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Rule

Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Fisheries

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Start Preamble

AGENCY:

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

ACTION:

Temporary rule; quota transfer and closure.

SUMMARY:

NMFS transfers 60 metric tons (mt) of Atlantic bluefin tuna (BFT) quota from the Reserve category to the September 2019 General category subquota period and closes the General category fishery until the General category reopens on October 1, 2019. The quota transfer is intended to provide additional fishing opportunities based on consideration of the regulatory determination criteria regarding inseason adjustments and applies to Atlantic tunas General category (commercial) permitted vessels and Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Charter/Headboat category permitted vessels with a commercial sale endorsement when fishing commercially for BFT. Given that the adjusted quota is projected to be caught quickly, the closure is being filed simultaneously to prevent overharvest of the adjusted General category September 2019 BFT subquota.

DATES:

The quota transfer is effective September 11, 2019, through September 30, 2019. The closure is effective 11:30 p.m., local time, September 13, 2019, through September 30, 2019.

Start Further Info

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Sarah McLaughlin, 978-281-9260, or Larry Redd, 301-420-8503.

End Further Info End Preamble Start Supplemental Information

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

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 Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan (2006 Consolidated HMS FMP) (71 FR 58058, October 2, 2006) and amendments. NMFS is required under ATCA and the Magnuson-Stevens Act to provide U.S. fishing vessels with a reasonable opportunity to harvest the ICCAT-recommended quota.

NMFS is required, under regulations at § 635.28(a)(1), to file a closure notice for publication with the Office of the Federal Register 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.

The current baseline General and Reserve category quotas are 555.7 mt and 29.5 mt, respectively. See § 635.27(a). Each of the General category time periods (January, June through August, September, October through November, and December) is allocated a “subquota” or portion of the annual General category quota. The baseline subquotas for each time period are as follows: 29.5 mt for January; 277.9 mt for June through August; 147.3 mt for September; 72.2 mt for October through November; and 28.9 mt for December. Any unused General category quota rolls forward within the fishing year, which coincides with the calendar year, from one time period to the next, and is available for use in subsequent time periods. To date for 2019, NMFS has taken five actions that resulted in adjustments to the Reserve category, leaving 225.3 mt of quota currently available (84 FR 3724, February 13, 2019; 84 FR 6701, February 28, 2019; 84 FR 35340, July 23, 2019; and 84 FR 47440, September 10, 2019).

Transfer of 60 mt From the Reserve Category to the General Category

Under § 635.27(a)(9), NMFS has the authority to transfer quota among fishing categories or subcategories, after considering regulatory determination criteria provided under § 635.27(a)(8). NMFS has considered all of the relevant determination criteria and their applicability to this inseason quota transfer. These considerations include, but are not limited to, the following:

Regarding the usefulness of information obtained from catches in the particular category for biological sampling and monitoring of the status of the stock (§ 635.27(a)(8)(i)), biological samples collected from BFT landed by General category fishermen and provided by bluefin tuna dealers continue to provide valuable data for ongoing scientific studies of bluefin tuna age and growth, migration, and reproductive status. Additional opportunity to land bluefin tuna in the General category would support the continued collection of a broad range of data for these studies and for stock monitoring purposes.

NMFS also considered the catches of the General category quota to date and the likelihood of closure of that segment of the fishery if no adjustment is made (§ 635.27(a)(8)(ii) and (ix)). As of September 10, 2019, the General category landed 134.8 mt. This represents 92 percent of the baseline Start Printed Page 48567September subquota (147.3 mt). At the time of drafting of this inseason action, the General category subquota has not yet been exceeded, and commercial-sized bluefin tuna remain available in the areas where General category permitted vessels operate at this time of year. Transferring 60 mt of quota from the Reserve category would result in 207.3 mt being available for the September 2019 subquota period, thus effectively providing limited additional opportunities to harvest the U.S. bluefin tuna quota while avoiding exceeding it. Given the lag between initiation of an inseason action and its implementation, however, this notice also closes the fishery, as NMFS anticipates the transferred quota will be caught quickly.

Regarding the projected ability of the vessels fishing under the particular category quota (here, the General category) to harvest the additional amount of BFT before the end of the fishing year (§ 635.27(a)(8)(iii)), NMFS anticipates that all of the 60 mt of quota will be used by September 13, based on current figures and the amount of quota being transferred, but this is also subject to weather conditions and bluefin tuna availability. In the unlikely event that any of this quota is unused by September 30, such quota will roll forward to the next subperiod within the calendar year (i.e., the October through November period), and NMFS anticipates that it would be used before the end of the fishing year.

NMFS also considered the estimated amounts by which quotas for other gear categories of the fishery might be exceeded (§ 635.27(a)(8)(iv)) and the ability to account for all 2019 landings and dead discards. In the last several years, total U.S. BFT landings have been below the available U.S. quota such that the United States has carried forward the maximum amount of underharvest allowed by ICCAT from one year to the next. NMFS will need to account for 2019 landings and dead discards within the adjusted U.S. quota, consistent with ICCAT recommendations, and anticipates having sufficient quota to do that, even with the 60 mt transfer to the General category for the September fishery. NMFS anticipates that General category participants in all areas and time periods will have opportunities to harvest the General category quota in 2019, through active inseason management such as the timing of quota transfers, as practicable. Thus, this quota transfer would allow fishermen to take advantage of the availability of fish on the fishing grounds to the extent consistent with the available amount of transferrable quota and other management objectives, while avoiding quota exceedance. NMFS also considered the effects of the adjustment on the BFT stock and the effects of the transfer on accomplishing the objectives of the FMP (§ 635.27(a)(8)(v) and (vi)). This transfer would be consistent with the current quotas, which were established and analyzed in the 2018 BFT quota final rule (83 FR 51391, October 11, 2018), and with objectives of the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP and amendments and is not expected to negatively impact stock health or to affect the stock in ways not already analyzed in those documents. Another principal consideration is the objective of providing opportunities to harvest the full annual U.S. BFT quota without exceeding it based on the goals of the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP and amendments, including to achieve optimum yield on a continuing basis and to optimize the ability of all permit categories to harvest their full BFT quota allocations (related to § 635.27(a)(8)(x)). Specific to the General category, this includes providing opportunity equitably across all time periods.

Based on the considerations above, NMFS is transferring 60 mt of the available 225.3 mt of Reserve category quota to the General category for the September 2019 fishery, resulting in a subquota of 207.3 mt for the September 2019 fishery and 165.3 mt in the Reserve category.

Closure of the September 2019 General Category Fishery

Based on the best available bluefin tuna General category landings information (i.e., 134.8 mt landed as of September 10, 2019) as well as average catch rates and anticipated fishing conditions, NMFS projects that the General category September subquota of 207.3 mt, as adjusted in this action, will be reached by September 13, 2019, and that the fishery should be closed to avoid exceedance of the adjusted quota. Through this action, we are closing the General category bluefin tuna fishery effective 11:30 p.m., September 13, 2019, through September 30, 2019. The fishery will reopen on October 1, 2019, with a baseline quota of 72.2 mt available for the October through November time period. Therefore, retaining, possessing, or landing large medium or giant BFT by persons aboard vessels permitted in the Atlantic tunas General and HMS Charter/Headboat categories must cease at 11:30 p.m. local time on September 13, 2019. The General category will reopen automatically on October 1, 2019, for the October through November 2019 subquota period. This action applies to those vessels permitted in the General category, as well as to those HMS Charter/Headboat permitted vessels with a commercial sale endorsement when fishing commercially for BFT fishing commercially for BFT. For information regarding the HMS Charter/Headboat commercial sale endorsement, see 82 FR 57543, December 6, 2017. The intent of this closure is to prevent overharvest of the available General category September BFT subquota.

Fishermen 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. All BFT that are released must be handled in a manner that will maximize their 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 www.nmfs.noaa.gov/​sfa/​hms/​.

Monitoring and Reporting

NMFS will continue to monitor the BFT fishery closely. Dealers are required to submit landing reports within 24 hours of a dealer receiving BFT. Late reporting by dealers compromises NMFS' ability to timely implement actions such as quota and retention limit adjustment, as well as closures, and may result in enforcement actions. Additionally, and separate from the dealer reporting requirement, General and HMS Charter/Headboat 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 accessing hmspermits.noaa.gov, using the HMS Catch Reporting app, or calling (888) 872-8862 (Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.).

Depending on the level of fishing effort and catch rates of BFT, NMFS may determine that additional action (e.g., quota adjustment, daily retention limit adjustment, or closure) is necessary to ensure available subquotas are not exceeded or to enhance scientific data collection from, and fishing opportunities in, all geographic areas. If needed, subsequent adjustments will be published in the Federal Register. In addition, fishermen may call the Atlantic Tunas Information Line at (978) 281-9260, or access hmspermits.noaa.gov, for updates on quota monitoring and inseason adjustments.

Classification

The Assistant Administrator for NMFS (AA) finds that it is impracticable Start Printed Page 48568and 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 quota transfers 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. These fisheries are currently underway and the currently available quota for the subcategory is projected to be reached shortly. Affording prior notice and opportunity for public comment to implement the quota transfer is impracticable and contrary to the public interest as such a delay would likely result in exceedance of the General category September fishery subquota or earlier closure of the fishery while fish are available on the fishing grounds. Subquota exceedance may result in the need to reduce quota for the General category later in the year and thus could affect later fishing opportunities. 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 also is good cause under 5 U.S.C. 553(d) to waive the 30-day delay in effectiveness.

This action is being taken under §§ 635.27(a)(9) and 635.28(a)(1), 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: September 11, 2019.

Jennifer M. Wallace,

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

End Signature End Supplemental Information

[FR Doc. 2019-19989 Filed 9-11-19; 4:15 pm]

BILLING CODE 3510-22-P