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Rule

Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Fisheries

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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Start Preamble

AGENCY:

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

ACTION:

Temporary rule; inseason retention limit adjustment.

SUMMARY:

NMFS has determined that the Atlantic tunas General category daily Atlantic bluefin tuna (BFT) retention limit should be adjusted for the November and December time periods of the 2007 fishing year and the January period of the 2008 fishing year. NMFS increases the daily BFT retention limits, including on previously scheduled Restricted Fishing Days (RFDs), to provide enhanced commercial fishing opportunities to harvest the established General category quota.

DATES:

The effective dates for the adjusted BFT daily retention limits are November 1, 2007, through January 31, 2008.

Start Further Info

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Brad McHale or Sarah McLaughlin, 978-281-9260.

End Further Info End Preamble Start Supplemental Information

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

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, per the allocations established in the Consolidated Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan (Consolidated HMS FMP). The latest (2006) ICCAT recommendation for western Atlantic BFT included a U.S. quota of 1,190.12 mt, effective beginning in 2007, through 2008, and thereafter until changed (i.e., via a new ICCAT recommendation).

The 2007 fishing year began on June 1, 2007, and ends December 31, 2007. NMFS published final specifications on June 18, 2007 (72 FR 33401) and Start Printed Page 61566increased the default General category retention limit of one large medium or giant BFT (measuring 73 inches (185 cm) curved fork length (CFL) or greater) per vessel per day/trip to three large medium or giant BFT, measuring 73 inches CFL or greater, per vessel per day/trip through August 31, 2007. On August 31, 2007 (72 FR 50257), NMFS published a notice to increase the General category retention limit for September 1-October 31, 2007, to three large medium or giant BFT. NMFS took these actions to enhance commercial BFT fishing opportunities to those vessels permitted in the Atlantic tunas General category and the Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Charter/Headboat category, while fishing commercially. In addition, NMFS stated that it would consider adjustment of retention limits for future time periods, if warranted.

Daily Retention Limits

Pursuant to this action, the daily BFT retention limits for the Atlantic tunas General and HMS Charter/Headboat categories are as follows:

Adjustment of General Category Daily Retention Limits

Under 50 CFR 635.23(a)(4), NMFS may increase or decrease the daily retention limit of large medium and giant BFT over a range of zero to a maximum of three per vessel to provide for maximum utilization of the General category quota for BFT. Such adjustments to the commercial retention limit are based on NMFS' consideration of the criteria provided under § 635.27(a)(8), which include: the usefulness of information obtained from catches in the particular category for biological sampling and monitoring of the status of the stock; the catches of the particular category quota to date and the likelihood of closure of that segment of the fishery if no adjustment is made; the projected ability of the vessels fishing under the particular category quota to harvest the additional amount of BFT before the end of the fishing year; the estimated amounts by which quotas for other gear categories of the fishery might be exceeded; effects of the adjustment on BFT rebuilding and overfishing; effects of the adjustment on accomplishing the objectives of the fishery management plan; variations in seasonal distribution, abundance, or migration patterns of BFT; effects of catch rates in one area precluding vessels in another area from having a reasonable opportunity to harvest a portion of the category's quota; and a review of dealer reports, daily landing trends, and the availability of the BFT on the fishing grounds.

As of October 22, 2007, the coastwide General category has landed 74.8 metric tons (mt) out of a possible 643.6 mt, and catch rates remain less that 1.0 mt per day even though the General category retention limit was increased to three BFT per vessel per trip, measuring 73 inches (185 cm) CFL or greater for June through October 2007. Starting on November 1, 2007, the General category daily retention limit, located at 50 C.F.R. 635.23(a)(2), is scheduled to revert back to the default retention limit of one large medium or giant BFT (measuring 73 inches (185 cm) CFL) or greater per vessel per day/trip. This scheduled retention limit applies to General category permitted vessels and HMS Charter/Headboat category permitted vessels (when fishing commercially for BFT).

Each of the General category time periods (January, June-August, September, October-November, and December) is allocated a portion of the coastwide General category quota, thereby ensuring fishing opportunities are provided in years where high catch rates are experienced. In combination with the subquota rollover from previous 2007 fishing year time-periods, scheduled RFDs, current catch rates, and the daily retention limit reverting to one large medium or giant BFT per vessel per day on November 1, 2007, NMFS anticipates the full 2007 fishing year General category quota and January 2008 subquota will not be harvested. Adding an excessive amount of unused quota from one time-period subquota to the subsequent time-period subquota is undesirable because it effectively changes the time-period subquota allocation percentages established in the Consolidated HMS FMP and may contribute to excessive carry-overs to subsequent fishing years.

NMFS has considered the set of criteria cited above and their applicability to the commercial BFT retention limit for the remainder of the 2007 fishing year and the January portion of the 2008 fishing year. Based on these considerations, NMFS has determined that the General category retention should be adjusted to allow for retention of the established General category quota. Therefore, NMFS increases the General category retention limit from the default limits effective November 1, 2007, through January 31, 2008. This adjustment increases the General category daily retention limit to three large medium or giant BFT, measuring 73 inches (185 cm) CFL or greater, per vessel per day/trip. This General category retention limit is effective in all areas, except for the Gulf of Mexico, and applies to those vessel permitted in the General category as well as to those HMS Charter/Headboat permitted vessels fishing commercially for BFT.

Restricted Fishing Days

The 2007 fishing year BFT specifications and effort controls included the following RFDs: all Saturdays and Sundays from November 17, 2007, through December 31, 2007, plus November 22 and December 25, 2007. These RFDs were designed to provide for an extended late season, south Atlantic BFT fishery for the commercial handgear fishermen in the General category. For the reasons referred to above, NMFS has determined that the scheduled RFDs are no longer required to meet their original purpose, but may in fact exacerbate low catch rates, and waives all previously scheduled RFDs for the 2007 fishing year. Therefore, NMFS has determined that an increase in the General category daily BFT retention limit effective from November 1, 2007, through January 31, 2008, inclusive of days that were previously scheduled as RFDs, is warranted. Thus, NMFS is extending the General category daily retention limit of three large medium or giant BFT per vessel per day/trip through January 31, 2008, including all Saturdays and Sundays in November and December 2007 as well as November 22 and December 25, 2007.

This adjustment is intended to provide a reasonable opportunity to harvest the U.S. landings quota of BFT while maintaining an equitable distribution of fishing opportunities, to help achieve optimum yield in the General category BFT fishery, to collect a broad range of data for stock monitoring purposes, and to be consistent with the objectives of the Consolidated HMS FMP.

Monitoring and Reporting

NMFS selected the daily retention limit and the duration after examining an array of data as it pertains to the determination criteria. These data included, but were not limited to, current and previous catch and effort rates, quota availability, previous public comments on inseason management measures, stock status, etc. NMFS will continue to monitor the BFT fishery closely through the mandatory dealer landing reports, which NMFS requires to be submitted within 24 hours of a dealer receiving BFT. Depending on the level of fishing effort and catch rates of BFT, NMFS may determine that additional retention limit adjustments Start Printed Page 61567are necessary to ensure available quota is not exceeded or to enhance scientific data collection from, and fishing opportunities in, all geographic areas.

Closures or subsequent adjustments to the daily retention limits, if any, will be published in the Federal Register. In addition, fishermen may call the Atlantic Tunas Information Line at (888) 872-8862 or (978) 281-9260, or access the internet at www.hmspermits.gov, for updates on quota monitoring and retention limit adjustments.

Classification

The Assistant Administrator for NMFS (AA), finds that it is impracticable and contrary to the public interest to provide prior notice of, and an opportunity for public comment on, this action for the following reasons:

NMFS continues to receive information refining its understanding of the commercial sector's specific needs regarding retention limits through the latter portions of the 2007 season. NMFS assessments and analyses show catch rates to date have been low and that there is sufficient quota for an increase to the General category retention limit during the months of November 2007 through January 2008.

The regulations implementing the Consolidated HMS FMP provide for inseason retention limit adjustments to respond to the unpredictable nature of BFT availability on the fishing grounds, the migratory nature of this species, and the regional variations in the BFT fishery. Affording prior notice and opportunity for public comment to implement these retention limits is impracticable as it would preclude NMFS from acting promptly to allow harvest of BFT that are available on the fishing grounds. Analysis of available data shows that the General category BFT retention limits may be increased with minimal risks of exceeding the ICCAT-allocated quota.

Delays in increasing these retention limits would adversely affect those General and Charter/Headboat category vessels that would otherwise have an opportunity to harvest more than the default retention limit of one BFT per day and may exacerbate the problem of low catch rates and quota rollovers. Limited opportunities to harvest the respective quotas may have negative social and economic impacts to U.S. fishermen that either depend upon catching the available quota within the time periods designated in the Consolidated HMS FMP. Adjustment to the retention limit needs to be effective November 1, 2007, to minimize any unnecessary disruption in fishing patterns and for the impacted sectors to benefit from the adjustments so as to not preclude fishing opportunities from fishermen who only have access to the fishery during this time period.

Therefore, the AA finds good cause under 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(B) to waive prior notice and the opportunity for public comment. For all of the above reasons, and because this action relieves a restriction (i.e., current default retention limit is one fish per vessel/trip but this action increases that limit and allows retention of more fish), there is also good cause under 5 U.S.C. 553(d) to waive the 30-day delay in effectiveness.

This action is being taken under 50 CFR 635.23(a)(4) and (b)(3) and is exempt from review under Executive Order 12866.

Start Authority

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

End Authority Start Signature

Dated: October 25, 2007.

Emily H. Menashes,

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

End Signature End Supplemental Information

[FR Doc. E7-21442 Filed 10-30-07; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 3510-22-S