National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.
Temporary rule; quota transfer.
NMFS is transferring 30 metric tons (mt) of Atlantic bluefin tuna (BFT) quota from the Reserve category to the Harpoon category. With this transfer, the adjusted Harpoon category quota for the 2020 fishing season is 76 mt. The 2020 Harpoon category fishery is open until November 15, 2020, or until the Harpoon category quota is reached, whichever comes first. The action is based on consideration of the regulatory determination criteria regarding inseason adjustments, and applies to Atlantic tunas Harpoon category (commercial) permitted vessels.
Effective July 13, 2020, through November 15, 2020.
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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
Sarah McLaughlin, 978-281-9260, Nicholas Velseboer, 978-675-2168, or Larry Redd, 301-427-8503.
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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) 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 current baseline quotas for the Harpoon and Reserve categories are 46 mt and 29.5 mt, respectively. See § 635.27(a). To date for 2020, NMFS has published one action that has augmented the available 2020 Reserve category quota and transferred quota from the Reserve to the General category for the January 2020 Fishery. This resulted in the current available Reserve quota of 143 mt (85 FR 6828, February 6, 2020). Regulations provide that the Harpoon category fishery opens June 1 and closes on November 15 of each year, or until the Harpoon category quota is reached, whichever comes first.
Transfer of 30 mt From the Reserve Category to the Harpoon 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 the Harpoon category fishery. 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 Harpoon 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 in the Harpoon 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 Harpoon 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 July 13, 2020, the Harpoon category has landed 42.1 mt. Commercial-size BFT are currently readily available to vessels fishing under the Harpoon category quota. Without a quota transfer at this time, Harpoon category participants would have to stop BFT fishing activities with very short notice, while commercial-sized BFT remain available on the fishing grounds in the areas Harpoon category permitted vessels operate. Transferring 30 mt of BFT quota from the Reserve category would result in a total of 76 mt being available for the Harpoon category for the 2020 Harpoon category fishing season.
Regarding the projected ability of the vessels fishing under the particular category quota (here, the Harpoon category) to harvest the additional amount of BFT before the end of the fishing year (§ 635.27(a)(8)(iii)), NMFS considered Harpoon category landings over the last several years. Landings are highly variable and depend on access to commercial-sized BFT and fishing conditions, among other factors. NMFS anticipates that the Harpoon category could harvest the transferred 30 mt prior to the end of the Harpoon category fishing season, subject to weather conditions and BFT availability. NMFS may transfer unused Harpoon category quota to other quota categories, as appropriate. 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. Thus, this quota transfer would allow fishermen to take advantage of the availability of fish on the fishing grounds, and provide a reasonable opportunity to harvest the full U.S. BFT quota.
NMFS also considered the estimated amounts by which quotas for other gear categories of the bluefin tuna 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 Start Printed Page 43149rule (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)).
Based on the considerations above, NMFS is transferring 30 mt of the available 143 mt of Reserve category quota to the Harpoon category. Therefore, NMFS adjusts the Harpoon category quota to 76 mt for the 2020 Harpoon category fishing season (i.e., through November 15, 2020, or until the Harpoon category quota is reached, whichever comes first), and adjusts the Reserve category quota to 113 mt.
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 adjustments and closures, and may result in enforcement actions. Additionally, and separate from the dealer reporting requirement, Harpoon 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.).
Depending on the level of fishing effort and catch rates, NMFS may determine that additional action (i.e., 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.
NMFS issues this action pursuant to section 305(d) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. This action is required by 50 CFR 635, which was issued pursuant to section 304(c), and is exempt from review under Executive Order 12866.
The Assistant Administrator for NMFS (AA) finds that pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(B), there is good cause to waive prior notice and an opportunity for public comment on this action, as notice and comment would be 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 remainder of 2020 is also contrary to the public interest as such a delay would likely result in closure of the Harpoon fishery when the baseline quota is met and the need to re-open the fishery, with attendant administrative costs and costs to the fishery. The delay would preclude the fishery from harvesting BFT that are available on the fishing grounds and that might otherwise become unavailable during a delay. This action does not raise conservation and management concerns. Transferring quota from the Reserve category to the Harpoon category does not affect the overall U.S. BFT quota, and available data show the adjustment would have a minimal risk of exceeding the ICCAT-allocated quota. NMFS notes that the public had an opportunity to comment on the underlying rulemakings that established the U.S. BFT quota and the inseason adjustment criteria.
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Dated: July 13, 2020.
Hélène M.N. Scalliet,
Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2020-15409 Filed 7-13-20; 4:15 pm]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P