[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 86 (Monday, May 5, 2014)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 25558-25560]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-10210]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 679

RIN 0648-BD98


Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Groundfish 
of the Gulf of Alaska; Groundfish of the Bering Sea and Aleutian 
Islands

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

ACTION: Notice of availability of fishery management plan amendments; 
request for comments.

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SUMMARY: The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) 
submitted Amendment 100 to the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish 
of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Management Area (BSAI FMP) and 
Amendment 91 to the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Gulf 
of Alaska (GOA

[[Page 25559]]

FMP). If approved, these amendments would add grenadiers to the 
ecosystem component category in the BSAI FMP and GOA FMP. This proposed 
action is necessary to limit and monitor the incidental catch of 
grenadiers in the groundfish fisheries. This proposed action is 
intended to promote the goals and objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens 
Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the FMPs, and other applicable 
law.

DATES: Comments must be received no later than July 7, 2014.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by 
NOAA-NMFS-2014-0023, by any of the following methods:
     Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal e Rulemaking Portal. Go to 
www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2014-0023, click the 
``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or 
attach your comments.
     Mail: Submit written comments to Glenn Merrill, Assistant 
Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region 
NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian. Mail comments to P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, 
AK 99802-1668.
    Instructions: Comments sent by any other method, to any other 
address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, 
may not be considered by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the 
public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on 
www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying 
information (e.g., name, address), confidential business information, 
or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily by the sender 
will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter 
``N/A'' in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous). 
Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word, 
Excel, or Adobe PDF file formats only.
    Electronic copies of Amendment 100 to the BSAI FMP, Amendment 91 to 
the GOA FMP, and the Environmental Assessment, the Regulatory Impact 
Review, and the Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (collectively, 
Analysis) prepared for this action are available from 
www.regulations.gov or from the NMFS Alaska Region Web site at 
alaskafisheries.noaa.gov.
    Written comments regarding the burden-hour estimates or other 
aspects of the collection-of-information requirements contained in this 
proposed rule may be submitted to NMFS and by email to OIRA_Submission@omb.eop.gov or fax to (202) 395-7285.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Gretchen Harrington, 907-586-7228.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation 
and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) requires that each regional 
fishery management council submit any fishery management plan amendment 
it prepares to NMFS for review and approval, disapproval, or partial 
approval by the Secretary of Commerce. The Magnuson-Stevens Act also 
requires that NMFS, upon receiving a fishery management plan amendment, 
immediately publish a notice in the Federal Register announcing that 
the amendment is available for public review and comment. This notice 
announces that proposed Amendment 100 to the BSAI FMP and Amendment 91 
to the GOA FMP are available for public review and comment.
    NMFS manages the groundfish fisheries in the exclusive economic 
zone of the GOA and BSAI under the GOA FMP and BSAI FMP (collectively, 
the FMPs). The Council prepared these FMPs under the authority of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act, 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. Regulations implementing 
the FMPs appear at 50 CFR part 679. General regulations governing U.S. 
fisheries also appear at 50 CFR part 600.
    The groundfish fisheries in the BSAI and GOA incidentally catch 
grenadiers (family Macrouridae) while harvesting target groundfish. For 
many years, the Council has considered how best to classify grenadiers 
in the FMPs. From 1980 to 2010, grenadiers were included in the FMPs in 
the nonspecified species category. Nonspecified species were defined as 
a residual category of species and species groups of no current or 
foreseeable economic value or ecological importance, which are taken in 
the groundfish fishery as incidental catch and are in no apparent 
danger of depletion, and for which virtually no data exists that would 
allow population assessments.
    In 2010, the Council recommended and NMFS removed the nonspecified 
species category from the FMPs when the FMPs were revised to meet 
Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements for annual catch limits (ACLs) and 
accountability measures (AMs) under Amendment 96 to the BSAI FMP and 
Amendment 87 to the GOA FMP (Amendments 96/87, 75 FR 38454, July 2, 
2010). The nonspecified species, including grenadiers, were removed 
from the FMPs because these species were too poorly understood to set 
ACLs and AMs or to develop a management regime.
    Amendments 96/87 also amended the FMPs to organize the species 
remaining in the FMPs according to the National Standard 1 guidelines 
(50 CFR 600.310). In the National Standard 1 guidelines, NMFS 
recommends two categories for species in an FMP: ``Stocks in the 
fishery'' and ``ecosystem component (EC) species.''
    ``Stocks in the fishery'' are defined in the National Standard 1 
guidelines (Sec.  600.310(d)(2)). ``Stocks in the fishery'' include (1) 
stocks that are targeted, and retained for sale or personal use; (2) 
stocks that are not directly targeted but are taken incidentally in 
other directed fisheries, and are retained for sale or personal use; or 
(3) stocks not targeted or retained but are taken as incidental catch 
and for which overfishing or overfished status may be a concern.
    NMFS created the EC species category to encourage ecosystem 
approaches to management and to incorporate ecosystem considerations 
for species that are not ``stocks in the fishery'' (74 FR 3178, January 
16, 2009). EC species are defined in the National Standard 1 guidelines 
(Sec.  600.310(d)(5)). In order to be designated an EC, the species or 
species group should be (1) a non-targeted species or species group; 
(2) not subject to overfishing, overfished, or approaching an 
overfished condition; (3) not likely to become subject to overfishing 
or overfished in the absence of conservation and management measures; 
and (4) not generally retained for sale or personal use.
    Amendments 96/87 established the EC category and designated 
prohibited species (which include salmon, steelhead trout, crab, 
halibut, and herring) and forage fish (as defined in Table 2c to part 
679 and Sec.  679.20(i)) as EC species in the FMPs. For EC species, 
NMFS maintained conservation regulations applicable to the specific EC 
species. These include prohibiting the retention of prohibited species, 
prohibiting directed fishing for forage fish, and establishing a limit 
on the incidental harvest of forage fish while directed fishing for 
other groundfish species, known as a maximum retainable amount, of 2 
percent. Regulations at 50 CFR 679.2 define the term ``directed 
fishing.'' Regulations at Sec.  679.20(e) describe the application and 
calculation of maximum retainable amounts.
    When the Council recommended Amendments 96/87, it recognized that 
as information on a nonspecified species improves, it would consider 
moving that species back into the FMP, either as a ``stock in the 
fishery'' or as

[[Page 25560]]

an EC species. In 2010, the Council initiated an analysis to consider 
moving grenadiers back into the FMPs. The Council determined that 
sufficient information exists for grenadiers to address them in the 
FMPs, as reflected in the Analysis prepared for this action (see 
ADDRESSES). The Analysis provides the best available information on 
grenadiers and considers two action alternatives: Include grenadiers in 
the FMP as an EC species, or include grenadiers in the FMP as a ``stock 
in the fishery.''
    In February 2014, the Council voted unanimously to recommend 
Amendments 100/91 to the FMPs to add grenadiers to the EC category in 
the FMPs. The Council and NMFS recognized that adding grenadiers to the 
FMPs in the EC category would acknowledge their role in the ecosystem 
and limit the groundfish fisheries' impact on grenadiers. Adding 
grenadiers to the EC category allows for improved data collection and 
catch monitoring appropriate for grenadiers given their abundance, 
distribution, and catch. The Council and NMFS determined that 
grenadiers are not a ``stock in the fishery'' because (1) grenadiers 
are not a target stock; (2) they are not generally retained for sale or 
personal use; and (3) they are not overfished, subject to overfishing, 
or approaching overfished or overfishing. The following information 
describes why grenadiers would be appropriate to include in the FMPs as 
an EC species based on information summarized from the Analysis.
    Grenadiers are not a targeted species group and are not generally 
retained for sale or personal use. Grenadiers have no current or 
foreseeable economic value. Section 3.3 of the Analysis explains that 
grenadiers are incidentally caught in deep water trawl and hook-and-
line fisheries, but are not actively targeted or purposefully retained. 
In 2013, there was almost no reported retention of grenadiers in the 
BSAI (only 1 metric ton (t) or 2,205 pounds (lb)), and, in the GOA, 
only 55 t (121,254 lb) of grenadiers were retained. This represents a 
GOA fishery-wide retention rate of less than one half of one percent. 
Of this retention of grenadiers, 35 t (77,162 lb) was made into fish 
meal, 17 t (37,479 lb) was discarded at the dock, 3 t (6,614 lb) was 
retained for bait, and less than 1 t (2,205 lb) was sold. Thus, there 
is no evidence that grenadiers are presently being targeted or 
generally retained. It is likely that grenadiers are being retained 
only when mixed with other catch.
    Grenadiers are not generally retained for sale or personal 
consumption. As explained in Section 3.3.4 of the Analysis, attempts to 
create a marketable product from giant grenadiers have been 
unsuccessful. Grenadiers have very low protein content, high moisture 
content, and are generally regarded as mushy and unpalatable. No 
current market exists for grenadiers, and it is unlikely that one will 
be developed in the foreseeable future.
    Grenadiers are not generally retained for personal use. A small 
portion of the total catch of grenadiers is known to be retained for 
use as bait (e.g., 3 t (6,614 lb) in the GOA in 2013). Although 
grenadiers may be retained for use as bait in hook-and-line fisheries, 
there is no indication that this is a general practice throughout the 
hook-and-line fleets. NMFS notes that existing recordkeeping and 
reporting for the use of grenadiers is voluntary, and could 
underestimate the amount of grenadiers used for bait. However, the best 
available information indicates that grenadiers are not generally 
retained for bait.
    At the current level of catch, grenadiers are not subject to 
overfishing, overfished, or approaching an overfished condition, and 
are not likely to become subject to overfishing or overfished in the 
absence of conservation and management measures. Section 3.2 of the 
Analysis explains that NMFS has been conducting a stock assessment for 
grenadiers since 2006. At present, stock assessment information for 
giant grenadier is relatively good compared to many other non-target 
species off Alaska. Since 2010, the stock assessment has been used to 
estimate an acceptable biological catch (ABC) and an overfishing level 
(OFL), using reliable estimates of biomass and natural mortality. Giant 
grenadiers served as a proxy for the grenadier species group, and the 
estimated ABC and estimated OFL are based on giant grenadier 
(Albatrossia pectoralis) because relatively few other grenadier species 
(family Macrouridae) are caught in the groundfish fisheries or are 
taken in NMFS surveys. NMFS estimates the incidental catch of 
grenadiers in the groundfish fisheries using observer data. In the 
BSAI, the estimated grenadier OFL is 135,236 t (298 million lb) and the 
estimated catch is 5,294 t (12 million lb, mean for 2003-2013). In the 
GOA, the estimated grenadier OFL is 46,635 t (103 million lb) and the 
estimated catch is 8,707 t (19 million lb, mean for 2003-2013).
    Additionally, the Council recognized that adding grenadiers to the 
FMPs in the EC category would acknowledge their role in the ecosystem 
and limit the groundfish fisheries' impact on grenadiers. Section 3.6 
of the Analysis describes the current state of research and 
understanding about the ecological importance of grenadiers. For 
example, giant grenadier have an important ecological role given its 
role as an apex predator. Apex predators reside at the top of their 
food chain and have few to no predators of their own. In bottom trawl 
surveys conducted by NMFS in the Bering Sea and the GOA, giant 
grenadiers are the most abundant fish, in terms of weight, in depths 
from 600 to 3,000 feet (183-914 meters). Giant grenadiers extend much 
deeper than 3,000 feet (914 meters). There are reports that they have 
been caught deeper than 6,000 feet (1,829 meters), but little is known 
about their abundance in waters deeper than 3,000 feet because neither 
the NMFS surveys nor fishing effort presently extend below this depth.
    NMFS is soliciting public comments on proposed Amendments 100/91 
through the end of the comment period (see DATES). NMFS intends to 
publish in the Federal Register and seek public comment on a proposed 
rule that would implement Amendments 100/91, following NMFS' evaluation 
of the proposed rule under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. All comments 
received by the end of the comment period on Amendments 100/91, whether 
specifically directed to the FMP amendment or the proposed rule, will 
be considered in the approval/disapproval decision on Amendments 100/
91. Comments received after that date will not be considered in the 
approval/disapproval decision on Amendments 100/91. To be considered, 
comments must be received, not just postmarked or otherwise 
transmitted, by the last day of the comment period.

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

    Dated: April 30, 2014.
Emily H. Menashes,
Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2014-10210 Filed 5-2-14; 8:45 am]
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