[Federal Register Volume 82, Number 90 (Thursday, May 11, 2017)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 21948-21951]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2017-09577]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 660

[Docket No. 160808696-7010-02]
RIN 0648-BG76


Magnuson-Stevens Act Provisions; Fisheries Off West Coast States; 
Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery; 2017-2018 Biennial Specifications and 
Management Measures; Inseason Adjustments

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

ACTION: Final rule; inseason adjustments to biennial groundfish 
management measures.

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SUMMARY: This final rule announces inseason changes to management 
measures in the Pacific Coast groundfish fishery. This action 
implements an increase in the incidental Pacific halibut retention 
ratio in the sablefish primary fishery, and changes to recreational 
fisheries management measures that will reduce recreational groundfish 
and rockfish bag limits and eliminate length requirements for 
recreationally caught lingcod in all areas.

DATES: This final rule is effective May 11, 2017.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Benjamin Mann phone: 206-526-6117, 
fax: 206-526-6736, or email: [email protected].

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Electronic Access

    This rule is accessible via the Internet at the Office of the 
Federal Register Web site at https://www.federalregister.gov. 
Background information and documents are available at the Pacific 
Fishery Management Council's Web site at http://www.pcouncil.org/.

Background

    The Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council)--in coordination 
with the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) and the States 
of Washington, Oregon, and California--recommended changes to 
groundfish management measures at its March 7-13, 2017, meeting. 
Specifically, the Council recommended (1) an increase in incidental 
halibut retention allocation in the primary sablefish fishery from 110 
lbs dressed weight halibut per 1,000 lbs dressed weight sablefish, to 
140 lbs halibut to 1,000 lbs sablefish to improve opportunity for 
industry to harvest more of the sablefish allocation without exceeding 
it or the incidental halibut allocation ACLs, and (2) a reduction in 
rockfish bag limits in the Washington recreational groundfish fishery 
(all areas) from 10 to 7 rockfish per angler, a reduction in the 
aggregated groundfish daily bag limit from 12 to 9 fish per angler, and 
finally, removal of the 22-inch minimum size limit for lingcod 
retention.

Increased Incidental Halibut Retention in the Limited Entry Fixed Gear 
Sablefish Primary Fishery

    The IPHC establishes total allowable catch (TAC) amounts for 
Pacific halibut each year in January. Under the authority of the 
Northern Pacific Halibut Act, and implementing regulations at 50 CFR 
300.63, a Catch Sharing Plan for IPHC Area 2A (waters off the U.S. West 
Coast), developed by the Council and

[[Page 21949]]

implemented by the Secretary, allocates portions of the annual TAC 
among fisheries off Washington, Oregon, and California. Pacific halibut 
is generally a prohibited species for vessels fishing in Pacific coast 
groundfish fisheries, unless explicitly allowed in groundfish 
regulations and authorized by the Pacific halibut Catch Sharing Plan.
    In years where the Pacific halibut TAC is above 900,000 lbs (408.2 
mt), the Catch Sharing Plan allows the limited entry fixed gear 
sablefish primary fishery an incidental total catch allowance for 
Pacific halibut north of Pt. Chehalis, WA (46[deg]53.30' N. lat.). The 
2017 Pacific halibut Area 2A TAC is 1,330,000 lbs (603 mt), a 190,000 
lb (86.2 mt) increase from 2016. Consistent with the provisions of the 
Catch Sharing Plan, the limited entry fixed gear sablefish primary 
fishery north of Pt. Chehalis, WA is allowed an incidental total catch 
limit of 70,000 lbs (31.7 mt) for 2017.
    At its March 2017 meeting, the Council considered the new 2017 
total allowable catch (TAC) for Pacific halibut in Area 2A (waters off 
the U.S. West coast), and the total catch of Pacific halibut in the 
limited entry fixed gear sablefish primary fishery in recent years. 
Given the higher halibut allocation in 2017, the Groundfish Advisory 
Panel (GAP) requested the GMT look at recent participation in the 
primary fixed gear sablefish fishery north of Point Chehalis, and 
provide analysis relative to a reasonable ratio of halibut to 
sablefish, since it has been several years since the allocation has 
been at the level achieved for 2017.
    Current regulations provide for halibut retention starting on April 
1 with a landing ratio of 110 lbs dressed weight of halibut, for every 
1,000 lbs dressed weight of sablefish landed, and up to an additional 2 
halibut in excess of this ratio. These limits were based on the 2016 
allocation of 49,686 lbs (approximately 71 percent of the 2017 
allocation) and resulted in a catch of 29,499 lbs of incidental 
halibut, and 372,113 lbs of sablefish (approximately 58 percent of the 
sablefish allocation). At the March, 2017 Council meeting, the GMT 
examined landing restriction ratios of 110, 140, and 150 lbs dressed 
halibut per 1,000 lbs dressed sablefish. Based on 2016 catch totals, 
the number of vessels fishing that participated, and the average number 
of trips taken, which constitutes the best available information, an 
increase from 100 lbs to 140 lbs dressed incidental Pacific halibut 
retention per 1,000 lbs dressed sablefish would allow total catch of 
Pacific halibut to approach, but not exceed, the 2017 allocation for 
the sablefish primary fishery and provide greater opportunity for 
industry to catch a higher percentage of the sablefish primary fishery 
allocation. This ratio can be adjusted through routine inseason action 
based on participation and landings in the fishery, if warranted.
    In order to allow increased incidental halibut catch in the 
sablefish primary fishery to begin on April 1, or as soon as possible 
thereafter, the Council recommended and NMFS is revising incidental 
halibut retention regulations at Sec.  660.231(b)(3)(iv) to increase 
the catch ratio to ``140 lb (64 kg) dressed weight of halibut for every 
1,000 pounds (454 kg) dressed weight of sablefish landed and up to 2 
additional halibut in excess of the 140 lbs per 1,000 lbs ratio per 
landing.''
    The retention limits for Pacific halibut were not revised as part 
of the 2017-2018 harvest specifications and management measures because 
the Pacific halibut TAC is developed each year based on the most 
current scientific information, and the TAC for 2017 was not determined 
until the IPHC meeting in January, 2017.

Washington State Recreational Management Measures

    In June, 2016, the Council recommended Washington recreational 
groundfish regulations for 2017 and 2018. At that time, management 
measures were anticipated to keep recreational yelloweye rockfish 
within harvest guidelines and black rockfish catch within harvest 
targets. Once catch data was compiled for 2016, harvest projections for 
black rockfish in 2017 and 2018 exceeded the harvest targets. As a 
result, WDFW adopted revised management measures by emergency rule in 
February 2017, consistent with Federal guidelines that state 
regulations may be more restrictive than Federal regulations. At its 
March 2017 meeting, the Council considered taking action to modify 
Federal regulations to keep catch within harvest targets and bring 
consistency with state regulations.
    The Council considered the best available fishery information, and 
recommended a reduction in the daily rockfish bag limit from 10 to 7 
per angler to keep the Washington recreational black rockfish catch 
within the harvest targets for 2017 and 2018 as described. A 7 rockfish 
bag limit is anticipated to keep harvest of black rockfish within the 
target harvest limit and avoid having further bag limit reductions 
inseason.
    In the Washington recreational groundfish fishery, the aggregate 
groundfish limit is currently, and has traditionally been 2 fish higher 
than the rockfish bag limit (with a rockfish limit of 10 fish the 
groundfish total bag limit was 12 fish), allowing anglers to retain a 2 
fish bag limit for species other than rockfish, like lingcod or 
cabezon. To remain consistent with Washington recreational groundfish 
regulations, the Council recommended reducing the aggregate groundfish 
daily bag limit from 12 to 9 keeping the aggregate limit at 2 fish 
higher than the rockfish daily bag limit. Given their recommendation to 
reduce the rockfish daily bag limit from 10 fish to 7 fish, the Council 
also recommended an aggregate groundfish bag limit reduction from 12 to 
9.
    Recreational fishing regulations do not allow yelloweye rockfish to 
be retained, to discourage targeting, keep mortality within the harvest 
guideline, and promote rebuilding. Yelloweye rockfish are often caught 
incidentally while targeting other groundfish species, such as lingcod. 
Under current Washington state regulations, lingcod must be a minimum 
of 22 inches to be retained. Angler interview data indicates that the 
number of discarded lingcod has increased in recent years, suggesting 
that anglers are catching undersized lingcod at a higher rate. Removing 
the minimum lingcod size limit is intended to encourage anglers to 
retain the first two lingcod caught, reducing their time on the water 
and potential interactions with yelloweye rockfish. Consistent with 
WDFW's regulations, the Council recommended removing the 22-inch 
minimum size limit for lingcod in the Washington recreational 
groundfish fishery.
    The Council also recommended removing a requirement for observers 
to count and weigh canary rockfish and bocaccio before leaving a 
Shorebased IFQ vessel that has docked but hasn't yet offloaded. Higher 
2017 ACLs and trawl allocations for these two species are anticipated 
to increase the volume of fish landed and to reduce a vessel's 
incentive to discard the fish while in port but prior to offload. 
Additionally, canary rockfish is no longer managed under a rebuilding 
plan, therefore the added burden for accounting catch of this species 
is no longer necessary. The Council considered modification to shorten 
the length of time the observer must remain on board the vessel once it 
docks, potentially saving vessels a small part of the cost of the 
observer's time.
    The species that are subject to this catch accounting requirement 
are designated as a routine management measure at Sec.  660.60(c)(1) 
and may be revised after a single Council meeting. However, NMFS has 
not found good cause to waive notice and comment in

[[Page 21950]]

this case. Higher 2017 ACLs and trawl allocations, potential for higher 
catches and rebuilding status of these two species was considered in a 
notice and comment rule over winter (81 FR 75266, October 28, 2016; 82 
FR 9634, February 7, 2017). Circumstances facilitating the Council to 
recommend this change are not substantively different from those that 
were considered in the 2017-2018 harvest specifications and management 
measures rule. There is no evidence of higher than anticipated catches 
in early 2017 for these species, or other new information suggesting 
that there is good cause to waive notice and comment. Therefore, NMFS 
is not including this change in this inseason action. NMFS notified the 
Council at its April meeting of our intent to implement this regulatory 
change through a notice and comment rulemaking.

Classification

    This final rule makes routine inseason adjustments to groundfish 
fishery management measures based on the best available information, 
and is consistent with the Pacific Coast Groundfish FMP and its 
implementing regulations.
    This action is taken under the authority of 50 CFR 660.60(c) and is 
exempt from review under Executive Order 12866.
    The aggregate data upon which these actions are based are available 
for public inspection at the Office of the Administrator, West Coast 
Region, NMFS, during business hours.
    NMFS finds good cause to waive prior public notice and comment on 
the revisions to groundfish management measures under 5 U.S.C. 553(b) 
because notice and comment would be impracticable and contrary to the 
public interest. Also, for the same reasons, NMFS finds good cause to 
waive the 30-day delay in effectiveness pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 553(d)(3), 
so that the regulatory changes in this final rule may become effective 
as soon as possible.
    At its March, 2017 meeting, the Council was presented with the IPHC 
final Area 2A Pacific halibut TAC of 1,330,000 lbs (603 mt). The 
Pacific halibut TAC is above 900,000 lbs (408.2 mt), therefore, per the 
Area 2A Catch Sharing Plan, retention of Pacific halibut will be 
allowed in the Limited Entry Fixed Gear (LEFG) sablefish primary 
fishery in 2017. Because the 2017 TAC is 190,000 lbs (86 mt) higher in 
2017 than in 2016, the Council recommended an increase from 110 lbs to 
140 lbs of dressed weight halibut per 1,000 lbs dressed weight 
sablefish. The Council recommended this increased limit be implemented 
by April 1, 2017, the start of the LEFG sablefish primary fishery, or 
as soon as possible thereafter to increase Pacific halibut harvest 
opportunity, to allow Pacific halibut to be retained throughout the 
LEFG sablefish primary season, and to achieve attainment of incidental 
Pacific halibut quota in this fishery given the most recent Pacific 
halibut catch data and higher 2017 allocation.
    During this March, 2017 meeting, the Council also recommended a 
reduction in the Washington recreational daily rockfish limit and daily 
aggregate groundfish limit, as well as removal of the 22 inch size 
limit for lingcod in all areas, in conformance with Washington state 
recreational fisheries management measures. This recommendation is 
based on the most recent information available including 2016 catch 
data as presented to the Council in March 2017. This data indicates 
that 2017 and 2018 black rockfish harvest projections for Washington 
recreational fisheries would exceed their target amounts through the 
end of the year if no changes were made. These adjustments to 
management measures are intended, and must be implemented in a timely 
manner, to prevent black rockfish harvest in the Washington 
recreational groundfish fishery, when combined with harvest in 
Washington commercial fisheries, from exceeding the black rockfish ACL 
for the area between the U.S.-Canada border and 46[deg]16' N. lat.
    There was not sufficient time after the March meeting to undergo 
proposed and final rulemaking before these actions need to be in 
effect. For the actions to be implemented in this final rule, affording 
the time necessary for prior notice and opportunity for public comment 
would prevent NMFS from managing fisheries using the best available 
science to approach, without exceeding ACLs in accordance with the 
PCGFMP, the Pacific halibut Area 2A CSP, and applicable law. If this 
rule is not implemented in a timely manner, the public could have 
incorrect information regarding Washington State recreational 
groundfish regulations which could result in confusion and be 
inconsistent with the Council's intent.
    For the actions to be implemented in this final rule, affording the 
time necessary for prior notice and opportunity for public comment 
would prevent NMFS from managing fisheries using the best available 
science to prevent overfishing in accordance with the PCGFMP and 
applicable law.
    Delaying these changes would also keep management measures in place 
that are not based on the best available information. Such delay would 
impair achievement of the PCGFMP goals and objectives of managing for 
appropriate harvest levels while providing for year-round fishing and 
marketing opportunities. No aspect of this action is controversial, and 
changes of this nature were anticipated in the groundfish biennial 
harvest specifications and management measures established for 2017-
2018.
    Accordingly, for the reasons stated above, NMFS finds good cause to 
waive prior notice and comment and to waive the delay in effectiveness.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 660

    Fisheries, Fishing, and Reporting and recordkeeping requirements.

    Dated: May 8, 2017.
Karen H. Abrams,
Acting Deputy Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National 
Marine Fisheries Service.

    For the reasons set out in the preamble, NMFS amends 50 CFR part 
660 as follows:

PART 660--FISHERIES OFF WEST COAST STATES

0
1. The authority citation for part 660 continues to read as follows:

    Authority:  16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq., 16 U.S.C. 773 et seq., and 
16 U.S.C. 7001 et seq.


0
2. In Sec.  660.231, revise paragraph (b)(3)(iv) to read as follows:


Sec.  660.231  Limited entry fixed gear sablefish primary fishery.

* * * * *
    (b) * * *
    (3) * * *
    (iv) Incidental Pacific halibut retention north of Pt. Chehalis, WA 
(46[deg]53.30' N. lat.). From April 1 through October 31, vessels 
authorized to participate in the sablefish primary fishery, licensed by 
the International Pacific Halibut Commission for commercial fishing in 
Area 2A (waters off Washington, Oregon, California), and fishing with 
longline gear north of Pt. Chehalis, WA (46[deg]53.30' N. lat.) may 
possess and land up to the following cumulative limits: 140 pounds (64 
kg) dressed weight of Pacific halibut for every 1,000 pounds (454 kg) 
dressed weight of sablefish landed and up to 2 additional Pacific 
halibut in excess of the 140-pounds-per-1,000-pound ratio per landing. 
``Dressed'' Pacific halibut in this area means halibut landed 
eviscerated with their heads on. Pacific halibut taken and retained in 
the sablefish primary fishery north of Pt. Chehalis may only be landed 
north of Pt. Chehalis and may not be possessed or landed south of Pt. 
Chehalis.
* * * * *

[[Page 21951]]


0
3. In Sec.  660.360, revise paragraphs (c)(1) introductory text and 
(c)(1)(ii) and (iv) to read as follows:


Sec.  660.360  Recreational fishery--management measures.

* * * * *
    (c) * * *
    (1) Washington. For each person engaged in recreational fishing off 
the coast of Washington, the groundfish bag limit is 9 groundfish per 
day, including rockfish, cabezon and lingcod. Within the groundfish bag 
limit, there are sub-limits for rockfish, lingcod, and cabezon outlined 
in paragraph (c)(1)(i)(D) of this section. The recreational groundfish 
fishery will open the second Saturday in March through the third 
Saturday in October for all species in all areas except lingcod in 
Marine Area 4 as described in paragraph (c)(1)(iv) of this section. In 
the Pacific halibut fisheries, retention of groundfish is governed in 
part by annual management measures for Pacific halibut fisheries, which 
are published in the Federal Register. The following seasons, closed 
areas, sub-limits and size limits apply:
* * * * *
    (ii) Rockfish. In areas of the EEZ seaward of Washington that are 
open to recreational groundfish fishing, there is a 7 rockfish per day 
bag limit. In Marine Areas 1 and 2 there is a 1 fish sub-bag limit per 
day for canary rockfish. Taking and retaining canary rockfish is 
prohibited in Marine Areas 3 and 4. Taking and retaining yelloweye 
rockfish is prohibited in all Marine areas.
* * * * *
    (iv) Lingcod. In areas of the EEZ seaward of Washington that are 
open to recreational groundfish fishing and when the recreational 
season for lingcod is open, there is a bag limit of 2 lingcod per day. 
The recreational fishing seasons are as follows:
    (A) Between the U.S./Canada border and 48[deg]10' N. lat. (Cape 
Alava) (Washington Marine Area 4), recreational fishing for lingcod is 
open, for 2017 and 2018, from April 16 through October 15.
    (B) Between 48[deg]10' N. lat. (Cape Alava) and 46[deg]16' N. lat. 
(Columbia River) (Washington Marine Areas 1-3), recreational fishing 
for lingcod is open for 2017 from March 11 through October 21, and for 
2018 from March 10 through October 20.
* * * * *
[FR Doc. 2017-09577 Filed 5-8-17; 4:15 pm]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P