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NOAA Fisheries Announces the Final Rule for Amendment 7 to the 2006 Consolidated Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan

Posted December 1, 2014

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announces the final rule to implement Amendment 7 to the 2006 Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Fishery Management Plan (FMP).  This action is necessary to meet domestic management objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act including preventing overfishing, achieving optimal yield, and minimizing bycatch to the extent practicable, as well as the objectives of the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act (ATCA) and obligations pursuant to binding recommendations of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).  NMFS takes these actions to reduce and account for bluefin dead discards in all categories; optimize fishing opportunities in all categories within the United States’ quota; enhance reporting and monitoring; and adjust other management measures as necessary.

Most of the management measures in the final rule will take effect January 1, 2015, while  some measures will take effect on either June 1, 2015, or January 1, 2016.  Please see Important Dates section below.

Who is affected?

The final rule to implement Amendment 7 will affect:

 

What will it do?

The final rule, which will publish in the Federal Register on December 2, 2014, and related documents, including the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) may be found at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/hms/documents/fmp/am7/index.html

The management measures implemented by this final rule (which were analyzed in the Amendment 7 FEIS) and the quota categories to which the management measures apply are listed in the table below.  The final measures are expected to meet the main objectives of Amendment 7, i.e., they would prevent overfishing and rebuild Atlantic bluefin tuna; continue to achieve optimal yield for HMS fisheries; minimize bluefin bycatch to the extent practicable; reduce and account for bluefin dead discards in all categories; enhance reporting and monitoring; and adjust other management measures as necessary. The table also notes changes between the proposed and final measures.  After considering public comments on the proposed rule, NMFS revised or modified some of the preferred measures in the FEIS as follows:

 

After considering public comments on the FEIS, NMFS modified the Purse Seine start date from June 1 to a range from June 1 to August 15; NMFS will publish a Federal Register notice with the start date on an annual basis.

 

 

Final Management Measures

Regulated Quota Category

Quota Allocation

Codified Reallocation Alternative A 2a -  Reallocation to Longline Category Based on Historical 68-mt Dead Discard Allowance

Longline, Purse Seine, General, Harpoon, Angling

Annual Reallocation Alternative A 3a -  Annual Reallocation of Bluefin Quota from Purse Seine Category

Longline, Purse Seine, General, Harpoon, Angling

Reserve Category Alternative A 4b -  Modify Reserve Category

Longline, Purse Seine, General, Harpoon, Angling

Area Based Measures

Gear Restricted Areas

Alternative B 1d – Modified Cape Hatteras Pelagic Longline Gear Restricted Area with Access based on Performance (Figure 1)

 

Alternative B 1i – Modified Spring Gulf of Mexico Pelagic Longline Gear Restricted Areas (Figure 2)

 

Alternative B1j – Pelagic and Bottom Longline Transiting Closed Areas

Longline


Reason for Changes:

After considering public comment and conducting further analysis (including incorporation of 2012 data, where available), NMFS is implementing a Modified Cape Hatteras Pelagic Longline Gear Restricted Area (Figure 1), which is the same as the area in the proposed rule but excludes a small portion of the southeastern corner. NMFS is also implementing Modified Spring Gulf of Mexico Pelagic Longline Gear Restricted Areas (Figure 2) based on modifications to the Small Gulf of Mexico Gear Restricted Area in the proposed rule. This will slightly extend the proposed Small Gulf of Mexico Gear Restricted Area to the east but reduce it in size on the western and northern borders, and will add a small area adjacent to the southern border of the Desoto Canyon Closed Area’s northwestern “block.”  These areas would achieve a greater reduction in bluefin tuna dead discards than the proposed area, and would better achieve a balance between a reduction in bluefin dead discards, protection of the bluefin tuna stock, and continued operation of the pelagic longline fleet in the Gulf of Mexico.

Gear  Measures Alternative B 2a - No Action

Longline

Bluefin Tuna Quota Controls

Individual Bluefin Quotas (IBQ)

Alternative C 2 - Individual Bluefin Quotas

Alternative C 2i – Cost Recovery

Alternative C 2j - Appeals of Quota Shares

Alternative C 2k – Control Date

Alternative C 2l - Measures Associated with an IBQ – Elimination of Target Catch Requirements, Mandatory Retention of Legal-Size Bluefin

Longline

Reason for Change to Individual Bluefin Quota Eligibility:

NMFS has incorporated 2012 data and clarified on that “valid permits” are those determined to be valid as of the date of the proposed rule (August 21, 2013).  After the proposed rule was published, NMFS notified potential IBQ participants who met both criteria of their initial eligibility.  As part of this process, NMFS analyzed records and determined that 35 of the vessels were no longer eligible for IBQ shares for various reasons, including, for example, that the vessels had been damaged or destroyed or other situations whereby the permit owners no longer own the vessel that acquired history in the fishery.  Permit holders for vessels that did not meet these criteria were also notified by letter. The rationale for this is to select eligibility criteria that accurately and fairly reflect participation in the fishery.  Allocating only to “active” vessels would facilitate continued participation in the fishery by vessels that have made past investments in the fishery.  Permitted vessels that do not meet the initial eligibility criteria necessary to receive bluefin quota share allocation would still be eligible to obtain quota through a trade of quota allocation.

NMFS Authority to Close the Pelagic Longline Fishery Alternative C 4b – NMFS Ability to Close the Pelagic Longline Fishery

Longline

Enhanced Reporting Measures

VMS Requirements Alternative D 1b – VMS Requirements for the Purse Seine and Longline Categories

Longline, Purse Seine

Electronic Monitoring of Longline Category Alternative D 2b –Electronic Monitoring of Longline Category

Longline

Online Catch Reporting Alternative D 3b -  Online Catch Reporting

General, Harpoon Charter/Headboat

Deployment of Observers Alternative D 4a - No Action

Longline, Purse Seine, General, Harpoon, Angling, Charter/Headboat

Logbook Requirement Alternative D 5a - No Action

General, Harpoon, Angling

Expand the Scope of the Large Pelagics Survey Alternative D 6a - No Action

Angling

Other Measures

Modify General Category Time-Period Subquota Allocations Alternative E 1c - Provide Additional Flexibility for General Category Quota Adjustment

General

NMFS Authority to Adjust Harpoon Category Retention Limits Inseason Alternative  E 2b - NMFS Authority to Adjust Harpoon Category Retention Limits Inseason

Harpoon

Angling Category Trophy Subquota Distribution Alternative E 3b - Allocate a Portion of the Trophy South Sub-Quota to the Gulf of Mexico

Angling

Charter/Headboat

Change Start Date of Purse Seine Category to a Range from June 1to August 15 Alternative E 4b – Change Start Date of Purse Seine Category to a Range from June 1to August 15

Purse Seine

Rules Regarding Permit Category Changes Alternative E 5b - Modify Rules Regarding Permit Category Changes

Longline, Purse Seine, General, Harpoon, Angling, Charter/Headboat, Trap

North Atlantic Albacore Tuna Quota Alternative E 6b - Implement  North Atlantic Albacore Tuna Quota

Longline, Purse Seine, General, Harpoon, Angling, Charter/Headboat, Trap

Reason for Change to Purse Seine Start Date:

Comments received on the FEIS raised concerns beyond those received during the public comment period on the proposed rule about the impacts on Harpoon category revenues if the Purse Seine category start date coincided with the Harpoon category start date of June 1.  The comments provided new feedback on the magnitude of the market gluts.  In the final rule, the regulatory text has been modified to specify that the Purse Seine start date would fall within a range from June 1 to August 15 and that NMFS would publish a Federal Register notice establishing the start date on an annual basis

 

 

Figure 1           Modified Cape Hatteras Gear Restricted Area (Alternative B 1d)

 

Figure 2           Modified Spring Gulf of Mexico Gear Restricted Areas (Alternative B 1i)

 

Important dates

All measures included in the final rule for Amendment 7 will be effective on January 1, 2015, with two exceptions that reflect a change from the approach taken in the proposed rule and FEIS: 

Permit holders will receive letters containing permit category-specific relevant information and specific instructions regarding compliance with the final regulations.

This notice is a courtesy to Atlantic HMS fishery participants to help keep you informed about the fisheries.  Official notice of Federal fishery actions is made through filing such notice with the Office of the Federal Register.  For further information on this final rule and FEIS, contact Thomas Warren at (978) 281-9260.  Copies of the final rule and supporting documents are available upon request from the HMS Management Division at (978) 281-9260.  The information is also available at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/hms/documents/fmp/am7/index.html.

 

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