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Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; Bluefin Tuna Fisheries

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


General category closure.


NMFS has determined that the 2003 fishing year Atlantic bluefin tuna (BFT) General category quota will be attained by December 10, 2002. Therefore, the General category fishery will be closed effective 11:30 p.m. on December 10, 2003. This action is being taken to prevent overharvest of the total adjusted General category quota of 534.4 metric tons (mt).


Effective 11:30 p.m. local time on December 10, 2003, through May 31, 2004.

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Brad McHale or Dianne Stephan, 978-281-9260.

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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, and together with General category effort controls are specified annually under 50 CFR 635.23(a) and 635.27(a). The final initial 2003 BFT Quota and General category effort controls were published on October 2, 2003 (68 FR 56783).

General Category Closure

NMFS is required, under § 635.28 (a)(1), to file with the Office of the Start Printed Page 69970 Federal Register for publication, notification of closure when a BFT quota is reached, or is projected to be reached. On and after the effective date and time of such closure notification, for the remainder of the fishing year, or for a specified period as indicated in the notification, fishing for, retaining, possessing, or landing BFT under that quota category is prohibited until the opening of the subsequent quota period, or until such date as specified in the notification.

The 2003 BFT quota specifications issued pursuant to § 635.27 set a General category quota of 684.4 mt of large medium and giant BFT to be harvested from the regulatory area during the 2003 fishing year, and divided the General category quota into time-period subquotas. On November 18, 2003, NOAA Fisheries transferred 150 mt to the Reserve category, establishing an adjusted coastwide General category quota of 534.4 mt for the 2003 fishing year (68 FR 64990, November 18, 2003). Based on reported landings and effort, NMFS projects that the adjusted quota will be reached by December 10, 2003. Therefore, fishing for, retaining, possessing, or landing large medium or giant BFT intended for sale by persons aboard vessels in the General or HMS Charter/Headboat categories must cease at 11:30 p.m. local time December 10, 2003. The intent of this closure is to prevent overharvest of the adjusted quota established for the General category.

If it is determined that quota remains uncaught in the General category, or if additional quota can be made available to the General category through an inseason transfer, NMFS will announce the re-opening and/or transfer action in a separate Federal Register notice. General category and HMS Charter/Headboat permit holders may tag and release BFT while the General category is closed, subject to the requirements of the tag-and-release program at § 635.26.


Pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 553 (b) (B), the Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, NOAA (AA), finds that providing for prior notice and public comment for this action is impracticable and contrary to the public interest. Based on recent landings reports, this closure is necessary to prevent the overharvest of the adjusted BFT quota established for the coastwide General category. The fishery is currently underway, and any further delay in this action would cause the fishery to exceed the quota and be inconsistent with domestic and international requirements and objectives. NMFS provides notification of the closure by publishing the closure notice in the Federal Register, faxing notification to individuals on the HMS FAX Network and to known fishery representatives, announcing the notice on the Atlantic Tunas Information Line, and announcing the closure notice over NOAA Weather and Coast Guard radio channels. For these same reasons, the AA also finds good cause to waive the 30-day delay in effective date pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 553 (d)(3). This action is required under 50 CFR 635.28(a) (1) and is exempt from review under E.O. 12866.

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

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Dated: December 9, 2003.

Bruce C. Morehead,

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

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[FR Doc. 03-30914 Filed 12-10-03; 3:50 pm]