[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 143 (Friday, July 25, 2014)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 43269-43272]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-17631]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 660

[Docket No. 140417346-4575-02]
RIN 0648-XD252


Fisheries Off West Coast States; Coastal Pelagic Species 
Fisheries; Annual Specifications

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

ACTION: Final rule; Closure of directed fishing for Pacific sardine 
notification.

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SUMMARY: NMFS issues this final rule to implement the annual catch 
limit (ACL), and associated annual reference points for Pacific sardine 
in the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the Pacific coast for the 
fishing season of July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015. The 2014-2015 
ACL for Pacific sardine is 23,293 metric tons (mt). The initial overall 
commercial fishing target that is to be allocated across the three 
allocation periods for sardine management is 19,293 mt. This amount 
will be divided across the three seasonal allocation periods for the 
directed fishery the following way: July 1-September 14--7,718 mt; 
September 15-December 31--4,823 mt; and January 1-June 30--6,752 mt, 
with an incidental set-aside of 500 mt for each of the three periods. 
These specifications were determined according to the Coastal Pelagic 
Species (CPS) Fishery Management Plan (FMP). This rule is intended to 
conserve and manage the Pacific sardine stock off the U.S. West Coast. 
This rule also announces that the directed fishing harvest total for 
the first allocation period (July 1-September 14) has been reached and 
therefore directed fishing for Pacific sardine is now closed until 
September 15, 2014.

DATES: Effective July 23, 2014 through June 30, 2015, except for the 
directed harvest closure that is effective through September 14, 2014.

ADDRESSES: West Coast Region, NMFS, 501 West Ocean Blvd., Suite 4200, 
Long Beach, CA 90802.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Joshua Lindsay, West Coast Region, 
NMFS, (562) 980-4034.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: During public meetings each year, the 
estimated biomass for Pacific sardine is presented to the Pacific 
Fishery Management Council's (Council) CPS Management Team (Team), the 
Council's CPS Advisory Subpanel (Subpanel) and the Council's Scientific 
and Statistical Committee (SSC), and the biomass and the status of the 
fishery are reviewed and discussed. The biomass estimate is then 
presented to the Council along with the calculated overfishing limit 
(OFL), available biological catch (ABC), and harvest guideline (HG), 
along with recommendations and comments from the Team, Subpanel, and 
SSC. Following review by the Council and after hearing public comment, 
the Council adopts a biomass estimate and makes its catch level 
recommendations to NMFS.
    The purpose of this final rule is to implement the ACL and other 
annual catch reference points for 2014-2015, including the OFL and an 
ABC that takes into consideration uncertainty surrounding the current 
estimate of biomass for Pacific sardine in the U.S. EEZ off the Pacific 
coast. The CPS FMP

[[Page 43270]]

and its implementing regulations require NMFS to set annual catch 
levels for the Pacific sardine fishery based on the annual 
specification framework in the FMP. According to the FMP, the ACL must 
be equal to or less than the ABC, and the annual catch target (ACT) is 
then set equal to either the FMP-specified HG formula (HG = [(Biomass-
CUTOFF) * FRACTION * DISTRIBUTION]) or the ACL, whichever value is 
less. For the 2014-2015 fishing season, the result of the HG formula 
was 28,646 mt; the ACT is therefore set equal to the ACL at 23,293 mt 
because it is less than the HG calculation. For the 2014-2015 fishing 
season, the Council chose to calculate the ACL using the HG formula, 
but applied a different temperature index for determining the Fraction 
parameter than is currently prescribed in the FMP for computing the HG. 
The rationale for this application is that this new temperature index 
is a better predictor of Pacific sardine recruitment and productivity.
    The HG formula in the CPS FMP is HG = [(Biomass-CUTOFF) * FRACTION 
* DISTRIBUTION] with the parameters described as follows:
    1. Biomass. The estimated stock biomass of Pacific sardine age one 
and above for the 2014/2015 management season is 369,506 mt.
    2. CUTOFF. This is the biomass level below which no commercial 
fishery is allowed. The FMP established this level at 150,000 mt.
    3. DISTRIBUTION. The average portion of the Pacific sardine biomass 
estimated in the EEZ off the Pacific coast is 87 percent.
    4. FRACTION. The harvest Fraction is the percentage of the biomass 
above 150,000 mt that may be harvested. The Fraction varies as a result 
of current ocean temperatures measured at Scripps Pier, California.
    Because the annual biomass estimates are an explicit part of the 
various harvest control rules for Pacific sardine, including the HG 
formula described above, as the estimated biomass decreases or 
increases from one year to the next, the resulting allowable catch 
levels similarly trend.
    At the April 2014 Council meeting, the Council adopted the 
``Assessment of the Pacific Sardine Resource in 2014 for U.S.A. 
Management in 2014-2015'' completed by NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science 
Center and the resulting Pacific sardine biomass estimate of 369,506 
mt. Based on recommendations from its SSC and other advisory bodies, 
the Council recommended and NMFS is implementing an OFL of 39,210 mt, 
ABC of 35,792 mt, an ACL of 23,293 mt, and an ACT of 23,293 mt (equal 
to the ACL) for the 2014-2015 Pacific sardine fishing year. These catch 
specifications are based on the most recent stock assessment and the 
control rules established in the CPS FMP.
    The Council also recommended, and NMFS is implementing, that the 
23,293 mt ACT be reduced by 4,000 mt to account for potential harvest 
by the Quinault Indian Nation resulting in a final amount of 19,293 mt 
as the primary directed commercial fishing level to be allocated across 
the three seasonal allocation periods of July 1-September 14; September 
15-December 31; and January 1-June 30. The Council also recommended and 
NMFS is implementing that incidental catch set asides be put in place 
for each allocation. The purpose of the incidental set-aside allotments 
and allowance of an incidental catch-only fishery is to allow for the 
restricted incidental landings of Pacific sardine in other fisheries, 
particularly other CPS fisheries, when a seasonal directed fishery is 
closed to reduce bycatch and allow for continued prosecution of other 
important CPS fisheries. These incidental set asides are allocated as 
shown in the following table, which also shows the adjusted directed 
harvest levels for each period in metric tons:

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                                               July 1-        September 15-    January 1- June
                                            September 14       December 31           30               Total
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Total Seasonal Allocation...............             7,718             4,823             6,752            19,293
                                                     (40%)             (25%)             (35%)
Incidental Set Aside....................               500               500               500             1,500
Adjusted Directed Harvest Allocation....             7,218             4,323             6,252            17,793
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    Additional inseason accountability measures (AM) are in place to 
ensure the fishery stays within the ACL. If during any of the seasonal 
allocation periods the applicable adjusted directed harvest allocation 
is projected to be taken, fishing will be closed to directed harvest 
and only incidental harvest will be allowed. For the remainder of the 
period, any incidental Pacific sardine landings will be counted against 
that period's incidental set-aside. As an additional AM, the incidental 
fishery will also be constrained to a 45 percent by weight incidental 
catch rate when Pacific sardine are landed with other CPS so as to 
minimize the targeting of Pacific sardine and reduce potential discard 
of sardine. In the event that an incidental set-aside is projected to 
be attained, the incidental fishery will be closed for the remainder of 
the period. If the set-aside is not fully attained or is exceeded in a 
given seasonal period, the directed harvest allocation in the following 
seasonal period will automatically be adjusted upward or downward 
accordingly to account for the excess or deficit. Additionally, if 
during any seasonal period the directed harvest allocation is not fully 
attained or is exceeded, then the following period's directed harvest 
total will be adjusted to account for the excess or deficit, as well.
    If the total ACL or these apportionment levels for Pacific sardine 
are reached or are expected to be reached, the Pacific sardine fishery 
will be closed until it re-opens either per the allocation scheme or at 
the beginning of the next fishing season. The NMFS West Coast Regional 
Administrator will publish a notification in the Federal Register 
announcing the date of any closure to either directed or incidental 
fishing. Additionally, to ensure the regulated community is informed of 
any closure, NMFS will also make announcements through other means 
available, including fax, email, and mail to fishermen, processors, and 
state fishery management agencies.
    As explained in the proposed rule (79 FR 31074), 4,000 mt of the 
harvest level is being set aside for use by the Quinault Indian Nation. 
NMFS will consult with Quinault Department of Fisheries staff and 
Quinault Fisheries Policy representatives prior to the end of the 
allocation period to determine whether any part of this set-aside is 
available for transfer into the non-tribal directed fishery.
    In addition to implementing final specifications for Pacific 
sardine, this rule also announces the closure of the fishery as 
described above. While the closure of the Pacific sardine fishery 
usually occurs in a separate public notice, based on the best available 
information recently obtained from the fishery, the directed fishing 
harvest total

[[Page 43271]]

for the first allocation period (July 1 -September 15) has been 
reached. Fishing vessels must be at shore and in the process of 
offloading at the time of closure.
    On May 30, 2014, a proposed rule was published for this action and 
public comments solicited (79 FR 31074). No comments were received. For 
further background information on this action please refer to the 
preamble of the proposed rule.
    Detailed information on the fishery and the stock assessment are 
found in the report ``Assessment of the Pacific Sardine Resource in 
2014 for U.S.A. Management in 2014-2015'' (see ADDRESSES).

Classification

    Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery 
Conservation and Management Act, the NMFS Assistant Administrator has 
determined that this final rule is consistent with the CPS FMP, other 
provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management 
Act, and other applicable law.
    NMFS finds good cause under 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(B) to waive the 
requirement to provide prior notice and opportunity for public comment 
for the closure of directed fishing for the remainder of the July 1-
September 14 allocation period because it is impracticable and contrary 
to the public interest. This rule establishes seasonal harvest 
allocations and the ability to restrict fishing when these allocations 
are approached or reached. These allocations are important mechanisms 
in preventing overfishing and managing the fishery at optimum yield 
while allowing fair and equitable opportunity to the resource by all 
sectors of the Pacific sardine fishery. Allowing for prior notice and 
public comment on the closure of the first seasonal allocation period 
of July 1-September implemented by this rule is contrary to the public 
interest because it would prevent NMFS from responding to the most 
recent fisheries data in a timely fashion and would delay the closure 
of directed fishing for Pacific sardine. Based on data through July 14, 
2014, NMFS believes that the directed harvest allocation for this 
period will be attained shortly, and a delay in the implementation of 
the closure of the fishery may cause the fishery to exceed the first 
seasonal allocation. Based on current and expected harvest rates 
allowing for public notice and comment is impracticable
    NMFS finds good cause under 5 U.S.C. 553(d)(3) to waive the 30-day 
delay in effectiveness for both the establishment of these final 
harvest specifications for the 2014-2015 Pacific sardine fishing season 
and for the closure of the fishery. For the reasons set forth below, 
the immediate effectiveness of these final specifications and the 
closure of the fishery is necessary for the conservation and management 
of the Pacific sardine resource. A delay in the effectiveness of this 
rule would cause the fishery to exceed the seasonal allocation. 
Additionally, based on current data, NMFS believes that the directed 
harvest allocation for the period July 1 through September 14 will be 
attained shortly and a delay in the effectiveness of the closure of the 
fishery may cause the fishery to exceed the first seasonal allocation.
    The seasonal allocation framework established in the FMP is an 
important mechanism to prevent overfishing, and is designed to allow 
fair and equitable opportunity to the resource by all sectors of the 
Pacific sardine fishery. Delaying the effective date of this rule and 
closing the fishery is therefore impracticable, because any delay would 
decrease the Pacific sardine stock. Delay is also contrary to the 
public interest, because additional reduction of Pacific sardine beyond 
the incidental take limit set out in this action would decrease the 
future stock of the species, as well as harvest limits, thereby 
reducing future potential catch of the stock along with the profits 
associated with those harvests.
    To help keep the regulated community informed of this final rule 
NMFS will also announce this action through other means available, 
including fax, email, and mail to fishermen, processors, and state 
fishery management agencies. Additionally, NMFS will advise the CPS 
Advisory Subpanel, which is comprised of representatives from all 
sectors and regions of the sardine industry, including processors, 
fishermen, user groups, conservation groups and fishermen association 
representatives, of current landings as they become available and for 
the public at-large also post them on NMFS' West Coast Region Web site, 
http://www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov.
    These final specifications are exempt from review under Executive 
Order 12866.
    No issues were raised by public comments in response to the Initial 
Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA) prepared pursuant to the 
Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA) for this action or on the economic 
impacts of the rule generally. Therefore, the Final Regulatory 
Flexibility Analysis (FRFA) contains no changes from the IRFA. 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 in 
the preamble and in the SUMMARY section of the preamble. The results of 
the FRFA are stated below. For copies of the FRFA, please see the 
ADDRESSES section above.
    The purpose of this action is to implement the 2014-2015 annual 
specifications for Pacific sardine in the U.S. EEZ off the Pacific 
coast including an ACT which is the primary commercial fishing target. 
If the total ACT or any of the seasonal apportionment levels for 
Pacific sardine are reached at any time, the Pacific sardine fishery 
will close until either it re-opens per the allocation scheme or the 
beginning of the next fishing season. There is no limit on the amount 
of catch that any single vessel can take during an allocation period or 
the year; the ACL and seasonal allocations are available until fully 
utilized by the entire CPS fleet.
    On June 20, 2013, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) 
issued a final rule revising the small business size standards for 
several industries effective July 22, 2013 (78 FR 37398). The rule 
increased the size standard for finfish fishing from $4.0 million to 
$19.0 million, shellfish fishing from $4.0 million to $5.0 million, and 
other marine fishing from $4.0 million to $7.0 million. NMFS conducted 
its analysis for this action using the new size standards.
    As stated above, the U.S. Small Business Administration now defines 
small businesses engaged in finfish fishing as those vessels with 
annual revenues of or below $19 million. Under the former, lower 
standards, all entities subject to this action in previous years were 
considered small entities, and under the new standards they continue to 
be considered small. The small entities that would be affected by the 
action are the vessels that compose the West Coast CPS small purse 
seine fleet. In 2013, there were approximately 81 vessels permitted to 
operate in the directed sardine fishery component of the CPS fishery 
off the U.S. West Coast; 58 vessels in the Federal CPS limited entry 
fishery off California (south of 39 N. lat.), and a combined 23 vessels 
in Oregon and Washington's state Pacific sardine fisheries. The average 
annual per vessel revenue in 2013 for the West Coast CPS finfish fleet 
was well below $19 million; therefore, all of these vessels therefore 
are considered small businesses under the RFA. Because each affected 
vessel is a small business, this action has an equal effect on all of 
these

[[Page 43272]]

small entities and therefore will impact a substantial number of these 
small entities in the same manner. Therefore, this final rule will not 
create disproportionate costs between small and large vessels/
businesses.
    The profitability of these vessels as a result of this action is 
based on the average Pacific sardine ex-vessel price per mt. NMFS used 
average Pacific sardine ex-vessel price per mt to conduct a 
profitability analysis because cost data for the harvesting operations 
of CPS finfish vessels was unavailable.
    For the 2013 fishing year, approximately 64,000 mt were available 
for harvest by the directed fishery. Approximately 63,000 mt 
(approximately 7,100 mt in California and 56,000 mt in Oregon and 
Washington) of this allocation was harvested during the 2013 fishing 
season, for an estimated ex-vessel value of $14 million. Using these 
figures, the average 2013 ex-vessel price per mt of Pacific sardines 
was approximately $229 during that time period.
    The initial non-tribal commercial fishing quota for the 2014-2015 
Pacific sardine fishing season (July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015) is 
19,293 metric tons (mt). This is approximately 38,000 mt less than the 
equivalent allocation for 2013 and approximately 27,000 mt lower than 
the previous lowest level set in 2011. If the fleet were to take the 
entire 2014-2015 quota, and assuming a coastwide average ex-vessel 
price per mt of $218 (average of 2012 and 2013 ex-vessel), the 
potential revenue to the fleet would be approximately $3.87 million. 
Therefore the action will decrease small entities' potential 
profitability compared to last season, due to the lower quota this 
fishing season. The release of any unused portion of the 4,000 mt set-
aside for the Quinault Indian Nation should they decide to do so might 
be used to supplement the amount available to the directed fishery as 
occurred in 2012 and 2013, thereby increasing the potential revenue to 
the fleet. Additionally, revenue derived from harvesting Pacific 
sardine is typically only one factor determining the overall revenue 
for a majority of the vessels that harvest Pacific sardine; as a 
result, the economic impact to the fleet from the action cannot be 
viewed in isolation. From year to year, depending on market conditions 
and availability of fish, most CPS/sardine vessels supplement their 
income by harvesting other species. Many vessels in California also 
harvest anchovy, mackerel, and in particular squid, making Pacific 
sardine only one component of a multi-species CPS fishery. For example, 
market squid have been readily available to the fishery in California 
over the last three years with total annual ex-vessel revenue averaging 
approximately $66 million over that time, compared to an annual average 
ex-vessel from sardine of $16 million over that same time period. 
Additionally, many sardine vessels that operate off of Oregon and 
Washington also fish for salmon in Alaska or squid in California during 
times of the year when sardine are not available.
    These vessels typically rely on multiple species for profitability 
because abundance of sardine, like the other CPS stocks, is highly 
associated with ocean conditions and different times of the year, and 
therefore are harvested at various times and areas throughout the year. 
Because each species responds to ocean conditions in its own way, not 
all CPS stocks are likely to be abundant at the same time; therefore, 
as abundance levels and markets fluctuate, it has necessitated that the 
CPS fishery as a whole rely on a group of species for its annual 
revenues. Therefore, although there will be a potential reduction in 
sardine revenue for the small entities affected by this action as 
compared to the previous season, it is difficult to predict exactly how 
this reduction will impact overall annual revenue for the fleet.
    No significant alternatives to this action exist that would 
accomplish the stated objectives of the applicable statutes and which 
would minimize any significant economic impact of this action on the 
affected small entities. The CPS FMP and its implementing regulations 
require NMFS to calculate annual harvest levels by applying the harvest 
control rule formulas to the current stock biomass estimate. Therefore, 
if the estimated biomass decreases or increases from one year to the 
next, so do the applicable quotas. Determining the annual harvest 
levels merely implements the established procedures of the FMP with the 
goal of continuing to provide expected net benefits to the nation, 
regardless of what the specific annual allowable harvest of Pacific 
sardine is determined to be.
    There are no reporting, record-keeping, or other compliance 
requirements required by this final rule. Additionally, no other 
Federal rules duplicate, overlap or conflict with this final rule.
    This action does not contain a collection-of-information 
requirement for purposes of the Paperwork Reduction Act.

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

    Dated: July 15, 2014.
Samuel D. Rauch III,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2014-17631 Filed 7-23-14; 11:15 am]
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