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Rule

Fisheries of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic; 2020 Commercial Longline Closure for South Atlantic Golden Tilefish

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AGENCY:

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

ACTION:

Temporary rule; closure.

SUMMARY:

NMFS implements an accountability measure for the commercial longline component for golden tilefish in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the South Atlantic. Commercial longline landings for golden tilefish are projected to reach the longline component's commercial quota by February 18, 2020. Therefore, NMFS closes the commercial longline component of golden tilefish in the South Atlantic EEZ on February 18, 2020, at 12:01 a.m. eastern time. This closure is necessary to protect the golden tilefish resource.

DATES:

This temporary rule is effective from 12:01 a.m. eastern time on February 18, 2020, until 12:01 a.m. eastern time on January 1, 2021.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Mary Vara, NMFS Southeast Regional Office, telephone: 727-824-5305, email: mary.vara@noaa.gov.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

The snapper-grouper fishery of the South Atlantic includes golden tilefish and is managed under the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region (FMP). The FMP was prepared by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) and is implemented by NMFS under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) by regulations at 50 CFR part 622.

The commercial golden tilefish sector has two components, each with its own quota: The longline and hook-and-line components (50 CFR 622.190(a)(2)). The commercial tilefish annual catch limit (ACL) is allocated 75 percent to the longline component and 25 percent to the hook-and-line component. The commercial ACL (equivalent to the commercial quota) is 331,740 lb (150,475 kg) gutted weight, and the longline component quota is 248,805 lb (112,856 kg) gutted weight.

Under 50 CFR 622.193(a)(1)(ii), NMFS is required to close the commercial longline component for golden tilefish when the longline component's commercial quota has been reached or is projected to be reached by filing a notification to that effect with the Office of the Federal Register. After the longline component quota is reached or is projected to be reached, golden tilefish may not be commercially fished or possessed by a vessel with a golden tilefish longline endorsement. NMFS has determined that the commercial quota for the golden tilefish longline component in the South Atlantic will be reached by February 18, 2020. Accordingly, the commercial longline component of South Atlantic golden tilefish is closed effective at 12:01 a.m. eastern time on February 18, 2020, and will remain closed until the next fishing year that begins on January 1, 2021.

During the commercial longline closure, golden tilefish may still be commercially harvested using hook-and-line gear. However, a vessel with a golden tilefish longline endorsement is not eligible to fish for or possess golden tilefish using hook-and-line gear under the hook-and-line commercial trip limit, as specified in 50 CFR 622.191(a)(2)(ii). During the commercial longline closure, the recreational bag limit and possession limits specified in 50 CFR 622.187(b)(2)(iii) and (c)(1), respectively, apply to all harvest or possession of golden tilefish in or from the South Atlantic EEZ by a vessel with a golden tilefish longline endorsement.

The sale or purchase of longline-caught golden tilefish taken from the South Atlantic EEZ is prohibited during the commercial longline closure. The operator of a vessel with a valid Federal commercial vessel permit for South Atlantic snapper-grouper and a valid commercial longline endorsement for golden tilefish with golden tilefish on board must have landed and bartered, traded, or sold such golden tilefish prior to 12:01 a.m. eastern time on February 18, 2020. The prohibition on sale or purchase does not apply to the sale or purchase of longline-caught golden tilefish that were harvested, landed ashore, and sold prior to 12:01 a.m. eastern time on February 18, 2020, and those that were held in cold storage by a dealer or processor. Additionally, the recreational bag and possession limits and the sale and purchase prohibitions under the commercial closure apply to a person on board a vessel with a golden tilefish longline endorsement, regardless of whether the golden tilefish are harvested in state or Federal waters, as specified in 50 CFR 622.190(c)(1).

Classification

The Regional Administrator for the NMFS Southeast Region has determined this temporary rule is necessary for the conservation and management of South Atlantic golden tilefish and is consistent with the FMP, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable laws.

This action is taken under 50 CFR 622.193(a)(1)(ii) and is exempt from review under Executive Order 12866.

These measures are exempt from the procedures of the Regulatory Flexibility Act, because the temporary rule is issued without opportunity for prior notice and comment.

This action responds to the best scientific information available. The Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries (AA) finds that the need to immediately implement this action to close the commercial longline component for golden tilefish constitutes good cause to waive the requirements to provide prior notice and opportunity for public comment pursuant to the authority set forth in 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(B), as such procedures for this temporary rule would be unnecessary and contrary to the public interest. Such procedures are unnecessary, because the regulations at 50 CFR 622.193(a)(1)(ii) have already been subject to notice and comment, and all that remains is to notify the public of the closure. Prior notice and opportunity for public comment on this action are contrary to the public interest, because there is a need to immediately implement this action to protect the golden tilefish resource since the capacity of the fishing fleet allows for rapid harvest of the commercial quota for the longline component. Prior notice and opportunity for public comment would require time and would potentially result in a harvest well in excess of the established commercial quota for the longline component. For the aforementioned reasons, the AA also finds good cause to waive the 30-day delay in the effectiveness of this action under 5 U.S.C. 553(d)(3).

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

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Dated: February 13, 2020.

Karyl K. Brewster-Geisz,

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

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[FR Doc. 2020-03206 Filed 2-13-20; 4:15 pm]

BILLING CODE 3510-22-P