[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 103 (Thursday, May 29, 2014)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 30745-30747]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-12396]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 635

[Docket No. 130214139-3542-02]
RIN 0648-XD277


Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; Atlantic Bluefin Tuna 
Fisheries

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

ACTION: Temporary rule; inseason General category retention limit 
adjustment.

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SUMMARY: NMFS is adjusting the Atlantic bluefin tuna (BFT) General 
category daily retention limit from the default limit of one large 
medium or giant BFT to four large medium or giant BFT for June 1 
through August 31, 2014. This action is based on consideration of the 
regulatory determination criteria regarding inseason adjustments, and 
applies to Atlantic tunas General category (commercial) permitted 
vessels and Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Charter/Headboat category 
permitted vessels when fishing commercially for BFT.

DATES: Effective June 1, 2014, through August 31, 2014.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Sarah McLaughlin or Brad McHale, 978-
281-9260.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Regulations implemented under the authority 
of the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act (ATCA; 16 U.S.C. 971 et seq.) and 
the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-
Stevens Act; 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.) governing the harvest of BFT by 
persons and vessels subject to U.S. jurisdiction are found at 50 CFR 
part 635. Section 635.27 subdivides the U.S. BFT quota recommended by 
the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas 
(ICCAT) among the various domestic fishing categories, per the 
allocations established in the 2006 Consolidated Highly Migratory 
Species Fishery Management Plan (2006 Consolidated

[[Page 30746]]

HMS FMP) (71 FR 58058, October 2, 2006) and in accordance with 
implementing regulations. NMFS is required under ATCA and the Magnuson-
Stevens Act to provide U.S. fishing vessels with a reasonable 
opportunity to harvest the ICCAT-recommended quota.
    The 2010 ICCAT recommendation regarding western BFT management 
resulted in baseline U.S. quotas for 2011 and for 2012 of 923.7 mt (not 
including the 25 mt ICCAT allocated to the United States to account for 
bycatch of BFT in pelagic longline fisheries in the Northeast Distant 
Gear Restricted Area). The 2011 BFT quota rule (76 FR 39019, July 5, 
2011) implemented the base quota of 435.1 mt for the General category 
fishery (a commercial tunas fishery in which handgear is used). Each of 
the General category time periods (January, June through August, 
September, October through November, and December) is allocated a 
portion of the annual General category quota. Although NMFS has 
published proposed quota specifications for 2014 (79 FR 18870, April 4, 
2014), the baseline General category subquotas as codified in 2011 
would not be changed, including the 217.6-mt June through August 
General category subquota.
    The 2014 BFT fishing year, which is managed on a calendar-year 
basis and subject to an annual calendar-year quota, began January 1, 
2014. The General category season, which was open January 1 through 
March 21, 2014, resumes on June 1, 2014, and continues through December 
31, 2014. Unless changed, the General category daily retention limit 
would be the default retention limit of one large medium or giant BFT 
(measuring 73 inches (185 cm) curved fork length (CFL) or greater) per 
vessel per day/trip (Sec.  635.23(a)(2)). This default retention limit 
applies to General category permitted vessels and to HMS Charter/
Headboat category permitted vessels when fishing commercially for BFT.
    For the 2013 fishing year, NMFS adjusted the General category limit 
from the default level of one large medium or giant BFT as follows: Two 
large medium or giant BFT for January (77 FR 74612, December 17, 2012), 
and three large medium or giant BFT for June through August (78 FR 
26708, May 8, 2013), three large medium or giant BFT for September 1 
through November 26 (78 FR 50346, August 19, 2013), and five large 
medium or giant BFT for November 27 through December 31 (78 FR 72584, 
December 3, 2013). NMFS adjusted the daily retention limit for the 2014 
January subquota period from the default level of one large medium or 
giant BFT to two large medium or giant BFT (78 FR 77362, December 23, 
2013). That retention limit was effective from January 1, 2014, until 
March 21, 2014, when NMFS closed the fishery because the January 
subquota had been met (79 FR 15924, March 24, 2014).

Adjustment of General Category Daily Retention Limit

    Under Sec.  635.23(a)(4), NMFS may increase or decrease the daily 
retention limit of large medium and giant BFT over a range of zero to a 
maximum of five per vessel based on consideration of the relevant 
criteria provided under Sec.  635.27(a)(8), which include: The 
usefulness of information obtained from catches in the particular 
category for biological sampling and monitoring of the status of the 
stock; effects of the adjustment on BFT rebuilding and overfishing; 
effects of the adjustment on accomplishing the objectives of the 
fishery management plan; variations in seasonal BFT distribution, 
abundance, or migration patterns; effects of catch rates in one area 
precluding vessels in another area from having a reasonable opportunity 
to harvest a portion of the category's quota; and review of dealer 
reports, daily landing trends, and the availability of BFT on the 
fishing grounds.
     NMFS has considered these criteria and their applicability 
to the General category BFT retention limit for the June-August 2014 
General category fishery. These considerations include, but are not 
limited to, the following. Biological samples collected from BFT landed 
by General category fishermen and provided by BFT dealers continue to 
provide NMFS with valuable parts and data for ongoing scientific 
studies of BFT age and growth, migration, and reproductive status. As 
this action would be taken consistent with the quotas previously 
established and analyzed in the 2011 BFT quota final rule (76 FR 39019, 
July 5, 2011), and consistent with objectives of the 2006 Consolidated 
HMS FMP, it is not expected to negatively impact stock health. A 
principal consideration is the objective of providing opportunities to 
harvest the full June-August subquota without exceeding it based upon 
the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP goal: ``Consistent with other objectives 
of this FMP, to manage Atlantic HMS fisheries for continuing optimum 
yield so as to provide the greatest overall benefit to the Nation, 
particularly with respect to food production, providing recreational 
opportunities, preserving traditional fisheries, and taking into 
account the protection of marine ecosystems.'' Migration of commercial-
size BFT to the fishing grounds off the northeast U.S. coast is 
anticipated by early June. Lastly, based on General category landings 
rates during the June through August time period over the last several 
years, it is highly unlikely that the June through August subquota will 
be filled with the default daily retention limit of one BFT per vessel, 
and it may not be filled at a three-BFT limit if recent patterns of BFT 
availability and landings rates hold. During the June-August periods in 
2012 and 2013, under a three-fish limit, BFT landings were 
approximately 155 mt and 108 mt, respectively (71 percent and 50 
percent, respectively, of the available quota for that period).
    A limit lower than four fish could result in unused quota being 
added to the later portion of the General category season (i.e., 
rolling forward to the subsequent subquota time period). Increasing the 
daily retention limit from the default may mitigate rolling an 
excessive amount of unused quota from one time-period subquota to the 
next. However, increasing the daily limit to five fish may risk 
exceeding the available June-August subquota. NMFS has also received 
comment over recent years from General category fishery participants 
and BFT dealers that a five-fish limit at this time of year may 
negatively affect market prices as the fish quality tends to be lower 
earlier in the year. Increasing the daily retention limit to four fish 
will increase the likelihood that the General category BFT landings 
will approach, but not exceed, the annual quota, as well as increase 
the opportunity for catching BFT harvest during the June through August 
subquota period. Increasing (and sometimes maximizing) opportunity 
within each subquota period is also important because of the migratory 
nature and seasonal distribution of BFT. In a particular geographic 
region, or waters accessible from a particular port, the amount of 
fishing opportunity for BFT may be constrained by the short amount of 
time the BFT are present.
    Based on all of these considerations, NMFS has determined that a 
four-fish General category retention limit is warranted. It would 
provide a reasonable opportunity to harvest the U.S. quota of BFT, 
without exceeding it, while maintaining an equitable distribution of 
fishing opportunities; help achieve optimum yield in the General 
category BFT fishery; allow the collection of a broad range of data for 
stock monitoring purposes; and be consistent with the objectives of the 
2006 Consolidated HMS FMP. Therefore, NMFS increases the General 
category retention limit from the default

[[Page 30747]]

limit to four large medium or giant BFT per vessel per day/trip, 
effective June 1, 2014, through August 31, 2014.
    Regardless of the duration of a fishing trip, the daily retention 
limit applies upon landing. For example, whether a vessel fishing under 
the General category limit takes a two-day trip or makes two trips in 
one day, the daily limit of four fish may not be exceeded upon landing. 
This General category retention limit is effective in all areas, except 
for the Gulf of Mexico, and applies to those vessels permitted in the 
General category, as well as to those HMS Charter/Headboat permitted 
vessels fishing commercially for BFT.

Monitoring and Reporting

    NMFS will continue to monitor the BFT fishery closely through the 
mandatory dealer landing reports, which NMFS requires to be submitted 
within 24 hours of a dealer receiving BFT. Depending on the level of 
fishing effort and catch rates of BFT, NMFS may determine that 
additional retention limit adjustment or closure is necessary to ensure 
available quota is not exceeded or to enhance scientific data 
collection from, and fishing opportunities in, all geographic areas.
    Closures or subsequent adjustments to the daily retention limits, 
if any, will be published in the Federal Register. In addition, 
fishermen may call the Atlantic Tunas Information Line at (888) 872-
8862 or (978) 281-9260, or access hmspermits.noaa.gov, for updates on 
quota monitoring and retention limit adjustments.

Classification

    The Assistant Administrator for NMFS (AA) finds that it is 
impracticable and contrary to the public interest to provide prior 
notice of, and an opportunity for public comment on, this action for 
the following reasons:
    The regulations implementing the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP provide 
for inseason retention limit adjustments to respond to the 
unpredictable nature of BFT availability on the fishing grounds, the 
migratory nature of this species, and the regional variations in the 
BFT fishery. Affording prior notice and opportunity for public comment 
to implement these retention limits is impracticable as NMFS needs to 
wait until it has necessary data and information about the fishery 
before it can select the appropriate retention limit for a time period 
prescribed by regulation. By the time NMFS has the necessary data, 
implementing the retention limit following a public comment period 
would preclude fishermen from harvesting BFT that are legally available 
consistent with all of the regulatory criteria. Analysis of available 
data shows that the General category BFT retention limits may be 
increased with minimal risks of exceeding the ICCAT-allocated quota.
    Delays in increasing these retention limits would adversely affect 
those General and Charter/Headboat category vessels that would 
otherwise have an opportunity to harvest more than the default 
retention limit of one BFT per day/trip and may exacerbate the problem 
of low catch rates and quota rollovers. Limited opportunities to 
harvest the respective quotas may have negative social and economic 
impacts for U.S. fishermen that depend upon catching the available 
quota within the time periods designated in the 2006 Consolidated HMS 
FMP. Adjustment of the retention limit needs to be effective June 1, 
2014, or as soon as possible thereafter, to minimize any unnecessary 
disruption in fishing patterns, to allow the impacted sectors to 
benefit from the adjustment, and to not preclude fishing opportunities 
for fishermen who have access to the fishery only during this time 
period. Therefore, the AA finds good cause under 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(B) to 
waive prior notice and the opportunity for public comment. For these 
reasons, there is good cause under 5 U.S.C. 553(d) to waive the 30-day 
delay in effectiveness.
    This action is being taken under 50 CFR 635.23(a)(4) and is exempt 
from review under Executive Order 12866.

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 971 et seq. and 1801 et seq.

    Dated: May 22, 2014.
Alan D. Risenhoover,
Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.
[FR Doc. 2014-12396 Filed 5-23-14; 11:15 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P