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Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Recreational Management Measures for the Summer Flounder Fishery; Fishing Year 2020

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


Final rule.


NMFS announces management measures for the 2020 summer flounder recreational fishery. The implementing regulations for this fishery require NMFS to publish recreational measures for the fishing year. The intent of this action is to achieve, but not exceed, the 2020 summer flounder recreational harvest limit and thereby prevent overfishing on the summer flounder stock.


This rule is effective June 18, 2020.

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Emily Keiley, Fishery Policy Analyst, (978) 281-9116.

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The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (Commission) jointly manage summer flounder. The Council and Commission's Summer Flounder Management Board meet jointly each year to recommend recreational management measures for summer flounder.

In this final rule, NMFS is implementing conservation equivalency to manage the 2020 summer flounder recreational fishery, as proposed on April 6, 2020 (85 FR 19126). The approval of conservation equivalency means that we are waiving Federal summer flounder recreational measures in Federal waters and to all federally permitted summer flounder party/charter vessels, regardless of where they fish. States, through the Commission, are collectively implementing measures designed to constrain landings to the 2020 recreational harvest limit. Vessels fishing in Federal waters, and Federal party/charter vessels are subject to the regulations in the state they land. These measures are consistent with the recommendations of the Council and the Commission. Additional information on the development of these measures is provided in the proposed rule and not repeated here.

Conservation equivalency, as established by Framework Adjustment 2 (66 FR 36208; July 11, 2001), allows each state to establish its own recreational management measures (possession limits, fish size, and fishing seasons) to achieve its state harvest limit established by the Commission from the coastwide recreational harvest limit, as long as the combined effect of all of the states' management measures achieves the same level of conservation as Federal coastwide measures. Framework Adjustment 6 (71 FR 42315; July 26, 2006) allows states to form regions for conservation equivalency in order to minimize differences in regulations for anglers fishing in adjacent waters.

Similar to the 2016-2019 program, the 2020 management program adopted by the Commission divides the recreational fishery into six management regions: (1) Massachusetts; (2) Rhode Island; (3) Connecticut-New York; (4) New Jersey; (5) Delaware-Virginia; and (6) North Carolina. Each state within a region must implement identical or equivalent measures (fish size, bag limit, and fishing season length), and the combination of those measures must be sufficient to achieve, but not exceed, the recreational harvest limit.

Based on the Commission's recommendation, we find that the 2020 recreational fishing measures required to be implemented in state waters are, collectively, the conservation equivalent of the season, fish size, and possession limit prescribed in 50 CFR 648.104(b), 648.105, and 648.106(a). According to § 648.107(a)(1), vessels subject to the recreational fishing measures are not subject to Federal measures, and instead are subject to the recreational fishing measures implemented by the state in which they land. Section 648.107(a) is amended through this final rule to recognize state-implemented measures as the conservation equivalent of the Federal coastwide recreational management measures for 2020.

Given the anticipated lower recreational fishery participation this spring, the Commission made additional revisions to state/regional 2020 recreational measures to afford additional fishing opportunity in late summer and fall. Any changes considered would be required to maintain projected harvest levels consistent with the state harvest limits.

In addition, this action reaffirms the default coastwide measures (a 19-inch (48.3-cm) minimum size, four-fish possession limit, and May 15 through September 15 open fishing season), that becomes effective January 1, 2021, upon the expiration of the 2020 conservation equivalency program.

Regulatory Corrections

Additionally, this final rule makes a revision, consistent with section 305(d) of the Magnson-Stevens Act, which provides authority to the Secretary of Commerce to implement regulations that are necessary to ensure they are consistent with the fishery management plan (FMP) and Magnuson-Stevens Act. The regulation at § 648.102(d)(2) describes conservationally equivalent measures that states or regions would develop for summer flounder. In a prior action issuing regulations for Framework Adjustment 14 (84 FR 65699; November 29, 2019), we intended to replace “minimum fish sizes” in this regulation with “minimum and/or maximum fish sizes” to reflect Framework Adjustment 14's addition of maximum size limits as a management measure available for summer flounder recreational fisheries. This change was inadvertently left out of the rule. To correct this error this action replaces “minimum fish sizes” with “minimum and/or maximum fish sizes.”

Changes From the Proposed Rule

There are no changes from the proposed rule.

Comments and Responses

NMFS received four comments on the proposed rule. Two comments were related to state-specific measures outside the scope of this action, offered concerns over commercial fishing limits, and relayed general complaints over the management of summer flounder. One comment supported the previously approved addition of “maximum fish size” to the potential management measures that states may implement under conservation equivalency. The final comment was not relevant to the proposed rule. No changes to the final rule are made based on the submitted comments.


The Administrator, Greater Atlantic Region, NMFS, determined that these management measures are necessary for the conservation and management of the summer flounder fishery and are consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and other applicable laws.

This final rule has been determined to be not significant for purposes of Executive Order 12866.

This final rule is not an Executive Order 13771 regulatory action because Start Printed Page 36803this action is not significant under Executive Order 12866.

The Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, NOAA, finds good cause under 5 U.S.C. 553(d)(3) to waive the 30-day delay of effectiveness period for this rule, to ensure that the final management measures are in place as soon as possible.

The Federal coastwide regulatory measures for recreational summer flounder fishing that were codified last year (84 FR 31743; July 3, 2019) remain in effect until the decision to waive Federal measures for 2020 is made effective by this final rule. Many states have already implemented their conservationally equivalent 2020 measures; a delay in implementing the measures of this rule will increase confusion on what measures are in place in Federal waters. Inconsistencies between the states' measures and the Federal measures could lead to potential confusion and misunderstanding of the applicable regulations and could increase the likelihood of noncompliant landings. Additionally, the Federal measures currently in place are more restrictive than many of the measures in state waters, which unnecessarily disadvantages federally permitted vessels who are subject to these more restrictive measures until this final rule is effective.

In response to this action, unlike actions that require an adjustment period to comply with new rules, recreational and charter/party operators will not have to purchase new equipment or otherwise expend time or money to comply with these management measures. Rather, complying with this final rule simply means adhering to the published management measures for summer flounder while the recreational and charter/party operators are engaged in fishing activities.

For these reasons, the Assistant Administrator finds good cause to waive the 30-day delay of effectiveness period and to implement this rule upon publication in the Federal Register.

The Chief Counsel for Regulation of the Department of Commerce certified to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business Administration during the proposed rule stage that this action would not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. The factual basis for the certification was published in the proposed rule and is not repeated here. A final regulatory flexibility analysis is not required and none has been prepared.

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List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 648

  • Fisheries
  • Fishing
  • Reporting and recordkeeping requirements
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Dated: June 1, 2020.

Samuel D. Rauch III,

Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine Fisheries Service.

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For the reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 648 is amended as follows:

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1. The authority citation for part 648 continues to read as follows:

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

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2. In § 648.102, paragraph (d)(2) introductory text is revised to read as follows:

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Summer flounder specifications.
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(d) * * *

(2) Conservation equivalent measures. Individual states, or regions formed voluntarily by adjacent states (i.e., multi-state conservation equivalency regions), may implement different combinations of minimum and/or maximum fish sizes, possession limits, and closed seasons that achieve equivalent conservation as the coastwide measures established under paragraph (e)(1) of this section. Each state or multi-state conservation equivalency region may implement measures by mode or area only if the proportional standard error of recreational landing estimates by mode or area for that state is less than 30 percent.

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3. In § 648.107, paragraph (a) introductory text is revised to read as follows:

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Conservation equivalent measures for the summer flounder fishery.

(a) The Regional Administrator has determined that the recreational fishing measures proposed to be implemented by the states of Maine through North Carolina for 2020 are the conservation equivalent of the season, size limits, and possession limit prescribed in §§ 648.104(b), 648.105, and 648.106. This determination is based on a recommendation from the Summer Flounder Board of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

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[FR Doc. 2020-12069 Filed 6-17-20; 8:45 am]