Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone off Alaska; Application for an Exempted Fishing Permit, 70972-70974 [2011-29611]

Download as PDF 70972 Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 221 / Wednesday, November 16, 2011 / Notices (including hours and cost) of the proposed collection of information; (c) ways to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected; and (d) ways to minimize the burden of the collection of information on respondents, including through the use of automated collection techniques or other forms of information technology. Comments submitted in response to this notice will be summarized and/or included in the request for OMB approval of this information collection; they also will become a matter of public record. Dated: November 10, 2011. Gwellnar Banks, Management Analyst, Office of the Chief Information Officer. [FR Doc. 2011–29575 Filed 11–15–11; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–NK–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XA642 Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone off Alaska; Application for an Exempted Fishing Permit National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; receipt of application for exempted fishing permit. AGENCY: This notice announces receipt of an exempted fishing permit (EFP) application from the Alaska Seafood Cooperative (AKSC). If granted, this permit would allow AKSC to evaluate how various fishing and handling practices affect halibut mortality. Operators from up to seven AKSC nonpelagic trawl vessels would remove halibut from a codend on the deck, and release those fish back to the water in a timely manner to increase survivability. These halibut will be sampled for length and physical condition using standard International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) halibut mortality assessment methodology. This activity has the potential to promote the objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the Pacific Halibut Act by assessing techniques for improving survival of halibut caught incidentally in nonpelagic trawl fisheries. DATES: Comments on this EFP application must be submitted to NMFS mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES SUMMARY: VerDate Mar<15>2010 17:45 Nov 15, 2011 Jkt 226001 by 5 p.m. A.S.T., December 13, 2011. Comments on the EFP application also will be accepted by NMFS during the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s (Council’s) December 5, 2011 to December 13, 2011 meeting in Anchorage, AK. ADDRESSES: The Council meeting will be held at the Hilton Hotel, 500 West Third Ave., Anchorage, AK. The agenda for the Council meeting is available at https://www.fakr.noaa.gov/npfmc/PDF documents/meetings/1211agenda.pdf. You may submit comments on this document, identified by FDMS Docket Number NOAA–NMFS–2011–0203, by any of the following methods: • Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal www.regulations.gov. To submit comments via the e-Rulemaking Portal, first click the ‘‘submit a comment’’ icon, then enter FDMS Docket Number NOAA–NMFS–2011–0203, in the keyword search. Locate the document you wish to comment on from the resulting list and click on the ‘‘Submit a Comment’’ icon on that line. • Mail: Address written comments to Glenn Merrill, Assistant Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian. Mail comments to P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802–1668. • Fax: Address written comments to Glenn Merrill, Assistant Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian. Fax comments to (907) 586–7557. • Hand delivery to the Federal Building: Address written comments to Glenn Merrill, Assistant Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian. Deliver comments to 709 West 9th Street, Room 420A, Juneau, AK. Instructions: Comments must be submitted by one of the above methods to ensure that the comments are received, documented, and considered by NMFS. Comments sent by any other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered. All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on https://www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address) submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly accessible. Do not submit confidential business information, or otherwise sensitive or protected information. NMFS will accept PO 00000 Frm 00019 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 anonymous comments (enter ‘‘N/A’’ in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous). Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word or Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats only. Copies of the EFP application and the basis for a categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act are available from the Alaska Region, NMFS Web site at https:// alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jeff Hartman, (907) 586–7442. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NMFS manages the domestic groundfish fisheries in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands management area (BSAI) under the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the BSAI Management Area (FMP), which the Council prepared under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Regulations governing the BSAI groundfish fisheries appear at 50 CFR parts 600 and 679. The FMP and the implementing regulations at § 600.745(b) and § 679.6 allow the NMFS Regional Administrator to authorize, for limited experimental purposes, fishing that would otherwise be prohibited. Procedures for issuing EFPs are contained in the implementing regulations. The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) and NMFS manage fishing for Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) through regulations established under the authority of the Convention between the United States and Canada for the Preservation of the Halibut Fishery of the Northern Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea (Convention) and the Northern Pacific Halibut Act of 1982 (Halibut Act). The IPHC promulgates regulations pursuant to the Convention. The IPHC’s regulations are subject to approval by the Secretary of State with concurrence from the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary). Background Regulations implemented by the IPHC allow Pacific halibut to be commercially harvested by the directed North Pacific longline fishery. Halibut is a prohibited species in the groundfish fishery, requiring immediate return to the sea with a minimum of injury. Halibut caught incidentally by catcher/ processors in the nonpelagic trawl groundfish fisheries must be weighed on a NMFS- approved scale, sampled by observers, and returned to the ocean as soon as possible. The Council establishes annual maximum halibut bycatch allowances and seasonal apportionments adjusted by an E:\FR\FM\16NON1.SGM 16NON1 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 221 / Wednesday, November 16, 2011 / Notices estimated halibut discard mortality rate (DMR) for groundfish fisheries. The DMRs are based on the best information available, including information contained in the annual Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation report, available at, https:// www.fakr.noaa.gov/. NMFS approves the halibut DMRs developed and recommended by the IPHC and the Council for the BSAI groundfish fisheries for use in monitoring the halibut bycatch allowances and seasonal apportionments. The IPHC developed these DMRs for the BSAI groundfish fisheries using the 10-year mean DMRs for those fisheries. Directed fishing in a groundfish fishery closes when it reaches the halibut mortality apportionment for the fishery, even if the target species catch is less than the seasonal or annual quota for the directed fishery. In the case of the Bering Sea flatfish fishery, seasons have been closed before fishery quotas have been reached to prevent the fishery from reaching the halibut mortality apportionment. Reducing halibut mortality is a high priority management goal for the IPHC, the Council, and NMFS. Before halibut are returned to the sea, at-sea observers must first estimate halibut and groundfish catch amounts. Regulations in 50 CFR part 679 assure that observer halibut and groundfish estimates are credible and accurate, and that potential bias is minimized. For example, NMFS requires that all catch be made available for sampling by an observer; prohibits tampering with observer samples; prohibits removal of halibut from a cod end, bin, or conveyance system prior to being observed and counted by an at-sea observer; and prohibits fish (including halibut) from remaining on deck unless an observer is present. With the implementation of Amendment 80 to the FMP on September 14, 2007 (72 FR 52668), halibut mortality limits were established for the Amendment 80 sector and for Amendment 80 cooperatives. Amendment 80 is a catch share program established in 2007 to allocate several BSAI non-pollock trawl groundfish fisheries among fishing sectors, and facilitate the formation of harvesting cooperatives in the non-American Fisheries Act (AFA) trawl catcher/ processor sector. Though halibut mortality limit allocations provide Amendment 80 cooperatives more flexibility to use available mortality, halibut mortality continues to constrain fishing in some Amendment 80 fisheries. The Amendment 80 sector received an initial halibut mortality VerDate Mar<15>2010 17:45 Nov 15, 2011 Jkt 226001 allocation of 2,525 metric tons (mt) in 2008, but that allocation is reduced by 50 mt per year until it reaches 2,325 mt in 2012 and subsequent years. In certain years, this amount is less than the sector’s average annual historic catch. Additionally, changing environmental conditions may alter halibut distributions, causing halibut bycatch rates to increase in some target fisheries. Therefore, this sector is actively exploring ways to continue to reduce halibut mortality. In 2009, a halibut mortality experiment was conducted by members of the Amendment 80 sector under EFP 09–02 (74 FR 12113, March 23, 2009). Normally, all catch including halibut is moved across a flow scale below deck before the halibut is returned to the sea. Under EFP 09–02, experimental methods for sorting on a vessel’s deck allowed for halibut to be quickly returned to the sea. The EFP was applied to fisheries where halibut were sorted on deck from groundfish catch, on vessels with a length overall between150 to 215 ft. The halibut mortality estimated during flatfish fishing under the EFP 09–02 was approximately 17 mt less than the amount from the DMR for that fishery due to improved condition of the halibut observed during the experiment. Proposed Action NMFS received an application from the AKSC to conduct a new halibut mortality experiment in 2012. This EFP would expand on results of EFP 09–02 to explore the feasibility of deck sorting halibut in additional fisheries, on different sized vessels, and during a longer interval of time during the fishing season. EFP results would inform the operational practicality and cost of various fishing and fish handling practices, and their effect on halibut mortality. The EFP would allow researchers onboard catcher/processor vessels to sort halibut removed from a codend on the deck of the vessel. Those sorted halibut could then be released back to the water after the halibut are measured for length and tested for physical condition using standard IPHC viability assessment methods. The objectives for this EFP are to: (1) Evaluate the degree to which changes in fishing and catch handling procedures are operationally feasible and effective in reducing halibut mortality rates on Amendment 80 vessels; (2) evaluate the quality of data collected through sampling halibut sorted on deck for estimating halibut catch, variability in weight, and viability under commercial conditions; (3) inform future changes in vessel design or technological PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 70973 innovations to enable catch handling procedures to reduce halibut mortality; and (4) generate insights into how new deck sorting and halibut catch and viability sampling procedures may be incorporated into the observer and catch accounting systems. The applicant proposes to begin EFP fishing on April 1, 2012, and end on September 30, 2012. The EFP would allow halibut sorting, sampling, and release prior to weighing on a flow scale, to assess the practicality of reducing halibut mortality. If issued, the permit associated with this EFP application would authorize 75 metric tons (mt) of halibut to be caught by the permitted vessels engaged in experimental fishing. However, the AKSC has agreed to reduce its 2012 halibut allocation by 75 mt, resulting in no additional halibut mortality under this EFP and the Amendment 80 fishery. The applicant would be required to enter into contract with an independent NMFS-approved reviewer to determine halibut mortality amounts from EFP permitted vessels. These amounts would reflect actual halibut mortality amounts sampled during the experiment, and accrue against the 75 mt EFP halibut mortality limit. Before the 75 mt halibut mortality limit is reached, the EFP permit holder would notify NMFS and end EFP fishing. This proposed action would exempt catcher/processors Federal Fisheries Permit number (FFP) 2134 Ocean Peace, FFP 4092 Constellation, FFP 2110 Cape Horn. FFP 2123 Vaerdal, FFP 2800 U.S. Intrepid, FFP 3835 Seafisher, FFP 3694 ARICA from selected 50 CFR 679 prohibitions, monitoring and observer requirements. Should the Regional Administrator issue a permit based on this EFP application, the conditions of the permit will be designed to minimize halibut mortality, and any potential for biasing estimates of groundfish and halibut mortality. The exemptions may include: 1. The prohibition to bias the sampling procedure employed by an observer through sorting of catch before sampling by an observer, at § 679.7(g)(2); 2. The requirements to weigh all catch by an Amendment 80 vessel on a NMFS-approved scale at § 679.27(j)(5)(ii) and § 679.28(b); 3. The requirement for all catch to be made available for sampling by an observer at § 679.93(c)(1); and 4. The requirement for halibut to not be allowed on deck without an observer present at § 679.93(c)(5). The EFP would require the use of sea samplers for conducting monitoring and data collection activities under the EFP. E:\FR\FM\16NON1.SGM 16NON1 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with NOTICES 70974 Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 221 / Wednesday, November 16, 2011 / Notices Sea samplers are NMFS-certified observers that conduct activities under an EFP rather than normal observer activities on an Amendment 80 vessel. The AKSC would be required to submit a report in 2012 of the EFP results after EFP experimental fishing has ended in 2011, including an estimate of halibut mortality from halibut sampled during the EFP, and halibut mortality under standard IPHC halibut mortality rates for those target fisheries. AKSC will be required to contract with a third party familiar with NMFS in-season management protocols to track halibut catch amounts, assign a fishery target, calculate what halibut mortality would have been based on NMFS published mortality rates, and calculate actual halibut mortality based on the sampled halibut and calculations described in the EFP application. This third party would be approved by NMFS as part of the permit process after review of that party’s experience and knowledge of the Amendment 80 catch accounting system. The AKSC would be limited to no more than the AKSC’s Amendment 80 groundfish allocation. The amount of halibut mortality accrued by the AKSC and under the EFP would not exceed the 75 mt halibut mortality limit. The amount of halibut mortality applied to the EFP activities would be subject to review and approval by NMFS. This EFP would apply for the period of time required to complete the experiment during 2012, in areas of the BSAI open to directed fishing by the Amendment 80 cooperative. It would be of limited scope and duration and would not be expected to change the nature or duration of the groundfish fishery, gear used, or the amount or species of fish caught by the Amendment 80 cooperative. The activities that would be conducted under this EFP are not expected to have a significant impact on the human environment as detailed in the categorical exclusion issued for this action (see ADDRESSES). In accordance with § 679.6, NMFS has determined that the proposal warrants further consideration and has forwarded the application to the Council to initiate consultation. The Council is scheduled to consider the EFP application during its December 2011 meeting, which will be held at the Hilton Hotel, Anchorage, Alaska. The applicant has been invited to appear in support of the application. Public Comments Interested persons may comment on the application at the December 2011 Council meeting during public VerDate Mar<15>2010 17:45 Nov 15, 2011 Jkt 226001 testimony. Information regarding the meeting is available at the Council’s Web site at https://alaskafisheries.noaa. gov/npfmc/council.htm. Copies of the application and categorical exclusion are available for review from NMFS (see ADDRESSES). Comments also may be submitted directly to NMFS (see ADDRESSES) by the end of the comment period (see DATES). Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. Dated: November 9, 2011. Steven Thur, Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2011–29611 Filed 11–15–11; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–AW91 Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; U.S. Navy Training in the Northwest Training Range Complex National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice of issuance of a Letter of Authorization. AGENCY: In accordance with the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), as amended, and implementing regulations, notice is hereby given that NMFS has issued a Letter of Authorization (LOA) to the U.S. Navy (Navy) to take marine mammals incidental to Navy training and research activities to be conducted within the Northwest Training Range Complex (NWTRC), off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and northern California. These activities are considered military readiness activities pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), as amended by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2004 (NDAA). DATES: This Authorization is effective from November 12, 2011, through November 11, 2012. ADDRESSES: The LOA and supporting documentation may be obtained by writing to P. Michael Payne, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, 1315 EastWest Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910, or by telephoning one of the contacts listed here. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Michelle Magliocca, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, (301) 427–8401. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: SUMMARY: PO 00000 Frm 00021 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Background Section 101(a)(5)(A) of the MMPA (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) directs NMFS to allow, upon request, the incidental taking of marine mammals by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing), if certain findings are made by NMFS and regulations are issued. Under the MMPA, the term ‘‘take’’ means to harass, hunt, capture, or kill or to attempt to harass, hunt, capture, or kill marine mammals. Regulations governing the taking of marine mammals by the Navy incidental to training and research activities in the NWTRC became effective on November 10, 2010 (75 FR 69296), and remain in effect through November 9, 2015. For detailed information on this action, please refer to that document. These regulations include mitigation, monitoring, and reporting requirements and establish a framework to authorize incidental take through the issuance of LOAs. Summary of Request On June 27, 2011, NMFS received a request from the Navy for a renewal of an LOA issued on November 12, 2010, for the taking of marine mammals incidental to training and research activities conducted within the NWTRC under regulations issued on November 10, 2010 (75 FR 69296). The Navy has complied with the measures required in 50 CFR 216.274 and 216.275, as well as the associated 2010 LOA, and submitted the reports and other documentation required in the final rule and the 2010 LOA. Summary of Activity Under the 2010 LOA As described in the Navy’s exercise reports (both classified and unclassified), from November 12, 2010 to May 1, 2011, the training activities conducted by the Navy were within the scope and amounts indicated in the 2010 LOA and the levels of take remain within the scope and amounts contemplated by the final rule. Planned Activities and Estimated Take for 2011 In 2011, the Navy expects to conduct the same type and amount of training identified in the 2010 LOA. While the Navy requested the same amount of take that was authorized in the 2010 LOA, NMFS has slightly adjusted those numbers to account for the exposure analysis contained in the Biological Opinion. However, the authorized take remains within the annual estimates analyzed in the final rule. E:\FR\FM\16NON1.SGM 16NON1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 76, Number 221 (Wednesday, November 16, 2011)]
[Notices]
[Pages 70972-70974]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2011-29611]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XA642


Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone off Alaska; Application 
for an Exempted Fishing Permit

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

ACTION: Notice; receipt of application for exempted fishing permit.

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SUMMARY: This notice announces receipt of an exempted fishing permit 
(EFP) application from the Alaska Seafood Cooperative (AKSC). If 
granted, this permit would allow AKSC to evaluate how various fishing 
and handling practices affect halibut mortality. Operators from up to 
seven AKSC nonpelagic trawl vessels would remove halibut from a codend 
on the deck, and release those fish back to the water in a timely 
manner to increase survivability. These halibut will be sampled for 
length and physical condition using standard International Pacific 
Halibut Commission (IPHC) halibut mortality assessment methodology. 
This activity has the potential to promote the objectives of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the 
Pacific Halibut Act by assessing techniques for improving survival of 
halibut caught incidentally in nonpelagic trawl fisheries.

DATES: Comments on this EFP application must be submitted to NMFS by 5 
p.m. A.S.T., December 13, 2011. Comments on the EFP application also 
will be accepted by NMFS during the North Pacific Fishery Management 
Council's (Council's) December 5, 2011 to December 13, 2011 meeting in 
Anchorage, AK.

ADDRESSES: The Council meeting will be held at the Hilton Hotel, 500 
West Third Ave., Anchorage, AK. The agenda for the Council meeting is 
available at https://www.fakr.noaa.gov/npfmc/PDFdocuments/meetings/1211agenda.pdf.
    You may submit comments on this document, identified by FDMS Docket 
Number NOAA-NMFS-2011-0203, by any of the following methods:
     Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal www.regulations.gov. To 
submit comments via the e-Rulemaking Portal, first click the ``submit a 
comment'' icon, then enter FDMS Docket Number NOAA-NMFS-2011-0203, in 
the keyword search. Locate the document you wish to comment on from the 
resulting list and click on the ``Submit a Comment'' icon on that line.
     Mail: Address written comments to Glenn Merrill, Assistant 
Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region 
NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian. Mail comments to P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, 
AK 99802-1668.
     Fax: Address written comments to Glenn Merrill, Assistant 
Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region 
NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian. Fax comments to (907) 586-7557.
     Hand delivery to the Federal Building: Address written 
comments to Glenn Merrill, Assistant Regional Administrator, 
Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region NMFS, Attn: Ellen 
Sebastian. Deliver comments to 709 West 9th Street, Room 420A, Juneau, 
AK.
    Instructions: Comments must be submitted by one of the above 
methods to ensure that the comments are received, documented, and 
considered by NMFS. Comments sent by any other method, to any other 
address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, 
may not be considered. All comments received are a part of the public 
record and will generally be posted for public viewing on https://www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying 
information (e.g., name, address) submitted voluntarily by the sender 
will be publicly accessible. Do not submit confidential business 
information, or otherwise sensitive or protected information. NMFS will 
accept anonymous comments (enter ``N/A'' in the required fields if you 
wish to remain anonymous). Attachments to electronic comments will be 
accepted in Microsoft Word or Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file 
formats only.
    Copies of the EFP application and the basis for a categorical 
exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act are available 
from the Alaska Region, NMFS Web site at https://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jeff Hartman, (907) 586-7442.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NMFS manages the domestic groundfish 
fisheries in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands management area (BSAI) 
under the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the BSAI Management 
Area (FMP), which the Council prepared under the Magnuson-Stevens 
Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Regulations governing the BSAI 
groundfish fisheries appear at 50 CFR parts 600 and 679. The FMP and 
the implementing regulations at Sec.  600.745(b) and Sec.  679.6 allow 
the NMFS Regional Administrator to authorize, for limited experimental 
purposes, fishing that would otherwise be prohibited. Procedures for 
issuing EFPs are contained in the implementing regulations.
    The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) and NMFS manage 
fishing for Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) through 
regulations established under the authority of the Convention between 
the United States and Canada for the Preservation of the Halibut 
Fishery of the Northern Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea (Convention) and 
the Northern Pacific Halibut Act of 1982 (Halibut Act). The IPHC 
promulgates regulations pursuant to the Convention. The IPHC's 
regulations are subject to approval by the Secretary of State with 
concurrence from the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary).

Background

    Regulations implemented by the IPHC allow Pacific halibut to be 
commercially harvested by the directed North Pacific longline fishery. 
Halibut is a prohibited species in the groundfish fishery, requiring 
immediate return to the sea with a minimum of injury. Halibut caught 
incidentally by catcher/processors in the nonpelagic trawl groundfish 
fisheries must be weighed on a NMFS- approved scale, sampled by 
observers, and returned to the ocean as soon as possible. The Council 
establishes annual maximum halibut bycatch allowances and seasonal 
apportionments adjusted by an

[[Page 70973]]

estimated halibut discard mortality rate (DMR) for groundfish 
fisheries. The DMRs are based on the best information available, 
including information contained in the annual Stock Assessment and 
Fishery Evaluation report, available at, https://www.fakr.noaa.gov/. 
NMFS approves the halibut DMRs developed and recommended by the IPHC 
and the Council for the BSAI groundfish fisheries for use in monitoring 
the halibut bycatch allowances and seasonal apportionments. The IPHC 
developed these DMRs for the BSAI groundfish fisheries using the 10-
year mean DMRs for those fisheries.
    Directed fishing in a groundfish fishery closes when it reaches the 
halibut mortality apportionment for the fishery, even if the target 
species catch is less than the seasonal or annual quota for the 
directed fishery. In the case of the Bering Sea flatfish fishery, 
seasons have been closed before fishery quotas have been reached to 
prevent the fishery from reaching the halibut mortality apportionment. 
Reducing halibut mortality is a high priority management goal for the 
IPHC, the Council, and NMFS.
    Before halibut are returned to the sea, at-sea observers must first 
estimate halibut and groundfish catch amounts. Regulations in 50 CFR 
part 679 assure that observer halibut and groundfish estimates are 
credible and accurate, and that potential bias is minimized. For 
example, NMFS requires that all catch be made available for sampling by 
an observer; prohibits tampering with observer samples; prohibits 
removal of halibut from a cod end, bin, or conveyance system prior to 
being observed and counted by an at-sea observer; and prohibits fish 
(including halibut) from remaining on deck unless an observer is 
present.
    With the implementation of Amendment 80 to the FMP on September 14, 
2007 (72 FR 52668), halibut mortality limits were established for the 
Amendment 80 sector and for Amendment 80 cooperatives. Amendment 80 is 
a catch share program established in 2007 to allocate several BSAI non-
pollock trawl groundfish fisheries among fishing sectors, and 
facilitate the formation of harvesting cooperatives in the non-American 
Fisheries Act (AFA) trawl catcher/processor sector. Though halibut 
mortality limit allocations provide Amendment 80 cooperatives more 
flexibility to use available mortality, halibut mortality continues to 
constrain fishing in some Amendment 80 fisheries. The Amendment 80 
sector received an initial halibut mortality allocation of 2,525 metric 
tons (mt) in 2008, but that allocation is reduced by 50 mt per year 
until it reaches 2,325 mt in 2012 and subsequent years. In certain 
years, this amount is less than the sector's average annual historic 
catch. Additionally, changing environmental conditions may alter 
halibut distributions, causing halibut bycatch rates to increase in 
some target fisheries. Therefore, this sector is actively exploring 
ways to continue to reduce halibut mortality.
    In 2009, a halibut mortality experiment was conducted by members of 
the Amendment 80 sector under EFP 09-02 (74 FR 12113, March 23, 2009). 
Normally, all catch including halibut is moved across a flow scale 
below deck before the halibut is returned to the sea. Under EFP 09-02, 
experimental methods for sorting on a vessel's deck allowed for halibut 
to be quickly returned to the sea. The EFP was applied to fisheries 
where halibut were sorted on deck from groundfish catch, on vessels 
with a length overall between150 to 215 ft. The halibut mortality 
estimated during flatfish fishing under the EFP 09-02 was approximately 
17 mt less than the amount from the DMR for that fishery due to 
improved condition of the halibut observed during the experiment.

Proposed Action

    NMFS received an application from the AKSC to conduct a new halibut 
mortality experiment in 2012. This EFP would expand on results of EFP 
09-02 to explore the feasibility of deck sorting halibut in additional 
fisheries, on different sized vessels, and during a longer interval of 
time during the fishing season. EFP results would inform the 
operational practicality and cost of various fishing and fish handling 
practices, and their effect on halibut mortality. The EFP would allow 
researchers onboard catcher/processor vessels to sort halibut removed 
from a codend on the deck of the vessel. Those sorted halibut could 
then be released back to the water after the halibut are measured for 
length and tested for physical condition using standard IPHC viability 
assessment methods.
    The objectives for this EFP are to: (1) Evaluate the degree to 
which changes in fishing and catch handling procedures are 
operationally feasible and effective in reducing halibut mortality 
rates on Amendment 80 vessels; (2) evaluate the quality of data 
collected through sampling halibut sorted on deck for estimating 
halibut catch, variability in weight, and viability under commercial 
conditions; (3) inform future changes in vessel design or technological 
innovations to enable catch handling procedures to reduce halibut 
mortality; and (4) generate insights into how new deck sorting and 
halibut catch and viability sampling procedures may be incorporated 
into the observer and catch accounting systems.
    The applicant proposes to begin EFP fishing on April 1, 2012, and 
end on September 30, 2012. The EFP would allow halibut sorting, 
sampling, and release prior to weighing on a flow scale, to assess the 
practicality of reducing halibut mortality. If issued, the permit 
associated with this EFP application would authorize 75 metric tons 
(mt) of halibut to be caught by the permitted vessels engaged in 
experimental fishing. However, the AKSC has agreed to reduce its 2012 
halibut allocation by 75 mt, resulting in no additional halibut 
mortality under this EFP and the Amendment 80 fishery.
    The applicant would be required to enter into contract with an 
independent NMFS-approved reviewer to determine halibut mortality 
amounts from EFP permitted vessels. These amounts would reflect actual 
halibut mortality amounts sampled during the experiment, and accrue 
against the 75 mt EFP halibut mortality limit. Before the 75 mt halibut 
mortality limit is reached, the EFP permit holder would notify NMFS and 
end EFP fishing.
    This proposed action would exempt catcher/processors Federal 
Fisheries Permit number (FFP) 2134 Ocean Peace, FFP 4092 Constellation, 
FFP 2110 Cape Horn. FFP 2123 Vaerdal, FFP 2800 U.S. Intrepid, FFP 3835 
Seafisher, FFP 3694 ARICA from selected 50 CFR 679 prohibitions, 
monitoring and observer requirements. Should the Regional Administrator 
issue a permit based on this EFP application, the conditions of the 
permit will be designed to minimize halibut mortality, and any 
potential for biasing estimates of groundfish and halibut mortality. 
The exemptions may include:
    1. The prohibition to bias the sampling procedure employed by an 
observer through sorting of catch before sampling by an observer, at 
Sec.  679.7(g)(2);
    2. The requirements to weigh all catch by an Amendment 80 vessel on 
a NMFS-approved scale at Sec.  679.27(j)(5)(ii) and Sec.  679.28(b);
    3. The requirement for all catch to be made available for sampling 
by an observer at Sec.  679.93(c)(1); and
    4. The requirement for halibut to not be allowed on deck without an 
observer present at Sec.  679.93(c)(5).
    The EFP would require the use of sea samplers for conducting 
monitoring and data collection activities under the EFP.

[[Page 70974]]

Sea samplers are NMFS-certified observers that conduct activities under 
an EFP rather than normal observer activities on an Amendment 80 
vessel.
    The AKSC would be required to submit a report in 2012 of the EFP 
results after EFP experimental fishing has ended in 2011, including an 
estimate of halibut mortality from halibut sampled during the EFP, and 
halibut mortality under standard IPHC halibut mortality rates for those 
target fisheries.
    AKSC will be required to contract with a third party familiar with 
NMFS in-season management protocols to track halibut catch amounts, 
assign a fishery target, calculate what halibut mortality would have 
been based on NMFS published mortality rates, and calculate actual 
halibut mortality based on the sampled halibut and calculations 
described in the EFP application. This third party would be approved by 
NMFS as part of the permit process after review of that party's 
experience and knowledge of the Amendment 80 catch accounting system.
    The AKSC would be limited to no more than the AKSC's Amendment 80 
groundfish allocation. The amount of halibut mortality accrued by the 
AKSC and under the EFP would not exceed the 75 mt halibut mortality 
limit. The amount of halibut mortality applied to the EFP activities 
would be subject to review and approval by NMFS.
    This EFP would apply for the period of time required to complete 
the experiment during 2012, in areas of the BSAI open to directed 
fishing by the Amendment 80 cooperative. It would be of limited scope 
and duration and would not be expected to change the nature or duration 
of the groundfish fishery, gear used, or the amount or species of fish 
caught by the Amendment 80 cooperative.
    The activities that would be conducted under this EFP are not 
expected to have a significant impact on the human environment as 
detailed in the categorical exclusion issued for this action (see 
ADDRESSES).
    In accordance with Sec.  679.6, NMFS has determined that the 
proposal warrants further consideration and has forwarded the 
application to the Council to initiate consultation. The Council is 
scheduled to consider the EFP application during its December 2011 
meeting, which will be held at the Hilton Hotel, Anchorage, Alaska. The 
applicant has been invited to appear in support of the application.

Public Comments

    Interested persons may comment on the application at the December 
2011 Council meeting during public testimony. Information regarding the 
meeting is available at the Council's Web site at https://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/npfmc/council.htm. Copies of the application 
and categorical exclusion are available for review from NMFS (see 
ADDRESSES). Comments also may be submitted directly to NMFS (see 
ADDRESSES) by the end of the comment period (see DATES).

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

    Dated: November 9, 2011.
Steven Thur,
Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2011-29611 Filed 11-15-11; 8:45 am]
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