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Fisheries of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic; Reef Fish Fishery of the Gulf of Mexico; Closure of the 2004 Deep-Water Grouper Commercial Fishery

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


Notice of closure.


NMFS closes the commercial fishery for deep-water grouper (misty grouper, snowy grouper, yellowedge grouper, warsaw grouper, and speckled hind) in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Gulf of Mexico. NMFS has determined that the deep-water grouper quota for the commercial fishery will have been reached by July 15, 2004. This closure is necessary to protect the deep-water grouper resource.


Closure is effective 12:01 a.m., local time, July 15, 2004, until 12:01 a.m., local time, on January 1, 2005.

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Phil Steele, telephone 727-570-5305, fax 727-570-5583, e-mail

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The reef fish fishery of the Gulf of Mexico is managed under the Fishery Management Plan for the Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico (FMP). The FMP was prepared by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council and is implemented under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) by regulations at 50 CFR part 622. Those regulations set the commercial quota for deep-water grouper in the Gulf of Mexico at 1.02 million lb (463,636 kg) for the current fishing year, January 1 through December 31, 2004.

Under 50 CFR 622.43(a), NMFS is required to close the commercial fishery for a species or species group when the quota for that species or species group is reached, or is projected to be reached, by filing a notification to that effect in the Federal Register. Based on current statistics, NMFS has determined that the available commercial quota of 1.02 million lb (463,636 kg) for deep-water grouper will be reached on or before July 15, 2004. Accordingly, NMFS is closing the commercial deep-water grouper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico EEZ from 12:01 a.m., local time, on July 15, 2004, until 12:01 a.m., local time, on January 1, 2005. The operator of a vessel with a valid reef fish permit having deep-water grouper aboard must have landed and bartered, traded, or sold such deep-water grouper prior to 12:01 a.m., local time, July 15, 2004.

During the closure, the bag and possession limits specified in 50 CFR 622.39(b) apply to the harvest or possession of deep-water grouper in or from the Gulf of Mexico EEZ, and the sale or purchase of deep-water grouper taken from the EEZ is prohibited. The prohibition on sale or purchase does not apply to sale or purchase of deep-water grouper that were harvested, landed ashore, and sold prior to 12:01 a.m., local time, July 15, 2004, and were held in cold storage by a dealer or processor.


This action responds to the best available information recently obtained from the fishery. The Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, NOAA, finds that the need to immediately implement this action to close the fishery constitutes good cause to waive the requirements to provide prior notice and opportunity for public comment pursuant to the authority set forth in 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(3)(B), as such procedures would be unnecessary and contrary to the public interest. Similarly, there is a need to implement these measures in a timely fashion to prevent an overrun of the commercial quota of Gulf deep-water grouper, given the capacity of the fishing fleet to harvest the quota quickly. Any delay in implementing this action would be impractical and contrary to the Magnuson-Steven Act, the FMP, and the public interest. NMFS finds for good cause that the implementation of this action cannot be delayed for 30 days. Accordingly, under 5 U.S.C. 553(d), a delay in the effective date is waived.

This action is taken under 50 CFR 622.43(a) and is exempt from review under Executive Order 12866.

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

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Dated: July 2, 2004.

Alan D. Risenhoover,

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

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[FR Doc. 04-15547 Filed 7-2-04; 5:01 pm]