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Fisheries of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic; Snapper-Grouper Fishery Off the South Atlantic States; Regulatory Amendment 16

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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


Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS); request for comments.


NMFS, Southeast Region, in collaboration with the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council), intends to prepare a DEIS to describe and analyze a range of alternatives for management actions to be included in Regulatory Amendment 16 to the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region (Regulatory Amendment 16). Regulatory Amendment 16 will consider alternatives to the prohibition on the use of black sea bass pots in the South Atlantic exclusive economic zone (EEZ) annually from November 1 through April 30 that was implemented through Regulatory Amendment 19 to the FMP. The purpose of this NOI is to solicit public comments on the scope of issues to be addressed in the DEIS.


Written comments on the scope of issues to be addressed in the DEIS will be accepted until January 3, 2014.


You may submit comments on the amendment identified by “NOAA-NMFS-2013-0165” by any of the following methods:

Instructions: Comments sent by any other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on without change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address, etc.), confidential business information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter “N/A” in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous). Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word, Excel, or Adobe PDF file formats only.

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Rick DeVictor, Southeast Regional Office, telephone: 727-824-5305, or email:

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The black sea bass stock in the South Atlantic was assessed through the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR) stock assessment process in 2013 (SEDAR 25 Update). The SEDAR 25 Update indicated that the black sea bass Start Printed Page 72869commercial and recreational sector annual catch limits (ACL) could be increased without jeopardizing the health of the population. The black sea bass commercial and recreational ACLs were increased through Regulatory Amendment 19 to the FMP (78 FR 58249, September 23, 2013).

The Council and NMFS, also through Regulatory Amendment 19, established a prohibition on the use of black sea bass pots from November 1 through April 30, each year. During this closure, no person is allowed to harvest or possess black sea bass in or from the South Atlantic EEZ either with sea bass pots or from a vessel with sea bass pots on board. In addition, sea bass pots must be removed from the water in the South Atlantic EEZ prior to November 1, and may not be on board a vessel in the South Atlantic EEZ during this seasonal closure. The black sea bass pot seasonal prohibition became effective on October 23, 2013.

The seasonal sea bass pot prohibition was established as a precautionary measure to prevent interactions between black sea bass pot gear and whales during periods of large whale migrations and during the right whale calving season off the U.S. southeastern coast. The large whale migration period and the right whale calving season in the South Atlantic extends from approximately November 1 through April 30, each year. Since 2010, black sea bass harvest levels have reached the commercial ACL, triggering accountability measures (AMs) to close the commercial sector. Because these in-season commercial AM closures have occurred prior to November 1 since 2010, Council and NMFS actions to prevent black sea bass pot gear from being in the water during periods of higher whale concentrations have been unnecessary. However, NMFS determined that the increase in the black sea bass commercial ACL implemented through Regulatory Amendment 19 could extend the commercial black sea bass fishing season beyond November 1 and into a time period when a higher concentration of endangered whales are known to migrate through black sea bass fishing grounds.

The Council, through Regulatory Amendment 16, is considering removal of the seasonal sea bass pot closure and/or modifications to the closure. Modifications currently under consideration include shortening of the duration of the seasonal closure and spatially designating the closure boundaries to be some area less than the entire South Atlantic EEZ. The intent of the proposed action is to minimize socio-economic impacts to black sea bass pot fishers while maintaining protection for whales in the South Atlantic region that are listed as endangered and threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Changes to the current seasonal sea bass pot prohibition may positively affect the revenues and profits of the 32 commercial vessels which currently possess black sea bass pot endorsements to their Federal commercial snapper-grouper permits.

NMFS, in collaboration with the Council, will develop a DEIS to describe and analyze alternatives to address the management needs described above including the “no action” alternative. In accordance with NOAA's Administrative Order 216-6, Section 5.02(c), Scoping Process, NMFS, in collaboration with the Council, has identified preliminary environmental issues as a means to initiate discussion for scoping purposes only. The public is invited to provide written comments on the preliminary issues, which are identified as actions and alternatives in the Regulatory Amendment 16 scoping document. These preliminary issues may not represent the full range of issues that eventually will be evaluated in the DEIS. A copy of the Regulatory Amendment 16 scoping document is available at​sustainable_​fisheries/​s_​atl/​sg/​index.html.

After the DEIS associated with Regulatory Amendment 16 is completed, it will be filed with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). After filing, the EPA will publish a notice of availability of the DEIS for public comment in the Federal Register. The DEIS will have a 45-day comment period. This procedure is pursuant to regulations issued by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) for implementing the procedural provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA; 40 CFR parts 1500-1508) and to NOAA's Administrative Order 216-6 regarding NOAA's compliance with NEPA and the CEQ regulations.

The Council and NMFS will consider public comments received on the DEIS in developing the final environmental impact statement (FEIS), and before voting to submit the final amendment to NMFS for Secretarial review, approval, and implementation. NMFS will announce in the Federal Register the availability of the final amendment and FEIS for public review during the Secretarial review period, and will consider all public comments prior to final agency action to approve, disapprove, or partially approve the final amendment.

NMFS will announce, through a document published in the Federal Register, all public comment periods on the final amendment, its proposed implementing regulations, and the availability of its associated FEIS. NMFS will consider all public comments received during the Secretarial review period, whether they are on the final amendment, the proposed regulations, or the FEIS, prior to final agency action.

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

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Dated: November 27, 2013.

Emily H. Menashes,

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

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[FR Doc. 2013-29026 Filed 12-3-13; 8:45 am]