Fisheries Off West Coast States; Coastal Pelagic Species Fisheries; Annual Specifications, 36117-36122 [2013-14335]

Download as PDF Federal Register / Vol. 78, No. 116 / Monday, June 17, 2013 / Rules and Regulations DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 660 [Docket No. 121210694–3514–02] RIN 0648–XC392 Fisheries Off West Coast States; Coastal Pelagic Species Fisheries; Annual Specifications National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Final rule. AGENCY: NMFS issues this final rule to implement the annual catch limit (ACL), harvest guideline (HG), and associated annual reference points for Pacific sardine in the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the Pacific coast for the fishing season of January 1, 2013, through December 31, 2013. These specifications were determined according to the Coastal Pelagic Species (CPS) Fishery Management Plan (FMP). The 2013 maximum HG for Pacific sardine is 66,495 metric tons (mt). The initial overall commercial fishing HG, which has been distributed across the three allocation periods for sardine management, is 57,495 mt. This amount has been divided across the three seasonal allocation periods for the directed fishery the following way: January 1–June 30—19,123 mt; July 1– September 14—21,998 mt; and September 15–December 31—13,374 mt with an incidental set-aside of 1,000 mt for each of the three periods. This rule is intended to conserve and manage the Pacific sardine stock off the U.S. West Coast. DATES: Effective July 17, 2013 through December 31, 2013. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Joshua Lindsay, Southwest Region, NMFS, (562) 980–4034. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NMFS issues this rule under authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. During public meetings each year, the estimated biomass for Pacific sardine is presented by NMFS scientists to the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s (Council) Coastal Pelagic Species (CPS) mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES SUMMARY: Management Team (Team), the Council’s CPS Advisory Subpanel (Subpanel), and the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC), and the biomass and the status of the fisheries are reviewed and discussed. The biomass estimate is then presented to the Council along with the calculated overfishing limit (OFL), available biological catch (ABC), annual catch limit (ACL) and harvest guideline (HG), along with recommendations and comments from the Team, Subpanel, and SSC. Following review by the Council and after hearing public comment, the Council adopts a biomass estimate and makes its catch level recommendations to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). After review of the Council’s recommendations and public comments, NMFS implements through this rule the 2013 ACL, HG, and other annual catch references, including the OFL and an ABC that takes into consideration uncertainty surrounding the current estimate of biomass for Pacific sardine in the U.S. EEZ off the Pacific coast. The CPS FMP and its implementing regulations require NMFS to set these annual catch levels for the Pacific sardine fishery based on the annual specification framework in the FMP. This framework includes a harvest control rule that determines the maximum HG, the primary management target for the fishery, for the current fishing season. The HG is based, in large part, on the current estimate of stock biomass. The harvest control rule in the CPS FMP is HG = [(Biomass¥CUTOFF) * FRACTION * DISTRIBUTION] with the parameters described as follows: 1. Biomass. The estimated stock biomass of Pacific sardine age one and above for the 2013 management season is 659,539 mt. 2. CUTOFF. This is the biomass level below which no commercial fishery is allowed. The FMP established this level at 150,000 mt. 3. DISTRIBUTION. The average portion of the Pacific sardine biomass estimated in the EEZ off the Pacific coast is 87 percent. 4. FRACTION. The harvest fraction is the percentage of the biomass above 150,000 mt that may be harvested. At the November 2012 Council meeting, the Council adopted the 2013 Stock Assessment of the Pacific sardine resource completed by NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center and January 1– June 30 Total Seasonal Allocation ................................................................ VerDate Mar<15>2010 18:01 Jun 14, 2013 Jkt 229001 PO 00000 Frm 00035 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 the resulting Pacific sardine biomass estimate of 659,539 mt. Based on the framework in the CPS FMP and recommendations from its SSC and other advisory bodies, the Council recommended and NMFS is implementing, an OFL of 103,284 mt, ABC of 94,281 mt, an ACL of 94,281 mt (equal to the ABC) and a maximum HG (HGs under the CPS FMP are operationally similar to annual catch targets (ACT)) of 66,495 metric tons (mt) for the 2013 Pacific sardine fishing year. Due to an approximately 33 percent decrease in the biomass estimate from 2012, the result of the HG formula is approximately 40,000 mt less than the 2012 HG. As described above, annual biomass estimates are a parameter of the various harvest control rules, therefore as estimated biomass decreases or increases from one year to the next, the resulting allowable catch levels, such as the HG, will necessarily decrease or increase too. These catch specifications are based on the most recent stock assessment and the control rules established in the CPS FMP. The Council also recommended, and NMFS is implementing, a reduced initial overall commercial fishing HG of 57,495 mt allocated across the three allocation periods for sardine management. This number has been reduced from the maximum HG of 66,495 mt by 9,000 mt: (i) For potential harvest by the Quinault Indian Nation of up to 6,000 mt; and (ii) 3,000 mt, which is initially reserved for potential use under an exempted fishing permit(s) (EFPs). The Council also recommended and NMFS is implementing that incidental catch set asides be put in place for each allocation period. The purpose of the incidental set-aside allotments and allowance of an incidental catch-only fishery is to allow for the restricted incidental landings of Pacific sardine in other fisheries, particularly other CPS fisheries, when a seasonal directed fishery is closed. The intent of this measure is to reduce of Pacific sardine in other CPS fisheries and allow for continued prosecution of these other important fisheries that may incidentally catch sardine if and when the sardine fishery is closed. For the 2013 Pacific sardine fishing season, the incidental set asides and adjusted directed harvest levels for each period are shown in the following table in metric tons: July 1– September 14 20,123 (35%) 36117 September 15– December 31 22,998 (40%) E:\FR\FM\17JNR1.SGM 17JNR1 14,374 (25%) Total 57,495 36118 Federal Register / Vol. 78, No. 116 / Monday, June 17, 2013 / Rules and Regulations January 1– June 30 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES Incidental Set Aside ......................................................................... Adjusted Directed Harvest Allocation .............................................. The 2013 HG is already well below the ACL, and additional inseason accountability measures are in place to ensure the actual catch levels never exceed the HG. If during any of the seasonal allocation periods the applicable directed harvest allocation is projected to be taken, fishing will be closed to directed harvest and only incidental harvest would be allowed. For the remainder of the period, any incidental Pacific sardine landings will be counted against that period’s incidental set-aside. As an additional accountability measure, the incidental fishery will also be constrained to a 40 percent by weight incidental catch rate when Pacific sardine are landed with other CPS so as to minimize the targeting of Pacific sardine and reduce potential discard of sardine. In the event that an incidental set-aside is projected to be attained, the incidental fishery will be closed for the remainder of the period. If the set-aside is not fully attained or is exceeded in a given seasonal period, the directed harvest allocation in the following seasonal period will automatically be adjusted upward or downward accordingly to account for the discrepancy. Additionally, if during any seasonal period the directed harvest allocation is not fully attained or is exceeded, then the following period’s directed harvest total will be adjusted to account for the discrepancy as well. If the total HG or these apportionment levels for Pacific sardine are reached or are expected to be reached, the Pacific sardine fishery will be closed until it reopens either the next period per the allocation scheme or at the beginning of the next fishing season. The NMFS Southwest Regional Administrator will publish a notice in the Federal Register announcing the date of any closure to either directed or incidental fishing. Additionally, to ensure that the regulated community is informed of any closure, NMFS will also make announcements through other means available, including fax, email, and mail to fishermen, processors, and state fishery management agencies. At the March 2013 Council meeting, the Council approved and subsequently made a recommendation to NMFS to approve an EFP for all of the 3,000 mt EFP set-aside. NMFS will likely make a decision on whether to issue an EFP for Pacific sardine sometime prior to the VerDate Mar<15>2010 18:01 Jun 14, 2013 Jkt 229001 July 1– September 14 1,000 19,123 start of the second seasonal period (July 1, 2013). Any set-aside attributed to an EFP designed to be conducted during the closed fishing time in the second allocation period (prior to September 15), but not utilized, will roll into the third allocation period’s directed fishery. As explained in the proposed rule, 6,000 mt of the HG is being set aside for use by the Quinault Indian Nation. NMFS will consult with Quinault Department of Fisheries staff and Quinault Fisheries Policy representatives at the end of the second allocation period to determine whether any part of this set-aside is available for transfer into the non-tribal directed fishery. Detailed information on the fishery and the stock assessment are found in the report ‘‘Assessment of the Pacific Sardine Resource in 2012 for U.S. Management in 2013’’ (see ADDRESSES). On January 31, 2013, NMFS published a proposed rule for this action and solicited public comments (78 FR 6794). NMFS received multiple comments from one commenter regarding the Pacific sardine annual specifications. Comment 1: The commenter requested that NMFS disapprove the proposed action because the annual catch limit, harvest guideline (HG), and associated reference points such as the OFL, do not reflect the best available science for setting catch levels and will result in catch levels that fail to prevent overfishing, fail to achieve optimum yield (OY), are detrimental to the sardine stock as well as sardine predators and that ecological factors were not considered during the process of developing these specifications. Specifically, the commenter states that the value used for the FMSY parameter in the OFL control rule for 2013 does not represent the best available information, questions the use of the mid-year biomass estimate from the stock assessment used to determine the 2013 catch levels, and suggests that the distribution parameter be revised because it does not reflect catch levels in Mexico and Canada. Additionally, the commenter questions the values used for the CUTOFF and FRACTION parameters of the HG control rule as well as the overfished criteria for Pacific sardine. PO 00000 Frm 00036 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 September 15– December 31 1,000 21,998 1,000 13,374 Total 3,000 54,495 Response: The CPS FMP and its implementing regulations require NMFS to set an OFL, ABC, ACL and HG for the Pacific sardine fishery using the control rules set in the FMP. Reconsideration of the existing control rules and their parameters, as well as other aspects of Pacific sardine management such as overfished criteria, is beyond the scope of this rulemaking. However, in addition to responding to the comments about the 18% FMSY parameter used in the OFL control rule, the mid-year biomass estimate used for setting 2013 harvest levels (OFL, ABC/ACL and HG), for information purposes only, NMFS will respond to some aspects of the comments that are beyond the scope of this action, such the distribution parameter used in the three control rules. Disapproving this action, as requested by the commenter because of their perceived conservation concerns (as explained above), would allow the fishery to take place without any HG or quota. The HG and seasonal allocations, along with the OFL and ABC, are the principal mechanisms for preventing overfishing of Pacific sardine and managing the fishery at a level that will achieve OY while allowing equitable access to all sectors of the fishery. The commenter stated that the 2013 harvest levels do not achieve OY, do not prevent overfishing, and that ecological factors were not considered in the setting of the 2013 catch levels. With regard to OY, as described in the FMP, catch levels determined from the HG formula will result in OY. The 2013 HG (i.e., the directed fishing management target for the 2013 season) was determined using this HG formula. Directed commercial fishing is not allowed above this level and management measures are in place to prevent the fishery from exceeding it (i.e., in-season catch monitoring, inseason closures and incidental catch setasides). As it relates to overfishing, the 2013 HG catch level is approximately 36,000 mt below the 2013 OFL, providing a large buffer against overfishing. This lower HG is the result of OY considerations, including ecological, and the management strategy in the CPS FMP that for 2013 establishes a catch level much lower than is needed to simply avoid overfishing or because of a risk of exceeding the ABC/ACL due to management uncertainty. These E:\FR\FM\17JNR1.SGM 17JNR1 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES Federal Register / Vol. 78, No. 116 / Monday, June 17, 2013 / Rules and Regulations considerations and precautions are based on the environmentally driven dynamic nature of the Pacific sardine stock as well as its importance in the ecosystem as forage for other species. Additionally, the HG control rule explicitly protects the stock from approaching an overfished condition (while explicitly reducing fishing if biomass decreases) through the use of a 150,000 mt CUTOFF parameter (level at fishing is prohibited) that is three times that of the overfished level (50,000 mt). Although not the subject of this rulemaking, the commenter questions the values used for the CUTOFF parameter as well as the overfished level. NMFS notes that the use of a CUTOFF parameter is not a requirement of the MSA or National Standard Guidelines and it is a proactive and precautionary policy choice of the CPS FMP to have an explicit rebuilding mechanism built into the control rule. With regards to the overfished level, it represents the best available science and is the level that on average can be expected to rebuild the stock in ten years. Additionally, low biomass conditions for Pacific sardine may result from overfishing, unfavorable environmental conditions, or both acting in concert. Experience with CPS stocks around the world indicates that overfished/low biomass conditions usually occur when unfavorable environmental conditions and high fishing mortality rates occur at the same time. Management measures for sardine do not, however, depend on whether a low biomass condition was due to excess fishing or unfavorable environmental conditions, because reductions in fishing mortality are required in either case. Furthermore, ecological factors such as the life-cycles, distributions, and population dynamics of the Pacific sardine, as well as their role as forage were considered and evaluated in developing the various control rules. Beyond the ecological factors used in the development of the control rules, other ecological information related to the annual management of CPS is presented to the Council through the annual CPS Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation which contains a chapter titled Ecosystem Considerations. In this chapter, information on climate and oceanographic conditions such as El ˜ Nino and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation are presented, as well as ecosystem trends and indicators relevant to CPS such as sea surface temperature, ocean productivity and copepod abundance. Additionally, NMFS also considered VerDate Mar<15>2010 18:01 Jun 14, 2013 Jkt 229001 ecological information in its review of the 2013 Pacific sardine specifications through both the Environmental Assessment (EA) and the Essential Fish Habitat consultation. The EA analyzed the effects of the proposed action on the environment, which included an examination of available ecosystem and predator/prey modeling efforts. NMFS is unaware of any additional ecological factors that warranted changes to the proposed 2013 Pacific sardine specifications. Contrary to the opinion of the commenter, the 2013 Pacific sardine ACL, HG, and associated annual reference points are based on the best available science. As explained above under SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION, this year’s biomass estimate used for the 2013 specifications went through extensive review, and along with the resulting OFL and ABC, was endorsed by the Council’s SSC and NMFS as the best available science. As noted by the commenter, the SSC did recommend that future evaluations of the harvest control rules consider basing annual management on the biomass estimate from the stock assessment that aligns with at the start of the fishing year (currently management is based on the mid-year biomass estimate versus the end-year biomass from the stock assessment), however such a change has not been formally evaluated and the SSC did not recommend deviating from using the mid-year biomass estimate (which has been the practice for the last ten years) for management in 2013. As it relates to the 2013 OFL, the commenter voiced concern with regard to the value (18 percent) used for the FMSY parameter in the OFL and ABC control rules. The value of the FMSY parameter used in the OFL and the ABC control rules is not prescribed in the FMP. The value used for 2013 of 18 percent represented the best available science and was endorsed by the SSC and NMFS. This value was also recommended as best available science for setting the 2012 annual specifications. Using 18% (the result of modeling work in 2011) was recommended for both 2012 and 2013 as an alternative to the default option of applying the temperature-stock relationship that is used for determining the FRACTION parameter due to uncertainty surrounding this relationship. The default option would have resulted in an FMSY of 19.85%. NMFS acknowledges that future work, particularly work involving sardine recruitment success and environmental variables, may provide alternative ways of estimating FMSY for these control rules, however a new approach would PO 00000 Frm 00037 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 36119 need to be analyzed and then reviewed by the SSC, the Council, and NMFS before it could be used in management. In the three control rules, the U.S. catch levels for Pacific sardine are prorated by an ‘‘estimate of the portion of the stock resident in U.S. waters’’ using a ‘‘distribution parameter’’ of 87%. This approach is laid out in the FMP itself, and is intended to account for the fact that some level of the sardine stock exists outside of US waters and can therefore be subject to harvest by fisheries in neighboring countries. The 87% was chosen based on the best information available, and in light of the absence of an international agreement governing management of Pacific sardine off the West Coast. The commenter however, inappropriately conflates stock biomass distribution with catch distribution. The distribution parameter, as defined in the FMP, is an estimate of the long-term average of the portion of total stock biomass occurring in U.S. waters, and is simply a way to prorate the biomass estimate used to calculate U.S. catch levels, it is not a prescription of actual catch levels by fishing vessels of the U.S., Canada and Mexico in any given year. As part of the rationale presented by the commenter as to why the current value of 87 percent for the DISTRIBUTION parameter is incorrect, the commenter points to sardine catch in Mexico and the fact that Mexico caught 51 percent of the total coastwide catch in 2011. The commenter states that because Mexico caught 51 percent of the total Pacific sardine catch that year, and this value exceeds 13 percent (the percent of total biomass assumed under the current default approach to occur outside U.S. waters), that the 87 percent biomass distribution used in the FMP is therefore incorrect. However, this rationale confuses the concepts of catch and biomass with other incorrect assumptions. For instance, the sardine control rules were not developed with the assumption that the entire sardine biomass is readily available to the U.S. fleet, that there are no other fishing restrictions, or that U.S. fishing restrictions match those of other countries. Obviously, these assumptions are not correct. For instance due to the seasonal allocation structure of the U.S. sardine HG and seasonal closures that occurred 2011 the U.S. fishery was only open for 83 days that year, while Mexico and Canada were not bound by this same restriction. The U.S. fishery is also bound by other restrictions such as limited entry and trip limits that likely reduce the total amount of sardines caught in U.S. waters. In fact, the U.S. only caught 34 percent of the total E:\FR\FM\17JNR1.SGM 17JNR1 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES 36120 Federal Register / Vol. 78, No. 116 / Monday, June 17, 2013 / Rules and Regulations coastwide catch in 2011, which resulted in only a 5 percent stock exploitation rate by the U.S. Additionally, because of the migratory nature of the sardine stock and their movement between spawning grounds and feeding grounds, both of which change annually and seasonally, the biomass in any given year is not evenly distributed along the coast and therefore not equally available to any country or evenly distributed among specific fleet or port complexes within the U.S. Therefore, the 87% distribution parameter is not ‘‘incorrect’’ merely because it does not reflect catch levels between the three countries in any one year; it was neither intended to reflect catch levels nor keep total catches under a certain level as the commenter states. Additionally, the commenter points to ongoing work by the NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center that is examining sardine stock structure along the west coast; along with potential ways to determine and differentiate the two subpopulations of Pacific sardine within landings in Southern California and Mexico. Although such research, as that referenced by the commenter, may eventually help distinguish the catch of the two sardine subpopulations, 87 percent still represents the best available science with regard to overall biomass distribution and is therefore appropriate for use in the sardine control rules. NFMS recognizes that properly accounting for the trans-boundary nature of stocks, such as Pacific sardine, is difficult. The CPS FMP sets sardine harvest levels for U.S. fisheries by prorating the biomass used to calculate the target harvest level according to the portion of the stock estimated to be in U.S. waters on average over time. The primary advantage of prorating the total target harvest level is that U.S. fisheries can be managed unilaterally in a responsible manner that is consistent with the MSA. Although estimates of Mexican and Canadian landings are not considered explicitly in determining annual harvest levels for U.S. waters, landings and fishery data from both Mexico and Canada are used to assess the coastwide biomass. Therefore, because the allowable harvest level in U.S. waters ultimately depends on this biomass estimate, U.S. harvest will be reduced if the stock is depleted by fishing in either Mexico or Canada. Finally, with regard to the commenter’s concern that U.S. fishing levels exceed a combined United States, Mexico and Canada overfishing limit, this is unfounded because there is no such coastwise limit: Pacific sardine is not managed under an international agreement, and the FMP does not VerDate Mar<15>2010 18:01 Jun 14, 2013 Jkt 229001 prescribe an international overfishing level. However, NMFS will continue to monitor the total exploitation status of the stock to assess whether the stock is becoming overfished. Additionally, recent years’ exploitation rates have been relatively conservative and well below levels that are likely to cause the stock to become overfished. The total international exploitation rate on the stock has averaged approximately only 13 percent over the last 10 years and in 2011 was about 15 percent, with U.S. annual exploitation rates averaging 7 percent since 2000; the 2011 U.S. exploitation rate was about 5 percent. Beyond prorating the biomass to calculate U.S. harvest, the Council and NOAA might consider alternative ways of accounting for the transboundary nature of the stock in the future. Additionally, because sardine is a variable stock that undergoes extended periods of low and high biomass even in the absence of fishing, to help ensure Pacific sardine is not overfished, under the FMP’s harvest policy whether sardine biomass decreases as a result of fishing pressure or environmental conditions, harvest in U.S. waters will automatically decrease as well. Because of this precautionary feature of the harvest control rule, the approximately 33 percent decline in biomass from 2012 to 2013, has resulted in a 60 percent decrease in the 2013 HG compared to 2012. Comment 2: The same commenter also stated that the Environmental Assessment (EA) prepared for this action was inadequate because it should have included a greater range of alternatives, and because alternative methods for determining the annual specifications should be analyzed in an Environment Impact Statement (EIS). Response: This year’s specifications fall within the analysis in the EIS prepared for the CPS FMP under the National Environmental Policy Act. The EA completed for this action demonstrates that the implementation of the 2013 catch levels for the Pacific sardine fishery based on the HG and ABC control rules in the FMP will not significantly impact the quality of the human environment. Therefore a new EIS is not necessary. With regard to the scope and range of alternatives, the six alternatives analyzed in the EA was a reasonable number and covered an appropriate scope based on the limited nature of this action, which is described above. The six alternatives (including the proposed action) were objectively evaluated in recognition of the purpose and need of this action and the framework process in place based on the HG and ABC PO 00000 Frm 00038 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 control rules for setting catch levels for Pacific sardine. The CPS FMP describes a specific framework process for annually setting required catch levels and reference points. Although there is some flexibility built into this process concerning determinations of scientific and management uncertainty, there is little discretion in the OFL control rules (level for determining overfishing), the ABC control rule (used to determine the ACL), or the HG control rule (level at which directed fishing is stopped), with the annual biomass estimate being the primary determinant in both these levels. Classification The Administrator, Southwest Region, NMFS, determined that this action is necessary for the conservation and management of the Pacific sardine fishery and that it is consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and other applicable laws. This final rule is exempt from review under Executive Order 12866. The results of the Final Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (FRFA) completed for this action are below. For copies of the complete FRFA, please see the ADDRESSES section above. No issues were raised by public comments in response to the Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA) prepared pursuant to the Regulatory Flexibility Act for this action or on the economic impacts of the rule generally. As well as stated below, a description of the action, why it is being considered, and the legal basis for this action are contained at the beginning of this section in the preamble and in the SUMMARY section of the preamble. The purpose of this action is to implement the 2013 annual specifications for Pacific sardine in the U.S. EEZ off the Pacific coast. The CPS FMP and its implementing regulations require NMFS to set an OFL, ABC, ACL and HG or ACT for the Pacific sardine fishery based on the specified harvest control rules in the FMP. A specific harvest control rule is applied to the current stock biomass estimate to derive the annual HG, which is used to manage the directed commercial take of Pacific sardine. The HG is apportioned based on the following allocation scheme: 35 percent of the HG is allocated coastwide on January 1; 40 percent of the HG, plus any portion not harvested from the initial allocation is then reallocated coastwide on July 1; and on September 15 the remaining 25 percent, plus any portion not harvested from earlier allocations will be released. If the total E:\FR\FM\17JNR1.SGM 17JNR1 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES Federal Register / Vol. 78, No. 116 / Monday, June 17, 2013 / Rules and Regulations HG or these apportionment levels for Pacific sardine are reached at any time, the Pacific sardine fishery will close until either it re-opens per the allocation scheme or the beginning of the next fishing season. There is no limit on the amount of catch that any single vessel can take during an allocation period or the year; the HG and seasonal allocations are available until fully utilized by the entire CPS fleet. The U.S. Small Business Administration defines small businesses engaged in fishing as those vessels with annual revenues of or below $4 million. The small entities that would be affected by this action are the vessels that compose the West Coast CPS small purse seine fleet. In 2012 there were approximately 96 vessels permitted to operate in the directed sardine fishery component of the CPS fishery off the U.S. West Coast; 55 are vessels in the Federal CPS limited entry fishery off California (south of 39 N. lat.), and a combined 23 vessels in Oregon and Washington’s state Pacific sardine fisheries. The annual per vessel revenue in 2012 for the West Coast CPS finfish fleet was well below $4 million and no vessels reported revenue of greater than $4 million; therefore, all of these vessels are considered small businesses under the RFA. Because each affected vessel is a small business, this action has an equal effect on all of these small entities, and there will not be any disproportionate impact on small entities. The profitability of these vessels as a result of this action is based on the average Pacific sardine ex-vessel price per mt. NMFS used average Pacific sardine ex-vessel price per mt to conduct a profitability analysis because cost data for the harvesting operations of CPS finfish vessels was unavailable. For the 2012 fishing year approximately 105,000 mt were available for harvest by the directed fishery. Approximately 95,000 mt (21,000 in California and 74,000 mt in Oregon and Washington) of this HG were harvested during the 2012 fishing season, for an estimated ex-vessel value of $20 million. Using these figures, the average 2012 ex-vessel price per mt of Pacific sardines was approximately $208. The directed commercial fishing HG for the 2013 Pacific sardine fishing season (January 1, 2013 through December 31, 2013) is 57,495 (mt). This HG is approximately 47,000 mt less than the directed commercial fishing HG for 2012. If the fleet were to take the entire 2013 HG, and assuming a coastwide average ex-vessel price per mt of $204 (average of 2011 and 2012 ex-vessel), VerDate Mar<15>2010 18:01 Jun 14, 2013 Jkt 229001 the potential revenue to the fleet would be approximately $12 million. Therefore, this action will decrease the affected small entities’ potential profitability compared to last season, due to the lower HG this fishing season. However, although there will likely be a drop in profitability to sardine harvesting vessels based on this rule compared to last season, from 2007 through 2011 the average coastwide annual ex-vessel revenue was $12.5 million; therefore, at current ex-vessel price per mt, the HG for 2013 should provide similar revenue to the five years preceding 2012. Furthermore, as occurred in 2012, unused sardine from the potential EFP or the release of any unused portion of the 6,000-mt set-aside for the Quinault Indian Nation might be used to supplement the amount available to the directed fishery during the third allocation period (September 15 through December 31), thereby slightly increasing the potential revenue to the fleet. Additionally, revenue derived from harvesting Pacific sardine is typically only one factor determining the overall revenue for a majority of the vessels that harvest Pacific sardine; as a result, the economic impact to the fleet from this action cannot be viewed in isolation. From year to year, depending on market conditions and availability of fish, most CPS/sardine vessels supplement their income by harvesting other species. Many vessels in California also harvest anchovy, mackerel, and in particular squid, making Pacific sardine only one component of a multi-species CPS fishery. For example, market squid have been readily available to the fishery in California over the last three years with total annual ex-vessel revenue averaging approximately $66 million over that time, compared to an annual average exvessel from sardine of $16 million over that same time period. Additionally, many sardine vessels that operate off of Oregon and Washington also fish for salmon in Alaska or squid in California during times of the year when sardine are not available. These vessels typically rely on multiple species for profitability because abundance of sardine, like the other CPS stocks, is highly associated with ocean conditions and different times of the year, and therefore are harvested at various times and areas throughout the year. Because each species responds to ocean conditions in its own way, not all CPS stocks are likely to be abundant at the same time; therefore, as abundance levels and markets fluctuate, it has necessitated that the CPS fishery as a whole rely on a group of species for its annual PO 00000 Frm 00039 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 36121 revenues. Therefore, although there will be a potential reduction in sardine revenue for the small entities affected by this action as compared to the previous season, it is difficult to predict exactly how this reduction will impact overall annual revenue for the fleet. There are no significant alternatives to this action that would accomplish the objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and would also minimize any significant economic impact of this action on the affected small entities. The CPS FMP and its implementing regulations require NMFS to set an annual HG for the Pacific sardine fishery based on the harvest formula in the FMP. The harvest formula is applied to the current stock biomass estimate to determine the HG. Therefore, if the estimated biomass decreases or increases from one year to the next, the HG will necessarily decrease or increase too. Because the current stock biomass estimate decreased from 2012 to 2013, the HG also decreased. Determining the annual HG merely implements the established procedures of the FMP with the goal of continuing to provide expected net benefits to the nation, regardless of what the specific allowable harvest of Pacific sardine is determined to be for 2013. There are no reporting, recordkeeping, or other compliance requirements required by this rule. Additionally, no other Federal rules duplicate, overlap, or conflict with this rule. Small Business Compliance Guide Section 212 of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996 states that, for each rule or group of related rules for which an agency is required to prepare a FRFA, the agency shall publish one or more guides to assist small entities in complying with the rule, and shall designate such publications as ‘‘small entity compliance guides.’’ The agency shall explain the actions a small entity is required to take to comply with a rule or group of rules. As part of this rulemaking process, a notice to fishermen that also serves as a small entity compliance guide (guide) was prepared and will be distributed to fishermen and processors. The guide is also available on the internet at https:// swr.nmfs.noaa.gov. Copies of this final rule and guide, i.e., the notice to fishermen, will be available upon request from the Southwest Regional Office (see ADDRESSES). Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. E:\FR\FM\17JNR1.SGM 17JNR1 36122 Federal Register / Vol. 78, No. 116 / Monday, June 17, 2013 / Rules and Regulations Dated: June 11, 2013. Samuel D. Rauch III, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, performing the functions and duties of the Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2013–14335 Filed 6–14–13; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 680 [Docket No. 120806311–3530–02] RIN 0648–BC25 Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Crab Rationalization Program National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Final rule. AGENCY: NMFS issues regulations to implement Amendment 42 to the Fishery Management Plan for Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands King and Tanner Crabs (FMP). These regulations revise the annual economic data reports (EDRs) currently required of participants in the Crab Rationalization Program (CR Program) fisheries. The EDRs include cost, revenue, ownership, and employment data the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) and NMFS use to study the economic impacts of the CR Program on harvesters, processors, and affected communities. This action is necessary to eliminate redundant reporting requirements, standardize reporting across participants, and reduce costs associated with the data collection. This action is intended to promote the goals and objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the FMP, and other applicable laws. DATES: Effective July 17, 2013. ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of Amendment 42 to the FMP, the Regulatory Impact Review (RIR)/Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA), and the Categorical Exclusion prepared for this action may be obtained from https://www.regulations.gov or from the Alaska Region Web site at https:// alaskafisheries.noaa.gov. The Environmental Impact Statement, RIR, and Social Impact Assessment prepared mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES SUMMARY: VerDate Mar<15>2010 18:01 Jun 14, 2013 Jkt 229001 for the CR Program are available from the NMFS Alaska Region Web site at https://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov. Written comments regarding the burden-hour estimates or other aspects of the collection-of-information requirements contained in this rule may be submitted to NMFS Alaska Region, P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802, Attn: Ellen Sebastian, Records Officer; in person at NMFS Alaska Region, 709 West 9th Street, Room 420A, Juneau, AK; and by email to OIRA_Submission@omb.eop.gov or faxed to 202–395–7285. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Karen Palmigiano, 907–586–7091. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: This final rule implements Amendment 42 to the FMP. NMFS published a notice of availability (NOA) for Amendment 42 on March 12, 2013 (78 FR 15677). The comment period on NOA for Amendment 42 ended on May 13, 2013. The Secretary approved Amendment 42 on June 5, 2013, after accounting for information from the public, and determining that Amendment 42 is consistent with the FMP, the MSA, and other applicable law. NMFS published a proposed rule to implement Amendment 42 on March 21, 2013 (78 FR 17341). The comment period on the proposed rule ended on April 22, 2013. NMFS received a total of 5 comment letters from 3 persons during the comment periods on Amendment 42 and the proposed rule to implement the amendment. The letters contained 18 separate topics. A summary of these comments and NMFS’s responses are provided in the Comments and Responses section of this preamble. Amendment 42 and this final rule apply to the CR Program’s annual economic data collection program and the annual EDRs. At the beginning of the CR Program, the Council recommended and NMFS implemented a comprehensive economic data collection program. The CR Program requires participants to complete an annual EDR based on harvesting and processing activities for the associated fishing season. The Council and NMFS use the annual EDRs to assess the success of the CR Program and develop amendments to the FMP necessary to mitigate any unintended consequences of the CR Program. An annual EDR is currently required for four categories of participants in the CR Program fisheries: catcher vessels, catcher/processors, shoreside processors, and stationary floating processors. Data submission is mandatory. The EDR Program is administered by NMFS through contracts with the PO 00000 Frm 00040 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC). NMFS collects fees from CR Program participants to recover the costs of administering the EDR Program. As described in the proposed rule to implement Amendment 42, the Council initiated an analysis in 2010 to modify the EDR based on its data quality review process and public comment received during the Council’s 5-year review of the CR Program. In February 2012, the Council recommended Amendment 42 to the FMP to modify the EDR. Following the Council’s recommendation of Amendment 42, additional industry outreach and Council review of the proposed EDR revisions ensured that the revisions were compatible with industry recordkeeping procedures and consistent with the intent of the Council recommendations. In October 2012, the Council reviewed three proposed EDR forms developed for this action and the draft Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) submission. Following this review, the Council confirmed its support for Amendment 42. The Council recommended Amendment 42 to address its concerns with accuracy and consistency of reported data, redundant data reporting, and reducing industry’s reporting burden. Those concerns are discussed in detail in the proposed rule to implement Amendment 42 (78 FR 17341, March 21, 2013) and are briefly summarized here. Data that is inconsistently or inaccurately reported is not useful to the Council or NMFS. For example, reporting labor information for each crab fishery, including average processing positions, does not provide an accurate estimate of the number of staff used, as staff may be reassigned to non-crab tasks with changing plant needs. Therefore, the Council recommended removing this datareporting requirement, as inaccurately or inconsistently reported data has limited analytical use. In addition to data quality limitations, several data elements removed from the EDR by this final rule are currently collected under other NMFS or State of Alaska data collection programs. For example, the requirement for catcher vessels to report their fishing activity, including fish ticket numbers, days fishing, and days transiting and offloading, by crab fishery are also collected by the State of Alaska and then shared with NMFS through a data sharing agreement. The Council and NMFS believe these data elements are useful for examining operational efficiencies; however, each of these data E:\FR\FM\17JNR1.SGM 17JNR1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 116 (Monday, June 17, 2013)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 36117-36122]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-14335]



[[Page 36117]]

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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 660

[Docket No. 121210694-3514-02]
RIN 0648-XC392


Fisheries Off West Coast States; Coastal Pelagic Species 
Fisheries; Annual Specifications

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

ACTION: Final rule.

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

SUMMARY: NMFS issues this final rule to implement the annual catch 
limit (ACL), harvest guideline (HG), and associated annual reference 
points for Pacific sardine in the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) 
off the Pacific coast for the fishing season of January 1, 2013, 
through December 31, 2013. These specifications were determined 
according to the Coastal Pelagic Species (CPS) Fishery Management Plan 
(FMP). The 2013 maximum HG for Pacific sardine is 66,495 metric tons 
(mt). The initial overall commercial fishing HG, which has been 
distributed across the three allocation periods for sardine management, 
is 57,495 mt. This amount has been divided across the three seasonal 
allocation periods for the directed fishery the following way: January 
1-June 30--19,123 mt; July 1-September 14--21,998 mt; and September 15-
December 31--13,374 mt with an incidental set-aside of 1,000 mt for 
each of the three periods. This rule is intended to conserve and manage 
the Pacific sardine stock off the U.S. West Coast.

DATES: Effective July 17, 2013 through December 31, 2013.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Joshua Lindsay, Southwest Region, 
NMFS, (562) 980-4034.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NMFS issues this rule under authority of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, 16 U.S.C. 
1801 et seq. During public meetings each year, the estimated biomass 
for Pacific sardine is presented by NMFS scientists to the Pacific 
Fishery Management Council's (Council) Coastal Pelagic Species (CPS) 
Management Team (Team), the Council's CPS Advisory Subpanel (Subpanel), 
and the Council's Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC), and the 
biomass and the status of the fisheries are reviewed and discussed. The 
biomass estimate is then presented to the Council along with the 
calculated overfishing limit (OFL), available biological catch (ABC), 
annual catch limit (ACL) and harvest guideline (HG), along with 
recommendations and comments from the Team, Subpanel, and SSC. 
Following review by the Council and after hearing public comment, the 
Council adopts a biomass estimate and makes its catch level 
recommendations to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
    After review of the Council's recommendations and public comments, 
NMFS implements through this rule the 2013 ACL, HG, and other annual 
catch references, including the OFL and an ABC that takes into 
consideration uncertainty surrounding the current estimate of biomass 
for Pacific sardine in the U.S. EEZ off the Pacific coast. The CPS FMP 
and its implementing regulations require NMFS to set these annual catch 
levels for the Pacific sardine fishery based on the annual 
specification framework in the FMP. This framework includes a harvest 
control rule that determines the maximum HG, the primary management 
target for the fishery, for the current fishing season. The HG is 
based, in large part, on the current estimate of stock biomass. The 
harvest control rule in the CPS FMP is HG = [(Biomass-CUTOFF) * 
FRACTION * DISTRIBUTION] with the parameters described as follows:
    1. Biomass. The estimated stock biomass of Pacific sardine age one 
and above for the 2013 management season is 659,539 mt.
    2. CUTOFF. This is the biomass level below which no commercial 
fishery is allowed. The FMP established this level at 150,000 mt.
    3. DISTRIBUTION. The average portion of the Pacific sardine biomass 
estimated in the EEZ off the Pacific coast is 87 percent.
    4. FRACTION. The harvest fraction is the percentage of the biomass 
above 150,000 mt that may be harvested.
    At the November 2012 Council meeting, the Council adopted the 2013 
Stock Assessment of the Pacific sardine resource completed by NMFS 
Southwest Fisheries Science Center and the resulting Pacific sardine 
biomass estimate of 659,539 mt. Based on the framework in the CPS FMP 
and recommendations from its SSC and other advisory bodies, the Council 
recommended and NMFS is implementing, an OFL of 103,284 mt, ABC of 
94,281 mt, an ACL of 94,281 mt (equal to the ABC) and a maximum HG (HGs 
under the CPS FMP are operationally similar to annual catch targets 
(ACT)) of 66,495 metric tons (mt) for the 2013 Pacific sardine fishing 
year. Due to an approximately 33 percent decrease in the biomass 
estimate from 2012, the result of the HG formula is approximately 
40,000 mt less than the 2012 HG. As described above, annual biomass 
estimates are a parameter of the various harvest control rules, 
therefore as estimated biomass decreases or increases from one year to 
the next, the resulting allowable catch levels, such as the HG, will 
necessarily decrease or increase too. These catch specifications are 
based on the most recent stock assessment and the control rules 
established in the CPS FMP.
    The Council also recommended, and NMFS is implementing, a reduced 
initial overall commercial fishing HG of 57,495 mt allocated across the 
three allocation periods for sardine management. This number has been 
reduced from the maximum HG of 66,495 mt by 9,000 mt: (i) For potential 
harvest by the Quinault Indian Nation of up to 6,000 mt; and (ii) 3,000 
mt, which is initially reserved for potential use under an exempted 
fishing permit(s) (EFPs). The Council also recommended and NMFS is 
implementing that incidental catch set asides be put in place for each 
allocation period. The purpose of the incidental set-aside allotments 
and allowance of an incidental catch-only fishery is to allow for the 
restricted incidental landings of Pacific sardine in other fisheries, 
particularly other CPS fisheries, when a seasonal directed fishery is 
closed. The intent of this measure is to reduce of Pacific sardine in 
other CPS fisheries and allow for continued prosecution of these other 
important fisheries that may incidentally catch sardine if and when the 
sardine fishery is closed.
    For the 2013 Pacific sardine fishing season, the incidental set 
asides and adjusted directed harvest levels for each period are shown 
in the following table in metric tons:

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                           January 1- June       July 1-        September 15-
                                                 30           September 14       December 31          Total
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Total Seasonal Allocation...............            20,123            22,998            14,374            57,495
                                                     (35%)             (40%)             (25%)

[[Page 36118]]

 
Incidental Set Aside....................             1,000             1,000             1,000             3,000
Adjusted Directed Harvest Allocation....            19,123            21,998            13,374            54,495
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The 2013 HG is already well below the ACL, and additional inseason 
accountability measures are in place to ensure the actual catch levels 
never exceed the HG. If during any of the seasonal allocation periods 
the applicable directed harvest allocation is projected to be taken, 
fishing will be closed to directed harvest and only incidental harvest 
would be allowed. For the remainder of the period, any incidental 
Pacific sardine landings will be counted against that period's 
incidental set-aside. As an additional accountability measure, the 
incidental fishery will also be constrained to a 40 percent by weight 
incidental catch rate when Pacific sardine are landed with other CPS so 
as to minimize the targeting of Pacific sardine and reduce potential 
discard of sardine. In the event that an incidental set-aside is 
projected to be attained, the incidental fishery will be closed for the 
remainder of the period. If the set-aside is not fully attained or is 
exceeded in a given seasonal period, the directed harvest allocation in 
the following seasonal period will automatically be adjusted upward or 
downward accordingly to account for the discrepancy. Additionally, if 
during any seasonal period the directed harvest allocation is not fully 
attained or is exceeded, then the following period's directed harvest 
total will be adjusted to account for the discrepancy as well.
    If the total HG or these apportionment levels for Pacific sardine 
are reached or are expected to be reached, the Pacific sardine fishery 
will be closed until it re-opens either the next period per the 
allocation scheme or at the beginning of the next fishing season. The 
NMFS Southwest Regional Administrator will publish a notice in the 
Federal Register announcing the date of any closure to either directed 
or incidental fishing. Additionally, to ensure that the regulated 
community is informed of any closure, NMFS will also make announcements 
through other means available, including fax, email, and mail to 
fishermen, processors, and state fishery management agencies.
    At the March 2013 Council meeting, the Council approved and 
subsequently made a recommendation to NMFS to approve an EFP for all of 
the 3,000 mt EFP set-aside. NMFS will likely make a decision on whether 
to issue an EFP for Pacific sardine sometime prior to the start of the 
second seasonal period (July 1, 2013). Any set-aside attributed to an 
EFP designed to be conducted during the closed fishing time in the 
second allocation period (prior to September 15), but not utilized, 
will roll into the third allocation period's directed fishery.
    As explained in the proposed rule, 6,000 mt of the HG is being set 
aside for use by the Quinault Indian Nation. NMFS will consult with 
Quinault Department of Fisheries staff and Quinault Fisheries Policy 
representatives at the end of the second allocation period to determine 
whether any part of this set-aside is available for transfer into the 
non-tribal directed fishery.
    Detailed information on the fishery and the stock assessment are 
found in the report ``Assessment of the Pacific Sardine Resource in 
2012 for U.S. Management in 2013'' (see ADDRESSES).
    On January 31, 2013, NMFS published a proposed rule for this action 
and solicited public comments (78 FR 6794). NMFS received multiple 
comments from one commenter regarding the Pacific sardine annual 
specifications.
    Comment 1: The commenter requested that NMFS disapprove the 
proposed action because the annual catch limit, harvest guideline (HG), 
and associated reference points such as the OFL, do not reflect the 
best available science for setting catch levels and will result in 
catch levels that fail to prevent overfishing, fail to achieve optimum 
yield (OY), are detrimental to the sardine stock as well as sardine 
predators and that ecological factors were not considered during the 
process of developing these specifications. Specifically, the commenter 
states that the value used for the FMSY parameter in the OFL 
control rule for 2013 does not represent the best available 
information, questions the use of the mid-year biomass estimate from 
the stock assessment used to determine the 2013 catch levels, and 
suggests that the distribution parameter be revised because it does not 
reflect catch levels in Mexico and Canada. Additionally, the commenter 
questions the values used for the CUTOFF and FRACTION parameters of the 
HG control rule as well as the overfished criteria for Pacific sardine.
    Response: The CPS FMP and its implementing regulations require NMFS 
to set an OFL, ABC, ACL and HG for the Pacific sardine fishery using 
the control rules set in the FMP. Reconsideration of the existing 
control rules and their parameters, as well as other aspects of Pacific 
sardine management such as overfished criteria, is beyond the scope of 
this rulemaking. However, in addition to responding to the comments 
about the 18% FMSY parameter used in the OFL control rule, 
the mid-year biomass estimate used for setting 2013 harvest levels 
(OFL, ABC/ACL and HG), for information purposes only, NMFS will respond 
to some aspects of the comments that are beyond the scope of this 
action, such the distribution parameter used in the three control 
rules.
    Disapproving this action, as requested by the commenter because of 
their perceived conservation concerns (as explained above), would allow 
the fishery to take place without any HG or quota. The HG and seasonal 
allocations, along with the OFL and ABC, are the principal mechanisms 
for preventing overfishing of Pacific sardine and managing the fishery 
at a level that will achieve OY while allowing equitable access to all 
sectors of the fishery.
    The commenter stated that the 2013 harvest levels do not achieve 
OY, do not prevent overfishing, and that ecological factors were not 
considered in the setting of the 2013 catch levels. With regard to OY, 
as described in the FMP, catch levels determined from the HG formula 
will result in OY. The 2013 HG (i.e., the directed fishing management 
target for the 2013 season) was determined using this HG formula. 
Directed commercial fishing is not allowed above this level and 
management measures are in place to prevent the fishery from exceeding 
it (i.e., in-season catch monitoring, in-season closures and incidental 
catch set-asides). As it relates to overfishing, the 2013 HG catch 
level is approximately 36,000 mt below the 2013 OFL, providing a large 
buffer against overfishing. This lower HG is the result of OY 
considerations, including ecological, and the management strategy in 
the CPS FMP that for 2013 establishes a catch level much lower than is 
needed to simply avoid overfishing or because of a risk of exceeding 
the ABC/ACL due to management uncertainty. These

[[Page 36119]]

considerations and precautions are based on the environmentally driven 
dynamic nature of the Pacific sardine stock as well as its importance 
in the ecosystem as forage for other species. Additionally, the HG 
control rule explicitly protects the stock from approaching an 
overfished condition (while explicitly reducing fishing if biomass 
decreases) through the use of a 150,000 mt CUTOFF parameter (level at 
fishing is prohibited) that is three times that of the overfished level 
(50,000 mt). Although not the subject of this rulemaking, the commenter 
questions the values used for the CUTOFF parameter as well as the 
overfished level. NMFS notes that the use of a CUTOFF parameter is not 
a requirement of the MSA or National Standard Guidelines and it is a 
proactive and precautionary policy choice of the CPS FMP to have an 
explicit rebuilding mechanism built into the control rule. With regards 
to the overfished level, it represents the best available science and 
is the level that on average can be expected to rebuild the stock in 
ten years. Additionally, low biomass conditions for Pacific sardine may 
result from overfishing, unfavorable environmental conditions, or both 
acting in concert. Experience with CPS stocks around the world 
indicates that overfished/low biomass conditions usually occur when 
unfavorable environmental conditions and high fishing mortality rates 
occur at the same time. Management measures for sardine do not, 
however, depend on whether a low biomass condition was due to excess 
fishing or unfavorable environmental conditions, because reductions in 
fishing mortality are required in either case.
    Furthermore, ecological factors such as the life-cycles, 
distributions, and population dynamics of the Pacific sardine, as well 
as their role as forage were considered and evaluated in developing the 
various control rules. Beyond the ecological factors used in the 
development of the control rules, other ecological information related 
to the annual management of CPS is presented to the Council through the 
annual CPS Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation which contains a 
chapter titled Ecosystem Considerations. In this chapter, information 
on climate and oceanographic conditions such as El Ni[ntilde]o and the 
Pacific Decadal Oscillation are presented, as well as ecosystem trends 
and indicators relevant to CPS such as sea surface temperature, ocean 
productivity and copepod abundance. Additionally, NMFS also considered 
ecological information in its review of the 2013 Pacific sardine 
specifications through both the Environmental Assessment (EA) and the 
Essential Fish Habitat consultation. The EA analyzed the effects of the 
proposed action on the environment, which included an examination of 
available ecosystem and predator/prey modeling efforts. NMFS is unaware 
of any additional ecological factors that warranted changes to the 
proposed 2013 Pacific sardine specifications.
    Contrary to the opinion of the commenter, the 2013 Pacific sardine 
ACL, HG, and associated annual reference points are based on the best 
available science. As explained above under SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION, 
this year's biomass estimate used for the 2013 specifications went 
through extensive review, and along with the resulting OFL and ABC, was 
endorsed by the Council's SSC and NMFS as the best available science. 
As noted by the commenter, the SSC did recommend that future 
evaluations of the harvest control rules consider basing annual 
management on the biomass estimate from the stock assessment that 
aligns with at the start of the fishing year (currently management is 
based on the mid-year biomass estimate versus the end-year biomass from 
the stock assessment), however such a change has not been formally 
evaluated and the SSC did not recommend deviating from using the mid-
year biomass estimate (which has been the practice for the last ten 
years) for management in 2013.
    As it relates to the 2013 OFL, the commenter voiced concern with 
regard to the value (18 percent) used for the FMSY parameter 
in the OFL and ABC control rules. The value of the FMSY 
parameter used in the OFL and the ABC control rules is not prescribed 
in the FMP. The value used for 2013 of 18 percent represented the best 
available science and was endorsed by the SSC and NMFS. This value was 
also recommended as best available science for setting the 2012 annual 
specifications. Using 18% (the result of modeling work in 2011) was 
recommended for both 2012 and 2013 as an alternative to the default 
option of applying the temperature-stock relationship that is used for 
determining the FRACTION parameter due to uncertainty surrounding this 
relationship. The default option would have resulted in an 
FMSY of 19.85%. NMFS acknowledges that future work, 
particularly work involving sardine recruitment success and 
environmental variables, may provide alternative ways of estimating 
FMSY for these control rules, however a new approach would 
need to be analyzed and then reviewed by the SSC, the Council, and NMFS 
before it could be used in management.
    In the three control rules, the U.S. catch levels for Pacific 
sardine are prorated by an ``estimate of the portion of the stock 
resident in U.S. waters'' using a ``distribution parameter'' of 87%. 
This approach is laid out in the FMP itself, and is intended to account 
for the fact that some level of the sardine stock exists outside of US 
waters and can therefore be subject to harvest by fisheries in 
neighboring countries. The 87% was chosen based on the best information 
available, and in light of the absence of an international agreement 
governing management of Pacific sardine off the West Coast. The 
commenter however, inappropriately conflates stock biomass distribution 
with catch distribution. The distribution parameter, as defined in the 
FMP, is an estimate of the long-term average of the portion of total 
stock biomass occurring in U.S. waters, and is simply a way to prorate 
the biomass estimate used to calculate U.S. catch levels, it is not a 
prescription of actual catch levels by fishing vessels of the U.S., 
Canada and Mexico in any given year.
    As part of the rationale presented by the commenter as to why the 
current value of 87 percent for the DISTRIBUTION parameter is 
incorrect, the commenter points to sardine catch in Mexico and the fact 
that Mexico caught 51 percent of the total coastwide catch in 2011. The 
commenter states that because Mexico caught 51 percent of the total 
Pacific sardine catch that year, and this value exceeds 13 percent (the 
percent of total biomass assumed under the current default approach to 
occur outside U.S. waters), that the 87 percent biomass distribution 
used in the FMP is therefore incorrect. However, this rationale 
confuses the concepts of catch and biomass with other incorrect 
assumptions. For instance, the sardine control rules were not developed 
with the assumption that the entire sardine biomass is readily 
available to the U.S. fleet, that there are no other fishing 
restrictions, or that U.S. fishing restrictions match those of other 
countries. Obviously, these assumptions are not correct. For instance 
due to the seasonal allocation structure of the U.S. sardine HG and 
seasonal closures that occurred 2011 the U.S. fishery was only open for 
83 days that year, while Mexico and Canada were not bound by this same 
restriction. The U.S. fishery is also bound by other restrictions such 
as limited entry and trip limits that likely reduce the total amount of 
sardines caught in U.S. waters. In fact, the U.S. only caught 34 
percent of the total

[[Page 36120]]

coastwide catch in 2011, which resulted in only a 5 percent stock 
exploitation rate by the U.S. Additionally, because of the migratory 
nature of the sardine stock and their movement between spawning grounds 
and feeding grounds, both of which change annually and seasonally, the 
biomass in any given year is not evenly distributed along the coast and 
therefore not equally available to any country or evenly distributed 
among specific fleet or port complexes within the U.S. Therefore, the 
87% distribution parameter is not ``incorrect'' merely because it does 
not reflect catch levels between the three countries in any one year; 
it was neither intended to reflect catch levels nor keep total catches 
under a certain level as the commenter states.
    Additionally, the commenter points to ongoing work by the NMFS 
Southwest Fisheries Science Center that is examining sardine stock 
structure along the west coast; along with potential ways to determine 
and differentiate the two subpopulations of Pacific sardine within 
landings in Southern California and Mexico. Although such research, as 
that referenced by the commenter, may eventually help distinguish the 
catch of the two sardine subpopulations, 87 percent still represents 
the best available science with regard to overall biomass distribution 
and is therefore appropriate for use in the sardine control rules.
    NFMS recognizes that properly accounting for the trans-boundary 
nature of stocks, such as Pacific sardine, is difficult. The CPS FMP 
sets sardine harvest levels for U.S. fisheries by prorating the biomass 
used to calculate the target harvest level according to the portion of 
the stock estimated to be in U.S. waters on average over time. The 
primary advantage of prorating the total target harvest level is that 
U.S. fisheries can be managed unilaterally in a responsible manner that 
is consistent with the MSA. Although estimates of Mexican and Canadian 
landings are not considered explicitly in determining annual harvest 
levels for U.S. waters, landings and fishery data from both Mexico and 
Canada are used to assess the coastwide biomass. Therefore, because the 
allowable harvest level in U.S. waters ultimately depends on this 
biomass estimate, U.S. harvest will be reduced if the stock is depleted 
by fishing in either Mexico or Canada.
    Finally, with regard to the commenter's concern that U.S. fishing 
levels exceed a combined United States, Mexico and Canada overfishing 
limit, this is unfounded because there is no such coastwise limit: 
Pacific sardine is not managed under an international agreement, and 
the FMP does not prescribe an international overfishing level. However, 
NMFS will continue to monitor the total exploitation status of the 
stock to assess whether the stock is becoming overfished. Additionally, 
recent years' exploitation rates have been relatively conservative and 
well below levels that are likely to cause the stock to become 
overfished. The total international exploitation rate on the stock has 
averaged approximately only 13 percent over the last 10 years and in 
2011 was about 15 percent, with U.S. annual exploitation rates 
averaging 7 percent since 2000; the 2011 U.S. exploitation rate was 
about 5 percent. Beyond prorating the biomass to calculate U.S. 
harvest, the Council and NOAA might consider alternative ways of 
accounting for the transboundary nature of the stock in the future.
    Additionally, because sardine is a variable stock that undergoes 
extended periods of low and high biomass even in the absence of 
fishing, to help ensure Pacific sardine is not overfished, under the 
FMP's harvest policy whether sardine biomass decreases as a result of 
fishing pressure or environmental conditions, harvest in U.S. waters 
will automatically decrease as well. Because of this precautionary 
feature of the harvest control rule, the approximately 33 percent 
decline in biomass from 2012 to 2013, has resulted in a 60 percent 
decrease in the 2013 HG compared to 2012.
    Comment 2: The same commenter also stated that the Environmental 
Assessment (EA) prepared for this action was inadequate because it 
should have included a greater range of alternatives, and because 
alternative methods for determining the annual specifications should be 
analyzed in an Environment Impact Statement (EIS).
    Response: This year's specifications fall within the analysis in 
the EIS prepared for the CPS FMP under the National Environmental 
Policy Act. The EA completed for this action demonstrates that the 
implementation of the 2013 catch levels for the Pacific sardine fishery 
based on the HG and ABC control rules in the FMP will not significantly 
impact the quality of the human environment. Therefore a new EIS is not 
necessary.
    With regard to the scope and range of alternatives, the six 
alternatives analyzed in the EA was a reasonable number and covered an 
appropriate scope based on the limited nature of this action, which is 
described above. The six alternatives (including the proposed action) 
were objectively evaluated in recognition of the purpose and need of 
this action and the framework process in place based on the HG and ABC 
control rules for setting catch levels for Pacific sardine. The CPS FMP 
describes a specific framework process for annually setting required 
catch levels and reference points. Although there is some flexibility 
built into this process concerning determinations of scientific and 
management uncertainty, there is little discretion in the OFL control 
rules (level for determining overfishing), the ABC control rule (used 
to determine the ACL), or the HG control rule (level at which directed 
fishing is stopped), with the annual biomass estimate being the primary 
determinant in both these levels.

Classification

    The Administrator, Southwest Region, NMFS, determined that this 
action is necessary for the conservation and management of the Pacific 
sardine fishery and that it is consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens 
Fishery Conservation and Management Act and other applicable laws.
    This final rule is exempt from review under Executive Order 12866.
    The results of the Final Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (FRFA) 
completed for this action are below. For copies of the complete FRFA, 
please see the ADDRESSES section above. No issues were raised by public 
comments in response to the Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis 
(IRFA) prepared pursuant to the Regulatory Flexibility Act for this 
action or on the economic impacts of the rule generally. As well as 
stated below, a description of the action, why it is being considered, 
and the legal basis for this action are contained at the beginning of 
this section in the preamble and in the SUMMARY section of the 
preamble.
    The purpose of this action is to implement the 2013 annual 
specifications for Pacific sardine in the U.S. EEZ off the Pacific 
coast. The CPS FMP and its implementing regulations require NMFS to set 
an OFL, ABC, ACL and HG or ACT for the Pacific sardine fishery based on 
the specified harvest control rules in the FMP. A specific harvest 
control rule is applied to the current stock biomass estimate to derive 
the annual HG, which is used to manage the directed commercial take of 
Pacific sardine.
    The HG is apportioned based on the following allocation scheme: 35 
percent of the HG is allocated coastwide on January 1; 40 percent of 
the HG, plus any portion not harvested from the initial allocation is 
then reallocated coastwide on July 1; and on September 15 the remaining 
25 percent, plus any portion not harvested from earlier allocations 
will be released. If the total

[[Page 36121]]

HG or these apportionment levels for Pacific sardine are reached at any 
time, the Pacific sardine fishery will close until either it re-opens 
per the allocation scheme or the beginning of the next fishing season. 
There is no limit on the amount of catch that any single vessel can 
take during an allocation period or the year; the HG and seasonal 
allocations are available until fully utilized by the entire CPS fleet.
    The U.S. Small Business Administration defines small businesses 
engaged in fishing as those vessels with annual revenues of or below $4 
million. The small entities that would be affected by this action are 
the vessels that compose the West Coast CPS small purse seine fleet. In 
2012 there were approximately 96 vessels permitted to operate in the 
directed sardine fishery component of the CPS fishery off the U.S. West 
Coast; 55 are vessels in the Federal CPS limited entry fishery off 
California (south of 39 N. lat.), and a combined 23 vessels in Oregon 
and Washington's state Pacific sardine fisheries. The annual per vessel 
revenue in 2012 for the West Coast CPS finfish fleet was well below $4 
million and no vessels reported revenue of greater than $4 million; 
therefore, all of these vessels are considered small businesses under 
the RFA. Because each affected vessel is a small business, this action 
has an equal effect on all of these small entities, and there will not 
be any disproportionate impact on small entities.
    The profitability of these vessels as a result of this action is 
based on the average Pacific sardine ex-vessel price per mt. NMFS used 
average Pacific sardine ex-vessel price per mt to conduct a 
profitability analysis because cost data for the harvesting operations 
of CPS finfish vessels was unavailable.
    For the 2012 fishing year approximately 105,000 mt were available 
for harvest by the directed fishery. Approximately 95,000 mt (21,000 in 
California and 74,000 mt in Oregon and Washington) of this HG were 
harvested during the 2012 fishing season, for an estimated ex-vessel 
value of $20 million. Using these figures, the average 2012 ex-vessel 
price per mt of Pacific sardines was approximately $208.
    The directed commercial fishing HG for the 2013 Pacific sardine 
fishing season (January 1, 2013 through December 31, 2013) is 57,495 
(mt). This HG is approximately 47,000 mt less than the directed 
commercial fishing HG for 2012. If the fleet were to take the entire 
2013 HG, and assuming a coastwide average ex-vessel price per mt of 
$204 (average of 2011 and 2012 ex-vessel), the potential revenue to the 
fleet would be approximately $12 million. Therefore, this action will 
decrease the affected small entities' potential profitability compared 
to last season, due to the lower HG this fishing season. However, 
although there will likely be a drop in profitability to sardine 
harvesting vessels based on this rule compared to last season, from 
2007 through 2011 the average coastwide annual ex-vessel revenue was 
$12.5 million; therefore, at current ex-vessel price per mt, the HG for 
2013 should provide similar revenue to the five years preceding 2012. 
Furthermore, as occurred in 2012, unused sardine from the potential EFP 
or the release of any unused portion of the 6,000-mt set-aside for the 
Quinault Indian Nation might be used to supplement the amount available 
to the directed fishery during the third allocation period (September 
15 through December 31), thereby slightly increasing the potential 
revenue to the fleet.
    Additionally, revenue derived from harvesting Pacific sardine is 
typically only one factor determining the overall revenue for a 
majority of the vessels that harvest Pacific sardine; as a result, the 
economic impact to the fleet from this action cannot be viewed in 
isolation. From year to year, depending on market conditions and 
availability of fish, most CPS/sardine vessels supplement their income 
by harvesting other species. Many vessels in California also harvest 
anchovy, mackerel, and in particular squid, making Pacific sardine only 
one component of a multi-species CPS fishery. For example, market squid 
have been readily available to the fishery in California over the last 
three years with total annual ex-vessel revenue averaging approximately 
$66 million over that time, compared to an annual average ex-vessel 
from sardine of $16 million over that same time period. Additionally, 
many sardine vessels that operate off of Oregon and Washington also 
fish for salmon in Alaska or squid in California during times of the 
year when sardine are not available.
    These vessels typically rely on multiple species for profitability 
because abundance of sardine, like the other CPS stocks, is highly 
associated with ocean conditions and different times of the year, and 
therefore are harvested at various times and areas throughout the year. 
Because each species responds to ocean conditions in its own way, not 
all CPS stocks are likely to be abundant at the same time; therefore, 
as abundance levels and markets fluctuate, it has necessitated that the 
CPS fishery as a whole rely on a group of species for its annual 
revenues. Therefore, although there will be a potential reduction in 
sardine revenue for the small entities affected by this action as 
compared to the previous season, it is difficult to predict exactly how 
this reduction will impact overall annual revenue for the fleet.
    There are no significant alternatives to this action that would 
accomplish the objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and would also 
minimize any significant economic impact of this action on the affected 
small entities. The CPS FMP and its implementing regulations require 
NMFS to set an annual HG for the Pacific sardine fishery based on the 
harvest formula in the FMP. The harvest formula is applied to the 
current stock biomass estimate to determine the HG. Therefore, if the 
estimated biomass decreases or increases from one year to the next, the 
HG will necessarily decrease or increase too. Because the current stock 
biomass estimate decreased from 2012 to 2013, the HG also decreased. 
Determining the annual HG merely implements the established procedures 
of the FMP with the goal of continuing to provide expected net benefits 
to the nation, regardless of what the specific allowable harvest of 
Pacific sardine is determined to be for 2013.
    There are no reporting, record-keeping, or other compliance 
requirements required by this rule. Additionally, no other Federal 
rules duplicate, overlap, or conflict with this rule.

Small Business Compliance Guide

    Section 212 of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness 
Act of 1996 states that, for each rule or group of related rules for 
which an agency is required to prepare a FRFA, the agency shall publish 
one or more guides to assist small entities in complying with the rule, 
and shall designate such publications as ``small entity compliance 
guides.'' The agency shall explain the actions a small entity is 
required to take to comply with a rule or group of rules. As part of 
this rulemaking process, a notice to fishermen that also serves as a 
small entity compliance guide (guide) was prepared and will be 
distributed to fishermen and processors. The guide is also available on 
the internet at https://swr.nmfs.noaa.gov. Copies of this final rule and 
guide, i.e., the notice to fishermen, will be available upon request 
from the Southwest Regional Office (see ADDRESSES).

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


[[Page 36122]]


    Dated: June 11, 2013.
Samuel D. Rauch III,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, performing the 
functions and duties of the Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, 
National Marine Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2013-14335 Filed 6-14-13; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P