[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 224 (Tuesday, November 20, 2012)]
[Pages 69593-69595]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-28258]



National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XC266

Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; Exempted Fishing, Scientific 
Research, Display, and Chartering Permits; Letters of Acknowledgment

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

ACTION: Notice of intent; request for comments.


SUMMARY: NMFS announces its intent to issue Exempted Fishing Permits 
(EFPs), Scientific Research Permits (SRPs), Display Permits, Letters of 
Acknowledgment (LOAs), and Chartering Permits for the collection of 
Atlantic Highly Migratory Species (HMS) in 2013. In general, EFPs and 
related permits would authorize collection of a limited number of 
tunas, swordfish, billfishes, and sharks from Federal waters in the 
Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico for the purposes of 
scientific data collection and public display. Chartering Permits allow 
the collection of HMS on the high seas or in the Exclusive Economic 
Zone of other nations. Generally, EFPs and related permits will be 
valid from the date of issuance through December 31, 2013, unless 
otherwise specified, subject to the terms and conditions of individual 

DATES: Written comments on these activities received in response to 
this notice will be considered by NMFS when issuing EFPs and related 
permits and must be received on or before December 20, 2012.

ADDRESSES: Comments may be submitted by any of the following methods:
     Email: [email protected]. Include in the subject line 
the following identifier: 0648-XC266.
     Mail: Craig Cockrell, Highly Migratory Species Management 
Division (F/SF1), NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 
     Fax: (301) 713-1917.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Craig Cockrell or Michael Clark, 
phone: (301) 427-8503, fax: (301) 713-1917.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Issuance of EFPs and related permits are 
necessary for the collection of HMS for public display and scientific 
research that is exempt from regulations (e.g., fishing seasons, 
prohibited species, authorized gear, closed areas, and minimum sizes) 
that may prohibit the collection of live animals or biological samples. 
Collection for scientific research and display represents a small 
portion of the overall fishing mortality for HMS, and this mortality is 
counted against the quota of the species harvested, as appropriate and 
applicable. The terms and conditions of individual permits are unique; 
however, all permits will include reporting requirements, limit the 
number and species of HMS to be collected, and only authorize 
collection in Federal waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and 
Caribbean Sea.
    EFPs and related permits are issued under the authority of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization 
Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) (16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.) and/or the Atlantic 
Tunas Convention Act (ATCA) (16 U.S.C. 971 et seq.). Regulations at 
Sec.  600.745 and Sec.  635.32 govern scientific research activity, 
exempted fishing, chartering arrangements, and exempted educational 
activities with respect to Atlantic HMS. Since the Magnuson-Stevens Act 
does not consider scientific research to be ``fishing,'' scientific 
research is exempt from this statute, and NMFS does not issue EFPs for 
bona fide research activities (e.g., research conducted from a research 
vessel and not a commercial or recreational fishing vessel) involving 
species that are only regulated under the Magnuson-Stevens

[[Page 69594]]

Act (e.g., most species of sharks) and not under ATCA. NMFS generally 
does not consider recreational or commercial vessels bona fide research 
vessels. However, if the vessels have been contracted to only conduct 
research and not participate in any commercial or recreational fishing 
activities during that research, NMFS may consider those vessels as 
bona fide research platforms while conducting the specified research. 
As an example, NMFS has considered the recreational and commercial 
vessels contracted to conduct research under the Deepwater Horizon/BP 
oil spill as bona fide research platforms. NMFS requests copies of 
scientific research plans for these activities and indicates 
concurrence by issuing an LOA to researchers to indicate that the 
proposed activity meets the definition of research and is therefore 
exempt from regulation. Examples of research conducted under LOAs 
include tagging and releasing of sharks during bottom longline surveys 
to understand the distribution and seasonal abundance of different 
shark species, and collecting and sampling sharks caught during trawl 
surveys for life history studies.
    Scientific research is not exempt from regulation under ATCA. NMFS 
issues SRPs for collection of species managed under this statute (e.g., 
tunas, swordfish, billfish, and some species of sharks), which 
authorize researchers to collect HMS from bona fide research vessels. 
One example of research conducted under SRPs consists of scientific 
surveys of HMS conducted from the NOAA research vessels. EFPs are 
issued to researchers collecting ATCA-managed species and conducting 
research from commercial or recreational fishing vessels. NMFS 
regulations concerning the implantation or attachment of archival tags 
in Atlantic HMS require scientists to report their activities 
associated with these tags. Examples of research conducted under EFPs 
include deploying pop-up satellite archival tags on billfish, sharks, 
and tunas to determine migration patterns of these species; conducting 
billfish larval tows to determine billfish habitat use, life history, 
and population structure; and determining catch rates and gear 
characteristics of the swordfish buoy gear fishery.
    NMFS is also seeking public comment on its intent to issue Display 
Permits for the collection of sharks and other HMS for public display 
in 2013. Collection of sharks and other HMS sought for public display 
in aquaria often involves collection when the commercial fishing 
seasons are closed, collection of otherwise prohibited species, and 
collection of fish below the minimum size. NMFS established a 60-metric 
ton (mt) whole weight (ww) (approximately 3,000 sharks) quota for the 
public display and research of sharks (combined) in the final Fishery 
Management Plan for Atlantic Tunas, Swordfish, and Sharks (1999 FMP). 
The public display and scientific research quotas for sandbar sharks 
are limited to 2.78 mt ww (2 mt dressed weight (dw)): 1.39 mt ww for 
public display and 1.39 mt ww for scientific research. Public display 
of dusky sharks is prohibited. These quotas have been analyzed in 
conjunction with other sources of mortality under Amendment 2 to the 
2006 Consolidated HMS FMP, and NMFS has determined that harvesting this 
amount for public display will not have a significant impact on the 
stocks. The number of sharks harvested for display and research has 
remained under the annual 60-mt ww quota every year since establishment 
of the quota. In 2011, approximately 58 percent of the sharks 
authorized for public display and scientific research purposes were 
actually harvested or discarded dead. Amendment 3 to the 2006 
Consolidated HMS FMP also established a separate set-aside quota for 
smoothhound sharks (i.e., smooth dogfish and Florida smoothhounds) 
taken for research purposes, which would be in addition to the overall 
60-mt ww quota for the public display and research of all sharks. 
However, the smoothhound shark research set-aside quota is not yet 
effective and their harvest resulting from research activities is not 
yet deducted from the set-aside quota for public display and research 
of sharks. NMFS will announce when such regulations become effective 
through a publication in the Federal Register.
    For the coming year, NMFS is expecting EFP applications that would 
request some form of ``compensation fishing'' to offset the expenses 
for vessel owners participating in HMS research efforts. One of the 
applications would potentially investigate bycatch reduction research, 
specifically; bycatch ``hotspots'' identified during past research 
efforts in closed areas of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and 
Caribbean Sea, including the Charleston Bump and Florida East Coast 
Closed Areas. As part of compensation fishing, vessels employed would 
be authorized to sell some of their catch to offset expenses. This 
research would test gear modifications and fishing techniques aimed to 
avoid incidental capture of non-target species. The Agency would 
provide additional opportunity for public comment on this research. 
Furthermore, NMFS would seek additional public comment, as necessary, 
on specific proposals where research is not being conducted solely from 
bona fide research vessels or fishing vessels specifically contracted 
to conduct scientific research.
    NMFS is also aware of research activities that may be proposed in 
2013 that would investigate bluefin tuna life history and migration 
patterns from pelagic longline vessels. This request would also 
potentially involve compensation fishing (i.e., the ability for vessels 
to sell additional bluefin tuna in excess of the retention limits) to 
offset costs of vessels participating in the research. Compensation 
fishing is only authorized if the researchers and vessels have been 
issued an EFP, consistent with Sec.  600.745 regulations. As stated 
above, NMFS would seek additional public comments specifically on this 
type of activity, as necessary, before issuing an EFP if the vessels 
are not bona fide research vessels.
    NMFS is also requesting comments on chartering permits considered 
for issuance in 2013 to U.S. vessels fishing for HMS while operating 
under chartering arrangements. NMFS has not issued any chartering 
permits since 2004. A chartering arrangement is a contract or agreement 
between a U.S. vessel owner and a foreign entity by which the control, 
use, or services of a vessel are secured for a period of time for 
fishing for Atlantic HMS. Before fishing under a chartering 
arrangement, the owner of the U.S. fishing vessel must apply for a 
Chartering Permit. The vessel chartering regulations can be found at 
Sec.  635.5(a)(4) and Sec.  635.32(e).
    In 2012, NMFS issued an EFP to scientists researching the methods 
required to successfully culture bluefin and yellowfin tuna in the 
United States. Due to the limited number of specimens authorized and 
the fishing gear employed, the Agency did not seek additional comment 
because the research was within the scope of the 2012 EFP Notice of 
Intent. Up to six, 24-27'' yellowfin and bluefin tuna were collected on 
rod and reel gear and then transported fish to land-based holding tanks 
where they are kept through their breeding life. If the scientists are 
successful in breeding yellowfin and bluefin tuna, the research would 
ultimately provide larvae and juveniles for an array of investigations. 
No release of fish from the holding tanks is authorized under the 
permit. The Agency expects to receive additional applications for this 
type of research in 2013.
    In addition, Amendment 2 to the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP 
implemented a shark research fishery. This research

[[Page 69595]]

fishery is conducted under the auspices of the exempted fishing 
program. Research fishery permit holders assist NMFS in collecting 
valuable shark life history data and data for future shark stock 
assessments. Fishermen must fill out an application for a shark 
research permit under the exempted fishing program to participate in 
the shark research fishery. Shark research fishery participants are 
subject to 100-percent observer coverage in addition to other terms and 
conditions. A Federal Register notice describing the objectives for the 
shark research fishery in 2013 is expected to publish in the near 
    The authorized number of species for 2012, as well as the number of 
specimens collected in 2011, is summarized in Table 1. The number of 
specimens collected in 2012 will be available when all 2012 interim and 
annual reports are submitted to NMFS. In 2011, the number of specimens 
collected was less than the number of authorized specimens for most 
permit types, with the exception of the number of larvae collected 
under billfish EFPs, and sharks taken under SRPs and Display permits. 
It is difficult to control the quantity of larvae that may be caught 
when sampling fish larvae. However, the impacts of these collections on 
fish populations are not expected to be significant given the high 
level of natural mortality of fish larvae. As for sharks taken under 
EFPs, SRPs, and Display Permits, 3,178 of the sharks taken were 
Atlantic sharpnose sharks collected during trips using longline gear; 
it is also difficult to control the number and species of animals 
caught when using this gear type. However, as Atlantic sharpnose sharks 
were not found to be overfished nor have overfishing occurring during 
its most recent stock assessment in 2007, these collections are not 
expected to have any impacts on Atlantic sharpnose populations.
    In all cases, mortality associated with an EFP, SRP, Display 
Permit, or LOA (except for larvae) is counted against the appropriate 
quota. NMFS issued a total of 32 EFPs, SRPs, Display Permits, and LOAs 
in 2011 for the collection of HMS. As of October 31, 2012, NMFS has 
issued a total of 43 EFPs, SRPs, Display Permits, and LOAs. These do 
not include permits that were issued for research related to the 
Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In 2012, three 
permits were issued for research related to the oil spill in the Gulf 
of Mexico.

                                            Table 1--Summary of HMS Exempted Permits Issued in 2011 and 2012
                                     [``HMS'' refers to multiple species being collected under a given permit type]
                                                                                2011                                                2012
                                                                             Authorized   Fish kept/                                          Authorized
                   Permit type                      Permits     Authorized     larvae     discarded   Larvae kept    Permits     Authorized     larvae
                                                   issued **    fish (num)     (num)      dead (num)     (num)       issued**    fish (num)     (num)
    HMS.........................................            2          273            0           34            0            3          163            0
    Shark.......................................            8        1,377            0     [dagger]            0           10        1,118            0
    Tuna........................................            5          695            0            6            0            5          687            0
    Billfish....................................            2           40        1,000            0        2,243            1           20        1,000
    HMS.........................................            1           83            0           80            0            4           83            0
    Shark.......................................            3        1,365            0     [dagger]            0            4        2,160            0
    Tuna........................................            1          110            0            0            0            3          610        2,000
    HMS.........................................            2          124            0            6            0            2          126            0
    Shark.......................................            3           87            0     [dagger]            0            4          115            0
        Total...................................           27        4,154        1,000        4,485        2,243           36        5,082        3,000
LOA *:
    Shark.......................................            5        5,367            0          699            0            7        2,140            0
* LOAs are issued for bona fide scientific research activities involving non-ATCA managed species (e.g., most species of sharks). Collections made under
  an LOA are not authorized; rather this estimated harvest for research is acknowledged by NMFS. Permitees are encouraged to report all fishing
  activities in a timely manner.
** 2011 & 2012 permits issued listed in Table 1 do not include permits issued solely for research related to the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill research
  in the Gulf of Mexico.
[dagger] All additional collections above the authorized levels were due to incidentally caught Atlantic sharpnose sharks.

    Final decisions on the issuance of any EFPs, SRPs, Display Permits, 
and Chartering Permits will depend on the submission of all required 
information about the proposed activities, NMFS review of public 
comments received on this notice, an applicant's reporting history on 
past permits issued, any prior violations of marine resource laws 
administered by NOAA, consistency with relevant NEPA documents, and any 
consultations with appropriate Regional Fishery Management Councils, 
states, or Federal agencies. NMFS does not anticipate any significant 
environmental impacts from the issuance of these EFPs as assessed in 
the 1999 FMP, Amendment 2 to the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP, 2011 
Bluefin Tuna Specifications, and 2012 Swordfish Specifications.

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

    Dated: November 14, 2012.
Emily H. Menashes,
Deputy Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2012-28258 Filed 11-19-12; 8:45 am]