Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act; Atlantic Striped Bass Fishery, 54261-54262 [E6-15262]

Download as PDF Federal Register / Vol. 71, No. 178 / Thursday, September 14, 2006 / Proposed Rules DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 697 [I.D. 063003A] RIN 0648–AR33 Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act; Atlantic Striped Bass Fishery National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Withdrawal of a notice of intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). AGENCY: rwilkins on PROD1PC63 with PROPOSAL SUMMARY: On October 20, 2003, NMFS announced its intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and hold scoping meetings in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). On September 7, 2006, the Assistant Administrator for Fisheries decided to withdraw NMFS’ intent to prepare an EIS due the increase in the fishing mortality rate since the time of the original notice. The overwhelming public response to the rulemaking - the great majority of whom were in support of maintaining the closure - together with the clear public perception that large trophy sized fish congregate in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), suggests that fishing effort in an opened EEZ might markedly increase striped bass mortality above the already elevated current rates. Therefore, further processing of an EIS is no longer warranted. The notice of intent to prepare an EIS is withdrawn and the NEPA process is hereby terminated. DATES: Effective September 14, 2006. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For any further information, contact Chris Moore, Chief, Partnerships and Communications Division, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, NMFS, 1315 EastWest Highway, Room 13317, Silver Spring, MD 20910. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Background On April 24, 2003, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (Commission) recommended that the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary) remove the moratorium on the harvest of striped bass in the EEZ and implement Federal regulations to compliment Commission measures in Amendment 6 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Striped Bass (Amendment 6). In addition, the letter VerDate Aug<31>2005 20:21 Sep 13, 2006 Jkt 208001 included rationale for the action and requested that the Secretary implement a 28–inch minimum size limit for the recreational and commercial striped bass fisheries in the EEZ and allow states the ability to adopt more restrictive rules for fishermen and vessels licensed in their jurisdiction. In February 2003, the 2002 fishing mortality rate of F=0.28 was below the target level (F=0.30), whereas the female spawning stock biomass of 60.6 million pounds was 1.6 times the target level an all-time high. Under these ideal conditions, the Commission recommended to the Secretary to open the EEZ to striped bass fishing. In response to the Commission recommendation, an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) was published in the Federal Register on July 21, 2003 (68 FR 43074). The comment period closed on August 20, 2003. The comment period was subsequently reopened on August 26, 2003 (68 FR 51232), for an additional 30-days. NMFS announced that it was considering proposed rulemaking to revise Federal Atlantic striped bass regulations to be compatible with the Commission’s Amendment 6, and was seeking comments on the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations to the Secretary to open the EEZ to the harvest of Atlantic striped bass. NMFS also solicited comments on possible alternative management measures and issues relative to these recommendations. After review of comments received from the public during the ANPR comment period, NMFS determined there were sufficient issues raised, both in support of, and in opposition to, the Commission’s recommendation, to warrant further evaluation of the potential impacts of opening the EEZ to striped bass fishing. That determination resulted in the initiation of a decisionmaking process required under the NEPA. A Notice of intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and notice of scoping process was published in the Federal Register on October 20, 2003 (68 FR 59906). The notice presented a summary of the ANPR comments, and requested further public input on a list of potential alternatives and other management measures. Public meetings were held in nine Atlantic coast states between November 5 and December 10, 2003, and public comment period closed on December 22, 2003. Delay in the Development of an EIS In September 2004, the Commission’s Striped Bass Technical Committee (Technical Committee) prepared its PO 00000 Frm 00027 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 54261 2004 Stock Assessment Report for use by the Striped Bass Management Board (Board), which included data through 2003. That assessment contradicted previous assessments which had indicated that the striped bass population was not overfished and continued to grow in abundance. Instead, the results indicated that the stock was overfished and that spawning stock biomass had been reduced to below target levels. However, given that results of tagging study analyses did not show a similar increase in fishing mortality, the members of the Technical Committee did not feel the assessment provided an accurate representation of stock status. As such, the Technical Committee recommended the 2004 assessment results not be used for management decisions until both the modeling software and the input data sets were reevaluated during the 2005 assessment process. As a result, the 2004 stock assessment has not been used by the Commission for management decisions. In addition, NMFS decided to delay the completion of the EIS to be able to incorporate the 2005 stock assessment in the EIS. During 2005, the Technical Committee and Stock Assessment Subcommittee reviewed model inputs and the model itself to determine if the results from the 2004 assessment truly reflected status of the population or were an artifact of data or model errors. They concluded that a number of the indices used in the 2004 effort were not consistent with what was observed in the population as a whole, or were contradictory to the majority of other reliable time series. Those indices were removed from subsequent model runs. The Technical Committee believes the current assessment reflects the true status of the population, i.e., the stock is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring. Further Public Participation As a result of the new assessment results, NMFS decided to consider options for opening the EEZ again in 2006. Because significant time had passed since the nine initial scoping hearings were held in November– December 2003, and given that further stock assessments were now available, NMFS needed additional scoping before finalizing the alternatives to be analyzed in a draft EIS. NMFS developed a preliminary draft analyses of Federal management options to open the EEZ to the harvest of Atlantic Striped Bass (Options Paper), which included the 2005 stock assessment. This document was published in the Federal Register on April 24, 2006 (71 FR 20984) with a E:\FR\FM\14SEP1.SGM 14SEP1 54262 Federal Register / Vol. 71, No. 178 / Thursday, September 14, 2006 / Proposed Rules rwilkins on PROD1PC63 with PROPOSAL 30-day comment period. The comment period was extended an additional 30 days and ended June 26, 2006. Options considered in the document were: (1) Open the entire EEZ, implement a 28– inch (71.1–cm) minimum size limit, and allow states to adopt more restrictive regulations for fishermen and vessels licensed in their state (Commission recommendation); (2) open the entire EEZ, implement a 28–inch (71.1–cm) minimum size limit, allow states to adopt more restrictive regulations for fishermen and vessels licensed in their state, implement a recreational bag limit of 2 fish per day, require circle hooks for all commercial and recreational hook and line fishing using bait, and commercial trip limits (option a) bycatch trip limit options (option b); (3) open the entire EEZ, implement a 28– inch (71.1–cm) minimum size limit, allow states to adopt more restrictive regulations for fishermen and vessels licensed in their state, allow hook and line gear only, implement a recreational bag limit of 2 fish per day, require circle hooks for all commercial and recreational hook and line fishing using bait, and implement a commercial trip limit of 30 fish per trip or day whichever is greater; and (4) status quo. No preferred option was identified. Most public comments were based on review of the Options Paper, which analyzed impacts under each of the four options. The Option Paper stated that options 1–3 could result in an increased fishing pressure in the EEZ (i.e., increased mortality), however, any increase in EEZ effort will likely be minimal and offset by an equally small decrease in nearshore effort. The vast majority (97 percent) of the 8,000–plus comments were for option 4 status quo. Public comments overwhelmingly indicated that the public disagreed with the Option Paper’s conclusion that there would be no increase mortality if the EEZ were opened. The public believes that if the EEZ were opened that mortality would increase substantially. In addition, the VerDate Aug<31>2005 20:21 Sep 13, 2006 Jkt 208001 public believes that ‘‘It has been determined that the majority of striped bass in the EEZ are larger fish, which also tend to be females,’’ although, there is no scientific study to substantiate this. Regardless, there exists a strong perception by the public that larger fish are offshore and that perception alone might cause an increase in fishing pressure in the EEZ and, as a result, an overall increase in mortality on the stock. Discussion The striped bass stock has shown significant changes since 2003 when the Commission recommended that the Secretary open the EEZ to striped bass fishing in Amendment 6. Although approved in February 2003, Amendment 6 was based largely on data from the 2001 Stock Assessment. Notably, at the time of adoption, the best available science suggested the mortality rate to be stable and below the threshold, and that spawning stock abundance was increasing. Amendment 6 incorporated new management standards to ensure stock conservation including targets and thresholds for both mortality and spawning stock biomass, and five triggers that would allow the Commission to respond quickly to increased mortality. One of the triggers is ‘‘If the Management Board determines that the fishing mortality threshold is exceeded in any year, the Board must adjust the striped bass management program to reduce the fishing mortality rate to a level that is at or below the target within one year.’’ The best available science suggests that the stock’s status and fishing mortality rate have changed significantly since the time the Commission approved Amendment 6 in February 2003. Not only has the overall trend shifted towards increased mortality, but the specific fishing mortality rate itself has increased from F=0.28 (below the target of 0.30) to F=0.40 a rate that exceeds the target and is almost equal to the overfishing PO 00000 Frm 00028 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 threshold of 0.41. This shift represents a mortality increase of 43% since 2002. In fact, fishing mortality estimates for older striped bass (age 9 F=0.50) and (age 10 F=0.44) both exceed the threshold level. Further, the trend toward increasing female spawning stock biomass (SSB) has reversed itself with the overall biomass decreasing from 60.6 million pounds (according to the science available in February 2003), to 55.0 million pounds in November 2005. The SSB remains well above the target of 38.6 million pounds and threshold of 30.9 million pounds, but has shown a downward trend of 9 percent since 2002. The analysis in the Options Paper stated that any increase in EEZ effort (increase mortality) under options 1–3 would likely be minimal. But, with the fishing mortality rate at F=0.40, NMFS cannot be certain, especially after taking into account the overwhelming public perception that large trophy sized fish congregate in the EEZ, that opening the EEZ would not increase effort and lead to an increase in mortality that would exceed the threshold. Since the current mortality rate is just below the threshold, any increase will require the Commission to reduce fishing effort on striped bass. Both the Commission’s and NMFS’ ability to immediately respond to an overfishing and/or overfished situation is a potential issue, particularly given the timeframe within which Amendment 6 was created, and given the lag time in which a given year’s data is available to management. Therefore, NMFS has concluded that it would be imprudent to open the EEZ at this time and has chosen to not proceed with further processing of an EIS under the NEPA process. Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1851 note. Dated: September 8, 2006. Alan D. Risenhoover, Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. E6–15262 Filed 9–13–06; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–S E:\FR\FM\14SEP1.SGM 14SEP1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 71, Number 178 (Thursday, September 14, 2006)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 54261-54262]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: E6-15262]



[[Page 54261]]

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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 697

[I.D. 063003A]
RIN 0648-AR33


Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act; Atlantic Striped Bass 
Fishery

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

ACTION: Withdrawal of a notice of intent to prepare an Environmental 
Impact Statement (EIS).

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

SUMMARY: On October 20, 2003, NMFS announced its intent to prepare an 
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and hold scoping meetings in 
accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). On 
September 7, 2006, the Assistant Administrator for Fisheries decided to 
withdraw NMFS' intent to prepare an EIS due the increase in the fishing 
mortality rate since the time of the original notice. The overwhelming 
public response to the rulemaking - the great majority of whom were in 
support of maintaining the closure - together with the clear public 
perception that large trophy sized fish congregate in the Exclusive 
Economic Zone (EEZ), suggests that fishing effort in an opened EEZ 
might markedly increase striped bass mortality above the already 
elevated current rates. Therefore, further processing of an EIS is no 
longer warranted. The notice of intent to prepare an EIS is withdrawn 
and the NEPA process is hereby terminated.

DATES: Effective September 14, 2006.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For any further information, contact 
Chris Moore, Chief, Partnerships and Communications Division, Office of 
Sustainable Fisheries, NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Room 13317, Silver 
Spring, MD 20910.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    On April 24, 2003, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission 
(Commission) recommended that the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary) 
remove the moratorium on the harvest of striped bass in the EEZ and 
implement Federal regulations to compliment Commission measures in 
Amendment 6 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Striped Bass 
(Amendment 6). In addition, the letter included rationale for the 
action and requested that the Secretary implement a 28-inch minimum 
size limit for the recreational and commercial striped bass fisheries 
in the EEZ and allow states the ability to adopt more restrictive rules 
for fishermen and vessels licensed in their jurisdiction.
    In February 2003, the 2002 fishing mortality rate of F=0.28 was 
below the target level (F=0.30), whereas the female spawning stock 
biomass of 60.6 million pounds was 1.6 times the target level an all-
time high. Under these ideal conditions, the Commission recommended to 
the Secretary to open the EEZ to striped bass fishing.
    In response to the Commission recommendation, an advance notice of 
proposed rulemaking (ANPR) was published in the Federal Register on 
July 21, 2003 (68 FR 43074). The comment period closed on August 20, 
2003. The comment period was subsequently reopened on August 26, 2003 
(68 FR 51232), for an additional 30-days. NMFS announced that it was 
considering proposed rulemaking to revise Federal Atlantic striped bass 
regulations to be compatible with the Commission's Amendment 6, and was 
seeking comments on the implementation of the Commission's 
recommendations to the Secretary to open the EEZ to the harvest of 
Atlantic striped bass. NMFS also solicited comments on possible 
alternative management measures and issues relative to these 
recommendations.
    After review of comments received from the public during the ANPR 
comment period, NMFS determined there were sufficient issues raised, 
both in support of, and in opposition to, the Commission's 
recommendation, to warrant further evaluation of the potential impacts 
of opening the EEZ to striped bass fishing. That determination resulted 
in the initiation of a decision-making process required under the NEPA. 
A Notice of intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) 
and notice of scoping process was published in the Federal Register on 
October 20, 2003 (68 FR 59906). The notice presented a summary of the 
ANPR comments, and requested further public input on a list of 
potential alternatives and other management measures. Public meetings 
were held in nine Atlantic coast states between November 5 and December 
10, 2003, and public comment period closed on December 22, 2003.

Delay in the Development of an EIS

    In September 2004, the Commission's Striped Bass Technical 
Committee (Technical Committee) prepared its 2004 Stock Assessment 
Report for use by the Striped Bass Management Board (Board), which 
included data through 2003. That assessment contradicted previous 
assessments which had indicated that the striped bass population was 
not overfished and continued to grow in abundance. Instead, the results 
indicated that the stock was overfished and that spawning stock biomass 
had been reduced to below target levels. However, given that results of 
tagging study analyses did not show a similar increase in fishing 
mortality, the members of the Technical Committee did not feel the 
assessment provided an accurate representation of stock status. As 
such, the Technical Committee recommended the 2004 assessment results 
not be used for management decisions until both the modeling software 
and the input data sets were reevaluated during the 2005 assessment 
process. As a result, the 2004 stock assessment has not been used by 
the Commission for management decisions. In addition, NMFS decided to 
delay the completion of the EIS to be able to incorporate the 2005 
stock assessment in the EIS.
    During 2005, the Technical Committee and Stock Assessment 
Subcommittee reviewed model inputs and the model itself to determine if 
the results from the 2004 assessment truly reflected status of the 
population or were an artifact of data or model errors. They concluded 
that a number of the indices used in the 2004 effort were not 
consistent with what was observed in the population as a whole, or were 
contradictory to the majority of other reliable time series. Those 
indices were removed from subsequent model runs. The Technical 
Committee believes the current assessment reflects the true status of 
the population, i.e., the stock is not overfished and overfishing is 
not occurring.

Further Public Participation

    As a result of the new assessment results, NMFS decided to consider 
options for opening the EEZ again in 2006. Because significant time had 
passed since the nine initial scoping hearings were held in November-
December 2003, and given that further stock assessments were now 
available, NMFS needed additional scoping before finalizing the 
alternatives to be analyzed in a draft EIS. NMFS developed a 
preliminary draft analyses of Federal management options to open the 
EEZ to the harvest of Atlantic Striped Bass (Options Paper), which 
included the 2005 stock assessment. This document was published in the 
Federal Register on April 24, 2006 (71 FR 20984) with a

[[Page 54262]]

30-day comment period. The comment period was extended an additional 30 
days and ended June 26, 2006. Options considered in the document were: 
(1) Open the entire EEZ, implement a 28-inch (71.1-cm) minimum size 
limit, and allow states to adopt more restrictive regulations for 
fishermen and vessels licensed in their state (Commission 
recommendation); (2) open the entire EEZ, implement a 28-inch (71.1-cm) 
minimum size limit, allow states to adopt more restrictive regulations 
for fishermen and vessels licensed in their state, implement a 
recreational bag limit of 2 fish per day, require circle hooks for all 
commercial and recreational hook and line fishing using bait, and 
commercial trip limits (option a) bycatch trip limit options (option 
b); (3) open the entire EEZ, implement a 28-inch (71.1-cm) minimum size 
limit, allow states to adopt more restrictive regulations for fishermen 
and vessels licensed in their state, allow hook and line gear only, 
implement a recreational bag limit of 2 fish per day, require circle 
hooks for all commercial and recreational hook and line fishing using 
bait, and implement a commercial trip limit of 30 fish per trip or day 
whichever is greater; and (4) status quo. No preferred option was 
identified.
    Most public comments were based on review of the Options Paper, 
which analyzed impacts under each of the four options. The Option Paper 
stated that options 1-3 could result in an increased fishing pressure 
in the EEZ (i.e., increased mortality), however, any increase in EEZ 
effort will likely be minimal and offset by an equally small decrease 
in nearshore effort.
    The vast majority (97 percent) of the 8,000-plus comments were for 
option 4 status quo. Public comments overwhelmingly indicated that the 
public disagreed with the Option Paper's conclusion that there would be 
no increase mortality if the EEZ were opened. The public believes that 
if the EEZ were opened that mortality would increase substantially. In 
addition, the public believes that ``It has been determined that the 
majority of striped bass in the EEZ are larger fish, which also tend to 
be females,'' although, there is no scientific study to substantiate 
this. Regardless, there exists a strong perception by the public that 
larger fish are offshore and that perception alone might cause an 
increase in fishing pressure in the EEZ and, as a result, an overall 
increase in mortality on the stock.

Discussion

    The striped bass stock has shown significant changes since 2003 
when the Commission recommended that the Secretary open the EEZ to 
striped bass fishing in Amendment 6. Although approved in February 
2003, Amendment 6 was based largely on data from the 2001 Stock 
Assessment. Notably, at the time of adoption, the best available 
science suggested the mortality rate to be stable and below the 
threshold, and that spawning stock abundance was increasing. Amendment 
6 incorporated new management standards to ensure stock conservation 
including targets and thresholds for both mortality and spawning stock 
biomass, and five triggers that would allow the Commission to respond 
quickly to increased mortality. One of the triggers is ``If the 
Management Board determines that the fishing mortality threshold is 
exceeded in any year, the Board must adjust the striped bass management 
program to reduce the fishing mortality rate to a level that is at or 
below the target within one year.''
    The best available science suggests that the stock's status and 
fishing mortality rate have changed significantly since the time the 
Commission approved Amendment 6 in February 2003. Not only has the 
overall trend shifted towards increased mortality, but the specific 
fishing mortality rate itself has increased from F=0.28 (below the 
target of 0.30) to F=0.40 a rate that exceeds the target and is almost 
equal to the overfishing threshold of 0.41. This shift represents a 
mortality increase of 43% since 2002. In fact, fishing mortality 
estimates for older striped bass (age 9 F=0.50) and (age 10 F=0.44) 
both exceed the threshold level. Further, the trend toward increasing 
female spawning stock biomass (SSB) has reversed itself with the 
overall biomass decreasing from 60.6 million pounds (according to the 
science available in February 2003), to 55.0 million pounds in November 
2005. The SSB remains well above the target of 38.6 million pounds and 
threshold of 30.9 million pounds, but has shown a downward trend of 9 
percent since 2002.
    The analysis in the Options Paper stated that any increase in EEZ 
effort (increase mortality) under options 1-3 would likely be minimal. 
But, with the fishing mortality rate at F=0.40, NMFS cannot be certain, 
especially after taking into account the overwhelming public perception 
that large trophy sized fish congregate in the EEZ, that opening the 
EEZ would not increase effort and lead to an increase in mortality that 
would exceed the threshold. Since the current mortality rate is just 
below the threshold, any increase will require the Commission to reduce 
fishing effort on striped bass. Both the Commission's and NMFS' ability 
to immediately respond to an overfishing and/or overfished situation is 
a potential issue, particularly given the timeframe within which 
Amendment 6 was created, and given the lag time in which a given year's 
data is available to management.
    Therefore, NMFS has concluded that it would be imprudent to open 
the EEZ at this time and has chosen to not proceed with further 
processing of an EIS under the NEPA process.

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1851 note.

    Dated: September 8, 2006.
Alan D. Risenhoover,
Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.
[FR Doc. E6-15262 Filed 9-13-06; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-S