Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Pacific Cod Pot Gear Fishing Closure in the Pribilof Islands Habitat Conservation Zone in the Bering Sea, 51520-51525 [2014-20682]

Download as PDF 51520 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 168 / Friday, August 29, 2014 / Proposed Rules III. Internet Web Site for Rulemaking Information The EPA has also established a Web site for this rulemaking at http:// www.epa.gov/airquality/ particlepollution/designations/ 2012standards/index.htm. The Web site includes the state and tribal designation recommendations, information supporting the EPA’s preliminary designation decisions, as well as the rulemaking actions and other related information that the public may find useful. Dated: August 20, 2014. Mary Henigin, Acting Director, Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards. [FR Doc. 2014–20641 Filed 8–28–14; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 6560–50–P ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY comment on this action, you must do so at this time. DATES: Send your written comments by September 29, 2014. ADDRESSES: Send written comments to Alima Patterson, Region 6, Regional Authorization Coordinator, (6PD–O), Multimedia Planning and Permitting Division, at the address shown below. You can examine copies of the materials submitted by the State of Oklahoma during normal business hours at the following locations: EPA Region 6, 1445 Ross Avenue, Dallas, Texas 75202–2733, phone number (214) 665–8533; or Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality, 707 North Robinson, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73101–1677, (405) 702– 7180. Comments may also be submitted electronically or through hand delivery/ courier; please follow the detailed instructions in the ADDRESSES section of the direct final rule which is located in the Rules section of this Federal Register. [FRL–9915–96–Region–6; EPA–R06–RCRA– 2013–0785] FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: 40 CFR Part 271 SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Oklahoma: Final Authorization of State Hazardous Waste Management Program Revisions Alima Patterson (214) 665–8533. For additional information, please see the immediate final rule published in the ‘‘Rules and Regulations’’ section of this Federal Register. AGENCY: Environmental Protection Agency. ACTION: Proposed rule. Dated: August 5, 2014. Ron Curry, Regional Administrator, Region 6. The State of Oklahoma has applied to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for Final authorization of the changes to its hazardous waste program under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). EPA proposes to grant Final authorization to the State of Oklahoma. In the ‘‘Rules and Regulations’’ section of this Federal Register, EPA is authorizing the changes by an immediate final rule. EPA did not make a proposal prior to the direct final rule because we believe this action is not controversial and do not expect comments that oppose it. We have explained the reasons for this authorization in the preamble to the direct final rule. Unless we get written comments which oppose this authorization during the comment period, the direct final rule will become effective on the date it establishes, and we will not take further action on this proposal. If we receive comments that oppose this action, we will withdraw the direct final rule and it will not take effect. We will then respond to public comments in a later final rule based on this proposal. You may not have another opportunity for comment. If you want to [FR Doc. 2014–20648 Filed 8–28–14; 8:45 am] wreier-aviles on DSK5TPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS SUMMARY: VerDate Mar<15>2010 15:20 Aug 28, 2014 Jkt 232001 BILLING CODE 6560–50–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 679 [Docket No. 120706220–4693–01] RIN 0648–BC34 Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Pacific Cod Pot Gear Fishing Closure in the Pribilof Islands Habitat Conservation Zone in the Bering Sea National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments. AGENCY: NMFS issues a proposed rule that would implement Amendment 103 to the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Groundfish of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Management Area SUMMARY: PO 00000 Frm 00013 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 (BSAI FMP) to close year-round the Pribilof Islands Habitat Conservation Zone (PIHCZ) to directed fishing for Pacific cod with pot gear to minimize bycatch and prevent overfishing of Pribilof Islands blue king crab (PIBKC). This action would promote the goals and objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the FMP, and other applicable law. DATES: Submit comments on or before September 29, 2014. ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by NOAA– NMFS–2012–0141, by any of the following methods: • Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to http://www.regulations.gov/ #!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-20120141, click the ‘‘Comment Now!’’ icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments. • Mail: Address written comments to Glenn Merrill, Assistant Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian. Mail comments to P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802–1668. Instructions: 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 by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address), confidential business information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly accessible. 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, Excel, or Adobe PDF file formats only. Electronic copies of the BSAI FMP, Amendment 103 to the BSAI FMP, the Environmental Assessment (EA), and the Regulatory Impact Review/Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (RIR/ IRFA) prepared for this action are available from http:// www.regulations.gov or from the NMFS Alaska Region Web site at http:// alaskafisheries.noaa.gov. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Sarah Ellgen, 907–586–7228. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NMFS manages the BSAI groundfish fisheries under the FMP for groundfish in the BSAI management area (BSAI FMP). The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) prepared the FMP E:\FR\FM\29AUP1.SGM 29AUP1 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 168 / Friday, August 29, 2014 / Proposed Rules under the authority of the MagnusonStevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) and other applicable laws. General regulations that pertain to U.S. fisheries appear at subpart H of 50 CFR part 600. Regulations implementing the BSAI FMP appear at 50 CFR part 679. The Council submitted Amendment 103 to the BSAI FMP for review by the Secretary of Commerce, and a notice of availability was published in the Federal Register on August 21, 2014 (79 FR 49487), with comments invited through October 20, 2014. Comments may address Amendment 103 to the BSAI FMP, or this proposed rule, but must be received by October 20, 2014, to be considered in the approval/ disapproval decision on Amendment 103 to the BSAI FMP. All comments received by that date, whether specifically directed to Amendment 103 to the BSAI FMP or to this proposed rule will be considered in the approval/ disapproval decision on Amendment 103. wreier-aviles on DSK5TPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS Background The Pribilof Islands blue king crab (PIBKC) stock is managed as a distinct stock and occurs around the islands of Saint Paul and Saint George in the Bering Sea. The PIBKC stock is currently overfished and under a rebuilding plan (69 FR 17651, April 5, 2004). NMFS and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) have implemented a number of increasingly conservative management measures to limit potentially adverse fishery effects on PIBKC. In 1999, as part of the joint management of the crab stocks under the Crab FMP, the ADF&G closed the directed PIBKC fishery due to the declining trend in PIBKC abundance. ADF&G also closed the directed Pribilof Islands red king crab fishery to minimize the bycatch of PIBKC in that fishery. Based on NMFS annual trawl survey data, ADF&G continues to annually close specific State statistical areas where PIBKC are known to occur during the Bristol Bay red king crab, snow crab, and Tanner crab fisheries to minimize PIBKC bycatch in those crab fisheries. NMFS closed the Pribilof Islands Habitat Conservation Zone (PIHCZ) to groundfish trawl gear to protect blue king crab under Amendment 21a to the BSAI FMP (60 FR 4110, January 20, 1995). The PIHCZ was established based on the distribution of the blue king crab recorded in the NMFS annual trawl surveys and on observer data (see proposed Figure 10 to 50 CFR part 679). VerDate Mar<15>2010 15:20 Aug 28, 2014 Jkt 232001 NMFS classified the PIBKC stock as a prohibited species in Table 2b to 50 CFR part 679. The BSAI FMP and implementing regulations at § 679.21 require that the incidental catch of prohibited species be avoided while fishing for groundfish. Regulations at § 679.7(a)(12) prohibit retaining or possessing prohibited species unless permitted to do so under the Prohibited Species Donation program as provided by § 679.26 of this part, or as authorized by other applicable law. Pursuant to these regulations, directed groundfish fisheries must immediately return PIBKC bycatch to the sea with a minimum of injury. Due to chronic low abundance, this stock remains overfished despite these measures to minimize catch of blue king crab. The cause of the continued low PIBKC stock abundance and failure to recover is not well understood. Information included in recent Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation (SAFE) reports suggest that environmental conditions such as changing ocean currents, changing water temperatures, and changing spatial distributions among king crab stocks may contribute to the failure of this stock to recover (see 2010, 2011, 2012 SAFE reports for the PIBKC). While there are no apparent physical barriers to adult dispersal, crab larval dispersal may be affected by local oceanography, which may in turn affect recruitment of the PIBKC stock (see Table 4–4 of the EA). Environmental conditions may also play a role in female crab reproduction and growth; however this relationship is poorly understood (Section 4.5.2 of the EA). The continuing low abundance of PIBKC underscores the need to implement additional measures to minimize PIBKC bycatch in the groundfish fisheries to the extent practicable. The Council considered additional conservation and management measures to further minimize bycatch and prevent overfishing with the goal to rebuild PIBKC. The Council recommended Amendment 103 to address the remaining significant source of PIBKC mortality by prohibiting Pacific cod directed fishing with pot gear in the PIHCZ. The Pacific cod pot fishery occurs within the PIHCZ and had the highest observed bycatch rates of PIBKC across all gear types from 2005 to 2011 (see Section 4.5.4 of the EA). This action is consistent with the PIBKC rebuilding plan, but reduces PIBKC bycatch in the groundfish fishery to address the potential for PIBKC bycatch in the groundfish fishery to exceed the annual PIBKC overfishing limit. PO 00000 Frm 00014 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 51521 The Council recommended closing the PIHCZ to directed fishing for Pacific cod with pot gear based on (1) the high rate of PIBKC bycatch in the PIHCZ relative to other areas outside of the PIHCZ, (2) the high concentration of PIBKC in the PIHCZ, (3) the occurrence of known PIBKC habitat within the PIHCZ, (4) the high rate of PIBKC bycatch in the Pacific cod pot fishery relative to other groundfish fisheries, and (5) the limited impact the Pacific cod pot gear closure in the PIHCZ would have on the Pacific cod pot fishery relative to other groundfish fisheries closures. This proposed action ensures that the reduction of bycatch is focused on the fishery that is most likely to achieve the bycatch reduction with the least economic impacts overall for the groundfish fisheries. In recommending this proposed action, the Council considered a number of management measures designed to reduce PIBKC bycatch in the groundfish fisheries. The Council considered expanding the year-round PIHCZ closure to apply not only to vessels using trawl gear, but also to groundfish fisheries that have contributed to a designated percentage threshold of PIBKC bycatch from 2003 to 2010. The Council also considered implementing groundfish closure areas that would mirror the current ADF&G crab closure areas or that would cover the entire distribution of the PIBKC stock. Such closures would apply to groundfish fisheries that have contributed to greater than a designated percentage threshold of PIBKC bycatch. Finally, the Council considered establishing PIBKC prohibited species catch (PSC) limits. All PIBKC bycatch in all groundfish fisheries would accrue toward the PIBKC PSC limit. Once reached, the PIBKC PSC limit would trigger fishery closures that would apply only to those groundfish fisheries that had contributed to a greater than designated threshold of PIBKC bycatch (triggered closures) (see Section 2 of the EA). The Council evaluated the alternatives based on the best scientific information available, including survey data on location and concentration of PIBKC, historical distribution of PIBKC, environmental conditions and biology of the PIBKC stock, observed PIBKC bycatch rates in all the groundfish fisheries, information on key habitat components for the PIBKC stock, the potential displacement of fishing effort from the alternative closure areas to other fishing grounds, and the economic impact of PIBKC bycatch reductions and closure areas on fishing communities. The Council noted that the best scientific information on PIBKC E:\FR\FM\29AUP1.SGM 29AUP1 wreier-aviles on DSK5TPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS 51522 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 168 / Friday, August 29, 2014 / Proposed Rules location, observed catch rates, and habitat type indicates that the PIHCZ contains the highest concentration of PIBKC as well as PIBKC habitat. The Pacific cod pot gear fishery had the highest observed bycatch rates of PIBKC across all gear types from 2005 to 2011. During this time period, the average observed PIBKC bycatch rate in Pacific cod fisheries using pot gear within the PIHCZ was 0.052 crab per metric ton of groundfish. In the BSAI, the highest and second-highest PIBKC bycatch rates by Pacific cod pot gear are located within the PIHCZ to the northeast and east of St. Paul Island, respectively. Nearly all of the observed PIBKC bycatch was within the PIHCZ. In recommending the prohibition on directed fishing for Pacific cod with pot gear in the PIHCZ, the Council focused on the groundfish sector with the highest observed bycatch rate in an area where the PIBKC stock and habitat are concentrated (see Sections 2.2 and 4.5.5 of the EA). This action would prevent the BSAI groundfish fisheries from exceeding the overfishing level established for the PIBKC stock. Although the PIBKC bycatch in all groundfish fisheries has been below the overfishing level, the Council acknowledged that recent trends in crab bycatch suggest that groundfish fisheries occurring near the Pribilof Islands have the potential to exceed the overfishing level and acceptable biological catch for this stock (see Section 1.1 of the EA). Prohibiting Pacific cod pot fishing in the habitat conservation zone would remove a significant source of crab bycatch mortality and prevent exceeding the PIBKC overfishing level. This proposed action would minimize PIBKC bycatch in the groundfish fisheries to the extent practicable, consistent with National Standard 9. Prohibiting directed fishing for Pacific cod with pot gear in the PIHCZ would prevent PIBKC bycatch in an area of known PIBKC habitat. In recommending the proposed action, the Council noted that Pacific cod catches by vessels using pot gear that occur within the PIHCZ could be effectively harvested outside of the boundary of the PIHCZ; thus, the overall catch of Pacific cod would not be reduced. In addition, in more recent years, Pacific cod pot sector harvests within the PIHCZ have declined considerably to approximately 125 tons with a value of about $200,000, which represents less than one percent of Pacific cod pot fleet total revenue in 2010 (see Sections 1.4.2.1 and 1.4.2.2 of the RIR). According to the RIR, prohibiting fishing for Pacific cod with pot gear in the PIHCZ is practicable for the Pacific cod pot sector because this VerDate Mar<15>2010 15:20 Aug 28, 2014 Jkt 232001 measure is not expected to result in increased operational costs or reduced harvest for this sector. As noted above, the Council evaluated a number of additional alternatives that would further reduce PIBKC bycatch in other groundfish fisheries. The Council did not recommend imposing prohibitions on directed groundfish fishing within the PIHCZ beyond the directed fishing for groundfish using trawl gear and directed fishing for Pacific cod using pot gear. Additional prohibitions were not projected to result in PIBKC bycatch savings, but would likely have serious adverse economic impacts on fishing communities, as the groundfish fisheries attempt to avoid PIBKC bycatch through foregone groundfish catch or increased operating costs. For example, prohibiting directed fishing for Pacific cod with hook-andline gear would have closed the PIHCZ to the groundfish sector having the second highest PIBKC bycatch rate in this area. The observed PIBKC bycatch in the PIHCZ taken by the Pacific cod hook-and-line sector was 347 crabs from 2005 to 2011, amounting to 0.2 percent of the PIBKC stock abundance (see Section 4.5.5.1 of the EA, Table 4–12). However, based on the retrospective analysis, extending the PIHCZ closure to this sector could result in foregone groundfish catch, increased operating costs, and potentially serious negative economic impacts. The Pacific cod hook-and-line sector annually harvests 1,500 tons with a value of $2 million, or about 1.7 percent of this sector’s total revenue, within the PIHCZ. In contrast to the Pacific cod pot sector’s estimated pattern of redeployment outside of the PIHCZ, the retrospective analysis in the RIR indicates that the Pacific cod hookand-line fleet will experience increased operational costs because this sector may need to make up foregone catch by altering fishing patterns in widely dispersed areas outside the PIHCZ that have a history of smaller catches (see Sections 4.5.5.1 of the EA and 1.4.2 of the RIR). In addition, the Pacific cod hook-and-line fishery is managed almost entirely under a voluntary cooperative management structure and can respond to PIBKC bycatch through cooperative management measures in order to avoid bycatch (see Section 4.5.5.1 of the EA). Similarly, the Council did not extend the closure to non-Pacific cod hook-andline and pot fisheries within the PIHCZ because those sectors only had an average PIBKC bycatch rate of 0.0176 per metric ton of groundfish from 2005 to 2011 (see Section 4.5.5.1 of the EA). Based on the much lower observed PIBKC bycatch rate, the bycatch savings PO 00000 Frm 00015 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 from extending the closure in the PIHCZ to those fisheries would likely be negligible and did not outweigh the costs that would be imposed on these fisheries. Although additional closures or extended closure configurations may further reduce PIBKC bycatch in the groundfish fisheries, as contemplated by Alternatives 3, 4, 5, and 6, the Council noted numerous stock distribution and observer coverage issues with respect to these alternatives. Area closures outside the PIHCZ and area closures triggered by fishery-wide PIBKC PSC limits would not be viable at this time because of the difficulty in establishing the PIBKC stock boundary, the current limitations in distinguishing and accounting for bycatch of PIBKC from bycatch of St. Matthew Island blue king crab in the groundfish fisheries, and the resulting limitations in the methodology for estimated mortality of PIBKC relative to stock distribution. For example, the PIBKC stock is located in Federal reporting area 513. However, portions of this stock are also located in Federal reporting areas 521 and 524, areas that are occupied primarily by the St. Matthew Island blue king crab stock. Because the catch accounting system (CAS) is designed to estimate catch across the entire Bering Sea in terms of catch per species, rather than catch per stock, the CAS does not have the resolution to distinguish between crab mortality of St. Matthew and Pribilof Islands blue king crab stocks in these areas. Further, the Council ultimately did not consider trigger cap closures (Alternatives 2c, 5, and 6) viable alternatives due to uncertainty in appropriate definition of the stock area and the resulting current limitations in the methodology for estimating mortality of PIBKC relative to the stock distribution (see Section 4.2.2 of the EA). The potential costs of the various alternatives are shown as tonnage and gross revenue at risk in Tables 1–6 to 1–15 of the RIR. Because of the added administrative costs associated with these closures and because NMFS would be unable to effectively manage these PIBKC bycatch reduction measures at this time, the Council and NMFS believe these alternatives would not be practicable. The Council considered but did not ultimately choose an option available under any of the alternatives to apply increased observer coverage. Observer coverage requirements were modified in 2013 under the restructured Observer Program (77 FR 70062, November 21, 2012), which now requires full observer coverage on catcher/processors, some of which were under 30 percent coverage E:\FR\FM\29AUP1.SGM 29AUP1 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 168 / Friday, August 29, 2014 / Proposed Rules requirements prior to 2013. This change in observer coverage will improve estimation for hook-and-line catcher/ processors operating in the PIHCZ. Catcher vessels, which harvest a very small proportion of the groundfish relative to catcher/processors, are under partial coverage under the restructured Observer Program. Randomized deployment under the restructured Observer Program will improve the quality of data available from the catcher vessel sector and provide additional information on relative catch rates by all fleets (see Section 3.4.1 of the EA). Proposed Regulatory Revisions Required by the Actions NMFS proposes to revise § 679.22(a)(6) to prohibit directed fishing for Pacific cod using pot gear in the PIHCZ. The existing prohibition on the use of trawl gear in the PIHCZ would be retained. In addition, Figure 10 to part 679 would be revised by changing the name from ‘‘Pribilof Islands Habitat Conservation Area in the Bering Sea’’ to read ‘‘Pribilof Islands Habitat Conservation Zone in the Bering Sea’’ to be consistent with the definition of the PIHCZ at § 679.2. The map for Figure 10 would be reformatted for greater accuracy and improved appearance. These format changes are non-substantive. See proposed Figure 10 to part 679. Classification Pursuant to sections 304(b)(1)(A) and 305(d) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the NMFS Assistant Administrator has determined that this proposed rule is consistent with the BSAI FMP, other provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law, subject to further consideration after public comment. This proposed rule has been determined to be not significant for the purposes of Executive Order (E.O.) 12866. wreier-aviles on DSK5TPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis An initial regulatory flexibility analysis (IRFA) was prepared, as required by section 603 of the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA). The IRFA describes the economic impact this proposed rule, if adopted, would have on small entities. A description of the action, why it is being considered, and the legal basis for this action are contained at the beginning of this section in the preamble and in the SUMMARY section of the preamble and are not repeated here. A summary of the analysis follows. A copy of this analysis VerDate Mar<15>2010 15:20 Aug 28, 2014 Jkt 232001 is available from NMFS (see ADDRESSES). On June 12, 2014, the Small Business Administration issued an interim final rule revising the small business size standards for several industries effective July 14, 2014 (79 FR 33647, June 12, 2014). The rule increased the size standard for Finfish Fishing from $19.0 million to $20.5 million, Shellfish Fishing from $ 5.0 million to $5.5 million, and Other Marine Fishing from $7.0 million to $7.5 million. The new size standards were used to prepare the IRFA for this action. Number and Description of Small Entities Regulated by the Proposed Action The entities directly regulated by this proposed action are the owners and operators of vessels directed fishing for Pacific cod using pot gear in the PIHCZ. Earnings from all Alaska fisheries for 2010, the most recent year of complete earnings data, were matched with the vessels that participated in the BSAI groundfish fisheries for that year. Based on the known affiliations and joint ownership of the vessels, a total of 114 vessels caught, or caught and processed, less than $20.5 million ex-vessel value or product value of groundfish and other species in the BSAI. These 114 vessels are considered small entities because they all have annual ex-vessel revenues less than the $20.5 million standard for small finifish fishing vessels under the RFA. Of these 114 vessels, 34 directed fish for Pacific cod using pot gear, and all of these vessels could be regulated by this action. The six Western Alaska Community Development Quota (CDQ) groups and the 65 communities they represent are small entities under the RFA. Each of the CDQ groups receives annual allocations of Pacific cod in the BSAI. The CDQ groups harvest these allocations with vessels they own and vessels they contract with. The vessels owned by the CDQ groups and used to target Pacific cod are primarily large catcher/processors using hook-and-line or trawl gear. In 2012, the CDQ groups harvested 24,402 metric tons of Pacific cod. Less than 15 percent of this catch was made by vessels using pot gear, none of which were owned by the CDQ groups (actual catch using pot gear is confidential). None of the Pacific cod caught by the CDQ groups was harvested within the proposed closure areas. As CDQ groups have never used pot gear to harvest Pacific cod within the proposed closure area, the proposed action is not expected to impact the CDQ groups, the CDQ communities, or the vessels that fish on their behalf. PO 00000 Frm 00016 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 51523 The impacts of the proposed action on directly regulated small entities are analyzed in the IRFA. In recent years, many of the vessels identified in this analysis as having potential small entity impacts have become members of fishing cooperatives. Increased affiliation with the BSAI FreezerLongline Cooperative, as well as various crab cooperatives, has resulted in many vessels now being classified as large entities due to these affiliations. This analysis has incorporated cooperative affiliation information to adjust the numbers of potentially directly regulated small entities and, thereby, the estimate of revenue at risk specific to small entities. The result is evident in the declining small entity impact estimates in 2010, where estimated impacts are near zero for many alternatives with the exception of potential CDQ impacts, which are, by definition, small although the vessels that harvest for CDQ organizations are themselves now large via affiliations. Thus, with increased membership in cooperatives, nearly all of the potentially directly regulated vessels are presently classified as large entities and the potential effects of the proposed action on small entities appears to be de-minimis. Duplicate, Overlapping, or Conflicting Federal Rules No duplication, overlap, or conflict between this proposed action and existing Federal rules has been identified. Description of Significant Alternatives That Minimize Adverse Impacts on Small Entities An IRFA requires a description of any significant alternatives to the preferred alternative that would minimize any significant adverse economic impact of the proposed rule on small entities. The suite of potential actions includes six alternatives with components and options for closures in the Bering Sea to minimize the bycatch of PIBKC and reduce the risk of overfishing. The Council’s preferred alternative, Alternative 2b, was selected as the action alternative. Alternative 2b would close year round the PIHCZ to directed fishing for Pacific cod with pot gear to prevent overfishing of PIBKC and minimize bycatch of PIBKC in groundfish fisheries. Alternative 2b would further reduce PIBKC bycatch mortality in groundfish fisheries, enhancing the likelihood of a successful rebuilding effort. Alternative 1 is the status quo or no action alternative, which would not change the closure to all trawl gear in E:\FR\FM\29AUP1.SGM 29AUP1 wreier-aviles on DSK5TPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS 51524 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 168 / Friday, August 29, 2014 / Proposed Rules the PIHCZ. This alternative does not meet the goals and objectives of the action to minimize bycatch of PIBKC, and would not provide further protection to PIBKC from the potential effects of the groundfish fisheries. Alternatives 2 through 6 would retain all of the current protection measures in place for the PIBKC stock and apply additional measures. These alternatives would establish closure areas for specific groundfish fisheries that are described in the following paragraphs for each alternative. Alternative 2 included three specific methods for closing the PIHCZ to directed fishing for a variety of groundfish fisheries. Alternative 2a would close the PIHCZ on an annual basis to groundfish fisheries that met a threshold of PIBKC bycatch from 2003 to 2010 that is greater than 5 percent of the ABC of PIBKC. Fisheries that met the 5-percent threshold are the Pacific cod hook-and-line fishery, Pacific cod pot fishery, yellowfin sole trawl fishery, and other flatfish trawl fishery. Alternative 2b, the preferred alternative proposed to be implemented by this action, would close the PIHCZ year round to Pacific cod pot fishing. Alternative 2c would close the PIHCZ to directed fishing for Pacific cod by vessels using pot gear if the total PIBKC bycatch in all groundfish fisheries in the BSAI reached 20 percent, 30 percent, or 50 percent of the overall trigger closure cap of 75 percent of the ABC. Alternative 2c would also require vessels directed fishing for Pacific cod with pot gear in the PIHCZ to maintain 100 percent observer coverage. Alternatives 2a and 2c would have a greater impact on small entities than Alternative 2b because more vessels would be subject to potential closures in the PIHCZ. Alternative 2c would also increase the potential costs on small entities by increasing observer coverage requirements for these vessels. Alternative 3 would close the existing ADF&G crab closure area between 168° and 170° West longitude, and between 57° and 58° North latitude to additional fishing effort, in addition to the status quo groundfish trawl closure. Under Alternative 3, Option 3a, this closure would apply to all groundfish fisheries that have contributed greater than a designated threshold to bycatch of PIBKC since 2003. The closure would apply to any fishery that had bycatch of PIBKC between 2003 and 2010 of greater than 5 percent of ABC. Under the 5 percent threshold, the closure would apply to the following fisheries: Yellowfin sole trawl, other flatfish trawl, Pacific cod pot, and Pacific cod hook-and-line. Alternative 3b would VerDate Mar<15>2010 15:20 Aug 28, 2014 Jkt 232001 close the area to directed fishing for Pacific cod only. Alternative 3a would have a greater impact on small entities than Alternative 3b because more vessels would be subject to potential closures in the PIHCZ. While Alternative 3b could potentially have less of an impact on small entities than the other alternatives (data is confidential for all years except 2005), the Alternative 3 closure boundaries exclude southern parts of the PIHCZ where PIBKC bycatch by Pacific cod pot fishing has occurred (see Figure 5–25 in the EA). Alternative 4 would establish a closure throughout the range of the PIBKC based on either the distribution of the PIBKC stock aggregated from 1975 to 2009, or from 1984 to 2009. This range of data represented recent trends of the known distribution of PIBKC based on current stock survey methodologies and is greater than the area closure in the PIHCZ and the ADF&G closures defined under Alternative 3. Alternatives 4a and 4b would establish closures consistent with the same criteria established for Alternatives 2a and 2b, and 3a and 3b, respectively. Alternative 4 would have a greater impact on small entities due to the greater size of the closure. Alternative 5 would establish a PSC limit equal to either the overfishing limit (OFL), the ABC, or a proportion of the ABC for the PIBKC stock. All bycatch of the PIBKC in all groundfish fisheries would accrue toward this PSC limit, and those groundfish fisheries that contributed to greater than a designated threshold of PIBKC bycatch since 2003 would be closed once the fishery-wide PSC limit was reached. Alternative 5 would have four closure area options: Options 5a, 5b, 5c, and 5d, which correspond to the closure areas defined under Alternatives 1, 3, and 4 (1975 to 2009 PIBKC stock distribution and 1984 to 2009 PIBKC stock distribution), respectively. Under each of these options, the closure would be triggered by attainment of a fishery-wide PIBKC PSC limit set at the following options: PSC limit equal to the OFL, PSC limit equal to the ABC, PSC limit equal to 90 percent of the ABC, or PSC limit equal to 75 percent of the ABC. Under Option 5d, under the PSC limit equal to 90 percent of the ABC and the PSC limit equal to 75 percent of the ABC, there would be an additional option for allocation of the PSC limit by gear type: 40 Percent trawl gear, 40 percent pot gear, and 20 percent hookand-line gear. Alternative 6 would have two components: (1) Establish a year-round closure of the PIHCZ to directed fishing PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 for Pacific cod using pot gear, and (2) establish a triggered closure of the area representing the distribution of the PIBKC stock from 1984 to 2009. The PSC limit associated with the triggered closure would be established as a fishery-wide level at 75 percent of the ABC. The PSC limit would be set either in the numbers of crab based on the average weight in the previous season or in numbers of crab based on a rolling 5year average weight. The PSC limit would be further allocated to sectors either by gear type or to all groundfish fisheries in the aggregate by seasons. In addition, each of the alternatives included options to increase observer coverage that could be applied to all fisheries or a specific fishery. The Council ultimately did not consider trigger cap closures (Alternatives 2c, 5, and 6) viable alternatives, due to uncertainty in appropriate definition of the stock area and the resulting current limitations in the methodology for estimating mortality of PIBKC relative to the stock distribution (see discussion in Section 5.2.2 of the EA). These alternatives would not have a measurable impact that would minimize the bycatch of PIBKC relative to status quo. These alternatives could reduce the risk of overfishing, but they would not effectively prevent overfishing, consistent with the goals and objectives of this action. None of the viable alternatives (Alternative 2a, Alternatives 3a and 3b, and Alternatives 4a and 4b) could potentially have less of an impact on fisheries than the Council’s recommended alternative, 2b. Table 1– 34 in the IRFA (see ADDRESSES) provides a comparison of the potential impacts on directly regulated small entities, in terms of gross revenue at risk, under each of the alternatives. Based on the best available scientific data and information, there are no alternatives to the proposed action that have the potential to accomplish the stated objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and any other applicable statutes and that have the potential to minimize any significant adverse economic impact of the proposed rule on directly regulated small entities. Reporting, Recordkeeping, and Other Compliance Requirements This proposed action does not contain reporting, recordkeeping, or other compliance requirements. List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 679 Alaska, Fisheries. E:\FR\FM\29AUP1.SGM 29AUP1 Federal Register / Vol. 79, No. 168 / Friday, August 29, 2014 / Proposed Rules Dated: August 26, 2014. Eileen Sobeck, Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service. PART 679—FISHERIES OF THE EXCLUSIVE ECONOMIC ZONE OFF ALASKA 1. The authority citation for part 679 continues to read as follows: ■ For the reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 679 is proposed to be amended as follows: Authority: 16 U.S.C. 773 et seq.; 1801 et seq.; 3631 et seq.; Pub. L. 108–447. 2. In § 679.22, revise paragraph (a)(6) to read as follows: ■ § 679.22 Closures (a) * * * 51525 (6) Pribilof Islands Habitat Conservation Zone. Directed fishing for groundfish using trawl gear and directed fishing for Pacific cod using pot gear is prohibited at all times in the area defined in Figure 10 to this part as the Pribilof Islands Habitat Conservation Zone. ■ 3. Revise Figure 10 to part 679— including the Figure heading—to read as follows: BILLING CODE 3510–22–P BILLING CODE 3510–22–C VerDate Mar<15>2010 15:20 Aug 28, 2014 Jkt 232001 PO 00000 Frm 00018 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 9990 E:\FR\FM\29AUP1.SGM 29AUP1 EP29AU14.010</GPH> wreier-aviles on DSK5TPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS [FR Doc. 2014–20682 Filed 8–28–14; 8:45 am]

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 168 (Friday, August 29, 2014)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 51520-51525]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-20682]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 679

[Docket No. 120706220-4693-01]
RIN 0648-BC34


Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Pacific Cod 
Pot Gear Fishing Closure in the Pribilof Islands Habitat Conservation 
Zone in the Bering Sea

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

ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: NMFS issues a proposed rule that would implement Amendment 103 
to the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Groundfish of the Bering Sea 
and Aleutian Islands Management Area (BSAI FMP) to close year-round the 
Pribilof Islands Habitat Conservation Zone (PIHCZ) to directed fishing 
for Pacific cod with pot gear to minimize bycatch and prevent 
overfishing of Pribilof Islands blue king crab (PIBKC). This action 
would promote the goals and objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery 
Conservation and Management Act, the FMP, and other applicable law.

DATES: Submit comments on or before September 29, 2014.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by 
NOAA-NMFS-2012-0141, by any of the following methods:
     Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2012-0141, click the 
``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or 
attach your comments.
     Mail: Address written comments to Glenn Merrill, Assistant 
Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region 
NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian. Mail comments to P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, 
AK 99802-1668.
    Instructions: 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 by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the 
public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on 
www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying 
information (e.g., name, address), confidential business information, 
or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily by the sender 
will be publicly accessible. 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, 
Excel, or Adobe PDF file formats only.
    Electronic copies of the BSAI FMP, Amendment 103 to the BSAI FMP, 
the Environmental Assessment (EA), and the Regulatory Impact Review/
Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (RIR/IRFA) prepared for this 
action are available from http://www.regulations.gov or from the NMFS 
Alaska Region Web site at http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Sarah Ellgen, 907-586-7228.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NMFS manages the BSAI groundfish fisheries 
under the FMP for groundfish in the BSAI management area (BSAI FMP). 
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) prepared the FMP

[[Page 51521]]

under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and 
Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) and other applicable laws. 
General regulations that pertain to U.S. fisheries appear at subpart H 
of 50 CFR part 600. Regulations implementing the BSAI FMP appear at 50 
CFR part 679.
    The Council submitted Amendment 103 to the BSAI FMP for review by 
the Secretary of Commerce, and a notice of availability was published 
in the Federal Register on August 21, 2014 (79 FR 49487), with comments 
invited through October 20, 2014. Comments may address Amendment 103 to 
the BSAI FMP, or this proposed rule, but must be received by October 
20, 2014, to be considered in the approval/disapproval decision on 
Amendment 103 to the BSAI FMP. All comments received by that date, 
whether specifically directed to Amendment 103 to the BSAI FMP or to 
this proposed rule will be considered in the approval/disapproval 
decision on Amendment 103.

Background

    The Pribilof Islands blue king crab (PIBKC) stock is managed as a 
distinct stock and occurs around the islands of Saint Paul and Saint 
George in the Bering Sea. The PIBKC stock is currently overfished and 
under a rebuilding plan (69 FR 17651, April 5, 2004). NMFS and the 
Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) have implemented a number of 
increasingly conservative management measures to limit potentially 
adverse fishery effects on PIBKC.
    In 1999, as part of the joint management of the crab stocks under 
the Crab FMP, the ADF&G closed the directed PIBKC fishery due to the 
declining trend in PIBKC abundance. ADF&G also closed the directed 
Pribilof Islands red king crab fishery to minimize the bycatch of PIBKC 
in that fishery. Based on NMFS annual trawl survey data, ADF&G 
continues to annually close specific State statistical areas where 
PIBKC are known to occur during the Bristol Bay red king crab, snow 
crab, and Tanner crab fisheries to minimize PIBKC bycatch in those crab 
fisheries.
    NMFS closed the Pribilof Islands Habitat Conservation Zone (PIHCZ) 
to groundfish trawl gear to protect blue king crab under Amendment 21a 
to the BSAI FMP (60 FR 4110, January 20, 1995). The PIHCZ was 
established based on the distribution of the blue king crab recorded in 
the NMFS annual trawl surveys and on observer data (see proposed Figure 
10 to 50 CFR part 679).
    NMFS classified the PIBKC stock as a prohibited species in Table 2b 
to 50 CFR part 679. The BSAI FMP and implementing regulations at Sec.  
679.21 require that the incidental catch of prohibited species be 
avoided while fishing for groundfish. Regulations at Sec.  679.7(a)(12) 
prohibit retaining or possessing prohibited species unless permitted to 
do so under the Prohibited Species Donation program as provided by 
Sec.  679.26 of this part, or as authorized by other applicable law. 
Pursuant to these regulations, directed groundfish fisheries must 
immediately return PIBKC bycatch to the sea with a minimum of injury.
    Due to chronic low abundance, this stock remains overfished despite 
these measures to minimize catch of blue king crab. The cause of the 
continued low PIBKC stock abundance and failure to recover is not well 
understood. Information included in recent Stock Assessment and Fishery 
Evaluation (SAFE) reports suggest that environmental conditions such as 
changing ocean currents, changing water temperatures, and changing 
spatial distributions among king crab stocks may contribute to the 
failure of this stock to recover (see 2010, 2011, 2012 SAFE reports for 
the PIBKC). While there are no apparent physical barriers to adult 
dispersal, crab larval dispersal may be affected by local oceanography, 
which may in turn affect recruitment of the PIBKC stock (see Table 4-4 
of the EA). Environmental conditions may also play a role in female 
crab reproduction and growth; however this relationship is poorly 
understood (Section 4.5.2 of the EA).
    The continuing low abundance of PIBKC underscores the need to 
implement additional measures to minimize PIBKC bycatch in the 
groundfish fisheries to the extent practicable. The Council considered 
additional conservation and management measures to further minimize 
bycatch and prevent overfishing with the goal to rebuild PIBKC. The 
Council recommended Amendment 103 to address the remaining significant 
source of PIBKC mortality by prohibiting Pacific cod directed fishing 
with pot gear in the PIHCZ. The Pacific cod pot fishery occurs within 
the PIHCZ and had the highest observed bycatch rates of PIBKC across 
all gear types from 2005 to 2011 (see Section 4.5.4 of the EA). This 
action is consistent with the PIBKC rebuilding plan, but reduces PIBKC 
bycatch in the groundfish fishery to address the potential for PIBKC 
bycatch in the groundfish fishery to exceed the annual PIBKC 
overfishing limit.
    The Council recommended closing the PIHCZ to directed fishing for 
Pacific cod with pot gear based on (1) the high rate of PIBKC bycatch 
in the PIHCZ relative to other areas outside of the PIHCZ, (2) the high 
concentration of PIBKC in the PIHCZ, (3) the occurrence of known PIBKC 
habitat within the PIHCZ, (4) the high rate of PIBKC bycatch in the 
Pacific cod pot fishery relative to other groundfish fisheries, and (5) 
the limited impact the Pacific cod pot gear closure in the PIHCZ would 
have on the Pacific cod pot fishery relative to other groundfish 
fisheries closures. This proposed action ensures that the reduction of 
bycatch is focused on the fishery that is most likely to achieve the 
bycatch reduction with the least economic impacts overall for the 
groundfish fisheries.
    In recommending this proposed action, the Council considered a 
number of management measures designed to reduce PIBKC bycatch in the 
groundfish fisheries. The Council considered expanding the year-round 
PIHCZ closure to apply not only to vessels using trawl gear, but also 
to groundfish fisheries that have contributed to a designated 
percentage threshold of PIBKC bycatch from 2003 to 2010. The Council 
also considered implementing groundfish closure areas that would mirror 
the current ADF&G crab closure areas or that would cover the entire 
distribution of the PIBKC stock. Such closures would apply to 
groundfish fisheries that have contributed to greater than a designated 
percentage threshold of PIBKC bycatch. Finally, the Council considered 
establishing PIBKC prohibited species catch (PSC) limits. All PIBKC 
bycatch in all groundfish fisheries would accrue toward the PIBKC PSC 
limit. Once reached, the PIBKC PSC limit would trigger fishery closures 
that would apply only to those groundfish fisheries that had 
contributed to a greater than designated threshold of PIBKC bycatch 
(triggered closures) (see Section 2 of the EA).
    The Council evaluated the alternatives based on the best scientific 
information available, including survey data on location and 
concentration of PIBKC, historical distribution of PIBKC, environmental 
conditions and biology of the PIBKC stock, observed PIBKC bycatch rates 
in all the groundfish fisheries, information on key habitat components 
for the PIBKC stock, the potential displacement of fishing effort from 
the alternative closure areas to other fishing grounds, and the 
economic impact of PIBKC bycatch reductions and closure areas on 
fishing communities.
    The Council noted that the best scientific information on PIBKC

[[Page 51522]]

location, observed catch rates, and habitat type indicates that the 
PIHCZ contains the highest concentration of PIBKC as well as PIBKC 
habitat. The Pacific cod pot gear fishery had the highest observed 
bycatch rates of PIBKC across all gear types from 2005 to 2011. During 
this time period, the average observed PIBKC bycatch rate in Pacific 
cod fisheries using pot gear within the PIHCZ was 0.052 crab per metric 
ton of groundfish. In the BSAI, the highest and second-highest PIBKC 
bycatch rates by Pacific cod pot gear are located within the PIHCZ to 
the northeast and east of St. Paul Island, respectively. Nearly all of 
the observed PIBKC bycatch was within the PIHCZ. In recommending the 
prohibition on directed fishing for Pacific cod with pot gear in the 
PIHCZ, the Council focused on the groundfish sector with the highest 
observed bycatch rate in an area where the PIBKC stock and habitat are 
concentrated (see Sections 2.2 and 4.5.5 of the EA).
    This action would prevent the BSAI groundfish fisheries from 
exceeding the overfishing level established for the PIBKC stock. 
Although the PIBKC bycatch in all groundfish fisheries has been below 
the overfishing level, the Council acknowledged that recent trends in 
crab bycatch suggest that groundfish fisheries occurring near the 
Pribilof Islands have the potential to exceed the overfishing level and 
acceptable biological catch for this stock (see Section 1.1 of the EA). 
Prohibiting Pacific cod pot fishing in the habitat conservation zone 
would remove a significant source of crab bycatch mortality and prevent 
exceeding the PIBKC overfishing level.
    This proposed action would minimize PIBKC bycatch in the groundfish 
fisheries to the extent practicable, consistent with National Standard 
9. Prohibiting directed fishing for Pacific cod with pot gear in the 
PIHCZ would prevent PIBKC bycatch in an area of known PIBKC habitat. In 
recommending the proposed action, the Council noted that Pacific cod 
catches by vessels using pot gear that occur within the PIHCZ could be 
effectively harvested outside of the boundary of the PIHCZ; thus, the 
overall catch of Pacific cod would not be reduced. In addition, in more 
recent years, Pacific cod pot sector harvests within the PIHCZ have 
declined considerably to approximately 125 tons with a value of about 
$200,000, which represents less than one percent of Pacific cod pot 
fleet total revenue in 2010 (see Sections 1.4.2.1 and 1.4.2.2 of the 
RIR). According to the RIR, prohibiting fishing for Pacific cod with 
pot gear in the PIHCZ is practicable for the Pacific cod pot sector 
because this measure is not expected to result in increased operational 
costs or reduced harvest for this sector.
    As noted above, the Council evaluated a number of additional 
alternatives that would further reduce PIBKC bycatch in other 
groundfish fisheries. The Council did not recommend imposing 
prohibitions on directed groundfish fishing within the PIHCZ beyond the 
directed fishing for groundfish using trawl gear and directed fishing 
for Pacific cod using pot gear. Additional prohibitions were not 
projected to result in PIBKC bycatch savings, but would likely have 
serious adverse economic impacts on fishing communities, as the 
groundfish fisheries attempt to avoid PIBKC bycatch through foregone 
groundfish catch or increased operating costs.
    For example, prohibiting directed fishing for Pacific cod with 
hook-and-line gear would have closed the PIHCZ to the groundfish sector 
having the second highest PIBKC bycatch rate in this area. The observed 
PIBKC bycatch in the PIHCZ taken by the Pacific cod hook-and-line 
sector was 347 crabs from 2005 to 2011, amounting to 0.2 percent of the 
PIBKC stock abundance (see Section 4.5.5.1 of the EA, Table 4-12). 
However, based on the retrospective analysis, extending the PIHCZ 
closure to this sector could result in foregone groundfish catch, 
increased operating costs, and potentially serious negative economic 
impacts. The Pacific cod hook-and-line sector annually harvests 1,500 
tons with a value of $2 million, or about 1.7 percent of this sector's 
total revenue, within the PIHCZ. In contrast to the Pacific cod pot 
sector's estimated pattern of redeployment outside of the PIHCZ, the 
retrospective analysis in the RIR indicates that the Pacific cod hook-
and-line fleet will experience increased operational costs because this 
sector may need to make up foregone catch by altering fishing patterns 
in widely dispersed areas outside the PIHCZ that have a history of 
smaller catches (see Sections 4.5.5.1 of the EA and 1.4.2 of the RIR). 
In addition, the Pacific cod hook-and-line fishery is managed almost 
entirely under a voluntary cooperative management structure and can 
respond to PIBKC bycatch through cooperative management measures in 
order to avoid bycatch (see Section 4.5.5.1 of the EA).
    Similarly, the Council did not extend the closure to non-Pacific 
cod hook-and-line and pot fisheries within the PIHCZ because those 
sectors only had an average PIBKC bycatch rate of 0.0176 per metric ton 
of groundfish from 2005 to 2011 (see Section 4.5.5.1 of the EA). Based 
on the much lower observed PIBKC bycatch rate, the bycatch savings from 
extending the closure in the PIHCZ to those fisheries would likely be 
negligible and did not outweigh the costs that would be imposed on 
these fisheries.
    Although additional closures or extended closure configurations may 
further reduce PIBKC bycatch in the groundfish fisheries, as 
contemplated by Alternatives 3, 4, 5, and 6, the Council noted numerous 
stock distribution and observer coverage issues with respect to these 
alternatives. Area closures outside the PIHCZ and area closures 
triggered by fishery-wide PIBKC PSC limits would not be viable at this 
time because of the difficulty in establishing the PIBKC stock 
boundary, the current limitations in distinguishing and accounting for 
bycatch of PIBKC from bycatch of St. Matthew Island blue king crab in 
the groundfish fisheries, and the resulting limitations in the 
methodology for estimated mortality of PIBKC relative to stock 
distribution.
    For example, the PIBKC stock is located in Federal reporting area 
513. However, portions of this stock are also located in Federal 
reporting areas 521 and 524, areas that are occupied primarily by the 
St. Matthew Island blue king crab stock. Because the catch accounting 
system (CAS) is designed to estimate catch across the entire Bering Sea 
in terms of catch per species, rather than catch per stock, the CAS 
does not have the resolution to distinguish between crab mortality of 
St. Matthew and Pribilof Islands blue king crab stocks in these areas. 
Further, the Council ultimately did not consider trigger cap closures 
(Alternatives 2c, 5, and 6) viable alternatives due to uncertainty in 
appropriate definition of the stock area and the resulting current 
limitations in the methodology for estimating mortality of PIBKC 
relative to the stock distribution (see Section 4.2.2 of the EA). The 
potential costs of the various alternatives are shown as tonnage and 
gross revenue at risk in Tables 1-6 to 1-15 of the RIR. Because of the 
added administrative costs associated with these closures and because 
NMFS would be unable to effectively manage these PIBKC bycatch 
reduction measures at this time, the Council and NMFS believe these 
alternatives would not be practicable.
    The Council considered but did not ultimately choose an option 
available under any of the alternatives to apply increased observer 
coverage. Observer coverage requirements were modified in 2013 under 
the restructured Observer Program (77 FR 70062, November 21, 2012), 
which now requires full observer coverage on catcher/processors, some 
of which were under 30 percent coverage

[[Page 51523]]

requirements prior to 2013. This change in observer coverage will 
improve estimation for hook-and-line catcher/processors operating in 
the PIHCZ. Catcher vessels, which harvest a very small proportion of 
the groundfish relative to catcher/processors, are under partial 
coverage under the restructured Observer Program. Randomized deployment 
under the restructured Observer Program will improve the quality of 
data available from the catcher vessel sector and provide additional 
information on relative catch rates by all fleets (see Section 3.4.1 of 
the EA).

Proposed Regulatory Revisions Required by the Actions

    NMFS proposes to revise Sec.  679.22(a)(6) to prohibit directed 
fishing for Pacific cod using pot gear in the PIHCZ. The existing 
prohibition on the use of trawl gear in the PIHCZ would be retained. In 
addition, Figure 10 to part 679 would be revised by changing the name 
from ``Pribilof Islands Habitat Conservation Area in the Bering Sea'' 
to read ``Pribilof Islands Habitat Conservation Zone in the Bering 
Sea'' to be consistent with the definition of the PIHCZ at Sec.  679.2. 
The map for Figure 10 would be reformatted for greater accuracy and 
improved appearance. These format changes are non-substantive. See 
proposed Figure 10 to part 679.

Classification

    Pursuant to sections 304(b)(1)(A) and 305(d) of the Magnuson-
Stevens Act, the NMFS Assistant Administrator has determined that this 
proposed rule is consistent with the BSAI FMP, other provisions of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law, subject to further 
consideration after public comment.
    This proposed rule has been determined to be not significant for 
the purposes of Executive Order (E.O.) 12866.

Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis

    An initial regulatory flexibility analysis (IRFA) was prepared, as 
required by section 603 of the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA). The 
IRFA describes the economic impact this proposed rule, if adopted, 
would have on small entities. A description of the action, why it is 
being considered, and the legal basis for this action are contained at 
the beginning of this section in the preamble and in the SUMMARY 
section of the preamble and are not repeated here. A summary of the 
analysis follows. A copy of this analysis is available from NMFS (see 
ADDRESSES).
    On June 12, 2014, the Small Business Administration issued an 
interim final rule revising the small business size standards for 
several industries effective July 14, 2014 (79 FR 33647, June 12, 
2014). The rule increased the size standard for Finfish Fishing from 
$19.0 million to $20.5 million, Shellfish Fishing from $ 5.0 million to 
$5.5 million, and Other Marine Fishing from $7.0 million to $7.5 
million. The new size standards were used to prepare the IRFA for this 
action.

Number and Description of Small Entities Regulated by the Proposed 
Action

    The entities directly regulated by this proposed action are the 
owners and operators of vessels directed fishing for Pacific cod using 
pot gear in the PIHCZ. Earnings from all Alaska fisheries for 2010, the 
most recent year of complete earnings data, were matched with the 
vessels that participated in the BSAI groundfish fisheries for that 
year. Based on the known affiliations and joint ownership of the 
vessels, a total of 114 vessels caught, or caught and processed, less 
than $20.5 million ex-vessel value or product value of groundfish and 
other species in the BSAI. These 114 vessels are considered small 
entities because they all have annual ex-vessel revenues less than the 
$20.5 million standard for small finifish fishing vessels under the 
RFA. Of these 114 vessels, 34 directed fish for Pacific cod using pot 
gear, and all of these vessels could be regulated by this action.
    The six Western Alaska Community Development Quota (CDQ) groups and 
the 65 communities they represent are small entities under the RFA. 
Each of the CDQ groups receives annual allocations of Pacific cod in 
the BSAI. The CDQ groups harvest these allocations with vessels they 
own and vessels they contract with. The vessels owned by the CDQ groups 
and used to target Pacific cod are primarily large catcher/processors 
using hook-and-line or trawl gear. In 2012, the CDQ groups harvested 
24,402 metric tons of Pacific cod. Less than 15 percent of this catch 
was made by vessels using pot gear, none of which were owned by the CDQ 
groups (actual catch using pot gear is confidential). None of the 
Pacific cod caught by the CDQ groups was harvested within the proposed 
closure areas. As CDQ groups have never used pot gear to harvest 
Pacific cod within the proposed closure area, the proposed action is 
not expected to impact the CDQ groups, the CDQ communities, or the 
vessels that fish on their behalf.
    The impacts of the proposed action on directly regulated small 
entities are analyzed in the IRFA. In recent years, many of the vessels 
identified in this analysis as having potential small entity impacts 
have become members of fishing cooperatives. Increased affiliation with 
the BSAI Freezer-Longline Cooperative, as well as various crab 
cooperatives, has resulted in many vessels now being classified as 
large entities due to these affiliations. This analysis has 
incorporated cooperative affiliation information to adjust the numbers 
of potentially directly regulated small entities and, thereby, the 
estimate of revenue at risk specific to small entities. The result is 
evident in the declining small entity impact estimates in 2010, where 
estimated impacts are near zero for many alternatives with the 
exception of potential CDQ impacts, which are, by definition, small 
although the vessels that harvest for CDQ organizations are themselves 
now large via affiliations. Thus, with increased membership in 
cooperatives, nearly all of the potentially directly regulated vessels 
are presently classified as large entities and the potential effects of 
the proposed action on small entities appears to be de-minimis.

Duplicate, Overlapping, or Conflicting Federal Rules

    No duplication, overlap, or conflict between this proposed action 
and existing Federal rules has been identified.

Description of Significant Alternatives That Minimize Adverse Impacts 
on Small Entities

    An IRFA requires a description of any significant alternatives to 
the preferred alternative that would minimize any significant adverse 
economic impact of the proposed rule on small entities. The suite of 
potential actions includes six alternatives with components and options 
for closures in the Bering Sea to minimize the bycatch of PIBKC and 
reduce the risk of overfishing.
    The Council's preferred alternative, Alternative 2b, was selected 
as the action alternative. Alternative 2b would close year round the 
PIHCZ to directed fishing for Pacific cod with pot gear to prevent 
overfishing of PIBKC and minimize bycatch of PIBKC in groundfish 
fisheries. Alternative 2b would further reduce PIBKC bycatch mortality 
in groundfish fisheries, enhancing the likelihood of a successful 
rebuilding effort.
    Alternative 1 is the status quo or no action alternative, which 
would not change the closure to all trawl gear in

[[Page 51524]]

the PIHCZ. This alternative does not meet the goals and objectives of 
the action to minimize bycatch of PIBKC, and would not provide further 
protection to PIBKC from the potential effects of the groundfish 
fisheries.
    Alternatives 2 through 6 would retain all of the current protection 
measures in place for the PIBKC stock and apply additional measures. 
These alternatives would establish closure areas for specific 
groundfish fisheries that are described in the following paragraphs for 
each alternative.
    Alternative 2 included three specific methods for closing the PIHCZ 
to directed fishing for a variety of groundfish fisheries. Alternative 
2a would close the PIHCZ on an annual basis to groundfish fisheries 
that met a threshold of PIBKC bycatch from 2003 to 2010 that is greater 
than 5 percent of the ABC of PIBKC. Fisheries that met the 5-percent 
threshold are the Pacific cod hook-and-line fishery, Pacific cod pot 
fishery, yellowfin sole trawl fishery, and other flatfish trawl 
fishery. Alternative 2b, the preferred alternative proposed to be 
implemented by this action, would close the PIHCZ year round to Pacific 
cod pot fishing. Alternative 2c would close the PIHCZ to directed 
fishing for Pacific cod by vessels using pot gear if the total PIBKC 
bycatch in all groundfish fisheries in the BSAI reached 20 percent, 30 
percent, or 50 percent of the overall trigger closure cap of 75 percent 
of the ABC. Alternative 2c would also require vessels directed fishing 
for Pacific cod with pot gear in the PIHCZ to maintain 100 percent 
observer coverage. Alternatives 2a and 2c would have a greater impact 
on small entities than Alternative 2b because more vessels would be 
subject to potential closures in the PIHCZ. Alternative 2c would also 
increase the potential costs on small entities by increasing observer 
coverage requirements for these vessels.
    Alternative 3 would close the existing ADF&G crab closure area 
between 168[deg] and 170[deg] West longitude, and between 57[deg] and 
58[deg] North latitude to additional fishing effort, in addition to the 
status quo groundfish trawl closure. Under Alternative 3, Option 3a, 
this closure would apply to all groundfish fisheries that have 
contributed greater than a designated threshold to bycatch of PIBKC 
since 2003. The closure would apply to any fishery that had bycatch of 
PIBKC between 2003 and 2010 of greater than 5 percent of ABC. Under the 
5 percent threshold, the closure would apply to the following 
fisheries: Yellowfin sole trawl, other flatfish trawl, Pacific cod pot, 
and Pacific cod hook-and-line. Alternative 3b would close the area to 
directed fishing for Pacific cod only. Alternative 3a would have a 
greater impact on small entities than Alternative 3b because more 
vessels would be subject to potential closures in the PIHCZ. While 
Alternative 3b could potentially have less of an impact on small 
entities than the other alternatives (data is confidential for all 
years except 2005), the Alternative 3 closure boundaries exclude 
southern parts of the PIHCZ where PIBKC bycatch by Pacific cod pot 
fishing has occurred (see Figure 5-25 in the EA).
    Alternative 4 would establish a closure throughout the range of the 
PIBKC based on either the distribution of the PIBKC stock aggregated 
from 1975 to 2009, or from 1984 to 2009. This range of data represented 
recent trends of the known distribution of PIBKC based on current stock 
survey methodologies and is greater than the area closure in the PIHCZ 
and the ADF&G closures defined under Alternative 3. Alternatives 4a and 
4b would establish closures consistent with the same criteria 
established for Alternatives 2a and 2b, and 3a and 3b, respectively. 
Alternative 4 would have a greater impact on small entities due to the 
greater size of the closure.
    Alternative 5 would establish a PSC limit equal to either the 
overfishing limit (OFL), the ABC, or a proportion of the ABC for the 
PIBKC stock. All bycatch of the PIBKC in all groundfish fisheries would 
accrue toward this PSC limit, and those groundfish fisheries that 
contributed to greater than a designated threshold of PIBKC bycatch 
since 2003 would be closed once the fishery-wide PSC limit was reached.
    Alternative 5 would have four closure area options: Options 5a, 5b, 
5c, and 5d, which correspond to the closure areas defined under 
Alternatives 1, 3, and 4 (1975 to 2009 PIBKC stock distribution and 
1984 to 2009 PIBKC stock distribution), respectively. Under each of 
these options, the closure would be triggered by attainment of a 
fishery-wide PIBKC PSC limit set at the following options: PSC limit 
equal to the OFL, PSC limit equal to the ABC, PSC limit equal to 90 
percent of the ABC, or PSC limit equal to 75 percent of the ABC. Under 
Option 5d, under the PSC limit equal to 90 percent of the ABC and the 
PSC limit equal to 75 percent of the ABC, there would be an additional 
option for allocation of the PSC limit by gear type: 40 Percent trawl 
gear, 40 percent pot gear, and 20 percent hook-and-line gear.
    Alternative 6 would have two components: (1) Establish a year-round 
closure of the PIHCZ to directed fishing for Pacific cod using pot 
gear, and (2) establish a triggered closure of the area representing 
the distribution of the PIBKC stock from 1984 to 2009. The PSC limit 
associated with the triggered closure would be established as a 
fishery-wide level at 75 percent of the ABC. The PSC limit would be set 
either in the numbers of crab based on the average weight in the 
previous season or in numbers of crab based on a rolling 5-year average 
weight. The PSC limit would be further allocated to sectors either by 
gear type or to all groundfish fisheries in the aggregate by seasons.
    In addition, each of the alternatives included options to increase 
observer coverage that could be applied to all fisheries or a specific 
fishery.
    The Council ultimately did not consider trigger cap closures 
(Alternatives 2c, 5, and 6) viable alternatives, due to uncertainty in 
appropriate definition of the stock area and the resulting current 
limitations in the methodology for estimating mortality of PIBKC 
relative to the stock distribution (see discussion in Section 5.2.2 of 
the EA). These alternatives would not have a measurable impact that 
would minimize the bycatch of PIBKC relative to status quo. These 
alternatives could reduce the risk of overfishing, but they would not 
effectively prevent overfishing, consistent with the goals and 
objectives of this action.
    None of the viable alternatives (Alternative 2a, Alternatives 3a 
and 3b, and Alternatives 4a and 4b) could potentially have less of an 
impact on fisheries than the Council's recommended alternative, 2b. 
Table 1-34 in the IRFA (see ADDRESSES) provides a comparison of the 
potential impacts on directly regulated small entities, in terms of 
gross revenue at risk, under each of the alternatives. Based on the 
best available scientific data and information, there are no 
alternatives to the proposed action that have the potential to 
accomplish the stated objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and any 
other applicable statutes and that have the potential to minimize any 
significant adverse economic impact of the proposed rule on directly 
regulated small entities.

Reporting, Recordkeeping, and Other Compliance Requirements

    This proposed action does not contain reporting, recordkeeping, or 
other compliance requirements.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 679

    Alaska, Fisheries.


[[Page 51525]]


    Dated: August 26, 2014.
Eileen Sobeck,
Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.

    For the reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 679 is 
proposed to be amended as follows:

PART 679--FISHERIES OF THE EXCLUSIVE ECONOMIC ZONE OFF ALASKA

0
1. The authority citation for part 679 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 773 et seq.; 1801 et seq.; 3631 et seq.; 
Pub. L. 108-447.

0
2. In Sec.  679.22, revise paragraph (a)(6) to read as follows:


Sec.  679.22  Closures

    (a) * * *
    (6) Pribilof Islands Habitat Conservation Zone. Directed fishing 
for groundfish using trawl gear and directed fishing for Pacific cod 
using pot gear is prohibited at all times in the area defined in Figure 
10 to this part as the Pribilof Islands Habitat Conservation Zone.
0
3. Revise Figure 10 to part 679--including the Figure heading--to read 
as follows:
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P
[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP29AU14.010

[FR Doc. 2014-20682 Filed 8-28-14; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-C