[Federal Register Volume 83, Number 71 (Thursday, April 12, 2018)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 15780-15783]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2018-07536]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 648

[Docket No. 180209147-8147-01]
RIN 0648-BH76


Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; 2018-2020 Small-Mesh 
Multispecies Specifications

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

ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: NMFS proposes small-mesh multispecies specifications for 
fishing years 2018-2020 and corrects a regulatory error from a previous 
rulemaking action. The specifications are intended to establish 
allowable catch limits for each stock within the fishery to control 
overfishing while allowing optimum yield. This action also informs the 
public of the proposed fishery specifications and regulatory 
correction, and provides an opportunity for comment.

DATES: Comments must be received by 5:00 p.m. local time, on April 27, 
2018.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by 
NOAA-NMFS-2018-0031, by either of the following methods:
    Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public comments via 
the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal.
    1. Go to www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2018-0031,
    2. Click the ``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, 
and
    3. Enter or attach your comments.

--OR--

    Mail: Submit written comments to Michael Pentony, Regional 
Administrator, National Marine Fisheries Service, 55 Great Republic 
Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930. Mark the outside of the envelope: 
``Comments on the Proposed Rule for Small-Mesh Multispecies 
Specifications.''
    Instructions: 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 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).
    A draft environmental assessment (EA) has been prepared for this 
action that describes the proposed measures and other considered 
alternatives, as well as provides an analysis of the impacts of the 
proposed measures and alternatives. Copies of the specifications 
document, including the EA and the Initial Regulatory Flexibility 
Analysis (IRFA), are available on request from Thomas A. Nies, 
Executive Director, New England Fishery Management Council, 50 Water 
Street, Newburyport, MA 01950. These documents are also accessible via 
the internet at www.nefmc.org.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Cynthia Hanson, Fishery Management 
Specialist, (978) 281-9180.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Background

    The New England Fishery Management Council manages the small-mesh 
multispecies fishery within the Northeast Multispecies Fishery 
Management Plan (FMP). The small-mesh multispecies fishery is composed 
of five stocks of three species of hakes: Northern silver hake, 
southern silver hake, northern red hake, southern red hake, and 
offshore hake. Southern silver hake and offshore hake are often grouped 
together and collectively referred to as ``southern whiting.'' The 
small-mesh multispecies fishery is managed separately from the 
groundfish fishery because it is conducted with much smaller mesh, and 
does not generally result in the catch of regulated groundfish species 
like cod and haddock. Amendment 19 to the FMP (April 4, 2013; 78 FR 
20260) established the process and framework for setting catch 
specifications for the small-mesh fishery. The FMP requires that catch 
and landing limits for the small-mesh multispecies fishery be 
established through the specifications process on an annual basis for 
up to three years at a time.
    The Whiting Plan Development Team (PDT) met in July 2017 to review 
the latest Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation (SAFE) report for 
the small-mesh multispecies fishery. This assessment update indicated 
that, in general, small-mesh multispecies stocks (whiting and hake) are 
increasing in the north and decreasing in the south. The Council's 
Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) conducted a final review of 
the PDT's recommended specifications and the SAFE report at their 
October 2017 meeting. On December 7, 2017, the Council approved the 
final recommended 2018-2020 catch limit specifications for the small-
mesh multispecies fishery.
    During development of these specifications, NMFS identified an 
error in the small-mesh multispecies regulations. In a previous action 
(80 FR 30379; May 28, 2015), we approved a Council-recommended 
reduction in the northern red hake possession limit from 5,000 lb 
(2,268 kg) to 3,000 lb (1,361 kg). However, when we drafted the rule 
implementing this change, we did not clarify that the possession limit 
for southern red hake remained unchanged at 5,000 lb (2,268 kg). In 
addition to setting new specifications for the whiting fishery for 2018 
and projecting specifications for 2019 and 2020, this action would 
correct the error, and clarify the red hake possession limits in the 
regulations.
    The recommended specifications would adjust the overfishing limit 
(OFL), allowable biological catch (ABC), annual catch limit (ACL), and 
total allowable landings (TAL) for the four main stocks in the small-
mesh multispecies fishery (Table 1). These adjustments are based on 
Council recommendations, and account for the changes in stock biomass 
shown in the latest stock assessment update from 2017. The 
specification limits are intended to provide for sustainable yield and 
keep the risk of overfishing at acceptable levels as defined by the 
Council and its SSC.

Proposed Specifications

    This action proposes the Council's recommended specifications for 
the

[[Page 15781]]

2018-2020 small-mesh multispecies fishery, which are consistent with 
the catch and landings limits recommended by the PDT and SSC. A summary 
of the proposed specifications is shown below in Table 1.

     Table 1--Summary of Proposed Small-Mesh Multispecies Specifications for Fishing Years 2018-2020, With Percent Change From 2017, in Metric Tons
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                OFL             ABC             ACL       Percent change        TAL       Percent change
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Northern Silver Hake....................................          58,350          31,030          29,475             +27          26,604             +33
Northern Red Hake.......................................             840             721             685             +45             274            +128
Southern Whiting........................................          31,180          19,395          18,425             -35          14,465             -39
Southern Red Hake.......................................           1,150           1,060           1,007             -38             305             -59
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    These proposed specifications represent increases in the catch 
limits of the northern stocks, and decreases in the catch limits of the 
southern stocks. These changes are unlikely to have a significant 
impact because generally the small-mesh multispecies fishery harvests 
less than 50 percent of any given TAL each year; except in the case of 
northern red hake. In the southern fishery, southern red hake landings 
have approached 50 percent of the TAL, while southern whiting landings 
have not exceeded 20 percent of the TAL in the last five years. The 
northern fishery is usually limited by the northern red hake stock, 
which has achieved or exceeded the TAL, triggering inseason 
accountability measures (AM) to reduce the possession limit, each year 
for the past several years. These restrictions often prevent the 
northern silver hake landings from reaching much higher than 30 percent 
of the TAL because of the geographic overlap of the two species and 
similar fishing practices used. The proposed increase to the northern 
stocks catch limits, based on evidence in the SAFE report that 
populations of northern silver hake and northern red hake have 
increased, may have a positive impact on the fishery by delaying the 
need for inseason AMs, avoiding unnecessary discards, and allowing 
better utilization of the increase in biomass of both stocks.
    The 2017 stock assessment update showed that the risk of 
overfishing in the northern stocks is relatively low. Therefore, the 
increase in ACL and TAL should not negatively affect the northern 
stocks. However, the update did show that southern red hake is 
overfished and overfishing is occurring, and while southern whiting is 
not overfished, the stock is declining. The Council was notified of the 
overfished status of southern red hake at their meeting in Gloucester, 
MA on September 26, 2017, and will begin development of a rebuilding 
program within the next couple of years. The decrease in southern ACLs 
is intended to end overfishing. Because recruitment data is conflicting 
in recent years, the Council is suggesting a full benchmark assessment 
to re-evaluate southern red hake status before initiating the 
rebuilding process. The next benchmark assessment for small-mesh 
multispecies is scheduled for 2019. All other management measures in 
the small-mesh multispecies fishery (such as possession limits) will 
remain unchanged. If approved, these specifications would remain 
effective for fishing years 2018-2020 unless otherwise revised during 
that time.

Regulatory Correction

    This action also proposes to correct regulatory text that specifies 
the red hake possession limits in the southern small mesh exemption 
areas (Southern New England and Mid-Atlantic Exemption Areas). In the 
2015-2017 specifications for the small-mesh multispecies fishery (May 
28, 2015; 80 FR 30379), the possession limit for red hake in the 
northern exemption areas was reduced from 5,000 lb (2,268 kg) to 3,000 
lb (1,361 kg), but did not specify that the possession limit in the 
southern areas would remain 5,000 lb (2,268 kg). The Council never 
intended to change the possession limit for the southern red hake 
fishery. This action would modify the text in the regulations, 
consistent with the Council's intent, to specify that the northern red 
hake possession limit is 3,000 lb (1,361 kg), and the southern red hake 
possession limit remains 5,000 lb (2,268 kg). This minor modification 
would reduce confusion in the industry, as it clarifies the difference 
in red hake possession limits between the northern and southern 
exemption areas, as originally intended by the Council.

Classification

    Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson Stevens Fishery 
Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), the NMFS 
Assistant Administrator has determined that this proposed rule is 
consistent with the Northeast Multispecies FMP, other provisions of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law, subject to further 
consideration after public comment.
    This proposed rule has been determined to be not significant for 
purposes of Executive Order 12866.
    The Council prepared a draft EA for this action that analyzes the 
impacts of this proposed rule. The EA includes an IRFA, as required by 
section 603 of the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA), which is 
supplemented by information contained in the preamble of this proposed 
rule. The IRFA was prepared to examine the economic impacts of this 
proposed rule, if adopted, on small business entities. A description of 
the specifications, why they are being considered, and the legal basis 
for this action are contained at the beginning of this section and in 
the preamble to this proposed rule. A copy of the detailed RFA analysis 
is available from the Council (see ADDRESSES). A summary of the 2018-
2020 small-mesh multispecies specifications IRFA analysis follows.

Description of the Reasons Why Action by the Agency Is Being Considered

    This action proposes catch limits and fishery specifications for 
the 2018-2020 small-mesh multispecies fishery. The measures are 
consistent with the best scientific information available, and the most 
recent catch limit recommendations of the Council's SSC to prevent 
overfishing, as well as achieve sustainable yield in the fishery. This 
action also clarifies regulatory text to specify the red hake 
possession limits for the northern and southern stocks.

Statement of the Objectives of, and Legal Basis for, This Proposed Rule

    The legal basis and objectives for this action are contained in the 
preamble to this proposed rule, and are not repeated here.

Description and Estimate of the Number of Small Entities to Which This 
Proposed Rule Would Apply

    This proposed rule affects commercial fish harvesting entities 
engaged in the northeast multispecies limited access

[[Page 15782]]

fishery and the small-mesh multispecies fishery. For the purposes of 
the RFA analysis, the ownership entities (or firms), not the individual 
vessels, are considered to be the regulated entities. Ownership 
entities are defined as those entities or firms with common ownership 
personnel as listed on the permit application. Because of this, some 
vessels with northeast multispecies permits may be considered to be 
part of the same firm because they may have the same owners. The North 
American Industry Classification System (NAICS) is the standard used by 
Federal statistical agencies in classifying business establishments for 
the purpose of collecting, analyzing, and publishing statistical data 
related to the U.S. business economy. In terms of RFA, a business 
primarily engaged in commercial fishing activity is classified as a 
small business if it has combined annual gross receipts not in excess 
of $11 million (NAICS 11411) for all its affiliated operations 
worldwide. To identify these small and large firms, vessel ownership 
data from the permit database were grouped according to common owners 
and sorted by size. The current ownership data set used for this 
analysis is based on calendar year 2016 (the most recent complete year 
available) and contains average gross sales associated with those 
permits for calendar years 2014 through 2016.
    The small-mesh exempted fishery allows vessels to harvest species 
in designated areas using mesh sizes smaller than the minimum mesh size 
required by Regulated Mesh Area (RMA) regulations. To participate in 
the small-mesh multispecies exempted fishery, vessels must possess 
either a limited access multispecies permit (categories A, C, D, E or 
F) or an open access multispecies permit (category K). Limited access 
multispecies permit holders can target small-mesh multispecies with 
different possession limit requirements depending on fishing region and 
mesh size used, and open access, Category K permit holders may fish for 
small-mesh multispecies when participating in an exempted fishing 
program. Therefore, entities holding one or more multispecies permits 
(permit type A, C-F, K) are the entities that have the potential to be 
directly impacted by this action. According to the commercial database, 
there were 853 distinct ownership entities, based on entities' 
participation during the 2014-2016 time-period, that could potentially 
target small-mesh multispecies. This includes entities that could not 
be classified into a business type because they did not earn revenue 
from landing and selling fish in 2014-2016 and thus are considered to 
be small. Of the 853 total firms, 844 are categorized as small business 
entities and nine are categorized as large business.
    While 853 commercial entities have the potential to be impacted by 
the proposed action, not all of these entities actively land small-mesh 
multispecies for commercial sale. Therefore, not all 853 entities may 
be directly affected by the proposed action. There are 406 distinct 
entities that commercially sold small-mesh multispecies from 2014-2016 
and may be directly affected by the proposed action. Of those, 404 
(over 99 percent) are categorized as small business.

Description of the Projected Reporting, Recordkeeping, and Other 
Compliance Requirements of This Proposed Rule

    There are no new reporting, recordkeeping, or other compliance 
requirements contained in this proposed rule, or any of the 
alternatives considered for this action.

Federal Rules Which May Duplicate, Overlap, or Conflict With This 
Proposed Rule

    NMFS is not aware of any relevant Federal rules that may duplicate, 
overlap, or conflict with this proposed rule.

Description of Significant Alternatives to the Proposed Action Which 
Accomplish the Stated Objectives of Applicable Statutes and Which 
Minimize Any Significant Economic Impact on Small Entities

    This action (the preferred alternative) proposes 2018-2020 
commercial catch specifications for the small-mesh multispecies fishery 
based on the most recent stock assessment update, which would increase 
the ACLs and TALs for the northern stocks of red and silver hake, and 
decrease the ACLs and TALs of southern red hake and whiting. The 
Council also considered a No Action alternative, where the same catch 
limits and specifications from 2017 would continue into 2018 with no 
change. Only these two alternatives are considered significant because 
in order to be considered, alternatives must be recommended by the 
Council and satisfy Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements. These 
alternatives were the only two that met these qualifications.
    While catch limits for the southern stocks are more restrictive in 
the preferred alternative, they will not necessarily have a negative 
impact. Landings of both southern whiting and southern red hake in 2016 
were well below the respective 2016 TALs, and southern whiting landings 
in 2016 were well below the proposed 2018-2020 preferred 
specifications. Based on 2016 landings, southern red hake landings 
would likely exceed the proposed TAL, but only by a very small amount. 
Therefore, we expect the proposed action to have minimal economic 
impact in the southern region compared to the no action alternative.
    For the northern stocks, the proposed action is less restrictive 
than the no action alternatives and raises the TAL by 33 percent for 
silver hake and 128 percent for red hake. This is expected to have no 
impact or low positive impacts on profit relative to the TAL under the 
no action alternative, depending on availability and market conditions.
    The Council recommended these proposed specifications (preferred 
alternative) over the no action alternative to satisfy the Magnuson-
Stevens Act requirements to end overfishing, while allowing the 
greatest opportunity to achieve sustainable yield. This also increases 
the likelihood that the fishery will remain a viable source of fishing 
revenues for small-mesh multispecies entities in the long term, and 
makes it the better economic choice. Overall, we expect the proposed 
action to have no impact or slight positive impacts compared to the no-
action alternative.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 648

    Fisheries, Fishing, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements.

    Dated: April 6, 2018.
Samuel D. Rauch III,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.

    For the reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 648 is 
proposed to be amended as follows:

PART 648--FISHERIES OF THE NORTHEASTERN UNITED STATES

0
1. The authority citation for part 648 continues to read as follows:

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

0
2. In Sec.  648.86, revise the introductory text of paragraphs of 
(d)(1)(i), (d)(1)(ii), and (d)(1)(iii), and add paragraph (d)(1)(v) to 
read as follows:


Sec.  648.86  NE Multispecies possession restrictions.

* * * * *
    (d) * * *
    (1) * * *
    (i) Vessels possessing on board or using nets of mesh size smaller 
than 2.5 in (6.35 cm). Owners or operators of a

[[Page 15783]]

vessel may possess and land not more than 3,500 lb (1,588 kg) of 
combined silver hake and offshore hake, if either of the following 
conditions apply:
* * * * *
    (ii) Vessels possessing on board or using nets of mesh size equal 
to or greater than 2.5 in (6.35 cm) but less than 3 in (7.62 cm). An 
owner or operator of a vessel that is not subject to the possession 
limit specified in paragraph (d)(1)(i) of this section may possess and 
land not more than 7,500 lb (3,402 kg) of combined silver hake and 
offshore hake if either of the following conditions apply:
* * * * *
    (iii) Vessels possessing on board or using nets of mesh size equal 
to or greater than 3 in (7.62 cm). An owner or operator of a vessel 
that is not subject to the possession limits specified in paragraphs 
(d)(1)(i) and (ii) of this section may possess and land not more than 
30,000 lb (13,608 kg) of combined silver hake and offshore hake when 
fishing in the Gulf of Maine or Georges Bank Exemption Areas, as 
described in Sec.  648.80(a), and not more than 40,000 lb (18,144 kg) 
of combined silver hake and offshore hake when fishing in the Southern 
New England or Mid-Atlantic Exemption Areas, as described in Sec. Sec.  
648.80(b)(10) and 648.80(c)(5), respectively, if both of the following 
conditions apply:
* * * * *
    (v) Possession limits for red hake. Vessels participating in the 
small-mesh multispecies fishery consistent with Sec.  648.86(d)(1), may 
possess and land not more than 3,000 lb (1,361 kg) of red hake when 
fishing in the Gulf of Maine or Georges Bank Exemption areas, as 
described in Sec.  648.80(a), and not more than 5,000 lb (2,268 kg) of 
red hake when fishing in the Southern New England or Mid-Atlantic 
Exemption Areas, as described in Sec. Sec.  648.80(b)(10) and 
648.80(c)(5), respectively.
* * * * *
[FR Doc. 2018-07536 Filed 4-11-18; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P