Skip to Content

Proposed Rule

Magnuson-Stevens Act Provisions; Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Northeast Multispecies Fishery; 2008 Georges Bank Cod Fixed Gear Sector Operations Plan and Agreement, and Allocation of Georges Bank Cod Total Allowable Catch

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.

Start Preamble

AGENCY:

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

Start Printed Page 12942

ACTION:

Proposed rule; request for comments.

SUMMARY:

This proposed rule provides interested parties an opportunity to comment on the proposed Sector Operations Plan and Supplemental Environmental Assessment (EA) prior to final approval or disapproval of the Sector Operations Plan and allocation of Georges Bank (GB) cod total allowable catch (TAC) to the Fixed Gear Sector for fishing year (FY) 2008.

Framework Adjustment (FW) 42 to the Northeast (NE) Multispecies Fishery Management Plan (FMP) created the Georges Bank (GB) Cod Fixed Gear Sector (Fixed Gear Sector) and authorized allocation of up to 20 percent of the annual GB cod TAC to the Fixed Gear Sector. Pursuant to that authorization, a representative of the Fixed Gear Sector has submitted an Operations Plan and Sector Agreement (Contract), and requested an allocation of GB cod to the Fixed Gear Sector for FY 2008.

DATES:

Written comments must be received on or before March 26, 2008.

ADDRESSES:

You may submit comments, identified by 0648-AW17, by any one of the following methods:

  • Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov,
  • Fax: (978) 281-9135, Attn: Mark Grant,
  • Mail: One Blackburn Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930.

Instructions: All comments received are part of the public record and will generally be posted to http://www.regulations.gov without change. All Personal Identifying Information (for example, name, address, etc.) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publically accessible. Do not submit Confidential Business Information or otherwise sensitive or protected information.

NMFS will accept anonymous comments. Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word, Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats only.

Copies of the Sector Agreement and the EA are available from the NE Regional Office at the mailing address specified above.

Start Further Info

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Mark Grant, Fishery Policy Analyst, phone (978) 281-9145, fax (978) 281-9135, e-mail Mark.Grant@NOAA.gov.

End Further Info End Preamble Start Supplemental Information

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

NMFS announces that the Administrator, NE Region, NMFS (Regional Administrator), has made a preliminary determination that the Fixed Gear Sector Agreement, which contains the Sector Contract and Operations Plan, is consistent with the goals of the FMP and other applicable law and is in compliance with the regulations governing the development and operation of a sector as specified under § 648.87. The final rule implementing Amendment 13 (69 FR 22906, April 27, 2004) specified a process for the formation of sectors within the NE multispecies fishery and the allocation of TAC for specific groundfish species (or days-at-sea (DAS)), implemented restrictions that apply to all sectors, and authorized the first sector of the FMP (the GB Cod Hook Sector).

The Fixed Gear Sector was established by FW 42 (71 FR 62156, October 23, 2006). The FW 42 regulations that apply to the Fixed Gear Sector specify that: (1) All vessels with a valid limited access NE multispecies DAS permit are eligible to participate in the Fixed Gear Sector, provided they have documented landings of GB cod through valid dealer reports submitted to NMFS during FY 1996 through 2001 (regardless of gear fished); (2) membership in the Fixed Gear Sector is voluntary, and each member must remain in the Fixed Gear Sector for the entire fishing year and may not fish outside the NE multispecies DAS program during the fishing year, unless certain conditions are met; (3) vessels fishing in the Fixed Gear Sector (participating vessels) are confined to fishing in the GB Cod Hook Sector Area, which is that portion of the GB cod stock area north of 39° 00′ N. lat. and east of 71° 40′ W. long; and (4) participating vessels must comply with all pertinent Federal fishing regulations, unless specifically exempted by a Letter of Authorization, and the provisions of an approved Operations Plan.

Although FW 42 established the Fixed Gear Sector, in order for GB cod to be allocated to the Fixed Gear Sector and the Fixed Gear Sector authorized to fish, the Fixed Gear Sector must submit an Operations Plan and Sector Contract to the Regional Administrator annually for approval. The Operations Plan and Sector Contract must contain certain elements, including a contract signed by all Fixed Gear Sector participants and a plan containing the management rules that the Fixed Gear Sector participants agree to abide by in order to avoid exceeding the allocated TAC. An additional analysis of the impacts of the Fixed Gear Sector's proposed operations may be required in order to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. Further, the public must be provided an opportunity to comment on the proposed Operations Plan and Sector Contract. The regulations require that, upon completion of the public comment period, the Regional Administrator will make a determination regarding approval of the Sector Contract and Operations Plan. If approved by the Regional Administrator, participating vessels would be authorized to fish under the terms of the Operations Plan and Sector Contract.

The Fixed Gear Sector was authorized to fish in FY 2006 and FY 2007, and, based upon the GB cod landings history of its members, was allocated <1.0 and 10.7 percent, respectively, of the annual GB cod TAC.

On September 28, 2007, the Fixed Gear Sector submitted a draft FY 2008 Operations Plan and Sector Agreement and a Supplemental EA to NMFS. The proposed 2008 Fixed Gear Sector Agreement and Operations Plan contains the same elements and proposed exemptions as the 2007 Fixed Gear Sector Agreement and Operations Plan. The Fixed Gear Sector Agreement would be overseen by a Board of Directors and a Sector Manager. The Fixed Gear Sector Agreement specifies, in accordance with Amendment 13, that the Fixed Gear Sector's GB cod TAC would be based upon the number of Fixed Gear Sector members and their historic landings of GB cod. The GB cod TAC is a “hard” TAC, meaning that, once the TAC is reached, Fixed Gear Sector vessels could not fish under a DAS, possess or land GB cod or other regulated species managed under the FMP (regulated species), or use gear capable of catching groundfish (unless fishing under charter/party or recreational regulations). Should the hard TAC be exceeded, the Fixed Gear Sector's allocation would be reduced by the overharvest in the following year.

The 2008 Operations Plan proposes exemptions from the following restrictions of the FMP: The GB cod trip limit; the GB Seasonal Closure Area (when fishing with hook gear); the 3,600-hook limit for longline gear in the GB Regulated Mesh Area (RMA); and the 2,000-hook limit for longline gear in the Gulf of Maine (GOM) and Southern New England (SNE) RMAs. Justification for the proposed exemptions and analysis of the potential impacts of the Operations Plan are contained in the EA. A Regulatory Impact Review/Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA) is summarized in the Classification section of this proposed rule.

In a concurrent proposed rule NMFS proposed to modify the regulations that define eligibility criteria for membership in the GB Cod Hook Sector and the Fixed Gear Sector, in order to Start Printed Page 12943be consistent with the New England Fishery Management Council's (Council's) intent. The criterion requiring documented landings of GB cod to be eligible to join the GB cod Hook and Fixed Gear Sectors was not explicitly included in the Council documents that proposed formation of the two sectors, Amendment 13 and FW 42, respectively. The implications of this eligibility criterion (requiring landings history of GB cod) were not apparent at the time of implementation, but became apparent during the evaluation of sector Operations Plans for FY 2008. The proposed roster for the Fixed Gear Sector for FY 2008 contains vessels that did not land GB cod during the period 1996 to 2001. The current regulations would prevent such vessels without GB cod landings from joining a sector. In anticipation of the approval of the proposed change to sector eligibility requirements, the Fixed Gear Sector has included vessels without a history of landing GB cod in its proposed roster for FY 2008.

Twenty-nine prospective Fixed Gear Sector members signed the 2008 Fixed Gear Sector Contract. The GB cod TAC calculation is based upon the historic GB cod landings of the participating vessels, using all gear. The allocation percentage is calculated by dividing the sum of total landings of GB cod by Sector members for FY 1996 through 2001, by the sum of the total accumulated landings of GB cod harvested by all NE multispecies vessels for the same time period. Based upon the 29 prospective members (and their associated GB cod landings history), the Fixed Gear Sector's share of the overall U.S. portion of the GB cod TAC would be 13.99 percent, or 3,152,802 lb (1,430 mt) (13.99 percent times the fishery-wide GB cod target TAC of 22,535,656 lb (10,222 mt)). If prospective members of the Fixed Gear Sector are deemed ineligible to, or decide not to, participate in the Fixed Gear Sector after the publication of this proposed rule and prior to a final decision by the Regional Administrator, it is possible that the total number of participants in the Sector and the TAC for the Sector may be reduced from the numbers above, but no additional members may join the Fixed Gear Sector for FY 2008. Also, the TAC for the Fixed Gear Sector could be further reduced, should the provision in the GB Cod Hook Sector proposed rule that revises the eligibility criterion for both sectors not be approved.

The Sector Contract contains procedures for the enforcement of the Operations Plan, a schedule of penalties, and provides the authority to the Fixed Gear Sector Manager to issue stop fishing orders to members of the Fixed Gear Sector. Participating vessels would be required to land fish only in designated landing ports and would be required to provide the Fixed Gear Sector Manager with a copy of the Vessel Trip Report (VTR) within 48 hr of offloading. Dealers purchasing fish from participating vessels would be required to provide the Fixed Gear Sector Manager with a copy of the dealer report on a weekly basis. On a monthly basis, the Fixed Gear Sector Manager would transmit to NMFS aggregate catch data from dealer slips and aggregate discard data from the VTRs. After 90 percent of the Fixed Gear Sector's allocation has been harvested, the Fixed Gear Sector Manager would be required to provide NMFS with aggregate reports on a weekly basis. A total of 1/12 of the Fixed Gear Sector's GB cod TAC, minus a reserve, would be allocated to each month of the fishing year. GB cod quota that is not landed during a given month would be rolled over into the following month. Once the aggregate monthly quota of GB cod is reached, for the remainder of the month participating vessels may not fish under a NE multispecies DAS, possess or land GB cod or other regulated species, or use gear capable of catching regulated NE multispecies. The harvest rules would not preclude a vessel from fishing under the charter/party or recreational regulations, provided the vessel fishes under the applicable charter/party and recreational rules on separate trips. For each fishing trip, participating vessels would be required to fish under the NE multispecies DAS program regulations to account for any incidental groundfish species that they may catch while fishing for GB cod. In addition, participating vessels would be required to call the Sector Manager prior to leaving port. All legal-sized cod caught would be retained and landed and counted against the Fixed Gear Sector's aggregate allocation. Participating vessels would not be allowed to fish with or have on board gear other than jigs, non-automated demersal longline, handgear, or sink gillnets. Participating Fixed Gear Sector vessels fishing with hook gear could use an unlimited number of hooks in the Sector Area and would be exempt from the GB Seasonal Closure Area during May.

The EA prepared for the Fixed Gear Sector operations concludes that the biological impacts of the Fixed Gear Sector will be positive because the hard TAC and the use of DAS would provide two means of restricting both the landings and effort of the Fixed Gear Sector. Implementation may have a positive impact on essential fish habitat (EFH) and bycatch, if the Fixed Gear Sector's quota is caught prior to the end of the fishing year, by reducing the amount of time that gear would be in the water. The analysis of economic impacts of the Fixed Gear Sector concludes that the members would realize higher economic returns if the Fixed Gear Sector is implemented. The EA asserts that fishing in accordance with the Sector Contract rules enables more efficient harvesting of GB cod with hook and gillnet gear than would be possible if the vessels were fishing in accordance with the common pool (non-sector) rules. The social benefits of the Fixed Gear Sector would accrue to sector members, as well as the Chatham, MA, and Harwichport, MA, communities, which are more dependent upon groundfish revenues as a percentage of fishery-derived landings than many other communities. The EA concludes that the self-governing nature of the Fixed Gear Sector and the member's opportunity to develop rules governing the way in which they harvest their GB cod TAC enables stewardship of the cod resource by the Fixed Gear Sector. The cumulative impacts of the Fixed Gear Sector are expected to be positive due to a positive biological impact, potential positive impact on habitat, and a positive social and economic impact. In contrast, the cumulative impact of the no action alternative is estimated to be neutral, with negative social and economic impacts.

Should the Regional Administrator approve the Sector Contract as proposed, a Letter of Authorization would be issued to each member of the Fixed Gear Sector exempting them, conditional upon their compliance with the Sector Contract, from the GB cod possession restrictions, the 3,600-hook limit in the GB RMA, the 2,000-hook limit in the GOM and SNE RMAs and the GB Seasonal Closure Area when using hook gear, as specified in §§ 658.86(b)(2), 648.80(a)(4)(v), 648.80(a)(3)(v), 648.80(b)(2)(v) and 648.81(g), respectively.

Classification

Pursuant to section 304 (b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the NMFS Assistant Administrator has determined that this proposed rule is consistent with the Northeast Multispecies FMP, other provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law, subject to further consideration after public comment.Start Printed Page 12944

This proposed rule has been determined to be not significant for the purposes of Executive Order (E.O.) 12866.

This proposed rule does not contain policies with federalism or “takings” implications as those terms are defined in E.O. 13132 and E.O. 12630, respectively.

An IRFA was prepared, as required by section 603 of the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA). The IRFA consists of this section, the preamble and the EA prepared for this action. Below is a summary of the IRFA, which describes the economic impact this proposed rule, if adopted, would have on small entities. A description of the action, why it is being considered, and the legal basis for this action are contained in the preamble to this proposed rule and in sections 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 of the EA prepared for this action. The Small Business Administration size standard for small commercial fishing entities is $4 million in average annual receipts, and the size standard for small charter/party operators is $6.5 million in average annual receipts. All permitted and participating vessels in the groundfish fishery, including prospective Fixed Gear Sector members, are considered to be small entities because gross sales by any one entity (vessel) do not exceed this threshold, and, therefore there is no disproportionate impact between large and small entities. While an entity may own multiple vessels, available data make it difficult to determine which vessels may be controlled by a single entity. For this reason, each vessel is treated as a single entity for purposes of size determination and impact assessment. All permitted and participating vessels in the groundfish fishery, including prospective Fixed Gear Sector members, are considered to be small entities because gross sales by any one entity (vessel) do not exceed this threshold. The number of prospective participants in the Fixed Gear Sector is 29, substantially less than the total number of active vessels in the groundfish fishery. Only these 29 vessels would be subject to the regulatory exemptions and operational restrictions proposed for the Fixed Gear Sector for FY 2008.

Economic Impacts of the Proposed Action

The proposed alternative would allocate a GB cod TAC of 1,430 mt to the Fixed Gear Sector. Once the GB cod TAC is harvested, participating vessels would not be allowed to fish under a NE multispecies DAS, possess or land GB cod, or other regulated species managed under the NE multispecies FMP, or use gear capable of catching groundfish (unless fishing under recreational or charter/party regulations). Vessels intending to fish in the Fixed Gear Sector during FY 2008 may only fish with hook gear or gillnet gear and may not fish for NE multispecies under a NE multispecies DAS during FY 2008 until the Sector Operations Plan is approved. Under the proposed Operations Plan, members would be exempt from several restrictions of the FMP described in the preamble to this proposed rule and in the EA.

The fixed gear fishermen and the Chatham, MA, and Harwichport, MA, communities are dependent upon GB cod and other groundfish. The Amendment 13 restrictions that reduced the GB cod trip limit had a disproportionate affect on these fixed gear fishermen. According to Amendment 13, Chatham's overall community dependence on NE multispecies as a percentage of total fisheries revenues from federally permitted vessels averaged about 71 percent and likely at least some of the active groundfish vessels in Chatham and Harwichport are even more than 71 percent dependent on the NE multispecies fishery. Because the Fixed Gear Sector was implemented late in FY 2006, and data from FY 2007 are not yet complete, only limited quantitative data on the precise economic impact of the Fixed Gear Sector are available. In FY 2006, the Fixed Gear Sector made one trip and landed 5 lb (2.3 kg) of GB cod; preliminary FY 2007 data show that the Sector has made 564 trips and landed 735,355 lb (333,551 kg) of GB cod. However, a qualitative assessment of the Fixed Gear Sector is possible.

The proposed alternative would positively impact the 29 vessels that have voluntarily joined the Fixed Gear Sector, who are relatively dependent upon cod revenue compared to other participants in the groundfish fishery. The proposed alternative would indirectly benefit the communities of Chatham, MA, and Harwichport, MA, and to a lesser extent other Cape Cod, MA, communities involved in the groundfish fishery. Allocation of cod TAC to a sector and the development of alternative fishing restrictions would mitigate the impacts of Amendment 13 and subsequent framework adjustments. Specifically, the proposed Operations Plan enables Fixed Gear Sector members to fish under a set of rules crafted by Fixed Gear Sector members in order to adapt to current economic and fishing conditions. The Fixed Gear Sector, by fishing under rules that are designed to meet their needs (as well as the conservation requirements of the FMP), is afforded a larger degree of flexibility and efficiency, which result in economic gains. Fixed Gear Sector members are able to plan their fishing activity and income in advance with more certainty due to the fact that there is a cod TAC, which is apportioned to each month of the year. They are able to maximize their efficiency (revenue per trip), by targeting seasonal aggregations of cod, due to the exemption from trip limits and hook numbers. For example, preliminary data from FY 2007 indicate that Fixed Gear Sector members landed 735,355 lb (333,551 kg) of GB cod in 564 trips; however, had the Fixed Gear Sector members been subject to the daily trip limit (1,000 lb/day; 454 kg/day) in place for the common pool vessels (non-sector vessels), they would have been prevented from landing 171,355 lb (77,725 kg) of that total.

Thus, this proposed rule would enable Fixed Gear Sector members to remain economically viable by maximizing revenues and minimizing expenses in the short term. This would also help to maintain associated shoreside job opportunities.

No other alternatives beyond the No Action were considered as part of this proposed action. The RFA requires each IRFA to include a description of significant alternatives that accomplish the objectives of applicable statues (in this case, sector provisions) and minimize any significant economic impact to small entities. The objectives of sector management, as originally developed and implemented under Amendment 13 to the FMP, are to provide opportunities for like-minded vessel operators to govern themselves so that they can operate in a more effective and efficient manner. The Fixed Gear Sector developed the proposed operations plan after consultation with prospective members. Prospective members then signed a binding sector contract to abide by the measures specified in the proposed operations plan. As described above, the proposed operations plan minimizes economic impacts to participating vessels by allowing them to operate more efficiently. Accordingly, the proposed operations plan reflects the management measures preferred by vessels participating in the Fixed Gear Sector during FY 2008 and represents all of the significant alternatives that accomplish the objectives of sector provisions and minimize economic impacts to small entities, as required by the RFA. Therefore, in conjunction with the NEPA requirement to consider a reasonable range of alternatives, no Start Printed Page 12945other alternatives were considered as part of this proposed action.

Economic Impacts of Alternative to the Proposed Action

Under the No Action alternative, all Fixed Gear Sector members would remain in the common pool of vessels and fish under all the rules implemented by Amendment 13 and subsequent Framework Adjustments, and there would be no allocation of GB cod to the Fixed Gear Sector. Because cod usually represents a high proportion of total fishing income for Cape Cod-based gillnet and hookgear vessels, revenues for such vessel owners are very sensitive to regulations that impact how and when they can fish for cod, such as trip limits and restrictions on the number of hooks fished. Under the common pool rules implemented by FW 42 (e.g., differential DAS counting) and Amendment 13 (restrictive daily trip limits for cod), it is likely that Fixed Gear Sector vessels would experience revenue losses. Based on the limited FY 2007 data, assuming a dock-side price of $1.50 per lb ($3.30 per kg) for cod, members of the Fixed Gear Sector would already have lost $257,032.50 (171,355 lb (77,725 kg) X $1.50 per lb ($3.30 per kg)) in revenue if they were not exempt from the cod possession limit. It is more likely under the No Action alternative that disruption to the Chatham/Harwichport communities would occur.

Description of the Projected Reporting, Recordkeeping, and Other Compliance Requirements of the Proposed Rule

This proposed rule contains no collection-of-information requirement subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act.

Regulations under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act require publication of this notification to provide interested parties the opportunity to comment on proposed TAC allocations and plans of operation of sectors.

Start Authority

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

End Authority Start Signature

Dated: March 6, 2008.

John Oliver,

Deputy Assistant Administrator for Operations, National Marine Fisheries Service

End Signature End Supplemental Information

[FR Doc. E8-4803 Filed 3-10-08; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 3510-22-S