[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 58 (Tuesday, March 26, 2013)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 18302-18304]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-06903]



National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 665

[Docket No. 130103006-3243-01]
RIN 0648-BC89

Fisheries in the Western Pacific; 5-Year Extension of Moratorium 
on Harvest of Gold Corals

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

ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments.


SUMMARY: This proposed rule would extend the region-wide moratorium on 
the harvest of gold corals in the U.S. Pacific Islands through June 30, 
2018. NMFS intends this proposed rule to prevent overfishing and to 
stimulate research on gold corals.

DATES: Comments must be received by April 25, 2013.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by 
NOAA-NMFS-2013-0002, by either of the following methods:
     Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to 
www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0002, click the 
``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or 
attach your comments.
     Mail: Send written comments to Michael D. Tosatto, 
Regional Administrator, NMFS Pacific Islands Region (PIR), 1601 
Kapiolani Blvd., Suite 1110, Honolulu, HI 96814-4700.
    Instructions: Comments sent by any other method, to any other 
address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, 
may not be considered by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the 
public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on 
www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying 
information (e.g., name, address, etc.), confidential business 
information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily 
by the sender will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous 
comments (enter ``N/A'' in the required fields if you wish to remain 
anonymous), and will accept attachments to electronic comments in 
Microsoft Word, Excel, or Adobe PDF file formats only.

[[Page 18303]]

Fisheries, 808-541-1378.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Precious corals (also called deep-sea 
corals) belong to the class of animals that includes corals, jellyfish, 
sea anemones, and their relatives. They are harvested for use in high-
quality jewelry. Gold corals live in deep water (100-1,500 m) on solid 
substrates where bottom currents are strong. Precious corals are 
suspension feeders, thriving in areas swept by strong currents, and are 
most abundant on substrates of shell sandstone, limestone, or basaltic 
rock with a limestone veneer. All precious corals are slow-growing and 
are characterized by low rates of natural mortality and recruitment.
    Unexploited populations are relatively stable, and a wide range of 
age classes is generally present. This life-history pattern (longevity 
and many age classes) has two important consequences with respect to 
exploitation. First, the population response to harvesting is drawn out 
over many years. Second, because of the great longevity of individuals 
and the associated slow population turnover rates, a long period of 
reduced fishing effort is required to restore a stock's ability to 
produce at the maximum sustainable yield if a stock has been over 
exploited for several years.
    Beds of gold corals (Gerardia spp., Callogorgia gilberti, Narella 
spp., and Calyptrophora spp.) are found in several locations in the 
U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) around Hawaii. They likely occur in 
the EEZ around American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana 
Islands, Guam, and the Pacific Remote Island Areas (Baker Isl., Howland 
Isl., Jarvis Isl., Wake Atoll, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway 
Atoll, and Palmyra Atoll), but their distribution and abundance are 
unknown in areas beyond Hawaii.
    NMFS and the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) 
manage precious coral fisheries in the U.S. Pacific Islands under 
fishery ecosystem plans (FEPs) for American Samoa, Hawaii, the Mariana 
Archipelago, and the PRIA. The plans and associated Federal regulations 
require permits and data reporting, and allow harvesting of precious 
corals only with selective gear (e.g., submersibles, remotely-operated 
vehicles, or by hand). There are also bed-specific quotas, refuges from 
fishing, and size limits. The gold coral fishery in the U.S. Pacific 
Islands is dormant.
    In 2008, after researchers presented information suggesting 
extremely slow growth rates for gold corals, the Council and NMFS 
established a 5-year moratorium on harvesting gold corals (September 
12, 2008, 78 FR 47098). The Council and NMFS established the moratorium 
in response to research that indicated that reference points for 
estimating maximum sustainable yield had been overestimated, and that 
could result in overharvesting gold corals. The moratorium was intended 
to allow research on gold coral age, growth, and recruitment (the 
ability to repopulate). The moratorium is scheduled to expire on June 
30, 2012.
    Past stock assessments of gold corals assumed that colonies had 
linear growth of 6.60 cm/yr. Research now indicates that gold coral 
colonies in Hawaii grow at just 0.22 cm/yr, and that the average colony 
age is about 950 years, much older than previously estimated. The slow 
growth and extreme old age of gold coral colonies make them susceptible 
to overharvesting.
    Gold corals may also have previously-unknown habitat requirements--
gold corals may depend on bamboo corals to provide required substrate 
for gold coral larvae. As with other precious corals, gold corals 
produce tiny free-swimming larvae that, if they settle onto an 
appropriate substrate, they begin to form a colony. Most precious 
corals prefer hard substrates like basalt or limestone. NMFS 
researchers have discovered that, in contrast, gold coral larvae may 
prefer to settle on bamboo coral colonies, eventually overgrowing them. 
It is not clear whether gold coral merely covers the host colony, or 
also consumes its live tissues.
    The Council considered the new gold coral life-history information 
and the implications for gold coral fishery management. At its 155th 
meeting, held from October 29 through November 1, 2012, in Honolulu, 
the Council recommended that NMFS extend the current moratorium on gold 
coral harvests for another five years. This will allow NMFS and the 
Council to conduct further research and develop sustainable management 
measures for gold corals, specifically the Council's stated goal of 
developing an appropriate annual catch limit prior to the moratorium 
expiring in 2018This proposed rule would extend the region-wide 
moratorium on the harvest of gold corals through June 30, 2018. NMFS 
intends this proposed rule to prevent overfishing and to stimulate 
research on gold coral life-history that will inform management models 
and reference points for appropriate gold coral catch limits.
    NMFS must receive any public comments on this proposed rule by the 
close of business on April 25, 2013, and will not consider late 


    Pursuant to section 304 (b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the 
NMFS Assistant Administrator has determined that this proposed rule is 
consistent with the fishery ecosystem plans for American Samoa, the 
Pacific Remote Island Areas, Hawaii, and the Mariana Islands, other 
provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law, 
subject to further consideration after public comment.
    This proposed rule has been determined to be not significant for 
purposes of Executive Order 12866.
    The Chief Counsel for Regulation of the Department of Commerce 
certified to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business 
Administration that this proposed rule, if adopted, would not have a 
significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. 
The analysis follows:
    The proposed rule would extend the current five-year moratorium on 
gold coral harvest in the U.S. Pacific Islands for another five years, 
in light of new information on gold coral growth rates and habitat 
requirements. The current moratorium is scheduled to expire on June 30, 
2013. The proposed rule would extend the harvest moratorium until June 
30, 2018.
    Any entity possessing a western Pacific precious corals permit 
would potentially be affected by the proposed action, as those entities 
would be permitted to harvest or land gold coral, in addition to black, 
bamboo, pink, and red coral. Only two entities, both based in the state 
of Hawaii, currently possess a western Pacific precious corals permit 
(http://www.fpir.noaa.gov/SFD/SFD_permits_index.html, accessed: 
February 22, 2013). NMFS believes that both of these would be 
considered small entities with annual revenues below $4 million.
    Although NMFS believes that these two entities would be considered 
small entities, it is unlikely that either of these entities would 
begin to harvest gold coral in the absence of a moratorium. The western 
Pacific gold coral fishery had been dormant when the current moratorium 
went into effect in 2008. Gold coral harvesting had occurred 
occasionally during the past 50 years. Between 1973 and 1979, a manned 
submersible was used to selectively harvest a couple thousand kilograms 
of gold coral from the Makapuu Bed. There has been no gold coral 
harvest at the Makapuu Bed since 1979. In 1999-2000, a second entity 
extracted a small amount of gold coral, along with other

[[Page 18304]]

deepwater precious corals, from exploratory areas off Kailua-Kona.
    Extending the moratorium on gold coral harvests will not likely 
cause immediate economic impact to entities permitted to harvest gold 
coral. This fishery had been dormant prior to the current moratorium. 
Furthermore, this fishery is still characterized by high equipment and 
operating costs, continued safety concerns and other logistical 
constraints, and gold coral market prices are not high enough to offset 
those risks and expenses. Because of these challenges to entities 
wishing to harvest and land gold coral, interest in this fishery will 
likely to remain low even without the moratorium. However, extending 
the moratorium for another five years would ensure that no harvesting 
of gold coral would occur until 2018. Additional research may better 
inform future management decisions regarding sustainable harvesting of 
this resource.
    The no action alternative was the only other alternative 
considered. That alternative would allow the gold coral fishery to open 
on July 1, 2013. It would have little to no positive immediate impact 
to the commercial gold coral fishery, as this fishery would likely to 
remain dormant in the near term. However, there could potentially be 
negative long-term impacts in terms of the sustainability of gold 
corals and in turn, this fishery. These negative impacts would come 
through the development of future potentially unsustainable management 
decisions that are made based on incomplete research on gold coral 
    The proposed rule does not duplicate, overlap, or conflict with 
other Federal rules and not expected to have significant impact on 
small entities (as discussed above), organizations or government 
jurisdictions. There does not appear to be disproportionate economic 
impacts from the proposed rule based on home port, gear type, or 
relative vessel size. The proposed rule will not place a substantial 
number of small entities, or any segment of small entities, at a 
significant competitive disadvantage to large entities.
    As a result, an initial regulatory flexibility analysis is not 
required and none has been prepared.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR 665

    Administrative practice and procedure, American Samoa, Deep sea 
coral, Fisheries, Fishing, Guam, Hawaii, Northern Mariana Islands, 
Precious coral.

    Dated: March 21, 2013.
Alan D. Risenhoover,
Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, performing the functions and 
duties of the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, 
National Marine Fisheries Service.
    For the reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 665 is 
proposed to be amended as follows:


1. The authority citation for 665 continues to read as follows:

    Authority:  16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.
2. Revise Sec.  665.169 to read as follows:

Sec.  665.169  Gold coral harvest moratorium.

    Fishing for, taking, or retaining any gold coral in any precious 
coral permit area is prohibited through June 30, 2018.
3. Revise Sec.  665.270 to read as follows:

Sec.  665.270  Gold coral harvest moratorium.

    Fishing for, taking, or retaining any gold coral in any precious 
coral permit area is prohibited through June 30, 2018.
4. Revise Sec.  665.469 to read as follows:

Sec.  665.469  Gold coral harvest moratorium.

    Fishing for, taking, or retaining any gold coral in any precious 
coral permit area is prohibited through June 30, 2018.
5. Revise Sec.  665.669 to read as follows:

Sec.  665.669  Gold coral harvest moratorium.

    Fishing for, taking, or retaining any gold coral in any precious 
coral permit area is prohibited through June 30, 2018.

[FR Doc. 2013-06903 Filed 3-25-13; 8:45 am]