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Proposed Rule

Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Amendment 1 to the Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Tunas, Swordfish and Sharks; Shark Management Measures

Document Details

Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

Published Document

This document has been published in the Federal Register. Use the PDF linked in the document sidebar for the official electronic format.

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AGENCY:

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

ACTION:

Notice of intent (NOI) to prepare an EIS; request for comments.

SUMMARY:

NMFS announces its intent to prepare an EIS under the National Environmental Policy Act to assess the potential effects on the human environment of its proposed action to initiate Amendment 1 to the Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Tunas, Swordfish and Sharks based on the results of the 2002 stock assessments of large coastal sharks (LCS) and small coastal sharks (SCS). The amendment will examine management alternatives available to rebuild or prevent overfishing of Atlantic sharks, consistent with the LCS and SCS stock assessments, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), and other relevant Federal laws. NMFS is requesting comments on a wide range of commercial and recreational management measures including, but not limited to, quotas, minimum sizes, and prohibited species.

DATES:

Comments on this action must be received no later than 5 p.m., local time, on March 17, 2003.

ADDRESSES:

Written comments on this action should be mailed to Christopher Rogers, Chief, NMFS Highly Migratory Species Management Division, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910; or faxed to (301) 713-1917. Comments will not be accepted if submitted via email or Internet. For a copy of the 2002 stock assessments, contact Kimberly Marshall, Heather Stirratt, or Karyl Brewster-Geisz at (301) 713-2347.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Karyl Brewster-Geisz,Kimberly Marshall, or Heather Stirratt at (301) 713-2347.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

The Atlantic shark fisheries are managed under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Tunas, Swordfish, and Sharks (HMS FMP) is implemented by regulations at 50 CFR part 635.

Background

LCS

The LCS complex is composed of several species including, but not limited to, sandbar, blacktip, spinner, bull, and tiger sharks. Since the 1993 Shark FMP, LCS have been considered overfished. The latest stock assessment of LCS in the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, completed in September 2002, provides an update on the status of LCS stocks and projects their future abundance under a variety of catch levels in waters off the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts. The 2002 assessment includes catch estimates, new biological data, and a number of fishery-independent catch rate series, as well as extended fishery-dependent catch rate series.

The results for the LCS complex indicate that overfishing could still be occurring and the resource may be overfished. However, for sandbar sharks, the stock assessment indicates that, while overfishing could be occurring, current biomass could be near, or somewhat above, maximum sustainable yield (MSY). Additionally, the stock assessment indicates that no reduction in catch for blacktip sharks is needed to maintain the stock at current levels and that some increase may be sustainable in the long term. This stock assessment is currently under peer review.

SCS

The SCS complex is comprised of four species including Atlantic sharpnose, blacknose, bonnethead, and finetooth. The 1992 stock assessment classified SCS as being fully utilized. The 2002 stock assessment of SCS in the U.S. and Gulf of Mexico indicates that the current level of removals is sustainable for the SCS aggregate. Aggregate biomass levels for the SCS aggregate are estimated at or above those which could produce MSY, and are not considered to be overfished. However, recent fishing mortality of finetooth sharks exceeds the fishing mortality at MSY, indicating overfishing is occurring for this species.

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Copies of the assessments are available for review (see ADDRESSES).

Management Options

NMFS requests comments on management options for this action. Specifically, NMFS requests comments on commercial management options including quota levels, regional and seasonal quotas, trip limits, minimum sizes, applying dead discards and state landings after a Federal closure to the quota, counting quota over- and underages, and fishery closure and opening notices. Additionally, NMFS request comments on recreational management options including retention limits, minimum sizes, authorized gear, and landing requirements. NMFS also seeks comment regarding deep water and prohibited shark species, display quotas, time/area closures and the organization of species groupings. Comments received on this action will assist NMFS in determining the options for rulemaking to conserve and manage shark resources and shark fisheries.

NMFS intends to publish an Issues and Options paper summarizing the different options under consideration and will announce the availability of this document at a later date. Within the comment period established in this action, NMFS will hold at least one scoping meeting to gather public comment on the implementation of new management measures for Atlantic sharks (time and location details of which will be announced in a subsequent Federal Register notification).

Based on the 2002 stock assessments, NMFS believes the implementation of new management measures via an amendment to the HMS FMP is necessary to rebuild or prevent overfishing of Atlantic sharks. NMFS anticipates completing this amendment and any related documents by January 1, 2004. NMFS is currently in the process of developing new interim management measures via a proposed and final rule. These interim management measures would address quotas and other management measures currently in place and would remain in effect until the amendment is finalized.

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

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Dated: November 12, 2002.

John H. Dunnigan,

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

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[FR Doc. 02-29086 Filed 11-14-02; 8:45 am]

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