[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 98 (Wednesday, May 21, 2014)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 29154-29156]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-11664]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 648

[Docket No. 140220160-4160-01]
RIN 0648-BD99


Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Northeast Skate 
Complex Fishery; Framework Adjustment 2

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

ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: This rule proposes regulations to approve and implement 
measures in Framework Adjustment 2 to the Northeast Skate Complex 
Fishery Management Plan (FMP). The proposed action was developed by the 
New England Fishery Management Council to set specifications for the 
skate fisheries for the 2014 and 2015 fishing years, including a 
reduced annual catch limit and total allowable landings. Framework 2 
would also modify reporting requirements for skate fishing vessels and 
seafood dealers to improve species-specific data collection. The action 
is necessary to update the Skate FMP to be consistent with the best 
available scientific information, and improve management of the skate 
fisheries. The proposed action is expected to help conserve skate 
stocks, while maintaining economic opportunities for the skate 
fisheries.

DATES: Comments must be received on or before June 20, 2014.

ADDRESSES: Copies of the framework, including the Environmental 
Assessment and Regulatory Impact Review (EA/RIR) and other supporting 
documents for the action are available from Thomas A. Nies, Executive 
Director, New England Fishery Management Council, 50 Water Street, Mill 
2, Newburyport, MA 01950. The framework is also accessible via the 
Internet at: http://www.nero.noaa.gov.
    You may submit comments, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2014-0037, by any 
one of the following methods:
     Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking portal. Go to 
www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2014-0037, click the 
``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or 
attach your comments.
     Mail: NMFS, Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office, 55 
Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930. Mark the outside of the 
envelope ``Comments on Skate Framework 2.''
    Instructions: Comments must be submitted by one of the above 
methods to ensure that the comments are received, documented, and 
considered by NMFS. Comments sent by any other method, to any other 
address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, 
may not be considered. All comments received are a part of the public 
record and will generally be posted for public viewing on 
www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying 
information (e.g., name, address) submitted voluntarily by the sender 
will be publicly accessible. Do not submit confidential business 
information, or otherwise sensitive or protected information. NMFS will 
accept anonymous comments (enter ``N/A'' in the required fields if you 
wish to remain anonymous). Attachments to electronic comments will be 
accepted in Microsoft Word or Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF formats 
only.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Tobey Curtis, Fishery Policy Analyst, 
(978) 281-9273.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Background

    The New England Fishery Management Council is responsible for 
developing management measures for skate fisheries in the northeastern 
U.S. through the Northeast Skate Complex Fishery Management Plan (Skate 
FMP). Seven skate species are managed under the Skate FMP: Winter; 
little; thorny;

[[Page 29155]]

barndoor; smooth; clearnose; and rosette. The Council's Scientific and 
Statistical Committee (SSC) reviews the best available information on 
the status of skate populations and makes recommendations on acceptable 
biological catch (ABC) for the skate complex (all seven species). This 
recommendation is then used as the basis for catch limits and other 
management measures for the skate fisheries.
    The regulations implementing the Skate FMP at 50 CFR part 648, 
subpart O, outline the management procedures and measures for the skate 
fisheries. Specifications including the annual catch limit (ACL), 
annual catch target (ACT), total allowable landings (TALs) for the 
skate wing and bait fisheries, and possession limits may be specified 
for up to 2 years. The current specifications expire at the end of the 
2013 fishing year (April 30, 2014); therefore, the Council was required 
to develop new specifications for the 2014 and 2015 fishing years. In 
addition to setting specifications, the Council desired to modify skate 
fishing vessel and dealer reporting requirements to improve species-
specific skate landings data. Framework 2 was initiated to accomplish 
both of these objectives.

Proposed Specifications

    In November 2013, the SSC reviewed updated information on the 
status of the seven species in the skate complex, including new 
research on discard mortality rates, and recommended an ABC of 35,479 
mt for 2014 and 2015 (a 30-percent reduction from 2013). The 
recommended catch reduction is largely based on trawl survey biomass 
declines in the more abundant little and winter skate species. Winter 
skate was determined to be experiencing overfishing in 2013, and thorny 
skate (a prohibited species) is both overfished and experiencing 
overfishing.
    The Council met in January 2014 to discuss the necessary changes to 
the specifications following the procedures set forth in Amendment 3 to 
the Skate FMP (75 FR 34049, June 16, 2010), and to consider 
recommendations from its Skate Oversight Committee and Skate Advisory 
Panel. Framework 2 was developed and submitted to NMFS to recommend 
these specifications and recommendations. The Council has recommended, 
and NMFS is proposing in this rule, the following specifications for 
the skate fisheries for the 2014-2015 fishing years:
    1. Skate ABC and annual catch limit (ACL) of 35,479 mt;
    2. Annual catch target (ACT) of 26,609 mt;
    3. Total allowable landings (TAL) of 16,385 mt (the skate wing 
fishery is allocated 66.5 percent of the TAL (10,896 mt) and the skate 
bait fishery is allocated 33.5 percent of the TAL (5,489 mt, divided 
into three seasons according to the regulations at Sec.  648.322));
    4. Status quo skate wing possession limits, as defined in Sec.  
648.322(b): 2,600 lb (1,179 kg) wing weight per trip for Season I (May 
1 through August 31), and 4,100 lb (1,860 kg) wing weight per trip for 
Season II (September 1 through April 30) for vessels fishing on a 
Northeast Multispecies, Monkfish, or Scallop day-at-sea. The Northeast 
Multispecies Category-B day-at-sea possession limit remains at 220 lb 
(100 kg) wing weight per trip, and the non-day-at-sea incidental 
possession limit remains at 500 lb (227 kg) wing weight per trip; and,
    5. Status quo skate bait possession limit, as defined in Sec.  
648.322(c): 25,000 lb (11,340 kg) whole weight per trip for vessels 
carrying a valid Skate Bait Letter of Authorization.

The Council did not recommend any changes to the existing in-season 
incidental possession limit trigger points (85 percent in the wing 
fishery, 90 percent in the bait fishery). While these reductions in 
catch limits are expected to address the current overfishing status for 
winter skates (not overfished), the Council intends to develop a new 
skate action during 2014 to address overfishing and rebuild overfished 
thorny skates.

Vessel and Dealer Reporting Requirements

    A long-term goal of the Skate FMP has been to improve species-
specific skate catch information. However, currently, the vast majority 
of skate landings are simply reported as ``unclassified skate,'' which 
hinders single-species assessment and management efforts. The proposed 
changes include removing ``unclassified skate'' as a valid reporting 
option for vessels and dealers, and removing the smaller rosette, 
smooth, and little skates as valid reporting options in the skate wing 
fishery (i.e., species that do not reach a marketable size for the wing 
fishery).
    Skate bait vessels and dealers would be required to report landings 
by species from among the following options: Winter skate; little 
skate; little/winter skate (unknown mix of these two species); barndoor 
skate; smooth skate; thorny skate; clearnose skate; or rosette skate. 
Skate wing vessels and dealers would be required to report landings by 
species from among these options: Winter skate; barndoor skate; thorny 
skate; or clearnose skate. Based upon NMFS port sampling data, over 98 
percent of skate wing fishery landings are composed of winter skate, so 
it is expected that most of the ``unclassified'' skate wing landings 
would translate into ``winter skate'' landings. Similarly, 
approximately 90 percent of skate bait landings are composed of little 
skate, with the remainder being largely comprised of juvenile winter 
skates. Therefore, ``unclassified'' landings in the bait fishery are 
expected to translate into ``little skate'' or ``little/winter skate'' 
landings. While in most circumstances it is unlawful to retain, land, 
or possess barndoor, thorny, and smooth skates, vessels and fish 
dealers must still report the unauthorized landing of these species 
when they occur. Outreach, education, and continued monitoring of 
landings by NMFS would help aid fishing vessels and dealers with this 
transition.

Classification

    Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the 
NMFS Assistant Administrator has made a preliminary determination that 
this proposed rule is consistent with the Skate FMP, other provisions 
of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law, subject to 
further consideration after public comment.
    This proposed rule has been determined to be not significant for 
the purpose of E.O. 12866.
    The Council prepared an IRFA, as required by section 603 of the 
Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA). The IRFA consists of Framework 2, the 
EA for Framework 2, and this preamble to the proposed rule. The IRFA 
describes the economic impact this proposed rule, if adopted, would 
have on small entities. A description of the action, why it is being 
considered, and the legal basis for this action are contained at the 
beginning of this section of the preamble and in the SUMMARY of this 
proposed rule. A copy of this analysis is available from the Councils 
(see ADDRESSES).
    This action does not introduce any new reporting, recordkeeping, or 
other compliance requirements. This proposed rule does not duplicate, 
overlap, or conflict with other Federal rules.

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

    This rule will impact fishing vessels, including commercial fishing 
entities. In 2012, there were 2,265 vessels that held an open access 
skate permit. However, not all of those vessels are active participants 
in the fishery. If two

[[Page 29156]]

or more vessels have identical owners, these vessels should be 
considered to be part of the same firm, because they may have the same 
owners. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), firms are 
classified as finfish or shellfish firms based on the activity which 
they derive the most revenue. Using the $5M cutoff for shellfish firms 
(NAICS 114112) and the $19M cutoff for finfish firms (NAICS 114111), 
there are 526 active fishing firms, of which 519 are small entities and 
7 are large entities. On average, for small entities, skate is 
responsible for a small fraction of landings, and active participants 
derive a small share of gross receipts from the skate fishery 
(approximately 34 percent in 2011 and 2012 fishing years came from 
skate revenue).

Economic Impacts of the Proposed Action Compared to Significant Non-
Selected Alternatives

    During 2012, total revenues from skate landings were valued at 
approximately $6.6 million. The 2012 data is representative of an 
average-landings skate year, whereas the 2011 data is representative of 
a recent high-landings skate year. Compared to the no action 
alternative, the proposed reduction in the skate TALs (30 percent) 
could reduce potential annual skate revenues. However, fishing year 
2012 actual skate landings were below the proposed TAL, suggesting that 
it is unlikely that potential revenue losses would be directly 
commensurate with the TAL reduction. If skate landings in 2014 and 2015 
are comparable to those observed in 2012, then the skate fishery may 
experience no loss of skate revenue, but may actually come closer to 
fully harvesting the available amount of landings.
    The preferred (status quo) skate wing and bait possession limit 
alternatives were selected because they have a high likelihood of 
providing a consistent rate of skate landings for the entire fishing 
year, while likely achieving 100 percent of the respective TALs. 
Alternatives with lower possession limits (1,500 lb (680 kg)/2,400 lb 
(1,089 kg) in the wing fishery; 20,000 lb (9,072 kg) in the bait 
fishery) would increase the likelihood of not achieving the proposed 
TAL by the end of the year, resulting in losses of potential skate 
revenues. One alternative for a higher skate wing possession limit 
(5,000 lb (2,268 kg)) was not preferred because it was projected to 
reach the in-season incidental possession limit trigger point (85 
percent of the TAL) early in the fishing year, effectively closing the 
directed skate wing fishery for part of the year, which would result in 
distributional shifts of benefits from late-season harvesters to summer 
harvesters.
    Changes to skate vessel and dealer reporting requirements are 
administrative measures, and the preferred and no action alternatives 
have no associated economic impacts. Vessels and dealers are already 
required to report the skates that they catch/purchase.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 648

    Fisheries, Fishing, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements.

    Dated: May 14, 2014.
Samuel D. Rauch III,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.

    For the reasons set out in the preamble, NMFS proposes to amend 50 
CFR part 648 as follows:

PART 648--FISHERIES OF THE NORTHEASTERN UNITED STATES

0
1. The authority citation for part 648 continues to read as follows:

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

0
2. In Sec.  648.7, revise paragraphs (a)(1)(iii), and (b)(1)(iii) to 
read as follows:


Sec.  648.7  Recordkeeping and reporting requirements.

* * * * *
    (a) * * *
    (1) * * *
    (iii) Dealer reporting requirements for skates. In addition to the 
requirements under paragraph (a)(1)(i) of this section, dealers shall 
report the species of skates received. Species of skates received as 
bait shall be identified according to the following categories: Winter 
skate, little skate, little/winter skate, barndoor skate, smooth skate, 
thorny skate, clearnose skate, and rosette skate. Species of skates 
received as wings (or other product forms not used for bait) shall be 
identified according to the following categories: Winter skate, 
barndoor skate, thorny skate, and clearnose skate. NMFS will provide 
dealers with a skate species identification guide.
* * * * *
    (b) * * *
    (1) * * *
    (iii) Vessel reporting requirements for skates. In addition to the 
requirements under paragraph (b)(1)(i) of this section, the owner or 
operator of any vessel issued a skate permit shall report the species 
of all skates landed. Species of skates landed for bait shall be 
identified according to the following categories: Winter skate, little 
skate, little/winter skate, barndoor skate, smooth skate, thorny skate, 
clearnose skate, and rosette skate. Species of skates landed as wings 
(or other product forms not used for bait) shall be identified 
according to the following categories: Winter skate, barndoor skate, 
thorny skate, and clearnose skate. Discards of skates shall be reported 
according to two size classes, large skates (greater than or equal to 
23 inches (58.42 cm) in total length) and small skates (less than 23 
inches (58.42 cm) in total length). All other vessel reporting 
requirements remain unchanged. NMFS will provide vessel owners or 
operators that intend to land skates with a skate identification guide 
to assist in this data collection program.
* * * * *
[FR Doc. 2014-11664 Filed 5-20-14; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P