact of the alternatives on commercial fisheries, 
the Council conducted a threshold analysis and analysis of potential 
changes in ex-vessel gross revenue that would result from each 
alternative, using Northeast dealer reports and South Atlantic Trip 
Ticket reports.
    Under the No Action Alternative, nine vessels were projected to 
incur revenue losses of more than 5 percent, while 147 vessels would 
incur revenue losses of less than 5 percent, and 586 vessels would 
incur no revenue losses. The Preferred Action Alternative would likely 
result in quota reductions for vessels in New York and Massachusetts, 
which could have negative economic impacts. Under the Preferred Action 
Alternative, 69 vessels were projected to incur revenue losses of more 
than 5 percent, 594 vessels would incur losses of less than 5 percent, 
and 79 vessels would see no revenue changes. The majority of vessels 
with greater than 5 percent of revenue losses had gross sales of 
$10,000 or less, which may indicate that the dependence on fishing for 
some of these vessels is small. If commercial quota is transferred from 
a state or states that do not land their entire bluefish quota for 
2014, as was done in 2011 and frequently in previous years, the number 
of affected entities could change, thus changing the adverse economic 
impact on vessels landing in the state(s) receiving quota transfers for 
both alternatives.

Recreational Fishery Impacts

    Under the No Action Alternative, the recommended RHL for the 
recreational sector (14.069 million lb, 6,381 mt) is approximately 22 
percent above the recreational landings for 2011 (11.499 million lb, 
5,216 mt). The Preferred Action Alternative RHL (13.179 million lb, 
5,978 mt) is approximately 14 percent above the recreational landings 
for 2011. It is not anticipated that the recommend RHL will result in 
decreased demand for party/charter boat trips or affect angler 
participation in a negative manner. Overall, it is not expected that 
the final recreational management measures will affect gross revenues 
of businesses providing goods and services to anglers participating in 
the party/charter boat, private/rental boat, and shore fisheries for 
bluefish.

RSA Quota Impacts

    For analysis of each alternative, the maximum RSA quota amount (3 
percent of the TAL) was deducted from the initial overall TAL adjusted 
2014 commercial quotas and RHLs under each alternative. Specifications 
of RSA quota are expected to benefit all participants in the fishery as 
a result of improved data and information for management or stock 
assessment purposes.

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

    Dated: April 7, 2014.
Samuel D. Rauch III,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2014-08202 Filed 4-10-14; 8:45 am]
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