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Rule

Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Fisheries

Action

Temporary Rule; Inseason General Category Retention Limit Adjustment.

Summary

NMFS has determined that the Atlantic tunas General category daily Atlantic bluefin tuna (BFT) retention limit should be adjusted for the June through August 2011 time period, based on consideration of the regulatory determination criteria regarding inseason adjustments. This action applies to Atlantic tunas General category permitted vessels and Highly Migratory Species Charter/Headboat category permitted vessels (when fishing commercially for BFT).

 

Table of Contents Back to Top

DATES: Back to Top

Effective June 3, 2011, through August 31, 2011.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Back to Top

Sarah McLaughlin or Brad McHale, 978-281-9260.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Back to Top

Regulations implemented under the authority of the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act (16 U.S.C. 971 et seq.) and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act; 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.) governing the harvest of BFT by persons and vessels subject to U.S. jurisdiction are found at 50 CFR part 635. Section 635.27 subdivides the U.S. BFT quota recommended by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) among the various domestic fishing categories, per the allocations established in the 2006 Consolidated Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan (2006 Consolidated HMS FMP) (71 FR 58058, October 2, 2006).

The 2011 BFT fishing year, which is managed on a calendar-year basis and subject to an annual calendar-year quota, began January 1, 2011. The General category season, which was open for the month of January 2011, resumes on June 1, 2011, and continues through December 31, 2011. Starting on June 1, the General category daily retention limit (§ 635.23(a)(2)), is scheduled to revert back to the default retention limit of one large medium or giant BFT (measuring 73 inches (185 cm) curved fork length (CFL) or greater) per vessel per day/trip. This default retention limit applies to General category permitted vessels and HMS Charter/Headboat category permitted vessels (when fishing commercially for BFT). Each of the General category time periods (January, June-August, September, October-November, and December) is allocated a portion of the annual General category quota, thereby ensuring extended fishing opportunities in years when catch rates are high and quota is available. For the 2010 fishing year, NMFS adjusted the General category limit from the default level of one large medium or giant BFT as follows: two large medium or giant BFT for January (74 FR 68709, December 29, 2009), and three large medium or giant BFT for June through December (75 FR 30730, June 2, 2010; and 75 FR 51182, August 19, 2010). NMFS adjusted the January 2011 limit to two large medium or giant BFT (75 FR 79309, December 20, 2010).

The 2010 ICCAT recommendation regarding western BFT management resulted in a 2011 U.S. quota of 923.7 mt (not including a 25-mt allocation that the United States uses to account for bycatch of BFT in pelagic longline fisheries in the Northeast Distant Gear Restricted Area (NED)). Consistent with the allocation scheme established in the Consolidated HMS FMP, the baseline General category share would be 435.1 mt, and the baseline June through August General category subquota would be 217.6 mt. In order to implement the ICCAT-recommended baseline annual U.S. BFT quota, NMFS published a proposed rule that would modify the U.S. BFT quota and base subquotas for all domestic fishing categories, and establish BFT quota specifications for 2011 (76 FR 13583, March 14, 2011). Until the final rule is effective (likely mid-June 2011), the BFT base quotas codified at § 635.27(a) remain in effect. The currently codified General category quota is 448.6 mt, and the currently codified June through August General category subquota is 224.3 mt.

Adjustment of General Category Daily Retention Limit Back to Top

Under § 635.23(a)(4), NMFS may increase or decrease the daily retention limit of large medium and giant BFT over a range of zero to a maximum of three per vessel based on consideration of the criteria provided under § 635.27(a)(8), which include: The usefulness of information obtained from catches in the particular category for biological sampling and monitoring of the status of the stock; effects of the adjustment on BFT rebuilding and overfishing; effects of the adjustment on accomplishing the objectives of the fishery management plan; variations in seasonal distribution, abundance, or migration patterns of BFT; effects of catch rates in one area precluding vessels in another area from having a reasonable opportunity to harvest a portion of the category's quota; and a review of dealer reports, daily landing trends, and the availability of the BFT on the fishing grounds.

NMFS has considered the set of criteria cited above and their applicability to the General category BFT retention limit for the June-August 2011 General category fishery. Based on General category landings rates during the June through August time-period over the last several years, it is highly unlikely that the June through August subquota will be filled with the default daily retention limit of one BFT per vessel. For example, under the three-fish limit that applied in June-August 2010, June-August landings were approximately 118 mt. This amount is less than both the 217.6 mt available under the 2010 ICCAT recommendation and the 224.3 mt available under the current regulations. NMFS expects landings from the General category in June through August 2011 to be within the available quota, once finalized. Furthermore, slow catch rates early in the season could result in unused quota being added to the later portion of the General category season. Increasing the daily retention limit from the default may mitigate rolling an excessive amount of unused quota from one time-period subquota to the next.

Based on considerations of the available quota, fishery performance in recent years, and the availability of BFT on the fishing grounds, NMFS has determined that the General category retention limit should be adjusted to allow for retention of the anticipated 2011 General category quota, and that the same approach used for June-August 2010 is warranted. Therefore, NMFS increases the General category retention limit from the default limit to three large medium or giant BFT, measuring 73 inches or greater, per vessel per day/trip, effective June 3, 2011, through August 31, 2011. Regardless of the duration of a fishing trip, the daily retention limit applies upon landing. For example, whether a vessel fishing under the General category limit takes a two-day trip or makes two trips in one day, the daily limit of three fish may not be exceeded upon landing. This General category retention limit is effective in all areas, except for the Gulf of Mexico, and applies to those vessels permitted in the General category, as well as to those HMS Charter/Headboat permitted vessels fishing commercially for BFT.

This adjustment is intended to provide a reasonable opportunity to harvest the U.S. quota of BFT without exceeding it, while maintaining an equitable distribution of fishing opportunities, to help achieve optimum yield in the General category BFT fishery, to collect a broad range of data for stock monitoring purposes, and to be consistent with the objectives of the Consolidated HMS FMP.

Monitoring and Reporting Back to Top

NMFS selected the daily retention limit for June-August 2011 after examining an array of data as it pertains to the determination criteria. These data included, but were not limited to, current and previous catch and effort rates in the BFT fisheries, quota availability, previous public comments on inseason management measures, and stock status, among other data. NMFS will continue to monitor the BFT fishery closely through the mandatory dealer landing reports, which NMFS requires to be submitted within 24 hours of a dealer receiving BFT. Depending on the level of fishing effort and catch rates of BFT, NMFS may determine that additional retention limit adjustments are necessary to ensure available quota is not exceeded or to enhance scientific data collection from, and fishing opportunities in, all geographic areas.

Closures or subsequent adjustments to the daily retention limits, if any, will be published in the Federal Register. In addition, fishermen may call the Atlantic Tunas Information Line at (888) 872-8862 or (978) 281-9260, or access http://www.hmspermits.gov, for updates on quota monitoring and retention limit adjustments.

Classification Back to Top

The Assistant Administrator for NMFS (AA) finds that it is impracticable and contrary to the public interest to provide prior notice of, and an opportunity for public comment on, this action for the following reasons:

The regulations implementing the Consolidated HMS FMP provide for inseason retention limit adjustments to respond to the unpredictable nature of BFT availability on the fishing grounds, the migratory nature of this species, and the regional variations in the BFT fishery. Affording prior notice and opportunity for public comment to implement these retention limits is impracticable as it would preclude NMFS from acting promptly to allow harvest of BFT that are available on the fishing grounds. Analysis of available data shows that the General category BFT retention limits may be increased with minimal risks of exceeding the ICCAT-allocated quota.

Delays in increasing these retention limits would adversely affect those General and Charter/Headboat category vessels that would otherwise have an opportunity to harvest more than the default retention limit of one BFT per day/trip and may exacerbate the problem of low catch rates and quota rollovers. Limited opportunities to harvest the respective quotas may have negative social and economic impacts for U.S. fishermen who depend upon catching the available quota within the time periods designated in the Consolidated HMS FMP. Adjustment of the retention limit needs to be effective June 1, 2011, or as soon as possible thereafter, to minimize any unnecessary disruption in fishing patterns and for the impacted sectors to benefit from the adjustments so as to not preclude fishing opportunities for fishermen who have access to the fishery only during this time period. Therefore, the AA finds good cause under 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(B) to waive prior notice and the opportunity for public comment. For all of the above reasons, and because this action relieves a restriction (i.e., the default General category retention limit is one fish per vessel per day/trip whereas this action increases that limit and allows retention of additional fish), there is also good cause under 5 U.S.C. 553(d) to waive the 30-day delay in effectiveness.

This action is being taken under 50 CFR 635.23(a)(4) and is exempt from review under Executive Order 12866.

Authority: Back to Top

16 U.S.C. 971 et seq. and 1801 et seq.

Dated: May 31, 2011.

Margo Schulze-Haugen,

Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service.

[FR Doc. 2011-13832 Filed 5-31-11; 4:15 pm]

BILLING CODE 3510-22-P

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