[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 165 (Tuesday, August 26, 2014)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 50854-50855]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-20281]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 635

[Docket No. 140115049-4528-02]
RIN 0648-XD456


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 the 
September, October through November, and December time periods of the 
2014 fishing year. 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 September 1, 2014, through December 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 Atlantic Consolidated Highly 
Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan (2006 Consolidated HMS FMP) 
(71 FR 58058, October 2, 2006) and in accordance with implementing 
regulations. NMFS is required under ATCA 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). Among other things, 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. As published 
in the final 2014 BFT quota specifications (79 FR 38255, July 7, 2014), 
the baseline General category quota and subquotas as codified have not 
been modified. The baseline General category subquotas include 115.3 mt 
for September, 56.6 mt for October through November, and 22.6 mt for 
December.
    Unless changed, the General category daily retention limit starting 
on September 1 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 would apply 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 the January subquota period (77 FR 74612, 
December 17, 2012), which closed February 15, 2013, when the subquota 
was met (78 FR 11788, February 20, 2013); 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 from the default level of one large medium or 
giant BFT to two large medium or giant BFT for the 2014 January 
subquota period (78 FR 77362, December 23, 2013), which closed March 
21, 2014, when the subquota was met (79 FR 15924, March 24, 2014). For 
the June through August 2014 period, NMFS adjusted the daily retention 
limit to four large medium or giant BFT (79 FR 30745, May 29, 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 September through December 
2014 General category fishery. These include, but are not limited to, 
the following considerations.
    Biological samples collected from BFT landed by General category 
fishermen and provided by BFT dealers continue to provide NMFS with 
valuable 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 implemented and analyzed in the 
2011 BFT quota final rule (76 FR 39019, July 5, 2011), consistent with 
the 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 General 
category quota 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

[[Page 50855]]

opportunities, preserving traditional fisheries, and taking into 
account the protection of marine ecosystems.'' Commercial-sized BFT 
migrated to the fishing grounds off New England by early June and are 
actively being landed.
    As of August 13, 2014, 111.5 mt of the 2014 General category quota 
of 435.1 mt have been landed, and landings rates remain at 
approximately 1 mt per day. Given the rollover of unused quota from one 
time period to the next, current catch rates, and the fact that the 
daily retention limit will automatically revert to one large medium or 
giant BFT per vessel per day on September 1, 2014, absent agency 
action, NMFS anticipates the full 2014 General category quota may not 
be harvested.
    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. Increasing the daily limit to five fish may risk exceeding the 
available General category quota. Further, less than 4 mt remain in the 
Reserve category for potential transfer to fishing quota categories 
following a recent transfer of 15 mt to the Harpoon category (79 FR 
47381, August 13, 2014) and anticipating the accounting for authorized 
landings made under exempted fishing permits. 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 September through December 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. BFT quota, without 
exceeding it, while maintaining an equitable distribution of fishing 
opportunities; help achieve optimum yield in the 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 limit (one) to four large medium or giant BFT per vessel per 
day/trip, effective September 1, 2014, through December 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 the 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 September 
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 in geographic areas with 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 Sec.  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: August 20, 2014.
Alan D. Risenhoover,
Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.
[FR Doc. 2014-20281 Filed 8-25-14; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P