Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Quota Specifications and General Category Effort Controls, 14630-14634 [05-5742]

Download as PDF 14630 243.204–71 Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 55 / Wednesday, March 23, 2005 / Proposed Rules [Removed] 7. Section 243.204–71 is removed. [FR Doc. 05–5624 Filed 3–22–05; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 5001–08–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 635 [Docket No.050317076–5076–01; I.D. 030405C] RIN 0648–AT01 Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Quota Specifications and General Category Effort Controls National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments; notice of public hearings. AGENCY: SUMMARY: NMFS proposes initial 2005 fishing year specifications for the Atlantic bluefin tuna (BFT) fishery to set BFT quotas for each of the established domestic fishing categories and to set General category effort controls. This action is necessary to implement recommendations of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), as required by the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act (ATCA), and to achieve domestic management objectives under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act). NMFS will hold public hearings to receive comments on these proposed actions. DATES: Written comments must be received on or before April 18, 2005. The public hearing dates are: 1. April 8, 2005, from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Gloucester, MA. 2. April 11, 2005, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Morehead City, NC. ADDRESSES: Comments may be submitted through any of the following methods: • Email: 05BFTSPECS@noaa.gov. • Federal e-Rulemaking Portal: http:// www.regulations.gov. • Mail: Dianne Stephan, Highly Migratory Species Management Division, Office of Sustainable Fisheries (F/SF1), NMFS, One Blackburn Dr., Gloucester, MA 01930. • Fax: 978–281–9340. The public hearing locations are: 1. Northeast Regional Office, NMFS, 1 Blackburn Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930. VerDate jul<14>2003 16:19 Mar 22, 2005 Jkt 205001 2. Crystal Coast Civic Center, 3500 Arendell Street, Morehead City, NC 28557. Supporting documents including the environmental assessment, initial Regulatory Flexibility Act analysis, and regulatory impact review are available by sending your request to Dianne Stephan, Highly Migratory Species Management Division, Office of Sustainable Fisheries (F/SF1), NMFS, One Blackburn Dr., Gloucester, MA 01930; fax: 978–281–9340. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Dianne Stephan at (978) 281–9260. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Atlantic tunas are managed under the dual authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and ATCA. ATCA authorizes the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary) to promulgate regulations, as may be necessary and appropriate, to implement ICCAT recommendations. The authority to issue regulations under the Magnuson-Stevens Act and ATCA has been delegated from the Secretary to the Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, NOAA (AA). Background On May 28, 1998, NMFS published in the Federal Register (64 FR 29090) final regulations, effective July 1, 1999, implementing the Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Tunas, Swordfish, and Sharks (1999 FMP). In November 2002, ICCAT recommended a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of BFT for the United States in the western Atlantic management area of 1,489.6 metric tons (mt), effective beginning in 2003 and continuing in subsequent fishing years until revised by ICCAT. Also in the 2002 recommendation, ICCAT allocated 25 mt annually to account for incidental catch of BFT by pelagic longline fisheries directed on other species ‘‘in the vicinity of the management boundary area.’’ This area was defined in the 2003 BFT annual specification rulemaking process as the Northeast Distant statistical area (NED) (68 FR 56783, October 2, 2003). The TAC of 1,489.6 mt is inclusive of the annual 25 mt pelagic longline set-aside in the NED. The initial specifications within this proposed rule are published in accordance with the 1999 FMP and are necessary to implement the 2002 ICCAT quota recommendation, as required by ATCA, and to achieve domestic management objectives under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. This proposed rule would: (1) establish initial quota specifications consistent with the BFT rebuilding program as set forth in the 1999 FMP by PO 00000 Frm 00053 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 allocating the 2002 ICCATrecommended quota for the 2005 fishing year (June 1, 2005—May 31, 2006); and (2) establish the General category effort controls, including time-period subquotas and restricted fishing days (RFDs), for the 2005 fishing season. NMFS is also seeking public comment on options for achieving ICCAT’s recommended four-year average 8 percent tolerance on harvest of school BFT. As a method for limiting fishing mortality on school size BFT, ICCAT adopted an annual 8 percent tolerance limit in 1991, and in the 1998 rebuilding plan modified the tolerance to be calculated as a four-year average. The 2005 fishing year is the third year in the current four year period. Landings of school BFT in 2003 were approximately 138 mt, which is approximately 9.3 percent of the base quota for that year, and preliminary figures for 2004 indicate that school landings were greater than 2003 school landings. Since landings of school BFT for the first half of the four year period have exceeded 8 percent, landings for the second half must be less than 8 percent to achieve an overall average of 8 percent or below. NMFS is considering options other than providing the full school subquota for the 2005 fishery, and requests public comment on potential options for achieving the 8 percent target, including the following: (1) defer any action until the final year of the four year period (2006); (2) reallocate all or a portion of the 2005 school subquota to the large school/small medium subquota for 2005; (3) maintain the default Angling category retention limit of one fish (in any recreational size class, i.e., school, large school/small medium) per vessel per day for the entire 2005 season; or (4) prohibit landing of school BFT in 2005 and carry over the subquota to 2006. After consideration of public comment, NMFS will issue final initial quota specifications and effort controls and publish them in the Federal Register, along with NMFS’ response to those comments. The specifications and effort controls may subsequently be adjusted during the course of the fishing year, consistent with the provisions of the 1999 FMP, and will be published in the Federal Register. NMFS acknowledges that a number of other issues regarding the domestic management of BFT have been discussed during recent years. For instance, adjustment of domestic quota allocation percentages and General category time-period subquotas were raised as issues in a Petition for Rulemaking submitted by the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries E:\FR\FM\23MRP1.SGM 23MRP1 Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 55 / Wednesday, March 23, 2005 / Proposed Rules (see Notice of Receipt of Petition, 67 FR 69502, November 18, 2002). These issues were discussed at the 2003 HMS Advisory Panel (AP) meeting held in Silver Spring, MD, and most recently at public scoping meetings regarding the development of the consolidated HMS FMP. Other issues have been addressed in separate rulemakings. For instance, at the end of 2003, a final rule was published (68 FR 74504, December 24, 2003) that: (1) extended the General category season from December 31 to January 31, (2) established a Harpoon category end date of November 15 (or when the quota is reached, whichever comes first), (3) adjusted the Harpoon category tolerance limits for large medium BFT, and (4) adjusted the Purse Seine category opening date and large medium BFT tolerance limits. Additional issues may be addressed in the consolidated HMS FMP which is being developed during a current FMP amendment process (68 FR 40907, July 9, 2003) or in another future rulemaking. NMFS has prepared a draft Environmental Assessment (EA), Regulatory Impact Review (RIR), and an Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA) which present and analyze anticipated environmental, social, and economic impacts of several alternatives for each of the major issues contained in this proposed rule. The complete list of alternatives and their analysis is provided in the draft EA/RIR/IRFA, and is not repeated here in its entirety. A copy of the draft EA/RIR/IRFA prepared for this proposed rule is available from NMFS (see ADDRESSES). Domestic Quota Allocation The 1999 FMP and its implementing regulations established baseline percentage quota shares for the domestic fishing categories. These percentage shares were based on allocation procedures that NMFS developed over several years. The baseline percentage quota shares established in the 1999 FMP for fishing years beginning June 1, 1999, to the present are as follows: General category—47.1 percent; Harpoon category—3.9 percent; Purse Seine category—18.6 percent; Angling category—19.7 percent; Longline category—8.1 percent; Trap category— 0.1 percent; and Reserve category—2.5 percent. The 2002 ICCAT-recommended U.S. BFT quota of 1,464.6 mt, not including the annual 25 mt set aside for pelagic longline vessels, would be allocated in accordance with these percentages. However, in addition to the 2002 ICCAT quota recommendation, quota allocations are adjusted based on overharvest or underharvest from prior VerDate jul<14>2003 16:19 Mar 22, 2005 Jkt 205001 fishing year’s activity and on U.S. data on dead discards as they relate to the ICCAT dead discard allowance. Each of these adjustments is discussed below and then applied to the results of the above percentage shares to determine the 2005 fishing year proposed initial quota specifications. The 2004 Underharvest/Overharvest The current ICCAT BFT quota recommendation allows, and U.S. regulations require, the addition or subtraction, as appropriate, of any underharvest or overharvest in a fishing year to the following fishing year, provided that the total of the adjusted category quotas does not result in overharvest of the total annual BFT quota and remains consistent with all applicable ICCAT recommendations, including restrictions on landings of school BFT. Therefore, NMFS proposes to adjust the 2005 fishing year quota specifications for the BFT fishery to account for underharvest or overharvest in the 2004 fishing year. Overall U.S. landings figures for the 2004 fishing year are still preliminary and may be updated before these 2005 fishing year specifications are finalized. Should adjustments to the final initial 2005 BFT quota specifications be required based on final 2004 BFT landing figures, NMFS will publish the adjustments in the Federal Register. For the 2004 fishing year, NMFS has preliminarily determined that General category landings were lower than the adjusted General category quota by approximately 16.0 mt; that Harpoon category landings were less than the adjusted Harpoon category quota by approximately 11.5 mt; that Longline category landings were less than the adjusted Longline category quota by approximately 85.3 mt; that Angling category landing estimates were in excess of the adjusted Angling category quota by approximately 59.4 mt; and that Purse Seine category landings were less than the adjusted Purse Seine category quota by approximately 257.6 mt. Regulations at 50 CFR 635.27(a)(9)(i) require that Purse Seine category underharvests or overharvests be subtracted from or added to each individual vessel’s quota allocation, as appropriate. Based on the estimated amount of Reserve that NMFS maintains for the landing of BFT taken during ongoing scientific research projects and/ or potential overharvests in certain categories, NMFS estimates that 298.3 mt of Reserve remains from the 2004 fishing year. This remaining Reserve quota will be used in part to address the Angling category overharvest and the rest divided between the General and PO 00000 Frm 00054 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 14631 Harpoon categories in proportion to the tonnage transferred out of these categories to the Reserve category in 2004, and in consideration of the number of permit holders participating in each of these respective fisheries, and the Reserve category. For categories with under or overharvests from the 2004 fishing year, these initial specifications will subtract the overharvest from, or add the underharvest to, the same quota category for the 2005 fishing year. Dead Discards As part of the BFT rebuilding program, ICCAT recommends an allowance for dead discards. The U.S. dead discard allowance is 68 mt. Dead discard estimates for 2004 are not yet available, so the estimate for the 2003 calendar year is used as a proxy to calculate the amount to be added to, or subtracted from, the U.S. BFT landings quota for 2005. The 2003 calendar year preliminary estimate of U.S. dead discards, as reported per the longline discards calculated from logbook tallies, adjusted as warranted when observer counts in quarterly/geographic stratum exceeded logbook reports, totaled 52.4 mt. Estimates of dead discards from other gear types and fishing sectors that do not use the pelagic longline vessel logbook are unavailable at this time, and thus, are not included in this calculation. As U.S. fishing activity is estimated to have resulted in fewer dead discards than its allowance, the ICCAT recommendation and U.S. regulations state that the United States may add one half of the difference between the amount of dead discards and the allowance (i.e., 68.0 mt ¥ 52.4 mt = 15.6 mt, 15.6 mt/2 = 7.8 mt) to its total allowed landings for the following fishing year, to individual fishing categories, or to the Reserve category. NMFS proposes to allocate the 7.8 mt to the Reserve category quota to assist in covering potential overharvests and provide for inseason adjustments for the upcoming fishing year. 2005 Proposed Initial Quota Specifications In accordance with the 2002 ICCAT quota recommendation, the ICCAT recommendation regarding the dead discard allowance, the HMS FMP percentage shares for each of the domestic categories, and regulations regarding annual adjustments at § 635.27(a)(9)(ii), NMFS proposes initial quota specifications for the 2005 fishing year as follows: General category—908.3 mt; Harpoon category—90.0 mt; Purse Seine category—530.0 mt; Angling category—288.6 mt; Longline category— E:\FR\FM\23MRP1.SGM 23MRP1 14632 Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 55 / Wednesday, March 23, 2005 / Proposed Rules 228.9 mt; and Trap category—3.8 mt. Additionally, 59.4 mt would be allocated to the Reserve category for inseason adjustments, including potentially providing for a late season General category fishery, or allocated to cover scientific research collection and potential overharvest in any category except the Purse Seine category. Based on the above proposed initial specifications, the Angling category quota of 288.6 mt would be further subdivided as follows: School BFT— 117.2 mt, with 45.1 mt to the northern area (north of 39°18′ N. latitude), 50.4 mt to the southern area (south of 39°18′ N. latitude), plus 21.7 mt held in reserve; large school/small medium BFT—164.8 mt, with 77.8 mt to the northern area and 87.0 mt to the southern area; and large medium/giant BFT—6.6 mt, with 2.2 mt to the northern area and 4.4 mt to the southern area. The 2002 ICCAT recommendation includes an annual 25 mt set-aside quota to account for bycatch of BFT related to directed longline fisheries in the vicinity of the management area boundary and referred to as the NED hereafter. This set-aside quota is in addition to the overall incidental longline quota to be subdivided in accordance to the North/South allocation percentages mentioned below. Thus, the proposed Longline category quota of 228.9 mt would be subdivided as follows: 58.1 mt to pelagic longline vessels landing BFT north of 31° N. latitude and 106.1 mt to pelagic longline vessels landing BFT south of 31° N. latitude, and 64.7 mt (39.7 mt from 2004 + 25.0 mt for 2005) to account for bycatch of BFT related to directed pelagic longline fisheries in the NED. The bycatch allocation by ICCAT for pelagic longline vessels in the NED would be allocated to the Longline north subcategory. Accounting for landings under this additional quota would be maintained separately from other landings under the Longline north subcategory. Finally, regulations regarding BFT target catch requirements for pelagic longline vessels within the NED do not apply until the landings equal the available set-aside quota (§ 635.23(f)(3)). After the available quota has been landed, target catch requirements at § 635.23(f)(1) will then apply. General Category Effort Controls For the last several years, NMFS has implemented General category timeperiod subquotas to increase the likelihood that fishing would continue throughout the entire General category season. The subquotas are consistent VerDate jul<14>2003 16:19 Mar 22, 2005 Jkt 205001 with the objectives of the 1999 FMP and are designed to address concerns regarding the allocation of fishing opportunities, to assist with distribution and achievement of optimum yield, to allow for a late season fishery, and to improve market conditions and scientific monitoring. The regulations implementing the 1999 FMP divide the annual General category quota into three time-period subquotas as follows: 60 percent for June-August, 30 percent for September, and 10 percent for October-January. These percentages would be applied to the adjusted 2005 coastwide quota for the General category of 908.3 mt, minus 10.0 mt reserved for the New York Bight set aside fishery. Therefore, of the available 898.3 mt coastwide quota, 539.0 mt would be available in the period beginning June 1 and ending August 31, 2005; 269.5 mt would be available in the period beginning September 1 and ending September 30, 2005; and 89.8 mt would be available in the period beginning October 1, 2005, and ending January 31, 2006. In addition to time-period subquotas, NMFS also has implemented General category RFDs to extend the General category fishing season. The RFDs are designed to address the same issues addressed by time-period subquotas and provide additional fine scale inseason flexibility. For the 2005 fishing year, NMFS proposes a series of solid blocks of RFDs to extend the General category for as long as possible through the October through January time-period. Therefore, NMFS proposes that persons aboard vessels permitted in the General category would be prohibited from fishing, including catch-andrelease and tag-and-release, for BFT of all sizes on the following days: all Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from November 18, 2005, through January 31, 2006, and November 24, 2005, inclusive, while the fishery is open. These proposed RFDs would improve distribution of fishing opportunities during the late season without increasing BFT mortality. Classification This proposed rule is published under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and ATCA. The Assistant Administrator for Fisheries (AA) has preliminarily determined that the regulations contained in this proposed rule are necessary to implement the recommendations of ICCAT and to manage the domestic Atlantic HMS fisheries. The purpose of this proposed action is to: (1) implement the 2002 ICCAT recommendation regarding the BFT PO 00000 Frm 00055 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 quota, by proposing 2005 specifications for the BFT fishery that allocates the quota among domestic fishing categories, including 25 mt of BFT quota to the Longline category; and, (2) implement General category effort controls. NMFS has prepared an IRFA to analyze the impacts on small entities of the alternatives for establishing 2005 fishing year BFT quotas for all domestic fishing categories and General category effort controls. The analysis for the IRFA assesses the impacts of the various alternatives on the vessels that participate in the BFT fisheries, all of which are considered small entities. In order to do this, NMFS has estimated the average impact that the alternative to establish the 2005 BFT quota for all domestic fishing categories would have on individual categories and the vessels within those categories. As noted above, the 2002 ICCAT recommendation increased the BFT quota allocation to 1,489.6 mt, to be redistributed to the domestic fishing categories based on the allocation percentages established in the 1999 FMP, as well as a set-aside quota of 25 mt to account for incidental catch of BFT related to directed longline swordfish and BAYS fisheries in the NED. Both these quota modifications were established in the 2003 and 2004 specifications. In 2004, the annual gross revenues from the commercial BFT fishery were approximately $5.2 million. There are approximately 29,401 vessels that are permitted to land and sell BFT under four BFT quota categories (including charter/headboat vessels). The commercial categories and their 2004 gross revenues are General ($4,346,814), Harpoon ($317,104), Purse Seine ($231,791), and Longline ($305,180). The analysis for the IRFA assumes that each vessel within a category will have similar catch and gross revenues. While this may not be true, the analyses are sufficient to show the relative impact of the various preferred alternatives on vessels. For the allocation of BFT quota among domestic fishing categories, NMFS analyzed a no action alternative and Alternative two (preferred alternative) which would implement the 2002 ICCAT recommendation. Alternative two included several options for reducing catch of school BFT to stay within the four-year 8 percent tolerance limit required by ICCAT. NMFS considered a third alternative that would have allocated the 2002 ICCAT recommendation in a manner other than that designated in the 1999 FMP that was meant to address issues regarding specific set-asides and allocations for E:\FR\FM\23MRP1.SGM 23MRP1 Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 55 / Wednesday, March 23, 2005 / Proposed Rules fishing groups that are not currently considered in the 1999 FMP. However, since the third alternative could have resulted in a de facto sub-period quota reallocation, an FMP amendment would be necessary for its implementation, and therefore it would not be practicable and was not further analyzed. NMFS has initiated the development of the consolidated HMS FMP (68 FR 40907, July 9, 2003) in a concurrent rulemaking, to consider sub-period quota allocations in the BFT fishery, among other things. As noted above, alternative two would implement the 2002 ICCAT recommendation in accordance with the 1999 FMP and consistent with ATCA. Under ATCA, the United States is obligated to implement ICCATapproved quota recommendations. The preferred alternative would apply this quota and have positive impacts for fishermen. The no action alternative would keep the quota at pre–2002 ICCAT recommendation levels (i.e., 77.6 mt less) and would not be consistent with the purpose and need for this action and the 1999 FMP. It would maintain economic impacts to the United States and to local economies at a distribution and scale similar to 2002 or recent prior years, but would deny fishermen additional fishing opportunities as recommended by the 2002 ICCAT recommendation and as mandated by ATCA. Alternative two also includes several options for reducing catch of school bluefin tuna, including: (1) taking no action until 2006; (2) reallocating all or a portion of the 2005 school subquota to the large school/small medium subquota for 2005; (3) maintaining the default Angling category retention limit of one fish per vessel per day for the entire 2005 season; or (4) prohibiting landing of school BFT in 2005 and carrying over the subquota to 2006. Because of limited economic data regarding recreational HMS fisheries, economic impacts of the various options cannot be quantified. However, the options that include some reduction in school BFT landings in 2005 (options 2, 3 and 4) could have minor negative economic impacts for 2005. Any modest economic impacts to charter/headboat or recreational fisheries as a result of option 2 could be mitigated by the shift of quota to the large school/small medium subquota. In addition, the apparent recent increase in school BFT landings could indicate an increase in abundance of young BFT, some of which could be recruited into the large school/small medium size class in 2005, thus mitigating any reduction in school BFT from Options 2 or 4. Impacts from Option 3 are less VerDate jul<14>2003 16:19 Mar 22, 2005 Jkt 205001 likely to be mitigated by shifts in quota or abundance since the one fish retention limit would be in place for the entire season, and the small retention limit could have greater impacts on charter/headboat fisheries than the other options. Under Option 1, if action is deferred until 2006, then there would not be any impact in the coming fishing year; however, more severe measures may be required to reduce school harvest in 2006. For the General category effort controls, two alternatives were considered: the preferred alternative to designate RFDs according to a schedule published in the initial BFT specifications and the no action alternative (no RFDs published with the initial specifications, but implemented during the season as needed). In the past, when catch rates have been high, the use of RFDs (preferred alternative) has had positive economic consequences by avoiding oversupplying the market and extending the season as late as possible. Implementing RFDs to extend the late season may have negative economic impacts to northern area fishermen who choose to travel to the southern area during the late season fishery. Travel and lodging costs may be greater if the season were extended over a greater period of time as proposed under the preferred alternative. Those additional costs could be mitigated if the ex-vessel price of BFT stays high, as is intended under this alternative. Without RFDs, travel costs may be less because of a shorter season; however, the market could be oversupplied and ex-vessel prices could fall. Overall, extending the season as late as possible would enhance the likelihood of increasing participation by southern area fishermen, increase access to the fishery over a greater range of the fish migration, and is expected to provide better than average ex-vessel prices with an overall increase in gross revenues. The no action alternative would not implement any RFDs with publication of the initial specifications but rather would use inseason management authority established in the 1999 FMP to implement RFDs during the season, should catch rates warrant. This alternative is most beneficial during a season of low catch rates and would have positive economic consequences if slow catch rates were to persist. Overall, the season would regulate itself and fishermen could choose when to fish or not based on their own preferences. However, even with low catch rates and no RFDs, it is unlikely that there will be enough quota in the General category to sustain an extended late season PO 00000 Frm 00056 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 14633 commercial handgear fishery off south Atlantic states. Thus, if the 2005 season is similar to the 2003 and 2004 fisheries, there may be negative economic impacts to fishermen in southern states unless inseason management actions are taken to slow down the late season fishery. None of the proposed alternatives in this document would result in additional reporting, recordkeeping, compliance, or monitoring requirements for the public. This proposed rule has also been determined not to duplicate, overlap, or conflict with any other Federal rules. NMFS prepared a draft EA for this proposed rule, and the AA has preliminarily concluded that there would be no significant impact on the human environment if this proposed rule were implemented. The EA presents analyses of the anticipated impacts of these proposed regulations and the alternatives considered. A copy of the EA and other analytical documents prepared for this proposed rule, are available from NMFS via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal (see ADDRESSES). This proposed rule has been determined to be not significant for purposes of Executive Order 12866. This final rule contains no new collection-of-information requirements subject to review and approval by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA). Notwithstanding any other provisions of the law, no person is required to respond to, nor shall any person be subject to, a penalty for failure to comply with a collection of information subject to the requirements of the PRA unless that collection of information displays a currently valid OMB control number. On September 7, 2000, NMFS reinitiated formal consultation for all HMS commercial fisheries under Section 7 of the ESA. A BiOp, issued June 14, 2001, concluded that continued operation of the Atlantic pelagic longline fishery is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of endangered and threatened sea turtle species under NMFS jurisdiction. This BiOp also concluded that the continued operation of the purse seine and handgear fisheries may adversely affect, but is not likely to jeopardize, the continued existence of any endangered or threatened species under NMFS jurisdiction. NMFS has implemented the reasonable and prudent alternative (RPA) required by this BiOp. Subsequently, based on the management measures in several proposed rules, a new BiOp on the Atlantic pelagic longline fishery was E:\FR\FM\23MRP1.SGM 23MRP1 14634 Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 55 / Wednesday, March 23, 2005 / Proposed Rules issued on June 1, 2004. The 2004 BiOp found that the continued operation of the fishery was not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of loggerhead, green, hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, or olive ridley sea turtles, but was likely to jeopardize the continued existence of leatherback sea turtles. The 2004 BiOp identified RPAs necessary to avoid jeopardizing leatherbacks, and listed the Reasonable and Prudent Measures (RPMs) and terms and conditions necessary to authorize continued take as part of the revised incidental take statement. On July 6, 2004, NMFS published a final rule (69 FR 40734) implementing additional sea turtle bycatch and bycatch mortality mitigation measures for all Atlantic vessels with pelagic longline gear onboard. NMFS is working on implementing the other RPMs in compliance with the 2004 BiOp. On August 12, 2004, NMFS published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (69 FR 49858) to request comments on potential regulatory changes to further reduce bycatch and bycatch mortality of sea turtles, as well as comments on the feasibility of framework mechanisms to address unanticipated increases in sea turtle interactions and mortalities, should they occur. NMFS will undertake additional rulemaking and VerDate jul<14>2003 16:19 Mar 22, 2005 Jkt 205001 non-regulatory actions, as required, to implement any management measures that are required under the 2004 BiOp. The measures proposed in this action are not expected to have adverse impacts on protected species. Although the 2002 ICCAT recommendation increased the BFT quota, which may result in a slight increase in effort, NMFS does not expect this slight increase to alter current fishing patterns. The options to reduce mortality of school BFT are expected to have negligible ecological impacts and not adversely impact protected species. The specific action to allocate additional BFT quota to the Longline category would not alter current impacts on threatened or endangered species. The action would not modify fishing behavior or gear type, nor would it expand fishing effort because BFT are only allowed to be retained incidentally. Thus, the proposed action would not be expected to change previously analyzed endangered species or marine mammal interaction rates or magnitudes, or substantially alter current fishing practices or bycatch mortality rates. The area in which this proposed action is planned has been identified as Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) for species managed by the New England Fishery Management Council, the Mid-Atlantic PO 00000 Frm 00057 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 Fishery Management Council, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, the Caribbean Fishery Management Council, and the HMS Management Division of the Office of Sustainable Fisheries at NMFS. It is not anticipated that this action will have any adverse impacts to EFH and, therefore, no consultation is required. NMFS has determined that the list of actions in this proposed rule are consistent to the maximum extent practicable with the enforceable policies of the coastal states in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean that have Federally approved coastal zone management programs under the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA). The proposed rule establishing quota specifications and effort controls will be submitted to the responsible state agencies for their review under Section 307 of the CZMA. Authority: 16 U.S.C. 971 et seq.; 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. Dated: March 18, 2005. Rebecca Lent, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 05–5742 Filed 3–18–05; 1:27 pm] BILLING CODE 3510–22–S E:\FR\FM\23MRP1.SGM 23MRP1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 70, Number 55 (Wednesday, March 23, 2005)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 14630-14634]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 05-5742]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 635

[Docket No.050317076-5076-01; I.D. 030405C]
RIN 0648-AT01


Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Quota 
Specifications and General Category Effort Controls

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

ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments; notice of public hearings.

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SUMMARY: NMFS proposes initial 2005 fishing year specifications for the 
Atlantic bluefin tuna (BFT) fishery to set BFT quotas for each of the 
established domestic fishing categories and to set General category 
effort controls. This action is necessary to implement recommendations 
of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas 
(ICCAT), as required by the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act (ATCA), and 
to achieve domestic management objectives under the Magnuson-Stevens 
Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act). NMFS 
will hold public hearings to receive comments on these proposed 
actions.

DATES: Written comments must be received on or before April 18, 2005.
    The public hearing dates are:
    1. April 8, 2005, from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Gloucester, MA.
    2. April 11, 2005, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Morehead City, NC.

ADDRESSES: Comments may be submitted through any of the following 
methods:
     Email: 05BFTSPECS@noaa.gov.
     Federal e-Rulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov.
     Mail: Dianne Stephan, Highly Migratory Species Management 
Division, Office of Sustainable Fisheries (F/SF1), NMFS, One Blackburn 
Dr., Gloucester, MA 01930.
     Fax: 978-281-9340.
    The public hearing locations are:
    1. Northeast Regional Office, NMFS, 1 Blackburn Drive, Gloucester, 
MA 01930.
    2. Crystal Coast Civic Center, 3500 Arendell Street, Morehead City, 
NC 28557.
    Supporting documents including the environmental assessment, 
initial Regulatory Flexibility Act analysis, and regulatory impact 
review are available by sending your request to Dianne Stephan, Highly 
Migratory Species Management Division, Office of Sustainable Fisheries 
(F/SF1), NMFS, One Blackburn Dr., Gloucester, MA 01930; fax: 978-281-
9340.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Dianne Stephan at (978) 281-9260.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Atlantic tunas are managed under the dual 
authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and ATCA. ATCA authorizes the 
Secretary of Commerce (Secretary) to promulgate regulations, as may be 
necessary and appropriate, to implement ICCAT recommendations. The 
authority to issue regulations under the Magnuson-Stevens Act and ATCA 
has been delegated from the Secretary to the Assistant Administrator 
for Fisheries, NOAA (AA).

Background

    On May 28, 1998, NMFS published in the Federal Register (64 FR 
29090) final regulations, effective July 1, 1999, implementing the 
Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Tunas, Swordfish, and Sharks (1999 
FMP).
    In November 2002, ICCAT recommended a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) 
of BFT for the United States in the western Atlantic management area of 
1,489.6 metric tons (mt), effective beginning in 2003 and continuing in 
subsequent fishing years until revised by ICCAT. Also in the 2002 
recommendation, ICCAT allocated 25 mt annually to account for 
incidental catch of BFT by pelagic longline fisheries directed on other 
species ``in the vicinity of the management boundary area.'' This area 
was defined in the 2003 BFT annual specification rulemaking process as 
the Northeast Distant statistical area (NED) (68 FR 56783, October 2, 
2003). The TAC of 1,489.6 mt is inclusive of the annual 25 mt pelagic 
longline set-aside in the NED. The initial specifications within this 
proposed rule are published in accordance with the 1999 FMP and are 
necessary to implement the 2002 ICCAT quota recommendation, as required 
by ATCA, and to achieve domestic management objectives under the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act.
    This proposed rule would: (1) establish initial quota 
specifications consistent with the BFT rebuilding program as set forth 
in the 1999 FMP by allocating the 2002 ICCAT-recommended quota for the 
2005 fishing year (June 1, 2005--May 31, 2006); and (2) establish the 
General category effort controls, including time-period subquotas and 
restricted fishing days (RFDs), for the 2005 fishing season.
    NMFS is also seeking public comment on options for achieving 
ICCAT's recommended four-year average 8 percent tolerance on harvest of 
school BFT. As a method for limiting fishing mortality on school size 
BFT, ICCAT adopted an annual 8 percent tolerance limit in 1991, and in 
the 1998 rebuilding plan modified the tolerance to be calculated as a 
four-year average. The 2005 fishing year is the third year in the 
current four year period. Landings of school BFT in 2003 were 
approximately 138 mt, which is approximately 9.3 percent of the base 
quota for that year, and preliminary figures for 2004 indicate that 
school landings were greater than 2003 school landings. Since landings 
of school BFT for the first half of the four year period have exceeded 
8 percent, landings for the second half must be less than 8 percent to 
achieve an overall average of 8 percent or below. NMFS is considering 
options other than providing the full school subquota for the 2005 
fishery, and requests public comment on potential options for achieving 
the 8 percent target, including the following: (1) defer any action 
until the final year of the four year period (2006); (2) reallocate all 
or a portion of the 2005 school subquota to the large school/small 
medium subquota for 2005; (3) maintain the default Angling category 
retention limit of one fish (in any recreational size class, i.e., 
school, large school/small medium) per vessel per day for the entire 
2005 season; or (4) prohibit landing of school BFT in 2005 and carry 
over the subquota to 2006.
    After consideration of public comment, NMFS will issue final 
initial quota specifications and effort controls and publish them in 
the Federal Register, along with NMFS' response to those comments. The 
specifications and effort controls may subsequently be adjusted during 
the course of the fishing year, consistent with the provisions of the 
1999 FMP, and will be published in the Federal Register.
    NMFS acknowledges that a number of other issues regarding the 
domestic management of BFT have been discussed during recent years. For 
instance, adjustment of domestic quota allocation percentages and 
General category time-period subquotas were raised as issues in a 
Petition for Rulemaking submitted by the North Carolina Division of 
Marine Fisheries

[[Page 14631]]

(see Notice of Receipt of Petition, 67 FR 69502, November 18, 2002). 
These issues were discussed at the 2003 HMS Advisory Panel (AP) meeting 
held in Silver Spring, MD, and most recently at public scoping meetings 
regarding the development of the consolidated HMS FMP. Other issues 
have been addressed in separate rulemakings. For instance, at the end 
of 2003, a final rule was published (68 FR 74504, December 24, 2003) 
that: (1) extended the General category season from December 31 to 
January 31, (2) established a Harpoon category end date of November 15 
(or when the quota is reached, whichever comes first), (3) adjusted the 
Harpoon category tolerance limits for large medium BFT, and (4) 
adjusted the Purse Seine category opening date and large medium BFT 
tolerance limits. Additional issues may be addressed in the 
consolidated HMS FMP which is being developed during a current FMP 
amendment process (68 FR 40907, July 9, 2003) or in another future 
rulemaking.
    NMFS has prepared a draft Environmental Assessment (EA), Regulatory 
Impact Review (RIR), and an Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis 
(IRFA) which present and analyze anticipated environmental, social, and 
economic impacts of several alternatives for each of the major issues 
contained in this proposed rule. The complete list of alternatives and 
their analysis is provided in the draft EA/RIR/IRFA, and is not 
repeated here in its entirety. A copy of the draft EA/RIR/IRFA prepared 
for this proposed rule is available from NMFS (see ADDRESSES).

Domestic Quota Allocation

    The 1999 FMP and its implementing regulations established baseline 
percentage quota shares for the domestic fishing categories. These 
percentage shares were based on allocation procedures that NMFS 
developed over several years. The baseline percentage quota shares 
established in the 1999 FMP for fishing years beginning June 1, 1999, 
to the present are as follows: General category--47.1 percent; Harpoon 
category--3.9 percent; Purse Seine category--18.6 percent; Angling 
category--19.7 percent; Longline category--8.1 percent; Trap category--
0.1 percent; and Reserve category--2.5 percent. The 2002 ICCAT-
recommended U.S. BFT quota of 1,464.6 mt, not including the annual 25 
mt set aside for pelagic longline vessels, would be allocated in 
accordance with these percentages. However, in addition to the 2002 
ICCAT quota recommendation, quota allocations are adjusted based on 
overharvest or underharvest from prior fishing year's activity and on 
U.S. data on dead discards as they relate to the ICCAT dead discard 
allowance. Each of these adjustments is discussed below and then 
applied to the results of the above percentage shares to determine the 
2005 fishing year proposed initial quota specifications.

The 2004 Underharvest/Overharvest

    The current ICCAT BFT quota recommendation allows, and U.S. 
regulations require, the addition or subtraction, as appropriate, of 
any underharvest or overharvest in a fishing year to the following 
fishing year, provided that the total of the adjusted category quotas 
does not result in overharvest of the total annual BFT quota and 
remains consistent with all applicable ICCAT recommendations, including 
restrictions on landings of school BFT. Therefore, NMFS proposes to 
adjust the 2005 fishing year quota specifications for the BFT fishery 
to account for underharvest or overharvest in the 2004 fishing year.
    Overall U.S. landings figures for the 2004 fishing year are still 
preliminary and may be updated before these 2005 fishing year 
specifications are finalized. Should adjustments to the final initial 
2005 BFT quota specifications be required based on final 2004 BFT 
landing figures, NMFS will publish the adjustments in the Federal 
Register. For the 2004 fishing year, NMFS has preliminarily determined 
that General category landings were lower than the adjusted General 
category quota by approximately 16.0 mt; that Harpoon category landings 
were less than the adjusted Harpoon category quota by approximately 
11.5 mt; that Longline category landings were less than the adjusted 
Longline category quota by approximately 85.3 mt; that Angling category 
landing estimates were in excess of the adjusted Angling category quota 
by approximately 59.4 mt; and that Purse Seine category landings were 
less than the adjusted Purse Seine category quota by approximately 
257.6 mt. Regulations at 50 CFR 635.27(a)(9)(i) require that Purse 
Seine category underharvests or overharvests be subtracted from or 
added to each individual vessel's quota allocation, as appropriate. 
Based on the estimated amount of Reserve that NMFS maintains for the 
landing of BFT taken during ongoing scientific research projects and/or 
potential overharvests in certain categories, NMFS estimates that 298.3 
mt of Reserve remains from the 2004 fishing year. This remaining 
Reserve quota will be used in part to address the Angling category 
overharvest and the rest divided between the General and Harpoon 
categories in proportion to the tonnage transferred out of these 
categories to the Reserve category in 2004, and in consideration of the 
number of permit holders participating in each of these respective 
fisheries, and the Reserve category. For categories with under or 
overharvests from the 2004 fishing year, these initial specifications 
will subtract the overharvest from, or add the underharvest to, the 
same quota category for the 2005 fishing year.

Dead Discards

    As part of the BFT rebuilding program, ICCAT recommends an 
allowance for dead discards. The U.S. dead discard allowance is 68 mt. 
Dead discard estimates for 2004 are not yet available, so the estimate 
for the 2003 calendar year is used as a proxy to calculate the amount 
to be added to, or subtracted from, the U.S. BFT landings quota for 
2005. The 2003 calendar year preliminary estimate of U.S. dead 
discards, as reported per the longline discards calculated from logbook 
tallies, adjusted as warranted when observer counts in quarterly/
geographic stratum exceeded logbook reports, totaled 52.4 mt. Estimates 
of dead discards from other gear types and fishing sectors that do not 
use the pelagic longline vessel logbook are unavailable at this time, 
and thus, are not included in this calculation. As U.S. fishing 
activity is estimated to have resulted in fewer dead discards than its 
allowance, the ICCAT recommendation and U.S. regulations state that the 
United States may add one half of the difference between the amount of 
dead discards and the allowance (i.e., 68.0 mt - 52.4 mt = 15.6 mt, 
15.6 mt/2 = 7.8 mt) to its total allowed landings for the following 
fishing year, to individual fishing categories, or to the Reserve 
category. NMFS proposes to allocate the 7.8 mt to the Reserve category 
quota to assist in covering potential overharvests and provide for 
inseason adjustments for the upcoming fishing year.

2005 Proposed Initial Quota Specifications

    In accordance with the 2002 ICCAT quota recommendation, the ICCAT 
recommendation regarding the dead discard allowance, the HMS FMP 
percentage shares for each of the domestic categories, and regulations 
regarding annual adjustments at Sec.  635.27(a)(9)(ii), NMFS proposes 
initial quota specifications for the 2005 fishing year as follows: 
General category--908.3 mt; Harpoon category--90.0 mt; Purse Seine 
category--530.0 mt; Angling category--288.6 mt; Longline category--

[[Page 14632]]

228.9 mt; and Trap category--3.8 mt. Additionally, 59.4 mt would be 
allocated to the Reserve category for inseason adjustments, including 
potentially providing for a late season General category fishery, or 
allocated to cover scientific research collection and potential 
overharvest in any category except the Purse Seine category.
    Based on the above proposed initial specifications, the Angling 
category quota of 288.6 mt would be further subdivided as follows: 
School BFT--117.2 mt, with 45.1 mt to the northern area (north of 
39[deg]18' N. latitude), 50.4 mt to the southern area (south of 
39[deg]18' N. latitude), plus 21.7 mt held in reserve; large school/
small medium BFT--164.8 mt, with 77.8 mt to the northern area and 87.0 
mt to the southern area; and large medium/giant BFT--6.6 mt, with 2.2 
mt to the northern area and 4.4 mt to the southern area.
    The 2002 ICCAT recommendation includes an annual 25 mt set-aside 
quota to account for bycatch of BFT related to directed longline 
fisheries in the vicinity of the management area boundary and referred 
to as the NED hereafter. This set-aside quota is in addition to the 
overall incidental longline quota to be subdivided in accordance to the 
North/South allocation percentages mentioned below. Thus, the proposed 
Longline category quota of 228.9 mt would be subdivided as follows: 
58.1 mt to pelagic longline vessels landing BFT north of 31[deg] N. 
latitude and 106.1 mt to pelagic longline vessels landing BFT south of 
31[deg] N. latitude, and 64.7 mt (39.7 mt from 2004 + 25.0 mt for 2005) 
to account for bycatch of BFT related to directed pelagic longline 
fisheries in the NED. The bycatch allocation by ICCAT for pelagic 
longline vessels in the NED would be allocated to the Longline north 
subcategory. Accounting for landings under this additional quota would 
be maintained separately from other landings under the Longline north 
subcategory. Finally, regulations regarding BFT target catch 
requirements for pelagic longline vessels within the NED do not apply 
until the landings equal the available set-aside quota (Sec.  
635.23(f)(3)). After the available quota has been landed, target catch 
requirements at Sec.  635.23(f)(1) will then apply.

General Category Effort Controls

    For the last several years, NMFS has implemented General category 
time-period subquotas to increase the likelihood that fishing would 
continue throughout the entire General category season. The subquotas 
are consistent with the objectives of the 1999 FMP and are designed to 
address concerns regarding the allocation of fishing opportunities, to 
assist with distribution and achievement of optimum yield, to allow for 
a late season fishery, and to improve market conditions and scientific 
monitoring.
    The regulations implementing the 1999 FMP divide the annual General 
category quota into three time-period subquotas as follows: 60 percent 
for June-August, 30 percent for September, and 10 percent for October-
January. These percentages would be applied to the adjusted 2005 
coastwide quota for the General category of 908.3 mt, minus 10.0 mt 
reserved for the New York Bight set aside fishery. Therefore, of the 
available 898.3 mt coastwide quota, 539.0 mt would be available in the 
period beginning June 1 and ending August 31, 2005; 269.5 mt would be 
available in the period beginning September 1 and ending September 30, 
2005; and 89.8 mt would be available in the period beginning October 1, 
2005, and ending January 31, 2006.
    In addition to time-period subquotas, NMFS also has implemented 
General category RFDs to extend the General category fishing season. 
The RFDs are designed to address the same issues addressed by time-
period subquotas and provide additional fine scale inseason 
flexibility. For the 2005 fishing year, NMFS proposes a series of solid 
blocks of RFDs to extend the General category for as long as possible 
through the October through January time-period.
    Therefore, NMFS proposes that persons aboard vessels permitted in 
the General category would be prohibited from fishing, including catch-
and-release and tag-and-release, for BFT of all sizes on the following 
days: all Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from November 18, 2005, 
through January 31, 2006, and November 24, 2005, inclusive, while the 
fishery is open. These proposed RFDs would improve distribution of 
fishing opportunities during the late season without increasing BFT 
mortality.

Classification

    This proposed rule is published under the authority of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act and ATCA. The Assistant Administrator for 
Fisheries (AA) has preliminarily determined that the regulations 
contained in this proposed rule are necessary to implement the 
recommendations of ICCAT and to manage the domestic Atlantic HMS 
fisheries.
    The purpose of this proposed action is to: (1) implement the 2002 
ICCAT recommendation regarding the BFT quota, by proposing 2005 
specifications for the BFT fishery that allocates the quota among 
domestic fishing categories, including 25 mt of BFT quota to the 
Longline category; and, (2) implement General category effort controls.
    NMFS has prepared an IRFA to analyze the impacts on small entities 
of the alternatives for establishing 2005 fishing year BFT quotas for 
all domestic fishing categories and General category effort controls. 
The analysis for the IRFA assesses the impacts of the various 
alternatives on the vessels that participate in the BFT fisheries, all 
of which are considered small entities. In order to do this, NMFS has 
estimated the average impact that the alternative to establish the 2005 
BFT quota for all domestic fishing categories would have on individual 
categories and the vessels within those categories.
    As noted above, the 2002 ICCAT recommendation increased the BFT 
quota allocation to 1,489.6 mt, to be redistributed to the domestic 
fishing categories based on the allocation percentages established in 
the 1999 FMP, as well as a set-aside quota of 25 mt to account for 
incidental catch of BFT related to directed longline swordfish and BAYS 
fisheries in the NED. Both these quota modifications were established 
in the 2003 and 2004 specifications. In 2004, the annual gross revenues 
from the commercial BFT fishery were approximately $5.2 million. There 
are approximately 29,401 vessels that are permitted to land and sell 
BFT under four BFT quota categories (including charter/headboat 
vessels). The commercial categories and their 2004 gross revenues are 
General ($4,346,814), Harpoon ($317,104), Purse Seine ($231,791), and 
Longline ($305,180). The analysis for the IRFA assumes that each vessel 
within a category will have similar catch and gross revenues. While 
this may not be true, the analyses are sufficient to show the relative 
impact of the various preferred alternatives on vessels.
    For the allocation of BFT quota among domestic fishing categories, 
NMFS analyzed a no action alternative and Alternative two (preferred 
alternative) which would implement the 2002 ICCAT recommendation. 
Alternative two included several options for reducing catch of school 
BFT to stay within the four-year 8 percent tolerance limit required by 
ICCAT. NMFS considered a third alternative that would have allocated 
the 2002 ICCAT recommendation in a manner other than that designated in 
the 1999 FMP that was meant to address issues regarding specific set-
asides and allocations for

[[Page 14633]]

fishing groups that are not currently considered in the 1999 FMP. 
However, since the third alternative could have resulted in a de facto 
sub-period quota reallocation, an FMP amendment would be necessary for 
its implementation, and therefore it would not be practicable and was 
not further analyzed. NMFS has initiated the development of the 
consolidated HMS FMP (68 FR 40907, July 9, 2003) in a concurrent 
rulemaking, to consider sub-period quota allocations in the BFT 
fishery, among other things.
    As noted above, alternative two would implement the 2002 ICCAT 
recommendation in accordance with the 1999 FMP and consistent with 
ATCA. Under ATCA, the United States is obligated to implement ICCAT-
approved quota recommendations. The preferred alternative would apply 
this quota and have positive impacts for fishermen. The no action 
alternative would keep the quota at pre-2002 ICCAT recommendation 
levels (i.e., 77.6 mt less) and would not be consistent with the 
purpose and need for this action and the 1999 FMP. It would maintain 
economic impacts to the United States and to local economies at a 
distribution and scale similar to 2002 or recent prior years, but would 
deny fishermen additional fishing opportunities as recommended by the 
2002 ICCAT recommendation and as mandated by ATCA.
    Alternative two also includes several options for reducing catch of 
school bluefin tuna, including: (1) taking no action until 2006; (2) 
reallocating all or a portion of the 2005 school subquota to the large 
school/small medium subquota for 2005; (3) maintaining the default 
Angling category retention limit of one fish per vessel per day for the 
entire 2005 season; or (4) prohibiting landing of school BFT in 2005 
and carrying over the subquota to 2006. Because of limited economic 
data regarding recreational HMS fisheries, economic impacts of the 
various options cannot be quantified. However, the options that include 
some reduction in school BFT landings in 2005 (options 2, 3 and 4) 
could have minor negative economic impacts for 2005. Any modest 
economic impacts to charter/headboat or recreational fisheries as a 
result of option 2 could be mitigated by the shift of quota to the 
large school/small medium subquota. In addition, the apparent recent 
increase in school BFT landings could indicate an increase in abundance 
of young BFT, some of which could be recruited into the large school/
small medium size class in 2005, thus mitigating any reduction in 
school BFT from Options 2 or 4. Impacts from Option 3 are less likely 
to be mitigated by shifts in quota or abundance since the one fish 
retention limit would be in place for the entire season, and the small 
retention limit could have greater impacts on charter/headboat 
fisheries than the other options. Under Option 1, if action is deferred 
until 2006, then there would not be any impact in the coming fishing 
year; however, more severe measures may be required to reduce school 
harvest in 2006.
    For the General category effort controls, two alternatives were 
considered: the preferred alternative to designate RFDs according to a 
schedule published in the initial BFT specifications and the no action 
alternative (no RFDs published with the initial specifications, but 
implemented during the season as needed). In the past, when catch rates 
have been high, the use of RFDs (preferred alternative) has had 
positive economic consequences by avoiding oversupplying the market and 
extending the season as late as possible. Implementing RFDs to extend 
the late season may have negative economic impacts to northern area 
fishermen who choose to travel to the southern area during the late 
season fishery. Travel and lodging costs may be greater if the season 
were extended over a greater period of time as proposed under the 
preferred alternative. Those additional costs could be mitigated if the 
ex-vessel price of BFT stays high, as is intended under this 
alternative. Without RFDs, travel costs may be less because of a 
shorter season; however, the market could be oversupplied and ex-vessel 
prices could fall. Overall, extending the season as late as possible 
would enhance the likelihood of increasing participation by southern 
area fishermen, increase access to the fishery over a greater range of 
the fish migration, and is expected to provide better than average ex-
vessel prices with an overall increase in gross revenues.
    The no action alternative would not implement any RFDs with 
publication of the initial specifications but rather would use inseason 
management authority established in the 1999 FMP to implement RFDs 
during the season, should catch rates warrant. This alternative is most 
beneficial during a season of low catch rates and would have positive 
economic consequences if slow catch rates were to persist. Overall, the 
season would regulate itself and fishermen could choose when to fish or 
not based on their own preferences. However, even with low catch rates 
and no RFDs, it is unlikely that there will be enough quota in the 
General category to sustain an extended late season commercial handgear 
fishery off south Atlantic states. Thus, if the 2005 season is similar 
to the 2003 and 2004 fisheries, there may be negative economic impacts 
to fishermen in southern states unless inseason management actions are 
taken to slow down the late season fishery.
    None of the proposed alternatives in this document would result in 
additional reporting, recordkeeping, compliance, or monitoring 
requirements for the public. This proposed rule has also been 
determined not to duplicate, overlap, or conflict with any other 
Federal rules.
    NMFS prepared a draft EA for this proposed rule, and the AA has 
preliminarily concluded that there would be no significant impact on 
the human environment if this proposed rule were implemented. The EA 
presents analyses of the anticipated impacts of these proposed 
regulations and the alternatives considered. A copy of the EA and other 
analytical documents prepared for this proposed rule, are available 
from NMFS via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal (see ADDRESSES).
    This proposed rule has been determined to be not significant for 
purposes of Executive Order 12866.
    This final rule contains no new collection-of-information 
requirements subject to review and approval by the Office of Management 
and Budget (OMB) under the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA). 
Notwithstanding any other provisions of the law, no person is required 
to respond to, nor shall any person be subject to, a penalty for 
failure to comply with a collection of information subject to the 
requirements of the PRA unless that collection of information displays 
a currently valid OMB control number.
    On September 7, 2000, NMFS reinitiated formal consultation for all 
HMS commercial fisheries under Section 7 of the ESA. A BiOp, issued 
June 14, 2001, concluded that continued operation of the Atlantic 
pelagic longline fishery is likely to jeopardize the continued 
existence of endangered and threatened sea turtle species under NMFS 
jurisdiction. This BiOp also concluded that the continued operation of 
the purse seine and handgear fisheries may adversely affect, but is not 
likely to jeopardize, the continued existence of any endangered or 
threatened species under NMFS jurisdiction. NMFS has implemented the 
reasonable and prudent alternative (RPA) required by this BiOp.
    Subsequently, based on the management measures in several proposed 
rules, a new BiOp on the Atlantic pelagic longline fishery was

[[Page 14634]]

issued on June 1, 2004. The 2004 BiOp found that the continued 
operation of the fishery was not likely to jeopardize the continued 
existence of loggerhead, green, hawksbill, Kemp's ridley, or olive 
ridley sea turtles, but was likely to jeopardize the continued 
existence of leatherback sea turtles. The 2004 BiOp identified RPAs 
necessary to avoid jeopardizing leatherbacks, and listed the Reasonable 
and Prudent Measures (RPMs) and terms and conditions necessary to 
authorize continued take as part of the revised incidental take 
statement. On July 6, 2004, NMFS published a final rule (69 FR 40734) 
implementing additional sea turtle bycatch and bycatch mortality 
mitigation measures for all Atlantic vessels with pelagic longline gear 
onboard. NMFS is working on implementing the other RPMs in compliance 
with the 2004 BiOp. On August 12, 2004, NMFS published an advance 
notice of proposed rulemaking (69 FR 49858) to request comments on 
potential regulatory changes to further reduce bycatch and bycatch 
mortality of sea turtles, as well as comments on the feasibility of 
framework mechanisms to address unanticipated increases in sea turtle 
interactions and mortalities, should they occur. NMFS will undertake 
additional rulemaking and non-regulatory actions, as required, to 
implement any management measures that are required under the 2004 
BiOp. The measures proposed in this action are not expected to have 
adverse impacts on protected species. Although the 2002 ICCAT 
recommendation increased the BFT quota, which may result in a slight 
increase in effort, NMFS does not expect this slight increase to alter 
current fishing patterns. The options to reduce mortality of school BFT 
are expected to have negligible ecological impacts and not adversely 
impact protected species. The specific action to allocate additional 
BFT quota to the Longline category would not alter current impacts on 
threatened or endangered species. The action would not modify fishing 
behavior or gear type, nor would it expand fishing effort because BFT 
are only allowed to be retained incidentally. Thus, the proposed action 
would not be expected to change previously analyzed endangered species 
or marine mammal interaction rates or magnitudes, or substantially 
alter current fishing practices or bycatch mortality rates.
    The area in which this proposed action is planned has been 
identified as Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) for species managed by the 
New England Fishery Management Council, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery 
Management Council, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, the 
Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, the Caribbean Fishery 
Management Council, and the HMS Management Division of the Office of 
Sustainable Fisheries at NMFS. It is not anticipated that this action 
will have any adverse impacts to EFH and, therefore, no consultation is 
required.
    NMFS has determined that the list of actions in this proposed rule 
are consistent to the maximum extent practicable with the enforceable 
policies of the coastal states in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and 
Caribbean that have Federally approved coastal zone management programs 
under the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA). The proposed rule 
establishing quota specifications and effort controls will be submitted 
to the responsible state agencies for their review under Section 307 of 
the CZMA.

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 971 et seq.; 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.

    Dated: March 18, 2005.
Rebecca Lent,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 05-5742 Filed 3-18-05; 1:27 pm]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-S