Magnuson-Stevens Act Provisions; Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Northeast Multispecies Fishery; 2012 Sector Operations Plans and Contracts, and Allocation of Northeast Multispecies Annual Catch Entitlements, 8780-8800 [2012-3565]

Download as PDF 8780 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 31 / Wednesday, February 15, 2012 / Proposed Rules DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 648 [Docket No. 120120056–2055–01] RIN 0648–XA797 Magnuson-Stevens Act Provisions; Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Northeast Multispecies Fishery; 2012 Sector Operations Plans and Contracts, and Allocation of Northeast Multispecies Annual Catch Entitlements National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments. AGENCY: This rule proposes 19 Northeast (NE) multispecies (groundfish) sector operations plans and contracts for fishing year (FY) 2012, and would allocate quotas of NE multispecies to the sectors. The NE Multispecies Fishery Management Plan (FMP) requires sectors to submit their operations plans and contracts to NMFS for approval or disapproval. Approval of a sector operations plan and contract is necessary for that sector to be allocated fish, and allows the sector members to be exempted from certain effort control regulations. If a sector operations plan and contract is not approved, the members of that sector must fish in the common pool and comply with all existing regulations. This rule also notifies the public that NMFS is extending the deadline to join a sector for FY 2012 through April 30, 2012. NMFS is soliciting comment on the proposed operations plans and contracts, and our proposal to grant 25 of the 49 exemptions requested, and deny the rest. DATES: Written comments must be received on or before March 1, 2012. ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by NOAA– NMFS–2011–0264, by any of the following methods: • Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal http:// www.regulations.gov. To submit comments via the e-Rulemaking Portal, first click the ‘‘submit a comment’’ icon, then enter NOAA–NMFS–2011–0264 in the keyword search. Locate the document you wish to comment on from the resulting list and click on the tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS SUMMARY: VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:33 Feb 14, 2012 Jkt 226001 ‘‘Submit a Comment’’ icon on the right of that line. • Mail: Submit written comments to Mark Grant, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930. • Fax: 978–281–9135; Attn: Mark Grant. 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 http://www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address, etc.) 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. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mark Grant, Sector Policy Analyst, phone (978) 281–9145, fax (978) 281– 9135. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Background The NE groundfish sector management system is a voluntary system that allocates a portion of groundfish stocks to self-selecting groups of permit holders, called sectors. Sector members are granted increased operational flexibility through exemptions from regulations in exchange for taking on additional responsibility. The annual allocations to sectors are called Annual Catch Entitlements (ACE) and are based on the collective fishing history of the sectors’ members. Sectors are self-selecting, meaning each sector can choose its members. Sectors may pool harvesting resources and consolidate operations to fewer vessels, if they desire. NMFS received operations plans and preliminary contracts for FY 2012 from 19 sectors (see Table 1). The Administrator of NMFS for the NE Region (Regional Administrator) has made a preliminary determination that the 19 sector operations plans and contracts are consistent with the goals of the FMP, and comply with the measures that govern operation of a sector. This proposed rule summarizes many of the PO 00000 Frm 00030 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 sector requirements and solicits comments on the proposed operations plans, our proposal to grant 25 of the 49 regulatory exemptions requested by the sectors and deny the rest, and the environmental assessment (EA). Copies of the operations plans and contracts, and the EA are available at http:// www.regulations.gov and from NMFS (see ADDRESSES). Amendment 13 to the FMP (69 FR 22906, April 27, 2004) established a process for forming sectors within the groundfish fishery, implemented restrictions applicable to all sectors, and authorized allocation of a total allowable catch (TAC) for specific groundfish species to a sector. Amendment 16 to the FMP (74 FR 18262, April 9, 2010) expanded sector management, revised the 2 existing sectors to comply with the expanded sector rules (summarized below), and authorized an additional 17, for a total of 19 sectors. Framework Adjustment (FW) 45 to the FMP (76 FR 23042, April 25, 2011) further revised the rules for sectors and authorized 5 new sectors (for a total of 24 sectors). The FMP defines a sector as ‘‘[a] group of persons (three or more persons, none of whom have an ownership interest in the other two persons in the sector) holding limited access vessel permits who have voluntarily entered into a contract and agree to certain fishing restrictions for a specified period of time, and which has been granted a TAC(s) [sic] in order to achieve objectives consistent with applicable FMP goals and objectives.’’ A sector’s TAC is referred to as an ACE. Regional Administrator approval is required for a sector to be authorized to fish and to be allocated an ACE for stocks of regulated NE multispecies. Each individual sector’s ACE for a particular stock represents a share of that stock’s annual catch limit (ACL) available to commercial NE multispecies vessels, and each ACE is based upon the landings history of permits participating in that sector. Nineteen sectors submitted operations plans and sector contracts, and requested allocation of stocks regulated under the FMP for FY 2012. The submitted operations plans are similar to previously approved versions, but incorporate changes to incorporate the requested exemptions. Five sectors chose not to submit operations plans and contracts for FY 2012: The Georges Bank (GB) Cod Hook Sector; Northeast Fishery Sector I; the State of New Hampshire Permit Bank Sector; the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Permit Bank Sector; and the State of Rhode Island Permit Bank Sector. The State of E:\FR\FM\15FEP1.SGM 15FEP1 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 31 / Wednesday, February 15, 2012 / Proposed Rules tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS Maine Permit Bank Sector, Northeast Fishery Sector IV and Sustainable Harvest Sector 3 would operate as private lease-only sectors. The Sustainable Harvest Sector 3 has not explicitly prohibited fishing activity, VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:33 Feb 14, 2012 Jkt 226001 and may transfer permits to active vessels. A separate rule (76 FR 77200, December 12, 2011) proposes Amendment 17, which would allocate ACE to state-operated permit banks without requiring those permit banks to PO 00000 Frm 00031 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 8781 comply with the administrative and procedural requirements for groundfish sectors. BILLING CODE 3510–22–P E:\FR\FM\15FEP1.SGM 15FEP1 VerDate Mar<15>2010 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 31 / Wednesday, February 15, 2012 / Proposed Rules 16:33 Feb 14, 2012 Jkt 226001 PO 00000 Frm 00032 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4725 E:\FR\FM\15FEP1.SGM 15FEP1 EP15FE12.001</GPH> tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS 8782 8783 BILLING CODE 3510–22–C VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:33 Feb 14, 2012 Jkt 226001 PO 00000 Frm 00033 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 E:\FR\FM\15FEP1.SGM 15FEP1 EP15FE12.002</GPH> tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 31 / Wednesday, February 15, 2012 / Proposed Rules 8784 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 31 / Wednesday, February 15, 2012 / Proposed Rules Sector ACEs tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS As of December 1, 2011, 843 of the 1,475 eligible NE multispecies permits have preliminarily enrolled in a sector for FY 2012. These permits account for approximately 99 percent of the FY 2012 commercial groundfish sub-ACL. Table 1 includes a summary of permits enrolled in a sector as of December 1, 2011. Permits enrolled in a sector, and the vessels associated with those permits, have until April 30, 2012, to withdraw from a sector and fish in the common pool for FY 2012. NMFS will publish final sector ACEs and common pool sub-ACL totals, based upon final rosters, as soon as possible after the start of FY 2012. Sector ACEs are calculated by summing the potential sector contributions (PSC) of a sector’s members for a stock and then multiplying that percentage by the available commercial sub-ACL for that stock. Table 2 shows the cumulative percentage of each commercial sub-ACL each sector would receive, based on VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:33 Feb 14, 2012 Jkt 226001 their rosters as of December 1, 2011. Tables 3 and 4 show the ACEs each sector would be allocated based on their December 1, 2011, sector rosters for FY 2012. The final ACEs, to the nearest pound, are provided to the individual sectors by NMFS and NMFS uses those final ACEs for monitoring sector catch. While the common pool does not receive a specific allocation of ACE, the common pool sub-ACLs have been included in each of these tables for comparison. Individual permits are not assigned a PSC for Eastern GB cod or Eastern GB haddock; rather each sector’s GB cod and GB haddock allocation is divided into a Western ACE and an Eastern ACE for each stock. A sector’s Eastern GB cod and haddock ACEs are to be harvested exclusively in the Eastern U.S./Canada Area and are based on the sector’s percentage of the GB cod and haddock ACLs. For example, if a sector is allocated 4 percent of the GB cod ACL and 6 percent of the GB haddock ACL, the sector is allocated 4 percent of the Eastern U.S./Canada Area GB cod TAC PO 00000 Frm 00034 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 and 6 percent of the Eastern U.S./ Canada Area GB haddock TAC as its Eastern GB cod and haddock ACEs. These amounts are then subtracted from the sector’s overall GB cod and haddock allocations to determine its Western GB cod and haddock ACEs. At the start of FY 2012, NMFS will withhold 20 percent of each sector’s FY 2012 ACE for each stock to allow time to process any FY 2011 ACE transfers and to determine whether the FY 2012 ACE allocated to any sector needs to be reduced, or any overage penalties need to be applied to accommodate an FY 2011 ACE overage by that sector. Sectors will be allowed to trade ACE for 2 weeks following the finalization of sector catch for FY 2012 to balance any overages. The New England Fishery Management Council (Council) and sector managers will be notified of this deadline in writing and the decision will be announced on the NMFS Northeast Regional Office (http:// www.nero.noaa.gov/). BILLING CODE 3510–22–P E:\FR\FM\15FEP1.SGM 15FEP1 VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:33 Feb 14, 2012 Jkt 226001 PO 00000 Frm 00035 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4725 E:\FR\FM\15FEP1.SGM 15FEP1 8785 EP15FE12.003</GPH> tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 31 / Wednesday, February 15, 2012 / Proposed Rules VerDate Mar<15>2010 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 31 / Wednesday, February 15, 2012 / Proposed Rules 16:33 Feb 14, 2012 Jkt 226001 PO 00000 Frm 00036 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4725 E:\FR\FM\15FEP1.SGM 15FEP1 EP15FE12.004</GPH> tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS 8786 8787 BILLING CODE 3510–22–C VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:33 Feb 14, 2012 Jkt 226001 PO 00000 Frm 00037 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 E:\FR\FM\15FEP1.SGM 15FEP1 EP15FE12.005</GPH> tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 31 / Wednesday, February 15, 2012 / Proposed Rules tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS 8788 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 31 / Wednesday, February 15, 2012 / Proposed Rules Sector Operations Plans and Contracts NMFS received nineteen sector operations plans and contracts by the September 1, 2011, deadline, and subsequently received preliminary rosters by the December 1, 2011, deadline for FY 2012. Each sector has elected to submit a single document that is both the sector’s contract and the sector’s operations plan. Therefore, these submitted operations plans not only contain the rules under which each sector would fish, but also provide the legal contract that binds the sector’s members to the sector and its operations plan. Each sector conducts fishing activities according to its approved operations plan; however, each operations plan and sector member must comply with the regulations governing sectors, which are found at § 648.87. All permit holders with a limited access NE multispecies permit that was valid as of May 1, 2008, are eligible to participate in a sector, including holders of inactive permits currently held in confirmation of permit history (CPH). While membership in each sector is voluntary, each member (and his/her permits enrolled in the sector) must remain with the sector for the entire FY, and cannot fish in the NE multispecies days-at-sea (DAS) program outside of the sector (i.e., in the common pool) during the FY. Participating vessels are required to comply with all pertinent Federal fishing regulations, except as specifically exempted by a letter of authorization (LOA) issued by the Regional Administrator. Sector operations plans may be amended inseason if a change is necessary and agreed to by NMFS, provided the change is consistent with the sector administration provisions. These changes are included in updated LOAs issued to sector members and through amendments to the approved operations plan. Sectors are allocated all large-mesh groundfish stocks for which members have landings history, with the exception of Atlantic halibut, windowpane flounder, Atlantic wolffish, and the Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic (SNE/MA) stock of winter flounder. Atlantic halibut, ocean pout, northern windowpane flounder, and southern windowpane flounder are not allocated to sectors because these stocks have small ACLs, and vessels have limited landings history. Allocating these stocks to sectors would complicate monitoring of sector operations and would require a different scheme for determining each permit’s potential sector contribution. VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:33 Feb 14, 2012 Jkt 226001 Sector vessels are required to retain all legal-sized allocated groundfish, unless an exemption is granted allowing sector vessels to discard legal-sized unmarketable fish at sea. Catch (including discards) of all allocated groundfish stocks by a sector’s vessels would count against the sector’s ACE, unless the catch is an element of a separate ACL sub-component, such as groundfish caught when fishing in an exempted fishery, or yellowtail flounder caught when fishing in the Atlantic sea scallop fishery. Sector vessels fishing for monkfish, skate, lobster (with non-trap gear), and spiny dogfish when on a sector trip (e.g., not fishing under provisions of a NE multispecies exempted fishery) would have their groundfish catch (including discards) on those trips debited against the sector’s ACE. Ratios to calculate discards on unobserved sector trips would be determined by NMFS based on observed trips. Each sector is required to ensure that its ACE is not exceeded during the FY. Amendment 16 required sectors to develop independent third-party dockside monitoring programs (DSM) to verify landings at the time they are weighed by the dealer, and to certify that the landing weights are accurate as reported by the dealer. FW 45 sets the required coverage level for DSM to the level that NMFS could fund. For FY 2012, NMFS will not fund a DSM program; therefore, the DSM level for FY 2012 is zero. Amendment 16 also required that sectors design, implement, and fund an at-sea monitoring (ASM) program beginning in FY 2012. However, for 2012 NMFS will fund and operate an ASM program for all sectors. The ASM coverage rate target is 17 percent, in addition to the expected 8percent coverage rate of the Northeast Fishery Observer Program (NEFOP). These two programs are expected to result in coverage of 25 percent of all sector trips and will be the basis for calculating discards by sector vessels. This level of observer coverage has been considered sufficient to monitor sector fishing activity for purposes of calculating when ACLs have been achieved. Sectors are required to monitor their landings and available ACE, and submit weekly catch reports to NMFS. In addition, the sector manager is required to provide NMFS with aggregate sector reports on a daily basis when a threshold (specified in the operations plan) is reached. Once a sector’s ACE for a particular stock is caught, a sector is required to cease all fishing operations in that stock area until it could acquire additional ACE for that stock. ACE may PO 00000 Frm 00038 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 be transferred between sectors, but ACE transfers to or from common pool vessels is prohibited. Each sector must submit an annual report to NMFS and the Council within 60 days of the end of the FY detailing the sector’s catch (landings and discards by the sector), enforcement actions, and pertinent information necessary to evaluate the biological, economic, and social impacts from the sector, as directed by NMFS. Each sector contract provides procedures to enforce the sector operations plan, explains sector monitoring and reporting requirements, presents a schedule of penalties, and provides authority to sector managers to issue stop fishing orders to sector members that violate provisions of the operations plan and contract. Sector members can be held jointly and severally liable for ACE overages, discarding of legal-sized fish, and/or misreporting of catch (landings or discards). Each sector operations plan submitted for FY 2012 states that the sector will withhold an initial reserve from the sector’s sub-allocation to each individual member to prevent the sector from exceeding its ACE. Each sector contract also details the method for initial ACE allocation to sector members; for FY 2012, each sector has proposed that each sector member could harvest an amount of fish equal to the amount each individual member’s permit contributed to the sector’s ACE. Amendment 16 contains several ‘‘universal’’ exemptions that apply to all sectors. These universal exemptions apply to: Trip limits on allocated stocks; the GB Seasonal Closure Area; NE multispecies DAS restrictions; the requirement to use a 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) mesh codend when fishing with selective gear on GB; and portions of the Gulf of Maine (GOM) Rolling Closure Areas. Sectors may request additional exemptions from NE multispecies regulations through their sector operations plan. Amendment 16 prohibits sectors from requesting exemptions from year-round closed areas (CA), permitting restrictions, gear restrictions designed to minimize habitat impacts, and reporting requirements (excluding DAS reporting requirements or DSM requirements). If an exemption is granted to a sector, each sector vessel is issued a LOA by NMFS authorizing the exemption for each such vessel. Requested FY 2012 Exemptions A total of 49 exemptions from the NE multispecies regulations have been requested by sectors through their FY 2012 operations plans. These requests E:\FR\FM\15FEP1.SGM 15FEP1 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 31 / Wednesday, February 15, 2012 / Proposed Rules tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS are grouped into several categories in this rule: Exemptions previously approved that we proposed to approve for FY 2012 (numbers 1–16); new exemption requests we proposed to approve for FY 2012 (numbers 17–25); and requested exemptions that we propose to deny because they are prohibited (numbers 26–38), were previously rejected and no new information was provided (numbers 39– 46), or because they may jeopardize rebuilding of the GOM cod stock (numbers 47–49). The recent GOM cod stock assessment determined the GOM cod stock is overfished and undergoing overfishing, which requires reevaluation of management of the stock. A full discussion of the 25 exemptions proposed for approval appears below. Exemptions We Propose To Approve in FY 2012 In FY 2011, sectors were exempted from the following; and these exemptions have again been requested for FY 2012: (1) 120-day block out of the fishery required for Day gillnet vessels; (2) 20-day spawning block out of the fishery required for all vessels; (3) limits on the number of gillnets imposed on Day gillnet vessels; (4) prohibition on a vessel hauling another vessel’s gillnet gear; (5) limits on the number of gillnets that may be hauled on GB when fishing under a groundfish/monkfish DAS; (6) limits on the number of hooks that may be fished; (7) DAS Leasing Program length and horsepower restrictions; (8) the GOM Sink Gillnet Mesh Exemption January through April; (9) extension of the GOM Sink Gillnet Mesh Exemption through May; (10) prohibition on discarding; (11) daily catch reporting by sector managers for sector vessels participating in the CA I Hook Gear Haddock Special Access Program (SAP); (12) gear requirements in the U.S./ Canada Management Area; (13) powering vessel monitoring systems (VMS) while at the dock; (14) DSM for vessels fishing west of 72°30′W. long.; (15) DSM for Handgear A-permitted sector vessels; and (16) DSM for monkfish trips in the monkfish Southern Fishery Management Area (SFMA). In addition, sectors have requested exemptions from the following requirements in FY 2012: (17) Seasonal restrictions for the Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP; (18) seasonal restriction for the CA II Yellowtail Flounder/ Haddock SAP; (19) prohibition on fishing inside and outside of the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP while on the same trip; (20) maximum ACE carryover provision; (21) ACE buffer provision; (22) 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:33 Feb 14, 2012 Jkt 226001 minimum mesh size requirement for trawl nets; (23) minimum fish size provisions for haddock; (24) prohibition on a vessel hauling another vessel’s hook gear; and (25) the requirement to declare intent to fish in the Eastern U.S./Canada SAP and the CA II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP prior to leaving the dock. We propose to approve the above 25 exemption requests for FY 2012. Exemptions We Proposed To Deny for FY 2012 We propose denying exemptions from the following 13 requirements because they are prohibited by FMP regulations: (26) Year-round access to the Cashes Ledge Closure Area; (27) year-round access to CA I; (28) year-round access to CA II; (29) year-round access to the Western GOM Closure Area; (30) extrapolation of discarded fish pieces across strata; (31) authorization to use video monitoring in place of ASM; (32) all hail requirements; (33) year-round access to the Eastern U.S./Canada Area; (34) ASM for sector vessels; (35) ASM for trips targeting dogfish; (36) ASM for hook-only and Handgear A vessels; (37) ASM for extra-large mesh gillnet vessels; and (38) the ASM standard for random trip selection. We propose denying exemptions from the following 8 requirements because they were previously rejected, and sector applicants provided no new information: (39) minimum fish sizes to allow 100-percent retention; (40) minimum fish sizes to retain 12-inch (30.5-cm) yellowtail flounder; (41) VMS messages be sent directly to NMFS; (42) weekly catch report requirements; (43) prohibition on pair trawling; (44) minimum hook size; (45) 6.5-inch (16.5cm) minimum mesh size for trawls to allow 5-inch (12.7-cm) mesh when targeting redfish; and (46) to submit a sector roster by the deadline. Exemptions 39 through 46 are not analyzed in the EA because no new information was available to change the analyses previously published in past EAs. Detailed information on these exemption requests and the reasons they were previously denied is contained in the proposed and final sector rules for FY 2010 (74 FR 68015, December 22, 2009, and 75 FR 18113, April 9, 2010, respectively) and the proposed and final sector rules for FY 2011 (76 FR 10852, February 28, 2011, and 76 FR 23076, April 25, 2011, respectively). We propose denying exemptions from the following 3 requirements because they may jeopardize rebuilding of the GOM cod stock: (47) the April GOM Rolling Closure Area (RCA); (48) the May GOM RCA; and (49) the June GOM PO 00000 Frm 00039 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 8789 RCA. The draft EA contains analysis of exemptions 47 through 49 that was developed prior to the recent GOM cod stock assessment. NMFS is not proposing these exemptions because of the recent stock assessment. Therefore, the analysis will not be included in the final EA and the final EA will list these exemptions as considered, but rejected. NMFS solicits public comment on the proposed sector operations plans and our proposal to grant 25 of the 49 requested exemptions, and deny the rest, as well as the EA prepared for this action. NMFS is particularly interested in receiving comments on the proposed exemptions from SAP seasons (numbers 17 and 18) and ACE carryover limits (number 20) because of concerns regarding the potential impacts of these exemptions. On February 3, 2012, NMFS listed the GOM distinct population segment (DPS) of Atlantic sturgeon as threatened, and listed the New York Bight, Chesapeake Bay, Carolina, and South Atlantic DPSs of Atlantic sturgeon as endangered. The Biological Opinion for the NE multispecies fisheries will be reinitiated, and additional evaluation will be included to describe any impacts of the fisheries on Atlantic sturgeon and define any measures needed to mitigate those impacts, if necessary. NMFS anticipates that any measures, terms and conditions included in an updated Biological Opinion will further reduce impacts to the species and that the Biological Opinion will be completed before the beginning of the 2012 NE multispecies fishing year on May 1, 2012. Proposed Exemptions—Regulations That Were Previously Exempted for FY 2011 1. 120-Day Block Out of the Fishery Requirement for Day Gillnet Vessels The requirement for Day gillnet vessels to take 120 days out of the fishery was implemented in 1997 under FW 20 (62 FR 15381, April 1, 1997) to help ensure that management measures for Day gillnet vessels were comparable to effort controls placed on other fishing gear types, because gillnets continue to fish as long as they are in the water. Regulations at § 648.82(j)(1)(ii) require that each NE multispecies gillnet vessel declared into the Day gillnet category declare and take 120 days out of the non-exempt gillnet fishery. Each period of time taken out of the fishery must be a minimum of 7 consecutive days, and at least 21 of the 120 days must be taken between June 1 and September 30. An exemption from this requirement was previously approved for FYs 2010 and E:\FR\FM\15FEP1.SGM 15FEP1 8790 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 31 / Wednesday, February 15, 2012 / Proposed Rules 2011 because this measure was designed to control fishing effort and, therefore, is no longer necessary for sectors because their ACEs limit overall fishing mortality. For additional information pertaining to this exemption and other exemptions first approved in FY 2010, please refer to the proposed and final sector rules for FY. This exemption would increase the operational flexibility of sector vessels and would be expected to increase profit margins of sector fishermen. 2. 20-Day Spawning Block Vessels are required to declare out and be out of the NE multispecies DAS program for a 20-day period each calendar year between March 1 and May 31, when spawning is most prevalent in the GOM (§ 648.82(g)). This regulation was developed to reduce fishing effort on spawning groundfish stocks and an exemption was approved for FYs 2010 and 2011 because the sectors’ ACE will restrict fishing mortality, making this measure no longer necessary as an effort control. Exempting sectors from this requirement would provide vessel owners with greater flexibility to plan operations according to fishing and market conditions. tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS 3. Limit on the Number of Gillnets for Day Gillnet Vessels The NE Multispecies FMP limits the number of gillnets a Day gillnet vessel may fish in the groundfish regulated mesh areas (RMA). The limits are specific to the type of gillnet and the RMA: 100 gillnets (of which no more than 50 can be roundfish gillnets) in the GOM RMA (§ 648.80(a)(3)(iv)); 50 gillnets in the GB RMA (§ 648.80(a)(4)(iv)); and 75 gillnets in the Mid-Atlantic (MA) RMA (§ 648.80(b)(2)(iv)). This exemption was previously approved in FYs 2010 and 2011 to allow sector vessels to fish up to 150 nets (any combination of flatfish or roundfish nets) in any RMA to provide greater operational flexibility to sector vessels in deploying gillnet gear. This measure was designed to control fishing effort and, therefore, is no longer necessary for sectors because their ACEs limit overall fishing mortality. 4. Prohibition on a Vessel Hauling Another Vessel’s Gillnet Gear Regulations at §§ 648.14(k)(6)(ii)(A) and 648.84(a) specify the manner in which gillnet gear must be tagged, requiring that information pertinent to the vessel owner or vessel be permanently affixed to the gear. No provisions exist in the regulations allowing for multiple vessels to haul the same gear. An exemption from this VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:33 Feb 14, 2012 Jkt 226001 regulation was previously approved in FYs 2010 and 2011 to allow a sector to share fixed gear among sector vessels, thereby reducing costs. Consistent with the exemption as originally approved, the sectors requesting this exemption have proposed that all vessels utilizing community fixed gear be jointly liable for any violations associated with that gear. Additionally, each member intending to haul the same gear will be required to tag the gear with the appropriate gillnet tags, consistent with § 648.84(a). 5. Limit on the Number of Gillnets That May Be Hauled on GB When Fishing Under a Groundfish/Monkfish DAS Regulations at § 648.80(a)(4)(iv) prohibiting Day gillnet vessels fishing on a groundfish DAS from possessing, deploying, fishing, or hauling more than 50 gillnets on GB were implemented as a groundfish mortality control under Amendment 13 in 2004. NMFS granted an exemption from the limit on the number of gillnets that may be hauled on GB when fishing under a groundfish/ monkfish in FYs 2010 and 2011 because the prohibition was designed to control fishing effort and, therefore, is no longer necessary for sectors because their ACEs limit overall fishing mortality. This exemption allows gillnets deployed under the Monkfish FMP to be hauled more efficiently by vessels that are issued permits under both the multispecies and the monkfish FMPs. 6. Limits on the Number of Hooks That May Be Fished Vessels are prohibited from fishing or possessing more than 2,000 rigged hooks in the GOM RMA, more than 3,600 rigged hooks in the GB RMA, more than 2,000 rigged hooks in the SNE RMA, or more than 4,500 rigged hooks in the MA RMA (§§ 648.80(a)(3)(iv)(B)(2), 648.80(a)(4)(iv)(B)(2), 648.80(b)(2)(iv)(B)(1), and 648.80(c)(2)(v)(B)(1), respectively). This measure was initially implemented in 2002 through an interim action (67 FR 50292, August 1, 2002), and made permanent through Amendment 13, to control fishing effort and, therefore, is no longer necessary for sectors because their ACEs limit overall fishing mortality. An exemption from the number of hooks that a vessel may fish was approved for FYs 2010 and 2011 to allow sector vessels to more efficiently harvest ACE. This exemption was also previously granted to the GB Cod Hook Sector in FYs 2004–2009. PO 00000 Frm 00040 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 7. DAS Leasing Program Length and Horsepower Restrictions While sector vessels are exempt from the requirement to use NE multispecies DAS to harvest groundfish, sector vessels are allocated, and must use, NE multispecies DAS for specific circumstances. For example, the Monkfish FMP requires that limited access monkfish Category C and D vessels harvesting more than the incidental monkfish possession limit must fish under both a monkfish DAS and a NE multispecies DAS. Therefore, sector vessels may still use, and lease, NE multispecies DAS. NMFS granted an exemption from the DAS Leasing Program length and horsepower baseline restrictions (§ 648.82(k)(1)(ix)) on DAS leases between vessels within an individual sector, as well as between vessels in different sectors with this exemption, in FYs 2010 and 2011. The DAS Leasing Program restricted transfers of DAS between vessels of different sizes to the existing replaced vessel upgrade restrictions because of concerns about how DAS leases might change the character of the fishery. Groundfish mortality and fishing effort of sector vessels is no longer controlled by DAS, but is instead controlled only by the sector’s available ACE. There are no vessel size restrictions on use of a sector’s ACE, so continuing the DAS Leasing Program restrictions is no longer an effective method to maintain the character of the NE multispecies fleet. Further, exemption from this restriction allows sector vessels greater flexibility in the utilization of ACE and DAS. ACE and DAS regulations would ensure negligible impacts to allocated target species, and non-allocated target species and bycatch by capping overall mortality. Even with these exemptions, sectors would still be subject to nonallocated target species and bycatch management measures to limit their catch and control mortality. Providing greater flexibility in the distribution of DAS could result in increased effort on non-allocated target stocks, such as monkfish and skates. However, sectors predicted little consolidation and redirection of effort in their FY 2012 operations plans. In addition, any potential redirection in effort would be restricted by the sector’s ACE for each stock, as well as by effort controls in other fisheries (e.g., monkfish trip limits and DAS). E:\FR\FM\15FEP1.SGM 15FEP1 tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 31 / Wednesday, February 15, 2012 / Proposed Rules 8. The GOM Sink Gillnet Mesh Exemption January Through April; and 9. Extension of the GOM Sink Gillnet Mesh Exemption Through May Exemptions 8 and 9 are discussed together because of their interrelatedness; however, approval or disapproval of each of these exemptions is an independent decision. There is a minimum mesh size of 6.5-inch (16.5cm) for gillnets in the GOM RMA (§ 648.80(a)(3)(iv)). Minimum mesh size requirements have been used to reduce overall mortality on groundfish stocks, as well as to reduce discarding, and improve survival, of sub-legal groundfish. Selectivity studies have indicated that 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) sink gillnets may not be effective at retaining haddock at the current legal minimum fish size. An exemption from this requirement was previously approved for FYs 2010 and 2011 to provide sector vessels the opportunity to potentially catch more GOM haddock, a fully rebuilt stock, during the months that haddock are most prevalent, and to provide sector participants the opportunity to more fully harvest their allocation of GOM haddock. This exemption was initially considered in a supplemental proposed and final rule to FY 2010 sector operations (75 FR 53939, September 2, 2010; and 75 FR 80720, December 23, 2010) and is functionally equivalent to a pilot program that was proposed by the Council in Amendment 16. Together these exemptions allow sector vessels to use 6-inch (15.24-cm) mesh stand-up gillnets in the GOM RMA from January 1, 2013, to May 30, 2013, when fishing for haddock. The designation of this season is consistent with the original pilot program proposal and is the time period when haddock are most available in the GOM. Sector vessels utilizing this exemption would be prohibited from using tie-down gillnets in the GOM during this period. Sector vessels may transit the GOM RMA with tie-down gillnets, provided they are properly stowed and not available for immediate use in accordance with one of the methods specified at § 648.23(b). Day gillnet vessels in sectors granted the exemption from Day gillnet net limits, as explained under exemption request 3, will not be subject to the general net limit in the GOM RMA, and will be able to fish up to 150 nets in the GOM RMA. In 2011, NMFS authorized vessels granted both exemptions to fish up to 150 6-inch (15.24-cm) mesh standup gillnets in the GOM RMA. For FY 2012, NMFS proposes the same exemption and again requests public VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:33 Feb 14, 2012 Jkt 226001 comment on the feasibility of allowing up to 150 nets when fishing under this exemption. The LOA issued to sector vessels that qualify for this exemption will specify the net restrictions to help ensure the provision is enforceable. There will be no limit on the number of nets that participating Trip gillnet vessels will be able to fish with, possess, haul, or deploy, during this period, because Trip gillnet vessels are required to remove all gillnet gear from the water before returning to port at the end of a fishing trip. NMFS believes that impacts to allocated target stocks resulting from this exemption would be negligible, given that fishing mortality by sector vessels is restricted by an ACE for allocated stocks, capping overall mortality. For FY 2010, this exemption was not authorized until the effective date of the FY 2010 Supplemental Sector rule, published in January 2011. Data indicate few trips in FY 2011 used this exemption. In January through May 2011, 63 trips were taken, yielding a catch of 89,208 lb (40,464 kg) from sink gillnet vessels fishing with less than 6.5inch (16.5-cm) mesh size in the GOM RMA. It is possible that a higher net limit for Day gillnet vessels participating in this program will increase the number of gillnets in the water at any one time and, therefore, potentially increase interactions with protected species. However, potential negative impacts to protected species from this exemption are expected to be low because additional nets may result in greater efficiency, thus potentially reducing interactions with protected species. In addition, sector vessels utilizing this exemption would still be required to comply with all requirements of the Harbor Porpoise Take Reduction Plan and Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan. 10. Prohibition of Discarding Amendment 16 contains this provision to ensure that the sector’s ACE is accurately monitored. Sectors requested a partial exemption from this prohibition because of concerns that retaining and landing large amounts of unmarketable fish, including fish carcasses, creates operational difficulties and potentially unsafe working conditions for sector vessels at sea. The Regional Administrator considered a partial exemption from the requirement to retain all legal-sized fish in a proposed rule in FY 2010. However, due to problematic mid-season implementation issues, further consideration of this exemption was delayed until FY 2011. An exemption from this requirement was approved for PO 00000 Frm 00041 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 8791 FY 2011 to enhance operational flexibility, foster safer working conditions for sector vessels, and relieve the burden on sector vessels and their dealers to dispose of unmarketable fish. Under this proposed exemption, all legal-sized unmarketable allocated fish would be accounted for in the overall sector-specific discard rates in the same way discards at sea of undersized fish are currently accounted for, based on trips observed by the NEFOP and ASM. If this exemption is approved, unmarketable fish discarded by a sector’s vessels on observed trips will be deducted from that sector’s ACE and incorporated into that sector’s discard rates to account for discarding on unobserved trips. Vessels in a sector opting for this exemption will be required to discard all legal-sized unmarketable fish at sea (i.e., not just on select trips). Legal-sized unmarketable fish would be prohibited from being landed to prevent the potential to skew observed discards. The discarding exemption, in combination with the enhanced reporting of legal-sized unmarketable fish, would improve the monitoring of this unmarketable portion of sector catch, particularly on unobserved sector trips. 11. Daily Catch Reporting By Sector Managers for Vessels Participating in the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP Sector vessels declared into the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP are required to submit daily catch reports to their sector manager, and their sector manager must report the catch information to NMFS on a daily basis (§ 648.85(b)(7)(v)(C)). This reporting requirement was originally implemented through FW 40A (69 FR 67780, November 19, 2004) to facilitate real-time monitoring of quotas by both the sector manager and NMFS. Amendment 16 grants authority to the Regional Administrator to determine if weekly sector reports were sufficient for the monitoring of most SAPs. Through the final rule implementing Amendment 16, the Regional Administrator alleviated reporting requirements for sector vessels participating in other Special Management Programs (SMPs), but reporting requirements were retained for the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP because NMFS must continue to monitor an overall haddock TAC that applies to sector and common pool vessels fishing in this SAP. An exemption was granted in FY 2011 to allow sector vessels participating in the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP to submit a daily VMS catch report directly to NMFS. This exemption is consistent with the requirement for common pool E:\FR\FM\15FEP1.SGM 15FEP1 8792 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 31 / Wednesday, February 15, 2012 / Proposed Rules vessels participating in this SAP and provides NMFS with the timely information necessary to manage the SAP quota. tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS 12. Gear Requirements in the U.S./ Canada Management Area Any NE multispecies vessel fishing with trawl gear in the Eastern U.S./ Canada Area must fish with either a Ruhle trawl, a haddock separator trawl, or a flounder trawl (§ 648.85(a)(3)(iii)). The final rule implementing Amendment 13 clarifies that the requirement to use a haddock separator trawl or a flounder trawl net was designed to ‘‘ensure that the U.S./ Canada TACs are not exceeded. Because both the flounder net and haddock separator trawl are designed to affect cod selectivity, and because the cod TAC is specific to the Eastern U.S./ Canada Area only, application of this gear requirement to the Western U.S./ Canada Area is not necessary to achieve the stated goal.’’ The option to utilize a Ruhle trawl in the Eastern U.S./Canada Area was initially implemented through several in-season actions, and was made permanent in Amendment 16. This gear configuration was originally authorized for its demonstrated ability to allow the targeting of haddock, an underharvested stock, while reducing bycatch of cod and yellowtail flounder stocks, which were identified as overfished. The addition of the Ruhle Trawl to gear previously approved (haddock separator trawl and flounder trawl net) provided added flexibility to trawl vessels. An exemption from this requirement was granted in FY 2011 to enhance operational flexibility of sectors because overall fishing mortality would continue to be restrained by the sector ACEs. 13. Requirement To Power a VMS While at the Dock Sector vessels are required to have an operational VMS unit onboard (§ 648.10(b)(4)) that transmits accurate positional information (i.e., polling) at least every hour, 24 hr per day, throughout the year (§ 648.10(c)(1)(i)). Amendment 5 (59 FR 9872, March 1, 1994) first included the requirement for vessels to use VMS. While the requirement to use VMS was delayed until implemented by FW 42 (72 FR 73274, December 27, 2007), NMFS supported polling to insure adequacy of monitoring requirements, address enforcement concerns, and because it could be beneficial in the event of an atsea emergency. An exemption from this requirement was granted in FY 2011 to lower costs associated with VMS for sector vessels. VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:33 Feb 14, 2012 Jkt 226001 This exemption is administrative in nature and is anticipated to have negligible impacts beyond cost-savings. Vessels granted the exemption must continue to comply with other reporting requirements (trip end hails, VMS declarations, etc.) and must submit an appropriate powerdown VMS declaration, as explained on their LOA, any time the vessel is underway or away from the dock. In granting the exemption for FY 2011, the Regional Administrator reserved the right to revoke the exemption if it was determined the exemption was being misused or abused, and proposes to do so again if this exemption is granted in FY 2012. 14. DSM Requirements for Vessels Fishing West of 72°30′ W. Long In response to FY 2010 requests for exemption from the DSM requirement for vessels fishing in SNE and MA waters, the Regional Administrator requested that the Council consider establishing a geographic boundary outside of which DSM would not be required. The Council responded in FW 45 by removing DSM from the list of prohibited exemptions to allow sectors to request geographic- and gear-based exemptions from DSM. This exemption was granted in FYs 2010 and 2011 based on data showing that little groundfish is caught in the area. Generally, sectors using this exemption must still comply with any DSM program specified by NMFS in FY 2012 (§ 648.87(b)(1)(v)). The required DSM coverage level for FY 2012 will be zero percent, because NMFS will not be funding DSM. However, should that change, then vessels would once again be subject to DSM. This exemption would reduce the burden of any DSM coverage level above zero. 15. DSM Requirements for Handgear APermitted Sector Vessels FW 45 removed the DSM requirements for common pool vessels with handgear (Categories HA and HB) or Small Vessel (Category C) permits. Consistent with that flexibility, NMFS exempted sector vessels with handgear permits (Category HA) from DSM requirements due to the comparatively small catch of these vessels and disproportionately high DSM costs they would incur. In general, sectors must comply with any DSM program specified by NMFS in FY 2012 (§ 648.87(b)(1)(v)). The required DSM coverage level for FY 2012 will be zero percent because NMFS will not be funding DSM. However, should that change, then sector handgear vessels would once PO 00000 Frm 00042 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 again be subject to DSM. This exemption would reduce the burden of any DSM coverage level above zero for sector handgear vessels. 16. DSM Requirements for Monkfish Trips in the Monkfish SFMA Several sectors requested exemptions for FY 2011 from DSM requirements for trips targeting monkfish, skate and/or dogfish. NMFS highlighted a number of operational concerns about exempting these trips in the proposed rule for FY 2011. In the final rule for FY 2011, NMFS approved an exemption from DSM for sector trips declared into the SFMA when fishing on a concurrent monkfish/NE multispecies DAS fishing with 10-inch (25.4-cm) or greater mesh, provided that the vessel fishes the entirety of its trip in the SFMA. This exemption was granted because of the small catch of these vessels and disproportionately high DSM costs they would incur. Sectors must comply with any DSM program specified by NMFS in FY 2012 (§ 648.87(b)(1)(v)). The required DSM coverage level for FY 2012 will be zero percent because NMFS will not be funding DSM. However, should that change, then sector vessels would once again be subject to DSM. This exemption would reduce the burden of any DSM coverage level above zero for a sector vessel fishing with 10-inch (25.4-cm) or greater mesh when fishing the entirety of its trip in the SFMA. Proposed Exemptions—Additional Regulations With New Exemption Requests 17. Seasonal Restriction for the Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP The Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP was implemented by FW 40A in 2004 to provide an opportunity to target haddock while fishing on a Category B DAS in, and near, CA II (69 FR 67780, November 19, 2004). The SAP required vessels to use gear that reduced the catch of cod and other stocks of concern. The SAP had a season of May 1 through December 31 to reduce effort during periods of groundfish spawning. In 2006, FW 42 extended this SAP and shortened the season to August 1 through December 31 to reduce cod catch. Subsequent actions approved additional gear types for use in this SAP. For sector vessels, the only benefit of this SAP is that it provides access to the northern tip of CA II. Amendment 16 exempts sectors from the gear requirements of this SAP because sector catch is constrained by ACEs, but sectors are still required to comply with E:\FR\FM\15FEP1.SGM 15FEP1 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 31 / Wednesday, February 15, 2012 / Proposed Rules tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS reporting requirements and the restricted season from August 1 through December 31 (§ 648.85(b)(3)(iv)). Sectors argue that their catch is restricted by ACE and their access to the SAP area in the northern tip of CA II should not be seasonally restricted. Sectors further argue that impacts to the physical environment and essential fish habitat (EFH) will be negligible because any increase in effort will be minor and the portion of CA II included in this SAP is outside any habitat areas of particular concern (HAPC). NMFS has some concern that this exemption may have negative effects on allocated stocks by allowing an increase in effort in a time and place where those stocks, particularly haddock, aggregate to spawn. Amendment 16 prohibits sectors from being granted exemptions from closed areas. NMFS requests comment on whether it is appropriate to exempt sectors from a SAP season, given that the portion of the SAP in the closed area is already open part of the year, or if the current prohibition on allowing exemptions from closed areas applies to SAPs. 18. Seasonal Restriction for the CA II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP The CA II Yellowtail Flounder/ Haddock SAP was implemented by Amendment 13 in 2004 to provide an opportunity to target yellowtail flounder in CA II on a Category B DAS. The SAP required vessels to use either a flounder net or other gears approved for use in the Eastern U.S./Canada Area. The SAP season ran from June 1 through December 31. In 2005, FW 40 B extended this SAP and shortened the season to July 1 through December 31 to reduce interference with spawning yellowtail flounder (70 FR 31323, June 1, 2005). Amendment 16 further revised this SAP by opening the SAP to target haddock from August 1 through January 31, when the SAP is not open to allow targeting of GB yellowtail flounder. Sectors are required to comply with the SAP reporting requirements and the restricted season of August 1 through January 31 (§ 648.85(b)(3)(iii)). When open only to target haddock, the flounder net is not authorized and only approved trawl gears or hook gear may be used. The gear requirements were implemented to avoid catching yellowtail flounder when the SAP was open only to the targeting of haddock. Unlike the Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP, the CA II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP provides access to a large area in CA II. Sectors are required to use the same approved gears VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:33 Feb 14, 2012 Jkt 226001 as the common pool to reduce the advantage sector vessels have over common pool vessels. Sectors argue that their catch is restricted by ACE and their access to the SAP area in CA II should not be restricted. The seasonal restriction on this SAP was put in place to allow vessels to target denser populations of yellowtail flounder and haddock while avoiding cod in the summer and spawning groundfish in the spring. Impacts to the physical environment and EFH would be negligible because any increase in effort would be minor and the portion of CA II included in this SAP is outside any HAPC. NMFS has some concern that this exemption could have negative effects on allocated stocks by increasing effort in a time and place where those stocks, particularly haddock, aggregate to spawn. Amendment 16 prohibits sectors from being granted exemptions from closed areas. NMFS requests comment on whether it is appropriate to consider exemptions from a SAP season, given that the portion of the SAP in the closed area is already open part of the year, or if the current prohibition on allowing exemptions from closed areas applies to SAPs. 19. Prohibition on Fishing Inside and Outside the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP While on the Same Trip FW 40A established the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP. NE multispecies vessels fishing on a trip within this SAP are prohibited from deploying fishing gear outside of the SAP on the same trip when they are declared into the SAP (§ 648.85(b)(7)(ii)(G)). This restriction was established to avoid potential quota monitoring and enforcement complications that could arise when a vessel fishes both inside and outside the SAP on the same trip. This exemption request would allow sector vessels to fish both inside and outside the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP on the same trip. To identify catch from inside and outside the SAP on the same trip, sector vessels would be required to send NMFS a VMS catch report that specifically identifies GB haddock (and any other shared allocation) catch from inside the SAP prior to the end of the trip or within 24 hr of landing. Sectors are requesting this exemption to increase their operational flexibility and efficiency. NMFS has no reason to believe that this particular catch report would be any less accurate than the existing sector catch reports. 20. Maximum ACE Carryover Provision Amendment 16 allows each sector to carry over up to 10 percent of its PO 00000 Frm 00043 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 8793 original ACE allocation of each stock from one FY to the next, with the exception of GB yellowtail flounder (§ 648.87(b)(1)(i)(C)). Allowing a sector to carry over a portion of its allocation reduces concern that a sector may leave ACE uncaught out of concern it may accidentally exceed its ACE. An exemption was requested to allow sectors to carry over up to 50 percent of unused ACE into the following FY. Allowing sectors to carry over ACE would provide for greater flexibility in when and how they fish during a given FY. NMFS has conducted a preliminary analysis of ACE carryover limits and the potential for overfishing in the subsequent year. Based on the preliminary analysis, there may be a possibility to allow sectors to carry over 11 percent to 30 percent of each stock’s ACE (except GB yellowtail flounder and GOM cod) from one FY to the next, but only to the extent that there is sufficient information to conclude that such carryover does not result in overfishing, impede rebuilding objectives or threaten the health of the stock. Moreover, any such carryover must be consistent with Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements and the setting of ABCs and ACLs. This means that additional carryover must be factored into, and accounted for, in the setting of over-fishing limits (OFL), allowable biological catches (ABC) and ACLs for any given fishing year. GB yellowtail flounder is excluded by Amendment 16 and its implementing regulations because it is a transboundary stock managed under the U.S./Canada Resource Sharing Understanding, and therefore has quotas set by an informal agreement between the Northeast Region of NMFS and the Maritimes Region of the Department of Fisheries and Ocean of Canada. In addition, NMFS proposes to exclude GOM cod from any increase in the carry-over provision due to the results of a new stock assessment (SAW 53, 2012; copies available from NMFS, see ADDRESSES), which determined that GOM cod is overfished, overfishing is occurring, and is in poor condition; thus, raising concern about the longterm health of this stock. The preliminary ACE carryover analysis considered seven groundfish stocks, representing a broad range of life spans and growth rates. A deterministic model was used to evaluate the effect of different percentages of ACE carryover on fishing mortality in the following year. The primary constraint on the model was that the percentage of ACE carryover could not allow overfishing in the following year. Despite a wide range of differences in biology among the E:\FR\FM\15FEP1.SGM 15FEP1 tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS 8794 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 31 / Wednesday, February 15, 2012 / Proposed Rules stocks, the maximum carryover percentage was little affected by these differences. Instead, the primary factor affecting the maximum carryover percentage was the relationship between the ABC and the overfishing threshold in the following year. The NE multispecies FMP sets the ABC based on the target rate for fishing mortality being 75% of the mortality rate that would achieve maximum sustainable yield (Fmsy). If the actual fishing mortality rate in the following year is near the target fishing mortality rate (75% of Fmsy), then the maximum ACE carryover could be about 28 percent to 30 percent, while avoiding overfishing. The analysis further indicates that carryover at 28 percent to 30 percent would not undermine rebuilding programs or stock health, again, provided the actual fishing mortality rate does not exceed the target fishing mortality rate. NMFS provided the analysis to the Council with a request that its Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) review it. In a letter dated January 20, 2012, the Council raised a number of questions about the preliminary analysis and the legality of such carryovers in light of Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements. These questions included: 1. Is it consistent with the MagnusonStevens Act to allow carryover that results in allocating an amount of fish greater than the ABC? 2. Is it consistent with the National Standards Guidelines to allow a carryover amount that reduces the amount of uncertainty buffer between the overfishing level and the ABC to zero without explicit concurrence of the SSC? 3. How does the variable recruitment of rebuilding stocks affect the analysis’ assumptions about allowable ACE carryover? 4. If carryover allows catches to exceed the ABC for a rebuilding program, how is the rebuilding program affected? 5. If a stock ABC is declining, carryover may result in allocating an amount of fish greater than the overfishing limit. Is this consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act? 6. Does a declining ABC affect the amount of permissible ACE carryover? and, 7. Do fluctuations in ABC need to be considered in setting permissible ACE carryover levels? NMFS will consider any input from the SSC, if received in a timely manner, and the questions raised by the Council, to help determining whether increased carryover is justified for FY 2012 and, VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:33 Feb 14, 2012 Jkt 226001 if so, at what level it should be set so that carryover does not result in overfishing, impede rebuilding objectives, or threaten the health of the stock, and otherwise satisfy the legal requirements for setting ABCs and ACLs. NMFS invites comments on the requests for additional carryover, including the preliminary analysis described above and the issues raised by the Council. 21. ACE Buffer Provision Amendment 16 implemented the ACE buffer provision to ensure that each sector would have 20 percent of its ACE available to account for any potential overage from the previous year. At the beginning of each FY, NMFS withholds 20 percent of a sector’s ACE for each stock for up to 61 days (i.e., through June 30), or longer (§ 648.87(b)(1)(iii)(C)). This hold gives NMFS time to finalize sector catch and ACE trades that take place after the end of the FY, and to apply any overage penalties to a sector that exceeded its ACE. Sectors are requesting to be exempted from this 20-percent ACE buffer restriction when a sector manager reports that the sector has not exceeded any of its ACE. Sectors seek to increase operational flexibility and efficiency to bring additional revenue into the sector. NMFS has some concern with this request because it has no ability to verify whether a sector manager’s report is accurate until the annual reconciliation process, as discussed above, is complete. Therefore, sectors could potentially exceed their ACE in a subsequent FY after an overage before the second year’s ACE is reduced by the first year’s overage. For example, if a sector was allocated 100 mt of a stock in year 1, but caught 120 mt, the sector would be required to pay back 20 mt in year two. However, if the sector fished its complete allocation for year 2 before NMFS discovered the overage from year 1, the sector would then have overfished the reduced year 2 allocation. 22. 6.5-Inch (16.5-Cm) Minimum Mesh Size Requirement for Trawl Nets Minimum mesh sizes were initially adopted through interim rules in 2001 and 2002 (67 FR 21140, April 29, 2002; 67 FR 50292, August 1, 2002), and made permanent through Amendment 13. FW 42 further modified the mesh regulations in the SNE and MA RMAs to reduce discards of yellowtail flounder. The regulations at § 648.80 specify the minimum mesh size that may be used in fishing nets on vessels fishing in the GOM, GB, SNE, and MA RMAs. Minimum mesh size restrictions have been used with other management PO 00000 Frm 00044 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 measures to reduce overall mortality on groundfish stocks, as well as to reduce discarding, and improve survival, of sub-legal groundfish. These requirements were intended to protect spawning fish and increase the size of targeted fish. This exemption would allow sector vessels to use 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh codends on trawl nets to target redfish. The exemption is intended to increase the catch rate of redfish. The requesting sectors argue that this exemption could increase the operational flexibility of sector vessels and could increase profit margins of sector fishermen. The sectors making the request have proposed that sector vessels participating in the directed redfish fishery be required to declare their intentions to the Sector Manager and NMFS at least 48 hr prior to departure, and that at-sea monitors be present on all trips using this exemption to monitor catch and bycatch. In addition, daily catch reports will be submitted to the Sector Manager to ensure that all catch is harvested within the sector’s ACE. The exemption is intended to retain a greater proportion of redfish in the trawl codend. This exemption is similar to exemptions requested and denied in previous years. This exemption could result in greater retention of sub-legal groundfish, as well as non-allocated species and bycatch. Habitat could also be negatively impacted due to the anticipated increased use of trawl gear. Should an exemption from minimum mesh size restrictions increase sub-legal groundfish bycatch by sector vessels, juvenile escapement, stock age structure, and overall mortality reduction objectives could be undermined. An exemption could raise additional equity concerns if sub-legal bycatch triggered management actions affecting the entire fishery, including non-sector vessels. Furthermore, an exemption from minimum mesh size restrictions could be difficult to enforce at-sea, because it would require enforcement personnel to differentiate the appropriate mesh size applicable to exempt vessels from that applicable to non-exempt vessels. NMFS is currently funding a study through the Northeast Cooperative Research Partners Program to investigate strategies and methods to sustainably harvest the redfish resource in the GOM through a network approach, including fishing enterprises, gear manufacturers, researchers, social and economic experts, and managers. This approach will include investigating success of various mesh sizes within the fishery. Given that the use of this smaller mesh E:\FR\FM\15FEP1.SGM 15FEP1 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 31 / Wednesday, February 15, 2012 / Proposed Rules could negatively impact spawning fish and populations of flounders, which the current minimum mesh sizes were intended to protect, NMFS has reservations about approving this exemption, until the results from this study can be considered. tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS 23. Minimum Fish Size Provisions for Haddock Commercial haddock catch must measure a minimum of 18 inches (45.7 cm) to be retained by a vessel (§ 648.83(a)(1)). This restriction includes whole fish or any part of a fish while possessed on board a vessel, with the exception of a small amount of fish (up to 25 lb (11.3 kg)) that each person on board may retain for at-home consumption (§ 648.83(a)(2)). The 18inch (45.7-cm) minimum size for haddock was first implemented by an interim action in 2009 (74 FR 17030, April 13, 2009). This was a reduction from the previous minimum size of 19 inches (48.3 cm), designed to reduce discards and increase yield. The 18-inch (45.7-cm) minimum size was made permanent by Amendment 16. Sectors requested an exemption from the minimum size regulation so they could land headed and gutted haddock that are less than 18 inches (45.7-cm) as a value-added product. This exemption would simply allow legal-sized fish that were previously landed whole to be landed headed, or headed and gutted. There would be no change to the actual size composition of the catch. Regulations similar to this exist in other fisheries, such as monkfish. These fisheries use a conversion ratio to account for size and/or weight differences. If approved, NMFS would need to develop a ratio to account for the size/weight differences for haddock landed headed and/or headed and gutted. Allowing this exemption could present significant enforcement issues by allowing different legal minimum fish sizes at sea. 24. Prohibition on a Vessel Hauling Another Vessel’s Hook Gear Current regulations prohibit one vessel from hauling another vessel’s hook gear (§§ 648.14(k)(6)(ii)(B)). No provisions exist in the regulations allowing for multiple vessels to haul the same gear. The regulations facilitate the enforcement of existing hook regulations created as mortality controls, because a single vessel is associated with each set of gear. Sectors have requested an exemption from this prohibition to allow fishermen from within the same sector to haul each other’s hook gear. All vessels participating in ‘‘community’’ fixed gear VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:33 Feb 14, 2012 Jkt 226001 would be jointly liable for any violations associated with that gear. This joint liability would assist in the enforcement of regulations. The increased flexibility afforded by this exemption could increase efficiency. 25. Requirement To Declare Intent To Fish in the Eastern U.S./Canada SAP and the CA II Yellowtail Flounder/ Haddock SAP Prior To Leaving the Dock NE multispecies vessels are required to declare that they will be fishing in either the Eastern US/CA Haddock SAP or the CA II Yellowtail Flounder/ Haddock SAP prior to leaving the dock (§ 648.85(b)(8)(v)(D) and § 648.85(b)(3)(v)). Framework 40A implemented this measure so that vessels fishing exclusively in those areas could be credited DAS for their transit time to and from these SAPs. Sectors are requesting an exemption from having to declare their intent to fish in those areas prior to departing the dock because they are no longer limited by NE multispecies DAS and their catch is limited to their ACE. Sectors seek to increase their efficiency with this exemption. Requested Exemptions We Propose To Deny Because They Are Prohibited Amendment 16 contains several ‘‘universal’’ exemptions applicable to all sectors and authorized sectors to request additional exemptions from NE multispecies regulations through their sector operations plans. However, Amendment 16 also prohibits sectors from requesting exemptions from yearround closed areas, permitting restrictions, gear restrictions designed to minimize habitat impacts, and reporting requirements (excluding DAS reporting requirements or DSM requirements). Exemptions were requested by several sectors that are specifically prohibited (e.g., access to permanent closed areas) or that fall outside of the NE multispecies regulations (e.g., Eastern U.S./Canada in-season actions). In a letter dated September 1, 2010, NMFS notified the Council that NMFS interprets the reporting requirement exemption prohibition broadly to apply to all monitoring requirements, including ASM, DSM, ACE monitoring, and the counting of discards against sector ACE. In this letter (copies are available from NMFS, see ADDRESSES), NMFS also requested that the Council define which regulations sectors may not be exempted from. On November 18, 2010, the Council addressed this letter by voting to include in FW 45 the removal of DSM from the list of regulations that sectors may not be exempted from, but did not take such PO 00000 Frm 00045 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 8795 action for ASM, ACE monitoring, VTR regulations, or counting of discards against ACE. We propose denying, and do not analyze in the EA, exemptions from the following 13 requirements because they are prohibited: (26) Year-round access to the Cashes Ledge Closure Area; (27) year-round access to CA I; (28) yearround access to CA II; (29) year-round access to the Western GOM Closure Area; (30) from extrapolation of discarded fish pieces across strata; (31) authorization to use video monitoring in place of ASM; (32) from hail requirements; (33) year-round access to the Eastern U.S./Canada Area; (34) from ASM for sector vessels; (35) from ASM for trips targeting dogfish; (36) from ASM for hook-only and Handgear A vessels; (37) from ASM for extra-large mesh gillnet vessels; and (38) from the ASM standard for random trip selection. Requested Exemptions We Propose To Deny Because They Were Previously Rejected and No New Information Was Provided We propose denying exemptions from the following 8 requirements because they were previously rejected and sectors provided no new information in support: (39) Minimum fish sizes, to allow 100-percent retention; (40) minimum fish sizes, to retain 12-inch (30.5-cm) yellowtail flounder; (41) that VMS messages be sent directly to NMFS; (42) weekly catch report requirements; (43) no pair trawling; (44) minimum hook size; (45) 6.5-inch (16.5cm) minimum mesh size for trawls to allow 5-inch (12.7-cm) mesh when targeting redfish; and (46) submitting a roster by the deadline. Exemptions 39 through 46 are not analyzed in the EA because no new information was available to change the analyses previously published in past EAs. The details of these exemption requests, analysis of these exemptions, and the reasons they were previously denied are contained in the final rules approving sectors for FYs 2010 and 2011, and their accompanying EAs. The requesting sectors have provided no new information, justification, rationale, or mitigation to address these concerns. Accordingly, we proposed to deny these exemptions in this rule. Requested Exemptions We Proposed To Deny Because They May Jeopardize Rebuilding of the GOM Cod Stock We propose denying exemptions from the following 3 requirements because they may jeopardize rebuilding of the GOM cod stock, which a new stock assessment has determined is overfished and experiencing overfishing: (47) April E:\FR\FM\15FEP1.SGM 15FEP1 8796 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 31 / Wednesday, February 15, 2012 / Proposed Rules tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS GOM Rolling Closure Area; (48) May GOM Rolling Closure Area; and (49) June GOM Rolling Closure Area. NMFS denied requests for additional exemptions from GOM Rolling Closure Areas in FYs 2010 and 2011 because of concerns that directly targeting spawning aggregations can adversely impact the reproductive potential of a stock, as opposed to post-spawning mortality. In addition, those requests were disapproved because the existing GOM Rolling Closure Areas provide some protection to harbor porpoise and other marine mammals. In response to requests for additional exemptions from GOM Rolling Closure Areas (including new exemption requests that would exclude gillnet gear) and discussions about increasing access to these areas at the Council’s Lessons Learned Sector Workshop, the Regional Administrator considered proposing partial exemption from some of the closures as a short-term solution while the Council considered the long-term future of these closures as part of the pending omnibus habitat amendment. Options considered for possible exemptions would have required trawl vessels to use selective trawl gears, excluded gillnet gear, and prohibited hook gear from using squid or mackerel as bait. However, given the new status of the GOM cod stock, no additional exemptions from the GOM RCAs are proposed in this rule. Deadline To Join a Sector for FY 2012 The regulations currently provide that each sector must submit a final roster to NMFS by December 1, prior to the FY in which the sector intends to begin operations, unless otherwise instructed by NMFS. The deadline for FY 2012 was previously announced as December 1, 2011, or April 30, 2012, for permits that changed ownership after December 1. NMFS is extending the FY 2012 sector roster deadline for all permits through April 30, 2012. This opportunity is being provided to address concerns raised at the January 31–February 2, 2012, Council meeting regarding the recent GOM cod assessment and the potential disproportional impacts on the inshore GOM fleet due to the common pool trimester quotas that go into effect on May 1, 2012. The GOM cod stock assessment was not available before the December 1 deadline and indicates the need for a significant reduction in the ACL for this stock. Because permit holders were not aware of this significant reduction before the deadline, NMFS has determined that extending the deadline is appropriate to allow these vessels to reconsider whether to join a sector in light of the VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:33 Feb 14, 2012 Jkt 226001 new assessment. Please note, however, that it is at the sector’s discretion as to whether it will allow new members to join their sector for FY 2012. Sector EA The Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. 553) requires advance notice of rulemaking and opportunity for public comment. NMFS is providing a 15-day comment period for this rule. A longer comment period would be impracticable and contrary to the public interest because a final rule must be published prior to the start of FY 2012 on May 1. Vessels enrolled in a sector may not fish in FY 2012 unless their sector operations plan is approved. Therefore, if the final rule is not published prior to May 1, the permits enrolled in sectors must either stop fishing until their operations plan is approved, or elect to fish in the common pool for the entirety of FY 2012. Both of these options would have negative impacts for the permits enrolled in the sectors. In order to comply with NEPA, one EA was prepared encompassing all 19 operations plans. The sector EA is tiered from the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prepared for Amendment 16. The EA examines the biological, economic, and social impacts unique to each sector’s proposed operations, including requested exemptions, and provides a cumulative effects analysis (CEA) that addresses the combined impact of the direct and indirect effects of approving all proposed sector operations plans. The summary findings of the EA conclude that each sector would produce similar effects that have non-significant impacts. Visit http:// www.regulations.gov to view the EA prepared for the 19 sectors that this rule proposes to approve. Classification Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), the NMFS Assistant Administrator has determined that this proposed rule is consistent with the NE Multispecies FMP, other provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law, subject to further consideration after public comment. This action is exempt from review under Executive Order (E.O.) 12866. The Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA), 5 U.S.C. 601–612, requires agencies to assess the economic impacts of their proposed regulations on small entities. The objective of the RFA is to consider the impacts of a rulemaking on small entities, and the capacity of those PO 00000 Frm 00046 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 affected by regulations to bear the direct and indirect costs of regulation. Size standards have been established for all for-profit economic activities or industries in the North American Industry Classification System. The SBA defines a small business in the commercial fishing and recreational fishing sector, as a firm with receipts (gross revenues) of up to $4 million. An Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA) has been prepared, as required by section 603 of the RFA. The Final Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (FRFA) will be prepared after the comment period for this proposed rule, and will be published with the final rule. The IRFA describes the economic impact that this proposed rule, if adopted, would have on small entities. The IRFA consists of this section, the SUMMARY section of the preamble of this proposed rule, and the EA prepared for this action. A description of the action, why it is being considered, and the legal basis for this action are contained in the preamble to this proposed rule and in Sections 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 of the EA prepared for this action, and is not repeated here. A summary of the analysis follows. A copy of this analysis is available from NMFS (see ADDRESSES). This action will likely affect 843 entities, which represents the number of permits enrolled in sectors that have requested additional exemptions. Each of these permits would be considered a small entity, based on the definition as stated above. The economic impact resulting from this action on these small entities is positive, since the action, if implemented, would provide additional operational flexibility to vessels participating in NE multispecies sectors for FY 2012. In addition, this action would further mitigate negative impacts from the implementation of Amendment 16, FW 44, and FW 45, which have placed additional effort restrictions on the groundfish fleet. Description of the Reasons Why Action by Agency Is Being Considered The flexibility afforded sectors includes exemptions from certain specified regulations as well as the ability to request additional exemptions. Sector members no longer have groundfish catch limited by DAS allocations and are instead limited by their available ACE. In this manner, the economic incentive changes from maximizing the value of throughput of all species on a DAS to maximizing the value of the sector ACE, which places a premium on timing landings to market conditions, as well as changes in the selectivity and composition of species E:\FR\FM\15FEP1.SGM 15FEP1 tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 31 / Wednesday, February 15, 2012 / Proposed Rules landed on fishing trips. Further description of the purpose and need for the proposed action is contained in Section 2.0 of the EA prepared for this action. Over the past decade, there has been a significant amount of consolidation in the NE groundfish fishery in response to management measures to end overfishing of, and to rebuild, groundfish stocks. The number of active vessels steadily declined during the period 2007–2010. The number of active groundfish vessels making any fishing trips declined by 16.8 percent between 2007 (1,082 vessels) and 2010 (900 vessels). A 7.5-percent decline (i.e., 73 vessels) occurred between 2009 and 2010. Similarly, from 2007 to 2010 there was a 31.6-percent decline in the number vessels making at least one groundfish trip (658 to 450), with a 20.5% reduction (116 vessels) between 2009 and 2010. It is not possible to reliably identify the cause for the reduction in the number of active vessels that has been occurring for a number of years, including before 2007. Amendment 13 implemented DAS leasing and transfer programs, allowing vessels to fish the DAS of multiple other vessels. Amendment 16 implemented a number of measures that facilitated the consolidation of fishing effort to fewer active fishing vessels as a means to reduce the operational expenses for owners of multiple permits. For example, that action allows owners of permits held in CPH and not associated with an actual fishing vessel to participate in sectors (i.e., contribute the CPH’s landing history to calculate a sector’s yearly allocation of ACE) and lease DAS. Further, it is not possible to identify the extent to which inactive vessels in sectors may benefit if other sector vessels harvest their allocation. In 2010, 447 vessels (33 percent) were inactive (no landings). Of these inactive vessels, 296 were sector vessels and 151 were common pool vessels. The number of inactive vessels in 2010 can be compared to the number of inactive vessels in other years: 331 vessels (32 percent) in 2007, 398 vessels (28 percent) in 2008, and 408 vessels (30 percent) in 2009. Some vessel inactivity may be due to participation in DAS leasing or transfer programs and/or internal sector management decisions. Data are not currently available to evaluate how inactive vessels in sectors may have benefited from agreeing to have other vessels catch the sector’s allocation. The recent implementation of ACLs and accountability measures (AM), and the expanded use of sectors under Amendment 16, has affected fishing VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:33 Feb 14, 2012 Jkt 226001 patterns in ways that cannot yet be quantified and analyzed. Sector measures were intended to provide a mechanism for vessels to pool harvesting resources and consolidate operations in fewer vessels, if desired, and to provide a mechanism for capacity reduction through consolidation. Reasons why fewer vessels fished in FY 2010, in comparison to FY 2009, may be related to owners with multiple vessels fishing fewer vessels. It is also likely that some vessels that have not landed groundfish have received revenue from leasing their groundfish allocation or have been fishing in other fisheries. Thus, fewer vessels are actively fishing for, and landing, regulated species and ocean pout, with 10 percent of the fishing vessels earning more than half of the revenues from such stocks since 2005, leading to a seemingly continuing trend of consolidation in the fishery. However, this trend began before the implementation and expansion of the sector program, and based on limited data available to date, the trend is not significantly out of proportion to FYs prior to the expansion of sector management by Amendment 16. The Objectives and Legal Basis for the Proposed Action The objective of the proposed action is to authorize the operations of 19 sectors in FY 2012, and to allow the benefits of sector operations to accrue to 843 permits enrolled in sectors and the New England communities where they dock and land. The legal basis for the proposed action is the NE Multispecies FMP and promulgating regulations at § 648.87. Estimate of the Number of Small Entities The SBA size standard for commercial fishing (North American Industry Classification System code 114111) is $4 million in annual sales. Available data indicate that, based on 2005–2007 average conditions, median gross annual sales by commercial fishing vessels were just over $200,000, and no single fishing entity earned more than $2 million annually. Although NMFS acknowledges there may be entities that, based on rules of affiliation, would qualify as large business entities, due to lack of reliable ownership affiliation data we cannot apply the business size standard based on affiliation at this time. For this action, since available data are not adequate to identify affiliated vessels, each operating unit is considered a small entity for purposes of the RFA, and, therefore, there is no differential impact between small and PO 00000 Frm 00047 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 8797 large entities. The maximum number of entities that could be affected by the proposed exemptions is 843 permits— the number of vessels enrolled in the 19 sectors that have submitted an operations plan for FY 2012. Since individuals may withdraw from a sector at any time prior to the beginning of FY 2012, the number of permits participating in sectors on May 1, 2012, and the resulting sector ACE allocations, are likely to change. Additionally, new permit holders who acquire their permits through an ownership change that occurred after December 1, 2011, may enroll their permit in a sector or change the permit’s sector affiliation through April 30, 2012. Reporting, Recordkeeping and Other Compliance Requirements This proposed rule contains no collection-of-information requirement subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act. The proposed action reduces reporting requirements compared to the no-action alternative. Exemptions implemented through this action would be documented in a LOA issued to each vessel participating in an approved sector. The exemptions from the 20-day spawning block and the 120-day gillnet block would reduce the reporting burden for sector vessels, because exemptions from these requirements eliminate the need to report the blocks to the NMFS Interactive Voice Response system. Sector vessels receiving an exemption from the gillnet limit (up to 150 nets) would also be exempt from current tagging requirements, and would instead be required to tag gillnets with one tag per net. Compliance with the tagging requirement would not necessarily require sector vessels to purchase additional net tags, as each vessel is already issued up to 150 tags. However, sector vessels that have not previously purchased the maximum number of gillnet tags may find it necessary to purchase additional tags to comply with this requirement at a cost of $1.20 per tag. The exemption to allow a vessel to haul another vessel’s gillnet gear would require each vessel to tag all gear it is authorized to haul. Because of the existing 150-tag limit, no additional tags could be purchased. The exemption from the limit on the number of hooks does not involve reporting requirements, but may result in increased costs for hooks and rigging (groundline, gangions, anchors) if a vessel chooses to increase the amount of gear fished. Circle hooks of the legal minimum size (12/0) cost about $0.19 each without rigging. E:\FR\FM\15FEP1.SGM 15FEP1 8798 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 31 / Wednesday, February 15, 2012 / Proposed Rules The GOM Sink Gillnet exemption does not involve additional reporting requirements. However, to fully utilize this exemption, sector vessels would need to purchase 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh gillnet nets. At the time this IRFA was prepared, no cost information was available for a 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh gillnet panel. However, the cost of a 6.5inch (16.5-cm) mesh 300-ft (91.4-m) gillnet panel, complete with floats and break-away links, is estimated at $310. The quantity of 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh gillnets purchased by a vessel to participate in this program would depend on the vessel’s gillnet designation (a Day gillnet vessel would have a 150-net limit) and the perceived economic benefits of utilizing the exemption, which may be based on market conditions. Exempting sectors from the requirement to submit a daily catch report for all vessels participating in the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP will not change the reporting burden of individual participating vessels, as the vessels would merely change the recipient of their current daily report. Other exemptions proposed in this action involve no additional reporting requirements. Sector reporting and recordkeeping regulations do not exempt participants from state and Federal reporting and recordkeeping, but are mandated above and beyond current state and Federal requirements. A full list of compliance, recording, and recordkeeping requirements can be found in the final rules implementing Amendment 16, each approved FY 2011 sector operations plan, and in the draft FY 2012 sector operations plans. tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS Duplication, Overlap or Conflict With Other Federal Rules The proposed action is authorized by the regulations implementing the NE Multispecies FMP. It does not duplicate, overlap, or conflict with other Federal rules. Alternatives Which Minimize Any Significant Economic Impact of Proposed Action on Small Entities The proposed action would create a positive economic impact for the participating sector vessels because it would mitigate the impacts from restrictive management measures implemented under NE Multispecies FMP. Little quantitative data on the precise economic impacts to individual vessels is available. The 2010 Final Report on the Performance of the Northeast Multispecies (Groundfish) Fishery (May 2010–April 2011) (copies are available from NMFS, see ADDRESSES) documents that all VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:33 Feb 14, 2012 Jkt 226001 measures of gross revenue per trip and per day absent in 2010 were higher for the average sector vessel and lower for the average common pool vessel. However, the report stipulates this comparison is not useful for evaluating the relative performance of DAS and sector–based management because of fundamental differences between these groups of vessels, which were not accounted for in the analyses. Accordingly, quantitative analysis of the impacts of sector operations plans is still limited. NMFS anticipates that by switching from effort controls of the common pool regime to operating under a sector ACE, sector members will remain economically viable while adjusting to changing economic and fishing conditions. Thus, the proposed action provides benefits to sector members that they would not have under the No Action Alternative. Economic Impacts on Small Entities Resulting From Proposed Action The EIS for Amendment 16 compares economic impacts of sector vessels with common pool vessels and analyzes costs and benefits of the universal exemptions. The final rule for the approval of the FY 2010 sector operations plans and contracts (75 FR 18113, April 9, 2010) and its accompanying EAs discussed the economic impacts of the exemptions requested by sectors that year. The final rule for the supplemental sector rule (75 FR 80720, December 23, 2010) and its accompanying supplemental EA discussed the impacts of additional exemptions requested by sectors. The final rule for the approval of the FY 2011 sector operations plans and contracts (76 FR 23076, April 25, 2011) and its accompanying EA discussed the economic impacts of the exemptions requested by sectors that year. The EA prepared for this rule evaluates the impacts of each exemption individually relative to the no-action alternative (i.e., no sectors are approved), and the exemptions may be approved or disapproved individually or as a group. The impacts associated with the implementation of each of the exemptions proposed in this rule are analyzed as if each exemption would be implemented for all sectors; however, each exemption will only be implemented for the sector(s) which requested that exemption. Increased ‘‘operational flexibility’’ generally has positive impacts on human communities as sectors and their associated exemptions grant fishermen some measure of increased operational flexibility. By removing the limitations on vessel effort (amount of gear used, PO 00000 Frm 00048 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 number of days declared out of fishery, trip limits and area closures) sectors help create a more simplified regulatory environment. This simplified regulatory environment grants fishers greater control over how, when, and where they fish, without working under increasingly complex fishing regulations with higher risk of inadvertently violating one of the many regulations. The increased control granted by the sectors and their associated exemptions may also allow fishermen to maximize the ex-vessel price of landings by timing them based on the market. Generally, increased operational flexibility can result in reduced costs and/or increased revenues. All exemptions contained in the proposed FY 2012 sector operations plans are expected to generate positive social and economic effects for sector members and ports. In general, profits can be increased by increasing revenues or decreasing costs. Similarly, profits decrease when revenues decline or costs rise. The following discussion concentrates on cost and revenues in order to focus on the mechanism by which profits are expected to change due to the exemptions granted by this action. Exemption From the Day Gillnet 120Day Block Out of the Fishery Existing regulations require that vessels using gillnet gear remove all gillnet gear from the water for 120 days per year. Under an output-control management system, this type of input control is unnecessary. Many affected vessel owners have purchased additional vessels in order to be able to fish continuously. The exemption from the 120-day block allows sector members to reduce costs by retiring the redundant vessel. Furthermore, this exemption may allow sector vessels to take advantage of other exemptions, such as the exemption from the GB Seasonal Closure in May and portions of the GOM Rolling Closure Areas. Exemption From the 20-Day Spawning Block Out of the Fishery Exemption from the 20-day spawning block would improve operational flexibility by allowing participants to match trip planning decisions to environmental and economic conditions. The increased operational flexibility may result in higher revenues (improved timing of delivery to market) or lower costs for participating vessels. Exemption From the Limit on the Number of Nets for Day Gillnet Vessels This exemption would increase operational flexibility by allowing participating sector members to deploy E:\FR\FM\15FEP1.SGM 15FEP1 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 31 / Wednesday, February 15, 2012 / Proposed Rules fishing gear according to operational and market needs. The increased flexibility is likely to result in higher revenues or lower costs for participating vessels. be adopted only if the vessels anticipated positive returns from the switch. In FY 2010, 34.7 percent of the available GOM haddock ACE was not caught. Exemption From the Prohibition on a Vessel Hauling Another Vessels’ Gillnet Gear This community fixed-gear exemption would allow sector vessels in the Day gillnet category to share gillnet gear. This exemption would reduce the total amount of gear that would have to be purchased and maintained by participating sector members, resulting in lower costs and possibly lower amount of gear fished. GOM Sink Gillnet Exemption (May) This exemption would allow vessels to use 6-inch mesh gillnets in the GOM RMA from May 1, 2012, through May 31, 2012. This exemption will allow participating sector vessels to retain more GOM haddock and increase revenues. To take advantage of this exemption, participating sector vessels will need to purchase 6-inch mesh gillnets; however, this gear change would be voluntary and this gear would be adopted only if anticipated higher profits. In FY 2010, 34.7% of the available GOM haddock ACE was not caught. Exemption From the Limitation on the Number of Gillnets That May Be Hauled on GB When Fishing Under a Groundfish/Monkfish DAS This exemption would increase operational flexibility by allowing a sector vessel to haul its monkfish gillnets and groundfish gillnets on the same trip. This exemption may reduce costs for these sector participants. Exemption From the Limitation on the Number of Hooks That May Be Fished This exemption would increase operational flexibility by allowing operators to adapt to environmental and economic conditions. This exemption may result in higher revenues or reduced costs. tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS Exemption From DAS Leasing Program Length and Horsepower Restrictions This exemption would increase operational flexibility by allowing participating sector members to deploy fishing gear according to operational and market needs. The increased operational flexibility is likely to result in either higher revenues or lower costs for participating vessels. Because DAS are no required while fishing for groundfish, vessels participating in other fisheries (e.g., monkfish) which require the use of DAS are likely to be positively impacted by this exemption. GOM Sink Gillnet Exemption (January Through April) This exemption would allow sector members to use 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh gillnets in the GOM RMA from January 1, 2013, through April 30, 2013. This exemption will allow participating sector vessels to retain more GOM haddock and increase revenues. To take advantage of this exemption, participating sector vessels would need to purchase 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh gillnets; however, this gear change would be voluntary and the gear would VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:33 Feb 14, 2012 Jkt 226001 Exemption From Prohibition of Discarding Legal-Size Allocated Species Sector vessels are required to retain legal-size unmarketable fish, which must be stored on the vessel while at sea. This requirement may create unsafe work conditions and reduce safety at sea. In addition, sector vessels must determine a method of disposal for landed unmarketable fish. An exemption from this regulation would allow sector vessels to discard unmarketable fish, increasing flexibility, improving safety conditions at sea, and reducing costs associated with disposing of the landed unmarketable fish. 8799 amount of gear, effort or type of gear necessary to catch groundfish in the U.S./Canada Management Area. Exemption From the Requirement To Power a VMS While at the Dock Maintaining a VMS signal while at the dock, or tied to a mooring, requires constant power be delivered to the vessel or constant use of onboard generators. This exemption will reduce the operating costs for fishing operations and would result in some improved profitability. Exemption From DSM Requirements for Handgear A-Permitted Sector Vessels, Vessels Fishing West of 72°30′ W. Long., and Vessels on Monkfish DAS When Using 10-Inch (25.4-cm) or Greater Mesh in the Monkfish SFMA FW 45 revised DSM requirements and stipulated that sectors must comply with any DSM program specified by NMFS in FY 2012. For FY 2012 there is no required DSM coverage because NMFS will not be funding DSM. This exemption would reduce the regulatory cost and burden of any DSM coverage level above zero. The vessels qualifying for these exemptions generally are the smallest operations, or have the smallest amount of groundfish catch, and so would otherwise be disproportionately burdened compared to larger operations. Exemption From Seasonal Restriction for the Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP The Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP was implemented by FW 40A in Exemption From the Requirement That 2004 to provide an opportunity to target the Sector Manager Submit Daily Catch haddock. In 2006, FW 42 shortened the Reports for the CA I Hook Gear Haddock season of this SAP to August 1 through SAP December 31 to reduce cod catch. For sector vessels, the SAP provides access Eliminating the daily catch reporting to the northern tip of CA II, which may by sector managers would reduce the increase haddock catch and revenue for administrative burden on the sector fishermen. managers. The reporting burden of individual participating vessels remains Exemption From Seasonal Restriction unchanged. In addition to reducing for the CA II Yellowtail Flounder/ administrative burden, this exemption Haddock SAP may result in slightly lower operating The CA II Yellowtail Flounder/ costs for sectors. Haddock SAP was implemented by Exemption From the Trawl Gear Amendment 13 in 2004 to provide an Requirements in the U.S./Canada opportunity to target yellowtail flounder Management Area in CA II. In 2005, FW 40B shortened the season of this SAP to July 1 through This exemption would allow the use of any groundfish trawl gear, rather than December 31 to reduce interference with spawning yellowtail flounder. approved conservation gears, provided Amendment 16 further revised this SAP the gear conforms to regulatory requirements for using trawl gear to fish to allow participating vessels to target haddock from August 1 through January for groundfish in the GB RMA. This 31. This exemption would increase a exemption would result in greater sector’s operational flexibility and operational flexibility to participating efficiency by allowing the opportunity sector vessels. This increased operational flexibility may translate into to fish year-round in the SAP area. It could allow for a greater catch of lower costs if vessels can reduce the PO 00000 Frm 00049 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 E:\FR\FM\15FEP1.SGM 15FEP1 8800 Federal Register / Vol. 77, No. 31 / Wednesday, February 15, 2012 / Proposed Rules haddock and increased revenues for fishermen. greatest for stocks which are seasonally available early in the fishing year. Exemption From the Prohibition on Fishing Inside and Outside the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP While on the Same Trip Exemption From the 6.5-Inch (16.5-cm) Minimum Mesh Size Requirement for Trawl Nets FW 40A established the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP. Multispecies vessels fishing on a trip within this SAP are prohibited from deploying fishing gear outside of the SAP on the same trip when they are declared into the SAP. This exemption would increase operational flexibility by allowing sector vessels to fish both inside and outside the SAP on the same trip. This exemption would reduce costs by reducing the amount of travel time to haul gear in the SAP and in other areas. Exemption From the Maximum ACE Carryover Provision Each sector is allowed to carry over up to 10 percent of its original ACE allocation of each stock from one fishing year to the next, with the exception of GB yellowtail flounder, to reduce the possibility that a sector may accidentally exceed its allocation while trying to utilize its entire ACE. Allowing sectors to carry over a larger portion of their ACE would provide for greater operational flexibility in when and how they fish during a given fishing year. This could increase revenues of sectors which frequently catch less than 90% of their ACE allocations. Exemption From the ACE Buffer Provision tkelley on DSK3SPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS At the beginning of each fishing year, NMFS withholds 20 percent of a sector’s ACE for each stock for a period of up to 61 days, or longer. Exemption from this provision would increase operational flexibility by allowing more ACE to be available at the beginning of the fishing year. This effect is expected to be VerDate Mar<15>2010 16:33 Feb 14, 2012 Jkt 226001 This exemption would allow sector vessels to use 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh codends on trawl nets to target redfish. The exemption could increase the operational flexibility of sector vessels and could increase revenues of sector fishermen if they are able to increase the catch rate of redfish. Exemption From the 18-Inch (45.7-cm) Minimum Fish Size Provision for Haddock This restriction includes whole fish or any part of a fish while possessed on board a vessel, with the exception of a small amount of fish (up to 25 lb (11.3 kg)) that each person on board may retain for at-home consumption. This exemption would increase operational flexibility by allowing vessels to land headed and gutted haddock which are less than 18 inches (45.7 cm). Vessels would be able to store more fish in the hold and may land more edible meat by processing and removing undesirable parts of the fish at sea. Vessel revenues increase if higher prices are received for processed fish. However, few vessels are currently equipped to take advantage of this exemption. Other vessels would need to make voluntary upgrades to their vessels in order to take advantage of this regulation. Exemption From the Prohibition on a Vessel Hauling Another Vessel’s Hook Gear This exemption would reduce the total amount of gear that would have to be purchased and maintained by participating sector members, resulting in lower costs and a possible reduction in total gear fished. PO 00000 Frm 00050 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 9990 Exemption From the Requirement To Declare Intent To Fish in the Eastern U.S./Canada SAP and the CA II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP Prior To Leaving the Dock Multispecies vessels are currently required to declare that they will be fishing in the Eastern U.S./CA Haddock SAP or the CA II Yellowtail Flounder/ Haddock SAP prior to leaving the dock. The requested exemption would reduce the administrative burden of declaring intent to fish and increase operational flexibility by allowing the vessel to make trip planning decisions while atsea. This exemption could reduce costs by reducing the amount of travel time to fish in the SAP without first returning to port. Other Significant Alternatives There were several exemptions requested by the sectors for FY 2012 that the regulations implemented by Amendment 16 prohibited NMFS from considering. NMFS also received requests for exemptions that NMFS previously disapproved in FY 2010 or FY 2011; however, no new data or information has become available that would convince NMFS to reconsider the previously disapproved exemptions further in FY 2012. Regulations under the MagnusonStevens Act require publication of this notification to provide interested parties the opportunity to comment on proposed sector operations plans and TAC allocations. Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. Dated: February 9, 2012. Alan D. Risenhoover, Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2012–3565 Filed 2–14–12; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P E:\FR\FM\15FEP1.SGM 15FEP1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 77, Number 31 (Wednesday, February 15, 2012)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 8780-8800]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2012-3565]



[[Page 8780]]

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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 648

[Docket No. 120120056-2055-01]
RIN 0648-XA797


Magnuson-Stevens Act Provisions; Fisheries of the Northeastern 
United States; Northeast Multispecies Fishery; 2012 Sector Operations 
Plans and Contracts, and Allocation of Northeast Multispecies Annual 
Catch Entitlements

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

ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments.

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

SUMMARY: This rule proposes 19 Northeast (NE) multispecies (groundfish) 
sector operations plans and contracts for fishing year (FY) 2012, and 
would allocate quotas of NE multispecies to the sectors. The NE 
Multispecies Fishery Management Plan (FMP) requires sectors to submit 
their operations plans and contracts to NMFS for approval or 
disapproval. Approval of a sector operations plan and contract is 
necessary for that sector to be allocated fish, and allows the sector 
members to be exempted from certain effort control regulations. If a 
sector operations plan and contract is not approved, the members of 
that sector must fish in the common pool and comply with all existing 
regulations. This rule also notifies the public that NMFS is extending 
the deadline to join a sector for FY 2012 through April 30, 2012. NMFS 
is soliciting comment on the proposed operations plans and contracts, 
and our proposal to grant 25 of the 49 exemptions requested, and deny 
the rest.

DATES: Written comments must be received on or before March 1, 2012.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by 
NOAA-NMFS-2011-0264, by any of the following methods:
     Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal http://www.regulations.gov. To submit comments via the e-Rulemaking Portal, 
first click the ``submit a comment'' icon, then enter NOAA-NMFS-2011-
0264 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 
the right of that line.
     Mail: Submit written comments to Mark Grant, 55 Great 
Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930.
     Fax: 978-281-9135; Attn: Mark Grant.
    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 http://www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying 
information (e.g., name, address, etc.) 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.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mark Grant, Sector Policy Analyst, 
phone (978) 281-9145, fax (978) 281-9135.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    The NE groundfish sector management system is a voluntary system 
that allocates a portion of groundfish stocks to self-selecting groups 
of permit holders, called sectors. Sector members are granted increased 
operational flexibility through exemptions from regulations in exchange 
for taking on additional responsibility. The annual allocations to 
sectors are called Annual Catch Entitlements (ACE) and are based on the 
collective fishing history of the sectors' members. Sectors are self-
selecting, meaning each sector can choose its members. Sectors may pool 
harvesting resources and consolidate operations to fewer vessels, if 
they desire.
    NMFS received operations plans and preliminary contracts for FY 
2012 from 19 sectors (see Table 1). The Administrator of NMFS for the 
NE Region (Regional Administrator) has made a preliminary determination 
that the 19 sector operations plans and contracts are consistent with 
the goals of the FMP, and comply with the measures that govern 
operation of a sector. This proposed rule summarizes many of the sector 
requirements and solicits comments on the proposed operations plans, 
our proposal to grant 25 of the 49 regulatory exemptions requested by 
the sectors and deny the rest, and the environmental assessment (EA). 
Copies of the operations plans and contracts, and the EA are available 
at http://www.regulations.gov and from NMFS (see ADDRESSES).
    Amendment 13 to the FMP (69 FR 22906, April 27, 2004) established a 
process for forming sectors within the groundfish fishery, implemented 
restrictions applicable to all sectors, and authorized allocation of a 
total allowable catch (TAC) for specific groundfish species to a 
sector. Amendment 16 to the FMP (74 FR 18262, April 9, 2010) expanded 
sector management, revised the 2 existing sectors to comply with the 
expanded sector rules (summarized below), and authorized an additional 
17, for a total of 19 sectors. Framework Adjustment (FW) 45 to the FMP 
(76 FR 23042, April 25, 2011) further revised the rules for sectors and 
authorized 5 new sectors (for a total of 24 sectors).
    The FMP defines a sector as ``[a] group of persons (three or more 
persons, none of whom have an ownership interest in the other two 
persons in the sector) holding limited access vessel permits who have 
voluntarily entered into a contract and agree to certain fishing 
restrictions for a specified period of time, and which has been granted 
a TAC(s) [sic] in order to achieve objectives consistent with 
applicable FMP goals and objectives.'' A sector's TAC is referred to as 
an ACE. Regional Administrator approval is required for a sector to be 
authorized to fish and to be allocated an ACE for stocks of regulated 
NE multispecies. Each individual sector's ACE for a particular stock 
represents a share of that stock's annual catch limit (ACL) available 
to commercial NE multispecies vessels, and each ACE is based upon the 
landings history of permits participating in that sector.
    Nineteen sectors submitted operations plans and sector contracts, 
and requested allocation of stocks regulated under the FMP for FY 2012. 
The submitted operations plans are similar to previously approved 
versions, but incorporate changes to incorporate the requested 
exemptions. Five sectors chose not to submit operations plans and 
contracts for FY 2012: The Georges Bank (GB) Cod Hook Sector; Northeast 
Fishery Sector I; the State of New Hampshire Permit Bank Sector; the 
Commonwealth of Massachusetts Permit Bank Sector; and the State of 
Rhode Island Permit Bank Sector. The State of

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Maine Permit Bank Sector, Northeast Fishery Sector IV and Sustainable 
Harvest Sector 3 would operate as private lease-only sectors. The 
Sustainable Harvest Sector 3 has not explicitly prohibited fishing 
activity, and may transfer permits to active vessels. A separate rule 
(76 FR 77200, December 12, 2011) proposes Amendment 17, which would 
allocate ACE to state-operated permit banks without requiring those 
permit banks to comply with the administrative and procedural 
requirements for groundfish sectors.
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Sector ACEs

    As of December 1, 2011, 843 of the 1,475 eligible NE multispecies 
permits have preliminarily enrolled in a sector for FY 2012. These 
permits account for approximately 99 percent of the FY 2012 commercial 
groundfish sub-ACL. Table 1 includes a summary of permits enrolled in a 
sector as of December 1, 2011. Permits enrolled in a sector, and the 
vessels associated with those permits, have until April 30, 2012, to 
withdraw from a sector and fish in the common pool for FY 2012. NMFS 
will publish final sector ACEs and common pool sub-ACL totals, based 
upon final rosters, as soon as possible after the start of FY 2012.
    Sector ACEs are calculated by summing the potential sector 
contributions (PSC) of a sector's members for a stock and then 
multiplying that percentage by the available commercial sub-ACL for 
that stock. Table 2 shows the cumulative percentage of each commercial 
sub-ACL each sector would receive, based on their rosters as of 
December 1, 2011. Tables 3 and 4 show the ACEs each sector would be 
allocated based on their December 1, 2011, sector rosters for FY 2012. 
The final ACEs, to the nearest pound, are provided to the individual 
sectors by NMFS and NMFS uses those final ACEs for monitoring sector 
catch. While the common pool does not receive a specific allocation of 
ACE, the common pool sub-ACLs have been included in each of these 
tables for comparison.
    Individual permits are not assigned a PSC for Eastern GB cod or 
Eastern GB haddock; rather each sector's GB cod and GB haddock 
allocation is divided into a Western ACE and an Eastern ACE for each 
stock. A sector's Eastern GB cod and haddock ACEs are to be harvested 
exclusively in the Eastern U.S./Canada Area and are based on the 
sector's percentage of the GB cod and haddock ACLs. For example, if a 
sector is allocated 4 percent of the GB cod ACL and 6 percent of the GB 
haddock ACL, the sector is allocated 4 percent of the Eastern U.S./
Canada Area GB cod TAC and 6 percent of the Eastern U.S./Canada Area GB 
haddock TAC as its Eastern GB cod and haddock ACEs. These amounts are 
then subtracted from the sector's overall GB cod and haddock 
allocations to determine its Western GB cod and haddock ACEs.
    At the start of FY 2012, NMFS will withhold 20 percent of each 
sector's FY 2012 ACE for each stock to allow time to process any FY 
2011 ACE transfers and to determine whether the FY 2012 ACE allocated 
to any sector needs to be reduced, or any overage penalties need to be 
applied to accommodate an FY 2011 ACE overage by that sector. Sectors 
will be allowed to trade ACE for 2 weeks following the finalization of 
sector catch for FY 2012 to balance any overages. The New England 
Fishery Management Council (Council) and sector managers will be 
notified of this deadline in writing and the decision will be announced 
on the NMFS Northeast Regional Office (http://www.nero.noaa.gov/).

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Sector Operations Plans and Contracts

    NMFS received nineteen sector operations plans and contracts by the 
September 1, 2011, deadline, and subsequently received preliminary 
rosters by the December 1, 2011, deadline for FY 2012. Each sector has 
elected to submit a single document that is both the sector's contract 
and the sector's operations plan. Therefore, these submitted operations 
plans not only contain the rules under which each sector would fish, 
but also provide the legal contract that binds the sector's members to 
the sector and its operations plan.
    Each sector conducts fishing activities according to its approved 
operations plan; however, each operations plan and sector member must 
comply with the regulations governing sectors, which are found at Sec.  
648.87. All permit holders with a limited access NE multispecies permit 
that was valid as of May 1, 2008, are eligible to participate in a 
sector, including holders of inactive permits currently held in 
confirmation of permit history (CPH). While membership in each sector 
is voluntary, each member (and his/her permits enrolled in the sector) 
must remain with the sector for the entire FY, and cannot fish in the 
NE multispecies days-at-sea (DAS) program outside of the sector (i.e., 
in the common pool) during the FY. Participating vessels are required 
to comply with all pertinent Federal fishing regulations, except as 
specifically exempted by a letter of authorization (LOA) issued by the 
Regional Administrator. Sector operations plans may be amended in-
season if a change is necessary and agreed to by NMFS, provided the 
change is consistent with the sector administration provisions. These 
changes are included in updated LOAs issued to sector members and 
through amendments to the approved operations plan.
    Sectors are allocated all large-mesh groundfish stocks for which 
members have landings history, with the exception of Atlantic halibut, 
windowpane flounder, Atlantic wolffish, and the Southern New England/
Mid-Atlantic (SNE/MA) stock of winter flounder. Atlantic halibut, ocean 
pout, northern windowpane flounder, and southern windowpane flounder 
are not allocated to sectors because these stocks have small ACLs, and 
vessels have limited landings history. Allocating these stocks to 
sectors would complicate monitoring of sector operations and would 
require a different scheme for determining each permit's potential 
sector contribution.
    Sector vessels are required to retain all legal-sized allocated 
groundfish, unless an exemption is granted allowing sector vessels to 
discard legal-sized unmarketable fish at sea. Catch (including 
discards) of all allocated groundfish stocks by a sector's vessels 
would count against the sector's ACE, unless the catch is an element of 
a separate ACL sub-component, such as groundfish caught when fishing in 
an exempted fishery, or yellowtail flounder caught when fishing in the 
Atlantic sea scallop fishery. Sector vessels fishing for monkfish, 
skate, lobster (with non-trap gear), and spiny dogfish when on a sector 
trip (e.g., not fishing under provisions of a NE multispecies exempted 
fishery) would have their groundfish catch (including discards) on 
those trips debited against the sector's ACE. Ratios to calculate 
discards on unobserved sector trips would be determined by NMFS based 
on observed trips.
    Each sector is required to ensure that its ACE is not exceeded 
during the FY. Amendment 16 required sectors to develop independent 
third-party dockside monitoring programs (DSM) to verify landings at 
the time they are weighed by the dealer, and to certify that the 
landing weights are accurate as reported by the dealer. FW 45 sets the 
required coverage level for DSM to the level that NMFS could fund. For 
FY 2012, NMFS will not fund a DSM program; therefore, the DSM level for 
FY 2012 is zero. Amendment 16 also required that sectors design, 
implement, and fund an at-sea monitoring (ASM) program beginning in FY 
2012. However, for 2012 NMFS will fund and operate an ASM program for 
all sectors. The ASM coverage rate target is 17 percent, in addition to 
the expected 8-percent coverage rate of the Northeast Fishery Observer 
Program (NEFOP). These two programs are expected to result in coverage 
of 25 percent of all sector trips and will be the basis for calculating 
discards by sector vessels. This level of observer coverage has been 
considered sufficient to monitor sector fishing activity for purposes 
of calculating when ACLs have been achieved.
    Sectors are required to monitor their landings and available ACE, 
and submit weekly catch reports to NMFS. In addition, the sector 
manager is required to provide NMFS with aggregate sector reports on a 
daily basis when a threshold (specified in the operations plan) is 
reached. Once a sector's ACE for a particular stock is caught, a sector 
is required to cease all fishing operations in that stock area until it 
could acquire additional ACE for that stock. ACE may be transferred 
between sectors, but ACE transfers to or from common pool vessels is 
prohibited. Each sector must submit an annual report to NMFS and the 
Council within 60 days of the end of the FY detailing the sector's 
catch (landings and discards by the sector), enforcement actions, and 
pertinent information necessary to evaluate the biological, economic, 
and social impacts from the sector, as directed by NMFS.
    Each sector contract provides procedures to enforce the sector 
operations plan, explains sector monitoring and reporting requirements, 
presents a schedule of penalties, and provides authority to sector 
managers to issue stop fishing orders to sector members that violate 
provisions of the operations plan and contract. Sector members can be 
held jointly and severally liable for ACE overages, discarding of 
legal-sized fish, and/or misreporting of catch (landings or discards). 
Each sector operations plan submitted for FY 2012 states that the 
sector will withhold an initial reserve from the sector's sub-
allocation to each individual member to prevent the sector from 
exceeding its ACE. Each sector contract also details the method for 
initial ACE allocation to sector members; for FY 2012, each sector has 
proposed that each sector member could harvest an amount of fish equal 
to the amount each individual member's permit contributed to the 
sector's ACE.
    Amendment 16 contains several ``universal'' exemptions that apply 
to all sectors. These universal exemptions apply to: Trip limits on 
allocated stocks; the GB Seasonal Closure Area; NE multispecies DAS 
restrictions; the requirement to use a 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) mesh codend 
when fishing with selective gear on GB; and portions of the Gulf of 
Maine (GOM) Rolling Closure Areas.
    Sectors may request additional exemptions from NE multispecies 
regulations through their sector operations plan. Amendment 16 
prohibits sectors from requesting exemptions from year-round closed 
areas (CA), permitting restrictions, gear restrictions designed to 
minimize habitat impacts, and reporting requirements (excluding DAS 
reporting requirements or DSM requirements). If an exemption is granted 
to a sector, each sector vessel is issued a LOA by NMFS authorizing the 
exemption for each such vessel.

Requested FY 2012 Exemptions

    A total of 49 exemptions from the NE multispecies regulations have 
been requested by sectors through their FY 2012 operations plans. These 
requests

[[Page 8789]]

are grouped into several categories in this rule: Exemptions previously 
approved that we proposed to approve for FY 2012 (numbers 1-16); new 
exemption requests we proposed to approve for FY 2012 (numbers 17-25); 
and requested exemptions that we propose to deny because they are 
prohibited (numbers 26-38), were previously rejected and no new 
information was provided (numbers 39-46), or because they may 
jeopardize rebuilding of the GOM cod stock (numbers 47-49). The recent 
GOM cod stock assessment determined the GOM cod stock is overfished and 
undergoing overfishing, which requires reevaluation of management of 
the stock. A full discussion of the 25 exemptions proposed for approval 
appears below.

Exemptions We Propose To Approve in FY 2012

    In FY 2011, sectors were exempted from the following; and these 
exemptions have again been requested for FY 2012: (1) 120-day block out 
of the fishery required for Day gillnet vessels; (2) 20-day spawning 
block out of the fishery required for all vessels; (3) limits on the 
number of gillnets imposed on Day gillnet vessels; (4) prohibition on a 
vessel hauling another vessel's gillnet gear; (5) limits on the number 
of gillnets that may be hauled on GB when fishing under a groundfish/
monkfish DAS; (6) limits on the number of hooks that may be fished; (7) 
DAS Leasing Program length and horsepower restrictions; (8) the GOM 
Sink Gillnet Mesh Exemption January through April; (9) extension of the 
GOM Sink Gillnet Mesh Exemption through May; (10) prohibition on 
discarding; (11) daily catch reporting by sector managers for sector 
vessels participating in the CA I Hook Gear Haddock Special Access 
Program (SAP); (12) gear requirements in the U.S./Canada Management 
Area; (13) powering vessel monitoring systems (VMS) while at the dock; 
(14) DSM for vessels fishing west of 72[deg]30'W. long.; (15) DSM for 
Handgear A-permitted sector vessels; and (16) DSM for monkfish trips in 
the monkfish Southern Fishery Management Area (SFMA).
    In addition, sectors have requested exemptions from the following 
requirements in FY 2012: (17) Seasonal restrictions for the Eastern 
U.S./Canada Haddock SAP; (18) seasonal restriction for the CA II 
Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP; (19) prohibition on fishing inside and 
outside of the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP while on the same trip; (20) 
maximum ACE carry-over provision; (21) ACE buffer provision; (22) 6.5-
inch (16.5-cm) minimum mesh size requirement for trawl nets; (23) 
minimum fish size provisions for haddock; (24) prohibition on a vessel 
hauling another vessel's hook gear; and (25) the requirement to declare 
intent to fish in the Eastern U.S./Canada SAP and the CA II Yellowtail 
Flounder/Haddock SAP prior to leaving the dock. We propose to approve 
the above 25 exemption requests for FY 2012.

Exemptions We Proposed To Deny for FY 2012

    We propose denying exemptions from the following 13 requirements 
because they are prohibited by FMP regulations: (26) Year-round access 
to the Cashes Ledge Closure Area; (27) year-round access to CA I; (28) 
year-round access to CA II; (29) year-round access to the Western GOM 
Closure Area; (30) extrapolation of discarded fish pieces across 
strata; (31) authorization to use video monitoring in place of ASM; 
(32) all hail requirements; (33) year-round access to the Eastern U.S./
Canada Area; (34) ASM for sector vessels; (35) ASM for trips targeting 
dogfish; (36) ASM for hook-only and Handgear A vessels; (37) ASM for 
extra-large mesh gillnet vessels; and (38) the ASM standard for random 
trip selection.
    We propose denying exemptions from the following 8 requirements 
because they were previously rejected, and sector applicants provided 
no new information: (39) minimum fish sizes to allow 100-percent 
retention; (40) minimum fish sizes to retain 12-inch (30.5-cm) 
yellowtail flounder; (41) VMS messages be sent directly to NMFS; (42) 
weekly catch report requirements; (43) prohibition on pair trawling; 
(44) minimum hook size; (45) 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) minimum mesh size for 
trawls to allow 5-inch (12.7-cm) mesh when targeting redfish; and (46) 
to submit a sector roster by the deadline. Exemptions 39 through 46 are 
not analyzed in the EA because no new information was available to 
change the analyses previously published in past EAs. Detailed 
information on these exemption requests and the reasons they were 
previously denied is contained in the proposed and final sector rules 
for FY 2010 (74 FR 68015, December 22, 2009, and 75 FR 18113, April 9, 
2010, respectively) and the proposed and final sector rules for FY 2011 
(76 FR 10852, February 28, 2011, and 76 FR 23076, April 25, 2011, 
respectively).
    We propose denying exemptions from the following 3 requirements 
because they may jeopardize rebuilding of the GOM cod stock: (47) the 
April GOM Rolling Closure Area (RCA); (48) the May GOM RCA; and (49) 
the June GOM RCA. The draft EA contains analysis of exemptions 47 
through 49 that was developed prior to the recent GOM cod stock 
assessment. NMFS is not proposing these exemptions because of the 
recent stock assessment. Therefore, the analysis will not be included 
in the final EA and the final EA will list these exemptions as 
considered, but rejected.
    NMFS solicits public comment on the proposed sector operations 
plans and our proposal to grant 25 of the 49 requested exemptions, and 
deny the rest, as well as the EA prepared for this action. NMFS is 
particularly interested in receiving comments on the proposed 
exemptions from SAP seasons (numbers 17 and 18) and ACE carryover 
limits (number 20) because of concerns regarding the potential impacts 
of these exemptions.
    On February 3, 2012, NMFS listed the GOM distinct population 
segment (DPS) of Atlantic sturgeon as threatened, and listed the New 
York Bight, Chesapeake Bay, Carolina, and South Atlantic DPSs of 
Atlantic sturgeon as endangered. The Biological Opinion for the NE 
multispecies fisheries will be reinitiated, and additional evaluation 
will be included to describe any impacts of the fisheries on Atlantic 
sturgeon and define any measures needed to mitigate those impacts, if 
necessary. NMFS anticipates that any measures, terms and conditions 
included in an updated Biological Opinion will further reduce impacts 
to the species and that the Biological Opinion will be completed before 
the beginning of the 2012 NE multispecies fishing year on May 1, 2012.

Proposed Exemptions--Regulations That Were Previously Exempted for FY 
2011

1. 120-Day Block Out of the Fishery Requirement for Day Gillnet Vessels

    The requirement for Day gillnet vessels to take 120 days out of the 
fishery was implemented in 1997 under FW 20 (62 FR 15381, April 1, 
1997) to help ensure that management measures for Day gillnet vessels 
were comparable to effort controls placed on other fishing gear types, 
because gillnets continue to fish as long as they are in the water. 
Regulations at Sec.  648.82(j)(1)(ii) require that each NE multispecies 
gillnet vessel declared into the Day gillnet category declare and take 
120 days out of the non-exempt gillnet fishery. Each period of time 
taken out of the fishery must be a minimum of 7 consecutive days, and 
at least 21 of the 120 days must be taken between June 1 and September 
30. An exemption from this requirement was previously approved for FYs 
2010 and

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2011 because this measure was designed to control fishing effort and, 
therefore, is no longer necessary for sectors because their ACEs limit 
overall fishing mortality. For additional information pertaining to 
this exemption and other exemptions first approved in FY 2010, please 
refer to the proposed and final sector rules for FY. This exemption 
would increase the operational flexibility of sector vessels and would 
be expected to increase profit margins of sector fishermen.

2. 20-Day Spawning Block

    Vessels are required to declare out and be out of the NE 
multispecies DAS program for a 20-day period each calendar year between 
March 1 and May 31, when spawning is most prevalent in the GOM (Sec.  
648.82(g)). This regulation was developed to reduce fishing effort on 
spawning groundfish stocks and an exemption was approved for FYs 2010 
and 2011 because the sectors' ACE will restrict fishing mortality, 
making this measure no longer necessary as an effort control. Exempting 
sectors from this requirement would provide vessel owners with greater 
flexibility to plan operations according to fishing and market 
conditions.

3. Limit on the Number of Gillnets for Day Gillnet Vessels

    The NE Multispecies FMP limits the number of gillnets a Day gillnet 
vessel may fish in the groundfish regulated mesh areas (RMA). The 
limits are specific to the type of gillnet and the RMA: 100 gillnets 
(of which no more than 50 can be roundfish gillnets) in the GOM RMA 
(Sec.  648.80(a)(3)(iv)); 50 gillnets in the GB RMA (Sec.  
648.80(a)(4)(iv)); and 75 gillnets in the Mid-Atlantic (MA) RMA (Sec.  
648.80(b)(2)(iv)). This exemption was previously approved in FYs 2010 
and 2011 to allow sector vessels to fish up to 150 nets (any 
combination of flatfish or roundfish nets) in any RMA to provide 
greater operational flexibility to sector vessels in deploying gillnet 
gear. This measure was designed to control fishing effort and, 
therefore, is no longer necessary for sectors because their ACEs limit 
overall fishing mortality.

4. Prohibition on a Vessel Hauling Another Vessel's Gillnet Gear

    Regulations at Sec. Sec.  648.14(k)(6)(ii)(A) and 648.84(a) specify 
the manner in which gillnet gear must be tagged, requiring that 
information pertinent to the vessel owner or vessel be permanently 
affixed to the gear. No provisions exist in the regulations allowing 
for multiple vessels to haul the same gear. An exemption from this 
regulation was previously approved in FYs 2010 and 2011 to allow a 
sector to share fixed gear among sector vessels, thereby reducing 
costs. Consistent with the exemption as originally approved, the 
sectors requesting this exemption have proposed that all vessels 
utilizing community fixed gear be jointly liable for any violations 
associated with that gear. Additionally, each member intending to haul 
the same gear will be required to tag the gear with the appropriate 
gillnet tags, consistent with Sec.  648.84(a).

5. Limit on the Number of Gillnets That May Be Hauled on GB When 
Fishing Under a Groundfish/Monkfish DAS

    Regulations at Sec.  648.80(a)(4)(iv) prohibiting Day gillnet 
vessels fishing on a groundfish DAS from possessing, deploying, 
fishing, or hauling more than 50 gillnets on GB were implemented as a 
groundfish mortality control under Amendment 13 in 2004. NMFS granted 
an exemption from the limit on the number of gillnets that may be 
hauled on GB when fishing under a groundfish/monkfish in FYs 2010 and 
2011 because the prohibition was designed to control fishing effort 
and, therefore, is no longer necessary for sectors because their ACEs 
limit overall fishing mortality. This exemption allows gillnets 
deployed under the Monkfish FMP to be hauled more efficiently by 
vessels that are issued permits under both the multispecies and the 
monkfish FMPs.

6. Limits on the Number of Hooks That May Be Fished

    Vessels are prohibited from fishing or possessing more than 2,000 
rigged hooks in the GOM RMA, more than 3,600 rigged hooks in the GB 
RMA, more than 2,000 rigged hooks in the SNE RMA, or more than 4,500 
rigged hooks in the MA RMA (Sec. Sec.  648.80(a)(3)(iv)(B)(2), 
648.80(a)(4)(iv)(B)(2), 648.80(b)(2)(iv)(B)(1), and 
648.80(c)(2)(v)(B)(1), respectively). This measure was initially 
implemented in 2002 through an interim action (67 FR 50292, August 1, 
2002), and made permanent through Amendment 13, to control fishing 
effort and, therefore, is no longer necessary for sectors because their 
ACEs limit overall fishing mortality. An exemption from the number of 
hooks that a vessel may fish was approved for FYs 2010 and 2011 to 
allow sector vessels to more efficiently harvest ACE. This exemption 
was also previously granted to the GB Cod Hook Sector in FYs 2004-2009.

7. DAS Leasing Program Length and Horsepower Restrictions

    While sector vessels are exempt from the requirement to use NE 
multispecies DAS to harvest groundfish, sector vessels are allocated, 
and must use, NE multispecies DAS for specific circumstances. For 
example, the Monkfish FMP requires that limited access monkfish 
Category C and D vessels harvesting more than the incidental monkfish 
possession limit must fish under both a monkfish DAS and a NE 
multispecies DAS. Therefore, sector vessels may still use, and lease, 
NE multispecies DAS.
    NMFS granted an exemption from the DAS Leasing Program length and 
horsepower baseline restrictions (Sec.  648.82(k)(1)(ix)) on DAS leases 
between vessels within an individual sector, as well as between vessels 
in different sectors with this exemption, in FYs 2010 and 2011. The DAS 
Leasing Program restricted transfers of DAS between vessels of 
different sizes to the existing replaced vessel upgrade restrictions 
because of concerns about how DAS leases might change the character of 
the fishery. Groundfish mortality and fishing effort of sector vessels 
is no longer controlled by DAS, but is instead controlled only by the 
sector's available ACE. There are no vessel size restrictions on use of 
a sector's ACE, so continuing the DAS Leasing Program restrictions is 
no longer an effective method to maintain the character of the NE 
multispecies fleet. Further, exemption from this restriction allows 
sector vessels greater flexibility in the utilization of ACE and DAS. 
ACE and DAS regulations would ensure negligible impacts to allocated 
target species, and non-allocated target species and bycatch by capping 
overall mortality. Even with these exemptions, sectors would still be 
subject to non-allocated target species and bycatch management measures 
to limit their catch and control mortality. Providing greater 
flexibility in the distribution of DAS could result in increased effort 
on non-allocated target stocks, such as monkfish and skates. However, 
sectors predicted little consolidation and redirection of effort in 
their FY 2012 operations plans. In addition, any potential redirection 
in effort would be restricted by the sector's ACE for each stock, as 
well as by effort controls in other fisheries (e.g., monkfish trip 
limits and DAS).

[[Page 8791]]

8. The GOM Sink Gillnet Mesh Exemption January Through April; and 9. 
Extension of the GOM Sink Gillnet Mesh Exemption Through May

    Exemptions 8 and 9 are discussed together because of their inter-
relatedness; however, approval or disapproval of each of these 
exemptions is an independent decision. There is a minimum mesh size of 
6.5-inch (16.5-cm) for gillnets in the GOM RMA (Sec.  
648.80(a)(3)(iv)). Minimum mesh size requirements have been used to 
reduce overall mortality on groundfish stocks, as well as to reduce 
discarding, and improve survival, of sub-legal groundfish. Selectivity 
studies have indicated that 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) sink gillnets may not be 
effective at retaining haddock at the current legal minimum fish size. 
An exemption from this requirement was previously approved for FYs 2010 
and 2011 to provide sector vessels the opportunity to potentially catch 
more GOM haddock, a fully rebuilt stock, during the months that haddock 
are most prevalent, and to provide sector participants the opportunity 
to more fully harvest their allocation of GOM haddock. This exemption 
was initially considered in a supplemental proposed and final rule to 
FY 2010 sector operations (75 FR 53939, September 2, 2010; and 75 FR 
80720, December 23, 2010) and is functionally equivalent to a pilot 
program that was proposed by the Council in Amendment 16.
    Together these exemptions allow sector vessels to use 6-inch 
(15.24-cm) mesh stand-up gillnets in the GOM RMA from January 1, 2013, 
to May 30, 2013, when fishing for haddock. The designation of this 
season is consistent with the original pilot program proposal and is 
the time period when haddock are most available in the GOM. Sector 
vessels utilizing this exemption would be prohibited from using tie-
down gillnets in the GOM during this period. Sector vessels may transit 
the GOM RMA with tie-down gillnets, provided they are properly stowed 
and not available for immediate use in accordance with one of the 
methods specified at Sec.  648.23(b).
    Day gillnet vessels in sectors granted the exemption from Day 
gillnet net limits, as explained under exemption request 3, will not be 
subject to the general net limit in the GOM RMA, and will be able to 
fish up to 150 nets in the GOM RMA. In 2011, NMFS authorized vessels 
granted both exemptions to fish up to 150 6-inch (15.24-cm) mesh stand-
up gillnets in the GOM RMA. For FY 2012, NMFS proposes the same 
exemption and again requests public comment on the feasibility of 
allowing up to 150 nets when fishing under this exemption. The LOA 
issued to sector vessels that qualify for this exemption will specify 
the net restrictions to help ensure the provision is enforceable. There 
will be no limit on the number of nets that participating Trip gillnet 
vessels will be able to fish with, possess, haul, or deploy, during 
this period, because Trip gillnet vessels are required to remove all 
gillnet gear from the water before returning to port at the end of a 
fishing trip.
    NMFS believes that impacts to allocated target stocks resulting 
from this exemption would be negligible, given that fishing mortality 
by sector vessels is restricted by an ACE for allocated stocks, capping 
overall mortality. For FY 2010, this exemption was not authorized until 
the effective date of the FY 2010 Supplemental Sector rule, published 
in January 2011. Data indicate few trips in FY 2011 used this 
exemption. In January through May 2011, 63 trips were taken, yielding a 
catch of 89,208 lb (40,464 kg) from sink gillnet vessels fishing with 
less than 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) mesh size in the GOM RMA. It is possible 
that a higher net limit for Day gillnet vessels participating in this 
program will increase the number of gillnets in the water at any one 
time and, therefore, potentially increase interactions with protected 
species. However, potential negative impacts to protected species from 
this exemption are expected to be low because additional nets may 
result in greater efficiency, thus potentially reducing interactions 
with protected species. In addition, sector vessels utilizing this 
exemption would still be required to comply with all requirements of 
the Harbor Porpoise Take Reduction Plan and Atlantic Large Whale Take 
Reduction Plan.

10. Prohibition of Discarding

    Amendment 16 contains this provision to ensure that the sector's 
ACE is accurately monitored. Sectors requested a partial exemption from 
this prohibition because of concerns that retaining and landing large 
amounts of unmarketable fish, including fish carcasses, creates 
operational difficulties and potentially unsafe working conditions for 
sector vessels at sea. The Regional Administrator considered a partial 
exemption from the requirement to retain all legal-sized fish in a 
proposed rule in FY 2010. However, due to problematic mid-season 
implementation issues, further consideration of this exemption was 
delayed until FY 2011. An exemption from this requirement was approved 
for FY 2011 to enhance operational flexibility, foster safer working 
conditions for sector vessels, and relieve the burden on sector vessels 
and their dealers to dispose of unmarketable fish.
    Under this proposed exemption, all legal-sized unmarketable 
allocated fish would be accounted for in the overall sector-specific 
discard rates in the same way discards at sea of undersized fish are 
currently accounted for, based on trips observed by the NEFOP and ASM. 
If this exemption is approved, unmarketable fish discarded by a 
sector's vessels on observed trips will be deducted from that sector's 
ACE and incorporated into that sector's discard rates to account for 
discarding on unobserved trips. Vessels in a sector opting for this 
exemption will be required to discard all legal-sized unmarketable fish 
at sea (i.e., not just on select trips). Legal-sized unmarketable fish 
would be prohibited from being landed to prevent the potential to skew 
observed discards. The discarding exemption, in combination with the 
enhanced reporting of legal-sized unmarketable fish, would improve the 
monitoring of this unmarketable portion of sector catch, particularly 
on unobserved sector trips.

11. Daily Catch Reporting By Sector Managers for Vessels Participating 
in the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP

    Sector vessels declared into the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP are 
required to submit daily catch reports to their sector manager, and 
their sector manager must report the catch information to NMFS on a 
daily basis (Sec.  648.85(b)(7)(v)(C)). This reporting requirement was 
originally implemented through FW 40A (69 FR 67780, November 19, 2004) 
to facilitate real-time monitoring of quotas by both the sector manager 
and NMFS. Amendment 16 grants authority to the Regional Administrator 
to determine if weekly sector reports were sufficient for the 
monitoring of most SAPs. Through the final rule implementing Amendment 
16, the Regional Administrator alleviated reporting requirements for 
sector vessels participating in other Special Management Programs 
(SMPs), but reporting requirements were retained for the CA I Hook Gear 
Haddock SAP because NMFS must continue to monitor an overall haddock 
TAC that applies to sector and common pool vessels fishing in this SAP. 
An exemption was granted in FY 2011 to allow sector vessels 
participating in the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP to submit a daily VMS 
catch report directly to NMFS. This exemption is consistent with the 
requirement for common pool

[[Page 8792]]

vessels participating in this SAP and provides NMFS with the timely 
information necessary to manage the SAP quota.

12. Gear Requirements in the U.S./Canada Management Area

    Any NE multispecies vessel fishing with trawl gear in the Eastern 
U.S./Canada Area must fish with either a Ruhle trawl, a haddock 
separator trawl, or a flounder trawl (Sec.  648.85(a)(3)(iii)). The 
final rule implementing Amendment 13 clarifies that the requirement to 
use a haddock separator trawl or a flounder trawl net was designed to 
``ensure that the U.S./Canada TACs are not exceeded. Because both the 
flounder net and haddock separator trawl are designed to affect cod 
selectivity, and because the cod TAC is specific to the Eastern U.S./
Canada Area only, application of this gear requirement to the Western 
U.S./Canada Area is not necessary to achieve the stated goal.''
    The option to utilize a Ruhle trawl in the Eastern U.S./Canada Area 
was initially implemented through several in-season actions, and was 
made permanent in Amendment 16. This gear configuration was originally 
authorized for its demonstrated ability to allow the targeting of 
haddock, an under-harvested stock, while reducing bycatch of cod and 
yellowtail flounder stocks, which were identified as overfished. The 
addition of the Ruhle Trawl to gear previously approved (haddock 
separator trawl and flounder trawl net) provided added flexibility to 
trawl vessels.
    An exemption from this requirement was granted in FY 2011 to 
enhance operational flexibility of sectors because overall fishing 
mortality would continue to be restrained by the sector ACEs.

13. Requirement To Power a VMS While at the Dock

    Sector vessels are required to have an operational VMS unit onboard 
(Sec.  648.10(b)(4)) that transmits accurate positional information 
(i.e., polling) at least every hour, 24 hr per day, throughout the year 
(Sec.  648.10(c)(1)(i)). Amendment 5 (59 FR 9872, March 1, 1994) first 
included the requirement for vessels to use VMS. While the requirement 
to use VMS was delayed until implemented by FW 42 (72 FR 73274, 
December 27, 2007), NMFS supported polling to insure adequacy of 
monitoring requirements, address enforcement concerns, and because it 
could be beneficial in the event of an at-sea emergency.
    An exemption from this requirement was granted in FY 2011 to lower 
costs associated with VMS for sector vessels. This exemption is 
administrative in nature and is anticipated to have negligible impacts 
beyond cost-savings. Vessels granted the exemption must continue to 
comply with other reporting requirements (trip end hails, VMS 
declarations, etc.) and must submit an appropriate powerdown VMS 
declaration, as explained on their LOA, any time the vessel is underway 
or away from the dock. In granting the exemption for FY 2011, the 
Regional Administrator reserved the right to revoke the exemption if it 
was determined the exemption was being misused or abused, and proposes 
to do so again if this exemption is granted in FY 2012.

14. DSM Requirements for Vessels Fishing West of 72[deg]30' W. Long

    In response to FY 2010 requests for exemption from the DSM 
requirement for vessels fishing in SNE and MA waters, the Regional 
Administrator requested that the Council consider establishing a 
geographic boundary outside of which DSM would not be required. The 
Council responded in FW 45 by removing DSM from the list of prohibited 
exemptions to allow sectors to request geographic- and gear-based 
exemptions from DSM. This exemption was granted in FYs 2010 and 2011 
based on data showing that little groundfish is caught in the area.
    Generally, sectors using this exemption must still comply with any 
DSM program specified by NMFS in FY 2012 (Sec.  648.87(b)(1)(v)). The 
required DSM coverage level for FY 2012 will be zero percent, because 
NMFS will not be funding DSM. However, should that change, then vessels 
would once again be subject to DSM. This exemption would reduce the 
burden of any DSM coverage level above zero.

15. DSM Requirements for Handgear A-Permitted Sector Vessels

    FW 45 removed the DSM requirements for common pool vessels with 
handgear (Categories HA and HB) or Small Vessel (Category C) permits. 
Consistent with that flexibility, NMFS exempted sector vessels with 
handgear permits (Category HA) from DSM requirements due to the 
comparatively small catch of these vessels and disproportionately high 
DSM costs they would incur.
    In general, sectors must comply with any DSM program specified by 
NMFS in FY 2012 (Sec.  648.87(b)(1)(v)). The required DSM coverage 
level for FY 2012 will be zero percent because NMFS will not be funding 
DSM. However, should that change, then sector handgear vessels would 
once again be subject to DSM. This exemption would reduce the burden of 
any DSM coverage level above zero for sector handgear vessels.

16. DSM Requirements for Monkfish Trips in the Monkfish SFMA

    Several sectors requested exemptions for FY 2011 from DSM 
requirements for trips targeting monkfish, skate and/or dogfish. NMFS 
highlighted a number of operational concerns about exempting these 
trips in the proposed rule for FY 2011. In the final rule for FY 2011, 
NMFS approved an exemption from DSM for sector trips declared into the 
SFMA when fishing on a concurrent monkfish/NE multispecies DAS fishing 
with 10-inch (25.4-cm) or greater mesh, provided that the vessel fishes 
the entirety of its trip in the SFMA. This exemption was granted 
because of the small catch of these vessels and disproportionately high 
DSM costs they would incur.
    Sectors must comply with any DSM program specified by NMFS in FY 
2012 (Sec.  648.87(b)(1)(v)). The required DSM coverage level for FY 
2012 will be zero percent because NMFS will not be funding DSM. 
However, should that change, then sector vessels would once again be 
subject to DSM. This exemption would reduce the burden of any DSM 
coverage level above zero for a sector vessel fishing with 10-inch 
(25.4-cm) or greater mesh when fishing the entirety of its trip in the 
SFMA.

Proposed Exemptions--Additional Regulations With New Exemption Requests

17. Seasonal Restriction for the Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP

    The Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP was implemented by FW 40A in 
2004 to provide an opportunity to target haddock while fishing on a 
Category B DAS in, and near, CA II (69 FR 67780, November 19, 2004). 
The SAP required vessels to use gear that reduced the catch of cod and 
other stocks of concern. The SAP had a season of May 1 through December 
31 to reduce effort during periods of groundfish spawning. In 2006, FW 
42 extended this SAP and shortened the season to August 1 through 
December 31 to reduce cod catch. Subsequent actions approved additional 
gear types for use in this SAP.
    For sector vessels, the only benefit of this SAP is that it 
provides access to the northern tip of CA II. Amendment 16 exempts 
sectors from the gear requirements of this SAP because sector catch is 
constrained by ACEs, but sectors are still required to comply with

[[Page 8793]]

reporting requirements and the restricted season from August 1 through 
December 31 (Sec.  648.85(b)(3)(iv)). Sectors argue that their catch is 
restricted by ACE and their access to the SAP area in the northern tip 
of CA II should not be seasonally restricted. Sectors further argue 
that impacts to the physical environment and essential fish habitat 
(EFH) will be negligible because any increase in effort will be minor 
and the portion of CA II included in this SAP is outside any habitat 
areas of particular concern (HAPC). NMFS has some concern that this 
exemption may have negative effects on allocated stocks by allowing an 
increase in effort in a time and place where those stocks, particularly 
haddock, aggregate to spawn.
    Amendment 16 prohibits sectors from being granted exemptions from 
closed areas. NMFS requests comment on whether it is appropriate to 
exempt sectors from a SAP season, given that the portion of the SAP in 
the closed area is already open part of the year, or if the current 
prohibition on allowing exemptions from closed areas applies to SAPs.

18. Seasonal Restriction for the CA II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP

    The CA II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP was implemented by 
Amendment 13 in 2004 to provide an opportunity to target yellowtail 
flounder in CA II on a Category B DAS. The SAP required vessels to use 
either a flounder net or other gears approved for use in the Eastern 
U.S./Canada Area. The SAP season ran from June 1 through December 31. 
In 2005, FW 40 B extended this SAP and shortened the season to July 1 
through December 31 to reduce interference with spawning yellowtail 
flounder (70 FR 31323, June 1, 2005).
    Amendment 16 further revised this SAP by opening the SAP to target 
haddock from August 1 through January 31, when the SAP is not open to 
allow targeting of GB yellowtail flounder. Sectors are required to 
comply with the SAP reporting requirements and the restricted season of 
August 1 through January 31 (Sec.  648.85(b)(3)(iii)). When open only 
to target haddock, the flounder net is not authorized and only approved 
trawl gears or hook gear may be used. The gear requirements were 
implemented to avoid catching yellowtail flounder when the SAP was open 
only to the targeting of haddock.
    Unlike the Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP, the CA II Yellowtail 
Flounder/Haddock SAP provides access to a large area in CA II. Sectors 
are required to use the same approved gears as the common pool to 
reduce the advantage sector vessels have over common pool vessels. 
Sectors argue that their catch is restricted by ACE and their access to 
the SAP area in CA II should not be restricted.
    The seasonal restriction on this SAP was put in place to allow 
vessels to target denser populations of yellowtail flounder and haddock 
while avoiding cod in the summer and spawning groundfish in the spring. 
Impacts to the physical environment and EFH would be negligible because 
any increase in effort would be minor and the portion of CA II included 
in this SAP is outside any HAPC. NMFS has some concern that this 
exemption could have negative effects on allocated stocks by increasing 
effort in a time and place where those stocks, particularly haddock, 
aggregate to spawn.
    Amendment 16 prohibits sectors from being granted exemptions from 
closed areas. NMFS requests comment on whether it is appropriate to 
consider exemptions from a SAP season, given that the portion of the 
SAP in the closed area is already open part of the year, or if the 
current prohibition on allowing exemptions from closed areas applies to 
SAPs.

19. Prohibition on Fishing Inside and Outside the CA I Hook Gear 
Haddock SAP While on the Same Trip

    FW 40A established the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP. NE multispecies 
vessels fishing on a trip within this SAP are prohibited from deploying 
fishing gear outside of the SAP on the same trip when they are declared 
into the SAP (Sec.  648.85(b)(7)(ii)(G)). This restriction was 
established to avoid potential quota monitoring and enforcement 
complications that could arise when a vessel fishes both inside and 
outside the SAP on the same trip. This exemption request would allow 
sector vessels to fish both inside and outside the CA I Hook Gear 
Haddock SAP on the same trip. To identify catch from inside and outside 
the SAP on the same trip, sector vessels would be required to send NMFS 
a VMS catch report that specifically identifies GB haddock (and any 
other shared allocation) catch from inside the SAP prior to the end of 
the trip or within 24 hr of landing. Sectors are requesting this 
exemption to increase their operational flexibility and efficiency. 
NMFS has no reason to believe that this particular catch report would 
be any less accurate than the existing sector catch reports.

20. Maximum ACE Carryover Provision

    Amendment 16 allows each sector to carry over up to 10 percent of 
its original ACE allocation of each stock from one FY to the next, with 
the exception of GB yellowtail flounder (Sec.  648.87(b)(1)(i)(C)). 
Allowing a sector to carry over a portion of its allocation reduces 
concern that a sector may leave ACE uncaught out of concern it may 
accidentally exceed its ACE. An exemption was requested to allow 
sectors to carry over up to 50 percent of unused ACE into the following 
FY. Allowing sectors to carry over ACE would provide for greater 
flexibility in when and how they fish during a given FY.
    NMFS has conducted a preliminary analysis of ACE carryover limits 
and the potential for overfishing in the subsequent year. Based on the 
preliminary analysis, there may be a possibility to allow sectors to 
carry over 11 percent to 30 percent of each stock's ACE (except GB 
yellowtail flounder and GOM cod) from one FY to the next, but only to 
the extent that there is sufficient information to conclude that such 
carryover does not result in overfishing, impede rebuilding objectives 
or threaten the health of the stock. Moreover, any such carryover must 
be consistent with Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements and the setting of 
ABCs and ACLs. This means that additional carryover must be factored 
into, and accounted for, in the setting of over-fishing limits (OFL), 
allowable biological catches (ABC) and ACLs for any given fishing year. 
GB yellowtail flounder is excluded by Amendment 16 and its implementing 
regulations because it is a transboundary stock managed under the U.S./
Canada Resource Sharing Understanding, and therefore has quotas set by 
an informal agreement between the Northeast Region of NMFS and the 
Maritimes Region of the Department of Fisheries and Ocean of Canada. In 
addition, NMFS proposes to exclude GOM cod from any increase in the 
carry-over provision due to the results of a new stock assessment (SAW 
53, 2012; copies available from NMFS, see ADDRESSES), which determined 
that GOM cod is overfished, overfishing is occurring, and is in poor 
condition; thus, raising concern about the long-term health of this 
stock.
    The preliminary ACE carryover analysis considered seven groundfish 
stocks, representing a broad range of life spans and growth rates. A 
deterministic model was used to evaluate the effect of different 
percentages of ACE carryover on fishing mortality in the following 
year. The primary constraint on the model was that the percentage of 
ACE carryover could not allow overfishing in the following year. 
Despite a wide range of differences in biology among the

[[Page 8794]]

stocks, the maximum carryover percentage was little affected by these 
differences. Instead, the primary factor affecting the maximum 
carryover percentage was the relationship between the ABC and the 
overfishing threshold in the following year. The NE multispecies FMP 
sets the ABC based on the target rate for fishing mortality being 75% 
of the mortality rate that would achieve maximum sustainable yield 
(Fmsy). If the actual fishing mortality rate in the following year is 
near the target fishing mortality rate (75% of Fmsy), then the maximum 
ACE carryover could be about 28 percent to 30 percent, while avoiding 
overfishing. The analysis further indicates that carryover at 28 
percent to 30 percent would not undermine rebuilding programs or stock 
health, again, provided the actual fishing mortality rate does not 
exceed the target fishing mortality rate.
    NMFS provided the analysis to the Council with a request that its 
Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) review it. In a letter dated 
January 20, 2012, the Council raised a number of questions about the 
preliminary analysis and the legality of such carryovers in light of 
Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements. These questions included:
    1. Is it consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act to allow 
carryover that results in allocating an amount of fish greater than the 
ABC?
    2. Is it consistent with the National Standards Guidelines to allow 
a carryover amount that reduces the amount of uncertainty buffer 
between the overfishing level and the ABC to zero without explicit 
concurrence of the SSC?
    3. How does the variable recruitment of rebuilding stocks affect 
the analysis' assumptions about allowable ACE carryover?
    4. If carryover allows catches to exceed the ABC for a rebuilding 
program, how is the rebuilding program affected?
    5. If a stock ABC is declining, carryover may result in allocating 
an amount of fish greater than the over-fishing limit. Is this 
consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act?
    6. Does a declining ABC affect the amount of permissible ACE 
carryover? and,
    7. Do fluctuations in ABC need to be considered in setting 
permissible ACE carryover levels?

    NMFS will consider any input from the SSC, if received in a timely 
manner, and the questions raised by the Council, to help determining 
whether increased carryover is justified for FY 2012 and, if so, at 
what level it should be set so that carryover does not result in 
overfishing, impede rebuilding objectives, or threaten the health of 
the stock, and otherwise satisfy the legal requirements for setting 
ABCs and ACLs. NMFS invites comments on the requests for additional 
carryover, including the preliminary analysis described above and the 
issues raised by the Council.

21. ACE Buffer Provision

    Amendment 16 implemented the ACE buffer provision to ensure that 
each sector would have 20 percent of its ACE available to account for 
any potential overage from the previous year. At the beginning of each 
FY, NMFS withholds 20 percent of a sector's ACE for each stock for up 
to 61 days (i.e., through June 30), or longer (Sec.  
648.87(b)(1)(iii)(C)). This hold gives NMFS time to finalize sector 
catch and ACE trades that take place after the end of the FY, and to 
apply any overage penalties to a sector that exceeded its ACE. Sectors 
are requesting to be exempted from this 20-percent ACE buffer 
restriction when a sector manager reports that the sector has not 
exceeded any of its ACE. Sectors seek to increase operational 
flexibility and efficiency to bring additional revenue into the sector.
    NMFS has some concern with this request because it has no ability 
to verify whether a sector manager's report is accurate until the 
annual reconciliation process, as discussed above, is complete. 
Therefore, sectors could potentially exceed their ACE in a subsequent 
FY after an overage before the second year's ACE is reduced by the 
first year's overage. For example, if a sector was allocated 100 mt of 
a stock in year 1, but caught 120 mt, the sector would be required to 
pay back 20 mt in year two. However, if the sector fished its complete 
allocation for year 2 before NMFS discovered the overage from year 1, 
the sector would then have overfished the reduced year 2 allocation.

22. 6.5-Inch (16.5-Cm) Minimum Mesh Size Requirement for Trawl Nets

    Minimum mesh sizes were initially adopted through interim rules in 
2001 and 2002 (67 FR 21140, April 29, 2002; 67 FR 50292, August 1, 
2002), and made permanent through Amendment 13. FW 42 further modified 
the mesh regulations in the SNE and MA RMAs to reduce discards of 
yellowtail flounder. The regulations at Sec.  648.80 specify the 
minimum mesh size that may be used in fishing nets on vessels fishing 
in the GOM, GB, SNE, and MA RMAs. Minimum mesh size restrictions have 
been used with other management measures to reduce overall mortality on 
groundfish stocks, as well as to reduce discarding, and improve 
survival, of sub-legal groundfish. These requirements were intended to 
protect spawning fish and increase the size of targeted fish.
    This exemption would allow sector vessels to use 6-inch (15.2-cm) 
mesh codends on trawl nets to target redfish. The exemption is intended 
to increase the catch rate of redfish. The requesting sectors argue 
that this exemption could increase the operational flexibility of 
sector vessels and could increase profit margins of sector fishermen.
    The sectors making the request have proposed that sector vessels 
participating in the directed redfish fishery be required to declare 
their intentions to the Sector Manager and NMFS at least 48 hr prior to 
departure, and that at-sea monitors be present on all trips using this 
exemption to monitor catch and bycatch. In addition, daily catch 
reports will be submitted to the Sector Manager to ensure that all 
catch is harvested within the sector's ACE. The exemption is intended 
to retain a greater proportion of redfish in the trawl codend.
    This exemption is similar to exemptions requested and denied in 
previous years. This exemption could result in greater retention of 
sub-legal groundfish, as well as non-allocated species and bycatch. 
Habitat could also be negatively impacted due to the anticipated 
increased use of trawl gear. Should an exemption from minimum mesh size 
restrictions increase sub-legal groundfish bycatch by sector vessels, 
juvenile escapement, stock age structure, and overall mortality 
reduction objectives could be undermined. An exemption could raise 
additional equity concerns if sub-legal bycatch triggered management 
actions affecting the entire fishery, including non-sector vessels. 
Furthermore, an exemption from minimum mesh size restrictions could be 
difficult to enforce at-sea, because it would require enforcement 
personnel to differentiate the appropriate mesh size applicable to 
exempt vessels from that applicable to non-exempt vessels.
    NMFS is currently funding a study through the Northeast Cooperative 
Research Partners Program to investigate strategies and methods to 
sustainably harvest the redfish resource in the GOM through a network 
approach, including fishing enterprises, gear manufacturers, 
researchers, social and economic experts, and managers. This approach 
will include investigating success of various mesh sizes within the 
fishery. Given that the use of this smaller mesh

[[Page 8795]]

could negatively impact spawning fish and populations of flounders, 
which the current minimum mesh sizes were intended to protect, NMFS has 
reservations about approving this exemption, until the results from 
this study can be considered.

23. Minimum Fish Size Provisions for Haddock

    Commercial haddock catch must measure a minimum of 18 inches (45.7 
cm) to be retained by a vessel (Sec.  648.83(a)(1)). This restriction 
includes whole fish or any part of a fish while possessed on board a 
vessel, with the exception of a small amount of fish (up to 25 lb (11.3 
kg)) that each person on board may retain for at-home consumption 
(Sec.  648.83(a)(2)). The 18-inch (45.7-cm) minimum size for haddock 
was first implemented by an interim action in 2009 (74 FR 17030, April 
13, 2009). This was a reduction from the previous minimum size of 19 
inches (48.3 cm), designed to reduce discards and increase yield. The 
18-inch (45.7-cm) minimum size was made permanent by Amendment 16.
    Sectors requested an exemption from the minimum size regulation so 
they could land headed and gutted haddock that are less than 18 inches 
(45.7-cm) as a value-added product. This exemption would simply allow 
legal-sized fish that were previously landed whole to be landed headed, 
or headed and gutted. There would be no change to the actual size 
composition of the catch. Regulations similar to this exist in other 
fisheries, such as monkfish. These fisheries use a conversion ratio to 
account for size and/or weight differences. If approved, NMFS would 
need to develop a ratio to account for the size/weight differences for 
haddock landed headed and/or headed and gutted. Allowing this exemption 
could present significant enforcement issues by allowing different 
legal minimum fish sizes at sea.

24. Prohibition on a Vessel Hauling Another Vessel's Hook Gear

    Current regulations prohibit one vessel from hauling another 
vessel's hook gear (Sec. Sec.  648.14(k)(6)(ii)(B)). No provisions 
exist in the regulations allowing for multiple vessels to haul the same 
gear. The regulations facilitate the enforcement of existing hook 
regulations created as mortality controls, because a single vessel is 
associated with each set of gear. Sectors have requested an exemption 
from this prohibition to allow fishermen from within the same sector to 
haul each other's hook gear. All vessels participating in ``community'' 
fixed gear would be jointly liable for any violations associated with 
that gear. This joint liability would assist in the enforcement of 
regulations. The increased flexibility afforded by this exemption could 
increase efficiency.

25. Requirement To Declare Intent To Fish in the Eastern U.S./Canada 
SAP and the CA II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP Prior To Leaving the 
Dock

    NE multispecies vessels are required to declare that they will be 
fishing in either the Eastern US/CA Haddock SAP or the CA II Yellowtail 
Flounder/Haddock SAP prior to leaving the dock (Sec.  
648.85(b)(8)(v)(D) and Sec.  648.85(b)(3)(v)). Framework 40A 
implemented this measure so that vessels fishing exclusively in those 
areas could be credited DAS for their transit time to and from these 
SAPs. Sectors are requesting an exemption from having to declare their 
intent to fish in those areas prior to departing the dock because they 
are no longer limited by NE multispecies DAS and their catch is limited 
to their ACE. Sectors seek to increase their efficiency with this 
exemption.

Requested Exemptions We Propose To Deny Because They Are Prohibited

    Amendment 16 contains several ``universal'' exemptions applicable 
to all sectors and authorized sectors to request additional exemptions 
from NE multispecies regulations through their sector operations plans. 
However, Amendment 16 also prohibits sectors from requesting exemptions 
from year-round closed areas, permitting restrictions, gear 
restrictions designed to minimize habitat impacts, and reporting 
requirements (excluding DAS reporting requirements or DSM 
requirements). Exemptions were requested by several sectors that are 
specifically prohibited (e.g., access to permanent closed areas) or 
that fall outside of the NE multispecies regulations (e.g., Eastern 
U.S./Canada in-season actions).
    In a letter dated September 1, 2010, NMFS notified the Council that 
NMFS interprets the reporting requirement exemption prohibition broadly 
to apply to all monitoring requirements, including ASM, DSM, ACE 
monitoring, and the counting of discards against sector ACE. In this 
letter (copies are available from NMFS, see ADDRESSES), NMFS also 
requested that the Council define which regulations sectors may not be 
exempted from. On November 18, 2010, the Council addressed this letter 
by voting to include in FW 45 the removal of DSM from the list of 
regulations that sectors may not be exempted from, but did not take 
such action for ASM, ACE monitoring, VTR regulations, or counting of 
discards against ACE.
    We propose denying, and do not analyze in the EA, exemptions from 
the following 13 requirements because they are prohibited: (26) Year-
round access to the Cashes Ledge Closure Area; (27) year-round access 
to CA I; (28) year-round access to CA II; (29) year-round access to the 
Western GOM Closure Area; (30) from extrapolation of discarded fish 
pieces across strata; (31) authorization to use video monitoring in 
place of ASM; (32) from hail requirements; (33) year-round access to 
the Eastern U.S./Canada Area; (34) from ASM for sector vessels; (35) 
from ASM for trips targeting dogfish; (36) from ASM for hook-only and 
Handgear A vessels; (37) from ASM for extra-large mesh gillnet vessels; 
and (38) from the ASM standard for random trip selection.

Requested Exemptions We Propose To Deny Because They Were Previously 
Rejected and No New Information Was Provided

    We propose denying exemptions from the following 8 requirements 
because they were previously rejected and sectors provided no new 
information in support: (39) Minimum fish sizes, to allow 100-percent 
retention; (40) minimum fish sizes, to retain 12-inch (30.5-cm) 
yellowtail flounder; (41) that VMS messages be sent directly to NMFS; 
(42) weekly catch report requirements; (43) no pair trawling; (44) 
minimum hook size; (45) 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) minimum mesh size for trawls 
to allow 5-inch (12.7-cm) mesh when targeting redfish; and (46) 
submitting a roster by the deadline. Exemptions 39 through 46 are not 
analyzed in the EA because no new information was available to change 
the analyses previously published in past EAs. The details of these 
exemption requests, analysis of these exemptions, and the reasons they 
were previously denied are contained in the final rules approving 
sectors for FYs 2010 and 2011, and their accompanying EAs. The 
requesting sectors have provided no new information, justification, 
rationale, or mitigation to address these concerns. Accordingly, we 
proposed to deny these exemptions in this rule.

Requested Exemptions We Proposed To Deny Because They May Jeopardize 
Rebuilding of the GOM Cod Stock

    We propose denying exemptions from the following 3 requirements 
because they may jeopardize rebuilding of the GOM cod stock, which a 
new stock assessment has determined is overfished and experiencing 
overfishing: (47) April

[[Page 8796]]

GOM Rolling Closure Area; (48) May GOM Rolling Closure Area; and (49) 
June GOM Rolling Closure Area.
    NMFS denied requests for additional exemptions from GOM Rolling 
Closure Areas in FYs 2010 and 2011 because of concerns that directly 
targeting spawning aggregations can adversely impact the reproductive 
potential of a stock, as opposed to post-spawning mortality. In 
addition, those requests were disapproved because the existing GOM 
Rolling Closure Areas provide some protection to harbor porpoise and 
other marine mammals.
    In response to requests for additional exemptions from GOM Rolling 
Closure Areas (including new exemption requests that would exclude 
gillnet gear) and discussions about increasing access to these areas at 
the Council's Lessons Learned Sector Workshop, the Regional 
Administrator considered proposing partial exemption from some of the 
closures as a short-term solution while the Council considered the 
long-term future of these closures as part of the pending omnibus 
habitat amendment. Options considered for possible exemptions would 
have required trawl vessels to use selective trawl gears, excluded 
gillnet gear, and prohibited hook gear from using squid or mackerel as 
bait. However, given the new status of the GOM cod stock, no additional 
exemptions from the GOM RCAs are proposed in this rule.

Deadline To Join a Sector for FY 2012

    The regulations currently provide that each sector must submit a 
final roster to NMFS by December 1, prior to the FY in which the sector 
intends to begin operations, unless otherwise instructed by NMFS. The 
deadline for FY 2012 was previously announced as December 1, 2011, or 
April 30, 2012, for permits that changed ownership after December 1. 
NMFS is extending the FY 2012 sector roster deadline for all permits 
through April 30, 2012. This opportunity is being provided to address 
concerns raised at the January 31-February 2, 2012, Council meeting 
regarding the recent GOM cod assessment and the potential 
disproportional impacts on the inshore GOM fleet due to the common pool 
trimester quotas that go into effect on May 1, 2012. The GOM cod stock 
assessment was not available before the December 1 deadline and 
indicates the need for a significant reduction in the ACL for this 
stock. Because permit holders were not aware of this significant 
reduction before the deadline, NMFS has determined that extending the 
deadline is appropriate to allow these vessels to reconsider whether to 
join a sector in light of the new assessment. Please note, however, 
that it is at the sector's discretion as to whether it will allow new 
members to join their sector for FY 2012.

Sector EA

    The Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. 553) requires advance 
notice of rulemaking and opportunity for public comment. NMFS is 
providing a 15-day comment period for this rule. A longer comment 
period would be impracticable and contrary to the public interest 
because a final rule must be published prior to the start of FY 2012 on 
May 1. Vessels enrolled in a sector may not fish in FY 2012 unless 
their sector operations plan is approved. Therefore, if the final rule 
is not published prior to May 1, the permits enrolled in sectors must 
either stop fishing until their operations plan is approved, or elect 
to fish in the common pool for the entirety of FY 2012. Both of these 
options would have negative impacts for the permits enrolled in the 
sectors.
    In order to comply with NEPA, one EA was prepared encompassing all 
19 operations plans. The sector EA is tiered from the Environmental 
Impact Statement (EIS) prepared for Amendment 16. The EA examines the 
biological, economic, and social impacts unique to each sector's 
proposed operations, including requested exemptions, and provides a 
cumulative effects analysis (CEA) that addresses the combined impact of 
the direct and indirect effects of approving all proposed sector 
operations plans. The summary findings of the EA conclude that each 
sector would produce similar effects that have non-significant impacts. 
Visit http://www.regulations.gov to view the EA prepared for the 19 
sectors that this rule proposes to approve.

Classification

    Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery 
Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), the NMFS 
Assistant Administrator has determined that this proposed rule is 
consistent with the NE Multispecies FMP, other provisions of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law, subject to further 
consideration after public comment.
    This action is exempt from review under Executive Order (E.O.) 
12866.
    The Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA), 5 U.S.C. 601-612, requires 
agencies to assess the economic impacts of their proposed regulations 
on small entities. The objective of the RFA is to consider the impacts 
of a rulemaking on small entities, and the capacity of those affected 
by regulations to bear the direct and indirect costs of regulation. 
Size standards have been established for all for-profit economic 
activities or industries in the North American Industry Classification 
System. The SBA defines a small business in the commercial fishing and 
recreational fishing sector, as a firm with receipts (gross revenues) 
of up to $4 million.
    An Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA) has been 
prepared, as required by section 603 of the RFA. The Final Regulatory 
Flexibility Analysis (FRFA) will be prepared after the comment period 
for this proposed rule, and will be published with the final rule. The 
IRFA describes the economic impact that this proposed rule, if adopted, 
would have on small entities. The IRFA consists of this section, the 
SUMMARY section of the preamble of this proposed rule, and the EA 
prepared for this action. A description of the action, why it is being 
considered, and the legal basis for this action are contained in the 
preamble to this proposed rule and in Sections 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 of the 
EA prepared for this action, and is not repeated here. A summary of the 
analysis follows. A copy of this analysis is available from NMFS (see 
ADDRESSES).
    This action will likely affect 843 entities, which represents the 
number of permits enrolled in sectors that have requested additional 
exemptions. Each of these permits would be considered a small entity, 
based on the definition as stated above. The economic impact resulting 
from this action on these small entities is positive, since the action, 
if implemented, would provide additional operational flexibility to 
vessels participating in NE multispecies sectors for FY 2012. In 
addition, this action would further mitigate negative impacts from the 
implementation of Amendment 16, FW 44, and FW 45, which have placed 
additional effort restrictions on the groundfish fleet.

Description of the Reasons Why Action by Agency Is Being Considered

    The flexibility afforded sectors includes exemptions from certain 
specified regulations as well as the ability to request additional 
exemptions. Sector members no longer have groundfish catch limited by 
DAS allocations and are instead limited by their available ACE. In this 
manner, the economic incentive changes from maximizing the value of 
throughput of all species on a DAS to maximizing the value of the 
sector ACE, which places a premium on timing landings to market 
conditions, as well as changes in the selectivity and composition of 
species

[[Page 8797]]

landed on fishing trips. Further description of the purpose and need 
for the proposed action is contained in Section 2.0 of the EA prepared 
for this action.
    Over the past decade, there has been a significant amount of 
consolidation in the NE groundfish fishery in response to management 
measures to end overfishing of, and to rebuild, groundfish stocks. The 
number of active vessels steadily declined during the period 2007-2010. 
The number of active groundfish vessels making any fishing trips 
declined by 16.8 percent between 2007 (1,082 vessels) and 2010 (900 
vessels). A 7.5-percent decline (i.e., 73 vessels) occurred between 
2009 and 2010. Similarly, from 2007 to 2010 there was a 31.6-percent 
decline in the number vessels making at least one groundfish trip (658 
to 450), with a 20.5% reduction (116 vessels) between 2009 and 2010. It 
is not possible to reliably identify the cause for the reduction in the 
number of active vessels that has been occurring for a number of years, 
including before 2007.
    Amendment 13 implemented DAS leasing and transfer programs, 
allowing vessels to fish the DAS of multiple other vessels. Amendment 
16 implemented a number of measures that facilitated the consolidation 
of fishing effort to fewer active fishing vessels as a means to reduce 
the operational expenses for owners of multiple permits. For example, 
that action allows owners of permits held in CPH and not associated 
with an actual fishing vessel to participate in sectors (i.e., 
contribute the CPH's landing history to calculate a sector's yearly 
allocation of ACE) and lease DAS. Further, it is not possible to 
identify the extent to which inactive vessels in sectors may benefit if 
other sector vessels harvest their allocation.
    In 2010, 447 vessels (33 percent) were inactive (no landings). Of 
these inactive vessels, 296 were sector vessels and 151 were common 
pool vessels. The number of inactive vessels in 2010 can be compared to 
the number of inactive vessels in other years: 331 vessels (32 percent) 
in 2007, 398 vessels (28 percent) in 2008, and 408 vessels (30 percent) 
in 2009. Some vessel inactivity may be due to participation in DAS 
leasing or transfer programs and/or internal sector management 
decisions. Data are not currently available to evaluate how inactive 
vessels in sectors may have benefited from agreeing to have other 
vessels catch the sector's allocation.
    The recent implementation of ACLs and accountability measures (AM), 
and the expanded use of sectors under Amendment 16, has affected 
fishing patterns in ways that cannot yet be quantified and analyzed. 
Sector measures were intended to provide a mechanism for vessels to 
pool harvesting resources and consolidate operations in fewer vessels, 
if desired, and to provide a mechanism for capacity reduction through 
consolidation. Reasons why fewer vessels fished in FY 2010, in 
comparison to FY 2009, may be related to owners with multiple vessels 
fishing fewer vessels. It is also likely that some vessels that have 
not landed groundfish have received revenue from leasing their 
groundfish allocation or have been fishing in other fisheries. Thus, 
fewer vessels are actively fishing for, and landing, regulated species 
and ocean pout, with 10 percent of the fishing vessels earning more 
than half of the revenues from such stocks since 2005, leading to a 
seemingly continuing trend of consolidation in the fishery. However, 
this trend began before the implementation and expansion of the sector 
program, and based on limited data available to date, the trend is not 
significantly out of proportion to FYs prior to the expansion of sector 
management by Amendment 16.

The Objectives and Legal Basis for the Proposed Action

    The objective of the proposed action is to authorize the operations 
of 19 sectors in FY 2012, and to allow the benefits of sector 
operations to accrue to 843 permits enrolled in sectors and the New 
England communities where they dock and land. The legal basis for the 
proposed action is the NE Multispecies FMP and promulgating regulations 
at Sec.  648.87.

Estimate of the Number of Small Entities

    The SBA size standard for commercial fishing (North American 
Industry Classification System code 114111) is $4 million in annual 
sales. Available data indicate that, based on 2005-2007 average 
conditions, median gross annual sales by commercial fishing vessels 
were just over $200,000, and no single fishing entity earned more than 
$2 million annually. Although NMFS acknowledges there may be entities 
that, based on rules of affiliation, would qualify as large business 
entities, due to lack of reliable ownership affiliation data we cannot 
apply the business size standard based on affiliation at this time. For 
this action, since available data are not adequate to identify 
affiliated vessels, each operating unit is considered a small entity 
for purposes of the RFA, and, therefore, there is no differential 
impact between small and large entities. The maximum number of entities 
that could be affected by the proposed exemptions is 843 permits--the 
number of vessels enrolled in the 19 sectors that have submitted an 
operations plan for FY 2012. Since individuals may withdraw from a 
sector at any time prior to the beginning of FY 2012, the number of 
permits participating in sectors on May 1, 2012, and the resulting 
sector ACE allocations, are likely to change. Additionally, new permit 
holders who acquire their permits through an ownership change that 
occurred after December 1, 2011, may enroll their permit in a sector or 
change the permit's sector affiliation through April 30, 2012.

Reporting, Recordkeeping and Other Compliance Requirements

    This proposed rule contains no collection-of-information 
requirement subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act. The proposed action 
reduces reporting requirements compared to the no-action alternative. 
Exemptions implemented through this action would be documented in a LOA 
issued to each vessel participating in an approved sector. The 
exemptions from the 20-day spawning block and the 120-day gillnet block 
would reduce the reporting burden for sector vessels, because 
exemptions from these requirements eliminate the need to report the 
blocks to the NMFS Interactive Voice Response system.
    Sector vessels receiving an exemption from the gillnet limit (up to 
150 nets) would also be exempt from current tagging requirements, and 
would instead be required to tag gillnets with one tag per net. 
Compliance with the tagging requirement would not necessarily require 
sector vessels to purchase additional net tags, as each vessel is 
already issued up to 150 tags. However, sector vessels that have not 
previously purchased the maximum number of gillnet tags may find it 
necessary to purchase additional tags to comply with this requirement 
at a cost of $1.20 per tag.
    The exemption to allow a vessel to haul another vessel's gillnet 
gear would require each vessel to tag all gear it is authorized to 
haul. Because of the existing 150-tag limit, no additional tags could 
be purchased.
    The exemption from the limit on the number of hooks does not 
involve reporting requirements, but may result in increased costs for 
hooks and rigging (groundline, gangions, anchors) if a vessel chooses 
to increase the amount of gear fished. Circle hooks of the legal 
minimum size (12/0) cost about $0.19 each without rigging.

[[Page 8798]]

    The GOM Sink Gillnet exemption does not involve additional 
reporting requirements. However, to fully utilize this exemption, 
sector vessels would need to purchase 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh gillnet 
nets. At the time this IRFA was prepared, no cost information was 
available for a 6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh gillnet panel. However, the cost 
of a 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) mesh 300-ft (91.4-m) gillnet panel, complete 
with floats and break-away links, is estimated at $310. The quantity of 
6-inch (15.2-cm) mesh gillnets purchased by a vessel to participate in 
this program would depend on the vessel's gillnet designation (a Day 
gillnet vessel would have a 150-net limit) and the perceived economic 
benefits of utilizing the exemption, which may be based on market 
conditions.
    Exempting sectors from the requirement to submit a daily catch 
report for all vessels participating in the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP 
will not change the reporting burden of individual participating 
vessels, as the vessels would merely change the recipient of their 
current daily report.
    Other exemptions proposed in this action involve no additional 
reporting requirements. Sector reporting and recordkeeping regulations 
do not exempt participants from state and Federal reporting and 
recordkeeping, but are mandated above and beyond current state and 
Federal requirements. A full list of compliance, recording, and 
recordkeeping requirements can be found in the final rules implementing 
Amendment 16, each approved FY 2011 sector operations plan, and in the 
draft FY 2012 sector operations plans.

Duplication, Overlap or Conflict With Other Federal Rules

    The proposed action is authorized by the regulations implementing 
the NE Multispecies FMP. It does not duplicate, overlap, or conflict 
with other Federal rules.

Alternatives Which Minimize Any Significant Economic Impact of Proposed 
Action on Small Entities

    The proposed action would create a positive economic impact for the 
participating sector vessels because it would mitigate the impacts from 
restrictive management measures implemented under NE Multispecies FMP. 
Little quantitative data on the precise economic impacts to individual 
vessels is available. The 2010 Final Report on the Performance of the 
Northeast Multispecies (Groundfish) Fishery (May 2010-April 2011) 
(copies are available from NMFS, see ADDRESSES) documents that all 
measures of gross revenue per trip and per day absent in 2010 were 
higher for the average sector vessel and lower for the average common 
pool vessel. However, the report stipulates this comparison is not 
useful for evaluating the relative performance of DAS and sector-based 
management because of fundamental differences between these groups of 
vessels, which were not accounted for in the analyses. Accordingly, 
quantitative analysis of the impacts of sector operations plans is 
still limited. NMFS anticipates that by switching from effort controls 
of the common pool regime to operating under a sector ACE, sector 
members will remain economically viable while adjusting to changing 
economic and fishing conditions. Thus, the proposed action provides 
benefits to sector members that they would not have under the No Action 
Alternative.

Economic Impacts on Small Entities Resulting From Proposed Action

    The EIS for Amendment 16 compares economic impacts of sector 
vessels with common pool vessels and analyzes costs and benefits of the 
universal exemptions. The final rule for the approval of the FY 2010 
sector operations plans and contracts (75 FR 18113, April 9, 2010) and 
its accompanying EAs discussed the economic impacts of the exemptions 
requested by sectors that year. The final rule for the supplemental 
sector rule (75 FR 80720, December 23, 2010) and its accompanying 
supplemental EA discussed the impacts of additional exemptions 
requested by sectors. The final rule for the approval of the FY 2011 
sector operations plans and contracts (76 FR 23076, April 25, 2011) and 
its accompanying EA discussed the economic impacts of the exemptions 
requested by sectors that year.
    The EA prepared for this rule evaluates the impacts of each 
exemption individually relative to the no-action alternative (i.e., no 
sectors are approved), and the exemptions may be approved or 
disapproved individually or as a group. The impacts associated with the 
implementation of each of the exemptions proposed in this rule are 
analyzed as if each exemption would be implemented for all sectors; 
however, each exemption will only be implemented for the sector(s) 
which requested that exemption.
    Increased ``operational flexibility'' generally has positive 
impacts on human communities as sectors and their associated exemptions 
grant fishermen some measure of increased operational flexibility. By 
removing the limitations on vessel effort (amount of gear used, number 
of days declared out of fishery, trip limits and area closures) sectors 
help create a more simplified regulatory environment. This simplified 
regulatory environment grants fishers greater control over how, when, 
and where they fish, without working under increasingly complex fishing 
regulations with higher risk of inadvertently violating one of the many 
regulations. The increased control granted by the sectors and their 
associated exemptions may also allow fishermen to maximize the ex-
vessel price of landings by timing them based on the market. Generally, 
increased operational flexibility can result in reduced costs and/or 
increased revenues. All exemptions contained in the proposed FY 2012 
sector operations plans are expected to generate positive social and 
economic effects for sector members and ports. In general, profits can 
be increased by increasing revenues or decreasing costs. Similarly, 
profits decrease when revenues decline or costs rise. The following 
discussion concentrates on cost and revenues in order to focus on the 
mechanism by which profits are expected to change due to the exemptions 
granted by this action.

Exemption From the Day Gillnet 120-Day Block Out of the Fishery

    Existing regulations require that vessels using gillnet gear remove 
all gillnet gear from the water for 120 days per year. Under an output-
control management system, this type of input control is unnecessary. 
Many affected vessel owners have purchased additional vessels in order 
to be able to fish continuously. The exemption from the 120-day block 
allows sector members to reduce costs by retiring the redundant vessel. 
Furthermore, this exemption may allow sector vessels to take advantage 
of other exemptions, such as the exemption from the GB Seasonal Closure 
in May and portions of the GOM Rolling Closure Areas.

Exemption From the 20-Day Spawning Block Out of the Fishery

    Exemption from the 20-day spawning block would improve operational 
flexibility by allowing participants to match trip planning decisions 
to environmental and economic conditions. The increased operational 
flexibility may result in higher revenues (improved timing of delivery 
to market) or lower costs for participating vessels.

Exemption From the Limit on the Number of Nets for Day Gillnet Vessels

    This exemption would increase operational flexibility by allowing 
participating sector members to deploy

[[Page 8799]]

fishing gear according to operational and market needs. The increased 
flexibility is likely to result in higher revenues or lower costs for 
participating vessels.

Exemption From the Prohibition on a Vessel Hauling Another Vessels' 
Gillnet Gear

    This community fixed-gear exemption would allow sector vessels in 
the Day gillnet category to share gillnet gear. This exemption would 
reduce the total amount of gear that would have to be purchased and 
maintained by participating sector members, resulting in lower costs 
and possibly lower amount of gear fished.

Exemption From the Limitation on the Number of Gillnets That May Be 
Hauled on GB When Fishing Under a Groundfish/Monkfish DAS

    This exemption would increase operational flexibility by allowing a 
sector vessel to haul its monkfish gillnets and groundfish gillnets on 
the same trip. This exemption may reduce costs for these sector 
participants.

Exemption From the Limitation on the Number of Hooks That May Be Fished

    This exemption would increase operational flexibility by allowing 
operators to adapt to environmental and economic conditions. This 
exemption may result in higher revenues or reduced costs.

Exemption From DAS Leasing Program Length and Horsepower Restrictions

    This exemption would increase operational flexibility by allowing 
participating sector members to deploy fishing gear according to 
operational and market needs. The increased operational flexibility is 
likely to result in either higher revenues or lower costs for 
participating vessels. Because DAS are no required while fishing for 
groundfish, vessels participating in other fisheries (e.g., monkfish) 
which require the use of DAS are likely to be positively impacted by 
this exemption.

GOM Sink Gillnet Exemption (January Through April)

    This exemption would allow sector members to use 6-inch (15.2-cm) 
mesh gillnets in the GOM RMA from January 1, 2013, through April 30, 
2013. This exemption will allow participating sector vessels to retain 
more GOM haddock and increase revenues. To take advantage of this 
exemption, participating sector vessels would need to purchase 6-inch 
(15.2-cm) mesh gillnets; however, this gear change would be voluntary 
and the gear would be adopted only if the vessels anticipated positive 
returns from the switch. In FY 2010, 34.7 percent of the available GOM 
haddock ACE was not caught.

GOM Sink Gillnet Exemption (May)

    This exemption would allow vessels to use 6-inch mesh gillnets in 
the GOM RMA from May 1, 2012, through May 31, 2012. This exemption will 
allow participating sector vessels to retain more GOM haddock and 
increase revenues. To take advantage of this exemption, participating 
sector vessels will need to purchase 6-inch mesh gillnets; however, 
this gear change would be voluntary and this gear would be adopted only 
if anticipated higher profits. In FY 2010, 34.7% of the available GOM 
haddock ACE was not caught.

Exemption From Prohibition of Discarding Legal-Size Allocated Species

    Sector vessels are required to retain legal-size unmarketable fish, 
which must be stored on the vessel while at sea. This requirement may 
create unsafe work conditions and reduce safety at sea. In addition, 
sector vessels must determine a method of disposal for landed 
unmarketable fish. An exemption from this regulation would allow sector 
vessels to discard unmarketable fish, increasing flexibility, improving 
safety conditions at sea, and reducing costs associated with disposing 
of the landed unmarketable fish.

Exemption From the Requirement That the Sector Manager Submit Daily 
Catch Reports for the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP

    Eliminating the daily catch reporting by sector managers would 
reduce the administrative burden on the sector managers. The reporting 
burden of individual participating vessels remains unchanged. In 
addition to reducing administrative burden, this exemption may result 
in slightly lower operating costs for sectors.

Exemption From the Trawl Gear Requirements in the U.S./Canada 
Management Area

    This exemption would allow the use of any groundfish trawl gear, 
rather than approved conservation gears, provided the gear conforms to 
regulatory requirements for using trawl gear to fish for groundfish in 
the GB RMA. This exemption would result in greater operational 
flexibility to participating sector vessels. This increased operational 
flexibility may translate into lower costs if vessels can reduce the 
amount of gear, effort or type of gear necessary to catch groundfish in 
the U.S./Canada Management Area.

Exemption From the Requirement To Power a VMS While at the Dock

    Maintaining a VMS signal while at the dock, or tied to a mooring, 
requires constant power be delivered to the vessel or constant use of 
onboard generators. This exemption will reduce the operating costs for 
fishing operations and would result in some improved profitability.

Exemption From DSM Requirements for Handgear A-Permitted Sector 
Vessels, Vessels Fishing West of 72[deg]30' W. Long., and Vessels on 
Monkfish DAS When Using 10-Inch (25.4-cm) or Greater Mesh in the 
Monkfish SFMA

    FW 45 revised DSM requirements and stipulated that sectors must 
comply with any DSM program specified by NMFS in FY 2012. For FY 2012 
there is no required DSM coverage because NMFS will not be funding DSM. 
This exemption would reduce the regulatory cost and burden of any DSM 
coverage level above zero. The vessels qualifying for these exemptions 
generally are the smallest operations, or have the smallest amount of 
groundfish catch, and so would otherwise be disproportionately burdened 
compared to larger operations.

Exemption From Seasonal Restriction for the Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock 
SAP

    The Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP was implemented by FW 40A in 
2004 to provide an opportunity to target haddock. In 2006, FW 42 
shortened the season of this SAP to August 1 through December 31 to 
reduce cod catch. For sector vessels, the SAP provides access to the 
northern tip of CA II, which may increase haddock catch and revenue for 
fishermen.

Exemption From Seasonal Restriction for the CA II Yellowtail Flounder/
Haddock SAP

    The CA II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP was implemented by 
Amendment 13 in 2004 to provide an opportunity to target yellowtail 
flounder in CA II. In 2005, FW 40B shortened the season of this SAP to 
July 1 through December 31 to reduce interference with spawning 
yellowtail flounder. Amendment 16 further revised this SAP to allow 
participating vessels to target haddock from August 1 through January 
31. This exemption would increase a sector's operational flexibility 
and efficiency by allowing the opportunity to fish year-round in the 
SAP area. It could allow for a greater catch of

[[Page 8800]]

haddock and increased revenues for fishermen.

Exemption From the Prohibition on Fishing Inside and Outside the CA I 
Hook Gear Haddock SAP While on the Same Trip

    FW 40A established the CA I Hook Gear Haddock SAP. Multispecies 
vessels fishing on a trip within this SAP are prohibited from deploying 
fishing gear outside of the SAP on the same trip when they are declared 
into the SAP. This exemption would increase operational flexibility by 
allowing sector vessels to fish both inside and outside the SAP on the 
same trip. This exemption would reduce costs by reducing the amount of 
travel time to haul gear in the SAP and in other areas.

Exemption From the Maximum ACE Carryover Provision

    Each sector is allowed to carry over up to 10 percent of its 
original ACE allocation of each stock from one fishing year to the 
next, with the exception of GB yellowtail flounder, to reduce the 
possibility that a sector may accidentally exceed its allocation while 
trying to utilize its entire ACE. Allowing sectors to carry over a 
larger portion of their ACE would provide for greater operational 
flexibility in when and how they fish during a given fishing year. This 
could increase revenues of sectors which frequently catch less than 90% 
of their ACE allocations.

Exemption From the ACE Buffer Provision

    At the beginning of each fishing year, NMFS withholds 20 percent of 
a sector's ACE for each stock for a period of up to 61 days, or longer. 
Exemption from this provision would increase operational flexibility by 
allowing more ACE to be available at the beginning of the fishing year. 
This effect is expected to be greatest for stocks which are seasonally 
available early in the fishing year.

Exemption From the 6.5-Inch (16.5-cm) Minimum Mesh Size Requirement for 
Trawl Nets

    This exemption would allow sector vessels to use 6-inch (15.2-cm) 
mesh codends on trawl nets to target redfish. The exemption could 
increase the operational flexibility of sector vessels and could 
increase revenues of sector fishermen if they are able to increase the 
catch rate of redfish.

Exemption From the 18-Inch (45.7-cm) Minimum Fish Size Provision for 
Haddock

    This restriction includes whole fish or any part of a fish while 
possessed on board a vessel, with the exception of a small amount of 
fish (up to 25 lb (11.3 kg)) that each person on board may retain for 
at-home consumption. This exemption would increase operational 
flexibility by allowing vessels to land headed and gutted haddock which 
are less than 18 inches (45.7 cm). Vessels would be able to store more 
fish in the hold and may land more edible meat by processing and 
removing undesirable parts of the fish at sea. Vessel revenues increase 
if higher prices are received for processed fish. However, few vessels 
are currently equipped to take advantage of this exemption. Other 
vessels would need to make voluntary upgrades to their vessels in order 
to take advantage of this regulation.

Exemption From the Prohibition on a Vessel Hauling Another Vessel's 
Hook Gear

    This exemption would reduce the total amount of gear that would 
have to be purchased and maintained by participating sector members, 
resulting in lower costs and a possible reduction in total gear fished.

Exemption From the Requirement To Declare Intent To Fish in the Eastern 
U.S./Canada SAP and the CA II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP Prior To 
Leaving the Dock

    Multispecies vessels are currently required to declare that they 
will be fishing in the Eastern U.S./CA Haddock SAP or the CA II 
Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP prior to leaving the dock. The 
requested exemption would reduce the administrative burden of declaring 
intent to fish and increase operational flexibility by allowing the 
vessel to make trip planning decisions while at-sea. This exemption 
could reduce costs by reducing the amount of travel time to fish in the 
SAP without first returning to port.

Other Significant Alternatives

    There were several exemptions requested by the sectors for FY 2012 
that the regulations implemented by Amendment 16 prohibited NMFS from 
considering. NMFS also received requests for exemptions that NMFS 
previously disapproved in FY 2010 or FY 2011; however, no new data or 
information has become available that would convince NMFS to reconsider 
the previously disapproved exemptions further in FY 2012.
    Regulations under the Magnuson-Stevens Act require publication of 
this notification to provide interested parties the opportunity to 
comment on proposed sector operations plans and TAC allocations.

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

    Dated: February 9, 2012.
Alan D. Risenhoover,
Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National 
Marine Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2012-3565 Filed 2-14-12; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P