[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 143 (Friday, July 25, 2014)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 43268-43269]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-17644]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 660

[Docket No. 031125294-4091-02]
RIN 0648-XD238


Fisheries Off West Coast States; the Highly Migratory Species 
Fishery; Closure

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

ACTION: Inseason action; closure.

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SUMMARY: We, NMFS, are immediately closing the Pacific loggerhead 
conservation area, prohibiting fishing with large mesh drift gillnet 
(DGN) gear (>14 in mesh) off the coast of southern California east of 
120[deg] West meridian through August 31, 2014. This prohibition is 
based on the Assistant Administrator for Fisheries' (AA) determination 
that El Ni[ntilde]o conditions are occurring off the coast of southern 
California. This action protects Endangered Species Act (ESA) listed 
loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta), specifically the endangered 
North Pacific Ocean Distinct Population Segment. Large mesh DGN fishing 
vessels must cease fishing east of 120[deg] west on publication of this 
document.

DATES: Effective 12:01 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time (PDT) July 23, 2014 
through 11:59 p.m., August 31, 2014.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Craig Heberer, West Coast Region, 
NMFS, (760) 431-9440, ext. 303; craig.heberer@noaa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The DGN fishery is managed under the Fishery 
Management Plan (FMP) for U.S. West Coast Fisheries for Highly 
Migratory Species (HMS) (50 CFR part 660, subpart K). The fishery 
occurs off the coast of California. Our regulations provide that ``No 
person may fish with, set, or haul back drift gillnet gear in U.S. 
waters of the Pacific Ocean east of the 120[deg] W. meridian from June 
1 through August 31 during a forecasted, or occurring, El Ni[ntilde]o 
event off the coast of southern California.'' 50 CFR 660.713(c)(2). 
This area, which falls within the southern California Bight (SCB), is 
referred to in the regulations as the Pacific loggerhead conservation 
area.
    Under 50 CFR 660.713(c)(2)(ii), the AA is to make the determination 
that an El Ni[ntilde]o event is forecasted or occurring off southern 
California, relying on information developed by NOAA offices such as 
the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) and the West Coast Office of the 
Coast Watch program. The AA is to use monthly sea surface temperature 
(SST) charts to determine whether there are warmer than normal SSTs off 
southern California ``during the months prior to the closure months for 
years in which an El Ni[ntilde]o event has been declared'' by the CPC. 
The AA is also to specifically use SST data from the third and second 
months prior to the month of closure.
    We published these regulations to protect ESA-listed loggerhead sea 
turtles in response to a reasonable and prudent alternative (RPA) 
included in our 2000 biological opinion on issuance of an incidental 
take permit under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The consultation 
concluded that bycatch in the DGN fishery jeopardized the continued 
existence of the turtles and required the regulations to avoid 
jeopardy. We have not closed the Pacific loggerhead conservation area 
since the regulations were first published in 2003 because the AA has 
not determined El Ni[ntilde]o conditions were occurring off the coast 
of southern California.
    The CPC forecasts and declares when El Ni[ntilde]o conditions exist 
based on conditions in equatorial waters, but does not forecast or 
declare when El Ni[ntilde]o conditions exist off southern California. 
This year, based on monthly updates through July 10, 2014, the CPC has 
not declared an El Ni[ntilde]o. The Coast Watch program publishes maps 
of SST off the California coast through the Environmental Research 
Division's Data Access Program.
    On May 27, 2014, a working group of staff, including sea turtle 
biologists and oceanographers, from the NMFS West Coast Region (Region) 
and Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) held a teleconference to 
discuss whether El Ni[ntilde]o conditions were likely off the southern 
California coast during June, July, or August 2014. On May 8, 2014, the 
CPC had issued an El Ni[ntilde]o watch, which means that conditions are 
favorable for the development of El Ni[ntilde]o within the next six 
months, and

[[Page 43269]]

stated that the ``chance of El Ni[ntilde]o increases during the 
remainder of the year, exceeding 65% during summer.''
    The working group also reviewed the SST anomalies in the SCB during 
March and April of 2014, relying on SST maps available through NOAA's 
Coast Watch Program (for details see http://coastwatch.pfeg.noaa.gov/erddap/index.html). These maps indicated that SSTs were above normal in 
southern California. At that time, the working group concluded that a 
determination of El Ni[ntilde]o conditions off southern California was 
not warranted because the equatorial forecasts appeared to indicate El 
Ni[ntilde]o conditions would not be occurring during June.
    On July 3, 2014, the working group met again. The CPC El 
Ni[ntilde]o watch remained in effect at that time and remains in effect 
as of July 10, 2014 (the most recent monthly El Ni[ntilde]o forecast 
published). Although the CPC has not yet declared an El Ni[ntilde]o, 
the workgroup concluded that El Ni[ntilde]o conditions are present off 
the coast of southern California based on SSTs that are warmer than 
normal during the third and second months prior to the month of the 
closure, consistent with 50 CFR 660.713(c)(2)(ii).
    In addition, the working group noted the presence of loggerhead sea 
turtles in the SCB, including sightings off Los Angeles County and two 
stranded loggerhead sea turtles off San Diego County which had been 
reported by the NMFS stranding network. The working group also noted 
the sightings of other hard shelled turtles and other rarely seen 
species (e.g., sei whale and Brydes whale) in the SCB. This information 
further indicates El Ni[ntilde]o conditions are occurring off the coast 
of southern California and also raises concerns that the DGN fishery 
would encounter loggerhead sea turtles.
    Although the CPC has not declared an El Ni[ntilde]o event is 
occurring, we find such a declaration is not a necessary condition for 
determining that El Ni[ntilde]o conditions are occurring off the 
southern California coast. The regulations require us to rely on 
information developed by NOAA offices which monitor El Ni[ntilde]o 
events in making our determination. On July 10, 2014, the CPC reported 
that ``the chance of El Ni[ntilde]o is about 70% during the Northern 
Hemisphere summer.'' SST information from the Coast Watch program 
indicates SSTs off the southern California coast are warmer than 
normal. In addition, the intent of the regulations was to prevent 
bycatch of loggerhead sea turtles in the DGN fishery. The presence of 
loggerheads in the area indicates that closure of the fishery meets the 
intent of the regulations and the RPA requiring their promulgation.

Classification

    This action is required by 50 CFR 660.713 and is exempt from Office 
of Management and Budget review under Executive Order 12866.
    NMFS finds good cause to waive the requirement to provide prior 
notice and opportunity for public comment pursuant to the authority set 
forth at 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(B) for the closure of the DGN fishery. For the 
reasons set forth below, notice and comment procedures are 
impracticable and contrary to the public interest. For the same 
reasons, NMFS also finds good cause under 5 U.S.C-553(d)(3) to waive 
the 30-day delay in effectiveness for this action. This measure 
responds to the best available information, some of which only became 
available in July, and is necessary for the conservation of loggerhead 
sea turtles. The closure period anticipated by the regulation ends, at 
the latest, on August 31st. A delay in effectiveness until early August 
may allow the fishery to interact with and injure or kill loggerhead 
sea turtles that may occur within the SCB during the time period in 
which the regulation was intended to protect loggerheads.

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

    Dated: July 22, 2014.
Samuel D. Rauch III,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2014-17644 Filed 7-23-14; 11:15 am]
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