[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 218 (Wednesday, November 12, 2014)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 67090-67095]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-26748]



National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 648

[Docket No. 140903748-4748-01]
RIN 0648-BE45

Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act 
Provisions; Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Northeast 
Groundfish Fishery; Gulf of Maine Haddock Annual Catch Limit Revision

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

[[Page 67091]]

ACTION: Temporary rule; emergency action.


SUMMARY: This action implements new stock status determination criteria 
for Gulf of Maine (GOM) haddock and increases the associated GOM 
haddock catch limits for the remainder of fishing year 2014 based on 
the most recent and best available scientific information. This action 
is intended to provide additional commercial fishing opportunities for 
GOM haddock and other healthy groundfish stocks.

DATES: Effective November 12, 2014, through May 11, 2015. Comments must 
be received by December 12, 2014.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2014-0133, 
by any of the following methods:
     Electronic submissions: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Go to www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2014-0133, click the ``Comment Now!'' icon, 
complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.
     Mail: Submit written comments to John K. Bullard, Regional 
Administrator, National Marine Fisheries Service, 55 Great Republic 
Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930. Mark the outside of the envelope, 
``Comments on the Gulf of Maine Haddock Emergency Action.''
    Instructions: Supporting analysis documents may be obtained at 
www.regulations.gov. 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.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: William Whitmore, Fishery Policy 
Analyst, phone: 978-281-9182.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Secretary of Commerce (Secretary) finds 
that emergency action, under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens 
Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), is 
necessary to revise the fishing year 2014 catch limits for Gulf of 
Maine (GOM) haddock, managed by the Northeast Multispecies Fishery 
Management Plan (referred to as the groundfish plan). A recent 
benchmark stock assessment conducted by the Stock Assessment Review 
Committee (SARC 59, August 2014) indicated that the GOM haddock stock 
status is no longer overfished and overfishing is not occurring. This 
emergency action increases the GOM haddock annual catch limit for the 
remainder of fishing year 2014 based on this updated stock assessment. 
This action seeks to prevent foregone economic yield or adverse 
community impacts and preserves an economic opportunity that otherwise 
would not be available.


The New England Fishery Management Council Requests Assistance

    On May 3, 2013, the final rule implementing Framework Adjustment 
(Framework) 50 to the groundfish plan (78 FR 26172) implemented an 
overfishing limit of 440 mt for GOM haddock, with an allowable 
biological catch of 341 mt and an annual catch limit of 323 mt for 
fishing year 2014 (Table 1). These catch limits represented substantial 
reductions of catch levels from prior years and were implemented when 
the stock was considered to be approaching an overfished condition and 
overfishing was occurring. The final rule implementing Framework 
Adjustment (Framework) 51 to the groundfish plan (79 FR 22421; April 
22, 2014) retained these limits.
    On July 9, 2014, the New England Fishery Management Council 
(Council) requested that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) 
increase the GOM haddock annual catch limit for fishing year 2014, 
pending the final results of SARC 59, while the Council developed GOM 
haddock specifications for the next fishing year. The Council requested 
our assistance, given the substantially longer time it would take to 
develop and implement new catch limits. We can develop and implement an 
emergency action more swiftly than a Council action because Council 
actions are subject to procedural and other requirements not applicable 
to the Secretary. A delay associated with a Council action could result 
in overly restrictive and economically harmful catch limits that 
otherwise may have been avoidable. Additional information on emergency 
and interim measures can be found in Section 305(c) of the Magnuson-
Stevens Act, available online at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/magact/MSA_Amended_2007%20.pdf.


    The previous benchmark assessment for GOM haddock used a virtual 
population analysis model that incorporated commercial landings and 
discards, as well as recreational landings, but not recreational 
discards. For SARC 59, the assessment was conducted using a statistical 
catch-at-age model and the catch inputs included landings and discards 
from both the commercial and recreational fleets. Trawl gear is the 
primary mode of capture in the commercial fishery and, as such, 
commercial discards were assumed to suffer 100 percent mortality, 
consistent with the previous assessment. SARC 59 was the first time 
recreational discard-at-length data was available and incorporated into 
the model, and so the recreational discard mortality increased from 
zero percent to 50 percent discard mortality.
    The SARC determined that the change in stock status from the 2012 
update (not overfished but approaching an overfished condition and 
overfishing occurring) to the current status (not overfished and no 
overfishing) was due primarily to the addition of three more years of 
fishery and survey data, and to the very strong 2010 year class of GOM 
haddock. Additional information on SARC 59 can be found online at 
    Two models were presented at SARC 59: (1) A ``final model'' which 
utilized an age-structured approach; and (2) a ``sensitivity analysis'' 
that was completed for the purposes of incorporating a more 
conservative population estimate of the 2012 GOM haddock year class 
because of uncertainty of its size. The Council's Groundfish Plan 
Development Team highlighted their concern regarding the uncertainty 
with the 2012 year class and recommended that the Council's Scientific 
and Statistical Committee (SSC) establish fishing year 2015 catch 
limits derived from the sensitivity analysis. Despite this concern, the 
SSC accepted the final model and recommended the corresponding quotas 
from this approach for fishing year 2015. Importantly, one of the SSC's 
justifications for selecting the final model was that another 
operational assessment is scheduled in 2015 that will provide updated 
information on the size of the 2012 year class. At the September 30-
October 2, 2014 Council meeting, the Council supported inclusion of GOM 
haddock specifications derived from the final model in Framework 
Adjustment 53, which is scheduled for implementation

[[Page 67092]]

on May 1, 2015 (the beginning of fishing year 2015).

Emergency Action

Increasing GOM Haddock Catch Limits

    Section 305(c) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act authorizes the Secretary 
to promulgate emergency regulations to address fishery emergencies. The 
emergency criteria in the policy guidelines (62 FR 44421; August 21, 
1997) define the existence of an emergency as a situation that:
     Results from recent, unforeseen events or recently 
discovered circumstances; and
     Presents serious conservation or management problems in 
the fishery; and
     Can be addressed through emergency regulations for which 
the immediate benefits outweigh the value of advance notice, public 
comment, and deliberative consideration of the impacts on participants 
to the same extent as would be expected under the normal rulemaking 
    The justifications described in the guidelines include the 
prevention of ``significant direct economic loss or to preserve a 
significant economic opportunity that otherwise might be foregone,'' 
and the prevention of significant community impacts (62 FR 44422).
    The SARC 59 provides recent unforeseen or discovered circumstances 
showing that the GOM haddock stock is in better condition than 
previously determined. Not taking emergency action to align GOM haddock 
specifications with the actual stock condition could result in lost 
revenue and harm to communities as fishermen would likely have to 
modify or cease their fishing operations. For example, as of October 
21, 2014, approximately 55 percent of the fishing year 2014 commercial 
GOM haddock fishery catch limit has been caught. If catches continue at 
this rate, the commercial fishery may reach its GOM haddock catch limit 
prior to the end of the fishing year, or may be forced to substantially 
modify fishing operations to avoid reaching its quota. Increasing the 
annual catch limit to more accurately reflect the improved stock 
condition will avoid potentially constraining catch limits and help 
fishermen achieve optimum yield of both GOM haddock and potentially 
other groundfish stocks for this fishing year. Immediate action to 
increase fishing opportunities may also prevent or mitigate economic 
loss or adverse community impacts from interim GOM cod protections.
    Emergency action to swiftly increase the GOM haddock annual catch 
limit is warranted. Using the normal Council regulatory process to 
complete this action prior to the end of the 2014 fishing year would be 
extremely difficult, if not impossible. Even if it were possible to 
complete it before the end of the fishing year, the time required for 
the Council process would result in a rule issued so late in the season 
that it would have little, if any, benefit to the affected entities or 
communities. The public had a preliminary opportunity to comment on the 
results from SARC 59 and a potential Secretarial action to increase the 
GOM haddock annual catch limit in fishing year 2014, before the Council 
voted to recommend this action. The Council is using its normal process 
to consider similar or higher catch limits in Framework 53 for fishing 
year 2015. The public will have further opportunity to comment on 
issues relating to the potential continuation or increases of these 
limits in Framework 53. These opportunities to comment, combined with 
the need for immediate emergency action to provide economic 
opportunities and prevent losses outweigh the value of advance notice, 
public comment, and deliberation provided by the normal regulatory 
    The duration of this emergency action is limited by the Magnuson-
Stevens Act to an initial period of 180 days, with a potential 
extension of an additional 186 days. We anticipate that the Council 
will submit revised catch limits for GOM haddock in time for us to 
approve a catch limit increase in Framework 53 for fishing year 2015, 
which begins on May 1, 2014. However, if the anticipated Council action 
to specify catch levels for fishing year 2015 is delayed, the annual 
GOM haddock catch limit implemented through this emergency action will 
be extended for an additional period up to 186 days until Framework 53 
is approved, if necessary.
    Tables 1 and 2 compare the initial and revised status determination 
criteria and associated catch levels for GOM haddock for fishing year 
2014. The overfishing limit incorporated in this emergency action is 
based on the ``final model'' from SARC 59, which represents the 
biological reference points that result from the most recent 
assessment. The allowable biological catch and corresponding catch 
limits in this action are derived from the sensitivity model from SARC 
59. Using this model is more conservative than the amount of catch that 
would be derived from the allowable biological catch control rule 
implemented in Amendment 16, which calculates allowable biological 
catch as the projected catch associated with 75 percent of Fmsy. We 
have elected to increase GOM haddock catch limits in fishing year 2014 
based on the sensitivity analysis (which was described above under SARC 
59) because we consider a cautionary approach to increasing the quotas 
to be more appropriate for an emergency action. However, this cautious 
approach still supplies a large GOM haddock quota increase (almost 100 
percent) for the fishing industry while limiting the risk of 
overfishing, given the Plan Development Team's concern pertaining to 
the size of the 2012 year class for this stock. Tables 3 and 4 provide 
the increased sector specific allocations and common pool trimester 
quotas derived from this action. The sector specific allocations are 
preliminary estimates; final sector allocations will be provided to 
sector managers shortly after publication. Any Trimester 1 quota that 
is unused by the common pool is carried over into Trimester 2, and 
unused Trimester 2 quota is carried over to Trimester 3. We have 
elected not to modify the common pool trip limit (25 lb per trip) at 
this time, but will review common pool catch and make any appropriate 
changes prior to Trimester 3.

 Table 1--Initial and Revised GOM Haddock Status Determination Criteria
            and Potential Catch Levels for Fishing Year 2014
                                    Initial fishing     Revised fishing
           Catch level             year 2014 levels    year 2014 levels
                                         (mt)                (mt)
Overfishing Limit of Catch......                 440                1085
Acceptable Biological Catch.....                 341                 677
Total Annual Catch Limit (ACL)..                 323                 641

[[Page 67093]]

Groundfish sub-ACL..............                 307                 610
Sector sub-ACL..................                 218                 432
Common Pool sub-ACL.............                   2                   4
Recreational sub-ACL............                  87                 173
State Waters ACL subcomponent...                   5                  10
Other ACL subcomponent..........                   7                  15
Mid-Water Trawl sub-ACL.........                   3                   6

 Table 2--Status Determination Criteria and Numerical Estimates for GOM
                                      2012 update
            Parameter                 operational      August 2014 SARC
                                      assessment              59
Model...........................  Virtual Population  Age Structured
                                   Analysis (VPA).    Assessment Program
Status Determination Criteria:    SSBmsy = 4,904....  SSBmsy = 4,108
 Bmsy (biomass associated with    MSY = 1,117.......  MSY = 955.
 maximum sustainable yield).
Status Determination Criteria:    Fmsy proxy = 0.46.  Fmsy proxy = 0.46.
 Fmsy (fishing mortality
 associated with maximum
 sustainable yield).
Fishing Mortality...............  F2010 = 0.82......  F2013 = 0.39.
Biomass.........................  B2010 = 2,868 mt..  B2013 = 4,153 mt.

    Table 3--Initial and Preliminary Revised GOM Haddock Annual Catch
            Entitlement by Sector for Fishing Year 2014 (lb)
                                    Initial fishing     Revised fishing
           Sector name                 year 2014           year 2014
                                      allocation          allocation
Fixed Gear Sector...............            8,922.32           17,682.41
Maine Coast Community Sector....           12,375.78           25,526.55
Maine Permit Bank...............            5,431.97           10,765.18
NEFS 1..........................               12,03               23.85
NEFS 2..........................           79,343.13          157,243.67
NEFS 3..........................           45,030.20           89,241.68
NEFS 4..........................           40,511.81           80,287.05
NEFS 5..........................            1,406.55            2,787.53
NEFS 6..........................           18,669.52           36,981.77
NEFS 7..........................            2,275.42            4,509.48
NEFS 8..........................              974.47            1,931.22
NEFS 9..........................           23,256.90           46,090.95
NEFS 10.........................           12,284.38           24,345.41
NEFS 11.........................           15,567.10           30,851.16
NEFS 13.........................            4,793.20            9,499.25
NCCS............................            1,774.68            3,457.64
New Hamsphire Permit Bank.......              150.95              299.15
Sustainable Harvest Sector 1....          207,161.20          410,555.83
Sustainable Harvest Sector 3....              316.08              626.41
    Sector Total................          480,218.71          951,706.18
NEFS = Northeast Fishery Sector, NCCS = Northeast Coastal Communities

         Table 4--Initial and Revised GOM Haddock Common Pool Trimester TACs for Fishing Year 2014 (mt)
                                                             Trimester       Initial fishing
                       Trimester                            allocations         year 2014           Revised
                                                             (percent)          allocation         allocation
Trimester 1............................................                 27                .51               1.17
Trimester 2............................................                 26                .49               1.12
Trimester 3............................................                 47                .88               2.03

    An environmental assessment that analyzes the impact of the revised 
GOM haddock catch limits for the remainder of fishing year 2014 and 
compares the impact to the current catch limits specified for fishing 
year 2014 was

[[Page 67094]]

prepared and is available for review at www.regulations.gov. The 
revision to the status determination criteria and annual catch limit 
align current management measures with the best available scientific 
information. The revised level of GOM haddock catch for fishing year 
2014 is consistent with sustaining the biomass over the long-term at 
the level associated with maximum sustainable yield and fishing at a 
sustainable level of mortality. Both scientific and management 
uncertainty are accounted for in this catch level, so the risks of 
negative biological impacts on GOM haddock have been minimized. A 
larger catch limit for GOM haddock may result in greater fishing effort 
and catch of other groundfish and non-groundfish stocks in addition to 
GOM haddock, as compared to the status quo, because GOM haddock is less 
likely to serve as a constraining or ``choke stock.'' While this 
increase would reduce the constraint from GOM haddock, there are 
several other stocks that may constrain the fishery even more than GOM 
haddock, particularly GOM cod (see next section, GOM Cod Interim 
Action). While there could be an effort increase for GOM haddock as a 
result, a substantial increase is unlikely. Compared to the status quo, 
the impact of the emergency action on protected resources and essential 
fish habitat would likely be negligible.
    The increased GOM haddock catch limits under this emergency action 
would represent an increase in operational flexibility and likely a 
small increase in revenue. After the substantial reduction in 
groundfish catch limits from previous years, combined with further 
restrictions that will prevent vessels from targeting GOM cod this 
year, this operational flexibility and potential increase in revenue is 
important. Further, the economic analyses may undervalue the revenue 
increase that could happen because GOM haddock are more prevalent than 
in the years during which the data were gathered to incorporate into 
the model. While Framework 51 did not assume that GOM haddock would be 
a constraining stock, as of October 21, 2014, more of the GOM haddock 
quota has been caught than any other allocated stock. Without an 
emergency action raising this year's catch limits, it is likely that 
the limits will be reached and many fishermen will lose the ability to 
fish for other stocks within the GOM haddock stock area (sector vessels 
are required to stop fishing in a specific stock area when they no 
longer have quota for a given species). Increasing the quota for this 
stock will provide an opportunity for operational flexibility that may 
provide additional catch and revenue from not only GOM haddock, but 
other healthy stocks that are caught in the GOM, such as pollock and 
Acadian redfish. This is especially important given the substantial 
restrictions on opportunities to fish for GOM cod.

Gulf of Maine Cod Interim Action

    An August 2014 stock assessment update on GOM cod (available online 
at www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/mediacenter/ongoing/gomcod/index.html) indicated that the overall stock health continues to 
decline and that the stock is in very poor condition. The Council has 
requested that we implement interim management measures to protect GOM 
cod and help the stock rebuild. Because GOM cod and haddock comingle, 
we are concerned with how increased fishing effort on GOM haddock from 
this action could potentially increase catch of GOM cod. To address 
these concerns, we are concurrently implementing interim measures for 
GOM cod that include mortality and spawning area closures, and other 
effort restrictions, to further protect GOM cod. These GOM cod 
management measures will reduce the impact that increased the GOM 
haddock catch limits could have on GOM cod.
    On the other hand, efforts to reduce GOM cod catch could also limit 
the ability for fishermen to harvest GOM haddock. Still, we believe 
that fishermen should be provided with the opportunity to target 
healthy groundfish stocks, such as GOM haddock, pollock, and redfish, 
if they are able to successfully target these stocks while avoiding GOM 
cod. It is critical for fishermen to have operational flexibility that 
could mitigate economic loss and adverse community impacts that could 
result from the GOM cod interim measures.

The Recreational Groundfish Fishery

    While this action increases both the commercial and recreational 
GOM haddock catch limits, it does not modify current recreational 
management measures as requested by the Council in their July 9, 2014 
letter to us. Recreational catch models suggest that the fishery has 
likely already exceeded the 173 mt allocation specified for 
recreational vessels in this emergency action. Because of this, and the 
increased concerns for GOM cod bycatch when recreational fishermen 
target GOM haddock, we are not liberalizing recreational management 
measures in this action.


    NMFS has determined that this rule is necessary to respond to an 
emergency situation and is consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and 
other applicable law.
    The Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, NOAA, finds it 
impracticable and contrary to the public interest to provide for prior 
notice and opportunity for the public to comment under the provisions 
of section 553(b)(B) of the Administrative Procedure Act. As explained 
above, the reasons justifying promulgation of this rule on an emergency 
basis make solicitation of public comment contrary to the public 
interest. Implementation delays would result in negative consequences 
inconsistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and groundfish plan 
mandates. The immediate benefit of an emergency action outweighs the 
value that would be derived from the normal regulatory process. This 
action was initiated as a result of a new benchmark stock assessment 
that revised the stock status for GOM haddock (SARC 59). As a result of 
the new assessment, the SSC recommended, and the Council voted in 
support of, higher fishing year 2015 specifications for GOM haddock. 
Although the Council could have initiated a management action to modify 
the GOM haddock catch limits for the remainder of fishing year 2014, 
such an action was unlikely to have been completed before the end of 
fishing year 2014, potentially resulting in status quo restrictive 
catch limits that otherwise could have been avoided. The regulations 
require that when the catch limit of a single allocated groundfish 
stock, such as GOM haddock, is projected to be achieved, a reduction or 
cessation of fishing effort is required. As a result, catches of 
healthy groundfish stocks that are caught concurrently with GOM haddock 
could also be reduced. Thus, the time necessary to provide for prior 
notice, opportunity for public comment, and delayed effectiveness for 
this action could severely curtail fishing operations if the current 
catch limits are reached prior to implementation of the increased catch 
    An emergency action can be developed and implemented by NMFS much 
more swiftly than a Council action which is subject to procedural and 
other requirements not applicable to the Secretary. Thus, we initiated 
this temporary rule at the request of the Council, to revise the GOM 
haddock catch limits as soon as possible in fishing year 2014. This 
action will benefit fishermen and fishing communities by increasing 

[[Page 67095]]

associated with larger GOM haddock catches, as well as other healthy 
groundfish stocks such as pollock and Acadian redfish, that would 
likely have been foregone due to the lower catch limit of GOM haddock.
    The Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, NOAA, finds good cause 
to waive the requirement for a 30-day delay in effectiveness under the 
provisions of section 553(d) of the Administrative Procedure Act. As 
stated above, this action would benefit the affected fishermen and 
fishing communities by increasing revenues due to larger GOM haddock 
catch limits, and provide more opportunity for commercial groundfish 
vessels to harvest their allocations of other stocks caught 
concurrently. This rule relieves a restriction by increasing the catch 
limit for GOM haddock and, consequently, extends fishing opportunity 
for fishermen that would otherwise be constrained under the current 
catch limits, which are based on outdated biological information and 
therefore, needlessly restrictive. If implementation of this rulemaking 
were delayed to allow for a 30-day delay in effectiveness, the fishery 
would likely forego some amount of the increase in catch level and the 
resulting additional fishing opportunity and could suffer an early end 
to the fishing season. Without immediate effectiveness of this action, 
if the common pool is projected to catch its current catch limit, an 
in-season action would be needed to implement a more restrictive trip 
limit to ensure the common pool did not exceed its current catch limit. 
Similarly, sector vessels would still be required to end fishing effort 
in the GOM if they reached their allocations under the current GOM 
haddock catch limit. While these restrictions would be alleviated after 
this rule becomes effective, the lost economic opportunity of foregone 
catches that would result from a delay in the effectiveness of this 
action may not be recouped in the time remaining before the end of 
fishing year 2014. For these reasons, the AA finds good cause to 
implement this rule immediately.
    NMFS has consulted with the Office of Information and Regulatory 
Affairs (OIRA) and due to the circumstances described above this action 
is exempt from review under Executive Order 12866.
    This rule is exempt from the procedures of the Regulatory 
Flexibility Act to prepare a regulatory flexibility analysis because 
the rule is issued without opportunity for prior public comment.

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

    Dated: November 6, 2014.
Samuel D. Rauch III,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2014-26748 Filed 11-10-14; 8:45 am]