Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Total Allowable Catch Amount for “Other Species” in the Groundfish Fisheries of the Gulf of Alaska, 71450-71458 [05-23465]

Download as PDF 71450 Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 228 / Tuesday, November 29, 2005 / Proposed Rules The fee regulations, consequently, did not specifically exclude from fee payment and collection pink shrimp caught under the two Puget Sound shrimp licenses. The holders of the Puget Sound shrimp licenses did not vote in the groundfish program’s fee referendum and NMFS did not include the ex-vessel value of pink shrimp landed under the Puget Sound licenses in the required section 212 formula both for referendum vote weighting and for establishing the reduction loan subamounts for whose repayment the reduction fishery and each of the feeshare fisheries were responsible. The Puget Sound shrimp fisheries are not a fee-share fishery and section 212 does not authorize the payment and collection of fees on any shrimp, including pink shrimp, harvested under the Puget Sound shrimp licenses. Nevertheless, the fee regulations do not clearly exclude pink shrimp harvested under the Puget Sound shrimp licenses because NMFS was unaware of these licenses’ existence until after adopting a final fee rule. Fee collection and payment began on September 8, 2005, and this proposed rule is necessary to clarify that the feeshare fishery involving Washington pink shrimp includes only that portion of the Washington pink shrimp which is harvested by persons to whom Washington issued ocean pink shrimp licenses. Classification The Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, NOAA (AA), has determined that this proposed rule is consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and other applicable laws. This proposed rule has been determined to be not significant for purposes of Executive Order 12866. NMFS has certified to the Small Business Administration, under Section 605(b) of the Regulatory Flexibility Act, that this proposed rule would not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. There are currently six trawl fishing licenses in the Puget Sound within the Washington State shrimp fishery and 115 trawl fishing licenses total within the Washington State Ocean pink shrimp fishery according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. This regulation would apply to all 121 trawl fishing licenses issued in the Washington State shrimp fishery, although it will only directly affect the 6 Washington State Puget Sound shrimp license holders. This proposed rule seeks to revise the regulations to expressly exclude the holders of the Puget Sound shrimp VerDate Aug<31>2005 18:49 Nov 28, 2005 Jkt 208001 licenses from the groundfish program’s fee collection system. The holders of the Puget Sound shrimp licenses did not vote in the groundfish program’s fee referendum and NMFS did not include the ex-vessel value of pink shrimp landed under the Puget Sound licenses both for referendum vote weighting and for establishing the reduction loan subamounts for whose repayment the reduction fishery and each of the feeshare fisheries were responsible. The Puget Sound shrimp fisheries are not a fee-share fishery and the statute that created the program does not authorize the payment and collection of fees on any shrimp, including pink shrimp, harvested under the Puget Sound shrimp licenses. The change to the regulations will have a de minimis impact on those remaining in the fishery because the total payments from the non-fee-share fisheries are minor. The total fee to be collected for any given year is calculated based on a formula using projected landings, the interest rate, and the amortization schedule, and it is calculated in advance for the entire year. In determining the annual fee, the contributions from holders of the Puget Sound shrimp licenses were not considered in the calculation. The collection of fees from holders of the Puget Sound shrimp licenses would result in the repayment of fees above what was expected for this year. As a result of the additional revenue, the buyback loan would be repaid slightly earlier than expected and would result in a slight decrease in the overall amount of interest accrued on the loan. Removal of the holders of the Puget Sound shrimp licenses would only slightly negatively impact the remaining pink shrimp licence holders because the contributions from the non-fee-share fisheries are small compared to the overall reduction loan amount. The contributions from the holders of Puget Sound shrimp licences represents only 5 percent of the total reduction loan amount. Although the impact of this rule is small, this proposed rule is necessary to ensure that holders of the Puget Sound shrimp licenses are excluded from the requirement to pay fees on pink shrimp landings. These six license holders would be positively affected by this proposed rule through their exemption from a fee they were not intended to have to pay. List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 600 Fisheries, Fishing capacity reduction, Fishing permits, Fishing vessels. PO 00000 Frm 00042 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 Dated: November 23, 2005. John Oliver, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Operations, National Marine Fisheries Service. For the reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 600 is proposed to be amended as follows: PART 600—MAGNUSON-STEVENS ACT PROVISIONS 1. The authority citation for part 600 continues to read as follows: Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. Subpart M—Specific Fishery or Program Fishing Capacity Reduction Regulations 2. In § 600.1102, the definition of ‘‘Fee-share fishery’’ in paragraph (b) is revised, and paragraphs (d)(2)(vi) and (i)(1)(vi) are revised to read as follows: § 600.1102 Pacific Coast groundfish fee. * * * * * (b) * * * Fee-share fishery means each of the fisheries for coastal Dungeness crab and pink shrimp in each of the states of California and Oregon and the fishery for coastal Dungeness crab and ocean pink shrimp in the State of Washington. * * * * * (d) * * * (2) * * * (vi) Washington ocean pink shrimp fee-share fishery, $259,400. * * * * * (i) * * * (1) * * * (vi) All fee collections from the Washington ocean pink shrimp feeshare fishery shall be accounted for in a Washington ocean shrimp fee-share fishery subaccount, and * * * * * [FR Doc. 05–23464 Filed 11–28–05; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–S DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 679 [Docket No. 051116304–5304–01; I.D. 110805A] RIN 0648–AT92 Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Total Allowable Catch Amount for ‘‘Other Species’’ in the Groundfish Fisheries of the Gulf of Alaska National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and AGENCY: E:\FR\FM\29NOP1.SGM 29NOP1 Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 228 / Tuesday, November 29, 2005 / Proposed Rules Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. Proposed rule; request for comments. ACTION: Comments must be submitted by January 13, 2006. DATES: Send comments to Sue Salveson, Assistant Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region, NMFS, Attn: Lori Durall. Comments may be submitted by: • E-mail: 0648–AT92–PRGOA69@noaa.gov. Include in the subject line the following document identifier: GOA 69 PR. E-mail comments, with or without attachments, are limited to 5 megabytes. • Webform at the Federal eRulemaking Portal: www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions at that site for submitting comments. • Mail: P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802 • Hand delivery: 709 West 9th Street, Room 420A, Juneau, AK. • Fax: 907–586–7557. Copies of Amendment 69 and the Environmental Assessment/Regulatory Impact Review/Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (EA/RIR/IRFA) prepared for the amendment may be obtained from the same address or from the NMFS Alaska Region website at www.fakr.noaa.gov. The FMP is available from www.fakr.noaa.gov/ npfmc/fmp/goa/goa.htm. VerDate Aug<31>2005 18:49 Nov 28, 2005 Jkt 208001 Tom Pearson, 907–481–1780 or tom.pearson@noaa.gov. The groundfish fisheries in the exclusive economic zone of the GOA are managed under the FMP. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) prepared the FMP under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, 16 U.S.C. 1801, et seq. Regulations implementing the FMP appear at 50 CFR part 679. General regulations governing U.S. fisheries also appear at 50 CFR part 600. The Council has submitted Amendment 69 for review by the Secretary of Commerce, and a Notice of Availability of the FMP amendment was published in the Federal Register on November 16, 2005 (FR citation), with comments on the FMP amendment invited through January 17, 2006. Comments may address the FMP amendment, the proposed rule, or both, but must be received by January 17, 2006, to be considered in the approval/ disapproval decision on the FMP amendment. All comments received by that time, whether specifically directed to the FMP amendment or to the proposed rule, will be considered in the approval/disapproval decision on the FMP amendment. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: SUMMARY: NMFS issues a proposed rule that would implement Amendment 69 to the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Gulf of Alaska (FMP). Amendment 69, if approved, would amend the manner in which the total allowable catch (TAC) for the ‘‘other species’’ complex is annually determined in the Gulf of Alaska (GOA). The FMP amendment would allow the TAC amount for the ‘‘other species’’ complex to be set less than or equal to 5 percent of the sum of groundfish targets species in the GOA. This proposed rule would revise the maximum retainable amount (MRA) of ‘‘other species’’ in the directed arrowtooth flounder fishery from 0 to 20 percent. This action would allow conservation and management of species within the ‘‘other species’’ category and is intended to promote the goals and objectives of the MagnusonStevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), the FMP, and other applicable laws. ADDRESSES: FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Background Designation and management of the ‘‘other species’’ complex have evolved through a series of amendments to the GOA FMP. The following section provides an overview of how the complex has been managed historically under the FMP, and the amendments that have modified the complex and its management. The original FMP, implemented in 1978, identified three separate species categories: (1) prohibited species; (2) specific species or species complexes; and (3) ‘‘other species.’’ Under the original FMP, ‘‘other species’’ had a Maximum Sustained Yield/Optimum Yield (MSY/OY) of 16,200 mt based upon historic foreign catch. Amendment 5 to the FMP removed grenadiers from the ‘‘other species’’ complex and established them as their own category with a separate MSY/OY of 13,200 mt based upon the recorded average grenadier catch from 1967– 1979. Grenadiers were removed from the ‘‘other species’’ complex due to concerns that catches of grenadiers (specifically unforeseen incidental catches in the hook-and-line sablefish fishery) would exceed the MSY/OY for the ‘‘other species’’ complex and close directed fishing for target species. Because the population of grenadiers PO 00000 Frm 00043 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 71451 was not included in the development of the OY for ‘‘other species’’, the MSY/OY for the ‘‘other species’’ complex remained unchanged following the removal of grenadiers. Amendment 8 to the FMP was implemented in 1980 (45 FR 73486, November 5, 1980). Under this amendment, the grenadiers category was renamed non-specified species. All species caught that were not classified as target, prohibited or ‘‘other species’’ were reported to the non-specified category. Amendment 8 was intended to alleviate operational problems from fishermen reporting non-specified species in the ‘‘other species’’ complex. ‘‘Other species’’ were defined as species that have ‘‘only slight economic value and are not generally targeted upon, but which are either significant components of the ecosystem or have economic potential.’’ The OY for the ‘‘other species’’ complex was established as 5 percent of the OYs for all target species. The ‘‘other species’’ complex included sculpins, sharks, skates, eulachon, smelts, capelin, and octopi. Squids were managed as a separate target fishery with a separate MSY and OY. Under Amendment 8, the OY for the ‘‘other species’’ complex was modified to be managed Gulf-wide, rather than allocated by management area. Amendment 14 to the FMP was implemented November 18, 1985 (50 FR 43193). This amendment set the OY for the ‘‘other species’’ complex to 22,460 mt. Two years later, the FMP was amended by Amendment 15 (52 FR 7868, March 13, 1987 such that the TAC calculation for the ‘‘other species’’ complex was equal to 5 percent of the total TACs for all GOA target groundfish species. This percentage was consistent with previous approaches for setting OY for the ‘‘other species’’ complex, and was determined to be ample to provide for the anticipated incidental catch of those species. Amendment 16 moved squids into the ‘‘other species’’ complex from the target species category (53 FR 7756, March 10, 1988). Atka mackerel was combined into the ‘‘other species’’ complex due to low abundance, and the absence of a directed fishery for several years. High landings in 1992 and a directed fishery in 1993 demonstrated Atka mackerel was a target species. Amendment 31 moved Atka mackerel from the ‘‘other species’’ complex and established it as a target species (58 FR 54553, October 22, 1993). Amendment 39 defined a forage fish category in the FMP (63 FR 13798, March 23, 1998). Important prey species were included in this category. Regulations promulgated under E:\FR\FM\29NOP1.SGM 29NOP1 71452 Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 228 / Tuesday, November 29, 2005 / Proposed Rules Amendment 39 prohibited directed fishing and commercial processing of forage fish. Retention, sale, barter, trade, or other commercial exchange were limited. Eulachon, capelin, and smelts were moved from the ‘‘other species’’ complex to the forage fish category. The full list of species included in the forage fish category is in the FMP (see ADDRESSES). In 2003, as a skate directed fishery expanded, conservation concerns developed. As long as skates remained a part of the ‘‘other species’’ complex, NMFS could not manage skates as a distinct target category. Skate catch was limited only by the ‘‘other species’’ complex TAC minus catch of the remaining species in the complex. In 2004, Amendment 63 to the GOA FMP removed skates from the ‘‘other species’’ complex and placed them in a target category (69 FR 26313, May 12, 2004). Currently, overfishing levels, acceptable biological catches, and TACs are specified for big skates, longnose skates, and the remaining skates in the Bathyraja sp. (or other skate) complex. This amendment allowed for an appropriate sized directed fishery for skates based on the best available information on the stock, ensuring skate sustainability. The ‘‘other species’’ complex currently contains the following species groups: squids, sculpins, sharks, and octopi. The ‘‘other species’’ complex is open to directed fishing up to the TAC level for the complex, after allowing for incidental catch needs in other groundfish fisheries. The current requirement to set the ‘‘other species’’ complex TAC to 5 percent of the combined groundfish TACs could present conservation issues. Removing species from the ‘‘other species’’ complex has two effects. First, the number of target categories are increased. More target categories may increase the combined TAC in the GOA. If the combined TAC is larger, the TAC for the ‘‘other species’’ complex will be larger because the ‘‘other species’’ TAC is equal to exactly 5 percent of the combined TAC. Second, the number of species in the ‘‘other species’’ complex is reduced. Fewer species in the complex and the larger TAC increase the chance that one or more species groups in the complex may experience excessive harvest, including up to the entire TAC for the ‘‘other species’’ complex. The current process for calculating the ‘‘other species’’ TAC provides no flexibility. NMFS cannot establish the TAC for the ‘‘other species’’ complex at an amount lower than 5 percent, if the best available VerDate Aug<31>2005 18:49 Nov 28, 2005 Jkt 208001 information indicates a lower amount is the most prudent action. Retention of squids has increased by 13 times between 2003 and 2005. During 2005, shoreside processors were offering increased prices for spiny dogfish sharks. As indicated by skates, markets can develop quickly for species previously thought of as having little value. In order to quickly respond to developing fisheries in the ‘‘other species’’ complex, NMFS would need the flexibility to establish the ‘‘other species’’ complex TAC at a value less than 5 percent of the combined GOA species TACs. Setting the ‘‘other species’’ complex TAC to less than 5 percent of the combined GOA species TACs could prevent catch of one or more groups in the complex from disproportionately dominating the entire ‘‘other species’’ complex catch. NMFS would be able to allow for a developing fishery on a group in the ‘‘other species’’ complex while limiting the potential for excessive catch. The increased incidental catch of squids and the potential developing market for spiny dogfish sharks indicate that this proposed action is necessary and timely to allow for the ‘‘other species’’ complex TAC to be set at a level appropriate for sustainable harvest of sharks, squids, sculpins, and octopi groups. Amendment 69 would allow for sustainable management of any fishery targeting one or more species groups within the ‘‘other species’’ complex. As part of the annual groundfish harvest specifications process, Amendment 69 to the FMP would allow a TAC amount for ‘‘other species’’ to be set less than or equal to 5 percent of the sum of TACs of the target species in the GOA. The ‘‘other species’’ complex TAC could be set at an amount estimated to be sufficient to meet the annual incidental catch needs in other groundfish fisheries and could allow for directed fishing for ‘‘other species’’ to occur at sustainable levels. It is not necessary to amend existing regulations to implement the change in the ‘‘other species’’ complex TAC calculation. This calculation is described only in the FMP text and is not specified in the harvest specifications regulations at § 679.20. Because the ‘‘other species’’ TAC calculation is specified only in the FMP, no regulatory amendment is required to change the method of calculating the ‘‘other species’’ TAC. However, it is necessary to amend the harvest specification regulations in order to ensure conservation and management of ‘‘other species’’ incidental catch in groundfish fisheries, as described below. PO 00000 Frm 00044 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 Proposed Regulatory Amendment To manage the incidental harvest of the ‘‘other species’’ complex with the implementation of Amendment 69, this proposed action would revise Table 10 of 50 CFR part 679 to raise the MRA for the ‘‘other species’’ complex from 0 to 20 percent in the arrowtooth flounder fishery in the GOA. This revision is necessary to properly manage the retention of ‘‘other species’’ in the arrowtooth flounder fishery and to potentially reduce the amount of discards of fish in the ‘‘other species’’ complex. This action is intended to meet the conservation objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Act to reduce the potential for overfishing the species groups in the ‘‘other species’’ complex and to efficiently use fishery resources by reducing potential discards. This action would be an interim step towards the Council’s development of a more comprehensive approach towards the management of ‘‘other species.’’ Classification NMFS has not yet determined whether the amendment that this proposed rule would implement is consistent with the national standards of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and other applicable laws. In making that determination, NMFS will take into account the data, views, and comments received during the comment period. This proposed rule has been determined to be not significant for the purposes of Executive Order 12866. NMFS prepared an IRFA which describes any adverse impacts this proposed rule, if adopted, would have on directly regulated small entities. Because this action is closely linked to the annual harvest specifications, the EA/RIR/IRFA (see ADDRESSES) prepared for this action also analyzes the action to establish annual harvest specifications for the ‘‘other species’’ complex in the GOA. The IRFA analyses two FMP alternatives to revise the manner in which the annual TAC for the ‘‘other species’’ in the GOA is established, along with the status quo or no action alternative. In addition, two suboptions to revise the MRAs for ‘‘other species’’ in the groundfish fisheries in the GOA are analyzed along with the status quo, or no action suboption. A summary of the IRFA for this action follows: The proposed action for Amendment 69 revises the manner in which the annual TAC for the ‘‘other species’’ complex in the GOA is established and raises the MRA for ‘‘other species’’ from 0 to 20 percent in the arrowtooth E:\FR\FM\29NOP1.SGM 29NOP1 Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 228 / Tuesday, November 29, 2005 / Proposed Rules flounder fishery. As part of its annual groundfish harvest specification process, the Council would recommend a TAC amount for the ‘‘other species’’ complex at less than or equal to 5 percent of the sum of the groundfish TAC amounts. The objective of this action is to give the Council greater flexibility in recommending a TAC amount for ‘‘other species’’ in order to better protect individual species in the ‘‘other species’’ complex from overfishing and to make a sustainable fishery for the ‘‘other species’’ complex more likely. The legal basis for this action is found in the Magnuson-Stevens Act and in the GOA groundfish FMP promulgated pursuant to that act. The IRFA for this action ascertained that in 2003, 803 small catcher vessels and 13 small catcher processors might be directly regulated by this action. Most of these (655 catcher vessels and 9 small catcher processors) were hookand-line vessels. In addition, 137 catcher vessels and 1 catcher processor used pot gear, and 93 small catcher vessels and 3 small catcher processors used trawl gear. All these vessels are considered ‘‘small entities’’ as defined by the Regulatory Flexibility Act. In 2003, these vessels had average revenues of $190,000 from the federally managed groundfish fisheries. Average revenues were $170,000 for catcher vessels and $1,530,000 for catcher processors. This action would allow the TAC for ‘‘other species’’ to be set at less than 5 percent of the sum of other groundfish TACs, thereby limiting potential future VerDate Aug<31>2005 18:49 Nov 28, 2005 Jkt 208001 harvests of ‘‘other species’’ and gross revenues from these harvests in the short run. In the long run, however, the biomass of ‘‘other species’’ would be given additional protection. Actual impacts to small entities would depend on the actual TAC amount recommended for ‘‘other species’’ by the Council and approved by NMFS. These impacts would be assessed in the IRFA for the TAC specification action. Nothing in the proposed action would result in changes in reporting or recordkeeping requirements. The analysis did not reveal any Federal rules that duplicate, overlap, or conflict with the proposed action. The IRFA evaluated a no-action alternative, the preferred alternative and an alternative that would allow for only incidental catch of ‘‘other species.’’ Under the no-action alternative, the TAC for the ‘‘other species’’ complex would remain at 5 percent of the sum of other groundfish TACs. The ‘‘other species’’ complex 2006 TAC is 13,525 mt (70 FR 8958, February 24, 2005). If this amount were harvested by targeting a single species in the ‘‘other species’’ complex it could drive down that species biomass and reduce its reproductive potential. While revenues from the fishery would be higher in the short run, they would be lower in the longer run. Thus, while this alternative may have imposed fewer short run restrictions on small fishing operations, it did not meet the objectives of providing protection to individual species within the ‘‘other species’’ complex in the GOA and thereby protecting the future of a sustainable PO 00000 Frm 00045 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 71453 fishery. The incidental catch only alternative would not allow the Council to provide for a directed fishery for ‘‘other species.’’ This alternative would prevent the Council’s use of the best available information in determining the appropriate management for ‘‘other species.’’ For example, if the best available information indicated that a directed fishery for ‘‘other species’’ could occur without harming its future sustainability, then achieving its optimum yield would be prevented by this alternative. The preferred alternative, however, would allow the Council to decide whether to allow for a target fishery or for only incidental catch based on the latest stock assessment information. List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 679 Alaska, Fisheries, Recordkeeping and reporting requirements. Dated: November 22, 2005. William T. Hogarth, Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service. For reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 679 is proposed to be amended as follows: PART 679—FISHERIES OF THE EXCLUSIVE ECONOMIC ZONE OFF ALASKA 1. The authority citation for part 679 continues to read as follows: Authority: 16 U.S.C. 773 et seq.; 1540(f); 1801 et seq.; 1851 note; 3631 et seq. 2. Table 10 to part 679 is revised to read as follows: E:\FR\FM\29NOP1.SGM 29NOP1 VerDate Aug<31>2005 Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 228 / Tuesday, November 29, 2005 / Proposed Rules 18:49 Nov 28, 2005 Jkt 208001 PO 00000 Frm 00046 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4725 E:\FR\FM\29NOP1.SGM 29NOP1 EP29NO05.005</GPH> 71454 VerDate Aug<31>2005 18:49 Nov 28, 2005 Jkt 208001 PO 00000 Frm 00047 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4725 E:\FR\FM\29NOP1.SGM 29NOP1 71455 EP29NO05.006</GPH> Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 228 / Tuesday, November 29, 2005 / Proposed Rules VerDate Aug<31>2005 Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 228 / Tuesday, November 29, 2005 / Proposed Rules 18:49 Nov 28, 2005 Jkt 208001 PO 00000 Frm 00048 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4725 E:\FR\FM\29NOP1.SGM 29NOP1 EP29NO05.007</GPH> 71456 VerDate Aug<31>2005 18:49 Nov 28, 2005 Jkt 208001 PO 00000 Frm 00049 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4725 E:\FR\FM\29NOP1.SGM 29NOP1 71457 EP29NO05.008</GPH> Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 228 / Tuesday, November 29, 2005 / Proposed Rules 71458 Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 228 / Tuesday, November 29, 2005 / Proposed Rules BILLING CODE 3510–22–S VerDate Aug<31>2005 18:49 Nov 28, 2005 Jkt 208001 PO 00000 Frm 00050 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 E:\FR\FM\29NOP1.SGM 29NOP1 EP29NO05.009</GPH> [FR Doc. 05–23465 Filed 11–28–05; 8:45 am]

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 70, Number 228 (Tuesday, November 29, 2005)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 71450-71458]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 05-23465]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 679

[Docket No. 051116304-5304-01; I.D. 110805A]
RIN 0648-AT92


Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Total 
Allowable Catch Amount for ``Other Species'' in the Groundfish 
Fisheries of the Gulf of Alaska

AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and

[[Page 71451]]

Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.

ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: NMFS issues a proposed rule that would implement Amendment 69 
to the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Gulf of Alaska 
(FMP). Amendment 69, if approved, would amend the manner in which the 
total allowable catch (TAC) for the ``other species'' complex is 
annually determined in the Gulf of Alaska (GOA). The FMP amendment 
would allow the TAC amount for the ``other species'' complex to be set 
less than or equal to 5 percent of the sum of groundfish targets 
species in the GOA. This proposed rule would revise the maximum 
retainable amount (MRA) of ``other species'' in the directed arrowtooth 
flounder fishery from 0 to 20 percent. This action would allow 
conservation and management of species within the ``other species'' 
category and is intended to promote the goals and objectives of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-
Stevens Act), the FMP, and other applicable laws.

DATES: Comments must be submitted by January 13, 2006.

ADDRESSES: Send comments to Sue Salveson, Assistant Regional 
Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region, NMFS, 
Attn: Lori Durall. Comments may be submitted by:
     E-mail: 0648-AT92-PR-GOA69@noaa.gov. Include in the 
subject line the following document identifier: GOA 69 PR. E-mail 
comments, with or without attachments, are limited to 5 megabytes.
     Webform at the Federal eRulemaking Portal: 
www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions at that site for 
submitting comments.
     Mail: P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802
     Hand delivery: 709 West 9th Street, Room 420A, Juneau, AK.
     Fax: 907-586-7557.
    Copies of Amendment 69 and the Environmental Assessment/Regulatory 
Impact Review/Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (EA/RIR/IRFA) 
prepared for the amendment may be obtained from the same address or 
from the NMFS Alaska Region website at www.fakr.noaa.gov. The FMP is 
available from www.fakr.noaa.gov/npfmc/fmp/goa/goa.htm.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Tom Pearson, 907-481-1780 or 
tom.pearson@noaa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The groundfish fisheries in the exclusive 
economic zone of the GOA are managed under the FMP. The North Pacific 
Fishery Management Council (Council) prepared the FMP under the 
authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, 16 U.S.C. 1801, et seq. 
Regulations implementing the FMP appear at 50 CFR part 679. General 
regulations governing U.S. fisheries also appear at 50 CFR part 600.
    The Council has submitted Amendment 69 for review by the Secretary 
of Commerce, and a Notice of Availability of the FMP amendment was 
published in the Federal Register on November 16, 2005 (FR citation), 
with comments on the FMP amendment invited through January 17, 2006.
    Comments may address the FMP amendment, the proposed rule, or both, 
but must be received by January 17, 2006, to be considered in the 
approval/disapproval decision on the FMP amendment. All comments 
received by that time, whether specifically directed to the FMP 
amendment or to the proposed rule, will be considered in the approval/
disapproval decision on the FMP amendment.

Background

    Designation and management of the ``other species'' complex have 
evolved through a series of amendments to the GOA FMP. The following 
section provides an overview of how the complex has been managed 
historically under the FMP, and the amendments that have modified the 
complex and its management.
    The original FMP, implemented in 1978, identified three separate 
species categories: (1) prohibited species; (2) specific species or 
species complexes; and (3) ``other species.'' Under the original FMP, 
``other species'' had a Maximum Sustained Yield/Optimum Yield (MSY/OY) 
of 16,200 mt based upon historic foreign catch.
    Amendment 5 to the FMP removed grenadiers from the ``other 
species'' complex and established them as their own category with a 
separate MSY/OY of 13,200 mt based upon the recorded average grenadier 
catch from 1967-1979. Grenadiers were removed from the ``other 
species'' complex due to concerns that catches of grenadiers 
(specifically unforeseen incidental catches in the hook-and-line 
sablefish fishery) would exceed the MSY/OY for the ``other species'' 
complex and close directed fishing for target species. Because the 
population of grenadiers was not included in the development of the OY 
for ``other species'', the MSY/OY for the ``other species'' complex 
remained unchanged following the removal of grenadiers.
    Amendment 8 to the FMP was implemented in 1980 (45 FR 73486, 
November 5, 1980). Under this amendment, the grenadiers category was 
renamed non-specified species. All species caught that were not 
classified as target, prohibited or ``other species'' were reported to 
the non-specified category. Amendment 8 was intended to alleviate 
operational problems from fishermen reporting non-specified species in 
the ``other species'' complex. ``Other species'' were defined as 
species that have ``only slight economic value and are not generally 
targeted upon, but which are either significant components of the 
ecosystem or have economic potential.'' The OY for the ``other 
species'' complex was established as 5 percent of the OYs for all 
target species. The ``other species'' complex included sculpins, 
sharks, skates, eulachon, smelts, capelin, and octopi. Squids were 
managed as a separate target fishery with a separate MSY and OY. Under 
Amendment 8, the OY for the ``other species'' complex was modified to 
be managed Gulf-wide, rather than allocated by management area.
    Amendment 14 to the FMP was implemented November 18, 1985 (50 FR 
43193). This amendment set the OY for the ``other species'' complex to 
22,460 mt. Two years later, the FMP was amended by Amendment 15 (52 FR 
7868, March 13, 1987 such that the TAC calculation for the ``other 
species'' complex was equal to 5 percent of the total TACs for all GOA 
target groundfish species. This percentage was consistent with previous 
approaches for setting OY for the ``other species'' complex, and was 
determined to be ample to provide for the anticipated incidental catch 
of those species.
    Amendment 16 moved squids into the ``other species'' complex from 
the target species category (53 FR 7756, March 10, 1988). Atka mackerel 
was combined into the ``other species'' complex due to low abundance, 
and the absence of a directed fishery for several years. High landings 
in 1992 and a directed fishery in 1993 demonstrated Atka mackerel was a 
target species. Amendment 31 moved Atka mackerel from the ``other 
species'' complex and established it as a target species (58 FR 54553, 
October 22, 1993).
    Amendment 39 defined a forage fish category in the FMP (63 FR 
13798, March 23, 1998). Important prey species were included in this 
category. Regulations promulgated under

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Amendment 39 prohibited directed fishing and commercial processing of 
forage fish. Retention, sale, barter, trade, or other commercial 
exchange were limited. Eulachon, capelin, and smelts were moved from 
the ``other species'' complex to the forage fish category. The full 
list of species included in the forage fish category is in the FMP (see 
ADDRESSES).
    In 2003, as a skate directed fishery expanded, conservation 
concerns developed. As long as skates remained a part of the ``other 
species'' complex, NMFS could not manage skates as a distinct target 
category. Skate catch was limited only by the ``other species'' complex 
TAC minus catch of the remaining species in the complex. In 2004, 
Amendment 63 to the GOA FMP removed skates from the ``other species'' 
complex and placed them in a target category (69 FR 26313, May 12, 
2004). Currently, overfishing levels, acceptable biological catches, 
and TACs are specified for big skates, longnose skates, and the 
remaining skates in the Bathyraja sp. (or other skate) complex. This 
amendment allowed for an appropriate sized directed fishery for skates 
based on the best available information on the stock, ensuring skate 
sustainability.
    The ``other species'' complex currently contains the following 
species groups: squids, sculpins, sharks, and octopi. The ``other 
species'' complex is open to directed fishing up to the TAC level for 
the complex, after allowing for incidental catch needs in other 
groundfish fisheries. The current requirement to set the ``other 
species'' complex TAC to 5 percent of the combined groundfish TACs 
could present conservation issues. Removing species from the ``other 
species'' complex has two effects. First, the number of target 
categories are increased. More target categories may increase the 
combined TAC in the GOA. If the combined TAC is larger, the TAC for the 
``other species'' complex will be larger because the ``other species'' 
TAC is equal to exactly 5 percent of the combined TAC. Second, the 
number of species in the ``other species'' complex is reduced. Fewer 
species in the complex and the larger TAC increase the chance that one 
or more species groups in the complex may experience excessive harvest, 
including up to the entire TAC for the ``other species'' complex. The 
current process for calculating the ``other species'' TAC provides no 
flexibility. NMFS cannot establish the TAC for the ``other species'' 
complex at an amount lower than 5 percent, if the best available 
information indicates a lower amount is the most prudent action.
    Retention of squids has increased by 13 times between 2003 and 
2005. During 2005, shoreside processors were offering increased prices 
for spiny dogfish sharks. As indicated by skates, markets can develop 
quickly for species previously thought of as having little value. In 
order to quickly respond to developing fisheries in the ``other 
species'' complex, NMFS would need the flexibility to establish the 
``other species'' complex TAC at a value less than 5 percent of the 
combined GOA species TACs. Setting the ``other species'' complex TAC to 
less than 5 percent of the combined GOA species TACs could prevent 
catch of one or more groups in the complex from disproportionately 
dominating the entire ``other species'' complex catch. NMFS would be 
able to allow for a developing fishery on a group in the ``other 
species'' complex while limiting the potential for excessive catch. The 
increased incidental catch of squids and the potential developing 
market for spiny dogfish sharks indicate that this proposed action is 
necessary and timely to allow for the ``other species'' complex TAC to 
be set at a level appropriate for sustainable harvest of sharks, 
squids, sculpins, and octopi groups.
    Amendment 69 would allow for sustainable management of any fishery 
targeting one or more species groups within the ``other species'' 
complex. As part of the annual groundfish harvest specifications 
process, Amendment 69 to the FMP would allow a TAC amount for ``other 
species'' to be set less than or equal to 5 percent of the sum of TACs 
of the target species in the GOA. The ``other species'' complex TAC 
could be set at an amount estimated to be sufficient to meet the annual 
incidental catch needs in other groundfish fisheries and could allow 
for directed fishing for ``other species'' to occur at sustainable 
levels. It is not necessary to amend existing regulations to implement 
the change in the ``other species'' complex TAC calculation. This 
calculation is described only in the FMP text and is not specified in 
the harvest specifications regulations at Sec.  679.20. Because the 
``other species'' TAC calculation is specified only in the FMP, no 
regulatory amendment is required to change the method of calculating 
the ``other species'' TAC. However, it is necessary to amend the 
harvest specification regulations in order to ensure conservation and 
management of ``other species'' incidental catch in groundfish 
fisheries, as described below.

Proposed Regulatory Amendment

    To manage the incidental harvest of the ``other species'' complex 
with the implementation of Amendment 69, this proposed action would 
revise Table 10 of 50 CFR part 679 to raise the MRA for the ``other 
species'' complex from 0 to 20 percent in the arrowtooth flounder 
fishery in the GOA. This revision is necessary to properly manage the 
retention of ``other species'' in the arrowtooth flounder fishery and 
to potentially reduce the amount of discards of fish in the ``other 
species'' complex.
    This action is intended to meet the conservation objectives of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act to reduce the potential for overfishing the 
species groups in the ``other species'' complex and to efficiently use 
fishery resources by reducing potential discards. This action would be 
an interim step towards the Council's development of a more 
comprehensive approach towards the management of ``other species.''

Classification

    NMFS has not yet determined whether the amendment that this 
proposed rule would implement is consistent with the national standards 
of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and other applicable laws. In making that 
determination, NMFS will take into account the data, views, and 
comments received during the comment period.
    This proposed rule has been determined to be not significant for 
the purposes of Executive Order 12866.
    NMFS prepared an IRFA which describes any adverse impacts this 
proposed rule, if adopted, would have on directly regulated small 
entities. Because this action is closely linked to the annual harvest 
specifications, the EA/RIR/IRFA (see ADDRESSES) prepared for this 
action also analyzes the action to establish annual harvest 
specifications for the ``other species'' complex in the GOA. The IRFA 
analyses two FMP alternatives to revise the manner in which the annual 
TAC for the ``other species'' in the GOA is established, along with the 
status quo or no action alternative. In addition, two suboptions to 
revise the MRAs for ``other species'' in the groundfish fisheries in 
the GOA are analyzed along with the status quo, or no action suboption. 
A summary of the IRFA for this action follows:
    The proposed action for Amendment 69 revises the manner in which 
the annual TAC for the ``other species'' complex in the GOA is 
established and raises the MRA for ``other species'' from 0 to 20 
percent in the arrowtooth

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flounder fishery. As part of its annual groundfish harvest 
specification process, the Council would recommend a TAC amount for the 
``other species'' complex at less than or equal to 5 percent of the sum 
of the groundfish TAC amounts. The objective of this action is to give 
the Council greater flexibility in recommending a TAC amount for 
``other species'' in order to better protect individual species in the 
``other species'' complex from overfishing and to make a sustainable 
fishery for the ``other species'' complex more likely.
    The legal basis for this action is found in the Magnuson-Stevens 
Act and in the GOA groundfish FMP promulgated pursuant to that act.
    The IRFA for this action ascertained that in 2003, 803 small 
catcher vessels and 13 small catcher processors might be directly 
regulated by this action. Most of these (655 catcher vessels and 9 
small catcher processors) were hook-and-line vessels. In addition, 137 
catcher vessels and 1 catcher processor used pot gear, and 93 small 
catcher vessels and 3 small catcher processors used trawl gear. All 
these vessels are considered ``small entities'' as defined by the 
Regulatory Flexibility Act. In 2003, these vessels had average revenues 
of $190,000 from the federally managed groundfish fisheries. Average 
revenues were $170,000 for catcher vessels and $1,530,000 for catcher 
processors.
    This action would allow the TAC for ``other species'' to be set at 
less than 5 percent of the sum of other groundfish TACs, thereby 
limiting potential future harvests of ``other species'' and gross 
revenues from these harvests in the short run. In the long run, 
however, the biomass of ``other species'' would be given additional 
protection. Actual impacts to small entities would depend on the actual 
TAC amount recommended for ``other species'' by the Council and 
approved by NMFS. These impacts would be assessed in the IRFA for the 
TAC specification action.
    Nothing in the proposed action would result in changes in reporting 
or recordkeeping requirements.
    The analysis did not reveal any Federal rules that duplicate, 
overlap, or conflict with the proposed action.
    The IRFA evaluated a no-action alternative, the preferred 
alternative and an alternative that would allow for only incidental 
catch of ``other species.'' Under the no-action alternative, the TAC 
for the ``other species'' complex would remain at 5 percent of the sum 
of other groundfish TACs. The ``other species'' complex 2006 TAC is 
13,525 mt (70 FR 8958, February 24, 2005). If this amount were 
harvested by targeting a single species in the ``other species'' 
complex it could drive down that species biomass and reduce its 
reproductive potential. While revenues from the fishery would be higher 
in the short run, they would be lower in the longer run. Thus, while 
this alternative may have imposed fewer short run restrictions on small 
fishing operations, it did not meet the objectives of providing 
protection to individual species within the ``other species'' complex 
in the GOA and thereby protecting the future of a sustainable fishery. 
The incidental catch only alternative would not allow the Council to 
provide for a directed fishery for ``other species.'' This alternative 
would prevent the Council's use of the best available information in 
determining the appropriate management for ``other species.'' For 
example, if the best available information indicated that a directed 
fishery for ``other species'' could occur without harming its future 
sustainability, then achieving its optimum yield would be prevented by 
this alternative. The preferred alternative, however, would allow the 
Council to decide whether to allow for a target fishery or for only 
incidental catch based on the latest stock assessment information.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 679

    Alaska, Fisheries, Recordkeeping and reporting requirements.

    Dated: November 22, 2005.
William T. Hogarth,
Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.
    For reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 679 is proposed to 
be amended as follows:

PART 679--FISHERIES OF THE EXCLUSIVE ECONOMIC ZONE OFF ALASKA

    1. The authority citation for part 679 continues to read as 
follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 773 et seq.; 1540(f); 1801 et seq.; 1851 
note; 3631 et seq.
    2. Table 10 to part 679 is revised to read as follows:

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[FR Doc. 05-23465 Filed 11-28-05; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-S