[Federal Register Volume 82, Number 234 (Thursday, December 7, 2017)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 57699-57702]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2017-26146]



National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Chapter III

[Docket No. 170925942-7999-01]
RIN 0648-BH30

International Fisheries; Pacific Tuna Fisheries; Revised 2018 
Commercial Fishing Restrictions for Pacific Bluefin Tuna in the Eastern 
Pacific Ocean; 2018 Catch Limit

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

ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments.


SUMMARY: The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is proposing 
regulations under the Tuna Conventions Act to revise trip limits on the 
commercial catch of Pacific bluefin tuna applicable to 2018. U.S. 
commercial fishing vessels are subject to a biennial limit for 2017 and 
2018. Preliminary estimates indicate that the catch limit in 2018 is 
approximately 120 metric tons (mt). To avoid exceeding the biennial 
limit, NMFS is proposing a 1-mt trip limit--except for large-mesh drift 
gillnet vessels, which would be subject to a 2-mt trip limit--
throughout 2018 or until the 2018 catch limit is reached and the 
fishery is closed. This action is necessary to contribute to the 
rebuilding of Pacific bluefin tuna and for the United States to satisfy 
its obligations as a member of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna 
Commission (IATTC).

DATES: Comments on the proposed rule and supporting documents must be 
submitted in writing by January 8, 2018.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by 
NOAA-NMFS-2017-0128, by either of the following methods:
     Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2017-0128, click the 
``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or 
attach your comments.

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     Mail: Submit written comments to Celia Barroso, NMFS West 
Coast Region Long Beach Office, 501 W. Ocean Blvd., Suite 4200, Long 
Beach, CA 90802. Include the identifier ``NOAA-NMFS-2017-0128'' in the 
    Instructions: Comments must be submitted by one of the above 
methods to ensure they are received, documented, and considered by 
NMFS. 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. 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.) submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly 
accessible. Do not submit confidential business information, or 
otherwise sensitive or protected information. NMFS will accept 
anonymous comments (enter ``N/A'' in the required fields if you wish to 
remain anonymous).
    Copies of the draft Regulatory Impact Review (RIR) and other 
supporting documents are available via the Federal eRulemaking Portal: 
http://www.regulations.gov, docket NOAA-NMFS-2017-0128, or contact with 
the Regional Administrator, Barry A. Thom, NMFS West Coast Region, 1201 
NE., Lloyd Blvd., Suite 1100, Portland, OR 97232-1274, or 
[email protected].

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Celia Barroso, NMFS, 562-432-1850, 
[email protected].


Background on the IATTC

    The United States is a member of the IATTC, which was established 
in 1949 and operates under the Convention for the Strengthening of the 
IATTC Established by the 1949 Convention between the United States of 
America and the Republic of Costa Rica (Antigua Convention). See: 
    The IATTC consists of 21 member nations and four cooperating non-
member nations, and facilitates scientific research into, as well as 
the conservation and management of, tuna and tuna-like species in the 
IATTC Convention Area (Convention Area). The Convention Area is defined 
as waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO) within the area bounded by 
the west coast of the Americas and by 50[deg] N. latitude, 150[deg] W. 
longitude, and 50[deg] S. latitude. The IATTC maintains a scientific 
research and fishery monitoring program, and regularly assesses the 
status of tuna, shark, and billfish stocks in the EPO to determine 
appropriate catch limits and other measures deemed necessary to promote 
sustainable fisheries and prevent the overexploitation of these stocks.

International Obligations of the United States Under the Convention

    As a Party to the Antigua Convention and a member of the IATTC, the 
United States is legally bound to implement decisions of the IATTC. The 
Tuna Conventions Act (16 U.S.C. 951 et seq.) directs the Secretary of 
Commerce, in consultation with the Secretary of State and, with respect 
to enforcement measures, the U.S. Coast Guard, to promulgate such 
regulations as may be necessary to carry out the United States' 
obligations under the Antigua Convention, including recommendations and 
decisions adopted by the IATTC. The authority of the Secretary of 
Commerce to promulgate such regulations has been delegated to NMFS.

Pacific Bluefin Tuna Stock Status

    In 2011, NMFS determined overfishing was occurring on Pacific 
bluefin tuna (76 FR 28422, May 17, 2011), which is considered a single 
Pacific-wide stock. Based on the results of a 2012 stock assessment 
conducted by the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-
like Species in the North Pacific Ocean (ISC), NMFS determined Pacific 
bluefin tuna was not only subject to overfishing, but was also 
overfished (78 FR 41033, July 9, 2013). Based on the results of the 
2016 ISC stock assessment, NMFS determined that Pacific bluefin tuna 
continued to be overfished and subject to overfishing (82 FR 18434, 
April 19, 2017).

Implementation of IATTC Resolution on Pacific Bluefin Tuna in 2017

    Recognizing the need to reduce fishing mortality of Pacific bluefin 
tuna, the IATTC has adopted catch limits, which were implemented by 
NMFS, in the Convention Area since 2012 (see 80 FR 38986, July 8, 
2015). At its resumed 90th Meeting in October 2016, the IATTC adopted 
Resolution C-16-08. Resolution C-16-08 set a biennial limit of 600 
metric tons (mt) for 2017 and 2018 applicable to commercial vessels of 
each member or cooperating non-member, except Mexico, with a historical 
record of Pacific bluefin tuna catch from the EPO (such as the United 
States). Total catch is not to exceed 425 mt in a single year.
    In accordance with a Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) 
recommendation, NMFS implemented the catch limits in Resolution C-16-08 
with a 25-mt trip limit until catch is within 50 mt of the annual limit 
(i.e., annual limit is 425 mt in 2017) and a 2-mt trip limit when catch 
is within 50 mt of the annual limit (82 FR 18704, April 21, 2017). 
Although these trip limits were intended to assist with inseason 
management of the fishery, the annual limit was exceeded in 2017. The 
catch rate was more rapid than anticipated, which caused the annual 
limit to be exceeded before the fishery was closed on August 28, 2017 
(82 FR 40720). This series of events prompted NMFS and the Council to 
reconsider management measures for 2018 to avoid exceeding the biennial 

Council Recommendation for the Implementation of Resolution C-16-08 in 

    At its September 2017 meeting, the Council recommended that NMFS 
establish a 1-mt trip limit throughout all of 2018 to avoid exceeding 
the biennial limit by only allowing vessels (e.g., drift gillnet, 
surface hook-and-line) to land Pacific bluefin tuna in small 
quantities. In this rule, NMFS is proposing a 1-mt trip limit 
applicable to all commercial U.S. vessels--except drift gillnet, which 
would be subject to a 2-mt trip limit--because it minimizes the 
potential to waste fish by forcing discards of any amount over the trip 
limit (also called ``regulatory bycatch''), while preventing a derby-
style fishery by larger fishing operations that was difficult to 
monitor in 2017. Landings by gear-type from 2007-2016 indicate that 
while a majority of landings by vessels other than purse seine have 
been less than 1 mt, some landings exceeded 1 mt (of 909 landings of 
Pacific bluefin tuna from vessels other than purse seine, 11 exceeded 1 
mt, including one landing that exceeded 2 mt). Specifically, all but 
one of the landings that exceeded 1 mt were by drift gillnet vessels. 
In such cases, a 1-mt trip limit would result in regulatory bycatch. 
Based on historical fishing patterns, it is unlikely that the annual 
limit in 2018 would be exceeded with these trip limits because landings 
by vessels other than purse seine rarely exceeded 2 mt and total annual 
landings by vessels other than purse seine have not exceeded 40 mt. 
Additionally, as heard in testimony by the Council's Highly Migratory 
Species Advisory Subpanel at the September 2017 Council meeting, the 
coastal purse seine vessels that opportunistically target

[[Page 57701]]

Pacific bluefin tuna are not likely to target Pacific bluefin tuna 
under a trip limit as small as 1 mt.
    Also at its September 2017 meeting, the Council recommended 
reopening the fishery for the remainder of 2017 to allow incidentally 
caught Pacific bluefin tuna to be landed and for proper record keeping 
for stock assessment purposes. NMFS, in consultation with the U.S. 
Department of State, decided not to act on that recommendation because 
re-opening the fishery after exceeding the 2017 annual limit was not 
contemplated under Resolution C-16-08. Lastly, fisheries likely to 
discard Pacific bluefin tuna during the remainder of 2017 include the 
drift gillnet fishery, which has logbook and observer requirements 
where discard information should be collected.

2018 Catch Limit

    Preliminary estimates indicate that U.S. commercial vessels have 
already caught 480 mt of Pacific bluefin tuna in 2017. In accordance 
with regulations at 50 CFR 300.25(g)(2)(ii) and based on the 
preliminary estimates, the 2018 catch limit will be approximately 120 
mt. NMFS continues to gather data on commercial catches of Pacific 
bluefin tuna. NMFS will publish the specific 2018 catch limit with the 
final rule to revise the 2018 commercial Pacific bluefin tuna 
    In accordance with the April 2017 final rule implementing 
Resolution C-16-08 (82 FR 18704) and regulations at 50 CFR 300.25(g), 
when NMFS determines that the catch limit is expected to be reached in 
2018 (based on landings receipts, data submitted in logbooks, and other 
available fishery information), NMFS will prohibit commercial fishing 
for, or retention of, Pacific bluefin tuna for the remainder of the 
calendar year. NMFS will also publish a notice in the Federal Register 
announcing that the targeting, retaining, transshipping, or landing of 
Pacific bluefin tuna will be prohibited on a specified effective date 
through the end of that calendar year. Upon that effective date, a 
commercial fishing vessel of the United States may not be used to 
target, retain on board, transship, or land Pacific bluefin tuna 
captured in the Convention Area during the period specified in the 
announcement. However, any Pacific bluefin tuna already on board a 
fishing vessel on the effective date may be retained on board, 
transshipped, and/or landed, to the extent authorized by applicable 
laws and regulations, provided that any bluefin on board are landed 
within 14 days after the effective date.

Proposed Regulations

    This proposed rule would revise the trip limits for U.S. commercial 
vessels that catch Pacific bluefin tuna in the Convention Area for 
2018. NMFS proposes that a 1-mt trip limit applicable to all U.S. 
commercial vessels except large-mesh drift gillnet vessels and a 2-mt 
trip limit applicable to large-mesh drift gillnet vessels would be in 
effect throughout all of 2018 or until the fishery is closed through 
the end of the 2018 calendar year because the annual limit is reached.
    To conform to the requirements of 1 CFR 21.8, NMFS also proposes to 
COMMERCE'' into the heading of 50 CFR, chapter III.


    After consulting with the Department of State, the NMFS Assistant 
Administrator has determined that this proposed rule is consistent with 
the Tuna Conventions Act and other applicable laws.
    This proposed rule has been determined to be not significant for 
purposes of Executive Order 12866.
    Additionally, although there are no new collection-of-information 
requirements associated with this action that are subject to the 
Paperwork Reduction Act, existing collection-of-information 
requirements associated with the Fishery Management Plan for U.S. West 
Coast Fisheries for Highly Migratory Species (HMS FMP) still apply. 
These requirements have been approved by the Office of Management and 
Budget under Control Number 0648-0204. Notwithstanding any other 
provision of the law, no person is required to respond to, and no 
person shall be subject to penalty for failure to comply with, a 
collection-of-information subject to the requirements of the PRA, 
unless that collection-of-information displays a currently valid OMB 
control number.
    Pursuant to the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA), 5 U.S.C. 605(b), 
the Chief Counsel for Regulation of the Department of Commerce 
certified to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business 
Administration (SBA) that this proposed rule, if adopted, would not 
have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small 
entities. The rationale for the certification is provided in the 
following paragraphs.
    The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) defines a ``small 
business'' (or ``small entity'') as one with annual revenue that meets 
or is below an established size standard. Under 5 CFR 200.2, for all 
businesses primarily engaged in the commercial fishing industry (NAICS 
11411), the small business size standard for Regulatory Flexibility Act 
(RFA) compliance purposes only is $11 million in annual gross receipts.
    The small entities the proposed action would directly affect are 
all U.S. commercial fishing vessels that may target (e.g., coastal 
pelagic purse seine vessels) or incidentally catch (e.g., drift 
gillnet) Pacific bluefin tuna in the Convention Area; however, not all 
vessels that have participated in this fishery decide to do so every 
year. U.S. commercial catch of Pacific bluefin tuna from the IATTC 
Convention Area is primarily made in waters off of California by the 
coastal pelagic small purse seine fleet, which targets Pacific bluefin 
tuna opportunistically, and other fleets (e.g., California large-mesh 
drift gillnet, surface hook-and-line, west coast longline, and Hawaii's 
pelagic fisheries) that catch Pacific bluefin tuna in small quantities, 
such as incidentally.
    Revenues of coastal purse seine vessels are not expected to be 
significantly altered as a result of this rule, which is applicable to 
2018 only. Since 2006, the average annual revenue per vessel from all 
finfish fishing activities for the U.S. purse seine fleet that have 
landed Pacific bluefin tuna has been less than $11 million, whether 
considering an individual vessel or per vessel average. Since 2006, in 
years Pacific bluefin tuna was landed, purse seine vessels that caught 
Pacific bluefin tuna had an average ex-vessel revenue of about $1.7 
million per vessel (based on all species landed). Annually, from 2011 
to 2015, the number of small coastal pelagic purse seine vessels that 
landed Pacific bluefin tuna in the Convention Area ranged from zero to 
five. In 2011 and 2012, fewer than three vessels targeted Pacific 
bluefin tuna; therefore, their landings and revenue are confidential. 
In 2013, the coastal purse seine fishery did not land Pacific bluefin 
tuna. In 2014 and 2015, four and five vessels landed Pacific bluefin 
tuna, respectively. In 2014, eight purse seine vessels fishing in the 
Convention Area landed HMS in California, but only four of them were 
involved in landing roughly 401 mt of Pacific bluefin tuna, worth about 
$588,000, in U.S. West Coast ports. Similarly, in 2015, 11 vessels 
fishing in the Convention Area landed HMS in California, but only 5 
vessels landed approximately 86 mt of Pacific bluefin tuna, worth about 
$75,000. The revenue derived from Pacific bluefin tuna is a fraction of 
the overall revenue for coastal pelagic purse

[[Page 57702]]

seine vessels (3.9 percent annually from 2006-2015) as they typically 
harvest other species, including Pacific sardine, Pacific mackerel, 
squid, and anchovy. The value of Pacific bluefin tuna in coastal 
pelagic purse seine fishery from 2006-2015 was $1.31/kilogram. This 
amount is negligible relative to the fleet's annual revenue resulting 
from other species.
    Since 2006, the average annual revenue per vessel from all finfish 
fishing activities for the U.S. fleet with landings of Pacific bluefin 
tuna in small quantities, such as from incidental catch, has been less 
than $11 million. These vessels include drift gillnet, surface hook-
and-line, and longline gear-types. The revenues of these vessels are 
also not expected to be significantly altered by the rule. From 2011 to 
2015, the number of drift gillnet, surface hook-and-line, and longline 
vessels that participated in this fishery range from 11 to 12, 1 to 50, 
and 1 to 8, respectively. During these years, vessels with gears other 
than purse seine landed an annual average of 6.3 mt of Pacific bluefin 
tuna, worth approximately $32,600. Of these landings, only one trip by 
a drift gillnet vessel exceeded 2 mt, and other vessels using gear 
other than purse seine did not exceed 1 mt per trip. As a result, it is 
anticipated that proposed reduced trip limits will not have a 
significant impact on these vessels. However, if reduced trip limits 
are not imposed throughout 2018, it is possible that the 2018 catch 
limit will be met or exceeded and the fishery closed. If the fishery is 
closed before the calendar year, regulatory discards by these fleets 
are likely. Such a scenario would result in a greater impact to the 
fleet that catches Pacific bluefin tuna in small quantities, as opposed 
to the coastal purse seine fleet, which would simply cease targeting of 
Pacific bluefin tuna. Additionally, by imposing reduced trip limits in 
2018, it is likely that all incidentally caught fish could enter the 
U.S. market and be accounted for instead of being discarded in the 
event of a fishery closure. This could result in a greater conservation 
benefit for the overfished Pacific bluefin stock.
    Although there are no disproportionate impacts between small and 
large business entities because all affected business entities are 
small, the impacts among the business entities will be different. 
Implementation of the reduced trip limit for 2018 in this proposed 
action would impose a greater economic impact on the U.S. coastal purse 
seine fleet. Prior to the implementation of a 25-mt trip limit in 2015, 
these vessels landed an average of 30 mt per trip, and are capable of 
landing over 70 mt in a single trip (based on landings from purse seine 
vessels targeting Pacific bluefin in the EPO from 2004-2014). It is 
possible that the purse seine fleet would not fish for Pacific bluefin 
tuna if the trip limit is 2 mt or less. Under the current regulations 
at 50 CFR 300.25(g)(2) and taking into account the 2017 catch, which 
exceeded the 2017 annual limit by at least 50 mt, a total of about 120 
mt is available to U.S. commercial vessels in 2018. Under the current 
regulations at 50 CFR 300.25(g)(3), NMFS would need to reduce the trip 
limit from 25 mt to 2 mt when catch reaches approximately 70 mt (i.e., 
catch is within 50 mt of the annual limit). Consequently, any reduced 
profitability for the coastal purse seine fleet during 2018 as a result 
of the proposed action is not significant.
    Because each affected vessel is a small business, there are no 
disproportional affects to small versus large entities. Based on 
profitability analysis above, the proposed action, if adopted, will not 
have significant adverse economic impacts on these small business 
entities. As a result, an Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis is 
not required and was not prepared for this proposed rule.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 300

    Administrative practice and procedure, Fish, Fisheries, Fishing, 
Marine resources, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements, Treaties.

    Dated: November 29, 2017.
Alan D. Risenhoover,
Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National 
Marine Fisheries Service.

    For the reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR chapter III is 
proposed to be amended as follows:


1. The heading for chapter III is revised to read as set forth above.


Subpart C--Eastern Pacific Tuna Fisheries

2. The authority citation for part 300, subpart C, continues to read as 

    Authority:  16 U.S.C. 951 et seq.

3. In Sec.  300.25, revise paragraph (g)(3) to read as follows:

Sec.  300.25   Fisheries management.

* * * * *
    (g) * * *
    (3) In 2018, a 1 metric ton trip limit will be in effect, except 
for vessels using large-mesh (14 inch or greater stretched mesh) drift 
gillnet gear. In 2018, a 2 metric ton trip limit will be in effect for 
vessels using large-mesh drift gillnet gear.
* * * * *
[FR Doc. 2017-26146 Filed 12-6-17; 8:45 am]