[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 80 (Friday, April 25, 2014)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 22936-22942]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-09356]



[[Page 22936]]

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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 622

[Docket No. 130403320-4218-01]
RIN 0648-BD07


Fisheries of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic; 
Snapper-Grouper Fishery Off the Southern Atlantic States; Regulatory 
Amendment 14

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

ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: NMFS proposes regulations to implement Regulatory Amendment 14 
to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the 
South Atlantic Region (FMP) (Regulatory Amendment 14), as prepared and 
submitted by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council). 
If implemented, this rule would revise the fishing years for greater 
amberjack and black sea bass, revise the commercial trip limits for gag 
grouper (gag) and black sea bass, and revise the recreational 
accountability measures (AMs) for black sea bass and vermilion snapper. 
The purpose of this rule is to help achieve optimum yield (OY) and 
enhance socio-economic opportunities within the snapper-grouper fishery 
in accordance with the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery 
Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act).

DATES: Written comments must be received on or before May 27, 2014.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on the proposed rule, identified by 
``NOAA-NMFS-2013-0052'' by any of the following methods:
     Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to 
www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0052, click the 
``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or 
attach your comments.
     Mail: Submit written comments to Nikhil Mehta, Southeast 
Regional Office, NMFS, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.
    Instructions: Comments sent by any other method, to any other 
address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, 
may not be considered by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the 
public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on 
www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying 
information (e.g., name, address, etc.), confidential business 
information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily 
by the sender will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous 
comments (enter ``N/A'' in the required fields if you wish to remain 
anonymous). Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in 
Microsoft Word, Excel, or Adobe PDF file formats only.
    Electronic copies of the regulatory amendment, which includes an 
environmental assessment and an initial regulatory flexibility analysis 
(IRFA), may be obtained from the Southeast Regional Office Web site at 
http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sustainable_fisheries/s_atl/sg/2014/reg_am14/index.html.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Nikhil Mehta, telephone: 727-824-5305, 
or email: nikhil.mehta@noaa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The snapper-grouper fishery of the South 
Atlantic is managed under the FMP. The FMP was prepared by the Council 
and is implemented through regulations at 50 CFR part 622 under the 
authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Background

    The Magnuson-Stevens Act requires NMFS and regional fishery 
management councils to achieve on a continuing basis the OY from 
federally-managed fish stocks. These mandates are intended to ensure 
that fishery resources are managed for the greatest overall benefit to 
the nation, particularly with respect to providing food production and 
recreational opportunities, and protecting marine ecosystems.

Management Measures Contained in This Proposed Rule

    This proposed rule would revise the fishing years for greater 
amberjack and black sea bass, revise the commercial trip limits for gag 
and black sea bass, and revise the recreational AMs for black sea bass 
and vermilion snapper.

Greater Amberjack Fishing Year

    This proposed rule would revise the greater amberjack fishing year 
of May 1 through April 30 to a fishing year of March 1 through the end 
of February. This fishing year change would allow the commercial sector 
access to greater amberjack during the Lenten season, when there is an 
increase in demand for the species, and thus enhance the economic yield 
from greater amberjack harvest.

Black Sea Bass Fishing Year

    This proposed rule would revise the commercial and recreational 
fishing years for black sea bass from the current fishing years for 
both sectors of June 1 through May 31, to January 1 through December 31 
for the commercial sector and April 1 through March 31 for the 
recreational sector. With the current commercial fishing year start 
date of June 1, the commercial season for black sea bass in 2010-2012 
has closed by October as a result of the commercial quota being met. 
Therefore, commercial harvest of black sea bass with pots and hook-and-
line gear has not extended into the winter months when conditions are 
more favorable for catching black sea bass, and the economic value of 
the species is greater. Furthermore, for the last several years 
commercial harvest of black sea bass has been closed when the 
commercial harvest of vermilion snapper opens on January 1. Vermilion 
snapper are often caught with black sea bass when commercial fishers 
use hook-and-line gear.
    The commercial black sea bass pot component of the snapper-grouper 
fishery is closed from November 1 through April 30; however, the 
commercial hook-and-line sector can fish for black sea bass during that 
time period. Starting the commercial fishing year on January 1 during 
the black sea bass pot gear closure could provide, to the extent 
practicable, positive socio-economic benefits to the commercial black 
sea bass fishers who use hook-and-line gear because they would be able 
to fish for black sea bass when the catch per unit effort is higher, 
the fish are closer to shore, and there is generally a higher price per 
pound for black sea bass. The action would also align the beginning of 
the commercial harvest seasons for black sea bass and vermilion 
snapper, which are commonly caught together with hook-and-line gear, 
and would be expected to decrease the amount of regulatory discards in 
the snapper-grouper fishery. However, some bycatch could still occur if 
there was an in-season closure for either black sea bass or vermilion 
snapper. In addition, a change in the commercial fishing year to 
January 1 for the black sea bass commercial sector would allow 
commercial fishers to harvest black sea bass with hook-and-line gear 
during January to April when many other snapper-grouper species such as 
shallow-water groupers are closed to harvest.
    Black sea bass and vermilion snapper are often caught together by 
recreational

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fishermen using hook-and-line gear. The recreational black sea bass 
sector was closed in the fall of 2011 and 2012 because the recreational 
ACL was met. Furthermore, a November through March seasonal closure was 
in place for the vermilion snapper recreational sector. In 2013, 
Regulatory Amendment 18 to the FMP lifted the November-March seasonal 
closure for recreational harvest of vermilion snapper (78 FR 47574, 
August 6, 2013). Thus, with a June 1 start date for the black sea bass 
recreational fishing year, it is possible that the recreational black 
sea bass sector would be closed when recreational fishermen are 
targeting vermilion snapper, resulting in incidental catch of black sea 
bass. Beginning in April, weather conditions are often favorable 
throughout the Council's jurisdiction for recreational fishermen to 
target black sea bass. Therefore, a change in the black sea bass 
recreational fishing year start date from June 1 to April 1 would be 
expected to allow recreational fishermen throughout the Council's area 
of jurisdiction to have more opportunity to harvest black sea bass and 
vermilion snapper when harvest for both species is open, thus reducing 
regulatory discards of black sea bass during April and May. Revising 
the commercial and recreational fishing years for black sea bass could 
reduce bycatch, extend fishing opportunities for both the commercial 
and recreational sectors, and provide positive socio-economic benefits, 
to the extent practicable, to the snapper-grouper fishery and fishing 
community.

Black Sea Bass Commercial Trip Limit

    Currently, the trip limit for the black sea bass commercial sector 
for hook-and-line gear and black sea bass pots is 1,000 lb (454 kg). 
This proposed rule would establish a trip limit of 300 lb (136 kg), 
gutted weight, for the hook-and-line component of the commercial sector 
from January 1 through April 30 when fishing with black sea bass pots 
is prohibited. The hook-and-line trip limit for the remainder of the 
fishing year would remain at 1,000 lb (454 kg), gutted weight, and from 
May 1 through October 31 the trip limit for fishers using black sea 
bass pots would continue to be 1,000 lb (454 kg), gutted weight. Black 
sea bass pots are prohibited from November 1 through April 30. Black 
sea bass and vermilion snapper are caught together with commercial 
hook-and-line gear, but are not generally caught together in black sea 
bass pots; bycatch is considered to be very low for this gear type. The 
fishing year for vermilion snapper begins on January 1, which would 
coincide with the proposed start date of the commercial fishing year 
for black sea bass. A 300 lb (136 kg), gutted weight, black sea bass 
trip limit for the hook-and-line sector during the period from January 
1 to April 30 would allow fishermen to retain marketable quantities of 
black sea bass when targeting vermilion snapper; thereby, addressing 
bycatch and discard mortality issues. The 300-lb (136-kg) trip limit 
would also help to extend the length of the commercial vermilion 
snapper fishing season, since fishers would then have the opportunity 
to catch both black sea bass and vermilion snapper instead of just 
targeting vermilion snapper. The Council decided that a January 1 
fishing year start date for the black sea bass commercial sector, in 
conjunction with a trip limit of 300 lb (136 kg), gutted weight, for 
the hook-and-line component would allow commercial harvest of black sea 
bass and vermilion snapper to occur at the same time and enhance the 
socio-economic benefits to those utilizing the black sea bass resource.

Gag Commercial Trip Limit

    This proposed rule would revise the gag commercial trip limit from 
the current 1,000 lb (454 kg), gutted weight, to include a trip limit 
reduction from 1,000 lb (454 kg), gutted weight, to 500 lb (227 kg) 
gutted weight, when 75 percent of the gag commercial quota is reached. 
The Council determined that this trip limit alternative best addresses 
the need to minimize regulatory discards of gag and reduce adverse 
socio-economic impacts to fishermen and fishing communities that 
utilize the gag resource, while still allowing commercial harvest to 
continue. Without the trip limit reduction to 500 lb (227 kg) when 75 
percent of the quota is reached, the gag commercial season would end 
earlier during the fishing year and thereby reduce the opportunity for 
a longer period of commercial harvest. Additionally, keeping the season 
open longer should help reduce the amount of regulatory discards of 
gag.

Black Sea Bass Recreational AMs

    The black sea bass recreational AMs were established in the final 
rule for Amendment 17B to the FMP (75 FR 82280, December 30, 2010). 
Amendment 18A to the FMP subsequently revised the recreational AMs to 
close the recreational sector when the recreational annual catch limit 
(ACL) is projected to be met, regardless of the overfished status of 
black sea bass (77 FR 32408, June 1, 2012). Amendment 18A also 
established an annual catch target (ACT) for the black sea bass 
recreational sector. The ACT functions as a management reference point 
that is used to measure the efficiency of existing and new management 
measures for black sea bass.
    The black sea bass stock in the South Atlantic was assessed through 
the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR) stock assessment 
process in 2003 (SEDAR 2). SEDAR 2 determined that the South Atlantic 
black sea bass stock was overfished and undergoing overfishing. 
Measures to end overfishing were implemented and the Council developed 
a rebuilding plan for black sea bass with a 10-year rebuilding period 
that started in 2006. The black sea bass stock was reassessed in 2011 
(SEDAR 25) and was determined to be no longer overfished or undergoing 
overfishing, but was not fully rebuilt. In 2013, the SEDAR 25 Update 
assessment indicated that the black sea bass stock was no longer 
undergoing overfishing and was fully rebuilt, and that harvest levels 
could be increased without jeopardizing the health of the population. 
In response to the SEDAR 25 Update assessment, Regulatory Amendment 19 
to the FMP (78 FR 58249, September 23, 2013) more than doubled the 
recreational ACL and increased the ACT, and to date, the recreational 
sector has not harvested the ACL for the current fishing year. 
Additionally, the Council included a buffer between the acceptable 
biological catch and the ACL in Regulatory Amendment 19 as a 
conservative management approach to account for any management 
uncertainty.
    As described in Regulatory Amendment 14, this proposed rule would 
revise the black sea bass recreational AMs while still managing the 
recreational sector to prevent the recreational ACL from being 
exceeded. The recreational AM would be to specify the length of the 
recreational fishing season for black sea bass, as determined by NMFS 
and announced annually in the Federal Register, prior to the proposed 
April 1 recreational fishing season start date. The fishing season 
would start on April 1 and end on the date NMFS would project the 
recreational sector's ACL would be met for that year. The purpose of 
this revised AM is to bring more predictability to the recreational 
season length, as requested by black sea bass recreational fishers. 
Prior to setting the length of the fishing season, NMFS would take into 
account the amount of black sea bass harvested in the previous fishing 
year and any biological consequences to the stock resulting from an 
overage. Thus, the following year's fishing season could be shorter if 
an ACL overage occurred in

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the previous year. The defined season length would benefit recreational 
fishers by allowing them to better plan their activities with respect 
to fishing for black sea bass while still being sufficient to manage 
the stock and protect it from adverse biological consequences.
    As described in the Magnuson-Stevens Act National Standard 1 
Guidelines, AMs are management controls that prevent ACLs from being 
exceeded, correct or mitigate any ACL overages if they occur, and may 
include the closure of a fishery or a reduction of effort. In this 
case, with the recently increased ACLs, the revised AM of a defined 
season length would serve to constrain harvest at or below the ACL 
during a fishing year. The projections used to determine each year's 
season length would take into account any potential ACL overages from 
the prior fishing year and adjust the length of the season, consistent 
with National Standard 1.
    In this proposed rule, NMFS specifically solicits public comment on 
this action to revise the black sea bass recreational AM.

Vermilion Snapper Recreational AMs

    The vermilion snapper recreational AMs were established in 
Amendment 17B to the FMP (75 FR 82280, December 30, 2010). The current 
recreational AMs reduce the ACL in the year following a recreational 
ACL overage by the amount of the overage. However, if vermilion snapper 
are overfished and the recreational ACL is exceeded, the sector is 
closed and recreational harvest is prohibited. Since vermilion snapper 
are not classified as being overfished, there is no mechanism to reduce 
harvest when the vermilion snapper recreational ACL is met. 
Additionally, the November through March recreational seasonal closure 
for vermilion snapper was recently eliminated (78 FR 47574, August 6, 
2013).
    This proposed rule would revise the recreational AM for vermilion 
snapper by implementing an in-season closure and modifying the ACL 
overage adjustment (payback) in the event an overage of the 
recreational ACL occurs and vermilion snapper are overfished. If 
recreational landings reach or are projected to reach the recreational 
ACL, recreational harvest would be prohibited for the remainder of the 
fishing year. Payback of a recreational ACL overage in the following 
fishing year would occur if vermilion snapper are determined to be 
overfished and the total ACL (combined commercial and recreational 
ACLs) are exceeded. Unlike black sea bass, the Council determined these 
revised recreational AMs that include in-season closure authority would 
best meet the objectives of the FMP while ensuring that overfishing of 
vermilion snapper does not occur.

Other Action Contained in Regulatory Amendment 14

    Regulatory Amendment 14 also contains an action to modify the 
vermilion snapper commercial fishing season. The commercial fishing 
season for vermilion snapper is currently split into two seasons, 
January 1 through June 30, and July 1 through December 31. The Council 
considered alternatives to modify the start of the second season to 
coincide with openings of other snapper-grouper species to extend 
fishing opportunities for vermilion snapper. However, at its September 
2013 meeting the Council decided not to revise the vermilion snapper 
season through Regulatory Amendment 14 because there was little public 
support for restructuring the commercial seasons for vermilion snapper. 
The Council decided that the current vermilion snapper fishing season 
best addresses the need to coincide with the beginning of the harvest 
seasons for co-occurring snapper-grouper species to minimize regulatory 
discards, promote an equitable distribution of snapper-grouper 
resources to fishers throughout the Council's area of jurisdiction, and 
enhance socio-economic benefits to fishers and fishing communities that 
utilize the vermilion snapper resource.

Additional Measure in This Proposed Rule That Is Not Included in 
Regulatory Amendment 14

    Regulatory Amendment 15 to the FMP revised the AMs for gag by 
removing the requirement that all other South Atlantic shallow-water 
grouper (SASWG) are prohibited from harvest when the gag commercial ACL 
is met or projected to be met (78 FR 49183, August 13, 2013). However, 
the final rule implementing Regulatory Amendment 15 inadvertently 
failed to remove regulatory language within the quota closure section 
for gag that also referred to the associated SASWG closure. Therefore, 
this proposed rule would remove the outdated language that is no longer 
applicable to the gag commercial ACL closure.

Classification

    Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the 
Assistant Administrator has determined that this proposed rule is 
consistent with Regulatory Amendment 14, the FMP, Magnuson-Stevens Act 
and other applicable law, subject to further consideration after public 
comment.
    This proposed rule has been determined to be not significant for 
purposes of Executive Order 12866.
    NMFS prepared an IRFA for this rule, as required by section 603 of 
the Regulatory Flexibility Act, 5 U.S.C. 603. The IRFA describes the 
economic impact that this proposed rule, if adopted, would have on 
small entities. A description of the action, why it is being 
considered, and the objectives of and 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 full analysis is 
available from the NMFS (see ADDRESSES). A summary of the IRFA follows.
    This proposed rule would modify the commercial and recreational 
fishing years for greater amberjack from May 1 through April 30 to 
March 1 through the last day of February; modify the recreational 
fishing year for black sea bass from June 1 through May 31 to April 1 
through March 31; require as an AM for NMFS to annually announce the 
recreational fishing season end date for black sea bass based on NMFS 
projections of when the recreational ACL will be caught; change the 
start date of the commercial fishing year for black sea bass from June 
1 to January 1, and from January through March, when sea bass pots are 
not allowed to be used, the hook-and-line trip limit would be revised 
to 300 lb (136 kg), gutted weight; reduce the commercial trip limit for 
gag from 1,000 lb (454 kg), gutted weight, to 500 lb (227 kg), gutted 
weight, when 75 percent of the commercial ACL is projected to be met; 
modify the AMs for recreationally caught vermilion snapper such that 
exceeding the recreational ACL will result in an in-season closure; 
require paybacks for the vermilion snapper recreational sector only if 
the vermilion snapper stock is overfished and if the total ACL 
(vermilion snapper commercial and recreational ACLs combined) are 
exceeded.
    The Magnuson-Stevens Act provides the statutory basis for this 
rule. No duplicative, overlapping, or conflicting Federal rules have 
been identified. In addition, no new reporting, record-keeping, or 
other compliance requirements are introduced by this proposed rule. 
Accordingly, this rule does not implicate the Paperwork Reduction Act.
    NMFS expects the proposed rule to directly affect commercial 
fishermen and for-hire vessel operators in the South Atlantic snapper-
grouper fishery. The Small Business Administration recently modified 
the small entity size

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criteria for all major industry sectors in the U.S., including fish 
harvesters. A business involved in finfish harvesting is classified as 
a small business if it is independently owned and operated, is not 
dominant in its field of operation (including its affiliates), and its 
combined annual receipts are not in excess of $19.0 million (NAICS code 
114111, finfish fishing) for all of its affiliated operations 
worldwide. For for-hire vessels, all qualifiers apply except that the 
annual receipts threshold is $7.0 million (NAICS code 487210, 
recreational industries). The SBA periodically reviews and changes, as 
appropriate, these size criteria. On June 20, 2013, the SBA issued a 
final rule revising the small business size standards for several 
industries, effective July 22, 2013 (78 FR 37398). That rule increased 
the size standard for commercial finfish harvesters from $4.0 million 
to $19.0 million. Neither that rule, nor other recent SBA rules, 
changed the size standard for for-hire vessels.
    From 2008-2012, an annual average of 223 vessels with valid Federal 
permits to operate in the commercial sector of the snapper-grouper 
fishery landed at least 1 lb (0.5 kg) of black sea bass. These vessels 
generated annual average dockside revenues of approximately $3.6 
million (2011) from all species caught on the same trips as black sea 
bass, of which $918,000 (2011 dollars) were from black sea bass. Each 
vessel, therefore, generated an annual average of approximately $16,000 
in gross revenues, of which $4,000 annually were from black sea bass. 
For the same period, an annual average of 252 vessels with valid 
Federal permits to operate in the commercial sector of the snapper-
grouper fishery landed at least 1 lb (0.5 kg) of gag. These vessels 
generated dockside revenues of approximately $5.7 million (2011) from 
all species caught on the same trips as gag, of which $1.7 million 
(2011 dollars) were from gag. Each vessel, therefore, generated an 
annual average of approximately $23,000 in gross revenues, of which 
$7,000 were from gag.
    Additionally, an annual average of 304 vessels with valid Federal 
permits to operate in the commercial sector of the snapper-grouper 
fishery landed at least 1 lb (0.5 kg) of greater amberjack. These 
vessels generated dockside revenues of approximately $5.7 million 
(2011) from all species caught on the same trips as greater amberjack, 
of which $905,000 (2011 dollars) were from greater amberjack. Each 
vessel, therefore, generated an annual average of approximately $23,000 
in gross revenues, of which $3,000 were from greater amberjack. Also, 
an annual average of 229 vessels with valid Federal permits to operate 
in the commercial sector of the snapper-grouper fishery landed at least 
l lb (0.5 kg) of vermilion snapper. These vessels generated dockside 
revenues of approximately $6.2 million (2011) from all species caught 
on the same trips as vermilion snapper, of which $2.9 million (2011 
dollars) were from vermilion snapper. Each vessel, therefore, generated 
an annual average of approximately $27,000 in gross revenues, of which 
$13,000 were from vermilion snapper. Some vessels may have caught and 
landed any combination of these four species (black sea bass, gag, 
greater amberjack, and vermilion snapper) and revenues therefrom are 
included in the foregoing estimates. Vessels that caught and landed any 
of these four species may also operate in other fisheries, the revenues 
of which are not reflected in these totals. Based on revenue 
information, all commercial vessels affected by this rule can be 
considered small entities.
    From 2008-2012, an annual average of 1,809 vessels had valid or 
renewable Federal permits to operate in the for-hire component of the 
recreational sector of the South Atlantic snapper-grouper fishery. As 
of July 24, 2013, 1,523 vessels held South Atlantic charter/headboat 
snapper-grouper permits and about 75 of those vessels are estimated to 
have operated as headboats in 2013. The for-hire fleet consists of 
charter boats, which charge a fee on a vessel basis, and headboats, 
which charge a fee on an individual angler (head) basis. Average annual 
revenues (2011 dollars) for charter boats are estimated to be $126,032 
for Florida vessels, $53,443 for Georgia vessels, $100,823 for South 
Carolina vessels, and $101,959 for North Carolina vessels. For 
headboats, the corresponding estimates are $209,507 for Florida vessels 
and $153,848 for vessels in the other states. Revenue figures for 
states other than Florida are aggregated to avoid disclosure of 
confidential information. Based on these average revenue figures, all 
for-hire operations that would be affected by this rule can be 
considered small entities.
    Because all entities expected to be affected by this proposed rule 
are small entities, NMFS has determined that this proposed rule would 
affect a substantial number of small entities. Moreover, the issue of 
disproportionate effects on small versus large entities does not arise 
in the present case.
    Relative to the no action alternative, the proposed modification to 
the greater amberjack commercial season is not expected to alter the 
length of the commercial season. NMFS projections show that if closures 
were to occur, they would be of about the same length for both the no 
action alternative and the preferred alternative. For this reason, it 
is unlikely that total ex-vessel revenues for the commercial sector 
would change. However, there is a possibility that the distribution of 
those revenues would change in favor of those with first access to the 
fishery resource, particularly if fishing closures were to occur. NMFS 
projections for the recreational sector show that the recreational ACL 
would be met at a later date under the no action alternative than under 
the preferred alternative. Thus, greater recreational ACL overages may 
be expected from the preferred alternative as there is no in-season AM 
for the greater amberjack recreational sector. This would result in 
higher profits to for-hire vessels in a current fishing year. However, 
the post-season AM requires that the following year's fishing season 
would be shortened if the recreational ACL was exceeded during the 
previous fishing year, resulting in revenue and profit reductions to 
for-hire vessels. Based on average angler trips for 2008-2012, the for-
hire fleet would lose about $161,000 (2011 dollars) in annual profits, 
of which $160,000 (2011 dollars) would be for headboats and $1,000 
(2001 dollars) for charter boats as a result of a shortened season. It 
cannot be ascertained if a fishing year's increased profits that would 
be partly due to quota overages would more than compensate for the 
following year's profit reductions due to fewer trips taken because of 
a shortened fishing season.
    The economic effects of the proposed modification to the 
recreational fishing year for black sea bass are uncertain. Projection 
models used to predict the length of the season provide relatively wide 
variations. Consequently, the expected effects on for-hire vessel 
profits would also vary widely. Based on 2008-2012 trip data, the 
proposed change in the recreational black sea bass fishing year is 
expected to change for-hire profits anywhere from negative $636,000 to 
positive $167,000 (2011 dollars), depending on the model used to 
project the season length.
    Setting the end date for the black sea bass recreational fishing 
season at the beginning of each fishing year would in effect set a 
fixed recreational fishing season for that year. Relative to the no 
action alternative, this alternative is likely to provide an improved 
economic environment for increased short-term

[[Page 22940]]

profits for for-hire vessels, because for-hire vessel owners/operators 
could develop better plans (e.g., booking schedules) to take advantage 
of improved fishing opportunities. One downside of this proposed action 
is that it tends to increase the likelihood of ACL overages because no 
fishing closure would be implemented during the fixed season. It cannot 
be determined at this time if a year's increased profits partly due to 
quota overages would more than compensate for the following year's 
profit reductions due to fewer trips taken because of a shortened 
fishing season.
    Changing the commercial fishing year for black sea bass to start on 
January 1 would effectively mean that the hook-and-line component of 
the commercial sector would have first access to the black sea bass 
resource, because sea bass pots are prohibited from November 1 through 
April 30. In addition, the trip limit for the hook-and-line component 
of the commercial sector from January 1 through April 30 would be 300 
lb (136 kg), gutted weight; in other months when commercial harvest of 
black sea bass is allowed, the trip limit for both the pot and hook-
and-line components is maintained at 1,000 lb (454 kg), gutted weight. 
While the change in the commercial fishing year would benefit the hook-
and-line component in that they could start fishing at the beginning of 
the fishing year, the lower trip limit would increase the cost per fish 
harvested for that gear type. It cannot be determined at this time 
whether this condition would increase the profits of hook-and-line 
vessels. Projections on the length of the commercial black sea bass 
fishing season show that, in general, fishery closures under the 
proposed fishing year change would happen earlier in the year than 
under the no action alternative. There is then a possibility that 
vessel revenues would be lower under the proposed fishing year change, 
and it is likely that the pot component of the commercial sector would 
bear a greater portion of the revenue loss because of a shorter fishing 
season than the hook-and-line component. The magnitude of such a loss 
cannot be estimated beyond stating that the revenues under the proposed 
action would be lower relative to that of the no action alternative.
    Reducing the commercial trip limit for gag from 1,000 lb (454 kg), 
gutted weight, to 500 lb (227 kg), gutted weight, when 75 percent of 
the commercial ACL is projected to be met would extend the length of 
the commercial fishing season by about 1 week. It is not known if this 
lengthened season would be sufficient for the ex-vessel price for gag 
to increase. In the absence of an increased ex-vessel price, commercial 
revenues are unlikely to increase. Under this condition, there arises 
the possibility that profits per trip could decrease because the 
fishing cost per fish landed for those already catching above 500 lb 
(227 kg), gutted weight, would be higher. However, maintaining the trip 
limit at 1,000 lb (454 kg), gutted weight, could eventually lead to a 
progressive shortening of the commercial season over the years as 
fishermen race to harvest fish before the season closes. The reduced 
trip limit would likely favor those catching 300 lb (136 kg), gutted 
weight, or less, on commercial trips as they would be able to continue 
their usual fishing activities at relatively the same cost and profit 
per trip.
    Modifying the recreational AM for vermilion snapper would require 
recreational ACL paybacks only if, in addition to the stock being 
overfished as in the no action alternative, the aggregate vermilion 
snapper commercial and recreational ACLs are exceeded. NMFS notes that 
the revised AM would also provide for in-season closures as in the no 
action alternative. Because vermilion snapper is currently neither 
overfished nor undergoing overfishing, the proposed revision to the 
recreational AM would have no short-term economic effects.
    The following discussion analyzes the alternatives that were not 
selected as preferred by the Council, or alternatives for which the 
Council chose the no action alternative.
    Three alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 
considered for modifying the commercial and recreational fishing years 
for greater amberjack. The first alternative, the no action 
alternative, would maintain the May 1 through April 30 commercial and 
recreational fishing year. The second alternative would establish a 
January 1 through December 31 commercial and recreational fishing year 
for greater amberjack. The second alternative (January 1-December 31) 
would allow fishermen in South Florida to harvest greater amberjack in 
March through May before the fish migrate north in late spring. In 
effect, the first alternative (May 1-April 30) would allow South 
Florida fishermen to have access to the fish in only 2 months each 
year; whereas, fishermen in North Florida through North Carolina would 
have access to the fish for a much longer annual period. Thus, the 
Council rejected these two alternatives because the preferred 
alternative would allow fishermen across the South Atlantic states more 
equitable access to the fishery resource.
    Five alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 
considered for modifying the recreational fishing year for black sea 
bass. The first alternative, the no action alternative, would maintain 
the June 1 through May 31 recreational fishing year. The second 
alternative would establish a January 1 through December 31 fishing 
year; the third alternative, an October 1 through September 30 fishing 
year; and, the fourth alternative, a May 1 through April 30 fishing 
year. NMFS employed several models to project the season length for the 
various alternatives. Projected season lengths vary widely within and 
across the alternative fishing years and projection models. An attempt 
was made to estimate for-hire profits based on projected season lengths 
for the various fishing year alternatives. For some models, the 
preferred alternative would result in higher for-hire vessel profits 
than any other alternatives, but for other projection models, some 
alternatives (e.g., no action alternative) would result in higher for-
hire profits than the preferred alternative. In essence, profit 
estimates were quite uncertain. The Council rejected all of the other 
fishing year alternatives because they considered them inferior to the 
preferred alternative in reducing regulatory discards of black sea 
bass. The preferred recreational fishing year of April through March 
would reduce the amount of regulatory discards by coinciding the open 
seasons for species that are commonly caught together, such as black 
sea bass and vermilion snapper.
    Four alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 
considered for modifying the recreational AM for black sea bass. The 
first alternative, the no action alternative, would prohibit the 
harvest and retention of black sea bass if the recreational ACL is met 
or is projected to be met independent of the stock status, and would 
reduce the recreational ACL in the following fishing year by the amount 
of the recreational ACL overage in the prior year. The second 
alternative would require NMFS to annually announce the recreational 
fishing season end date, with the season starting on April 1 and the 
end date being determined by NMFS' projection of when the recreational 
annual catch target (ACT) would be met. The third alternative is the 
same as the first alternative but without the payback provision in the 
event of a recreational ACL overage. Comparative economic analysis of 
the various alternatives cannot be determined as a result of the 
interplay of such factors as an in-season AM that

[[Page 22941]]

affects overages, paybacks in case of overages, and a better business 
planning environment (e.g., booking trips that would not be cancelled 
due to a quota closure) in a given year. The first alternative would 
provide a business planning environment that would not be as conducive 
to generating higher for-hire vessel profit as the preferred 
alternative, but would appear to have a better chance of limiting 
recreational ACL overages and thus avoid a shortening of the following 
year's fishing season that would have adverse effects on for-hire 
vessel profits. The second alternative would likely result in lower 
for-hire profits than the preferred alternative, because using the 
recreational ACT for determining the end date of the black sea bass 
recreational fishing season would result in a shorter fishing season in 
any given year. The third alternative would likely result in lower for-
hire vessel profits than the preferred alternative in a given year, but 
in the event of overages, it would likely provide higher for-hire 
vessel profits in the following year because it would not require any 
payback for recreational ACL overages. The Council selected its 
preferred alternative because it would tend to provide more stability 
to the recreational sector and/or higher for-hire vessel profits than 
the other alternatives.
    Four alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 
considered for modifying the commercial fishing year for black sea 
bass. The first alternative, the no action alternative, would maintain 
the June 1 through May 31 fishing year, with pots prohibited from 
November 1 through April 30, and a 1,000 lb (454 kg), gutted weight, 
trip limit for both the pot and hook-and-line components. The second 
alternative would differ from the no action alternative by establishing 
a July 1 through June 30 commercial fishing year. The third alternative 
would differ from the no action alternative by setting a May 1 through 
April 30 fishing year. In addition, three sub-alternatives, including 
the preferred sub-alternative, were considered for a commercial trip 
limit for the hook-and-line component from January 1 through April 30 
coinciding during a time that sea bass pots are prohibited from 
harvesting black sea bass. The first sub-alternative would impose a 100 
lb (45 kg), gutted weight, hook-and-line trip limit and the second sub-
alternative, a 200 lb (90 kg), gutted weight, hook-and-line trip limit. 
These two sub-alternatives would tend to increase the cost per landed 
fish more than the preferred sub-alternative. The Council rejected all 
the other fishing year alternatives because they were inferior to the 
preferred alternative in minimizing regulatory discards of black sea 
bass. The preferred alternative would minimize the amount of regulatory 
discards by allowing the harvest of black sea bass at the same time as 
that of co-occurring snapper-grouper species.
    Two alternatives, including the preferred alternative, and five 
sub-alternatives, including the preferred sub-alternative, were 
considered for modifying the commercial trip limit for gag. The only 
other alternative, the no action alternative, would retain the 1,000 lb 
(454 kg), gutted weight, trip limit for gag throughout the fishing 
year. The other trip limits considered to be enacted when 75 percent of 
the gag commercial ACL is landed were the following: 100 lb (45 kg), 
gutted weight; 200 lb (90 kg), gutted weight; 300 lb (136 kg), gutted 
weight; and 400 lb (180 kg), gutted weight. Cost per landed fish would 
be lower under the no action alternative than under the preferred 
alternative, potentially resulting in higher vessel profit per trip. 
The Council rejected this alternative because it would lead to a 
shorter fishing season for gag and thus presents a higher potential to 
increase discards of gag when vessels fish for co-occurring snapper-
grouper species. The other trip limits are lower than the preferred 
alternative so they would tend to increase the cost per landed fish and 
might lower vessel profit per trip.
    Four alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 
considered for modifying the recreational AM for vermilion snapper. The 
first alternative, the no action alternative, would prohibit the 
recreational harvest of vermilion snapper after recreational landings 
reach or are projected to reach the recreational ACL and vermilion 
snapper are overfished. In addition, this alternative would require a 
payback equal to the amount of the recreational ACL overage if 
recreational landings exceed the ACL, regardless of the status of the 
stock. The second alternative differs from the no action alternative 
only by not considering the status of the stock when imposing the in-
season AM. The third alternative differs from the no action alternative 
by not considering stock status when imposing the in-season AM and 
removing the payback provision. Because vermilion snapper is no longer 
overfished, the various alternatives would have the same in-season 
economic effects. In the event of a recreational ACL overage, relative 
to the preferred alternative, the first and second alternatives would 
likely result in profit reductions because paybacks have to be made 
regardless of stock status; whereas, the third alternative would likely 
result in less adverse economic effects as it would not require any 
paybacks. While the recreational sector would be economically better 
off under the third alternative, the Council rejected this alternative 
because paybacks are deemed necessary to prevent overfishing of the 
vermilion stock.
    The Council also considered three alternatives to modify the 
commercial fishing season for vermilion snapper, of which they chose 
the no action alternative. The no action alternative would maintain the 
split of the commercial fishing year, with January through June as the 
first season and July through December as the second season. The 
commercial ACL is currently split equally between the two seasons. The 
second alternative, with three sub-alternatives, would retain the split 
of the fishing year, with 100 percent of the new ACL implemented 
through Regulatory Amendment 18 to the FMP applied to the second season 
(78 FR 47574, August 6, 2013). The three sub-alternatives would change 
the start date of the second season to either July 1, June 1, or May 1. 
The third alternative, with three sub-alternatives, would retain the 
split of the fishing year, with 25 percent of the new ACL (Regulatory 
Amendment 18) applied to the first season and 75 percent to the second 
season. The three sub-alternatives would change the start date of the 
second season to either July 1, June 1, or May 1. The Council chose the 
no action alternative as their preferred alternative because they 
considered it as the best choice among the fishing year alternatives to 
minimize regulatory discards of vermilion snapper by those that fish 
for co-occurring snapper-grouper species.
    An item contained in this proposed rule that is not part of 
Regulatory Amendment 14 is the removal of the requirement that all 
other SASWG are prohibited from harvest when the gag commercial ACL is 
met or projected to be met. This action was inadvertently left out of 
the final rule implementing Regulatory Amendment 15 to the FMP (78 FR 
49183, August 13, 2013). The economic consequences of this action were 
previously analyzed in Regulatory Amendment 15.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 622

    Black sea bass, Fisheries, Fishing, Gag, Greater amberjack, South 
Atlantic, Snapper-Grouper, Vermilion snapper.


[[Page 22942]]


    Dated: April 21, 2014.
Samuel D. Rauch III,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
    For the reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 622 is 
proposed to be amended as follows:

PART 622--FISHERIES OF THE CARIBBEAN, GULF OF MEXICO, AND SOUTH 
ATLANTIC

0
1. The authority citation for part 622 continues to read as follows:

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

0
2. In Sec.  622.7, paragraphs (d) and (e) are revised to read as 
follows:


Sec.  622.7  Fishing years.

* * * * *
    (d) South Atlantic greater amberjack--March 1 through the end of 
February.
    (e) South Atlantic black sea bass recreational sector--April 1 
through March 31. (Note: The fishing year for the commercial sector for 
black sea bass is January 1 through December 31).
0
3. In Sec.  622.190, paragraph (c)(1)(iii) is removed and paragraph 
(a)(5) is revised to read as follows:


Sec.  622.190  Quotas.

* * * * *
    (a) * * *
    (5) Black sea bass (i) For the 2014, 2015, and 2016 fishing years--
661,034 lb (299,840 kg), gutted weight; 780,020 lb (353,811 kg), round 
weight.
    (ii) For the 2017 fishing year and subsequent fishing years--
640,063 lb (290,328 kg), gutted weight; 755,274 lb (342,587 kg), round 
weight.
* * * * *
0
4. In Sec.  622.191, paragraphs (a)(7) and (a)(8) are revised to read 
as follows:


Sec.  622.191  Commercial trip limits.

* * * * *
    (a) * * *
    (7) Gag. (i) Until 75 percent of the quota specified in Sec.  
622.190(a)(7) is reached--1,000 lb (454 kg), gutted weight, 1,180 lb 
(535 kg), round weight.
    (ii) After 75 percent of the quota specified in Sec.  622.190(a)(7) 
is reached or projected to be reached--500 lb (227 kg), gutted weight, 
590 lb (268 kg), round weight. When the conditions in this paragraph 
(a)(7)(ii) have been met, the Assistant Administrator will implement 
this trip limit change by filing a notification with the Office of the 
Federal Register.
    (iii) See Sec.  622.190(c)(1) for the limitations regarding gag 
after the quota is reached.
    (8) Black sea bass. (i) Hook-and-line component. (A) From January 1 
through April 30, until the applicable quota specified in Sec.  
622.190(a)(5) is reached--300 lb (136 kg), gutted weight; 354 lb (161 
kg), round weight.
    (B) From May 1 through December 31, until the applicable quota 
specified in Sec.  622.190(a)(5) is reached--1,000 lb (454 kg), gutted 
weight; 1,180 lb (535 kg), round weight.
    (ii) Sea bass pot component. From May 1 through October 31, until 
the applicable quota specified in Sec.  622.190(a)(5) is reached--1,000 
lb (454 kg), gutted weight; 1,180 lb (535 kg), round weight. See Sec.  
622.183(b)(6) regarding the November 1 through April 30 seasonal 
closure of the commercial black sea bass pot component of the snapper-
grouper fishery.
    (iii) See Sec.  622.190(c)(1) for the limitations regarding black 
sea bass after the applicable quota is reached.
* * * * *
0
5. In Sec.  622.193, paragraphs (e)(2) and (f)(2)(i) and (ii) are 
revised to read as follows:


Sec.  622.193  Annual catch limits (ACLs), annual catch targets (ACTs), 
and accountability measures (AMs).

* * * * *
    (e) * * *
    (2) Recreational sector. The recreational ACL for black sea bass is 
876,254 lb (397,462 kg), gutted weight, 1,033,980 lb (469,005 kg), 
round weight for the 2013-2014, 2014-2015, and 2015-2016 fishing years 
and 848,455 lb (384,853 kg), gutted weight, 1,001,177 lb (454,126 kg), 
round weight for the 2016-2017 fishing year and subsequent fishing 
years. NMFS will project the length of the recreational fishing season 
based on when NMFS projects the recreational ACL specified in this 
paragraph is expected to be met and announce the recreational fishing 
season end date in the Federal Register prior to the start of the 
recreational fishing year on April 1. On and after the effective date 
of the recreational closure notification, the bag and possession limit 
for black sea bass in or from the South Atlantic EEZ is zero. This bag 
and possession limit applies in the South Atlantic on board a vessel 
for which a valid Federal charter vessel/headboat permit for South 
Atlantic snapper-grouper has been issued, without regard to where such 
species were harvested, i.e., in state or Federal waters.
* * * * *
    (f) * * *
    (2) Recreational sector. (i) If recreational landings, as estimated 
by the SRD, reach or are projected to reach the applicable recreational 
ACL specified in paragraph (f)(2)(iv) of this section the AA will file 
a notification with the Office of the Federal Register to close the 
recreational sector for vermilion snapper for the remainder of the 
fishing year. On and after the effective date of such notification, the 
bag and possession limit for vermilion snapper in or from the South 
Atlantic EEZ is zero. This bag and possession limit also applies in the 
South Atlantic on board a vessel for which a valid Federal commercial 
or charter vessel/headboat permit for South Atlantic snapper-grouper 
has been issued, without regard to where such species were harvested, 
i.e., in state or Federal waters.
    (ii) If the combined vermilion snapper commercial and recreational 
landings exceed the combined vermilion snapper ACLs specified in 
paragraphs (f)(1) and (f)(2)(iv) of this section, and vermilion snapper 
are overfished, based on the most recent Status of U.S. Fisheries 
Report to Congress, the AA will file a notification with the Office of 
the Federal Register, at or near the beginning of the following fishing 
year to reduce the recreational ACL for that following year by the 
amount of the recreational overage in the prior fishing year.
* * * * *
[FR Doc. 2014-09356 Filed 4-24-14; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P