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Proposed Rule

Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act Provisions; Application for Exempted Fishing Permit (EFP)

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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AGENCY:

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

ACTION:

Notification of a request for an EFP to harvest horseshoe crabs; request for comments.

SUMMARY:

NMFS announces that the Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, is considering issuing an EFP to Limuli Laboratories to conduct a second year of an experimental fishing operation otherwise restricted by regulations prohibiting the harvest of horseshoe crabs in the Carl N. Schuster Jr. Horseshoe Crab Reserve (Reserve) located 3 nautical miles (nm) seaward of the mouth of Delaware Bay. NMFS is considering issuing an EFP for the harvest of 10,000 horseshoe crabs for biomedical purposes and requiring as a condition of the EFP the collection of data related to the status of Delaware Bay horseshoe crabs within the Reserve. Therefore, this document invites comments on the issuance of an EFP to Limuli Laboratories.

DATES:

Comments on this action must be received on or before July 24, 2002.

ADDRESSES:

Written comments should be sent to John H. Dunnigan, Director, Start Printed Page 45446Office of Sustainable Fisheries, NMFS, 1315 East West Highway, Room 13362, Silver Spring, MD 20910. Mark the outside of the envelope “Comments on Horseshoe Crab EFP Proposal.” Comments may also be sent via facsimile (fax) to (301) 713-0596. Comments will not be accepted if submitted via e-mail or the Internet.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Tom Meyer, Fishery Biologist, (301) 713-2334.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

The regulations that govern exempted fishing, at 50 CFR 600.745(b) and 697.22 allow a Regional Administrator or the Director of the Office of Sustainable Fisheries to authorize for limited testing, public display, data collection, exploration, health and safety, environmental clean-up and/or hazardous removal purposes, the targeting or incidental harvest of managed species that would otherwise be prohibited. An EFP to authorize such activity may be issued, provided there is adequate opportunity for the public to comment on the EFP application, the conservation goals and objectives of the fishery management plan are not compromised, and issuance of the EFP is beneficial to the management of the species.

The Reserve was established on February 5, 2001 (66 FR 8906), to provide protection for the Atlantic coast stock of horseshoe crabs, and to promote the effectiveness of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (Commission) Interstate Fishery Management Plan (ISFMP) for horseshoe crab. The final rule prohibited fishing for horseshoe crabs in the Reserve and the possession of horseshoe crabs on a vessel with a trawl or dredge aboard while in the Reserve. The rule did not allow for any biomedical harvest or the collection of fishery dependent data. However, in the comments and responses section, NMFS stated that it would consider issuing EFPs for the biomedical harvest of horseshoe crabs from the Reserve.

The biomedical industry collects horseshoe crabs, removes approximately 30 percent of their blood, and returns them alive to the water. Approximately 10 percent do not survive the bleeding process. The blood contains a reagent called Limulus Amebocyte Lysate (LAL) that is used to test injectable drugs and medical devices for bacteria and bacterial by-products. Presently, there is no alternative to LAL derived from the horseshoe crab.

NMFS manages horseshoe crabs in the exclusive economic zone in close cooperation with the Commission. The Commission’s Horseshoe Crab Management Board met on April 21, 2000, and recommended that biomedical companies with a history of collecting horseshoe crabs in the Reserve be given an exemption to continue their historic levels of collection not to exceed a combined harvest total of 10,000 crabs annually. The Commission’s Horseshoe Crab Plan Review Team has reported that biomedical harvest of up to 10,000 horseshoe crabs should be allowed to continue in the Reserve given that the resulting mortality should be only about 1,000 horseshoe crabs (10 percent mortality during bleeding process). Also, the Commission’s Horseshoe Crab Stock Assessment Committee Chairman recommended that, in order to protect the Delaware Bay horseshoe crab population from over-harvest or excessive collection mortality, no more than a maximum of 20,000 horseshoe crabs should be collected for biomedical purposes from the Reserve. In addition to the direct mortality of horseshoe crabs that are bled, it can be expected that more than 20,000 horseshoe crabs will be trawled up and examined for LAL processing. This is because horseshoe crab trawl catches usually include varied sizes of horseshoe crabs and large female horseshoe crabs are the ones selected for LAL processing. The unharvested horseshoe crabs are released at sea with some unknown amount of mortality, but this mortality is expected to be negligible.

Collection of horseshoe crabs for biomedical purposes from the Reserve is necessary because of the low numbers of horseshoe crabs found in other areas along the New Jersey Coast from July through October and in light of the critical role horseshoe crab blood plays in proper health care. In conjunction with the biomedical harvest, NMFS is considering requiring that scientific data be collected from the horseshoe crabs taken in the Reserve as a condition of receiving an EFP. Since the Reserve was established on February 5, 2001, the only fishery data from this area were collected under an EFP issued to Limuli Laboratories on September 28, 2001, which allowed collections until October 31, 2001. Further data are needed to improve the understanding of the horseshoe crab population in the Delaware Bay area and to better manage the horseshoe crab resource under the cooperative state/Federal management program. The information collected through the EFP will be provided to NMFS, the Commission and to the State of New Jersey.

Results of Previous Year’s EFP

On April 11, 2001, Limuli Laboratories (Limuli) submitted an EFP application to collect horseshoe crabs for biomedical and data collection purposes from the Carl N. Schuster Jr. Horseshoe Crab Reserve (Reserve), and subsequently submitted a supplement on July 9, 2001. An EFP was issued to Limuli on September 28, 2001, which allowed them to collect horseshoe crabs until October 31, 2001, in the Reserve. To complete the study proposed in the EFP application, Limuli needed to collect from August through October. The study was modified and conducted with some limitations because of the late start. Limuli Laboratory is operated seasonally and was closed down in mid-September; therefore, the horseshoe crabs collected during the EFP study were not bled for manufacture of LAL, but were used for data collection purposes. A total of 250 horseshoe crabs were collected and examined (133 females and 117 males) from the Reserve on three dates, October 12th, 24th, and 29th, 2001. The specimens were sexed, measured, aged, tagged and released. The horseshoe crabs were aged in 4 categories using Dr. Schuster’s criteria of aging by appearance: first year or virgin, young, medium and old age. When separated into age categories, 62 percent were classified as young animals. The majority of the horseshoe crabs had encrusting slipper shells on their shells. The collected crabs were active with only one crab dying during the trawling process. Thirty percent of the horseshoe crabs showed sign of healed injuries/deformities and 3 percent had new injuries. Only one of the new injuries appeared life threatening. More females had injuries than males; 40 versus 25 percent. After tagging was performed, horseshoe crabs were released at the water’s edge at Highs Beach, New Jersey. One added benefit of the study was an opportunity to photographically document the condition of horseshoe crabs (15 females and 15 males) after collection by the trawl, which is the primary method used to capture horseshoe crabs for the manufacture of LAL.

Proposed EFP

Limuli proposes to conduct a second year of the study using the same means and methods used during year one.

The proposed EFP would exempt one commercial vessel from regulations at 50 CFR 697.7(e), which prohibit fishing for horseshoe crabs in the Reserve described in § 697.23(f)(1) and prohibit Start Printed Page 45447possession of horseshoe crabs on a vessel with a trawl or dredge aboard in the same Reserve.

Limuli Laboratories of Cape May Court House, in cooperation with the State of New Jersey’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, submitted an application for an EFP on May 31, 2002, and a supplement on June 6, 2002. NMFS has made a preliminary determination that the subject EFP contains all the required information and warrants further consideration. NMFS has also made a preliminary determination that the activities authorized under the EFP would be consistent with the goals and objectives of the Federal horseshoe crab regulations and the Commission’s Horseshoe Crab ISFMP.

The regulations at 50 CFR 600.745(b)(3)(v) authorize NMFS to attach terms and conditions to the EFP consistent with the purpose of the exempted fishery, the objectives of the horseshoe crab regulations and fisheries management plan, and other applicable law. NMFS is considering terms and conditions such as:

(1) Limiting the number of horseshoe crabs collected in the Reserve to no more than 500 per day and to a total of no more than 10,000 per year;

(2) Requiring collection under an EFP to take place over a total of approximately 20 days during the months of July, August, September, and October. Horseshoe crabs are readily available in harvestable concentrations nearshore earlier in the year, and offshore in the Reserve during July through October;

(3) Requiring a 5 and one-half inch flounder net to be used by the vessel to collect the horseshoe crabs. This condition would allow for continuation of traditional harvest gear and adds to the consistency in the way horseshoe crabs are harvested for data collection;

(4) Limiting trawl tow times to 30 minutes as a conservation measure to protect sea turtles, which are expected to be migrating through the area during the collection period, and are vulnerable to bottom trawling;

(5) Restricting the hours of fishing to daylight hours only, approximately from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. to aid law enforcement. NMFS also is considering a requirement that the State of New Jersey Law Enforcement be notified daily when and where the collection will take place; and

(6) Requiring that the collected horseshoe crabs be picked up from the fishing vessels at docks in the Cape May Area and transported to local laboratories, bled for LAL, and released alive the following morning into Lower Delaware Bay.

Also as part of the terms and conditions of the EFP, for all horseshoe crabs bled for LAL, NMFS is considering a requirement that the EFP holder provide information on sex ratio and daily numbers, and tag 10 percent of the horseshoe crabs harvested. Also, the EFP holder may be required to examine at least 200 horseshoe crabs for:

a. Morphometric data, by sex-e.g. interocular (I/O) distance and weight, and

b. Level of activity, as measured by a response or by distance traveled after release on a beach.

Based on the results of this EFP, this action may lead to future rulemaking.

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

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Virginia M. Fay,

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

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[FR Doc. 02-17044 Filed 7-8-02; 8:45 am]

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