[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 81 (Monday, April 28, 2014)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 23278-23296]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-09511]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 648

[Docket No. 131115971-4345-02]
RIN 0648-XC995


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

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

ACTION: Final rule.

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SUMMARY: We have partially approved 17 sector operations plans and 
contracts for fishing year 2014, providing allocations of Northeast 
multispecies (groundfish) to these sectors, and granting 20 regulatory 
exemptions. Approval of sector operations plans is necessary to 
allocate quotas to the sectors and for the sectors to operate. The 
Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan allows limited access 
permit holders to form sectors, and requires sectors to submit their 
operations plans and contracts to us, NMFS, for approval or 
disapproval. Approved sectors are exempt from certain effort control 
regulations and receive allocations of groundfish based on their 
members' fishing history.

DATES: Effective May 1, 2014, through April 30, 2015.

ADDRESSES: Copies of each sector's final operations plan and contract, 
and the environmental assessment (EA), are available from the NMFS 
Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office: John K. Bullard, Regional 
Administrator, National Marine Fisheries Service, 55 Great Republic 
Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930. These documents are also accessible via 
the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov.

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

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    Amendment 13 to the FMP (69 FR 22906, April 27, 2004) established a 
process for forming sectors within the

[[Page 23279]]

groundfish fishery, implemented restrictions applicable to all sectors, 
and authorized allocations to a sector of a total allowable catch (TAC) 
for specific groundfish species. Amendment 16 to the Northeast (NE) 
Multispecies Fishery Management Plan (FMP) (74 FR 18262, April 9, 2010) 
expanded sector management, revised the two existing sectors to comply 
with the expanded sector rules (summarized below), and authorized 17 
new sectors. Framework Adjustment (FW) 45 to the FMP (76 FR 23042, 
April 25, 2011) further revised the rules for sectors and authorized 5 
new sectors (for a total of 24 sectors). FW 48 to the FMP (78 FR 26118, 
May 3, 2013) eliminated dockside monitoring requirements, revised at-
sea monitoring (ASM) requirements, removed the prohibition on 
requesting an exemption to allow access in year-round groundfish 
closures, and modified minimum fish sizes for several groundfish 
stocks.
    The FMP defines a sector as ``[a] group of persons (three or more 
persons, none of whom have an ownership interest in the other two 
persons in the sector) holding limited access vessel permits who have 
voluntarily entered into a contract and agree to certain fishing 
restrictions for a specified period of time, and which has been granted 
a TAC(s) [sic] in order to achieve objectives consistent with 
applicable FMP goals and objectives.'' Sectors are self-selecting, 
meaning each sector can choose its members.
    The groundfish sector management system allocates a portion of the 
Groundfish stocks to each sector. These annual sector allocations are 
known as annual catch entitlements (ACE), which are a portion of a 
stock's annual catch limit (ACL) available to commercial groundfish 
vessels, based on the collective fishing history of a sector's members. 
Currently, sectors may receive allocations of most large-mesh 
groundfish stocks, with the exception of Atlantic halibut, windowpane 
flounder, Atlantic wolffish, and ocean pout. A sector determines how to 
harvest its ACEs and may decide to consolidate operations to fewer 
vessels.
    Because sectors elect to receive an allocation under a quota-based 
system, the FMP grants sector vessels several ``universal'' exemptions 
from the FMP's effort controls. These universal exemptions apply to: 
Trip limits on allocated stocks; the Georges Bank (GB) Seasonal Closure 
Area; groundfish days-at-sea (DAS) restrictions; the requirement to use 
a 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) mesh codend when fishing with selective gear on 
GB; portions of the Gulf of Maine (GOM) Rolling Closure Areas; and the 
ASM coverage rate for sector vessels fishing on a monkfish DAS in the 
Southern New England (SNE) Broad Stock Area (BSA) with extra-large mesh 
gillnets. The FMP prohibits sectors from requesting exemptions from 
permitting restrictions, gear restrictions designed to minimize habitat 
impacts, and reporting requirements.
    Of the 24 approved sectors, we received operations plans and 
contracts for FY 2014 from 19 sectors. Two sectors that submitted 
operations plans (Northeast Fishery Sector (NEFS) XII and GB Cod Hook 
Sector), did not meet the membership requirements; therefore, their 
proposed operations plan and contract were disapproved. The remaining 
five sectors that did not submit operations plans or contracts for FY 
2014 were the following: The Tri-State Sector; the State of Maine 
Permit Bank Sector; the State of New Hampshire Permit Bank Sector; the 
Commonwealth of Massachusetts Permit Bank Sector; and the State of 
Rhode Island Permit Bank Sector.
    We determined that the remaining 17 sector operations plans and 
contracts that we have approved, and 20 of the 28 regulatory exemptions 
requested, are consistent with the goals of the FMP and meet sector 
requirements outlined in the regulations at Sec.  648.87. These 17 
operations plans are similar to previously approved plans, but include 
new exemption requests. Copies of the operations plans and contracts, 
and the EA, are available at http://www.regulations.gov and from NMFS 
(see ADDRESSES). Of the 17 approved operations plans and contracts, the 
Northeast Fishery Sector IV and Sustainable Harvest Sector 3 are 
approved to operate as lease-only sectors. The Sustainable Harvest 
Sector 3 operation plan has not explicitly prohibited fishing activity, 
and it may transfer permits to active vessels.
    We intend to consider an additional exemption request to access GB 
closed areas (Closed Area I and II) later in the year, should results 
of any approved experimental fishing permits (EFPs) indicate that such 
an exemption is appropriate. The remaining exemption requests were not 
approved because they are prohibited; or because they were previously 
rejected, continue to be of concern, and no new information has been 
provided that justifies their approval.

Sector Allocations

    Based on sector enrollment as of March 6, 2014, we use projected FY 
2014 allocations in this final rule. All permits enrolled in a sector, 
and the vessels associated with those permits, have until April 30, 
2014, to withdraw from a sector and fish in the common pool for FY 
2014. We will publish final sector ACEs and common pool sub-ACL totals, 
based upon final rosters, as soon as possible after the start of FY 
2014.
    We calculate the sector's allocation for each stock by summing its 
members' potential sector contributions (PSC) for a stock and then 
multiplying that total percentage by the available commercial sub-ACL 
for that stock, as approved in FW 51 to the FMP (79 FR 22421, April 22, 
2014). Table 1 shows the projected total PSC for each sector by stock 
for FY 2014. Table 2 shows the total percentage of each commercial sub-
ACL each sector will receive for FY 2014, based on their preliminary FY 
2014 rosters. Table 3 shows the allocations each sector will be 
allocated for FY 2014, also based on their preliminary FY 2014 rosters. 
At the start of the fishing year, we provide the final allocations, to 
the nearest pound, to the individual sectors, and we use those final 
allocations to monitor sector catch. While the common pool does not 
receive a specific allocation, the common pool sub-ACLs have been 
included in each of these tables for comparison.
    The Eastern GB cod and haddock allocations are the portion of the 
overall stock that is allowed to be fished in the Eastern U.S./Canada 
Area. A sector's Eastern GB cod and haddock allocations are not ACEs. 
They are established differently than all other sector allocations 
because the Eastern GB cod and haddock allocations are derived from the 
negotiated commercial Eastern U.S./Canada Area GB cod TAC and 
commercial Eastern U.S./Canada GB haddock TAC.
    We do not assign an individual permit separate PSCs for the Eastern 
GB cod or haddock allocations. To determine these allocations, we sum 
the PSCs that determine a sector's overall allocation of GB cod and GB 
haddock. Next, we determine what portion each sector is allocated for 
the entire GB cod and haddock stock, to calculate what allocation they 
should receive from the Eastern TACs. For example, if based on their 
summed PSCs, a sector is allocated 4 percent of the GB cod ACL and 6 
percent of the GB haddock ACL, the sector is allocated 4 percent of the 
commercial Eastern U.S./Canada Area GB cod TAC and 6 percent of the 
commercial Eastern U.S./Canada Area GB haddock TAC as its Eastern GB 
cod and haddock allocations, respectively. After the Eastern GB cod and 
haddock allocations are determined, a sector's Western GB cod and 
haddock allocations are determined by

[[Page 23280]]

subtracting the sector's Eastern GB cod and haddock allocations, from 
the sector's overall GB cod and haddock ACEs. In Table 1, we display 
the summed PSCs for each sector for GB cod and haddock stocks. In 
Tables 2 and 3, we display each sector's Eastern and Western GB cod and 
haddock allocations.
    Effective May 1, 2014, sector vessels will be allowed to 
``convert'' their Eastern GB haddock allocation into Western GB 
allocation (see a detailed discussion of this in the preamble of the FW 
51 final rule (79 FR 22421, April 22, 2014).
    As in past years, at the start of FY 2014, we will temporarily 
withhold 20 percent of each sector's FY 2014 allocation until we 
finalize FY 2013 catch information. Further, we will allow sectors to 
transfer FY 2013 ACE during the first 2 weeks of the FY 2014, to reduce 
or eliminate any FY 2013 overages. If necessary, we will reduce any 
sector's FY 2014 allocation to account for a remaining overage in FY 
2013. We will notify the New England Fishery Management Council 
(Council) and sector managers of this deadline in writing and will 
announce this decision on our Web site at http://www.nero.noaa.gov/.
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P

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[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TR28AP14.155


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BILLING CODE 3510-22-C

Sector Operations Plans and Contracts

    We received 19 sector operations plans and contracts by the 
September 3, 2013, deadline. Each sector elected to submit a single 
document that is both its contract and operations plan. Therefore, 
these submitted operations plans not only contain the rules under which 
each sector would fish, but also provide the legal contract that binds 
each member to the sector. The GB Cod Hook Sector and NEFS XII 
submitted operations plans for FY 2014, however, no members elected to 
join these sectors, therefore, they do not qualify as sectors for FY 
2014, and their operations plan are disapproved. All sectors proposed 
operations plans are for FY 2014 only. Each sector's operations plan, 
and sector members, must comply with the regulations governing sectors 
(Sec.  648.87). In addition, each sector and sector member must conduct 
fishing activities as detailed in its approved operations plan.
    Participating vessels are required to comply with all pertinent 
Federal fishing regulations, except as specifically exempted and 
detailed in the letter of authorization (LOA) issued by the Regional 
Administrator. If, during a fishing year, a sector requests an 
exemption that we have already approved, or proposes a change to 
administrative provisions, we may amend the sector operations plans. 
Should any amendments require modifications to LOAs, we would include 
these changes in updated LOAs and provide the updated LOAs to the 
appropriate sector's members.
    Each sector is required to ensure that it does not exceed its ACE 
during the FY. Sector vessels are required to retain all legal-sized 
allocated groundfish stocks, unless a sector is granted an exemption 
allowing its member vessels to discard legal-sized unmarketable fish at 
sea. Catch (defined as landings and discards) of all allocated 
groundfish stocks by a sector's vessels count against the sector's 
ACEs. Catch from a sector trip (e.g., not fishing under provisions of a 
regulatory groundfish exempted fishery or with exempted gear) also 
targeting dogfish, monkfish, skate, or lobster (with non-trap gear) 
would be deducted from the sector's ACE, because these trips use gear 
capable of catching groundfish. This includes trips that have declared 
into Exemption 18 (below), since vessels fishing under this sector 
exemption, i.e., vessel fishing with both small mesh and large mesh 
during the same trip, are considered a sector trip for purposed of 
monitoring ACE. Alternatively, catch from a trip in an exempted fishery 
(and fishing outside of a sector trip) does not count against a 
sector's allocation, and is counted instead against a separate 
``other'' sub-component ACL.
    For FYs 2010 and 2011, there was no requirement for an industry-
funded ASM program, and NMFS was able to fund an ASM program with a 
target ASM coverage rate of 30 percent of all trips. In addition, we 
provided 8-percent observer coverage through the Northeast Fishery 
Observer Program (NEFOP), which helps to support the Standardized 
Bycatch Reporting Methodology (SBRM) and stock assessments. This 
resulted in an overall target coverage rate of 38 percent, between ASM 
and NEFOP, for FYs 2010 and 2011. For FY 2012, we conducted an analysis 
to determine the total coverage that would be necessary to achieve the 
same level of precision as attained by the 38-percent total coverage 
target used for FY's 2010 and 2011, and ultimately set a target 
coverage rate of 25 percent for FY 2012, which was 17 percent ASM, and 
8 percent NEFOP. For FY 2013, we conducted the same analysis, and set a 
target coverage rate of 22 percent for FY 2013, which was 14 percent 
ASM, and 8 percent NEFOP. Since the beginning of FY 2012, industry was 
required to pay for ASM coverage, while we continued to fund NEFOP. 
However, we were able to fund both ASM and NEFOP in FY 2012 and 2013. 
As announced on February 21, 2014, NMFS will cover the ASM costs for 
groundfish sectors to meet the requirements under the NE Multispecies 
FMP in FY 2014, as well.
    Amendment 16 regulations require NMFS to specify a level of ASM 
coverage that is sufficient to at least meet the same coefficient of 
variation (CV) specified in the SBRM and also to accurately monitor 
sector operations. FW 48 clarified that the SBRM CV level should be met 
at the overall stock level. The appropriate level of ASM coverage meets 
the CV requirement specified in the SBRM and minimizes the cost burden 
to sectors and NMFS to the extent practicable, while still providing a 
reliable estimate of overall catch by sectors needed for monitoring 
ACEs and ACLs. Based on this standard, NMFS has determined that the 
appropriate target coverage rate for FY 2014 is 26 percent. Using both 
NEFOP and ASM, we expect to cover 26 percent of all FY 2014 sector 
trips. Discards derived from these observed and monitored trips will be 
used to calculate discards for unobserved sector trips. We have 
published a more detailed summary of the supporting information, 
explanation and justification for this decision at: http://www.nero.noaa.gov/ro/fso/reports/Sectors/ASM/FY2014_Multispecies_Sector_ASM_Requirements_Summary.pdf.
    The draft operations plans submitted in September 2013 included 
industry-funded ASM plans for FY 2014. However, because NMFS will be 
funding and operating ASM for sectors in FY 2014, we have removed these 
ASM plans from the final sector operations plans.
    Each sector contract details the method for initial ACE sub-
allocation to sector members. For FY 2014, each sector has proposed 
that each sector member could harvest an amount of fish equal to the 
amount each individual member's permit contributed to the sector. Each 
sector operations plan submitted for FY 2014 states that the sector 
would withhold an initial reserve from the sector's ACE sub-allocation 
to each individual member to prevent the sector from exceeding its ACE. 
A sector and sector members can be held jointly and severally liable 
for ACE overages, discarding legal-sized fish, and/or misreporting 
catch (landings or discards). Each sector contract provides procedures 
to enforce the sector operations plan, explains sector monitoring and 
reporting requirements, presents a schedule of penalties for sector 
plan violations, and provides sector managers with the authority to 
issue stop fishing orders to sector members who violate provisions of 
the operations plan and contract.
    Sectors are required to monitor their allocations and catch. To 
help ensure a sector does not exceed its ACE, each sector operations 
plan explains sector monitoring and reporting requirements, including a 
requirement to submit weekly catch reports to us. If a sector reaches 
an ACE threshold (specified in the operations plan), the sector must 
provide sector allocation usage reports on a daily basis. Once a 
sector's allocation for a particular stock is caught, that sector is 
required to cease all fishing operations in that stock area until it 
acquires more ACE, unless that sector has an approved plan to fish 
without ACE for that stock. ACE may be transferred between sectors, but 
transfers to or from common pool vessels is prohibited. Within 60 days 
of when we complete year-end catch accounting, each sector is required 
to submit an annual report detailing the sector's catch (landings and 
discards), enforcement actions, and pertinent information necessary to 
evaluate the biological, economic, and social impacts of each sector.

[[Page 23285]]

Approved FY 2013 Exemptions

Previously Approved Exemptions Approved for FY 2014 (1-16)

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

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

    Please note that on March 17, 2014, NMFS published a proposed rule 
(79 FR 14635) that proposes to modify the reporting requirements for 
vessels declared to fish in the Eastern U.S./Canada Area. These 
proposed requirements, if approved, may affect vessels using Exemption 
12 above, which allows a vessel to flex at-sea into portions of the 
Eastern U.S./Canada Area, by declaring either the Eastern U.S./Haddock 
SAP or the CA II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP. A final rule for that 
action is expected sometime in May 2014.

Exemptions of Concern That Are Approved for FY 2014 (17-20)

17. Limits on the Number of Gillnets Imposed on Day Gillnet Vessels
    The FMP limits the number of gillnets a Day gillnet vessel may fish 
in the groundfish regulated mesh areas (RMA) to prevent an uncontrolled 
increase in the number of nets being fished, thus undermining 
applicable DAS effort controls. The limits are specific to the type of 
gillnet within each RMA: 100 gillnets (of which no more than 50 can be 
roundfish gillnets) in the GOM RMA (Sec.  648.80(a)(3)(iv)); 50 
gillnets in the GB RMA (Sec.  648.80(a)(4)(iv)); 75 gillnets in the 
Southern New England (SNE) RMA (Sec.  648.80(b)(2)(iv)(B)); and 75 
gillnets in the Mid-Atlantic (MA) RMA (Sec.  648.80(c)(2)(v)(B)). An 
exemption from these net restrictions was previously approved in FYs 
2010, 2011, and 2012, which allowed sector vessels to fish up to 150 
nets (any combination of flatfish or roundfish nets) in any RMA to 
provide greater operational flexibility to sector vessels in deploying 
gillnet gear. Although sectors requested that the 150-net limit be 
continued in FY 2013, effort analysis of all sector vessels from 
previous fishing years using gillnet gear, indicated an increase in 
gear used with no corresponding increase in catch efficiency. Based on 
the concern of this exemption potentially having an impact on protected 
species and GOM spawning cod, beginning in FY 2013, we restricted its 
use to seasons with minimal cod spawning in the GOM, i.e., late spring. 
Therefore, a vessel fishing in the GOM RMA was able to use this 
exemption seasonally, but was restricted to the 100-net gillnet limit 
in blocks 124 and 125 in May, and in blocks 132 and 133 in June. A 
vessel fishing in GB RMA, SNE RMA, MA RMA, and the GOM RMA outside of 
these times and areas did not have this additional restriction. For FY 
2014, we proposed this same exemption, including the GOM seasonal 
restrictions that we approved in FY 2013.
    We received two comments pertaining to the exemption. One commenter 
pointed out that effort controls are no longer a concern in a fishery 
that is managed through a hard quota (e.g., ACLs). Although hard quotas 
may allow for more flexibility and may reduce the need for some effort 
controls, restrictions such as net limits may still be necessary to 
mitigate impacts to protected resources, spawning fish, and gear 
conflicts. The second commenter supported the exemption as proposed and 
recognized the need to restrict nets seasonally in the GOM to address 
impacts on cod spawning. Both commenters highlighted the recent efforts 
to increase pinger compliance for gillnet gear.
    Based on the comments received and the concern for protected 
species and spawning cod, we have approved this exemption as proposed 
for FY 2014. Gillnet vessels will be restricted to a 150 gillnet limit 
in the GB, SNE, MA, and GOM RMAs, with the exception that in blocks 124 
and 125 in May, and in blocks 132 and 133 in June, the vessel will be 
restricted to a 100-gillnet limit.
18. Prohibition on Combining Small-Mesh Exempted Fishery and Sector 
Trips
    We received an exemption request in FY 2013 to allow sector vessels 
to fish in small-mesh exempted fisheries (e.g., whiting, squid) and in 
the large-mesh groundfish fishery on the same trip. A full description 
of the request and relevant regulations is in the FY 2013 Sector 
proposed rule (78 FR 16220, see page 16230, March 14, 2013). In 
summary, we raised several concerns about the exemption, including the 
ability to monitor these trips, the impacts that the exemption could 
have on juvenile fish, and the enforceability of using multiple mesh 
sizes on the same trip (i.e., participating in multiple directed 
fisheries on a single trip). We received comments in support of and 
against the exemption request. Ultimately, it was disapproved in the

[[Page 23286]]

FY 2013 Sector interim final rule (78 FR 25591, May 2, 2013) for the 
concerns stated above.
    For FY 2014, we proposed a similar exemption that would allow 
vessels to possess and use small-mesh and large-mesh trawl gear on a 
single trip within portions of the SNE RMA with modifications intended 
to address our concerns. First, we proposed modifications developed by 
sectors to address some of the concerns from FY 2013, sectors proposed 
restricting vessels using this exemption to fishing with smaller mesh 
in two discrete SNE areas that have been shown to have minimal amounts 
of regulated species and ocean pout. The map (Figure 1) and coordinates 
for these two areas are shown below.
[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TR28AP14.156

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

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

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

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

    Sectors also proposed that one of the following trawl gear 
modifications would be required for use when using small mesh in these 
two areas: Drop chain sweep with a minimum of 12 inches (30.48 cm) in 
length; a large-mesh belly panel with a minimum of 32-inch (81.28-cm) 
mesh size; or an excluder grate secured forward of the codend with an 
outlet hole forward of the grate with bar spacing of no more than 1.97 
inches (5.00 cm) wide. These gear modifications, when fished properly, 
have been shown to reduce the catch of legal and sub-legal groundfish 
stocks. Requiring these modifications is intended to also reduce the 
incentive for a sector vessel to target groundfish when fishing with 
small mesh on these trips. Finally, sectors requested subjecting a 
vessel using this exemption to the same NEFOP and ASM coverage as a 
standard groundfish trip (i.e., a total of 26 percent in FY 2014).
    In addition to the sector's requested restrictions, and to better 
address some of our monitoring and enforcement concerns, we also 
proposed that the vessel: Declare its intent to use the exemption prior 
to leaving the dock via a Trip Start Hail through VMS; fish first as a 
groundfish sector trip using a regulated groundfish mesh net (large-
mesh net); and, once finished with the large-mesh portion of the trip, 
submit a report listing all kept fish on board at that time. Once this 
report is sent, the vessel could then deploy its net with mesh size 
less than the regulated groundfish mesh net (small-mesh net), with one 
of the required trawl gear modifications stated above, in either Sector 
Small-Mesh Fishery Exemption Areas 1 or 2 (see map), outside of the 
Nantucket Lightship CA, at which point, the large mesh could not be 
redeployed. Any legal-sized allocated groundfish stocks caught during 
these small-mesh hauls must be landed and the associated landed weight 
(dealer or vessel trip report (VTR)) will be deducted from the sector's 
ACE.

[[Page 23287]]

    We received two comments in support of the approval of the 
exemption as proposed. Both commenters are supportive of all catch from 
the small-mesh portion of the trip being attributed to the sector's 
ACE. One commenter supported a mid-year revocation of the exemption if 
it is deemed necessary and feels that the exemption will not be used at 
a large enough scale to have impacts on NMFS and its ASM monitoring 
resources.
    Based on the comments received, we have approved this exemption as 
proposed for FY 2014. In this final rule, we want to remind sectors of 
the requirements of this exemption, the monitoring and enforcement 
concerns that remain, and the potential need to train some at-sea 
monitors in order to support the use of this exemption.
    Each vessel will be required to declare its intent to fish in this 
exemption using a small-mesh net to target non-regulated groundfish 
species (e.g., whiting) and/or other small-mesh species (e.g., squid) 
for a portion of the trip by submitting a Trip Start Hail through its 
VMS unit prior to departing port by checking the box under 4c. ``Other 
Exemption (when directed by NMFS)''; this declaration will be used for 
monitoring and enforcement purposes. Once a vessel declares into the 
exemption, it must adhere to all of the requirements of the exemption, 
even if a decision is made during the trip to not deploy small mesh. 
Trips declaring this exemption must first fish as sector groundfish 
trip with large mesh nets. During the large-mesh portion of the trip, 
all small-mesh nets must be stowed in accordance with the regulations. 
Once the groundfish trip (with large mesh) is finished, the vessel is 
required to submit a Multispecies Catch Report via VMS stating kept 
fish (in lb) of all species on board at that time. The Catch Report is 
intended to be a hail weight of what is on board the vessel prior to 
deploying small mesh and entering the small-mesh areas, to inform those 
monitoring and enforcing the exemption. Once the Catch Report is sent, 
the vessel can then deploy its small-mesh net as modified by one of the 
following trawl gear modifications: Drop chain sweep with a minimum of 
12 inches (30.48 cm) in length; a large-mesh belly panel with a minimum 
of 32-inch (81.3-cm) mesh size; or an excluder grate secured forward of 
the codend with an outlet hole forward of the grate with bar spacing of 
no more than 1.97 inches (5.00 cm) wide, in either Small-Mesh Fishery 
Exemption Areas 1 or 2 (see map above), outside of the Nantucket 
Lightship CA, at which point, the large mesh can not be redeployed.
    Although vessels will be allowed to fish with small mesh for non-
groundfish species under this exemption, this trip will be considered a 
sector trip for purposes of monitoring groundfish catch. Therefore, any 
legal-sized allocated groundfish stocks caught during these small-mesh 
hauls must be landed, and the associated landed weight (dealer or 
vessel trip report (VTR)) will be deducted from the sector's ACE. Any 
allocated groundfish species caught that are sub-legal, must be 
discarded, per the requirements of a commercial groundfish trip, and 
these too will be deducted from the sector's ACE. For trips that are 
observed using this exemption, observed discards will be attributed to 
the vessel, similar to standard groundfish trips. We will use observed 
trips to estimate discards from unobserverd trips, similar to standard 
groundfish trips. Vessels declaring this exemption will have their 
trips assessed using a new discard strata (i.e., area fished and gear 
type) and will be treated separately from sector trips that do not 
declare this exemption. After one year, an analysis will be conducted 
to determine whether large-mesh hauls on these trips should continue as 
a separate discard stratum.
    We will closely monitor all vessels that declare into this 
exemption. If under this exemption it is determined that there is a 
negative impact on groundfish stocks, non-compliance with the 
requirements, negative impacts on the NEFOP's resources and/or ability 
to monitor the use of the exemption (i.e., not enough observed trips 
using the exemption), the Regional Administrator could rescind approval 
of this exemption.
19. Exemption From the 6.5-Inch (16.5-cm) Mesh Size for Directed 
Redfish Trips
    Minimum mesh size restrictions (Sec.  648.80(a)(3)(i), (a)(4)(i), 
(b)(2)(i), and (c)(2)(i)) were implemented under previous groundfish 
actions to reduce overall mortality on groundfish stocks, change the 
selection pattern of the fishery to target larger fish, improve 
survival of sublegal fish, and allow sublegal fish more opportunity to 
spawn before entering the fishery. Beginning in FY 2012, sectors were 
allowed to use a 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh codend to target redfish in the 
GOM. Subsequently, based on catch information from ongoing redfish 
research showing areas with large amounts of redfish, at the end of FY 
2012 and into FY 2013 sectors were allowed to use a 4.5-inch (11.4-cm) 
mesh codend to target redfish. To date, the exemption has required 100-
percent monitoring with either an ASM or observer onboard every trip, 
primarily because of concerns over a greater retention of sub-legal 
groundfish, as well as non-allocated species and bycatch, and to ensure 
compliance with the intent of the exemption, which is to target 
redfish. Additionally, the thresholds were monitored at the sub-trip 
level, whereby hauls using mesh 4.5 inches (11.4 cm) up to 6.5 inches 
(16.5 cm) were monitored separately from hauls not using the exemption 
(i.e., hauls using mesh 6.5 inches (16.5 cm) and greater). While this 
provided additional flexibility to switch codends during the trip and, 
therefore, allowed vessels to switch between using and not using the 
exemption on a given trip, it added an additional layer of monitoring 
for these trips. Having monitors on every redfish exemption trip has 
allowed NMFS to observe changes in catch rates of target and non-target 
species when using different codend mesh sizes, helping to ensure that 
we can monitor the use of the exemption (i.e., accurately monitor catch 
thresholds), when requested to do so, on a haul-by-haul level.

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


[[Page 23288]]

    As of the end of FY 2012, 14 trips had used the exemption allowing 
a 4.5-inch (11.4-cm) mesh codend, and all trips were monitored by 
either a federally funded NEFOP observer or ASM. While most trips were 
effectively able to target redfish and minimize groundfish discards, 
not all trips were able to meet the target and bycatch thresholds. The 
thresholds were defined as catching no lower than 80 percent redfish of 
the total groundfish catch on hauls using the exemption, and having no 
more than 5 percent discard of total groundfish, including redfish, for 
hauls using the exemption. In preparation for the FY 2013 rule, we 
raised numerous concerns about the impacts of implementing additional 
monitoring requirements and using federally funded monitoring for the 
exemption. We found that allowing trips that are randomly selected for 
federally funded NEFOP or ASM coverage provided an incentive to take an 
exemption trip when selected for coverage, thereby reducing the number 
of observers/monitors available to cover standard sector trips (i.e., 
trips not utilizing this exemption). If fewer observers/monitors deploy 
on standard sector trips, then the exemption undermines both the 
ability to meet required coverage levels and the reliability of discard 
rates calculated for unobserved standard sector trips. Therefore, 
beginning in FY 2013, we required sectors using this exemption to pay 
for 100 percent of the at-sea cost for a monitor on all redfish 
exemption trips. To date, no sector has submitted an ASM proposal to 
monitor trips using this exemption in FY 2013 and, therefore, no trips 
have used the exemption in FY 2013.
    For FY 2014, we proposed an exemption that would allow vessels to 
use a 6-inch (15.2-cm) or larger mesh codend nets to target redfish 
when fishing in the Redfish Exemption Area (see below). Sectors 
requested subjecting a vessel using this exemption to the same NEFOP 
and ASM coverage as standard groundfish trips (i.e., a total of 26 
percent in FY 2014). We believe that the standard target coverage is 
appropriate because based on our review of fishing trips using a 6-inch 
(15.2-cm) or large mesh codend, there are fewer concerns regarding the 
retention of sub-legal groundfish and non-allocated species. In 
addition, we would monitor the exemption for an entire trip, rather 
than for part of a trip. That is, regardless of how many 6-inch (15.2-
cm) or 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) mesh codend hauls are made on a given trip, 
it would not change the applicability of any restrictions associated 
with the exemption (e.g., thresholds). This approach would allow 
vessels to retain the flexibility to switch codends during a redfish 
trip and allow us to monitor the thresholds at the trip level versus 
the haul level. Because a 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh and a 6.5-inch (16.5-
cm) mesh codend net fall under the same ``large'' mesh category for 
both stock assessments and the SBRM, there is less concern for 
monitoring the differences in selectivity and bycatch patterns compared 
to trips that had previously been allowed the use of a 4.5-inch (11.4-
cm) mesh codend net, which is under a different category for stock 
assessments and the SBRM.
    We received three comments in support of the approval of the 
exemption as proposed. They were all supportive of monitoring 
thresholds to ensure that vessels target redfish and are aware that in-
season revocation of the exemption is possible, should it be deemed 
necessary. One of commenters stated she recognized the enforcement 
concerns about a vessel potentially using multiple mesh sizes in 
multiple areas, but appreciated the flexibility given through this 
exemption.
    Based on the comments received, we approve this exemption as 
proposed for FY 2014. Under this exemption, a vessel will be required 
to declare its intent to use 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh codend nets to 
target redfish by submitting a Trip Start Hail through its VMS unit 
prior to departure by checking the box under 4a. ``Redfish Trip.'' The 
hail will be used for monitoring and enforcement purposes. A vessel may 
fish using a 6-inch codend (15.2-cm) mesh net, or greater, on a 
standard trawl when fishing exclusively in the Redfish Exemption Area 
defined below, outside of the Western GOM CA and Cashes Ledge CA. This 
area resides within portions of the GOM and GB BSAs. Consistent with 
requirements for all commcercial trips, each time the vessel switches 
codend mesh size or statistical area, it must fill out a new VTR. For 
all trips declaring this exemption, VTRs will be used to identify 
whether or not the 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh codend net was actually used 
on the trip. Additionally, for all trips (by sector, by month) 
declaring this exemption, we will monitor landings for the entire trip 
to determine if 80 percent of the total groundfish catch is redfish. 
For observed trips only, we will determine if total groundfish 
discards, including redfish, is less than 5 percent of total catch. We 
will use observed trips to estimate discards for unobserved trips. 
Vessels declaring this exemption will have their trips assessed using a 
new discard strata (i.e., area fished and gear type) and will be 
treated separately from sector trips that do not declare this 
exemption. After one year, an analysis will be conducted to determine 
if these trips should continue to be treated as a separate discard 
stratum.
    Vessels that have declared into this exemption may also fish in the 
GB BSA under the universal exemption that allows the use of a 6-inch 
(15.2-cm) mesh codend nets in the GB BSA while using selective trawl 
gear (e.g., haddock separator trawl, Ruhle trawl). These trips would be 
in areas on GB, south of the Redfish Exemption Area. Vessels that 
declare the redfish exemption may also use codends with 6.5-inch (16.5-
cm) mesh, or larger, in any open area on the same trip. Allowing 
vessels to fish both inside and outside the Redfish Exemption Area on 
the same trip provides flexibility to target other allocated stocks 
after successfully targeting redfish; however, all catch from each trip 
declaring this exemption will be considered in evaluating compliance 
with the thresholds.
    We will monitor the exemption and determine if there is non-
compliance with the reporting requirements, if a sector is unable to 
meet the thresholds, and whether we have sufficient monitoring 
coverage. We remind sectors that the RA retains authority to rescind 
approval of this exemption, if it is needed, to address these concerns.

[[Page 23289]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TR28AP14.157

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

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

20. Prohibition on Groundfish Trips in the Nantucket Lightship CA
    In FY 2013, we approved an exemption that allowed sector vessels 
access to the eastern and western portions of the Nantucket Lightship 
CA (Eastern and Western Exemption Areas) for the duration of FY 2013. 
For a detailed description of the exemption request and justifications 
for approving it, see the final rule (78 FR 41772, December 16, 2013). 
In summary, trawl vessels were restricted to using selective trawl 
gear, flounder nets were prohibited, hook vessels were permitted, and 
gillnet vessels were restricted to fishing 10-inch (25.4-cm) or larger 
diamond mesh. Gillnet vessels were required to use pingers when fishing 
in the Western Exemption Area from December 1-May 31 because this area 
lies within the existing SNE Management Area of the Harbor Porpoise 
Take Reduction Plan. We specified that at-sea monitoring coverage would 
come from the combined NEFOP and ASM target coverage level of 22 
percent in FY 2013 for the Nantucket Lightship CA after further review 
and in response to public comments. Consistent with that requirement, 
we proposed that this exemption be continued in FY 2014, with the 
standard target sector coverage level of 26 percent for NEFOP and ASM 
combined, with one modification.
    For FY 2014, to address comments from trawl fishermen that the FY 
2013 gear restrictions prevented them from fishing in the Eastern and 
Western Exemption Areas as intended, we reviewed our decision and found 
that a ``source population'' of SNE/MA yellowtail flounder that we 
previously expressed concern about is found primarily in the Eastern 
Exemption Area of the Nantucket Lightship CA. The data suggest that 
yellowtail flounder are not concentrated nearly as much in the Western 
Exemption Area. Based on this, we proposed to allow all legal trawl 
gear to be fished in the Western Exemption Area, while still 
maintaining the selective trawl gear requirements and prohibition on 
flounder nets in the Eastern Exemption Area.
    We received one comment in support of the approval of the exemption 
as proposed, with an acknowledgment to the gear restriction adjustment 
for the Western Exemption Area. We received two comments opposed to 
opening any closed areas.
    Based on the comments received, we approve this exemption as 
proposed for FY 2014. Under this exemption, a vessel is required to 
declare its intent to access the Eastern and Western Exemption Areas of 
the Nantucket Lightship CA (defined below), by submitting a Trip Start 
Hail through its VMS unit prior to departure by checking the box under 
4b. ``Closed Area Trip.'' The hail will be used for monitoring and 
enforcement purposes. The central portion of the Nantucket Lightship CA 
is essential fish habitat (EFH) and is not open to sector vessels. 
Trawl vessels fishing in the Eastern Exemption Area will be restricted 
to the use of selective trawl gear, including the separator trawl, the 
Ruhle trawl, the mini-Ruhle trawl, rope trawl, and any other gear 
authorized by the Council and NMFS in a management action. Flounder 
nets are prohibited. In the Western Exemption Area, all legal trawl 
gear is permitted. In both areas,

[[Page 23290]]

gillnet vessels are restricted to fishing 10-inch (25.4-cm) diamond 
mesh or larger. This will allow gillnet vessels to target monkfish and 
skates while reducing catch of flatfish. Because the western area lies 
within the SNE Management Area of the Harbor Porpoise Take Reduction 
Plan, gillnet vessels will be required to use pingers when fishing in 
the Western Exemption Area between December 1 and May 31.

Nantucket Lightship Closed Area--Western Exemption Area

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

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

Nantucket Lightship Closed Area--Eastern Exemption Area

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

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

    We will closely monitor the vessels that have declared into this 
exemption. If when fishing under this exemption it is determined that 
there is a negative impact on groundfish stocks, non-compliance with 
the requirements, or adverse impacts on the NEFOP's resources and/or 
ability to monitor the use of the exemption (i.e., not enough observed 
trips using the exemption), the RA may use the authority to rescind 
approval of this exemption.

Exemption To Be Considered in a Later Rulemaking (21)

21. Prohibition on Groundfish Trips in Closed Areas I and II
    In FY 2013, we disapproved an exemption that would have allowed 
sector vessels restricted access to portions of CAs I and II, provided 
each trip carried an industry-funded ASM. For a detailed description of 
the exemption request and justifications for disapproval, see the final 
rule (78 FR 41772, December 16, 2013). When we proposed allowing sector 
access to these areas, we announced that we did not have funding to pay 
for monitoring the additional trips for exemptions requiring a 100-
percent coverage level. Industry members indicated that it was too 
expensive to participate in the exemption given the requirement to pay 
for a monitor on every trip. This, in combination with extensive 
comment opposing access to these areas to protect depleted stocks and 
our concern about the impacts on depleted stocks such as GB cod and GB 
yellowtail flounder, resulted in disapproval.
    For FY 2014, we announced in the proposed rule that we remain 
unable to fund monitoring costs for exemptions requiring a 100-percent 
coverage level. We also have concerns about funding and administering 
the shore-side portion of an at-sea monitoring program for an exemption 
that requires additional ASM, such as the exemption to access CAs I and 
II. However, we also announced in the proposed rule that we are 
interested in conducting research through an EFP(s) to gather catch 
data from portions of these areas. Allowing a small number of trips 
into these areas through EFPs could provide information to help the 
fishing industry determine whether trips into the area with an 
industry-funded monitor could be profitable. These ``test'' trips would 
provide recent and reliable catch information from CAs I and II, 
including catch rates of both abundant and depleted stocks. This 
information could help industry determine whether the cost of an ASM 
could be offset by increased landings of a stock with relatively high 
abundance (e.g., GB haddock), while avoiding stocks that are limiting 
to them. Although there have been studies in the past that examine 
catch rates of selective trawl gear, these studies have not been 
conducted inside the CAs being proposed for access. Results from any 
EFPs conducted in these areas could better inform the industry, the 
public, and NMFS, regarding the economic efficacy of accessing these 
CAs, while providing information specific to bycatch of depleted 
stocks.
    The Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office and the Northeast 
Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) are currently working on an idea for a 
short-term EFP that would allow a small number of groundfish trips into 
CAs I and II. We have also received an industry-led EFP request to 
access portions of CAs I and II. In addition to these EFPs, we welcome 
additional EFP requests that may help to address some of the following 
questions: (1) Could enough fish be caught to adequately offset the 
industry's additional expense of having an ASM on board, and (2) could 
catch of groundfish stocks of concern be addressed? Given these areas 
have been closed for approximately 20 years, it would also be important 
to obtain information about any beneficial effects from these closures, 
particularly as it applies to groundfish, since the Council is 
considering opening portions of CAs I and II through the Omnibus 
Habitat Amendment in the near future.
    The two EFPs that are currently under consideration would allow 
access into the same portions CAs I and II that were originally 
proposed for access to sectors. Vessels would be required to use 
specialized trawl gear to reduce impacts on flounder species and would 
be restricted seasonally to avoid spawning fish, as well as to adhere 
to an agreement between the lobster and groundfish fishery in CA II to 
avoid gear conflicts. At this time, we cannot determine if results from 
these EFPs would be timely enough to inform any exemptions requests to 
fish in CAs I and II in FY 2014, or to be considered in future fishing 
years. Contingent on the results of any EFPs that we have available 
during FY 2014, assuming that we could fund and administer the shore-
side portion of a monitoring program, and there is sufficient at-sea 
monitors available for deployment on CA trips, we have proposed to 
allow sectors restricted access to CAs I and II in FY 2014 (79 FR 
14639, March 17, 2014). If we were to approve access, we would codify 
the lobster and groundfish agreement in the regulations in addition to 
including language in each sector's letter of authorization (LOA) to 
enforce the agreement.

Disapproved FY 2014 Exemption Requests

    In addition to the 20 exemptions approved in this final rule, and 
the potential approval of an additional exemption allowing access to 
portions of CAs I and II later in FY 2014, there were several other 
sector FY 2014 exemption requests that we did not propose for approval 
because they are either prohibited; or were previously rejected, 
continue to be of concern, and no new information has been submitted 
that justifies their approval. Based on this, we do not consider them 
in this final rule.

Additional Sector Provisions

    A sector may also include additional provisions in its operations 
plan, including additional requirements for or restrictions of fishing 
practices. A detailed description of these provisions is included 
below:

[[Page 23291]]

Inshore GOM Restrictions

    Several sectors (with the exception of NEFS 4) proposed a provision 
to limit and more accurately document a vessel's behavior when fishing 
in a part of the GOM BSA in what they consider to be the inshore 
portion of the GOM BSA, or the area to the west of 70[deg]15'W. long. 
We approve this provision, but note that a sector may elect to remove 
this provision in the final version of its operations plan.
    Under this provision, a trip that is carrying an observer or at-sea 
monitor remains free to fish in all areas, including the inshore GOM 
area without restriction. If a vessel is not carrying an observer or 
at-sea monitor and fishes any part of its trip in the GOM west of 
70[deg]15'W. long., the vessel would be prohibited from fishing outside 
of the GOM BSA. Also, if a vessel is not carrying an observer or at-sea 
monitor and fishes any part of its trip outside the GOM BSA, this 
provision prohibits the vessel from fishing west of 70[deg]15'W. long. 
within the GOM BSA. The approved provision includes a requirement for a 
vessel to declare whether or not it intends to fish in the inshore GOM 
area through the Trip start Hail using its VMS unit prior to departure 
by checking the box under 5b. ``Inshore Gulf of Maine''. This hail 
report will help the sector manager identify a trip fishing under this 
provision for monitoring purposes. We are providing sector managers 
with the ability to monitor this provision through the Sector 
Information Management Module (SIMM), a Web site where we currently 
provide roster, trip, discard, and observer/ASM information to sector 
managers. A sector vessel may use a federally funded NEFOP observer or 
at-sea monitor on these trips because we do not believe it will create 
bias in coverage or discard estimates, as fishing behavior is not 
expected to change as a result of this provision.

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

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

At-Sea Monitoring Proposals

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

Comments and Responses

    A total of eight comments were received from: Associated Fisheries 
of Maine (AFM), the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), the Atlantic 
Offshore Lobstermen's Association (AOLA), the New England Fishery 
Management Council (Council), Northeast Fishery Sector V (NEFS V), the 
Northeast Sector Service Network (NESSN), Oceana, and the Pew 
Charitable Trusts (Pew). Only comments that were applicable to the 
proposed measures, including the analyses used to support these 
measures, are responded to below.

Re-Authorization of Sector Exemptions Previously Granted (1-16)

    Comment 1: The NESSN and AFM supported approving the exemptions as 
proposed.
    Response: We have approved all 16 exemptions as proposed.
    Exemption from the Number of Gillnets in the Gulf of Maine (17)
    Comment 2: AFM supports approving this exemption, noting that 
gillnet limits were an effort control measure under an old management 
regime. NESSN also supports the approval of the exemption and believes 
that the seasonal component with restricted nets in May and June in the 
inshore GOM RMA addresses concerns regarding cod spawning
    Response: We have approved the exemption as proposed.

Prohibition on Combining Small-Mesh Exempted Fishery and Sector Trips 
(18)

    Comment 3: NESSN and NEFS V both strongly supported this exemption 
and all of the proposed requirements to adequately monitor and enforce 
the exemption, noting the collaborative work between industry and NMFS 
in developing these requirements to mitigate the agency's previous 
concerns. NEFS V also commented in support of a mid-year revocation of 
the exemption if it is necessary. NEFS V does not understand the 
concerns of having inadequately trained NEFOP observers and at-sea 
monitors for this exemption, but appreciates concerns on maintaining a 
target coverage of 26 percent for all sectors trips, while still 
covering this exemption. They also believe that the exemption would not 
be utilized on a large enough scale and, therefore, should not have too 
much impact.
    Response: We agree that the suite of additional requirements 
proposed for this exemption mitigates the monitoring and enforcement 
concerns to a large degree and have therefore approved the exemption, 
as proposed. Regarding at-sea monitors, training of these monitors 
requires more than teaching them to identify small-mesh species. Some 
small-mesh fisheries generally catch large volumes of fish, so there 
are specific protocols and training that all NEFOP observers receive to 
observe small-mesh fisheries such as squid and whiting, but not all 
ASMs receive this training. ASM training is focused on the groundfish 
fishery. NEFOP is in the process of training some ASMs to accommodate 
this exemption for the small-mesh hauls.
    Comment 4: AFM asked for an explanation of why the SNE small-mesh 
exemption was proposed at a monitoring coverage level of 26 percent, 
while past redfish exemptions were proposed at 100 percent.
    Response: Our experience with these exemptions, new information, 
and development of measures to address our bycatch and enforcement 
concerns, have provided an opportunity for us to approve these measures 
requiring the lower, standard monitoring coverage levels. Both 
exemptions allow the use of nets with mesh smaller than the regulated 
groundfish mesh size. The use of smaller mesh nets raised concerns with 
potential bycatch of several groundfish species. We also are concerned 
with our ability to enforce requirements to fish with appropriate mesh 
sizes. To address these concerns, we originally proposed both of these 
exemptions requiring 100 percent at-sea monitoring.

[[Page 23292]]

    Our experience with the redfish exemption and information we 
gathered under that exemption and the development of other 
precautionary measures addressing our concerns have allowed us to 
propose at-sea monitoring at the lower standard coverage levels. For 
example, for the redfish exemption, threshold catch levels have helped 
control bycatch. To further address our bycatch concerns and minimize 
our enforcement concerns, we limited the reduction in mesh size to the 
larger 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh size, limited the area in which fishing 
with the smaller mesh may occur, and we required additional reporting 
requirements.
    We have approved similar measures for the SNE small-mesh exemption 
to address the same concerns as in the redfish exemption. This year, 
the SNE small-mesh exemption requires gear modifications, limited 
fishing areas to help avoid certain groundfish species, and required 
additional reporting requirements similar as those in the redfish 
exemption. Because these measures have reduced our concerns like the 
precautionary measures adopted in the redfish exemption, we approved 
both exemptions with the standard at-sea monitoring coverage level.

Exemption from the 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) Mesh Size for Directed Redfish 
Trips (19)

    Comment 5: The NESSN, AFM, and Council commented in support of this 
exemption. NESSN recognizes the law enforcement concerns with allowing 
flexibility of multiple mesh sizes in multiple areas, and pointed out 
that this is currently allowed in other circumstances. They commented 
on their appreciation of the collaborative work between sectors and 
NMFS to address concerns that we have noted in the past on this 
exemption, and they welcome further collaboration on ensuring 
compliance with the catch thresholds or other potential issues with 
vessels using the exemption.
    Response: We have approved this exemption as proposed and we are 
appreciative of the collaborative work with the sectors in bringing 
about a workable solution. We intend to communicate with the NOAA 
Office of Law Enforcement closely to address any enforcement concerns 
that may arise from this exemption throughout the year. We will also be 
monitoring the compliance thresholds closely and will notify sectors as 
needed.

Prohibition on Groundfish Trips in Nantucket Lightship CA (20)

    Comment 6: NESSN supported this exemption as proposed, noting the 
allowance of trawl gear in the Western Exemption Area was ``a step in 
the right direction.'' Both CLF and PEW commented in opposition to 
closed area access in all groundfish closed areas, including the 
Nantucket Lightship CA.
    Response: The Nantucket Lightship CA was approved in 1994 as a 
year-round closed area to reduce mortality on SNE/MA yellowtail 
flounder, a stock that has been declared rebuilt. Other groundfish 
stocks in poor shape, such as GB cod, are generally not found in the 
area. In FY 2013, we approved an exemption (78 FR 41772, December 16, 
2013) that allowed sector vessels access to the Eastern and Western 
Exemption Areas within the Nantucket Lightship CA for the duration of 
FY 2013. Vessels fishing in these areas were not expected to be 
targeting cod, haddock, or yellowtail flounder. Nonetheless, we 
included selective trawl gear requirements, prohibited flounder nets, 
and restricted gillnet vessels to fishing 10-inch (25.4-cm) diamond 
mesh or larger, due to concerns that a source population for SNE/MA 
yellowtail founder exists in both areas. To date, there have only been 
a few vessels that used the exemption that was approved during FY 2013, 
all of which have used gillnets.
    To address a concern that was raised by trawl fishermen, that the 
FY 2013 gear restrictions prevented them from fishing in this area as 
intended, we reviewed our decision and found that a ``source 
population'' of SNE/MA yellowtail flounder that we previously expressed 
concern about is found primarily in the Eastern Exemption Area of the 
Nantucket Lightship CA, and to a much lesser degree in the Western 
Exemption Area. Based on this, we are approving a modification to the 
Eastern Exemption Area to allow trawl gear access by sector vessels.
    Because of the selective gear requirements, and the belief that 
there would be little harm caused to groundfish stocks of concern, we 
have approved this exemption under the standard monitoring coverage 
rate of 26 percent. This exemption is intended to provide sector 
vessels with access to these two areas within the Nantucket Lightship 
CA for the purpose of targeting monkfish, skate, and dogfish to provide 
additional flexibility to the groundfish fleet during this time period 
when they have little groundfish quota to fish.
    We analyzed the potential impacts of allowing access to these areas 
in the Environmental Assessment for this action. Our analysis was 
thorough and sufficiently considers the potential impacts of these 
exemptions. The exemptions were carefully developed and include many 
measures that minimize the potential adverse impacts from access to 
these areas. Further, these closed area exemptions considered in this 
rule do not open any of the year-round essential fish habitat closed 
areas that are proposed to be closed in the Omnibus Habitat Amendment 
2. As a result of our consideration, we made a Finding of No 
Significant Impact. This finding supports our approval of these 
exemptions.

Comments on Additional Issues and Closed Areas I and II Exemptions 100-
Percent Industry-Funded Monitoring Requirement for Closed Area I and II

    Comment 7: The Council opposed 100 percent monitoring coverage for 
any of the sector exemptions, stating that they did not choose to 
require 100-percent monitoring coverage as a condition of allowing 
sectors to request access to year-round closed areas. They believed 
that there is little justification provided for the 100-percent 
coverage level requirement and claimed that analysis concludes that 26 
percent coverage provides sufficient precision and accuracy. They urged 
the agency to justify any coverage level above 26 percent.
    Response: Closed areas have served to protect spawning fish and 
provide a refuge for troubled fish stocks. CAs I and II have 
specifically helped to protect GB cod, a stock in very poor shape. CA 
II also helps to protect GB yellowtail flounder, another stock that is 
seriously depleted. These areas have been largely closed to groundfish 
fishing for almost 20 years. As we have stated several times, both in 
recent rules and publically, we believe that it is extremely important 
to get accurate information from these areas for many reasons. For 
example, we believe that it is important to determine quickly if 
discards will be different relative to areas outside of the closures. 
Requiring 100-percent coverage allows us to better monitor discards 
from each trip and will allow us to respond as quickly as possible if 
discards are high. It will also allow us to respond quickly if there 
are increased catches of spawning fish, or if there are protected 
resource interactions.
    While the Council did not require 100-percent coverage as a pre-
requisite to allow sectors to request access to closed areas, it is 
within the Regional Administrator's discretion to approve and implement 
exemptions, with requirements as needed. Our proposal for 100-percent 
coverage in CAs I and II attempts to balance the biological and

[[Page 23293]]

habitat concerns noted in the paragraph above with potential industry 
benefits and costs. Although NMFS has been able to pay for recent 
NEFOP/ASM coverage, we are unable to pay for the additional coverage we 
believe is necessary. We believe it is necessary to gather further 
catch information collected from inside these closed areas, in 
particular on stocks that are of concern (e.g., GB cod and GB 
yellowtail flounder) to determine whether access to CAs I and II should 
be approved in a separate rulemaking later in FY 2014. Before we 
consider approval of access to these areas, we intend to evaluate 
results from any approved EFP's in part to determine if we can justify 
access with less than 100 percent monitoring coverage. This additional 
information will allow us to consider potential impacts to stocks of 
concern along with weighing the benefits to the fishing industry from 
the catch in these areas against the costs of necessary at-sea 
monitoring.
    We want to remind the Council that exemptions are voluntary, not a 
regulation, and that they provide additional flexibility beyond what 
has traditionally been allowed under the FMP. We are hopeful that 
potential EFP(s) could examine the potential costs/benefits of 
accessing closed areas while paying for an ASM, which could remove some 
uncertainty for industry and the public, rather than continue to 
speculate if it is appropriate to require industry funding. An EFP will 
also help inform the resource impacts and environmental risks with 
allowing closed area access.

Use of the Term ``Standard Sector Trip''

    Comment 8: NESSN feels that the term ``standard sector trip'' 
should not be used because fishing activity has always been diverse, 
both before and after sectors were implemented. They noted that using 
traditional fishing as a measure of how an exemption should be treated, 
does not take into account the increased flexibility given to sectors.
    Response: A sector trip is defined in the regulations as ``. . . 
any trip taken by a sector vessel. . . .'' When we make ASM coverage 
level determinations for new exemption proposals, we need to 
differentiate between sector trips that include well documented fishing 
activity and sector trips under new exemption proposals that include 
fishing activity for which we need more information. For proposed 
exemptions in FY 2014 and in previous sector rulemakings, we identify 
sector trip activities that are similar to previous years' sector trip 
activities on which our ASM analysis is based. These are called 
``standard sector trips.'' We refer to ``standard sector trips'' as a 
way to distinguish these fishing activities from activities under new 
proposed exemption sector trips that may have significantly different 
fishing behavior, until we are able to collect more information to make 
a better determination for coverage. The FY 2014 exemption allowing a 
sector vessel to use both small-mesh and large-mesh on the same trip is 
a good example because we do not have information of how fishing 
activities under this new exemption will compare to the way sector 
vessels generally fish. Until we can examine sector trips using this 
exemption compared to other sector trips not using this exemption, we 
must consider them to be unique and differentiate them.

Exempted Fishing Permit To Access Closed Areas

    Comment 9: AOLA supported an EFP research proposal in Closed Area 
II; however, they requested that any such approved EFP include criteria 
to minimize impacts on lobster gear. They also suggested involving AOLA 
with helping to determine the details of any proposed EFP, and 
requested that, once approved, researchers communicate with them during 
the study to avoid any groundfish/lobster gear conflicts. CLF and PEW 
both noted that they are generally supportive of an EFP approach to 
research but questioned the agency's rationale for the research. PEW 
specifically raised concerns about the research questions posed in the 
proposed rule and stated that these questions needed to be broadened 
beyond economic questions to address a range of concerns, including 
biological questions about the fish stocks in the closed areas. PEW 
stated that, despite having 100-percent monitoring on all EFP trips, 
damage to fish and habitat could still occur rapidly and the agency 
could not act fast enough to prevent this harm. CLF commented that the 
use of an EFP approach to support potential access to the closed areas 
confuses the ``EFH gear impact utilization approach.''
    Response: Any proposed EFP(s) that we consider would first be 
announced in a Federal Register notice and the public would be provided 
a 15-day public comment period to comment. The notice would include the 
details of the EFP proposal, including the proposed gears, areas, and 
times under consideration. We expect that any approved EFPs would have 
limitations on the number of vessels allowed, would be required to use 
selective trawl gear, and would need to comply with the lobster/trawl 
agreement inn Closed Area II, among other possible restrictions. In 
regard to AOLA's request to participate in the development of an EFP, 
for a NMFS-led EFP, we would contact AOLA directly to address their 
concerns. For all other EFP applicants, we will request that the 
applicant work with the lobster industry to address their concerns and 
will provide the applicant contact information to AOLA. It would remain 
up to each of these EFP applicant to reach out to AOLA directly in 
planning research and to communicate issues.
    We share PEW and CLFs concern about potential impacts to depleted 
fish stocks in the mortality portions of the closed areas that are 
being considered for access, but believe that the questions that the 
agency is proposing for an agency-led EFP could provide information for 
both science and management purposes. In addition, we believe that 
information derived from the closed areas could be used to inform 
future access to these areas through the Habitat Omnibus Amendment. 
Specific EFP and potential sector vessel access through any future 
rulemaking would require that vessels adhere to specific criteria such 
as selective gear, at-sea monitors, detailed reporting requirements, 
sector ACEs, and Regional Administrator authority to stop fishing, 
should there be concern for the health of the groundfish resource. We 
believe that vessel activity allowed via an EFP or through follow-up 
rulemaking in FY 2014 would be relatively small and that we could 
adequately monitor this activity to ensure that harm is prevented to 
these resources. We do not need to do a separate rulemaking to rescind 
an EFP.

Lobster Agreement If Access Is Granted to Closed Areas I and II

    Comment 10: AOLA commented on the importance of codifying the ocean 
bottom-sharing agreement with the groundfish industry to mitigate gear 
conflicts and impacts to lobsters during June 15 through October 31 in 
Closed Area II. They also supported the requirement for 100 percent at-
sea monitor coverage to help determine bycatch of lobsters, and 
documentation by NMFS of any gear conflict that occurs. They are also 
requesting that, if access is granted to Closed Area II, the lobster 
industry would get a 30-day warning to remove their gear.
    Response: The lobster agreement was originally proposed in the FY 
2013 sector rule but was not implemented because access to CA II was 
never granted in FY 2013, rendering the agreement moot for FY 2013. For 
FY 2014, we have proposed access to CA II again, contingent upon the 
results of

[[Page 23294]]

any EFPs conducted during the fishing year. If NMFS were to approve 
access during FY 2014, we would publish a proposed rule soliciting 
public comment on the lobster/groundfish agreement and, if approved, 
codify this agreement in a final rule. Should access to the GB closed 
areas be approved later in the fishing year, we intend to provide the 
lobster industry with adequate time to remove their lobster gear.

Setting Target Observer Coverage Rate

    Comment 11: Oceana did not support the administration of sector 
accountability measures (AMs) or the continued use of a CV metric for 
setting monitoring coverage that they feel is inappropriate. They also 
feel that coverage levels are based on inappropriate assumptions about 
bias and the effects of bias on the efficacy of the ASM program to 
administer the fishery.
    Response: Amendment 16 included many accountability measures (AMs) 
for various portions of the groundfish fishery, including specific AMs 
to address the possibility that sector catches might at some point 
exceed their ACEs. Among the AM's instituted for sectors are: (1) Catch 
allocated to each sector is based on the stock ACL established by the 
Council. The ACL takes into account biological and management 
uncertainty to reduce the risk of overfishing. (2) Sectors are required 
to stop groundfish fishing when they are projected to have caught their 
allocation for any groundfish stock. (3) Reporting requirements are 
implemented to ensure that monitoring of sector catches is timely and 
accurate. (4) Sectors are provided opportunities to balance catches 
with their allocation through the trading of ACEs between sectors. (5) 
If a sector exceeds its allocation in a given year, and cannot balance 
its catch and allocation through ACE trading, then its allocation in 
the following year is reduced by the overage. Through the end of FY 
2012, no sector has exceeded its sub-ACL for any of the allocated 
stocks at the conclusion of the year.
    Sector ACEs are only one of several sub-allocations of each 
allocated stock's ACL. In addition to the sector-specific AMs, there 
are additional AMs that apply to each allocated stock's ACL and AMs 
that apply to other sub-ACLs and sub-components of each stock. A ``hard 
TAC'' backstop was adopted for the common pool, under which the fishery 
would be suspended upon reaching the year's sub-ACL for a stock. For 
the recreational fishery, AMs include adjustments to seasons, 
adjustments to minimum fish sizes, or adjustments to bag limits. 
Amendment 16 specifically contemplated the roles of AMs at the ACL, 
sub-ACL, and sub-component level, noting that with more than one sub-
component, and with ACLs set lower than the ABC (due to scientific and 
management buffers), it is possible that an overage by one component 
and not the others may not lead to a depressed stock size that requires 
adjusting ACLs. Accordingly, it sets up an entire process of evaluating 
any ACL overage to determine if an AM is necessary or sufficient to 
account for the overage and the current biological condition of the 
stock. This exists above and beyond the AMs set for sectors which are 
designed to engender responsibility and accountability in the sector 
system. The overall context is to allow adjustments at the sub-
component level so that components not responsible for any overage at 
the ACL level are not subject to reductions in their sub-ACL and 
resultant changes in fishing opportunities.
    We have determined that 26-percent at-sea monitoring/observer 
coverage of sector trips is sufficient, to the extent practicable in 
light of Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements; to reliably estimate catch 
for purposes of monitoring sector ACEs and ACLs for groundfish stocks. 
This determination is based not only on the statistical sufficiency of 
the level of coverage as summarized in more detail at: http://www.nero.noaa.gov/ro/fso/reports/Sectors/ASM/FY2014_Multispecies_Sector_ASM_Requirements_Summary.pdf, but also on the totality of how 
data and information is collected and analyzed including obligations on 
sectors to self-monitor and self-report, which is linked to agency 
monitoring. For the most part, the commenter has generally asserted 
that this system and level of monitoring is not adequate without 
providing any specific justification or information to support their 
assertion.
    Amendment 16 specified that ASM coverage levels should be less than 
100 percent, which requires an estimation of the discard portion of 
catch, and thus total catch. Amendment 16 also specified that the ASM 
coverage levels should achieve a 30-percent CV. The level of observer 
coverage, ultimately, should provide confidence that the overall catch 
estimate is accurate enough to ensure that sector fishing activities 
are consistent with National Standard 1 requirements to prevent 
overfishing while achieving, on a continuing basis, optimum yield from 
each fishery. To that end, significant additional uncertainty buffers 
are established in the setting of ACLs that help make up for any lack 
of absolute precision and accuracy in estimating overall catch by 
sector vessels.
    We rely on a number of data sources to monitor groundfish catch: 
Sector vessels are required to have an operational Vessel Monitoring 
System (VMS) and must use VMS to notify us when they are taking a 
groundfish trip; vessels must also submit vessel logbook reports (VTR), 
which are used to determine catch (landings and discards), gear and 
fishing area; depending upon their fishing activity, some vessels are 
also required to submit daily VMS catch reports to further refine catch 
by fishing area; dealers are required to report all purchases from 
groundfish vessels, which are used to determine landings; and sectors 
are required to submit sub-trip level catch and gear information 
weekly, or daily when certain catch thresholds (for FY 2014 the daily 
reporting threshold is 90 percent of any ACE) are reached. The detailed 
discard information provided by at-sea observers is critical for 
determining total catch (pounds, gear used, stock area). We conduct 
weekly reconciliation with sector-reported data, verifying that each 
sector and the agency have the same set of data to monitor catch and 
sector ACEs.
    We have determined the level of monitoring coverage that is 
necessary to monitor sector operations consistent with the national 
standards and other requirements of the MSA. We have determined that 
the appropriate level of observer coverage should be set at the level 
that meets the 30-percent CV requirement (at a minimum) at the overall 
stock level for all sectors and gears combined, to reliably estimate 
catch for purposes of monitoring ACEs and ACLs. This level of coverage 
minimizes the cost burden, while still providing a reliable estimate of 
overall catch by sectors to monitor annual catch levels. This 
interpretation is justified in light of the requirement for 
conservation and management measures to be consistent with all national 
standards. Specifically, National Standards 2, 7, and 8, which speak, 
respectively, to the need to use the best scientific information 
available; the need to minimize costs and avoid unnecessary 
duplication, where practicable; and the need to take into account 
impacts on fishing communities and minimize adverse economic impacts, 
to the extent practicable. We have conducted analyses, and considered 
both precision and accuracy issues in determining the appropriate level 
of coverage that minimizes the cost burden to sectors and NMFS, while 
still providing a reliable estimate of overall catch. As

[[Page 23295]]

stated previously, we have published a more detailed summary of the 
supporting analyses, and an explanation and justification supporting 
our determination that an at-sea coverage target rate of 26 percent is 
appropriate. Summary tables of the data used in the analyses were also 
posted on our Web site. A table of information by stock, gear, and 
sector was posted at: http://www.nero.noaa.gov/ro/fso/reports/Sectors/ASM/asmcvdata2.html. A table of information that can be sorted by stock 
and gear (without sector affiliation) was posted at: http://www.nero.noaa.gov/ro/fso/reports/Sectors/ASM/asmcvdata.html.
    Lastly, the recent court decision on Oceana's challenge to the 
Agency's monitoring standards supports the ASM coverage level announced 
in the proposed rule. Most notably, Oceana challenged the FY 2013 
sector operations rule, where we announced the target coverage level of 
22 percent, claiming that we set an unreasonably low coverage level. 
That challenge is identical to the comments made on the FY 2014 sector 
proposed rule, where we announced the target coverage level of 26 
percent.
    On February 18, 2014, in Oceana, Inc. v. Pritzker, 1:13-cv-00770 
(D.D.C. 2014), the Court upheld our use of a 30-percent CV standard set 
ASM coverage levels. In addition to upholding our determination of 
sufficient coverage levels, the Court noted that the ASM program is not 
the sole method of monitoring compliance with ACLs, there are many 
reporting requirements that vessels adhere to, and there are strong 
incentives for vessels to report accurately because each sector is held 
jointly and severally liable for overages.

Prohibition on Groundfish Trips in Closed Areas I and II

    Comment 12: AFM disagrees that closed areas are biologically 
different from areas that are outside of closed areas, and therefore do 
not warrant additional observer coverage. They support opening closed 
areas immediately and reference that many members of the Council 
support opening them as well. CLF and PEW remain opposed to all closed 
area access, referencing many of the same arguments and analysis 
submitted on the FY 2013 sector proposed rule that proposed sector 
exemptions to closed areas. CLF highlighted their challenge to FW 48, 
which is the action that allowed sectors to request access to closed 
areas. CLF is incorporating its legal arguments in that case with its 
comments on the proposed rule. CLF also commented that allowing access 
through a sector exemption, or even a controlled EFP, could confuse and 
complicate the analysis and considerations regarding the Omnibus EFH 
Amendment, which is considering changes to some of the areas in 
question. CLF and PEW express concern for depleted groundfish stocks on 
GB. PEW references the FY 2013 sector interim final rule. In that 
rulemaking, we did not approve access to CAs I and II and highlighted 
similar concerns for these depleted groundfish stocks. PEW comments 
similarly to CLF in regards to the Omnibus Habitat Amendment under 
consideration by the Council, that allowing mobile gear (i.e., trawl 
fishing) could impact the areas being analyzed, potentially disrupt 
habitat and spawning aggregations, and further degrade GB.
    Response: As explained in the response to comment sections in 
previous rulemakings (e.g., FW 48 final rule, FY 2013 closed area 
interim final rule), these areas were created with several 
considerations in mind, including protection for spawning stocks and 
improvement of benthic habitats. CAs I and II have specifically helped 
to protect GB cod, a stock in very poor shape. CA II also helps to 
protect GB yellowtail flounder, another stock that is seriously 
depleted. These areas have been largely closed to groundfish fishing 
for almost 20 years. It is reasonable to argue that an area that was 
once closed to reduce mortality has been closed so long that it has 
improved habitat. Moreover, areas closed for such a long period of time 
may be different in many ways from areas outside.
    We also recognize that many industry members, as well as the 
Council, support opening some closed areas, without additional observer 
coverage. For a more detailed response on this issue, see comment 7 
above. While the Council did not require 100-percent coverage as a pre-
requisite to allow sectors to request access to closed areas, it is 
within the Regional Administrator's discretion to approve and implement 
exemptions, with requirements as needed. For CAs I and II, we currently 
feel that it is necessary until there is further catch information 
collected from inside closed areas, specifically on stocks that are of 
concern.
    To address the comments on keeping areas closed, we want to remind 
CLF and PEW on the significant response to comment section from the FY 
2013 Closed Area interim final rule (78 FR 76077, December 16 2013, see 
pages 76082 through 76085), which addresses the same comments received 
from this rulemaking. Additionally, we remind everyone that we proposed 
to consider opening CA I and CA II in FY 2014, only after receiving the 
results of any EFPs that are to occur. We feel that the catch data 
collected from those trips will help to address many of the questions 
and comments that the fishing industry and public have in regards to 
the resources inside closed areas, the economic efficacy of funding an 
ASM to access those areas, and to further respond to the comments that 
are made here. Until then, it is difficult to address the repetitive 
comments any differently than how we responded in December.
    CLF refers to its challenge to FW 48 as a basis to disapprove these 
exemption requests. The Court, in CLF v. Pritzker, 1:13-cv-00820 
(D.D.C. 2014), --F.Supp.2d-- (D.D.C. 2014), upheld our use of FW 48 to 
allow sectors to request access to closed areas. We believe this 
decision supports our consideration and approval process for these 
exemption requests.

Classification

    Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the 
NMFS Assistant Administrator for Fisheries (AA) has determined that 
this final rule is consistent with the NE Multispecies FMP, other 
provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law.
    This action is exempt from review under Executive Order (E.O) 12866 
because this action contains no implementing regulations.
    The AA finds good cause under 5 U.S.C. 553(d)(1) and (3) to waive 
the 30-day delay in effectiveness so that this final rule may become 
effective upon filing because this rule relieves several restrictions. 
Sector Operation Plan exemptions grant exemptions or relieve 
restrictions that provide operational flexibility and efficiency that 
help avoid short-term adverse economic impacts on NE multispecies 
sector vessels. When the 17 approved Sector Operations Plans become 
effective, sector vessels are exempted from common pool trip limits, 
DAS limits, and seasonal closed areas. These exemptions provide vessels 
with flexibility in choosing when to fish, how long to fish, what 
species to target, and how much catch they may land. They also relieve 
some gear restrictions, reporting and monitoring requirements, and 
provide access to additional fishing grounds through the authorization 
of 20 exemptions from NE multispecies regulations for FY 2014. This 
flexibility increases efficiency and reduces costs.
    In addition to relieving restrictions and granting exemptions, 
avoiding a delay in effectiveness avoids significant adverse economic 
impacts. A delay in implementing this rule would prevent owners who 
joined a sector in FY 2014

[[Page 23296]]

(849 permits, accounting for 99 percent of the historical NE 
multispecies catch) from fishing during the delay and would diminish 
the advantage of the flexibility in vessel operations, thereby 
undermining the intent of the rule. During any delay, sector vessels 
would be prohibited from fishing for groundfish. Being prohibited from 
fishing for up to 30 days would have a significant adverse economic 
impact on these vessels because vessels would be prevented from fishing 
in a month when sector vessels landed approximately 10 percent of 
several allocations, including GB cod east and GB winter flounder. 
Further, sector vessels could only fish during this delay if they chose 
to fish in the common pool. Once they switched to the common pool, 
however, they could not return to a sector for the entire fishing year 
and would forego the flexibility and economic efficiency afforded by 
sector exemptions. Vessels choosing to fish in the common pool to avoid 
a 30 day delay in the beginning of their season would then forego 
potential increased flexibility and efficiencies for an entire fishing 
year. For the reasons outlined above, good cause exists to waive the 
otherwise applicable requirement to delay implementation of this rule 
for a period of 30 days.
    The Chief Counsel for Regulation of the Department of Commerce 
certified to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business 
Administration during the proposed rule stage that this action would 
not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small 
entities. The factual basis for this certification was published in the 
proposed rule and is not repeated here. No comments were received 
regarding this certification. As a result, a regulatory flexibility 
analysis was not required and none was prepared.

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

    Dated: April 22, 2014.
Samuel D. Rauch III,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2014-09511 Filed 4-25-14; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P