Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Atlantic Bluefish Fisheries; 2006 Atlantic Bluefish Specifications; 2006 Research Set-Aside Project, 75111-75114 [05-24208]

Download as PDF Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 242 / Monday, December 19, 2005 / Proposed Rules The Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s 41st Stock Assessment Review Committee (SARC) summary and panelist reports are available at http:// www.nefsc.noaa.gov/nefsc/saw/saw41/. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Bonnie Van Pelt, Fishery Policy Analyst, (978) 281–9244. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 648 RIN 0648–AT20 [Docket No. 051128313–5313–01; I.D. 111705C] Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Atlantic Bluefish Fisheries; 2006 Atlantic Bluefish Specifications; 2006 Research Set-Aside Project National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments. AGENCY: SUMMARY: NMFS proposes 2006 specifications for the Atlantic bluefish fishery, including state-by-state commercial quotas, a recreational harvest limit, and recreational possession limits for Atlantic bluefish off the east coast of the United States. The intent of these specifications is to establish the allowable 2006 harvest levels and possession limits to attain the target fishing mortality rate (F), consistent with the stock rebuilding program in Amendment 1 to the Atlantic Bluefish Fishery Management Plan (FMP). DATES: Written comments must be received no later than 5 p.m. eastern standard time, on January 3, 2006. ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by any of the following methods: • E-mail: BF2006SPECS@noaa.gov. Include in the subject line the following identifier: ‘‘Comments on 2006 Bluefish Specifications.’’ • Federal e-Rulemaking portal: http://www.regulations.gov. • Mail: Patricia A. Kurkul, Regional Administrator, NMFS, Northeast Regional Office, One Blackburn Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930. Mark the outside of the envelope: ‘‘Comments on 2006 Bluefish Specifications.’’ • Fax: (978) 281–9135. Copies of the specifications document, including the Environmental Assessment, Regulatory Impact Review, and Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (EA/RIR/IRFA) and other supporting documents for the specifications are available from Daniel Furlong, Executive Director, MidAtlantic Fishery Management Council, Room 2115, Federal Building, 300 South Street, Dover, DE 19901–6790. The specifications document is also accessible via the Internet at http:// www.nero.noaa.gov. VerDate Aug<31>2005 17:15 Dec 16, 2005 Jkt 208001 Background The regulations implementing the Atlantic Bluefish Fishery Management Plan (FMP) are prepared by the MidAtlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) and appear at 50 CFR part 648, subparts A and J. Regulations requiring annual specifications are found at 648.160. The management unit for bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix) is U.S. waters of the western Atlantic Ocean. The FMP requires that the Council recommend, on an annual basis, total allowable landings (TAL) for the fishery, consisting of a commercial quota and recreational harvest limit. The annual review process for bluefish requires that the Council’s Bluefish Monitoring Committee (Monitoring Committee) review and make recommendations based on the best available data including, but not limited to, commercial and recreational catch/ landing statistics, current estimates of fishing mortality, stock abundance, discards for the recreational fishery, and juvenile recruitment. Based on the recommendations of the Monitoring Committee, the Council makes a recommendation to the Northeast Regional Administrator (RA). This FMP is a joint plan with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (Commission); therefore, the Commission meets during the annual specification process to adopt complimentary measures. The Council’s recommendations must include supporting documentation, concerning the environmental, economic, and social impacts of the recommendations. NMFS is responsible for reviewing these recommendations to assure they achieve the FMP objectives, and may modify them if they do not. NMFS then publishes proposed specifications in the Federal Register. After considering public comment, NMFS will publish final specifications in the Federal Register. In July 2005, the Monitoring Committee accepted the most recent bluefish stock assessment as the basis for its specification recommendations to the Council. In August 2005, the Council approved the Monitoring Committee’s recommendations and the PO 00000 Frm 00027 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 75111 Commission’s Bluefish Board (Board) adopted complementary management measures. Proposed Specifications Stock Assessment The SARC rejected the previous bluefish assessment in 2004, because of the instability of estimates derived from a catch/effort stock assessment model. A new model, called the age-structured assessment program (ASAP) model was used to assess the bluefish stock in 2005 and was reviewed by the SARC during the 41st Stock Assessment Workshop (SAW–41) in June 2005. The ASAP model is based on new methods for calculating biological reference points and biomass estimates (i.e., thresholds and targets for defining whether bluefish is overfished or whether overfishing is occurring). Although there were opposing viewpoints regarding the use of the ASAP model among the participating SAW–41 panel members, two of the panelists felt that the assessment was adequate for management purposes. The panelists also recognized the need for a recreational catch rate abundance index, better information on discard rates and mortality, and an improved modeling approach (see ADDRESSES for link to panelist reports). According to Amendment 1 to the FMP (Amendment 1), overfishing for bluefish occurs when F exceeds the fishing mortality rate that allows maximum sustainable yield (FMSY), or the maximum F threshold. The stock is considered overfished if the biomass (B) falls below the minimum biomass threshold, which is defined as 1⁄2BMSY. The Amendment also established that the long term target F (F0.1) is 90 percent of FMSY, and the long term target B is BMSY. The SAW–41 model results generated new biological reference points: (1) Maximum fishing mortality threshold or FMSY = 0.19; (2) F0.1 = 0.18, the long term fishing mortality target; (3) minimum biomass threshold, or 1⁄2 BMSY = 73.5 million lb (33,351 mt); and (4) BMSY = 147 million lb (66,678 mt), the long term biomass target. Based on the new biological reference points, and the 2004 estimate of bluefish stock biomass (104 million lb (47,235 mt)), the bluefish stock is not considered overfished. Estimates of fishing mortality have declined from 0.41 in 1991 to 0.15 in 2004. Therefore, the new model results also conclude that the Atlantic stock of bluefish is not experiencing overfishing, i.e., the model estimated the maximum fishing mortality threshold, FMSY = 0.19, and since F2004 = 0.15, F2004 <FMSY. E:\FR\FM\19DEP1.SGM 19DEP1 75112 Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 242 / Monday, December 19, 2005 / Proposed Rules 2006 TAL The FMP specifies that the bluefish stock is to be rebuilt to BMSY over a 9year period. The FMP requires the Council to recommend, on an annual basis, a level of total allowable catch (TAC) consistent with the rebuilding program in the FMP. An estimate of annual discards is deducted from the TAC to calculate the total allowable landings (TAL) that can be made during the year by the commercial and recreational fishing sectors combined. The TAL is composed of a commercial quota and a recreational harvest limit. The FMP rebuilding program requires the TAC for any given year to be set based either on the target F resulting from the stock rebuilding schedule specified in the FMP (0.31 for 2006), or the F estimated in the most recent fishing year (F2004 = 0.15), whichever is lower. Therefore, the 2006 recommendation is based on an estimate F of 0.15. Furthermore, the best information available indicates that the TAC of 29.147 million lb (13,221 mt) could achieve the target F (F = 0.15) in 2006, based on an estimated biomass of 104 million lb (47,235 mt) in 2004. The TAL for 2006 is derived by subtracting an estimate of discards of 4.348 million lb (1,972 mt), the average discard level from 2000–2004, from the TAC. After subtracting estimated discards, the 2006 TAL would be approximately 24 percent less than the 2005 TAL, or 24.799 million lb (11,249 mt). Based strictly on the percentages specified in the FMP (17 percent commercial, 83 percent recreational), the commercial quota for 2006 would be 4.216 million lb (1,912 mt), and the recreational harvest limit would be 20.583 million lb (9,336 mt) in 2006. In addition, up to 3 percent of the TAL may be allocated as RSA quota. The discussion below describes the recommended allocation of TAL between the commercial and recreational sectors, and its proportional adjustment downward to account for the recommended bluefish RSA quota. Proposed Commercial Quota and Recreational Harvest Limit The FMP stipulates that in any year in which 17 percent of the TAL is less than 10.500 million lb (4,763 mt), the commercial quota may be increased up to 10.500 million lb (4,763 mt) as long as the recreational fishery is not projected to land more than 83 percent of the TAL in the upcoming fishing year, and the combined projected recreational landings and commercial quota would not exceed the TAL. Given recreational harvest trends in recent years—an average of 12.698 million lb (5,760 mt) over the last 5 years—the Council and the Board recommended that the recreational harvest limit for 2006 approximate 2004 recreational landings (15.146 million lb (6,870 mt)). Therefore, consistent with the FMP and regulations governing the bluefish fishery, the Council recommended, and NMFS proposes, to transfer 5.367 million lb (2,434 mt) from the initial recreational allocation of 20.583 million lb (9,336 mt) resulting in a proposed 2006 recreational harvest limit of 15.216 million lb (6,902 mt) and a proposed commercial quota of 9.583 million lb (4,347 mt). These allocations were also recommended by the Commission to be implemented by the states for fisheries within state waters. RSA A request for proposals was published to solicit research proposals to utilize RSA in 2006 based on research priorities identified by the Council (April 18, 2005; 70 FR 20104). One research project that would utilize bluefish RSA has been approved by the RA and forwarded to the NOAA Grants Office. Therefore, a 363,677 lb (164,961 kg) RSA quota is proposed. Consistent with the allocation of the bluefish RSA, the proposed commercial quota for 2006 would be reduced to 9.442 million lb (4,283 mt) and the proposed recreational harvest limit is reduced to 14.993 million lb (6,801 mt). Proposed Recreational Possession Limit The Council recommends, and NMFS proposes, to maintain the current recreational possession limit of up to 15 fish per person to achieve the recreational harvest limit. Proposed State Commercial Allocations The proposed state commercial allocations for the recommended 2006 commercial quota are shown in Table 1 below, based on the percentages specified in the FMP. The table shows the allocations both before and after the deduction made to reflect the proposed RSA allocation. TABLE 1.—PROPOSED BLUEFISH COMMERCIAL STATE-BY-STATE ALLOCATIONS FOR 2006 Quota 2006 Commercial quota States Percent share (lb) 2006 Commercial quota (lb) With research set-aside (kg) (kg) With research set-aside ME .............................................................................. NH .............................................................................. MA .............................................................................. RI ................................................................................ CT .............................................................................. NY .............................................................................. NJ ............................................................................... DE .............................................................................. MD .............................................................................. VA .............................................................................. NC .............................................................................. SC .............................................................................. GA .............................................................................. FL ............................................................................... 0.6685 0.4145 6.7167 6.8081 1.2663 10.3851 14.8162 1.8782 3.0018 11.8795 32.0608 0.0352 0.0095 10.0597 64,062 39,722 643,661 652,420 121,350 995,204 1,419,836 179,988 287,662 1,138,412 3,072,386 3,373 910 964,021 29,058 18,018 291,963 295,936 55,044 451,422 644,034 81,642 130,483 516,381 1,393,625 1,530 413 437,277 63,123 39,139 634,222 642,852 119,570 980,609 1,399,014 177,348 283,444 1,121,718 3,027,330 3,324 897 949,884 28,632 17,753 287,678 291,593 54,236 444,797 634,582 80,444 128,568 508,803 1,373,174 1,508 407 430,860 Total .................................................................... 100.0001 9,583,000 4,346,820 9,442,465 4,283,031 VerDate Aug<31>2005 17:15 Dec 16, 2005 Jkt 208001 PO 00000 Frm 00028 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 E:\FR\FM\19DEP1.SGM 19DEP1 Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 242 / Monday, December 19, 2005 / Proposed Rules Classification This rule is exempt from review under Executive Order 12866. The Council prepared an IRFA that describes the impact this proposed rule, if adopted, would have on small entities. A description of the action, why it is being considered, and the legal basis for the action are provided in the preamble of this proposed rule, and in the IRFA. A copy of the complete IRFA can be obtained from the Council (see ADDRESSES). A summary of the economic analysis follows. All vessels affected by this rulemaking have gross receipts less than $3.5 million and are considered small entities under the Regulatory Flexibility Act. Because there are no large entities participating in this fishery, there are no disproportionate effects on small versus large entities. Information on costs in the fishery are not readily available and vessel profitability cannot be determined directly. Therefore, changes in gross revenues were used as a proxy for profitability. In the absence of quantitative data, qualitative analyses were conducted. The participants in the commercial sector were defined using two sets of data. First, the Northeast dealer reports were used to identify any vessel that reported having landed 1 or more pounds of bluefish during calendar year 2004 (the last year for which there is complete data). These dealer reports identify 748 vessels that landed bluefish in states from Maine to North Carolina. However, this database does not provide information about fishery participation in South Carolina, Georgia, or Florida. To identify those commercial bluefish vessels, South Atlantic Trip Ticket reports were used to identify 819 vessels 1 that landed bluefish in North Carolina and 591 vessels that landed bluefish on Florida’s east coast. The bluefish landings in South Carolina and Georgia represented less than 1⁄10 of 1 percent of total landings, a negligible proportion of the total bluefish landings along the Atlantic coast in 2004. In recent years, approximately 2,063 party/ charter vessels may have been active and/or caught bluefish. The Council analyzed three alternatives (including the no action/ status quo alternative) for allocating the TAL between the commercial and recreational sectors of the fishery. Consistent with FMP’s rebuilding schedule and the status of the resource as assessed by SARC–41, all of the alternatives were based on an overall 1 Some of these vessels were identified in the Northeast dealer data, therefore double counting is possible. VerDate Aug<31>2005 17:15 Dec 16, 2005 Jkt 208001 TAL of 24.799 million lb (11,249 mt) and included an RSA quota of 363,677 lb (164,961 kg). The alternatives differed only in the manner in which the TAL was allocated between the commercial and recreational sectors. The recommended alternative, before RSA deduction, would allocate 9.583 million lb (4,347 mt) to the commercial sector and 15,216 million lb (6,902 mt) to the recreational sector. Alternative 2, the most restrictive alternative would have allocated 4.216 million lb (1,912 mt) to the commercial sector and 20.583 million lb (9,336 mt) to the recreational sector, reflecting the traditional allocations derived from the FMP (i.e., the 17-percent commercial/83-percent recreational sector split). Alternative 3 would have allocated 10.500 million lb (4,763 mt) to the commercial sector and 14.299 million lb (6,486 mt) to the recreational sector, reflecting the commercial level that was place from 2002–2005 (i.e., status quo/no action alternative). For the commercial sector, the recommended coast wide quota is approximately 23 percent higher than 2004 commercial landings. Impacts on individual commercial vessels were assessed by conducting a threshold analysis using the dealer reports for the 748 vessels that landed bluefish from Maine through North Carolina. The analysis projected that there would be no revenue change for 535 out of 748 vessels, while 191 vessels could incur slight revenue losses of less than 5 percent. Another 22 vessels could incur revenue losses of between 5 percent and 39 percent, with the majority of these vessels identifying home ports in New York and North Carolina. According to a threshold impact analysis that compared 2004 landings from the Northeast dealer reports to the recommended 2006 commercial quota allocation, New York could experience decreases in landings up to 30 percent, while overall coast wide landings would increase by approximately 23 percent. The impacts of the proposed alternative on commercial vessels in the South Atlantic were assessed using trip ticket data. The analysis concluded that as a consequence of the 2006 recommended allocation compared to 2004 landings, there could be decreased landings in North Carolina and Georgia of up to 20 percent and 50 percent, respectively. On average, the potential decrease in landings in North Carolina is expected to be minimal (approximately 2 percent), with no projected revenue losses for vessels that landed in Florida. While the potential percentage decrease in bluefish landings from Georgia appears high, bluefish PO 00000 Frm 00029 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 75113 landed in Georgia represent a very small proportion of the overall coast wide landings (less than 1⁄10 of 1 percent), so this would represent a very small decrease in absolute terms. The analysis also noted that the provision that allows commercial quota to be transferred from one state to another is likely to result in transfers of quota to New York and North Carolina, from other states, thus mitigating the potential negative revenue impacts. While not assured, such transfers have been made annually in recent years, including 2003 and 2004. The analysis of Alternative 2 concluded that, for the commercial sector, there would be a 46-percent decrease in total potential commercial landings in 2006 compared to 2004 landings. The analysis of impacts on individual commercial vessels projected that there would be no revenue change for 62 of the 748 vessels that landed bluefish in 2004, while 606 vessels could incur slight revenue losses (less than 5 percent). Another 61 vessels could incur revenue losses between 5 percent and 39 percent, while 19 could incur revenue losses of greater than 39 percent. Nearly all of the vessels projected to incur revenue losses of greater than 5 percent had home ports in New York, New Jersey, or North Carolina. Again, the commercial quota transfer provision could be expected to mitigate some or all of these impacts, although to a lesser extent than in the other alternatives, as all states would have less quota to transfer. The impacts of Alternative 2 on commercial vessels in the south Atlantic area were assessed using trip ticket data. The analysis concluded that these impacts would result in revenue reductions associated with allowable landings of approximately 65 percent for vessels that landed in North Carolina. However, on average, reductions in landings would be expected to approximate 8 percent for vessels that land in North Carolina. No projected revenue losses are expected for vessels that land in Florida. The analysis of Alternative 3 concluded that, for the commercial sector, there would be a 34-percent increase in total potential commercial landings in 2006 compared to actual landings in 2004. The analysis of impacts on individual commercial vessels projected that there would be no revenue change for 535 of the 748 vessels that landed bluefish in 2004, while 198 could incur slight revenue losses (less than 5 percent). Another 15 vessels could incur revenue losses between 5 percent and 39 percent. The vessels projected to incur revenue losses E:\FR\FM\19DEP1.SGM 19DEP1 75114 Federal Register / Vol. 70, No. 242 / Monday, December 19, 2005 / Proposed Rules of greater than 5 percent had home ports in New York and North Carolina. These revenue losses result from the fact that these two states received quota transfers in 2004 which allowed them to land more than their initial coast wide quotas; however, in the absence of additional quota from transferring states in 2006 there is the potential for revenues to decrease compared to 2004. Similar to the other alternatives, the commercial quota transfer provision could be utilized to mitigate revenue losses, the extent to which would be dependent on a state’s willingness and ability to partake in the transfer. The impacts of Alternative 3 on commercial vessels in the south Atlantic area were assessed using trip ticket data. The analysis concludes that these impacts would result in revenue reductions associated with allowable landings of approximately 1.5 percent for 819 vessels identified as landing in North Carolina and no revenue reductions for vessels landing in Florida. For the recreational sector of the fishery, there were no negative revenue impacts projected to occur with regard to the recommended recreational harvest limits because this level would be close to the recreational landings in 2004 (15.146 million lb (6,870 mt)), and well above the 5-year average (2000– 2004) of 12.698 million lb (5,760 mt). The recommended recreational harvest limit represents the second lowest harvest level when compared with the two other alternatives, exceeding the average recreational landings over the past 5 years by approximately 15 percent. Given recent trends in bluefish recreational landings, the analysis concludes that landings would remain lower than the proposed recreational harvest limit. The recreational fishery impacts are expected to be similar for Alternatives 2 and 3, compared to the recommended measures under Alternative 1. Although there is very little empirical evidence regarding the sensitivity of charter/party anglers to regulation, it is anticipated that the proposed harvest levels will not affect the demand for charter/party boat trips. The Council also analyzed the impacts on revenues of the proposed RSA amount and found that the social and economic impacts are minimal. Assuming that the full RSA of 363,677 lb (164,961 kg) is landed and sold to support the proposed research project (a supplemental finfish survey in the MidAtlantic) then all of the participants in the fishery would benefit from the anticipated improvements in the data underlying the stock assessments. Because the recommended overall VerDate Aug<31>2005 17:15 Dec 16, 2005 Jkt 208001 commercial quota is higher than 2004 landings, no overall negative impacts are expected in the commercial sector. Based on recent trends in the recreational fishery, recreational landings will more than likely remain below the recommended harvest level in 2006. A full analysis is available from the Council (see ADDRESSES). Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. Dated: December 13, 2005. James W. Balsiger, Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 05–24208 Filed 12–16–05; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 648 [I.D. 022505B] Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Atlantic Mackerel, Squid, and Butterfish Fisheries; Amendment 11 Atlantic Mackerel Limited Access Program National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Supplemental notice of intent. AGENCY: SUMMARY: On March 4, 2005, the MidAtlantic Fishery Management Council (Council), in cooperation with NMFS, announced its intent to prepare a programmatic supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) and Amendment 9 to the Atlantic Mackerel, Squid, and Butterfish Fishery Management Plan (FMP). As a result of that notice, the Council received public comment on the issue of whether or not to consider measures to control or limit future access to the Atlantic mackerel fishery in Amendment 9. Based on public comment received during that scoping comment period, the Council notified the public in a subsequent notice on June 9, 2005, of its intention to move the consideration of the development of a limited access program for mackerel to Amendment 10 to the FMP. Since then, the Council has been notified that it must develop a stock rebuilding program for butterfish as a result of that stock being designated as overfished. Consequently, Amendment 10 will now include a plan to rebuild the overfished butterfish stock. As a result, the Council hereby PO 00000 Frm 00030 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 notifies the public that the mackerel limited access program will now be developed in Amendment 11 to the FMP. While the Council believes that this action will result in a slight delay in the development of a limited access program for Atlantic mackerel, no other changes are anticipated. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Eric Jay Dolin, Fishery Policy Analyst, 978– 281–9259; fax 978–281–9135. e-mail: eric.dolin@noaa.gov. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus) is a migratory species that supports important recreational and commercial fisheries along the Atlantic coast of the United States and Canada. The Council has considered the possibility of limiting entry to the Atlantic mackerel fishery for more than a decade. In April 2002, because the Council was concerned about rapid expansion of harvesting capacity in the fishery, possible overcapitalization, and the fact that nearly 5 years had passed since the most recent control date for the fishery was established, the Council requested that a new control date for the Atlantic mackerel fishery be established. As a result, NMFS published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) on July 5, 2002 (67 FR 44792), which established that date as the new control date for the Atlantic mackerel fishery. The ANPR was intended to discourage speculative entry into the fishery while potential management regimes to control access into the fishery were considered by the Council, and to help the Council distinguish established participants from speculative entrants to the fishery, should such a program be developed. On March 4, 2005 (70 FR 10605), the Council published a notice of intent to prepare an SEIS to consider impacts of alternatives for limiting access to the Atlantic mackerel fishery. The Council subsequently conducted scoping meetings on the development of a limited access program for Atlantic mackerel, which the Council planned to include in Amendment 9 to the FMP. The first scoping meeting was held on March 17, 2005, in Kill Devil Hills, NC, and the second meeting was held on March 28, 2005, in Newport, RI. However, because the Council decided to complete and submit for review by the Secretary of Commerce several other measures in Amendment 9 that were further along in their development than the mackerel limited access program, the Council voted on May 4, 2005, to complete Amendment 9 without a limited access program for the Atlantic mackerel fishery, and to pursue the E:\FR\FM\19DEP1.SGM 19DEP1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 70, Number 242 (Monday, December 19, 2005)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 75111-75114]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 05-24208]



[[Page 75111]]

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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 648

RIN 0648-AT20
[Docket No. 051128313-5313-01; I.D. 111705C]


Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Atlantic Bluefish 
Fisheries; 2006 Atlantic Bluefish Specifications; 2006 Research Set-
Aside Project

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

ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

SUMMARY: NMFS proposes 2006 specifications for the Atlantic bluefish 
fishery, including state-by-state commercial quotas, a recreational 
harvest limit, and recreational possession limits for Atlantic bluefish 
off the east coast of the United States. The intent of these 
specifications is to establish the allowable 2006 harvest levels and 
possession limits to attain the target fishing mortality rate (F), 
consistent with the stock rebuilding program in Amendment 1 to the 
Atlantic Bluefish Fishery Management Plan (FMP).

DATES: Written comments must be received no later than 5 p.m. eastern 
standard time, on January 3, 2006.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by any of the following methods:
     E-mail: BF2006SPECS@noaa.gov. Include in the subject line 
the following identifier: ``Comments on 2006 Bluefish Specifications.''
     Federal e-Rulemaking portal: http://www.regulations.gov.
     Mail: Patricia A. Kurkul, Regional Administrator, NMFS, 
Northeast Regional Office, One Blackburn Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930. 
Mark the outside of the envelope: ``Comments on 2006 Bluefish 
Specifications.''
     Fax: (978) 281-9135.
    Copies of the specifications document, including the Environmental 
Assessment, Regulatory Impact Review, and Initial Regulatory 
Flexibility Analysis (EA/RIR/IRFA) and other supporting documents for 
the specifications are available from Daniel Furlong, Executive 
Director, Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, Room 2115, Federal 
Building, 300 South Street, Dover, DE 19901-6790. The specifications 
document is also accessible via the Internet at http://
www.nero.noaa.gov.
    The Northeast Fisheries Science Center's 41st Stock Assessment 
Review Committee (SARC) summary and panelist reports are available at 
http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/nefsc/saw/saw41/.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Bonnie Van Pelt, Fishery Policy 
Analyst, (978) 281-9244.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    The regulations implementing the Atlantic Bluefish Fishery 
Management Plan (FMP) are prepared by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery 
Management Council (Council) and appear at 50 CFR part 648, subparts A 
and J. Regulations requiring annual specifications are found at 
648.160. The management unit for bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix) is U.S. 
waters of the western Atlantic Ocean.
    The FMP requires that the Council recommend, on an annual basis, 
total allowable landings (TAL) for the fishery, consisting of a 
commercial quota and recreational harvest limit. The annual review 
process for bluefish requires that the Council's Bluefish Monitoring 
Committee (Monitoring Committee) review and make recommendations based 
on the best available data including, but not limited to, commercial 
and recreational catch/landing statistics, current estimates of fishing 
mortality, stock abundance, discards for the recreational fishery, and 
juvenile recruitment. Based on the recommendations of the Monitoring 
Committee, the Council makes a recommendation to the Northeast Regional 
Administrator (RA). This FMP is a joint plan with the Atlantic States 
Marine Fisheries Commission (Commission); therefore, the Commission 
meets during the annual specification process to adopt complimentary 
measures.
    The Council's recommendations must include supporting 
documentation, concerning the environmental, economic, and social 
impacts of the recommendations. NMFS is responsible for reviewing these 
recommendations to assure they achieve the FMP objectives, and may 
modify them if they do not. NMFS then publishes proposed specifications 
in the Federal Register. After considering public comment, NMFS will 
publish final specifications in the Federal Register.
    In July 2005, the Monitoring Committee accepted the most recent 
bluefish stock assessment as the basis for its specification 
recommendations to the Council. In August 2005, the Council approved 
the Monitoring Committee's recommendations and the Commission's 
Bluefish Board (Board) adopted complementary management measures.

Proposed Specifications

Stock Assessment
    The SARC rejected the previous bluefish assessment in 2004, because 
of the instability of estimates derived from a catch/effort stock 
assessment model. A new model, called the age-structured assessment 
program (ASAP) model was used to assess the bluefish stock in 2005 and 
was reviewed by the SARC during the 41st Stock Assessment Workshop 
(SAW-41) in June 2005. The ASAP model is based on new methods for 
calculating biological reference points and biomass estimates (i.e., 
thresholds and targets for defining whether bluefish is overfished or 
whether overfishing is occurring). Although there were opposing 
viewpoints regarding the use of the ASAP model among the participating 
SAW-41 panel members, two of the panelists felt that the assessment was 
adequate for management purposes. The panelists also recognized the 
need for a recreational catch rate abundance index, better information 
on discard rates and mortality, and an improved modeling approach (see 
ADDRESSES for link to panelist reports).
    According to Amendment 1 to the FMP (Amendment 1), overfishing for 
bluefish occurs when F exceeds the fishing mortality rate that allows 
maximum sustainable yield (FMSY), or the maximum F 
threshold. The stock is considered overfished if the biomass (B) falls 
below the minimum biomass threshold, which is defined as \1/
2\BMSY. The Amendment also established that the long term 
target F (F0.1) is 90 percent of FMSY, and the 
long term target B is BMSY.
    The SAW-41 model results generated new biological reference points: 
(1) Maximum fishing mortality threshold or FMSY = 0.19; (2) 
F0.1 = 0.18, the long term fishing mortality target; (3) 
minimum biomass threshold, or \1/2\ BMSY = 73.5 million lb 
(33,351 mt); and (4) BMSY = 147 million lb (66,678 mt), the 
long term biomass target. Based on the new biological reference points, 
and the 2004 estimate of bluefish stock biomass (104 million lb (47,235 
mt)), the bluefish stock is not considered overfished. Estimates of 
fishing mortality have declined from 0.41 in 1991 to 0.15 in 2004. 
Therefore, the new model results also conclude that the Atlantic stock 
of bluefish is not experiencing overfishing, i.e., the model estimated 
the maximum fishing mortality threshold, FMSY = 0.19, and 
since F2004 = 0.15, F2004 MSY.

[[Page 75112]]

2006 TAL
    The FMP specifies that the bluefish stock is to be rebuilt to 
BMSY over a 9-year period. The FMP requires the Council to 
recommend, on an annual basis, a level of total allowable catch (TAC) 
consistent with the rebuilding program in the FMP. An estimate of 
annual discards is deducted from the TAC to calculate the total 
allowable landings (TAL) that can be made during the year by the 
commercial and recreational fishing sectors combined. The TAL is 
composed of a commercial quota and a recreational harvest limit. The 
FMP rebuilding program requires the TAC for any given year to be set 
based either on the target F resulting from the stock rebuilding 
schedule specified in the FMP (0.31 for 2006), or the F estimated in 
the most recent fishing year (F2004 = 0.15), whichever is 
lower. Therefore, the 2006 recommendation is based on an estimate F of 
0.15. Furthermore, the best information available indicates that the 
TAC of 29.147 million lb (13,221 mt) could achieve the target F (F = 
0.15) in 2006, based on an estimated biomass of 104 million lb (47,235 
mt) in 2004.
    The TAL for 2006 is derived by subtracting an estimate of discards 
of 4.348 million lb (1,972 mt), the average discard level from 2000-
2004, from the TAC. After subtracting estimated discards, the 2006 TAL 
would be approximately 24 percent less than the 2005 TAL, or 24.799 
million lb (11,249 mt). Based strictly on the percentages specified in 
the FMP (17 percent commercial, 83 percent recreational), the 
commercial quota for 2006 would be 4.216 million lb (1,912 mt), and the 
recreational harvest limit would be 20.583 million lb (9,336 mt) in 
2006. In addition, up to 3 percent of the TAL may be allocated as RSA 
quota. The discussion below describes the recommended allocation of TAL 
between the commercial and recreational sectors, and its proportional 
adjustment downward to account for the recommended bluefish RSA quota.

Proposed Commercial Quota and Recreational Harvest Limit

    The FMP stipulates that in any year in which 17 percent of the TAL 
is less than 10.500 million lb (4,763 mt), the commercial quota may be 
increased up to 10.500 million lb (4,763 mt) as long as the 
recreational fishery is not projected to land more than 83 percent of 
the TAL in the upcoming fishing year, and the combined projected 
recreational landings and commercial quota would not exceed the TAL. 
Given recreational harvest trends in recent years--an average of 12.698 
million lb (5,760 mt) over the last 5 years--the Council and the Board 
recommended that the recreational harvest limit for 2006 approximate 
2004 recreational landings (15.146 million lb (6,870 mt)). Therefore, 
consistent with the FMP and regulations governing the bluefish fishery, 
the Council recommended, and NMFS proposes, to transfer 5.367 million 
lb (2,434 mt) from the initial recreational allocation of 20.583 
million lb (9,336 mt) resulting in a proposed 2006 recreational harvest 
limit of 15.216 million lb (6,902 mt) and a proposed commercial quota 
of 9.583 million lb (4,347 mt). These allocations were also recommended 
by the Commission to be implemented by the states for fisheries within 
state waters.

RSA

    A request for proposals was published to solicit research proposals 
to utilize RSA in 2006 based on research priorities identified by the 
Council (April 18, 2005; 70 FR 20104). One research project that would 
utilize bluefish RSA has been approved by the RA and forwarded to the 
NOAA Grants Office. Therefore, a 363,677 lb (164,961 kg) RSA quota is 
proposed. Consistent with the allocation of the bluefish RSA, the 
proposed commercial quota for 2006 would be reduced to 9.442 million lb 
(4,283 mt) and the proposed recreational harvest limit is reduced to 
14.993 million lb (6,801 mt).

Proposed Recreational Possession Limit

    The Council recommends, and NMFS proposes, to maintain the current 
recreational possession limit of up to 15 fish per person to achieve 
the recreational harvest limit.

Proposed State Commercial Allocations

    The proposed state commercial allocations for the recommended 2006 
commercial quota are shown in Table 1 below, based on the percentages 
specified in the FMP. The table shows the allocations both before and 
after the deduction made to reflect the proposed RSA allocation.

                                       Table 1.--Proposed Bluefish Commercial State-by-State Allocations for 2006
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                            Quota              2006 Commercial quota           2006 Commercial quota
                                                                    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                               States                                                                                       (lb)  With      (kg)  With
                                                                        Percent share          (lb)            (kg)        research set-   research set-
                                                                                                                               aside           aside
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
ME.................................................................               0.6685          64,062          29,058          63,123          28,632
NH.................................................................               0.4145          39,722          18,018          39,139          17,753
MA.................................................................               6.7167         643,661         291,963         634,222         287,678
RI.................................................................               6.8081         652,420         295,936         642,852         291,593
CT.................................................................               1.2663         121,350          55,044         119,570          54,236
NY.................................................................              10.3851         995,204         451,422         980,609         444,797
NJ.................................................................              14.8162       1,419,836         644,034       1,399,014         634,582
DE.................................................................               1.8782         179,988          81,642         177,348          80,444
MD.................................................................               3.0018         287,662         130,483         283,444         128,568
VA.................................................................              11.8795       1,138,412         516,381       1,121,718         508,803
NC.................................................................              32.0608       3,072,386       1,393,625       3,027,330       1,373,174
SC.................................................................               0.0352           3,373           1,530           3,324           1,508
GA.................................................................               0.0095             910             413             897             407
FL.................................................................              10.0597         964,021         437,277         949,884         430,860
                                                                    ----------------------
    Total..........................................................             100.0001       9,583,000       4,346,820       9,442,465       4,283,031
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


[[Page 75113]]

Classification

    This rule is exempt from review under Executive Order 12866. The 
Council prepared an IRFA that describes the impact this proposed rule, 
if adopted, would have on small entities. A description of the action, 
why it is being considered, and the legal basis for the action are 
provided in the preamble of this proposed rule, and in the IRFA. A copy 
of the complete IRFA can be obtained from the Council (see ADDRESSES). 
A summary of the economic analysis follows.
    All vessels affected by this rulemaking have gross receipts less 
than $3.5 million and are considered small entities under the 
Regulatory Flexibility Act. Because there are no large entities 
participating in this fishery, there are no disproportionate effects on 
small versus large entities. Information on costs in the fishery are 
not readily available and vessel profitability cannot be determined 
directly. Therefore, changes in gross revenues were used as a proxy for 
profitability. In the absence of quantitative data, qualitative 
analyses were conducted.
    The participants in the commercial sector were defined using two 
sets of data. First, the Northeast dealer reports were used to identify 
any vessel that reported having landed 1 or more pounds of bluefish 
during calendar year 2004 (the last year for which there is complete 
data). These dealer reports identify 748 vessels that landed bluefish 
in states from Maine to North Carolina. However, this database does not 
provide information about fishery participation in South Carolina, 
Georgia, or Florida. To identify those commercial bluefish vessels, 
South Atlantic Trip Ticket reports were used to identify 819 vessels 
\1\ that landed bluefish in North Carolina and 591 vessels that landed 
bluefish on Florida's east coast. The bluefish landings in South 
Carolina and Georgia represented less than \1/10\ of 1 percent of total 
landings, a negligible proportion of the total bluefish landings along 
the Atlantic coast in 2004. In recent years, approximately 2,063 party/
charter vessels may have been active and/or caught bluefish.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \1\ Some of these vessels were identified in the Northeast 
dealer data, therefore double counting is possible.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Council analyzed three alternatives (including the no action/
status quo alternative) for allocating the TAL between the commercial 
and recreational sectors of the fishery. Consistent with FMP's 
rebuilding schedule and the status of the resource as assessed by SARC-
41, all of the alternatives were based on an overall TAL of 24.799 
million lb (11,249 mt) and included an RSA quota of 363,677 lb (164,961 
kg). The alternatives differed only in the manner in which the TAL was 
allocated between the commercial and recreational sectors.
    The recommended alternative, before RSA deduction, would allocate 
9.583 million lb (4,347 mt) to the commercial sector and 15,216 million 
lb (6,902 mt) to the recreational sector. Alternative 2, the most 
restrictive alternative would have allocated 4.216 million lb (1,912 
mt) to the commercial sector and 20.583 million lb (9,336 mt) to the 
recreational sector, reflecting the traditional allocations derived 
from the FMP (i.e., the 17-percent commercial/83-percent recreational 
sector split). Alternative 3 would have allocated 10.500 million lb 
(4,763 mt) to the commercial sector and 14.299 million lb (6,486 mt) to 
the recreational sector, reflecting the commercial level that was place 
from 2002-2005 (i.e., status quo/no action alternative).
    For the commercial sector, the recommended coast wide quota is 
approximately 23 percent higher than 2004 commercial landings. Impacts 
on individual commercial vessels were assessed by conducting a 
threshold analysis using the dealer reports for the 748 vessels that 
landed bluefish from Maine through North Carolina. The analysis 
projected that there would be no revenue change for 535 out of 748 
vessels, while 191 vessels could incur slight revenue losses of less 
than 5 percent. Another 22 vessels could incur revenue losses of 
between 5 percent and 39 percent, with the majority of these vessels 
identifying home ports in New York and North Carolina. According to a 
threshold impact analysis that compared 2004 landings from the 
Northeast dealer reports to the recommended 2006 commercial quota 
allocation, New York could experience decreases in landings up to 30 
percent, while overall coast wide landings would increase by 
approximately 23 percent.
    The impacts of the proposed alternative on commercial vessels in 
the South Atlantic were assessed using trip ticket data. The analysis 
concluded that as a consequence of the 2006 recommended allocation 
compared to 2004 landings, there could be decreased landings in North 
Carolina and Georgia of up to 20 percent and 50 percent, respectively. 
On average, the potential decrease in landings in North Carolina is 
expected to be minimal (approximately 2 percent), with no projected 
revenue losses for vessels that landed in Florida. While the potential 
percentage decrease in bluefish landings from Georgia appears high, 
bluefish landed in Georgia represent a very small proportion of the 
overall coast wide landings (less than \1/10\ of 1 percent), so this 
would represent a very small decrease in absolute terms. The analysis 
also noted that the provision that allows commercial quota to be 
transferred from one state to another is likely to result in transfers 
of quota to New York and North Carolina, from other states, thus 
mitigating the potential negative revenue impacts. While not assured, 
such transfers have been made annually in recent years, including 2003 
and 2004.
    The analysis of Alternative 2 concluded that, for the commercial 
sector, there would be a 46-percent decrease in total potential 
commercial landings in 2006 compared to 2004 landings. The analysis of 
impacts on individual commercial vessels projected that there would be 
no revenue change for 62 of the 748 vessels that landed bluefish in 
2004, while 606 vessels could incur slight revenue losses (less than 5 
percent). Another 61 vessels could incur revenue losses between 5 
percent and 39 percent, while 19 could incur revenue losses of greater 
than 39 percent. Nearly all of the vessels projected to incur revenue 
losses of greater than 5 percent had home ports in New York, New 
Jersey, or North Carolina. Again, the commercial quota transfer 
provision could be expected to mitigate some or all of these impacts, 
although to a lesser extent than in the other alternatives, as all 
states would have less quota to transfer.
    The impacts of Alternative 2 on commercial vessels in the south 
Atlantic area were assessed using trip ticket data. The analysis 
concluded that these impacts would result in revenue reductions 
associated with allowable landings of approximately 65 percent for 
vessels that landed in North Carolina. However, on average, reductions 
in landings would be expected to approximate 8 percent for vessels that 
land in North Carolina. No projected revenue losses are expected for 
vessels that land in Florida.
    The analysis of Alternative 3 concluded that, for the commercial 
sector, there would be a 34-percent increase in total potential 
commercial landings in 2006 compared to actual landings in 2004. The 
analysis of impacts on individual commercial vessels projected that 
there would be no revenue change for 535 of the 748 vessels that landed 
bluefish in 2004, while 198 could incur slight revenue losses (less 
than 5 percent). Another 15 vessels could incur revenue losses between 
5 percent and 39 percent. The vessels projected to incur revenue losses

[[Page 75114]]

of greater than 5 percent had home ports in New York and North 
Carolina. These revenue losses result from the fact that these two 
states received quota transfers in 2004 which allowed them to land more 
than their initial coast wide quotas; however, in the absence of 
additional quota from transferring states in 2006 there is the 
potential for revenues to decrease compared to 2004. Similar to the 
other alternatives, the commercial quota transfer provision could be 
utilized to mitigate revenue losses, the extent to which would be 
dependent on a state's willingness and ability to partake in the 
transfer.
    The impacts of Alternative 3 on commercial vessels in the south 
Atlantic area were assessed using trip ticket data. The analysis 
concludes that these impacts would result in revenue reductions 
associated with allowable landings of approximately 1.5 percent for 819 
vessels identified as landing in North Carolina and no revenue 
reductions for vessels landing in Florida.
    For the recreational sector of the fishery, there were no negative 
revenue impacts projected to occur with regard to the recommended 
recreational harvest limits because this level would be close to the 
recreational landings in 2004 (15.146 million lb (6,870 mt)), and well 
above the 5-year average (2000-2004) of 12.698 million lb (5,760 mt). 
The recommended recreational harvest limit represents the second lowest 
harvest level when compared with the two other alternatives, exceeding 
the average recreational landings over the past 5 years by 
approximately 15 percent. Given recent trends in bluefish recreational 
landings, the analysis concludes that landings would remain lower than 
the proposed recreational harvest limit. The recreational fishery 
impacts are expected to be similar for Alternatives 2 and 3, compared 
to the recommended measures under Alternative 1. Although there is very 
little empirical evidence regarding the sensitivity of charter/party 
anglers to regulation, it is anticipated that the proposed harvest 
levels will not affect the demand for charter/party boat trips.
    The Council also analyzed the impacts on revenues of the proposed 
RSA amount and found that the social and economic impacts are minimal. 
Assuming that the full RSA of 363,677 lb (164,961 kg) is landed and 
sold to support the proposed research project (a supplemental finfish 
survey in the Mid-Atlantic) then all of the participants in the fishery 
would benefit from the anticipated improvements in the data underlying 
the stock assessments. Because the recommended overall commercial quota 
is higher than 2004 landings, no overall negative impacts are expected 
in the commercial sector. Based on recent trends in the recreational 
fishery, recreational landings will more than likely remain below the 
recommended harvest level in 2006. A full analysis is available from 
the Council (see ADDRESSES).

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

    Dated: December 13, 2005.
James W. Balsiger,
Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National 
Marine Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 05-24208 Filed 12-16-05; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P