Skip to Content

Proposed Rule

Fishing Capacity Reduction Program for the Crab Species Covered by the Fishery Management Plan for the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands King and Tanner Crabs

Document Details

Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

Document Statistics
Document page views are updated periodically throughout the day and are cumulative counts for this document including its time on Public Inspection. Counts are subject to sampling, reprocessing and revision (up or down) throughout the day.
Published Document

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

Start Preamble

AGENCY:

National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Commerce.

ACTION:

Proposed rule.

SUMMARY:

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposes regulations for a fishing capacity reduction program in the fishery for the crab species managed under the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands King and Tanner Crabs Fishery Management Plan. This proposed rule would establish a program to reduce excess capacity and promote economic efficiency in the crab fishery. It is put forth under both special legislation and existing NMFS regulations governing fishing capacity reduction programs. The program's objectives include: increasing harvesting productivity for post-reduction fishermen (i.e., those harvesters remaining in the fishery after capacity is reduced), helping conserve and manage fishery resources, and encouraging rationalization of harvesting effort. Participation in the program would be voluntary; and payments would be made for withdrawing vessels from fishing, revoking fishing licenses, and surrendering fishing histories. NMFS would finance the program's $100 million cost with a 30-year loan to be repaid by post-reduction fishermen.

DATES:

NMFS must receive comments by January 27, 2003.

ADDRESSES:

Mail or fax written comments about this proposed rule to Michael L. Grable. The mailing address is: Michael L. Grable, Chief, Financial Services Division, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910-3282. The fax number is (301) 713-1306. NMFS will not accept e-mail or internet comments.

If a comment involves any aspect of the proposed rule's collection of information requirements, send the comment both to Michael L. Grable and to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Desk Officer, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Office of Management and Budget, Washington, D.C. 20503. Anyone may obtain, from Michael L. Grable, the Environmental Assessment, Regulatory Impact Review, and Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis for this proposed rule.

Anyone wishing to contact the Restricted Access Management Program (which issues crab species fishing licenses) may do so at this address: Restricted Access Management Program, National Marine Fisheries Service, P.O. Box 21668, Juneau Alaska 99802-1668. The fax number is (907) 586-7354.

Start Further Info

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Michael L. Grable,(301)713-2390.

End Further Info End Preamble Start Supplemental Information

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Statutory and Regulatory Background

The Consolidated Appropriations Act 2001 (Pub. L. 106-554, section 144) directed the Secretary of Commerce to establish a $100 million fishing capacity reduction program (crab program) in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands king and Tanner crab fishery. Subsequently, that law was amended twice (Pub. L. 107-20, section 2201; and Pub. L. 107-117, section 205) to further clarify the pool of vessels eligible to participate in the crab fishery, and change the crab program's funding from a $50 million appropriation and a $50 million loan to a $100 million loan (reduction loan). NMFS authority to make this loan resides in sections 1111 and 1112 of the Merchant Marine Act, 1936 (46 App. U.S.C. 1279f and 1279g)(MMA)(Title XI).

The Fishery Management Plan for Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands King and Tanner Crabs (crab FMP) was developed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and approved and implemented by NMFS under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.)(MSA). The Council also developed Amendment 10 to the crab FMP which further defined the eligibility criteria for crab license limitation program (LLP) licenses. Regulations implementing the crab FMP govern management of this fishery.

Fishing capacity reduction programs, generally, are governed by subpart L to 50 CFR part 600, a framework rule promulgated pursuant to section 312 of the MSA (16 U.S.C. 1861a(b)-(e)). NMFS proposes this rule as a new § 600.1018 appearing immediately after the framework rule's last existing section.

Primary Statutory Objective

Section 144 established the crab program's primary objective as reducing “the fishing capacity in the BSAI crab fisheries by permanently reducing the number of license limitation program crab licenses . . . .”

Key Steps

The proposed crab program is complicated and the following listing of key steps is intended to facilitate understanding by the public. NMFS would:

(a) Propose the regulations;

(b) Publish final regulations;

(c) Invite crab program bids;

(d) Receive and tally the bids;

(e) Accept the bids;

(f) Conduct a referendum on the results of the bidding;

(g) Notify referendum voters and accepted bidders of the referendum results;

(h) Make reduction payments under reduction contracts; and

(i) Collect reduction loan repayment fees.

Note: Any time the word “we” is used in this document, it refers to NMFS.

Start Printed Page 76330

I. Crab Program Overview

$100 million would be available to pay crab license holders to relinquish their crab fishing capacity. NMFS would issue an invitation to bid for reduction payments totaling up to $100 million. Qualifying crab license holders who wanted to relinquish their crab fishing capacity would choose the dollar amounts for which they were willing to do so. They would then bid in a reverse auction by offering to relinquish their crab fishing capacity in return for reduction payments equal to their bid amounts.

NMFS would express each bid amount as a percentage of the value of each bidder's crab harvests during a certain period. NMFS would use this percentage to determine which bids to accept. NMFS would first accept the bid with the lowest percentage, and then successively accept each bid with the next lowest percentage until the entire $100 million had been paid out or there were no further bids to accept. Bid acceptances would create irrevocable reduction contracts between the United States and the accepted bidders, subject only to a referendum approving a post-reduction crab landing fee for repaying the reduction loan.

After determining how much of the prospective reduction loan each of the crab area/species endorsement fisheries would have to repay, NMFS would hold a referendum in which qualifying crab license holders vote to approve or disapprove the landing fee. If at least two thirds of the votes cast were in favor of the fee, the referendum would be successful, and the fee would be approved.

After a successful referendum, NMFS would make the reduction payments to the accepted bidders and finalize the relinquishment of their crab fishing capacity. Post-reduction harvesters would pay a fee up to 5% of the value of their future crab landings. Persons who must, under the State of Alaska's reporting requirements, complete and file fish tickets for harvested crab would collect the fee and forward all fee revenue to NMFS. The fee revenue is applied to repaying the 30-year reduction loan.

The reduction loan's original principal amount would be the total of all reduction payments. The reduction loan's interest rate would be 2 percent higher than the rate at which NMFS would pay interest on the money it borrowed from the U.S. Treasury to make reduction payments. The reduction loan's interest rate would be fixed, and its term would be 30 years. There would be no prepayment penalty.

II. Program Specifics

A. Reduction Component Requirements

Each crab program bidder would offer to relinquish these reduction components:

1. A non-interim crab LLP license issued under 50 CFR 679.4(k)(5) (crab reduction permit);

2. The fishing history that gave rise to the crab license (crab reduction history);

3. Any non-crab fishing license or permit derived from the reduction vessel's fishing history (non-crab reduction permit);

4. The fishing history that gave rise to the non-crab reduction permit (non-crab reduction history);

5. Every other worldwide fishing privilege (reduction vessel privilege) of the crab fishing vessel whose fishing history gave rise to the crab reduction permit (reduction vessel); and

6. Every other claim associated with the reduction components that could qualify anyone for any present or future limited access system fishing license or permit in any U.S. fishery (reduction claim). The reduction claim would include any harvesting privilege or quota allocation under any present or future individual fishing quota system.

Crab Reduction Permit Requirements

The crab reduction permit that each bid offers would have to be a crab license that is non-interim at the time of bidding. The crab reduction permit would have to be endorsed for one or more of the six crab area/species endorsements other than the area/species endorsement for Norton Sound red king and blue king crab (Norton Sound fishery). A permit endorsement allows fishing for a specific species of king or Tanner crab in specific geographical areas in the crab fishery. Although the reduction permit may be endorsed for the Norton Sound fishery, reduction permits endorsed solely for the Norton Sound fishery may not be included in a bid because only the six reduction endorsement fisheries constitute the reduction fishery.

With two exceptions, the crab reduction permit must have been derived from the fishing history accrued on the reduction vessel during the general qualification period (GQP), endorsement qualification period (EQP), and recent participation period (RPP). The GQP, EQP, and RPP are the time periods used under the license limitation program to determine license eligibility on the basis of catch history. The existing NMFS regulations implementing Amendment 10 to the crab FMP require that the crab fishing history giving rise to a crab license be earned on a single crab fishing vessel.

The first exception provided in (50 CFR 679.4(k)(5)(iii)(B)(3)) applies to persons whose vessel was used to meet the GQP and EQP crab harvest requirement but could not be used to meet the RPP crab harvest requirement because the vessel had been lost or destroyed and was unavailable during the RPP. In this case, persons may meet the RPP requirement by making a documented harvest of crab at any time during the period after a vessel was lost or destroyed through January 1, 2000.

Anyone making such a documented crab harvest could have used either a vessel salvaged and returned to service after the RPP, or a different vessel. If the documented harvest was made from a salvaged vessel, (1) the salvaged vessel would be the reduction vessel and (2) the crab reduction history would be the salvaged vessel's documented harvest of crab. If made from a different vessel, however, (1) the reduction vessel would be the different vessel and (2) the crab reduction history would be the total of the lost or destroyed vessel's documented harvest of crab through the date of the vessel's loss or destruction plus the different vessel's documented harvest of crab after that date.

The second exception provided for in (50 CFR 679.4(k)(5)(iv)) applies to persons (1) whose vessel made a documented harvest of crab during the RPP period (January 1, 1996, through February 7, 1998), and (2) who obtained a different vessel's crab fishing history which met the GQP and EQP documented crab harvest requirements or—by 8:36 A.M., Pacific standard time, on October 10, 1998—entered into a contract to do so.

In this case, (1) the reduction vessel would be the vessel from which the documented crab harvest was made during the RPP and (2) the crab reduction history would be the total of that vessel's documented harvest of crab after December 31, 1994 (i.e., the date on which the EQP ended), plus the acquired documented harvest of crab through December 31, 1994.

Crab Reduction History Requirements

The crab reduction history would have to be the complete crab fishing history of the reduction vessel, including the crab fishing history during the GQP, EQP, and RPP that gave rise to the crab reduction permit.

Non-Crab Reduction Permit Requirements

The non-crab reduction permit offered would be any fishing license or permit for any species other than crab (1) that Start Printed Page 76331was derived from the fishing history of the bidder's reduction vessel, and (2) held on the date that this rule is effective.

Non-crab Reduction History Requirements

The non-crab reduction history offered would be the complete fishing history of the reduction vessel that gave rise to any non-crab reduction permit.

Reduction Vessel Privilege Requirements

The reduction vessel privilege offered would have to include:

1. The reduction vessel's fisheries trade endorsement under the Merchant Marine Act, 1936 (46 U.S.C.A. 12108);

2. The reduction vessel's qualification for any present or future U.S. Government approval under section (9)(c)(2) of the Shipping Act, 1916 (46 U.S.C. App. 808(c)(2)) for placement under foreign registry or operation under the authority of a foreign country; and

3. Any other privilege to ever use the reduction vessel to fish anywhere in the world.

The reduction vessel in each bid would have to be in existence at the time of bidding.

B. Qualifying Bidders and Co-Bidders

The persons qualified to bid for reduction payments (qualifying bidders) would be the holders of record of the crab reduction permits.

NMFS regulations do not, however, require crab license holders either to own the crab fishing vessels used with their crab licenses or to retain the vessels' crab fishing histories. Theoretically the licenses, vessels, and histories can be conveyed independently of each other; and different persons may own, hold, or retain them. Consequently, it is possible that some bidders may not own the reduction vessels, hold the non-crab reduction permits, or retain either the crab or non-crab reduction histories that this proposed action would require bids to offer. By making provision for co-bidders who own or hold some of the required reduction components, this proposed rule would accommodate these circumstances.

If the qualifying bidder owned, held, or retained at the time of bidding each of the reduction components, the qualifying bidder would bid alone (i.e., there would be no co-bidder).

If, however, a person other than the qualifying bidder owned or held at the time of bidding either the required reduction vessel or the required non-crab reduction permit, that person could be a co-bidder. In this case, the qualifying bidder and the co-bidder would bid together.

The proposed rule would not, however, allow a co-bidder for the crab reduction permit or for the crab or non-crab reduction histories.

In summary:

1. A qualifying bidder bidding alone would have to own, hold, or retain all of the bid's reduction components;

2. A co-bidder bidding together with a qualifying bidder could own or hold only the bid's reduction vessel or non-crab reduction permit; and

3. A qualifying bidder bidding together with a co-bidder would still have to hold or retain the bid's crab reduction permit and the bid's crab and non-crab reduction histories.

C. Qualifying Referendum Voters

The persons qualified to vote in the crab program fee referendum (qualifying voters) would be the holders of record at the time of voting of either interim or non-interim crab licenses endorsed for one or more of the reduction endorsement fisheries. The crab licenses could also be endorsed for the Norton Sound fishery, but no person whose license was endorsed solely for the Norton Sound fishery could be a qualifying voter.

D. Summary of How Crab Licenses Qualify Bidders and Voters

Each person who is the record holder of a non-interim crab license endorsed for one or more reduction endorsement fisheries would be both a qualifying bidder and a qualifying voter. Each such person could bid and vote. For bidding purposes, however, the person's crab license would also have to meet the reduction crab permit requirements.

Each person who is the record holder of an interim crab license endorsed for one or more reduction endorsement fisheries would be a qualifying voter but not a qualifying bidder. Each such person could vote but not bid.

Each person who is the record holder of a crab license endorsed solely for the Norton Sound fishery would be neither a qualifying bidder nor a qualifying voter and could neither bid nor vote.

Qualifying bidders must be the record holder of their crab reduction permits at the time of bidding, and qualifying voters must be the record holders of their crab licenses at the time of voting.

III. Reduction Process Overview

If NMFS adopted this proposed rule, we would begin the reduction process by publishing a notification in the Federal Register listing the crab license holders who, on the notification's date, appear to be qualifying bidders, qualifying voters, or both.

By publishing in the Federal Register an invitation to bid and mailing the invitation to bid to each qualifying bidder, we would next invite the qualifying bidders to submit bids. Qualifying bidders could then bid by irrevocably offering to the United States their reduction components, in the manner that this proposed rule would require, in return for reduction payments from the United States in amounts that the bidders would have determined. We would score the bid offers, rank them in a reverse auction, and accept the bid offers with the lowest scores until either the maximum reduction cost ($100 million) were committed or there were no additional acceptable bids. Our acceptance of bid offers would create binding reduction contracts between the accepted bidders and the United States.

Bid acceptance would establish the amount of capacity that the accepted bids would reduce, the cost of reducing that capacity, and the reduction loan sub-amounts that each reduction endorsement fishery would have to repay. Based on these data, NMFS would next hold a referendum to determine whether qualifying voters would approve the post-reduction landing fee necessary to repay the reduction loan.

An unsuccessful referendum would excuse the performance of all reduction contracts, and the crab program would cease, unless NMFS decided to later issue another invitation to bid and hold another referendum. A successful referendum, however, would be followed by publishing a notification in the Federal Register, after which NMFS would tender reduction payments, effect relinquishment of the reduction components, and disburse the reduction payments. With the exception of post-reduction license holders subsequently repaying the reduction loan, reduction payment tender and disbursement would conclude the crab program.

Upon reduction payment tender, NMFS would permanently revoke the surrendered crab reduction permits and non-crab reduction permits. The Secretary of Transportation would permanently revoke the reduction vessels' fisheries endorsements and make the reduction vessels ineligible to transfer to foreign flags. The reduction vessels would be permanently ineligible to participate in any fishery worldwide, and the bidders would have contractually agreed to permanently operate the reduction vessels only under the U.S. flag. NMFS would ensure that the bidders and the reduction vessels Start Printed Page 76332forever relinquish any claim based on the reduction components that might otherwise qualify any person or the reduction vessels for any future limited access system fishing permits in U.S. fisheries. This would include any fishing privilege or quota allocation under any present or future quota allocation system.

IV. Process Specifics

A. Notification to Crab License Holders

If any person held multiple crab licenses, we would list that person once for each crab license. NMFS would also list the name and business mailing address of record of each of these crab license holders. NMFS would not list persons who then held crab licenses that were endorsed solely for the Norton Sound fishery. We would use the crab license database of our Restricted Access Management (RAM) Program as the basis of these notification lists.

In addition to the Federal Register notification, NMFS would also mail the notification to each crab license holder of record at the holder's business mailing address of record, as well as post the notification at NMFS' headquarters and Alaska Region web sites.

The public would have 30 days to comment about any notification aspect, including: persons we listed, but should not have listed, as license holders (and vice-versa); licenses we listed as non-interim but should have listed as interim (and vice-versa); and incorrect license holder names and/or business mailing addresses.

Any person on this list who is not prospectively a qualifying bidder because the person's crab license is then interim may, nevertheless, subsequently become a prospectively qualifying bidder by changing the person's crab license status from interim to non-interim before submitting a bid. Although NMFS would appropriately update the qualifying bidder list, we would not republish the notification. NMFS would update the list of prospectively qualifying bidders immediately before mailing the invitation to bid and update the list of prospectively qualifying voters immediately before mailing the referendum ballots.

Inclusion on the notification list as a prospectively qualifying bidder would not mean that a bid from that bidder would be one that we could accept. NMFS could not at the time we publish the notification determine whether a later bid from a prospectively qualifying bidder would meet all the crab program's bidding requirements. NMFS could make this determination only after we receive and analyze bids.

B. Correcting the RAM Program's License Records

NMFS would use the RAM Program's license records for all notification and other crab program purposes, including business mailing addresses for all crab program communications. Accordingly, we recommend that any person needing to correct or update the RAM Program's license records consider doing so as soon as possible.

C. Invitation to Bid and Bids

The crab program invitation to bid would specify the exact contractual terms and conditions under which qualifying bidders may make, and NMFS may accept, bid offers. Each bid would have to specify the dollar amount of the reduction payment in return for which the bidder would offer the reduction components in the manner that this proposed rule would require and otherwise fully comply with all the crab program's bidding requirements.

NMFS would publish the bid invitation in the Federal Register. We would concurrently mail the bid invitation and a bidding package (including a bidding form) to the address of record of each person on the prospectively qualifying bidder list.

The bid invitation would, among other things, specify:

1. The first date on which bidders could submit bids;

2. The exact manner in which they would have to do so;

3. The last date by which NMFS would have to receive bids; and

4. The bid expiration date upon which each bid would automatically expire if NMFS had not accepted the bid before that date.

The bid invitation would contain the reduction contract's entire terms and conditions. Each qualifying bidder who responded by submitting a bid would make an irrevocable reduction offer under the bid invitation's terms and conditions. These terms and conditions would be neither negotiable nor subject to modification.

Although bidders could not revoke their bid offers, any bid offers that NMFS did not accept before the bid expiration date would automatically expire on that date.

All potential bidders should note that NMFS would, among other things, require each bid to include a copy of each reduction vessel's official document (which the National Vessel Documentation Center issues for Federally documented vessels) and a copy of each crab and non-crab reduction permit (which, with the exception of reduction permits issued for non-Alaskan fisheries, the RAM Program issues). NMFS recommends that all potential bidders arrange to have on hand, well before NMFS would issue the invitation to bid, an exact copy of these documents and otherwise be fully prepared to provide all other required bidding information.

Each bidder responding to the bid invitation would have to offer the reduction components in the manner that this proposed rule would require. This would include permanently:

1. Surrendering and revoking the crab reduction permit;

2. Relinquishing the crab reduction history;

3. Surrendering and revoking the non-crab reduction permit;

4. Relinquishing the non-crab reduction history;

5. Revoking the reduction vessel privilege;

6. Agreeing, in the reduction contract, that the owner of the reduction vessel would operate it under U.S. flag or else scrap it; and

7. Relinquishing the reduction claim.

This proposed rule would not require the surrender and revocation of any non-crab licenses or permits (or the fishing histories upon which they were based) that accepted bidders did not hold on the effective date of a final crab program rule. Similarly, accepted bidders would not have to surrender any licenses or permits they might hold that were based on the fishing histories of vessels other than the reduction vessels.

Regardless of its ownership, no reduction vessel could ever again fish for any species anywhere in the world under any conditions. As long as the owner of any Federally-documented reduction vessel abided by the crab program restrictions, NMFS would not require scrapping the reduction vessel. Each post-reduction vessel owner could continue using its reduction vessel for any legal purpose except fishing and could transfer the vessel, subject to all the crab program restrictions, to a new owner. These restrictions would run with the reduction vessel's title and apply to whomever might own the reduction vessel. Any reduction vessel that was not Federally documented would, however, have to be scrapped.

D. Non-crab Reduction Permits Limited

Section 144(d)(1)(B) is ambiguous about which non-crab licenses or permits the crab program must revoke. One interpretation is that the crab program must revoke each non-crab license or permit that may ever have Start Printed Page 76333been issued based on a reduction vessel's fishing history even though a bidder may no longer hold the license or permit. An alternative interpretation is that the crab program need revoke only those non-crab licenses and permits that a bidder still holds at the time we implement the crab program.

This proposed rule adheres to the latter interpretation. Consequently, the reduction components would include only those non-crab reduction permits that were based on reduction vessels' fishing histories and which the bidders still held on the effective date that NMFS adopts a final rule implementing the crab program. This would be equally true for all non-crab reduction histories.

E. Reverse Auction

To obtain the maximum capacity reduction at the least cost, NMFS would use a reverse auction to determine which bid offers we would accept. NMFS would calculate a bid score for each bid and then accept the bid offer with the lowest bid score, followed by each successive bid offer with the next lowest bid score until either there were no more acceptable bids or acceptance of the bid with the next lowest bid score would cause the reduction cost to exceed $100 million.

F. Bid Scoring

NMFS would calculate each bid score by dividing the value of each reduction vessel's documented crab harvest for crab program purposes (bid crab) by each bid amount.

The bid amount for each bid would be the dollar amount for which each bidder offers the reduction components under the bid invitation's contractual terms and conditions.

The bid crab for each bid would be each reduction vessel's documented harvest of crab during the most recent 5 years of a 10-year period beginning on January 1, 1990, and ending on December 31, 1999, during which each of the reduction endorsement fisheries and the Norton Sound fishery were open, for any length of time, for directed crab fishing. If, for example, a reduction vessel did not fish for crab in one of the reduction endorsement fisheries during one of the most recent 5 years of this period in which that fishery was open for directed crab fishing, the reduction vessel's documented crab harvest value for that year in that reduction endorsement fishery would be zero.

NMFS would determine bid crab value by multiplying each pound of each reduction vessel's bid crab by the average annual price per pound for each crab species from each of the reduction endorsement fisheries and from the Norton Sound fishery during each year applicable to the reduction vessel's bid crab. We would use the fish ticket poundage data that the State of Alaska maintains and the average ex-vessel crab prices that the State of Alaska annually publishes.

NMFS would exclude several categories of crab from bid crab, for example:

1. Triangle tanner crab, grooved tanner crab, and other commercially insignificant crab species not named in the various crab license area/species endorsement categories;

2. Discarded crab;

3. Crab caught for personal use;

4. Unspecified crab; and

5. Any other crab to which, for whatever reason, NMFS could not assign a poundage or dollar value.

Here is a bid scoring example. If a bid amount were $0.75 million and the bid crab value were $4.5 million, the bid score would be 0.1667 (i.e., $0.75 million divided by $4.5 million). This means that the bid amount would be 16.67 percent of the reduction vessel's bid crab value.

NMFS would accept bid offers with bid scores lower than the 0.1667 in this example before we accepted a bid offer with the 0.1667 bid score. NMFS would accept bid offers with bid scores higher than the 0.1667 in this example after we accepted a bid offer with the 0.1667 bid score.

Bid crab value and bid amount are the only two variables in each bid score. If two or more bid amounts were identical, NMFS would accept the bid with the higher bid crab value because the bid amount would in that bid be a lower percentage of the bid crab value. Persons whose reduction vessels have lower bid crab values should recognize that a combination of higher bid amounts and lower bid crab values could make their bids noncompetitive.

For example, a reduction vessel with a $2.5 million bid crab value would require a bid amount no higher than $499,999.99 (i.e., a bid score of 0.19999) in order to have a better chance of bid acceptance than a reduction vessel with a $5 million bid crab value and a bid amount of $1 million (i.e., a bid score of 0.2).

If two or more bid scores were identical, NMFS would first accept the bid that we first received.

G. Confidentiality of Fish Ticket Data

The State of Alaska's fish ticket data are confidential. Our data-sharing agreement with Alaska requires NMFS to maintain Alaska's data confidentiality requirements. With certain exceptions, Alaska law allows divulging these data only to, or upon the authority of, the harvesting individuals who signed the fish tickets.

Those who sign fish tickets on behalf of the harvesters are sometimes neither crab license holders nor crab vessel owners. Consequently, NMFS could not divulge bid crab poundage to any bidders who did not sign the fish tickets on which those data were based. Instead, NMFS could only divulge the bid crab values and the bid scores. Potential bidders who wish to confirm their bid crab poundage during the bid scoring period would have to make their own arrangements with the State of Alaska (or with the persons who signed the fish tickets on behalf of the harvesting parties).

H. Bid Rejection

NMFS would reject any bid that:

1. Attempted to negotiate or modify any of the bid invitation's terms and conditions or otherwise did not conform to those conditions;

2. Included any crab or non-crab reduction permit holder or reduction vessel owner that was an entity legally different from the permit's holder of record or the vessel's owner of record at the time of bidding;

3. Included any crab or non-crab reduction history that NMFS would have reason to believe a person other than the bidder retained;

4. Included any reduction component that NMFS would have reason to believe was different from those that the crab program would require; or

5. Did not otherwise meet all of the crab program's bidding and other requirements.

NMFS would use the RAM Program's crab license records to determine crab license holders of record (except for permits or licenses that any of our other Regional Offices may have issued) and to determine whether crab licenses qualify as crab reduction permits. NMFS would use the records of the U.S. Coast Guard's National Vessel Documentation Center to determine reduction vessel owners of record. Anyone with a potential crab program interest who needs to correct any of these records in any of these respects should consider doing so as soon as possible.

NMFS would mail a bid rejection notification to each bidder whose bid we rejected but not to any bidder whose bid offer we neither rejected nor accepted. NMFS bid rejection determinations would constitute final agency action.

I. Bid Acceptance

NMFS bid acceptances would, like bid offers, be subject to the bid Start Printed Page 76334invitation's exact contractual terms and conditions.

After accepting bid offers with the lowest bid scores, NMFS would mail acceptance notifications to the accepted bidders and conduct the post-bidding fee referendum.

NMFS bid acceptance determinations would constitute final agency action.

All bid offers that NMFS had neither accepted nor rejected would automatically expire on the bid expiration date.

The RAM Program would not process the transfer of any crab or non-crab reduction permits included in the bids that NMFS had accepted unless and until the Chief of our Financial Services Division advised the RAM Program that the resulting reduction contracts were no longer in effect because a referendum failed to approve the reduction loan repayment fee.

J. Reduction Contracts

NMFS acceptance of bid offers would create binding reduction contracts between the United States and the accepted bidders. Nevertheless, reduction contract performance would be conditioned on a post-bidding referendum approving the reduction loan repayment fee. Each reduction contract would, otherwise, be unconditional at the time NMFS accepted each bid offer.

A post-bidding referendum's approval or disapproval of the reduction loan repayment fee would be an event that neither the accepted bidders nor NMFS could control. A referendum's disapproval of the fee would fully excuse the United States and all accepted bidders from reduction contract performance and would fully discharge all reduction contract rights, privileges, duties, and obligations. This excuse from performance would not apply to any new reduction contracts that might subsequently result from issuing another invitation to bid and accepting other bids.

The period between inviting bids and conducting a referendum would be as short as possible. Accepted bidders could, however, continue fishing as they normally would have fished until NMFS tendered the reduction payments to the accepted bidders. All fishing would have to cease when NMFS tendered the reduction payments, except that accepted bidders could continue fishing in any crab area/species endorsement fishery that was open when NMFS tendered the reduction payments until th