[Federal Register Volume 83, Number 25 (Tuesday, February 6, 2018)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 5212-5214]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2018-02321]



National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 648

[Docket No. 170818784-8080-02]
RIN 0648-XF641

Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Atlantic Surfclam 
and Ocean Quahog Fishery; 2018-2020 Fishing Quotas

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

ACTION: Final rule.


SUMMARY: This final rule implements status quo commercial quotas for 
the Atlantic surfclam and ocean quahog fisheries for 2018 and projected 
status quo quotas for 2019 and 2020. This action is necessary to 
establish allowable harvest levels of Atlantic surfclams and ocean 
quahogs that will prevent overfishing and allow harvesting of optimum 
yield. This action also continues to suspend the minimum shell size for 
Atlantic surfclams for the 2018 fishing year. The intended effect of 
this action is to provide benefit to the industry from stable quotas to 
maintain a consistent market.

DATES: This rule is effective March 8, 2018, through December 31, 2018.

ADDRESSES: Copies of the Environmental Assessment (EA), Supplemental 
Information Request (SIR), and other supporting documents for these 
specifications are available from the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management 
Council, 800 North State Street, Suite 201, Dover, DE 19901.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Erin Wilkinson, Fishery Management 
Specialist, 301-427-8561.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:  In June 2017, the Council voted to 
recommend maintaining for 2018-2020 the status quo quota levels of 5.33 
million bu (288 million L) for the ocean quahog fishery, 3.40 million 
bu (181 million L) for the Atlantic surfclam fishery, and 100,000 Maine 
bu (3.52 million L) for the Maine ocean quahog fishery. As further 
discussed below, NMFS received six comments on the proposed rule (82 FR 
58164) published on December 11, 2017. Additional detail on the 
Council's recommendations and background on the surfclam and ocean 
quahog specifications is provided in the proposed rule and not repeated 

2018 and Projected 2019-2020 Specifications

    Tables 1 and 2 show quotas for 2018 and projected quotas for the 
2019-2020 Atlantic surfclam and ocean quahog fishery. NMFS will publish 
a notice in the Federal Register before the 2019 and 2020 fishing years 
notifying the public of the final quota for each year.

[[Page 5213]]

                                            Table 1--2018 and Projected 2019-2020 Atlantic Surfclam Measures
                                            biological     Annual catch    Annual catch
                  Year                      catch (ABC)     limit (ACL)    target (ACT)                          Commercial quota
                                               (mt)            (mt)            (mt)
                                                                    Atlantic surfclam
2017 (current)..........................          44,469          44,469          29,364  3.4 million bushels (181 million L).
2018....................................          29,363          29,363          29,363  3.4 million bushels (181 million L).
2019-2020 (Projected)...................          29,363          29,363          29,363  3.4 million bushels (181 million L).

                                               Table 2--2018 and Projected 2019-2020 Ocean Quahog Measures
                  Year                       ABC (mt)        ACL (mt)        ACT (mt)                            Commercial quota
                                                                      Ocean quahog
2017 (current)..........................          26,100          26,100          26,035  Maine quota: 100,000 Maine bu (3.52 million L); Non-Maine
                                                                                           quota: 5.33 million bu (288 million L).
2018....................................          44,695          44,695          25,924  Maine quota: 100,000 Maine bu (3.52 million L); Non-Maine
                                                                                           quota: 5.33 million bu (288 million L).
2019 (Projected)........................          46,146          46,146          25,924  Maine quota: 100,000 Maine bu (3.52 million L); Non-Maine
                                                                                           quota: 5.33 million bu (288 million L).
2020 (Projected)........................          45,783          45,783          25,924  Maine quota: 100,000 Maine bu (3.52 million L); Non-Maine
                                                                                           quota: 5.33 million bu (288 million L).

    The Atlantic surfclam and ocean quahog quotas are specified in 
``industry'' bushels of 1.88 ft\3\ (53.24 L) per bushel, while the 
Maine ocean quahog quota is specified in Maine bushels of 1.24 ft\3\ 
(35.24 L) per bushel. Because Maine ocean quahogs are the same species 
as ocean quahogs, both fisheries are assessed under the same 
overfishing definition. When the two quota amounts (ocean quahog and 
Maine ocean quahog) are added, the total allowable harvest is below the 
level that would result in overfishing for the entire stock.


    The Atlantic surfclam stock is not overfished, and overfishing is 
not occurring. This rule maintains the status quo surfclam quota of 
3.40 million bu (181 million L) for 2018 and projects that same quota 
for 2019 and 2020 (see table 1).

Ocean Quahog

    The 2018 non-Maine quota for ocean quahog is the status quo quota 
of 5.33 million bu (288 million L).
    The 2018 quota for Maine ocean quahogs is the status quo level of 
100,000 Maine bu (3.52 million L). The quota represents the maximum 
allowable quota under the FMP. NMFS projects that these quota levels 
will be maintained for the 2019 and 2020 ocean quahog fisheries.

Surfclam Minimum Size

    The minimum size limit has been suspended annually since 2005. 
Minimum size limit may not be suspended unless discard, catch, and 
biological sampling data indicate that 30 percent or less of the 
Atlantic surfclam resource have a shell length less than 4.75 inches 
(120 mm), and the overall reduced size is not attributable to harvest 
from beds where growth of the individual clams has been reduced because 
of density-dependent factors.
    Commercial surfclam data for 2017 were analyzed to determine the 
percentage of surfclams that were smaller than the minimum size 
requirement. The analysis indicated that 10.4 percent of the overall 
commercial landings, to date, were composed of surfclams that were less 
than the 4.75-inch (120-mm) default minimum size. Based on the 
information available, the minimum size limit for Atlantic surfclams is 
suspended in the upcoming fishing year (January 1 through December 31, 
2018). The Council will re-evaluate if the minimum size should be 
suspended for 2019 and 2020 prior to each of those fishing years. NMFS 
will notify the public if the minimum size is suspended for those 
fishing years.


    We received six comments on the proposed rule; one from the general 
public and five from industry representatives. One comment from the 
public was not relevant to the rulemaking. All other comments are in 
support of the quotas and size suspension in the proposed rule.
    Some comments received from industry expressed concern that an 
overfishing limit (OFL) for surfclams has not been specified. A 
reported OFL estimate for surfclams was considered highly uncertain, 
and deemed in the assessment report to be unreliable. Absolute 
estimates of fishing mortality rate or current stock size were not 
endorsed by collective scientists conducting the assessment or the 
assessment peer review panel, so no OFL was estimated.
    Some comments from industry were also concerned that the lack of an 
OFL means that the Council was not able to develop an Allowable 
Biological Catch (ABC) for surfclam using its standard approach. The 
Council's Scientific and Statistical Committee recommended an ABC of 
29,363 mt, which was adopted by the Council. This ABC is based on a 
commercial quota of 26,218 mt and 12 percent incidental mortality. This 
catch level has been sustained by the stock historically, and has 

[[Page 5214]]

overfishing and kept the stock from becoming overfished.
    This final rule maintains status quo quotas and the minimum 
surfclam size is suspended for 2018.

Changes From Proposed to Final Rule

    There are no changes from the proposed to final rule.


    Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the 
Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, NOAA, has determined that this 
rule is consistent with the Atlantic Surfclam and Ocean Quahog FMP, 
other provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law.
    This action does not introduce any new reporting, recordkeeping, or 
other compliance requirements. This rule does not duplicate, overlap, 
or conflict with other Federal rules.
    This rule is exempt from the requirements of E.O. 12866.
    This rule is not expected to be an E.O. 13771 regulatory action 
because this rule is not significant under E.O. 12866.
    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. The factual basis for this certification was published in the 
proposed rule and is not repeated here. No comments were received 
regarding this certification. As a result, a regulatory flexibility 
analysis was not required and none was prepared.

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

    Dated: February 1, 2018.
Samuel D. Rauch III,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2018-02321 Filed 2-5-18; 8:45 am]