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International Fisheries; Pacific Tuna Fisheries; 2017 Bigeye Tuna Longline Fishery Closure in the Eastern Pacific Ocean

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Start Preamble

AGENCY:

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

ACTION:

Temporary rule; closure.

SUMMARY:

NMFS is temporarily closing the U.S. pelagic longline fishery for bigeye tuna for vessels over 24 meters in overall length in the eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO) through December 31, 2017, because the 2017 catch limit of 500 metric tons is expected to be reached. This action is necessary to prevent the fishery from exceeding the applicable catch limit established by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) in Resolution C-17-01 (Conservation of Tuna in the Eastern Pacific Ocean during 2017).

DATES:

The rule is effective 12:00 a.m. local time September 8, 2017, through 11:59 p.m. local time December 31, 2017.

Start Further Info

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Taylor Debevec, NMFS West Coast Region, 562-980-4066.

End Further Info End Preamble Start Supplemental Information

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

The United States is a member of the IATTC, which was established under the Convention for the Establishment of an Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission signed in 1949 (Convention). The Convention provides an international agreement to ensure the effective international conservation and management of highly migratory species of fish in the IATTC Convention Area. The IATTC Convention Area, as amended by the Antigua Convention, includes the waters of the EPO bounded by the coast of the Americas, the 50° N. and 50° S. parallels, and the 150° W. meridian.

Pelagic longline fishing in the EPO is managed, in part, under the Tuna Conventions Act as amended (Act), 16 U.S.C. 951-962. Under the Act, NMFS must publish regulations to carry out recommendations of the IATTC that have been approved by the Department of State (DOS). Regulations governing fishing by U.S. vessels in accordance with the Act appear at 50 CFR part 300, subpart C. These regulations implement IATTC recommendations for the conservation and management of highly migratory fish resources in the EPO.

In 2017, the IATTC adopted Resolution C-17-01, which establishes an annual catch limit of bigeye tuna for longline vessels over 24 meters. For calendar year 2017, the catch of bigeye tuna by longline gear in the IATTC Convention Area by fishing vessels of the United States that are over 24 meters in overall length is limited to 500 metric tons per year. With the approval of the DOS, NMFS implemented this catch limit by notice-and-comment rulemaking under the Act (82 FR 17382, April 11, 2017, and codified at 50 CFR 300.25).

NMFS, through monitoring the retained catches of bigeye tuna using logbook data submitted by vessel captains and other available information from the longline fisheries in the IATTC Convention Area, has determined that the 2017 catch limit is expected to be reached by September 8, 2017. In accordance with 50 CFR 300.25(a), this Federal Register notice announces that the U.S. longline fishery for bigeye tuna in the IATTC Convention Area will be closed for vessels over 24 meters in overall length starting on September 8, 2017, through the end of the 2017 Start Printed Page 41563calendar year. The 2018 fishing year is scheduled to open on January 1, 2018; the bigeye tuna catch limit for longline vessels over 24 meters in overall length has yet to be established through domestic rulemaking, though, the IATTC agreed to a U.S. limit of 750 mt in a new resolution (C-17-02) at the 92nd Meeting in July 2017.

During the closure, a U.S. fishing vessel over 24 meters in overall length may not be used to retain on board, transship, or land bigeye tuna captured by longline gear in the IATTC Convention Area, except as follows:

  • Any bigeye tuna already on board a fishing vessel on September 8, 2017, may be retained on board, transshipped, and/or landed, to the extent authorized by applicable laws and regulations, provided all bigeye tuna are landed within 14 days after the effective date of this rule, that is, no later than September 22, 2017.
  • The 14-day limit is waived in the case of a U.S. fishing vessel that has already declared to NMFS, pursuant to 50 CFR 665.803(a), that the current trip type is shallow-setting. However, the number of bigeye tuna retained on board, transshipped, or landed must not exceed the number on board the vessel on September 22, 2017, as recorded by the NMFS observer on board the vessel.

Other prohibitions during the closure include the following:

  • Bigeye tuna caught by a United States vessel over 24 meters in overall length with longline gear in the IATTC Convention Area may not be transshipped to a fishing vessel unless that fishing vessel is operated in compliance with a valid permit issued under 50 CFR 660.707 or 665.801.
  • A fishing vessel of the United States over 24 meters in overall length may not be used to fish in the Pacific Ocean using longline gear both inside and outside the Convention Area during the same fishing trip. The only exceptions are: a fishing trip during which the closure date was announced, and a trip for which a declaration has been made to NMFS, pursuant to 50 CFR 665.803(a), that the current trip is shallow-setting.
  • If a fishing vessel of the United States over 24 meters in overall length is used to fish in the Pacific Ocean using longline gear outside the Convention Area and the vessel enters the Convention Area at any time after September 8, 2017, on the same fishing trip, the longline gear on the fishing vessel must be stowed in a manner so as not to be readily available for fishing. Specifically, the hooks, branch or dropper lines, and floats used to buoy the mainline must be stowed and not available for immediate use, and any power-operated mainline hauler on deck must be covered in such a manner that it is not readily available for use. This provision does not apply to trips in which vessels have made a declaration to NMFS, pursuant to 50 CFR 665.803(a), that the trip type is shallow-setting.

Classification

NMFS has determined there is good cause to waive prior notice and opportunity for public comment pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(B). This action is based on the best available information and is necessary for the conservation and management of bigeye tuna. Compliance with the notice and comment requirement would be impracticable and contrary to the public interest because NMFS would be unable to ensure that the 2017 bigeye tuna catch limit applicable to longline vessels over 24 meters is not exceeded. The annual catch limit is an important mechanism to ensure that the United States complies with its international obligations in preventing overfishing and managing the fishery at optimum yield. For the same reasons, NMFS has also determined there is good cause to waive the requirement for a 30-day delay in effectiveness under 5 U.S.C. 553(d)(3).

This action is required by § 300.25(a) and is exempt from review under Executive Order 12866.

Start Authority

Authority: 16 U.S.C. 951 et seq.

End Authority Start Signature

Dated: August 29, 2017.

Alan D. Risenhoover,

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

End Signature End Supplemental Information

[FR Doc. 2017-18577 Filed 8-29-17; 4:15 pm]

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