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

Posted August 29, 2014

The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for Amendment 7 to the 2006 Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Fishery Management Plan (FMP) is now available.  Amendment 7 is intended to meet several objectives, which are driven by statutory mandates under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act, including to:

  • Prevent overfishing and rebuild bluefin tuna, achieve on a continuing basis optimum yield, and minimize bluefin tuna bycatch to the extent practicable by ensuring that domestic bluefin tuna fisheries continue to operate within the overall Total Allowable Catch set by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) consistent with the existing rebuilding plan;
  • Provide a reasonable opportunity and optimize the ability of  all permit categories to harvest their bluefin quota allocations; account for mortality associated with discarded bluefin in all categories; maintain flexibility of the regulations to account for the highly variable nature of the bluefin tuna fisheries; and ensure fairness among permit/quota categories;
  • Reduce dead discards of bluefin tuna and minimize reductions in target catch in both directed and incidental bluefin fisheries, to the extent practicable;
  • Improve the scope and quality of catch data through enhanced reporting and monitoring to ensure that landings and dead discards do not exceed the quota and to improve accounting for all sources of fishing mortality;
  • Adjust other aspects of the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP as necessary and appropriate.  This includes implementing the ICCAT-recommended U.S. North Atlantic (northern) albacore quota.

The modifications made after considering public comments received on the proposed rule and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and incorporating updated data and information are described below.

 Who is affected?

Amendment 7 could affect:

  • Any commercial fishermen using pelagic longline gear, handgear, or purse seines to catch Atlantic bluefin tuna or northern albacore.
  • Any recreational fishermen using handgear to catch Atlantic bluefin tuna or northern albacore.
  • Any dealers who buy Atlantic bluefin tuna or northern albacore.

What will it do?

The full range of alternatives considered are in the FEIS, which can be found at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/hms/documents/fmp/am7/index.html.  The preferred alternatives, the quota categories to which the Alternatives would apply, and key changes from the DEIS are listed below. 

After considering comments on the proposed rule and DEIS the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) revised or modified some of the preferred alternatives in the FEIS, as follows:

  • The alternative that would have allowed pelagic longline vessels to fish under General category rules in the Cape Hatteras Gear Restricted Area  (Alternative B 1d in DEIS) is no longer preferred;
  • The alternative that would have allowed limited conditional access to the current pelagic longline closed areas (Alternative B 3b in DEIS) is no longer preferred;
  • The two preferred pelagic longline gear restricted area alternatives have been modified based on public comment and additional analyses;
  • The Individual Bluefin Quota alternative (Alternative C 2) was also slightly modified based on public comment and additional analyses; and
  • The transiting alternative (Alternative E 7b in the DEIS) is now referred to as “Alternative B 1j.”

 

Preferred Alternatives in FEIS

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

Alternative B 1i – Modified Spring Gulf of Mexico Pelagic Longline Gear Restricted Areas

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 prefers a Modified Cape Hatteras Pelagic Longline Gear Restricted Area, which is the same as the preferred alternative in the DEIS but excludes a small portion of the southeastern corner. NMFS also prefers the Modified Spring Gulf of Mexico Pelagic Longline Gear Restricted Areas in this FEIS based on modifications to the Small Gulf of Mexico Gear Restricted Area analyzed in the DEIS. The modified alternative slightly extends the Small Gulf of Mexico Gear Restricted Area to the east but reduces it in size on the western and northern borders; and adds a small area adjacent to the southern border of the Desoto Canyon Closed Area’s northwestern “block.”  The preferred alternatives in this FEIS would achieve a greater reduction in bluefin tuna dead discards than the preferred alternatives of the DEIS, 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 Changes:
The IBQ alternative in the FEIS has been modified from that in the DEIS by incorporation of 2012 data and clarification 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 the preferred alternative is to select eligibility criteria that accurately and fairly reflect participation in the fishery.  By allocating only to “active” vessels, this alternative 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

Automated Catch Reporting Alternative D 3b -  Automated 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 June 1 Alternative E 4b – Change Start Date of Purse Seine Category to June 1

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

The preferred alternatives (as a whole) 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.


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

 


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

 

Comments on the FEIS

Consistent with the National Environmental Policy Act, there is a 30-day review period following issuance of the FEIS.  NMFS is not required to respond to comments received during this period; however, comments received by October 6, 2014, will be reviewed and considered before NMFS issues a record of decision (ROD).  Please send comments to the Responsible Official identified below.  The ROD will be made available publicly.

RESPONSIBLE OFFICIAL:
Alan D. Risenhoover
Director
Office of Sustainable Fisheries
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
1315 East West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910
301-427-8500 (phone)
301-713-0596 (fax)
Electronic Submission: http://www.regulations.gov 
docket ID “NOAA–NMFS–2013–0101”

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 FEIS, contact Thomas Warren or Brad Mchale at (978) 281-9260.  Copies of the FEIS 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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