National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.
Temporary rule; closure of Angling category southern area trophy fishery.
NMFS closes the southern area Angling category fishery for large medium and giant (“trophy” (i.e., measuring 73 inches curved fork length or greater)) Atlantic bluefin tuna (BFT). This action is being taken to prevent overharvest of the Angling category southern area trophy BFT subquota.
Effective 11:30 p.m., local time, March 17, 2018 through December 31, 2018.
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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
Sarah McLaughlin or Brad McHale, 978-281-9260.
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Regulations implemented under the authority of the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act (ATCA; 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 2006 Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan (2006 Consolidated HMS FMP) (71 FR 58058, October 2, 2006) and amendments.
NMFS is required, under § 635.28(a)(1), to file a closure notice with the Office of the Federal Register for publication when a BFT quota is reached or is projected to be reached. On and after the effective date and time of such notification, for the remainder of the fishing year or for a specified period as indicated in the notification, retaining, possessing, or landing BFT under that quota category is prohibited until the opening of the subsequent quota period or until such date as specified in the notice.
Angling Category Large Medium and Giant Southern “Trophy” Fishery Closure
The 2018 BFT fishing year, which is managed on a calendar-year basis and subject to an annual calendar-year quota, began January 1, 2018. The Angling category season opened January 1, 2018, and continues through December 31, 2018. The currently codified Angling category quota is 195.2 metric tons (mt), of which 4.5 mt is allocated for the harvest of large medium and giant (trophy) BFT by vessels fishing under the Angling category quota, with 1.5 mt allocated for each of the following areas: North of 39°18′ N lat. (off Great Egg Inlet, NJ); south of 39°18′ N lat. and outside the Gulf of Mexico (the “southern area”); and in the Gulf of Mexico. Trophy BFT measure 73 inches (185 cm) curved fork length or greater.
Based on reported landings from the NMFS Automated Catch Reporting System and the North Carolina Tagging Program, NMFS has determined that the codified Angling category southern area trophy BFT subquota has been reached and that a closure of the southern area trophy BFT fishery is warranted. Therefore, retaining, possessing, or landing large medium or giant BFT south of 39°18′ N lat. and outside the Gulf of Mexico by persons aboard vessels permitted in the HMS Angling category and the HMS Charter/Headboat category (when fishing recreationally) must cease at 11:30 p.m. local time on March 17, 2018. This closure will remain effective through December 31, 2018. This action is intended to prevent overharvest of the Angling category southern area trophy BFT subquota, and is taken consistent with the regulations at § 635.28(a)(1).
NMFS has considered the fact that it is in the process of proposing a rule that would implement and give effect to the 2017 ICCAT recommendation on western Atlantic BFT management, which increased the annual U.S. BFT quota for 2018, 2019, and 2020 by 17.5 percent from the 2017 level. The domestic subquotas that would result from the proposed action would include an increase in the southern trophy BFT quota from the currently codified 1.5 mt to 1.8 mt. However, because current landings exceed both the currently codified and the anticipated proposed quota for the Angling category southern area, closure of the southern area trophy BFT fishery needs to occur regardless of the proposed increase.
If needed, subsequent Angling category adjustments will be published in the Federal Register. Information regarding the Angling category fishery for Atlantic tunas, including daily retention limits for BFT measuring 27 inches (68.5 cm) to less than 73 inches and any further Angling category adjustments, is available at hmspermits.noaa.gov or by calling (978) 281-9260. HMS Angling and HMS Charter/Headboat category permit holders may catch and release (or tag and release) BFT of all sizes, subject to the requirements of the catch-and-release and tag-and-release programs at § 635.26. Anglers are also reminded that all BFT that are released must be handled in a manner that will maximize survival, and without removing the fish from the water, consistent with requirements at § 635.21(a)(1). For additional information on safe handling, see the “Careful Catch and Release” brochure available at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/resource/outreach-and-education/careful-catch-and-release-brochure.
HMS Charter/Headboat and Angling category vessel owners are required to report the catch of all BFT retained or discarded dead, within 24 hours of the landing(s) or end of each trip, by Start Printed Page 12142accessing hmspermits.noaa.gov or by using the HMS Catch Reporting App.
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:
The regulations implementing the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP and amendments provide for inseason retention limit adjustments and fishery closures 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. The closure of the southern area Angling category trophy fishery is necessary to prevent any further overharvest of the southern area trophy fishery subquota. NMFS provides notification of closures by publishing the notice in the Federal Register, emailing individuals who have subscribed to the Atlantic HMS News electronic newsletter, and updating the information posted on the Atlantic Tunas Information Line and on hmspermits.noaa.gov.
These fisheries are currently underway and delaying this action would be contrary to the public interest as it could result in excessive trophy BFT landings that may result in future potential quota reductions for the Angling category, depending on the magnitude of a potential Angling category overharvest. NMFS must close the southern area trophy BFT fishery before additional landings of these sizes of BFT occur. 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, there is 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 635.28(a)(1), and is exempt from review under Executive Order 12866.
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Dated: March 15, 2018.
Emily H. Menashes,
Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2018-05604 Filed 3-15-18; 4:15 pm]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P