[Federal Register Volume 61, Number 249 (Thursday, December 26, 1996)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 67962-67964]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 96-32752]


=======================================================================
-----------------------------------------------------------------------

DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 679

[Docket No. 960918264-6350-02; I.D. 091296A]
RIN 0648-AI61


Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Individual 
Fishing Quota Program; Sweep-up Adjustments

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

ACTION: Final rule.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

SUMMARY: NMFS issues a final rule to implement Amendment 43 to the 
Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for the Groundfish Fishery of the Bering 
Sea and Aleutian Islands Area (BSAI), Amendment 43 to the Fishery 
Management Plan for Groundfish of the Gulf of Alaska (GOA), and a 
regulatory amendment to the halibut individual fishing quota (IFQ) 
regulations. This action is necessary to increase the consolidation 
(``sweep-up'') levels for small quota share (QS) blocks for Pacific 
halibut and sablefish managed under the IFQ program. This action is 
intended to maintain consistency with the objectives of the IFQ program 
(i.e., prevent excessive consolidation of QS, maintain diversity of the 
fishing fleet, and allow new entrants into the fishery), while 
increasing the program's flexibility by allowing a moderately greater 
amount of QS to be ``swept-up'' into larger amounts that can be fished 
more economically.

EFFECTIVE DATE: December 20, 1996.

ADDRESSES: Copies of the final rule and the environmental assessment/
regulatory impact review (EA/RIR) for this action may be obtained from: 
Fisheries Management Division, Alaska Region, NMFS, 709 West 9th 
Street, Room 453, Juneau, AK 99801, or P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 
99802.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: John Lepore, 907-586-7228.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background Information

    The U.S. groundfish fisheries of the GOA and the BSAI in the 
exclusive economic zone are managed by NMFS pursuant to the FMPs for 
groundfish in the respective management areas. The FMPs were prepared 
by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) pursuant to 
the Magnuson-

[[Page 67963]]

Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) 
at 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. and are implemented by regulations for the 
U.S. fisheries at 50 CFR part 679. The Northern Pacific Halibut Act of 
1982 (Halibut Act) at 16 U.S.C. 773 et seq. authorizes the Council to 
develop and NMFS to implement regulations to allocate halibut fishing 
privileges among U.S. fishermen.
    Under these authorities, the Council developed the IFQ program, a 
limited access management system for the fixed gear Pacific halibut and 
sablefish fisheries. NMFS approved the IFQ program in November 1993 and 
fully implemented the program beginning in March 1995. The Magnuson-
Stevens Act and the Halibut Act authorize the Council to recommend to 
NMFS changes to the IFQ program as necessary to conserve and manage the 
fixed gear Pacific halibut and sablefish fisheries.

Rationale for Amendments 43/43

    Before NMFS implemented the IFQ program, the Council recommended 
that all QS that resulted at initial issuance in less than 20,000 lb (9 
metric tons (mt)) of IFQ be ``blocked,'' that is, issued as an 
inseparable unit. Further information on Amendments 31/35 (Block 
Amendments) can be found in the preambles to the proposed rule (59 FR 
33272, June 28, 1994), and the final rule (59 FR 51135, October 7, 
1994). The final rule implementing these amendments was effective prior 
to the beginning of the first IFQ season in 1995.
    The Block Amendments created a variety of block sizes that were 
available for transfer. One of the primary purposes of the Block 
Amendments was to create small blocks of QS that could be purchased at 
a relatively low cost by crew members and new entrants to the IFQ 
fisheries. As the experience of these fishermen increased and the size 
of their fishing operations grew, larger amounts of QS were needed to 
accommodate this growth. One method included in the Block Amendments to 
accommodate this growth was the ``sweep-up'' provision, which allows 
very small blocks of QS to be permanently consolidated. The maximum 
sweep-up level was set at 1,000 lb (0.45 mt) for Pacific halibut and 
3,000 lb (1.4 mt) for sablefish, based on the 1994 total allowable 
catch (TAC).
    After the completion of the first IFQ season, the IFQ longline 
industry reported that the established sweep-up levels were lower than 
the harvest amount of a worthwhile fishing trip. Therefore, the IFQ 
longline industry requested a moderate increase in the sweep-up levels 
to allow greater amounts of QS to be swept up into larger amounts that 
can be fished more economically. The Council determined that a moderate 
increase in the sweep-up levels would likely enhance the opportunity of 
crew members and small-boat fishermen who seek to increase their QS 
holdings. The Council also determined that allowing persons to 
consolidate permanently slightly larger blocks of QS would not 
circumvent the primary goals of the Block Amendments (i.e., preventing 
excessive consolidation and maintaining the diversity of the IFQ 
longline fleet). A proposed rule to implement these changes to the IFQ 
program was published on September 27, 1996, at 61 FR 50797.

Management Action Pursuant to Amendments 43/43

    Amendments 43/43 increase the sweep-up levels for small QS blocks 
for Pacific halibut and sablefish from the current 1,000 lb (0.45 mt) 
maximum for Pacific halibut and 3,000 lb (1.4 mt) maximum for sablefish 
to a 3,000 lb (1.4 mt) maximum and a 5,000 lb (2.3 mt) maximum, 
respectively. Two other changes are also made to accompany these 
increases. First, the base year TAC for determining the pounds of IFQ 
used to determine the first sweep-up levels is now the 1996 TAC, rather 
than the 1994 TAC. Second, the maximum number of QS units that may be 
consolidated into a single block in each regulatory area is now fixed 
and codified. This will eliminate any confusion as to the appropriate 
sweep-up level in pounds.

Response to Comments

    NMFS received a comment from the U.S. Coast Guard stating that its 
enforcement and safety concerns were addressed by this action. Also, 
NMFS received a request from the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), 
Office of Environmental Policy and Compliance, that the comment period 
for the proposed rule be extended until mid-December, 1996, in order to 
lengthen DOI's review opportunity. NMFS denies the request for an 
extended comment period. Any extension of the comment period would 
jeopardize compliance with the FMP review and approval schedule 
specified in section 304 of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Furthermore, any 
extension to the comment period would delay the effective date of this 
rule, thereby decreasing the time period available for fishermen to 
consolidate blocked QS prior to the 1997 fishing season.

Classification

    The Administrator, Alaska Region, NMFS, determined that Amendments 
43 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Groundfish of the Gulf of 
Alaska and Amendment 43 to the Fishery Management Plan for the 
Groundfish Fishery of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Area are 
necessary for the conservation and management of groundfish in waters 
off Alaska and halibut in waters in and off Alaska and that they are 
consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and other applicable laws.
    The Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, NOAA, finds that this 
final rule relieves a restriction, because this action is designed to 
allow fishermen to increase the efficiency of their operations through 
relaxed regulatory restrictions on sweep-up levels. Increasing the 
sweep-up levels as soon as possible will allow these fishermen to take 
advantage of the provision before the 1997 season. Therefore, a delayed 
effectiveness date is not required under 5 U.S.C. 553(d)(1).
    An EA/RIR was prepared for this rule that describes the management 
background, the purpose and need for action, the management action 
alternatives, and the socio-economic impacts of the alternatives. The 
EA/RIR estimates the total number of small entities affected by this 
action, and analyzes the economic impact on those small entities. Based 
on the economic analysis in the EA/RIR, the Assistant General Counsel 
for Legislation and Regulation of the Department of Commerce certified 
to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business Administration 
that this rule would not have a significant economic impact on a 
substantial number of small entities. Copies of the EA/RIR can be 
obtained from NMFS (see ADDRESSES).
    This final rule will not change the collection of information 
approved by the Office of Management and Budget, OMB Control Number 
0648-0272, for the Pacific halibut and sablefish IFQ program.
    This final rule has been determined to be not significant for 
purposes of E.O. 12866.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 679

    Fisheries, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements.

    Dated: December 19, 1996.
Nancy Foster,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.
    For the reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 679 is amended 
as follows:

[[Page 67964]]

PART 679--FISHERIES OF THE EXCLUSIVE ECONOMIC ZONE OFF ALASKA

    1. The authority citation for 50 CFR part 679 continues to read as 
follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 773 et seq., 1801 et seq.

    2. In Sec. 679.41, paragraph (e)(2) is revised and paragraph (e)(3) 
is added to read as follows:


Sec. 679.41  Transfer of QS and IFQ.

* * * * *
    (e)* * *
    (2) QS blocks for the same IFQ regulatory area and vessel category 
that represent less than 5,000 lb (2.3 mt) of sablefish IFQ, based on 
the 1996 TAC share for fixed gear sablefish in a specific IFQ 
regulatory area and the QS pool for that IFQ regulatory area on January 
31, 1996, may be consolidated into larger QS blocks provided that the 
consolidated blocks do not represent greater than 5,000 lbs (2.3 mt) of 
sablefish IFQ based on the preceding criteria. A consolidated block 
cannot be divided and is considered a single block for purposes of use 
and transferability. The maximum number of QS units that may be 
consolidated into a single QS block in each IFQ regulatory area is as 
follows:
    (i) Southeast Outside district: 33,270 QS.
    (ii) West Yakutat district: 43,390 QS.
    (iii) Central Gulf area: 46,055 QS.
    (iv) Western Gulf area: 48,410 QS.
    (v) Aleutian Islands subarea: 99,210 QS.
    (vi) Bering Sea subarea: 91,275 QS.
    (3) QS blocks for the same IFQ regulatory area and vessel category 
that represent less than 3,000 lbs (1.4 mt) of halibut IFQ, based on 
the 1996 catch limit for halibut in a specific IFQ regulatory area and 
the QS pool for that IFQ regulatory area on January 31, 1996, may be 
consolidated into larger QS blocks provided that the consolidated 
blocks do not represent greater than 3,000 lbs (1.4 mt) of halibut IFQ 
based on the preceding criteria. A consolidated block cannot be divided 
and is considered a single block for purposes of use and 
transferability. The maximum number of QS units that may be 
consolidated into a single block in each IFQ regulatory area is as 
follows:
    (i) Area 2C: 19,992 QS.
    (ii) Area 3A: 27,912 QS.
    (iii) Area 3B: 44,193 QS.
    (iv) Subarea 4A: 22,947 QS.
    (v) Subarea 4B: 15,087 QS.
    (vi) Subarea 4C: 30,930 QS.
    (vii) Subarea 4D: 26,082 QS.
    (viii) Subarea 4E: 0 QS.
* * * * *
[FR Doc. 96-32752 Filed 12-20-96; 12:43 pm]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-F