[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 104 (Friday, May 30, 2014)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 31074-31077]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-12461]



National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 660

[Docket No. 140417346-4346-01]
RIN 0648-XD252

Fisheries Off West Coast States; Coastal Pelagic Species 
Fisheries; Annual Specifications

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

ACTION: Proposed rule.


SUMMARY: NMFS proposes to implement an annual catch limit (ACL), and 
associated annual reference points for Pacific sardine in the U.S. 
exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the Pacific coast for the fishing 
season of July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015. This rule is proposed 
according to the Coastal Pelagic Species (CPS) Fishery Management Plan 
(FMP). The proposed 2014-2015 ACL for Pacific sardine is 23,293 metric 
tons (mt). The proposed initial overall commercial fishing target, that 
is to be allocated across the three allocation periods for sardine 
management, is 19,293 mt. This amount would be divided across the three 
seasonal allocation periods for the directed fishery the following way: 
July 1-September 14--7,718 mt; September 15-December 31--4,823 mt; and 
January 1-June 30--6,752 mt, with an incidental set-aside of 500 mt for 
each of the three periods. This proposed rule is intended to conserve 
and manage the Pacific sardine stock off the U.S. West Coast.

DATES: Comments must be received by June 30, 2014.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by 
NOAA-NMFS-2014-0061, by any of the following methods:

[[Page 31075]]

     Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to 
www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2014-0061, click the 
``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or 
attach your comments.
     Mail: Submit written comments to William W. Stelle, Jr., 
Regional Administrator, West Coast Region, NMFS, 7600 Sand Point Way 
NE., Seattle, WA 98115-0070; Attn: Joshua Lindsay.
     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). Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in 
Microsoft Word, Excel, or Adobe PDF file formats only.
    Copies of the report ``Assessment of Pacific Sardine Resource in 
2014 for U.S.A. Management in 2014-2015'' may be obtained from the West 
Coast Regional Office (see ADDRESSES).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Joshua Lindsay, West Coast Region, 
NMFS, (562) 980-4034.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: During public meetings each year, the 
estimated biomass for Pacific sardine is presented to the Pacific 
Fishery Management Council's (Council) CPS Management Team (Team), the 
Council's CPS Advisory Subpanel (Subpanel) and the Council's Scientific 
and Statistical Committee (SSC), and the biomass and the status of the 
fishery are reviewed and discussed. The biomass estimate is then 
presented to the Council along with the calculated overfishing limit 
(OFL), available biological catch (ABC), and harvest guideline (HG), 
along with recommendations and comments from the Team, Subpanel, and 
SSC. Following review by the Council and after hearing public comment, 
the Council adopts a biomass estimate and makes its catch level 
recommendations to NMFS.
    The purpose of this proposed rule is to implement the ACL and other 
annual catch reference points for 2014-2015, including the OFL and an 
ABC that takes into consideration uncertainty surrounding the current 
estimate of biomass for Pacific sardine in the U.S. EEZ off the Pacific 
coast. The CPS FMP and its implementing regulations require NMFS to set 
these annual catch levels for the Pacific sardine fishery based on the 
annual specification framework in the FMP. According to the FMP, an ACL 
must be equal to or below the ABC and an annual catch target (ACT) is 
then set equal to either the FMP-specified HG formula (HG = [(Biomass - 
Cutoff) * Fraction * Distribution]), or the ACL, whichever value is 
less. For the 2014-2015 fishing season, the result of the HG formula 
was 28,646 mt; the ACT is therefore set equal to the ACL (23,293 mt), 
because it is less than the HG calculation. For the 2014-2015 fishing 
season, the Council chose to calculate the ACL using the HG formula, 
but applied a different temperature index for determining the Fraction 
parameter than is currently prescribed in the FMP for computing the HG. 
The rationale for this application is that this new temperature index 
is a better predictor of Pacific sardine recruitment and productivity.
    The HG formula in the CPS FMP is HG = [(Biomass - CUTOFF) * 
FRACTION * DISTRIBUTION] with the parameters described as follows:
    1. Biomass. The estimated stock biomass of Pacific sardine age one 
and above for the 2014/2015 management season is 369,506 mt.
    2. CUTOFF. This is the biomass level below which no commercial 
fishery is allowed. The FMP established this level at 150,000 mt.
    3. DISTRIBUTION. The average portion of the Pacific sardine biomass 
estimated in the EEZ off the Pacific coast is 87 percent.
    4. FRACTION. The harvest fraction is the percentage of the biomass 
above 150,000 mt that may be harvested. The fraction varies as a result 
of current ocean temperatures measured at Scripps Pier, California.
    Because the annual biomass estimates are an explicit part of the 
various harvest control rules for Pacific sardine, including the HG 
formula described above, as the estimated biomass decreases or 
increases from one year to the next, the resulting allowable catch 
levels similarly trend.
    On February 28, 2014, NMFS published a final rule to change the 
Pacific sardine fishing season from the calendar year to a fishing year 
that begins on July 1 and extends until the following June 30th (79 FR 
11343). As a result of this change the Council will now develop annual 
fishing recommendations at their annual April meeting. The purpose of 
this change was to better align the timing of the research and science 
that is used in the annual stock assessments with the annual management 
schedule. The proposed specifications for the Pacific Sardine fishery 
are for the fishing season with the new start date of July 1, 2014, and 
ending June 30, 2015.
    At the April 2014 Council meeting, the Council adopted the 
Assessment of the Pacific Sardine Resource in 2014 for U.S.A. 
Management in 2014-2015 completed by NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science 
Center and the resulting Pacific sardine biomass estimate of 369,506 
mt. Based on recommendations from its SSC and other advisory bodies, 
the Council recommended and NMFS is proposing, an OFL of 39,210 mt, ABC 
of 35,792 mt, an ACL of 23,293 mt, and an ACT of 23,293 mt (equal to 
the ACL) for the 2014-2015 Pacific sardine fishing year. These catch 
specifications are based on the most recent stock assessment and the 
control rules established in the CPS FMP.
    The Council also recommended, and NMFS is proposing, that the 
23,293 mt ACT be reduced by 4,000 mt to account for potential harvest 
by the Quinault Indian Nation resulting in a final amount of 19,293 mt 
as the primary directed commercial fishing level to be allocated across 
the three seasonal allocation periods. The Council also recommended and 
NMFS is proposing that incidental catch set asides be put in place for 
each allocation. The purpose of the incidental set-aside allotments and 
allowance of an incidental catch-only fishery is to allow for the 
restricted incidental landings of Pacific sardine in other fisheries, 
particularly other CPS fisheries, when a seasonal directed fishery is 
closed to reduce bycatch and allow for continued prosecution of other 
important CPS fisheries. These incidental set asides are allocated as 
shown in the following table, which also shows the adjusted directed 
harvest levels for each period in metric tons:

[[Page 31076]]

                                               July 1-        September 15-    January 1- June
                                            September 14       December 31           30               Total
Total Seasonal Allocation...............             7,718             4,823             6,752            19,293
                                                     (40%)             (25%)             (35%)
Incidental Set Aside....................               500               500               500             1,500
Adjusted Directed Harvest Allocation....             7,218             4,323             6,252            17,793

    Additional inseason accountability measures (AM) are in place to 
ensure the fishery stays within the ACL. If during any of the seasonal 
allocation periods the applicable adjusted directed harvest allocation 
is projected to be taken, fishing would be closed to directed harvest 
and only incidental harvest would be allowed. For the remainder of the 
period, any incidental Pacific sardine landings would be counted 
against that period's incidental set-aside. As an additional AM the 
proposed incidental fishery would also be constrained to a 45 percent 
by weight incidental catch rate when Pacific sardine are landed with 
other CPS so as to minimize the targeting of Pacific sardine and reduce 
potential discard of sardine. In the event that an incidental set-aside 
is projected to be attained, the incidental fishery will be closed for 
the remainder of the period. If the set-aside is not fully attained or 
is exceeded in a given seasonal period, the directed harvest allocation 
in the following seasonal period would automatically be adjusted upward 
or downward accordingly to account for the discrepancy. Additionally, 
if during any seasonal period the directed harvest allocation is not 
fully attained or is exceeded, then the following period's directed 
harvest total would be adjusted to account for the discrepancy, as 
    If the total ACL or these apportionment levels for Pacific sardine 
are reached or are expected to be reached, the Pacific sardine fishery 
would be closed until it re-opens either per the allocation scheme or 
at the beginning of the next fishing season. The NMFS West Coast 
Regional Administrator would publish a notice in the Federal Register 
announcing the date of any closure to either directed or incidental 
fishing. Additionally, to ensure the regulated community is informed of 
any closure, NMFS will also make announcements through other means 
available, including fax, email, and mail to fishermen, processors, and 
state fishery management agencies.
    In 2012 and 2013, the Quinault Indian Nation requested, and NMFS 
approved, set-asides for the exclusive right to harvest Pacific sardine 
in the Quinault Usual and Accustomed Fishing Area off the coast of 
Washington State, pursuant to the 1856 Treaty of Olympia (Treaty with 
the Quinault). For the 2014-2015 fishing season the Quinault Indian 
Nation has again requested that NMFS provide the Quinault with a tribal 
set-aside. The Quinault Indian Nation has requested a 4,000 mt set-
aside (2,000 mt less than was requested and approved in 2013) and NMFS 
is considering the request. If a set-aside is approved NMFS will likely 
consult with Quinault Department of Fisheries staff and Quinault 
Fisheries Policy representatives twice during the fishing year to 
determine whether any part of the 2014 Quinault Indian Nation Pacific 
sardine set-aside can be moved into the non-tribal allocation as 
occurred in 2012 and 2013.
    Detailed information on the fishery and the stock assessment are 
found in the report ``Assessment of the Pacific Sardine Resource in 
2014 for U.S.A. Management in 2014-2015'' (see ADDRESSES).


    Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery 
Conservation and Management Act, the NMFS Assistant Administrator has 
determined that this proposed rule is consistent with the CPS FMP, 
other provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and 
Management Act, and other applicable law, subject to further 
consideration after public comment.
    These proposed specifications are exempt from review under 
Executive Order 12866.
    An Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA) was prepared, as 
required by section 3 of the Regulatory Flexibility Act, 5 U.S.C.-603. 
The IRFA describes the economic impact this proposed rule, if adopted, 
would have on small entities. A description of the action, why it is 
being considered, and the legal basis for this action are contained at 
the beginning of this section in the preamble and in the SUMMARY 
section of the preamble. The results of the analysis are stated below. 
For copies of the IRFA, and instructions on how to send comments on the 
IRFA, please see the ADDRESSES section above.
    The purpose of this proposed rule is to implement the 2014-2015 
annual specifications for Pacific sardine in the U.S. EEZ off the 
Pacific coast including an ACT which is the primary commercial fishing 
target. If the total ACT or any of the seasonal apportionment levels 
for Pacific sardine are reached at any time, the Pacific sardine 
fishery will close until either it re-opens per the allocation scheme 
or the beginning of the next fishing season. There is no limit on the 
amount of catch that any single vessel can take during an allocation 
period or the year; the ACL and seasonal allocations are available 
until fully utilized by the entire CPS fleet.
    On June 20, 2013, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) 
issued a final rule revising the small business size standards for 
several industries effective July 22, 2013 (78 FR 37398). The rule 
increased the size standard for finfish fishing from $4.0 million to 
$19.0 million, shellfish fishing from $4.0 million to $5.0 million, and 
other marine fishing from $4.0 million to $7.0 million. NMFS conducted 
its analysis for this action using the new size standards.
    As stated above, the U.S. Small Business Administration now defines 
small businesses engaged in finfish fishing as those vessels with 
annual revenues of or below $19 million. Under the former, lower 
standards, all entities subject to this action in previous years were 
considered small entities, and under the new standards they continue to 
be considered small. The small entities that would be affected by the 
proposed action are the vessels that compose the West Coast CPS small 
purse seine fleet. In 2013, there were approximately 81 vessels 
permitted to operate in the directed sardine fishery component of the 
CPS fishery off the U.S. West Coast; 58 vessels in the Federal CPS 
limited entry fishery off California (south of 39 N. lat.), and a 
combined 23 vessels in Oregon and Washington's state Pacific sardine 
fisheries. The average annual per vessel revenue in 2013 for the West 
Coast CPS finfish fleet was well below $19 million; therefore, all of 
these vessels therefore are considered small businesses under the RFA. 
Because each affected vessel is a small business, this proposed rule 
has an equal effect on all of these small entities and therefore will 
impact a substantial number of these small entities in the same manner. 

[[Page 31077]]

this rule would not create disproportionate costs between small and 
large vessels/businesses.
    The profitability of these vessels as a result of this proposed 
rule is based on the average Pacific sardine ex-vessel price per mt. 
NMFS used average Pacific sardine ex-vessel price per mt to conduct a 
profitability analysis because cost data for the harvesting operations 
of CPS finfish vessels was unavailable.
    For the 2013 fishing year, approximately 64,000 mt were available 
for harvest by the directed fishery. Approximately 63,000 mt 
(approximately 7,100 mt in California and 56,000 mt in Oregon and 
Washington) of this allocation was harvested during the 2013 fishing 
season, for an estimated ex-vessel value of $14 million. Using these 
figures, the average 2013 ex-vessel price per mt of Pacific sardines 
was approximately $229 during that time period.
    The proposed initial non-tribal commercial fishing quota for the 
2014-2015 Pacific sardine fishing season (July 1, 2014 through June 30, 
2015) is 19,293 metric tons (mt). This is approximately 38,000 mt less 
than the equivalent allocation for 2013 and approximately 27,000 mt 
lower than the previous lowest level set in 2011. If the fleet were to 
take the entire 2014-2015 quota, and assuming a coastwide average ex-
vessel price per mt of $218 (average of 2012 and 2013 ex-vessel), the 
potential revenue to the fleet would be approximately $3.87 million. 
Therefore the proposed rule will decrease small entities' potential 
profitability compared to last season, due to the lower quota this 
fishing season. The release of any unused portion of the 4,000 mt set-
aside for the Quinault Indian Nation might be used to supplement the 
amount available to the directed fishery as occurred in 2012 and 2013, 
thereby increasing the potential revenue to the fleet. Additionally, 
revenue derived from harvesting Pacific sardine is typically only one 
factor determining the overall revenue for a majority of the vessels 
that harvest Pacific sardine; as a result, the economic impact to the 
fleet from the proposed action cannot be viewed in isolation. From year 
to year, depending on market conditions and availability of fish, most 
CPS/sardine vessels supplement their income by harvesting other 
species. Many vessels in California also harvest anchovy, mackerel, and 
in particular squid, making Pacific sardine only one component of a 
multi-species CPS fishery. For example, market squid have been readily 
available to the fishery in California over the last three years with 
total annual ex-vessel revenue averaging approximately $66 million over 
that time, compared to an annual average ex-vessel from sardine of $16 
million over that same time period. Additionally, many sardine vessels 
that operate off of Oregon and Washington also fish for salmon in 
Alaska or squid in California during times of the year when sardine are 
not available.
    These vessels typically rely on multiple species for profitability 
because abundance of sardine, like the other CPS stocks, is highly 
associated with ocean conditions and different times of the year, and 
therefore are harvested at various times and areas throughout the year. 
Because each species responds to ocean conditions in its own way, not 
all CPS stocks are likely to be abundant at the same time; therefore, 
as abundance levels and markets fluctuate, it has necessitated that the 
CPS fishery as a whole rely on a group of species for its annual 
revenues. Therefore, although there will be a potential reduction in 
sardine revenue for the small entities affected by this proposed action 
as compared to the previous season, it is difficult to predict exactly 
how this reduction will impact overall annual revenue for the fleet.
    No significant alternatives to this proposed rule exist that would 
accomplish the stated objectives of the applicable statutes and which 
would minimize any significant economic impact of this proposed rule on 
the affected small entities. The CPS FMP and its implementing 
regulations require NMFS to calculate annual harvest levels by applying 
the harvest control rule formulas to the current stock biomass 
estimate. Therefore, if the estimated biomass decreases or increases 
from one year to the next, so do the applicable quotas. Determining the 
annual harvest levels merely implements the established procedures of 
the FMP with the goal of continuing to provide expected net benefits to 
the nation, regardless of what the specific annual allowable harvest of 
Pacific sardine is determined to be.
    There are no reporting, record-keeping, or other compliance 
requirements required by this proposed rule. Additionally, no other 
Federal rules duplicate, overlap or conflict with this proposed rule.
    This action does not contain a collection-of-information 
requirement for purposes of the Paper Reduction Act.

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

    Dated: May 21, 2014.
Samuel D. Rauch III,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2014-12461 Filed 5-30-14; 8:45 am]