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NOAA Fisheries Announces a Proposed Rule for Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Quotas

Posted June 11, 2015

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposes to modify the baseline annual U.S. quota and subquotas for Atlantic bluefin tuna. The proposed rule would increase the baseline annual U.S. Atlantic bluefin tuna quota from the 923.7-mt level established via a 2011 quota rule (76 FR 39019, July 5, 2011) by 135 mt (14 percent) to 1,058.79 mt, as recommended by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) for 2015 and 2016. The baseline annual subquotas for the domestic fishing categories would be adjusted consistent with the process established in Amendment 7 to the 2006 Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan (Amendment 7; 79 FR 71510, December 2, 2014), and these amounts would be codified. This action is necessary to implement ICCAT recommendations pursuant to the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act and to achieve domestic management objectives under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

Because Atlantic bluefin tuna quotas, allocations, and resulting subquotas are codified in the HMS regulations at 50 CFR § 635.27, rulemaking is necessary to modify the baseline annual U.S. Atlantic bluefin tuna quota (from 923.7 mt to 1,058.79 mt) and subquotas (in mt) to the General, Angling, Harpoon, Purse Seine, Longline, Trap, and Reserve categories per the process established in Amendment 7. The recommended total U.S. quota, including 25 mt to account for bycatch related to pelagic longline fisheries in the Northeast Distant gear restricted area, is 1,083.79 mt.

This proposed rule would modify the baseline U.S. quota and subquotas, which would be effective for the 2015 fishing year and annually until changed, for instance as a result of a new western Atlantic bluefin tuna ICCAT recommendation.

Amendment 7 also changed the way that NMFS adjusts the U.S. annual quota for any previous year’s underharvest. Rather than publishing proposed and final quota specifications annually to adjust the quota for the underharvest as NMFS has in the past, NMFS will automatically augment the Reserve category quota with any available underharvest from 2014, consistent with ICCAT limits, when complete Atlantic bluefin tuna catch information for the prior year is available and finalized (likely June 2015). NMFS may allocate any portion of the Reserve category quota for inseason or annual adjustments to any fishing category quota pursuant to regulatory determination criteria described at 50 CFR 635.27(a)(8), in addition to using the Reserve category quota for scientific research.

NMFS also is proposing minor modifications to the regulatory text concerning Atlantic tunas purse seine transfer at sea to clarify that while transfer at sea is prohibited, an auxiliary vessel (i.e., a skiff) may conduct limited assistance activities for its associated purse seine vessel in catch operations for BFT. This clarification would be administrative, reflect current practice, and would have no environmental impacts or effects on current fishing operations.  

See the table below for the proposed 2015 Atlantic bluefin tuna quotas. To view the proposed rule and supporting documents, see www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/hms/news/breaking_news.html.

Proposed annual Atlantic bluefin tuna quotas (in metric tons)

Category Annual Baseline Quotas and Subquotas
  Quota Subquotas
General 466.7      
    January-March1 24.7  
    June-August 233.3  
    September 123.7  
    October-November 60.7  
    December 24.3  
Harpoon 38.6      
Longline 148.3      
Trap 1.0      
Purse Seine 184.32      
Angling 195.2      
    School 108.4  
         Reserve   20.1
         North of 39°18′ N. lat.   41.7
         South of 39°18′ N. lat.   46.6
    Large School/Small Medium 82.3  
         North of 39°18′ N. lat.   38.9
         South of 39°18′ N. lat.   43.5
    Trophy 4.5  
         North of 39°18′ N. lat.   1.5
         South of 39°18′ N. lat.   1.5
         Gulf of Mexico   1.5
Reserve 24.82      
U.S. Baseline BFT Quota 1,058.93      
Total U.S. Quota, including 25 mt for NED (Longline) 1,083.93      

1 January 1 through the effective date of a closure notice filed by NMFS announcing that the January subquota is reached or projected to be reached, or through March 31, whichever comes first.
2 Baseline amount shown. Does not reflect the annual adjustment process (for the Purse Seine and Reserve category quotas) adopted in Amendment 7.
3 Totals subject to rounding error.

Public comment requested

You may submit comments (identified by “NOAA-NMFS-2015-0011”) through July 13, 2015, by using any one of the following methods:
• Electronic Submissions:  Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal.  Go to www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2015-0011, click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.

• Mail:  Sarah McLaughlin, Highly Migratory Species Management Division, NMFS, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930

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 a part of the public record and generally will 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).

NMFS will hold a public hearing conference call and webinar on July 1, 2015, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. EDT, to allow for an additional opportunity for interested members of the public from all geographic areas to submit verbal comments on the proposed rule. The public hearing conference call information is phone number 1-800-779-5379; participant passcode 1594994. Participants are strongly encouraged to log/dial in 15 minutes prior to the meeting. NMFS will show a brief presentation via webinar followed by public comment. To join the webinar, go to:  https://noaaevents2.webex.com/noaaevents2/onstage/g.php?d=990480432&t=a. Enter your name, e-mail address, and password “webtuna” (without typing the quotation marks) and click the “JOIN” button. Participants who have not used WebEx before will be prompted to download and run a plug-in program that will enable them to view the webinar.

This notice is a courtesy to fishery participants to help keep you informed about the fishery. Official notice of Federal fishery actions is made through filing such notice with the Office of the Federal Register. For further information, contact the HMS Management Division at (978) 281-9260.

 


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