[Federal Register Volume 82, Number 197 (Friday, October 13, 2017)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 47642-47644]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2017-22155]



National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 665

[Docket No. 170109046-7933-02]
RIN 0648-XF156

Pacific Island Pelagic Fisheries; 2017 U.S. Territorial Longline 
Bigeye Tuna Catch Limits

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

ACTION: Final specifications.


SUMMARY: In this final rule, NMFS specifies a 2017 limit of 2,000 mt of 
longline-caught bigeye tuna for each U.S. participating territory 
(American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands). NMFS will 
allow each territory to allocate up to 1,000 mt each year to U.S. 
longline fishing vessels in a valid specified fishing agreement. As an 
accountability measure, NMFS will monitor, attribute, and restrict (if 
necessary), catches of longline-caught bigeye tuna, including catches 
made under a specified fishing agreement. These catch limits and 
accountability measures support the long-term sustainability of fishery 
resources of the U.S. Pacific Islands and fisheries development in the 
U.S. territories.

DATES: The final specifications are effective October 10, 2017, through 
December 31, 2017. The deadline to submit a specified fishing agreement 
pursuant to 50 CFR 665.819(b)(3) for review is December 11, 2017.

ADDRESSES: Copies of the Fishery Ecosystem Plan for Pelagic Fisheries 
of the Western Pacific (Pelagic FEP) are available from the Western 
Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council), 1164 Bishop St., Suite 
1400, Honolulu, HI 96813, tel 808-522-8220, fax 808-522-8226, or 
    NMFS prepared environmental analyses that describe the potential 
impacts on the human environment that would result from the action. 
Copies of those analyses, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2017-0004, are 
available from www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2017-
0004, or from Michael D. Tosatto, Regional Administrator, NMFS Pacific 
Islands Region (PIR), 1845 Wasp Blvd., Bldg. 176, Honolulu, HI 96818.

Fisheries, 808-725-5176.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NMFS is specifying a catch limit of 2,000 mt 
of longline-caught bigeye tuna for each U.S. participating territory in 
2017. NMFS is also authorizing each territory to allocate up to 1,000 
mt of its 2,000-mt bigeye tuna limit to U.S. longline fishing vessels 
permitted to fish under the Pelagic FEP. NMFS will monitor catches of 
longline-caught bigeye tuna by the longline fisheries of each 
territory, including catches made by U.S. longline vessels operating 
under specified fishing agreements. The criteria that a specified 
fishing agreement must meet, and the process for attributing longline-
caught bigeye tuna, will follow the procedures in 50 CFR 665.819--
Territorial catch and fishing effort limits. When NMFS projects that a 
territorial catch or allocation limit will be reached, NMFS will, as an 
accountability measure, prohibit the catch and retention of longline-
caught bigeye tuna by vessels in the applicable territory (territorial 
catch limit), and/or vessels in a specified fishing agreement 
(allocation limit).
    You may find additional background information on this action in 
the preamble to the proposed specifications published on August 31, 
2017 (82 FR 41388).

Comments and Responses

    On August 31, 2017, NMFS published the proposed specifications and 
request for public comments (82 FR 41388); the comment period closed on 
September 15, 2017.

[[Page 47643]]

    In addition to the proposed catch limit specification, NMFS 
specifically invited public comments that would address the impact of 
the proposed action on cultural fishing rights in American Samoa. On 
March 20, 2017, in Territory of American Samoa v. NMFS, et al. (16-cv-
95, D. Haw), a Federal judge vacated and set aside a NMFS rule that 
amended the American Samoa Large Vessel Prohibited Area (LVPA) for 
eligible longliners. The Court held that the action was inconsistent 
with the ``other applicable law'' provision of the Magnuson-Stevens 
Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) by not 
considering the protection and preservation of cultural fishing rights 
in American Samoa under the Instruments of Cession. The Instruments of 
Cession do not specifically mention cultural fishing rights, and the 
Court's decision, although recognizing the need to protect those 
rights, does not define them. The Council is currently reevaluating the 
LVPA rule, including options to define cultural fishing rights in 
American Samoa that are subject to preservation and protection.
    NMFS received five comment submissions on the proposed 
specifications, from individuals and the fishing industry. NMFS 
considered the public comments in making its decision on this action, 
and responds below to comments.

Comments on the Proposed Specifications

    NMFS responds to comments on the proposed specifications, as 
    Comment 1: Several commenters expressed support for the proposed 
2017 longline bigeye tuna catch limit of 2,000 mt and said the limit is 
sustainable and balances the needs of the communities that rely on 
bigeye tuna, and the ability of the stock to repopulate.
    Response: NMFS agrees and is satisfied that this action, which is 
identical to the catch and allocation limits we implemented in 2016 (81 
FR 63145, September 14, 2016), addresses the conservation and 
management needs of the bigeye tuna in the Western and Central Pacific 
Ocean (WCPO) while taking into account the needs of fishing communities 
of the U.S. Pacific Islands.
    Comment 2: One commenter said NOAA should allow for a maximum catch 
limit of 500 mt to account for unreported catches by poachers. The 
commenter also expressed concern that NOAA does not have sufficient 
enforcement resources to catch poachers, and that the proposed 2,000 mt 
catch limit will result in the species extinction.
    Response: NMFS disagrees that it should reduce the limit to account 
for poaching by U.S. longline fishing vessels. NMFS has no evidence 
that poaching is an issue of management concern, and therefore has no 
basis to reduce the allocation limit. Regulations implementing the 
Pelagic FEP include numerous measures that minimize the potential for 
illegal and unreported catch in U.S. longline fisheries. Specifically, 
NMFS requires all U.S. longline vessels owners to install and maintain 
operational vessel monitoring systems. This allows NMFS to track the 
location of fishing vessels at all times and ensure vessels do not fish 
within any restricted fishing area or during a fishery closure.
    NMFS also places a scientific observer on board longline vessels to 
document and record all catches made during observed fishing trips. 
Longline vessel operators must also maintain an accurate daily log of 
all catches, which NMFS can cross validate with observer records and 
market sales reports. Together, these measures provide NMFS with a 
reliable means to track the amount of fish caught by U.S. longline 
vessels from sea to market, and minimize the potential for illegal and 
unreported catch in the fishery.
    NMFS also disagrees that the proposed action would result in the 
extinction of bigeye tuna. Bigeye tuna is not a species listed as, or 
proposed to be listed as, threatened or endangered under the Endangered 
Species Act (ESA), nor is it a candidate species for ESA listing. 
Moreover, NMFS has determined that the proposed action is consistent 
with the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission's (WCPFC) 
objectives to conserve bigeye tuna at sustainable levels.
    Comment 3: One commenter said the NMFS should state where exactly 
the authority to create catch limits comes from instead of just 
supplying the statute number.
    Response: Bigeye tuna is managed by the WCPFC, of which the United 
States is a member. In Conservation and Management Measure (CMM) 2016-
01, the WCPFC established bigeye longline catch limits for the United 
States and other members, while exempting small island developing 
states and Participating Territories to the WCPFC, including American 
Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, from 
catch limits. CMM 2016-01 also provides that qualifying longline 
catches of vessels operated under contracts and leases with 
Participating Territories are to be attributed to those Territories. 
This action establishes bigeye longline limits for the three U.S. 
participating territories, a limited portion of which may be allocated 
to eligible vessels under specified fishing agreements, consistent with 
the WCPFC's conservation objectives for bigeye tuna. NMFS clarifies 
here that the authority to promulgate these fishing regulations arises 
from the Magnuson-Stevens Act (16 U.S.C. 1801, et seq.) and 
implementing regulations at 50 CFR 665.819.
    Comment 4: One commenter said that vessels in the U.S. pelagic 
longline fishery have existing specified fishing agreements with U.S. 
territories but are unable to fish for bigeye tuna under those 
agreements until NMFS finalizes the proposed action.
    Response: Specified fishing agreements may not be given effect 
until NMFS determines that the proposed catch and allocation limits are 
consistent with the Pelagic FEP, WCPFC decisions, other provisions of 
the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable laws. While the 2017 
proposed catch and allocation limits are identical to the limits NMFS 
implemented in 2016, NMFS received new information relevant to the 
environmental analyses in the 2015 EA and 2016 Supplemental EA. NMFS 
was required to complete its analysis of this information and other 
relevant impacts prior to taking final action on the proposed catch and 
allocation limit specifications.
    Comment 5: One commenter questions whether there is a factual basis 
to limit each territory to a 1,000 mt allocation limit, particularly in 
light of the 2017 Stock Assessment.
    Response: The Council recommended the 1,000 mt allocation limit for 
each U.S. territory prior to the availability of the 2017 stock 
assessment for bigeye tuna, which was completed in August 2017. 
Utilizing the best scientific information available, NMFS has 
determined that this allocation limit is consistent with WCPFC 
objectives to conserve the bigeye stock. Although the new 2017 stock 
assessment may describe a somewhat more optimistic conservation status 
for bigeye tuna, NMFS considers its use for this management action to 
be premature. NMFS expects stock assessment authors to present the 
assessment results to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries 
Commission (WCPFC) at its December 2017 meeting. We also expect the 
Council will consider the 2017 stock assessment and WCPFC decisions 
when recommending the future catch and

[[Page 47644]]

allocation limits for territorial longline fisheries.
    Comment 6: One commenter said that cultural fishing rights are an 
important topic that needs recognition and that the proposed action can 
achieve the financial and cultural goals of the American Samoa vessels 
and protect populations of tuna.
    Response: NMFS agrees and recognizes the importance of fishing to 
U.S. Pacific Island cultures. The action limits the amount of bigeye 
tuna that the U.S. territories may allocate to eligible vessels through 
specified fishing agreements to ensure that a sufficient amount of 
bigeye tuna is available to territorial fisheries. NMFS is satisfied 
that the catch and allocation limits addresses the conservation and 
management needs of the bigeye tuna in the WCPO while taking into 
account the needs of fishing communities.


    The Regional Administrator, NMFS PIR, determined that this action 
is necessary for the conservation and management of Pacific Island 
fishery resources, and that it is consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens 
Act and other applicable laws.
    The Chief Counsel for Regulation of the Department of Commerce 
certified to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business 
Administration during the proposed rule stage that this action would 
not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small 
entities. NMFS published the factual basis for the certification in the 
proposed rule, and we do not repeat it here. NMFS received no comments 
on this certification; as a result, a regulatory flexibility analysis 
is not required, and none has been prepared.
    On December 29, 2015, NMFS issued a final rule establishing a small 
business size standard of $11 million in annual gross receipts for all 
businesses primarily engaged in the commercial fishing industry (NAICS 
11411) for Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA) compliance purposes only 
(80 FR 81194, December 29, 2015). The $11 million standard became 
effective on July 1, 2016, and is to be used in place of the U.S. Small 
Business Administration's (SBA) current standards of $20.5 million, 
$5.5 million, and $7.5 million for the finfish (NAICS 114111), 
shellfish (NAICS 114112), and other marine fishing (NAICS 114119) 
sectors of the U.S. commercial fishing industry in all NMFS rules 
subject to the RFA after July 1, 2016.
    Pursuant to the RFA and prior to July 1, 2016, NMFS developed a 
certification for this regulatory action using SBA size standards. NMFS 
has reviewed the analyses prepared for this regulatory action in light 
of the new size standard. All of the entities directly regulated by 
this regulatory action are commercial fishing businesses and were 
considered small under the SBA size standards and, thus, they all would 
continue to be considered small under the new standard. Accordingly, 
NMFS has determined that the new size standard does not affect analyses 
prepared for this regulatory action.
    This rule it is not subject to the 30-day delayed effectiveness 
provision of the Administrative Procedure Act pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 
553(d)(1) because it is a substantive rule that relieves a restriction. 
This rule allows all U.S. vessels identified in a valid specified 
fishing agreement to resume fishing in the western and central Pacific 
Ocean (WCPO) after NMFS closed the longline fishery for bigeye tuna 
both there and in the eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO).
    NMFS closed the U.S. pelagic longline fishery for bigeye tuna in 
the WCPO on September 1, 2017, because the fishery reached the 2017 
catch limit (82 FR 37824, August 14, 2017). In addition, on September 
8, 2017, NMFS closed the U.S. pelagic longline fishery for bigeye tuna 
for vessels greater than 24 m in the EPO because the fishery reached 
the 2017 catch limit (82 FR 41562, September 1, 2017). This final rule 
would relieve the restriction of the fishery closure in the WCPO by 
allowing all U.S. vessels to fish for bigeye tuna in the WCPO under a 
valid specified fishing agreement with one or more U.S territory. This 
would alleviate some of the impacts to the U.S. pelagic longline 
fishery resulting from the two fishery closures, and may provide 
positive economic benefits for the fishery and associated businesses, 
and net benefits to the public and the Nation.
    This action is exempt from review under E.O. 12866 because it 
contains no implementing regulations.

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

    Dated: October 6, 2017.
Samuel D. Rauch III,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2017-22155 Filed 10-10-17; 4:15 pm]