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Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Fisheries

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Start Preamble Start Printed Page 17

AGENCY:

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

ACTION:

Temporary rule; quota transfer.

SUMMARY:

NMFS is transferring 19.5 metric tons (mt) of Atlantic bluefin tuna (BFT) quota from the 28.9-mt General category December 2020 subquota to the January 2020 subquota period (from January 1 through March 31, 2020, or until the available subquota for this period is reached, whichever comes first). This action is 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.

DATES:

Effective January 1, 2020, through March 31, 2020.

Start Further Info

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Sarah McLaughlin, 978-281-9260, Nicholas Velseboer, 978-675-2168, or Larry Redd, 301-427-8503.

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) and as implemented by the United States 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), as amended by Amendment 7 to the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP (Amendment 7) (79 FR 71510, December 2, 2014). 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.

The base quota for the General category is 555.7 mt. 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. Although it is called the “January” subquota, the regulations allow the General category fishery under this quota to continue until the subquota is reached or March 31, whichever comes first. 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.

Transfer of 19.5 mt From the December 2020 Subquota to the January 2020 Subquota

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. 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 tuna dealers provides NMFS with valuable parts and data for ongoing scientific studies of BFT age and growth, migration, and reproductive status. Additional opportunity to land BFT, and potentially over a greater portion of the January time period, 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 (including in December 2019 and during the winter fishery in the last several years), and the likelihood of closure of that segment of the fishery if no adjustment is made (§ 635.27(a)(8)(ii)). Without a quota transfer from December 2020 to January 2020 for the General category at this time, the quota available for the January period would be 29.5 mt (5.3 percent of the General category quota), and participants would have to stop BFT fishing activities once that amount is met, while commercial-sized BFT may remain available in the areas where General category permitted vessels operate. Transferring 19.5 mt of the 28.9-mt quota available for December 2020 (with 28.9 mt representing 5.2 percent of the General category quota) would result in 49 mt (8.8 percent of the General category quota) being available for the January 2020 subquota period. This quota transfer would provide additional opportunities to harvest the U.S. BFT quota without exceeding it, while preserving the opportunity for General category fishermen to participate in the winter BFT fishery at both the beginning and end of the calendar year.

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 considered General category landings over the last several years. General category landings in the winter BFT fishery tend to straddle the calendar year as BFT may be available in late November/December and into January of the following year or later. Landings are highly variable and depend on access to commercial-sized BFT and fishing conditions, among other factors. Any unused General category quota from the January subperiod that remains as of March 31 will roll forward to the next subperiod within the calendar year (i.e., the June-August time period). In late 2018, NMFS transferred 19.5 mt of quota from the December 2019 subquota to the January 2019 subquota period, resulting in a subquota of 49 mt for the January 2019 period and a subquota of 9.4 mt for the December 2019 period (83 FR 67140, December 28, 2018). NMFS also made two transfers in 2019 of 26 mt and 25 mt from the Reserve to the General category effective February 8 and February 25, respectively, resulting in an adjusted subquota of 100 mt for the January 2019 period (84 FR 3724, February 13, 2019; 84 FR 6701, February 28, 2019), and closed the General category fishery for the January subquota period effective February 28 (84 FR 7302, March 4, 2019). Under a one-fish General category daily retention limit (i.e., of large medium or giant BFT, measuring 73 inches (185 cm) curved fork length or greater) effective January 1 through February 28, a total of 108.9 mt were landed.

NMFS also considered the estimated amounts by which quotas for other gear Start Printed Page 18categories 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 2020 landings and dead discards within the adjusted U.S. quota, consistent with ICCAT recommendations, and anticipates having sufficient quota to do that.

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.

NMFS also anticipates that some underharvest of the 2019 adjusted U.S. BFT quota will be carried forward to 2020 and placed in the Reserve category, in accordance with the regulations. This, in addition to the fact that any unused General category quota will roll forward to the next subperiod within the calendar year, as well as NMFS' plan to actively manage the subquotas to avoid any exceedances, makes it likely that General category quota will remain available through the end of 2020 for December fishery participants, even with the quota transfer. NMFS also may choose to transfer unused quota from the Reserve or other categories, inseason, based on consideration of the determination criteria, as NMFS did for late 2019. NMFS anticipates that General category participants in all areas and time periods will have opportunities to harvest the General category quota in 2020, through active inseason management actions such as retention limit adjustments and/or the timing of quota transfers, as practicable.

Based on the considerations above, NMFS is transferring 19.5 mt of the 28.9-mt General category quota allocated for the December 2020 period to the January 2020 period, resulting in a subquota of 49 mt for the January 2020 period and a subquota of 9.4 mt for the December 2020 period. NMFS will close the General category fishery when the adjusted January period subquota of 49 mt has been reached, or it will close automatically on March 31, 2020, whichever comes first, and it will remain closed until the General category fishery reopens on June 1, 2020.

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 or by using the HMS Catch Reporting app, or calling (888) 872-8862 (Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.).

Under § 635.23(a)(4), NMFS may increase or decrease the daily retention limit of large medium and giant bluefin tuna over a range of zero to a maximum of five per vessel based on consideration of the relevant criteria provided under § 635.27(a)(8). However, at this time, NMFS is maintaining the default daily retention limit of one large medium or giant BFT per vessel per day/trip (§ 635.23(a)(2)) for the January 2020 General category fishery. Regardless of the duration of a fishing trip, no more than a single day's retention limit may be possessed, retained, or landed. For example (and specific to the limit that will apply beginning January 1, 2020), whether a vessel fishing under the General category limit takes a two-day trip or makes two trips in one day, the daily limit of one fish may not be exceeded upon landing. This General category retention limit is effective in all areas, except for the Gulf of Mexico, where NMFS prohibits targeting fishing for BFT, and 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.

Depending on the level of fishing effort and catch rates of BFT including catches of the General category quota during the winter fishery, NMFS may determine that additional action (e.g., quota adjustment, daily retention limit adjustment, or closure) is necessary to enhance scientific data collection from, and fishing opportunities in, all geographic areas, and to ensure available subquotas are not exceeded. 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 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 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. Affording prior notice and opportunity for public comment to implement the quota transfer for the January 2020 subquota period at this time is impracticable and contrary to the public interest as NMFS could not have proposed this action earlier, as it needed to consider and respond to updated data and information from the 2019 General category fishery, including the recently-available December 2019 data, in deciding to transfer a portion of the December 2020 subquota to the January 2020 subquota. If NMFS was to offer a public comment period now, after having appropriately considered that data, it could preclude fishermen from harvesting BFT that are legally available consistent with all of the regulatory criteria, and/or could result in selection of a retention limit inappropriately high for the amount of quota available for the period. 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 these 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) (Inseason adjustments), Start Printed Page 19and 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: December 26, 2019.

Alan D. Risenhoover,

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

End Signature End Supplemental Information

[FR Doc. 2019-28271 Filed 12-31-19; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 3510-22-P