2015 Annual Determination To Implement the Sea Turtle Observer Requirement, 14319-14328 [2015-06341]

Download as PDF Rmajette on DSK2VPTVN1PROD with RULES Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 53 / Thursday, March 19, 2015 / Rules and Regulations as specified below, both versions must be filed in accordance with the requirements of § 502.2. (i) Confidential version. The confidential filing must include a cover page marked ‘‘Confidential-Restricted.’’ The specific confidential information must be conspicuously and clearly marked on each page, for example by highlighting or bracing. If confidentiality will end on a date certain or upon the occurrence of an event, this must be stated on the cover, e.g., ‘‘CONFIDENTIAL UNTIL [DATE],’’ or ‘‘CONFIDENTIAL DURING JUDICIAL REVIEW.’’ The confidential version of a document may be provided to the presiding officer by email but should not be filed with the Office of the Secretary by email. (ii) Public version. Within three business days of filing a confidential version of a filing, a public version must be filed. The public version must indicate on the cover page and on each affected page ‘‘Public Version— confidential materials excluded.’’ The public version must clearly indicate any information withheld, for example with blackout or braces, and its pagination and depiction of text on each page must be identical to that of the confidential version. For example, the confidential filing may read: ‘‘On January 1, 2005, complainant entered into a {25} year lease with respondent for a monthly rent of {$1,000}.’’ The public version would read: ‘‘On January 1, 2005, complainant entered into a { } year lease with respondent for a monthly rent of { }.’’ Public versions of confidential filings may be filed with the Secretary and presiding officer by email. (iii) Exhibits. Confidential information in exhibits should be marked as specified above. If marking within the text is not feasible, individual pages may be replaced in the public version with a page indicating that confidential material is excluded. Entire exhibits should not be excluded, only those pages containing confidential material. (b) Motion for confidential treatment. If confidentiality is sought for a filing containing information not previously designated as confidential by the Commission or presiding officer, the confidential filing must be accompanied by a motion justifying confidential treatment. This motion must identify the specific information in a document for which protection is sought and show good cause by demonstrating that the information is a trade secret or other confidential research, development, or commercial information pursuant to § 502.201(j)(1)(vii). The burden is on the party that wants to protect the information to show good cause for its VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:06 Mar 18, 2015 Jkt 235001 protection. A motion is not required for information, including personal privacy and financial account numbers, redacted pursuant to § 502.13, Privacy protection for filings made with the Commission. (c) Use of confidential information. Confidential treatment afforded by this section is subject to the proviso that any information designated as confidential may be used by the administrative law judge or the Commission if deemed necessary to a decision in the proceeding. [Rule 5.] Subpart E—Proceeding; Pleadings; Motions; Replies § 502.62 [Amended] 3. Amend § 502.62(b)(1) by adding ‘‘or the Complainant’’ after the phrase ‘‘service of the complaint by the Commission’’. ■ 4. Revise the heading for subpart H to read as follows: ■ Subpart H—Service of Documents ■ 5. Revise § 502.113 to read as follows: § 502.113 Service of private party complaints. (a) Complaints filed pursuant to § 502.62, amendments to complaints (unless otherwise authorized by the presiding officer pursuant to § 502.66(b)), small claims complaints filed pursuant to § 502.304, and Complainant’s memoranda filed in shortened procedure cases pursuant to § 502.182, will be served by the Secretary of the Commission. (b) The Secretary will serve the complaint using first class mail or express mail service at the Respondent’s address provided by the Complainant. If the complaint cannot be delivered, for example if the complaint is returned as undeliverable or not accepted for delivery, the Secretary will notify the Complainant. (c) Alternative service by Complainant. The Complainant may serve the Complaint at any time after it has been filed with the Commission. If Complainant serves the complaint, an affidavit setting forth the method, time and place of service must be filed with the Secretary within five days following service. (d) The presiding officer may dismiss a complaint that has not been served within thirty (30) days after the complaint was filed. [Rule 113.] Subpart S—Informal Procedure for Adjudication of Small Claims 6. Revise § 502.304(d) to read as follows: ■ PO 00000 Frm 00029 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 § 502.304 14319 Procedure and filing fee. * * * * * (d) A copy of each claim filed under this subpart, with attachments, shall be served by the Secretary on the respondent named in the claim. * * * * * ■ 7. Revise § 502.305(b) to read as follows: § 502.305 this part. Applicability of other rules of * * * * * (b) The following sections in subparts A through Q of this part apply to situations covered by this subpart: §§ 502.2(a) (Requirement for filing); 502.2(f)(1) (Email transmission of filings); 502.2(i) (Continuing obligation to provide contact information); 502.7 (Documents in foreign languages); 502.21 through 502.23 (Appearance, Authority for representation, Notice of appearance; substitution and withdrawal of representative); 502.43 (Substitution of parties); 502.101 (Computation); 502.113 (Service of private party complaints); 502.117 (Certificate of service); 502.253 (Interest in reparation proceedings); and 502.254 (Attorney’s fees in reparation proceedings). [Rule 305.] Karen V. Gregory, Secretary. [FR Doc. 2015–06239 Filed 3–18–15; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 6730–01–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 222 [Docket No. 140829733–5046–02] RIN 0648–BE35 2015 Annual Determination To Implement the Sea Turtle Observer Requirement National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Final rule. AGENCY: The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) publishes its final Annual Determination (AD) for 2015, pursuant to its authority under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Through the AD, NMFS identifies U.S. fisheries operating in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Pacific Ocean that will be required to take observers upon NMFS’ request. The purpose of observing SUMMARY: E:\FR\FM\19MRR1.SGM 19MRR1 14320 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 53 / Thursday, March 19, 2015 / Rules and Regulations identified fisheries is to learn more about sea turtle interactions in a given fishery, evaluate measures to prevent or reduce sea turtle takes, and implement the prohibition against sea turtle takes. Fisheries identified on the 2015 AD (see Table 1) will be eligible to carry observers as of January 1, 2015 and will remain on the AD for a five-year period. The fisheries listed on the final determination will be required to carry observers upon NMFS’ request until December 31, 2019. DATES: Effective April 18, 2015. ADDRESSES: See SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION for a listing of all Regional Offices. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Sara McNulty, Office of Protected Resources, 301–427–8402; Ellen Keane, Greater Atlantic Region, 978–282–8476; Dennis Klemm, Southeast Region, 727–824– 5312; Dan Lawson, West Coast Region, 562–980–3209; Irene Kelly, Pacific Islands Region, 808–725–5141. Individuals who use a telecommunications device for the hearing impaired may call the Federal Information Relay Service at 1–800– 877–8339 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday, excluding Federal holidays. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Availability of Published Materials Information regarding the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) List of Fisheries (LOF) may be obtained at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/ interactions/lof/ and information regarding Marine Mammal Stock Assessment Reports may be obtained at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/ or from any NMFS Regional Office at the addresses listed below: • NMFS, Greater Atlantic Region, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930; • NMFS, Southeast Region, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701; • NMFS, West Coast Region, 501 W. Ocean Blvd., Suite 4200, Long Beach, CA 90802; • NMFS, Pacific Islands Region, Protected Resources, 1845 Wasp Blvd., Building 176, Honolulu, HI 96818. Rmajette on DSK2VPTVN1PROD with RULES Purpose of the Sea Turtle Observer Requirement Under the ESA, 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq., NMFS has the responsibility to implement programs to conserve marine species listed as endangered or threatened. All sea turtles found in U.S. waters are listed as either endangered or threatened under the ESA. Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii), loggerhead (Caretta caretta; North VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:06 Mar 18, 2015 Jkt 235001 Pacific distinct population segment), leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), and hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) sea turtles are listed as endangered. Loggerhead (Caretta caretta; Northwest Atlantic distinct population segment), green (Chelonia mydas), and olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) sea turtles are listed as threatened, except for breeding colony populations of green turtles in Florida and on the Pacific coast of Mexico, and breeding colony populations of olive ridleys on the Pacific coast of Mexico, which are listed as endangered. Due to the inability to distinguish between populations of green and olive ridley turtles away from the nesting beach, NMFS considers these turtles endangered wherever they occur in U.S. waters. While some sea turtle populations have shown signs of recovery, many populations continue to decline. Incidental take, or bycatch, in fishing gear is the primary anthropogenic source of sea turtle injury and mortality in U.S. waters. Section 9 of the ESA prohibits the take (including harassing, harming, pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding, killing, trapping, capturing, collecting or attempting to engage in any such conduct), including incidental take, of endangered sea turtles. Pursuant to section 4(d) of the ESA, NMFS has issued regulations extending the prohibition of take, with exceptions, to threatened sea turtles (50 CFR 223.205 and 223.206). The purpose of the sea turtle observer requirement and the AD is ultimately to implement ESA sections 9 and 4(d), which prohibit the incidental take of endangered and threatened sea turtles, respectively, and to conserve sea turtles. Section 11 of the ESA provides for civil and criminal penalties for anyone who violates a regulation issued pursuant to the ESA, including regulations that implement the take prohibition, as well as for the issuance of regulations to enforce the take prohibitions. NMFS may grant exceptions to the take prohibitions for activities that are covered by an incidental take statement or an incidental take permit issued pursuant to ESA section 7 or 10, respectively. To do so, NMFS must determine the activity that will result in incidental take is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the affected listed species. For some Federal fisheries and most state fisheries, NMFS has not granted an exception for incidental takes of sea turtles primarily because we lack information about fishery-sea turtle interactions. The most effective way for NMFS to learn about sea turtle-fishery interactions, in order to implement PO 00000 Frm 00030 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 management measures and prevent or minimize take, is to place observers aboard fishing vessels. In 2007, NMFS issued a regulation (50 CFR 222.402) establishing procedures to annually identify, pursuant to specified criteria and after notice and opportunity for comment, those fisheries in which the agency intends to place observers (72 FR 43176, August 3, 2007). These regulations specify that NMFS may place observers on U.S. fishing vessels, commercial or recreational, operating in U.S. territorial waters, the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ), or on the high seas, or on vessels that are otherwise subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. Failure to comply with the requirements under this rule may result in civil or criminal penalties under the ESA. NMFS will pay the direct costs for vessels to carry observers. These include observer salary and insurance costs. NMFS may also evaluate other potential direct costs, should they arise. Once selected, a fishery will be eligible to be observed for a period of five years without further action by NMFS. This will enable NMFS to develop an appropriate sampling protocol to investigate whether, how, when, where, and under what conditions incidental takes are occurring; evaluate whether existing measures are minimizing or preventing takes; and develop ESA management measures that implement the prohibitions against take and that conserve sea turtles. Process for Developing an Annual Determination Pursuant to 50 CFR 222.402, NOAA’s Assistant Administrator for Fisheries (AA), in consultation with Regional Administrators and Fisheries Science Center Directors, developed a proposed AD identifying which fisheries are required to carry observers, if requested, to monitor potential interactions with sea turtles. NMFS provided an opportunity for public comment on any proposed determination. The determination is based on the best available scientific, commercial, or other information regarding sea turtlefishery interactions; sea turtle distribution; sea turtle strandings; fishing techniques, gears used, target species, seasons and areas fished; and/ or qualitative data from logbooks or fisher reports. The AD is based on the extent to which: (1) The fishery operates in the same waters and at the same time as sea turtles are present; (2) The fishery operates at the same time or prior to elevated sea turtle strandings; or E:\FR\FM\19MRR1.SGM 19MRR1 Rmajette on DSK2VPTVN1PROD with RULES Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 53 / Thursday, March 19, 2015 / Rules and Regulations (3) The fishery uses a gear or technique that is known or likely to result in incidental take of sea turtles based on documented or reported takes in the same or similar fisheries; and (4) NMFS intends to monitor the fishery and anticipates that it will have the funds to do so. For the 2015 AD, the AA used the most recent version of the annually published MMPA List of Fisheries (LOF) as the comprehensive list of commercial fisheries for consideration. The LOF includes all known state and Federal commercial fisheries that occur in U.S. waters and on the high seas. However, in preparing the AD, we do not rely on the three-part MMPA classification scheme used for fisheries on the LOF. In addition, unlike the LOF, the AD may include recreational fisheries likely to interact with sea turtles on the basis of the best available information. NMFS consulted with appropriate state and Federal fisheries officials to identify which fisheries, both commercial and recreational, should be considered on the AD. Recommendations were received from six state agencies. Gear types recommended for consideration included gillnet, trawl, trap/pot, pound net, seine, and hook-and line. NMFS considered all recommendations carefully in developing the proposed list of fisheries to be included. Although the comments and recommendations provided to NMFS by states were based upon the best available information on their fisheries, NMFS received more recommendations for fisheries to include on the 2015 AD than is practical based on the four previously noted criteria (50 CFR 222.402(a)). The AD is not an exhaustive or comprehensive list of all fisheries with documented or suspected takes of sea turtles. For some fisheries, NMFS may already be addressing incidental take through another mechanism (e.g., rulemaking to implement modifications to fishing gear and/or practices), may be observing the fishery under a separate statutory authority, or will consider including them in future ADs based on the four previously noted criteria (50 CFR 222.402(a)). Note also that fisheries not included on the 2015 AD may still be observed under a different authority than the ESA (e.g., MMPA, MSA). Notice of the final determination will be published in the Federal Register and made in writing to individuals permitted for each fishery identified on the AD. NMFS will also notify state agencies and provide notification through publication in local newspapers, radio broadcasts, and other VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:06 Mar 18, 2015 Jkt 235001 means, as appropriate. Once included in the final determination, a fishery will remain eligible for observer coverage for a period of five years to enable the design of an appropriate sampling program and to ensure collection of sufficient scientific data for analysis. If NMFS determines that more than five years are needed to obtain sufficient scientific data, NMFS will include the fishery in the proposed AD again prior to the end of the fifth year. In the 2010 AD, NMFS identified 19 fisheries that were required to carry observers for a period of five years, through December 31, 2014, if requested by NMFS. Because of a lack of resources to implement new observer programs or expand existing programs, NMFS has not identified any additional fisheries on the AD since 2010. Eleven of the 19 fisheries included on the 2010 AD have been included on the 2015 AD, and are described further below. The remaining eight fisheries were summarized in the proposed 2015 AD (October 22, 2014, 79 FR 63066). Implementation of Observer Coverage in a Fishery Listed in the 2015 AD As part of the 2015 AD, NMFS has included, to the extent practicable, information on the fisheries or gear types to be observed, geographic and seasonal scope of coverage, and any other relevant information. For each of these fisheries or gear types, NMFS intends to monitor the fishery and anticipates that it will have the funds to do so. After publication of this final AD, a 30-day delay in the effective date for implementing observer coverage will follow, except for those fisheries where the AA has determined that there is good cause pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act to make the rule effective without a 30-day delay. The design of any observer program for fisheries identified through the AD process, including how observers would be allocated to individual vessels, will vary among fisheries, fishing sectors, gear types, and geographic regions and will ultimately be determined by the individual NMFS Regional Office, Science Center or observer program. During the program design, NMFS will be guided by the following standards for distributing and placing observers among fisheries identified on the AD and among vessels in those fisheries: (1) The requirement to obtain the best available scientific information; (2) The requirement that observers be assigned fairly and equitably among fisheries and among vessels in a fishery; (3) The requirement that no individual person or vessel, or group of PO 00000 Frm 00031 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 14321 persons or vessels, be subject to inappropriate, excessive observer coverage; and (4) The need to minimize costs and avoid duplication, where practicable. Vessels subject to observer coverage under the AD must comply with observer safety requirements specified at 50 CFR 600.725 and 50 CFR 600.746. Specifically, 50 CFR 600.746(c) requires vessels to provide adequate and safe conditions for carrying an observer and conditions that allow for operation of normal observer functions. To provide such conditions, a vessel must comply with the applicable regulations regarding observer accommodations (see 50 CFR parts 229, 300, 600, 622, 635, 648, 660, and 679) and possess a current United States Coast Guard (USCG) Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Examination decal or a USCG certificate of examination. A vessel that fails to meet these requirements at the time an observer is to be deployed on the vessel is prohibited from fishing (50 CFR 600.746(f)) unless NMFS determines that an alternative platform (e.g., a second vessel) may be used, or determines that a vessel with inadequate or unsafe facilities is not be required to take an observer under 50 CFR 222.404. In any case, all persons on a vessel must cooperate in the operation of observer functions. Observer programs designed or carried out in accordance with 50 CFR 222.404 would be required to be consistent with existing observer-related NOAA policies and regulations, such as those under the Fair Labor and Standards Act (29 U.S.C. 201 et seq.), the Service Contract Act (41 U.S.C. 351 et seq.), Observer Health and Safety regulations (50 CFR part 600), and other relevant policies. Again, note that fisheries not included on the 2015 AD may still be observed under statutory authority other than the ESA (e.g., MMPA, MSA). Additional information on observer programs in commercial fisheries can be found on the NMFS National Observer Program’s Web site: http://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/ observer-home/; links to individual regional observer programs may also be found on this Web site. Sea Turtle Distribution The sea turtle distribution and ecological use of habitats that leads to the overlap of sea turtles and fisheries is critical information that NMFS uses to inform the development of the final AD. A summary of this information was included in the proposed AD (October 22, 2014, 79 FR 63066) and was considered in the development of the final 2015 AD. E:\FR\FM\19MRR1.SGM 19MRR1 14322 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 53 / Thursday, March 19, 2015 / Rules and Regulations Comments and Responses NMFS received a total of seven comments on the proposed rule from members of the public, the State of North Carolina, and Turtle Island Restoration Network. Commenters expressed general support of the rule or fishery observer programs, some with additional suggestions and requests for the inclusion or exclusion of particular fisheries. All substantive comments are specifically addressed below. Comments on issues outside the scope of the AD were noted, but are not responded to in this final rule. Rmajette on DSK2VPTVN1PROD with RULES General Comments Comment 1: Six commenters expressed general support of the rule. Response: NMFS agrees, and has included 14 fisheries on the 2015 AD to allow for increased data gathering on sea turtle bycatch in order to accomplish the purposes of the rule. Comment 2: The Turtle Island Restoration Network recommended that the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico pelagic longline and highlymigratory species fisheries be divided into independent fishery listings rather than treated as a whole, to ensure that adequate observer coverage is applied and subsequent independent ESA authority given. Response: This recommendation is outside the scope of this rulemaking given the criteria for including fisheries on the AD as codified in the 2007 regulation (50 CFR 222.402), which specifies that NMFS will use the most recently published LOF as the comprehensive set of commercial fisheries to be considered for inclusion on the AD. Comments on Gillnet Fisheries Comment 3: The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) expressed concern on the inclusion of the North Carolina inshore gillnet fishery and recommended that the fishery not be included on the 2015 AD. This concern was based on several factors including the low level of Federal observer effort expended on the fishery since it was included in the 2010 AD, the relatively high level of observer effort associated with the state observer program, communication difficulties that inclusion can create when both state and federal observer programs interact with fishers, existence of permits and regulations to reduce sea turtle interactions within the fishery, and NMFS observer effort is already in place under MMPA authority. Response: After considering this recommendation, NMFS has determined VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:06 Mar 18, 2015 Jkt 235001 the best course of action is to include the North Carolina inshore gillnet fishery on the 2015 AD. In 2013, NMFS issued an ESA section 10(a)(1)(B) incidental take permit (ITP) to NCDENR, Division of Marine Fisheries, for the incidental take of sea turtles in the North Carolina inshore gillnet fishery. As a requirement of the permit, NCDENR must maintain a specific level of observer coverage to monitor and track the level of incidental take that is occurring. Although NCDENR is currently observing this fishery under the authority of the ITP, the observer coverage required by the ITP does not include all areas where the fishery operates. NMFS has evaluated the entire North Carolina inshore gillnet fishery based on the AD criteria, and has determined that this fishery meets the criteria for inclusion on the 2015 AD. However, NMFS does not intend to place observers on vessels in a fishery subject to observer requirements under an ITP without discussion and coordination with the state. NMFS understands there may be confusion when multiple government agencies have regulatory authority to observe, resulting in both Federal and state observers within a fishery. NMFS strives to clarify and improve the communication process regarding fishery observer requirements with local, state, and other federal entities to achieve the highest possible level of compliance and coordination. Comment 4: The Turtle Island Restoration Network recommended that all drift gillnet fisheries be monitored, particularly the California thresher shark/swordfish drift net fishery, due to the impacts these fisheries have on sea turtles. Response: NMFS acknowledges that there are other fisheries, in addition to those listed on the 2015 AD, that may be a concern for sea turtles. The 2015 AD is not meant to be a comprehensive list of fisheries that interact with sea turtles or fisheries that require monitoring, but rather a focused list, based on specific inclusion criteria (see Purpose of the Sea Turtle Observer Requirement section). NMFS evaluates fisheries for inclusion on the AD on an annual basis and will re-evaluate the gillnet fisheries recommend by Turtle Island Restoration Network in future AD’s. The California thresher shark/ swordfish drift gillnet fishery is currently listed as a Category I fishery on the LOF, and therefore NMFS may monitor this entire fishery for marine mammals, which also allows for the collection of information on sea turtle bycatch. Dedicated observer coverage of this fishery is currently a top priority of PO 00000 Frm 00032 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 NMFS and is considered necessary and essential to the successful implementation and monitoring of the Pacific Offshore Cetacean Take Reduction Plan and Endangered Species Act requirements already in place for the fishery. Indications are that observer coverage goals and mandates for this fishery are likely to increase in the foreseeable future due to management considerations already in place. Because NMFS does not intend to monitor this fishery beyond its existing coverage under other authorities, NMFS is not including this fishery on the 2015 AD. Comments on Seine/Weir/Pound Net Fisheries Comment 5: The Turtle Island Restoration Network expressed concern that the Virginia Pound Net and U.S. Mid-Atlantic mixed species stop seine/ weir/pound net fisheries were not included in the 2015 AD. Response: In accordance with the criteria for listing a fishery on the AD, NMFS is not including the Virginia Pound Net or the Mid-Atlantic mixed species stop seine/weir/pound net on the 2015 AD because NMFS does not intend to monitor these fisheries for sea turtle takes at this time. NMFS has observed the Virginia Pound Net fishery for sea turtle takes in the past, and NMFS currently maintains the authority to observe for marine mammals. Although these fisheries are not included on the 2015 AD, the AD is published annually and these fisheries may be considered for inclusion on a future AD. Comments on Longline Fisheries Comment 6: The Turtle Island Restoration Network commented that, although sea turtle takes occur in association with longline fisheries, no longline fishery was included in the 2015 AD and recommended that longline fisheries (particularly the Hawaii deep-set and shallow-set longline fisheries, as well as the western Pacific pelagic deep-set fishery) be included and observed if funding becomes available for NMFS to undertake additional observing effort. Response: NMFS agrees that sea turtle interactions occur in association with longline fisheries. However, in accordance with the criteria for listing a fishery on the AD, described above, NMFS is not including the longline fisheries noted by the Turtle Island Restoration Network on the 2015 AD because NMFS does not intend to monitor the fishery beyond the existing coverage. At this time, NMFS believes that monitoring efforts available through MMPA and MSA authorities provide E:\FR\FM\19MRR1.SGM 19MRR1 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 53 / Thursday, March 19, 2015 / Rules and Regulations sufficient monitoring coverage for assessing sea turtle interactions in longline fisheries. As noted earlier, information on sea turtles is collected whenever an interaction occurs on an observed trip. NMFS does not currently have funding available to add observer coverage specifically for the purposes of monitoring for sea turtle bycatch, and therefore these fisheries did not meet the criteria for listing on the 2015 AD. NMFS will continue to assess these and other fisheries for inclusion on future ADs. Fisheries Included on the 2015 Annual Determination NMFS includes 14 fisheries (12 in the Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico and 2 in the Pacific Ocean) on the 2015 AD. The 14 fisheries, described below and listed in Table 1, represent several gear types, including trawl, gillnet, trap/pot, and weir/seine. The 2014 LOF (79 FR 14418, March 14, 2014) was used as the comprehensive list of commercial fisheries to evaluate for inclusion on the AD. All of the fisheries included on the AD are also included in the 2015 LOF (79 FR 77919, December 29, 2014). The fishery name, definition, and number of vessels/persons for fisheries listed on the AD are taken from the most recent LOF. Additionally, the fishery descriptions below include a particular fishery’s current classification on the MMPA LOF (i.e., Category I, II, or III); Category I and II fisheries are required to carry observers under the MMPA if requested by NMFS. As noted previously, NMFS also has authority to observe fisheries in Federal waters under the MSA and collect sea turtle bycatch information. Rmajette on DSK2VPTVN1PROD with RULES Trawl Fisheries Interactions with trawl fisheries are of particular concern for sea turtles, because forced submergence in any type of restrictive gear can lead to lack of oxygen and subsequent death by drowning. Metabolic changes that can impair a sea turtle’s ability to function can occur within minutes of forced submergence (Lutcavage et al., 1997). Trawls that are not outfitted with turtle excluder devices (TEDs) may result in forced submergence. Currently, only otter trawl fisheries capable of catching shrimp and operating south of Cape Charles, Virginia, and in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as trawl fisheries targeting summer flounder south of Cape Charles, Virginia, in the summer flounder fishery-sea turtle protection area (50 CFR 222.102), are required to use TEDs. VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:06 Mar 18, 2015 Jkt 235001 Southeastern U.S. Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico Shrimp Trawl Fishery The Southeastern U.S. Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico shrimp trawl fishery (estimated 4,950 vessels/persons) targets shrimp using various types of trawls; NMFS will focus on the component of the fishery that uses skimmer trawls for the 2015 AD. Skimmer trawls are used primarily in inshore/inland shallow waters (typically less than 20 ft. (6.1 m)) to target shrimp. The skimmer trawl has a rigid ‘‘L’’-shaped or triangular metal frame with the inboard portion of the frame attached to the vessel and the outboard portion attached to a skid that runs along the seabed. Skimmer trawl use increased in response to TED requirements for shrimp bottom otter trawls. Skimmer trawls currently have no TED requirement, but are subject to tow time limits of 55 minutes from April 1 to October 31, and 75 minutes from November 1 to March 31. Skimmer trawls are used in North Carolina, Florida (Gulf Coast), Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. There are documented takes of sea turtles in skimmer trawls in North Carolina and the Gulf of Mexico. All Gulf of Mexico states, except Texas, include skimmer trawls as an allowable gear. In recent years, the skimmer trawl has become a major gear in the inshore shrimp fishery in the Northern Gulf and also has some use in inshore North Carolina. Louisiana hosts the vast majority of skimmer boats, with 2,248 skimmer and butterfly net trawlers reporting landings in 2008. In 2008, Mississippi had approximately 62 active skimmer, butterfly, and chopstick boats, Alabama had 60 active skimmer boats, and North Carolina had 97 skimmer vessels (NMFS 2014). However, skimmer vessels in North Carolina have declined in recent years to 64 active vessels in 2010. Skimmer trawl effort overlaps with sea turtle distribution and, as noted above, takes have been observed in this fishery. In response to high numbers of sea turtle strandings since 2010, a portion of fishery observer effort was shifted from otter trawls to the nearshore skimmer trawls in the northern Gulf of Mexico during the summers of 2012, 2013, and 2014. In 2012, 119 sea days were observed in the skimmer trawl fishery resulting in 24 observed interactions with sea turtles. In 2013, 145 sea days were observed, resulting in 8 observed interactions with sea turtles. In 2014, 82 sea days were observed, resulting in 10 observed interactions with sea turtles. Continued observer coverage to understand the scope and impact of PO 00000 Frm 00033 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 14323 turtle takes in this fishery is needed to inform management decisions on what additional actions may be necessary to minimize and prevent sea turtle takes, and further sea turtle conservation and recovery. The Southeastern U.S. Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico shrimp trawl fishery is classified as Category II on the MMPA LOF, and mandatory observer coverage in Federal waters began in 2007 under the MSA. The fishery is currently observed at approximately 1% of total fishery effort. The fishery was previously included in the 2010 AD, which allowed for observer coverage to be shifted to skimmer trawls to specifically investigate bycatch of sea turtles. NMFS includes this fishery again pursuant to the criteria identified at 50 CFR 222.402(a)(1) for including a fishery on the AD, because sea turtles are known to occur in the same areas where the fishery operates, takes have been previously documented in this fishery, and NMFS intends to continue to focus observer coverage in the component of the fishery that uses skimmer trawls. Gulf of Mexico Mixed Species Trawl Fishery The Gulf of Mexico Mixed Species Trawl Fishery (estimated 20 vessels/ persons) targets fish using various types of trawl gear, including bottom otter trawl gear targeting sheepshead. This fishery is located in state waters, and is classified as Category III on the MMPA LOF. NMFS has not previously required vessels operating in this fishery to carry an observer under MMPA authority, and this fishery was not included in the 2010 AD. NMFS includes this fishery in the 2015 AD pursuant to the criteria identified at 50 CFR 222.402(a)(1) for including a fishery on the AD, because sea turtles are known to occur in the same areas where the fishery operates, takes have been documented in similar gear types, mainly the shrimp trawl fishery, and NMFS intends to monitor this fishery. Gillnet Fisheries Sea turtles are vulnerable to entanglement and drowning in gillnets, especially when the gear is left unattended. The main risk to sea turtles from capture in gillnet gear is forced submergence. Sea turtle entanglement in gillnets can also result in severe constriction wounds and/or abrasions. Large mesh gillnets (e.g., 10–12 in. [25.4–30.5 cm] stretched mesh or greater) have been documented as particularly effective at capturing sea turtles. Additionally, sea turtles have E:\FR\FM\19MRR1.SGM 19MRR1 14324 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 53 / Thursday, March 19, 2015 / Rules and Regulations Rmajette on DSK2VPTVN1PROD with RULES been documented entangled in smaller mesh gillnets. Given known interactions between sea turtles and this gear type, and the need to obtain more coverage on state inshore fisheries, NMFS includes the California Halibut, White Seabass and Other Species Set Gillnet Fishery; California Yellowtail, Barracuda, and White Seabass Drift Gillnet Fishery; Chesapeake Bay Inshore Gillnet Fishery; Long Island Inshore Gillnet Fishery; North Carolina Inshore Gillnet Fishery; and Gulf of Mexico Gillnet Fishery in the 2015 AD. Each of these fisheries, with the exception of the Gulf of Mexico Gillnet Fishery, was listed on the 2010 AD. California Halibut, White Seabass and Other Species Set Gillnet Fishery (>3.5 in Mesh) The California halibut, white seabass, and other species set gillnet fishery (estimated 50 vessels/persons) targets halibut, white seabass, and other species from the U.S.-Mexico border north to Monterey Bay using 200 fathom (1,200 ft.; 366 m) gillnets with a stretch mesh size of 8.5 in (31.6 cm). Net soak duration is typically 8–10, 19–24, or 44– 49 hours at a depth ranging from 15–50 fathoms (90–300 ft.; 27–91 m), with most sets from 15–35 fathoms (90–210 ft.; 27–64 m). No more than 1500 fathoms (9,000 ft.; 2,743 m) of gill or trammel net may be fished in combination for California halibut and angel shark. Fishing occurs year-round, with effort generally increasing during summer months and declining during the last three months of the year. The central California portion of the fishery from Point Arguello to Point Reyes has been closed since September 2002, following a state ban on gillnets inshore of 60 fathoms (360 ft.; 110 m). Since 1990, set gill nets have been prohibited in state waters south of Point Arguello and within 70 fathoms (420 ft.; 128 m) or one mile (1.6 km), whichever is less, around the Channel Islands. The California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) manages the fishery as a limited entry fishery with gear restrictions and area closures. This fishery is classified as Category II on the MMPA LOF, which authorizes NMFS to observe this fishery in state waters for marine mammal interactions and to collect information on sea turtles should a take occur on an observed trip. This fishery was included in the 2010 AD. This fishery was observed at 13% of all trips in 2010, 8% in 2011, and 6% in 2012. During that time, no sea turtle bycatch was observed in the fishery. Notwithstanding the fact that no sea turtle takes were documented in this VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:06 Mar 18, 2015 Jkt 235001 fishery during this three year period, NMFS again includes this fishery pursuant to the criteria identified at 50 CFR 222.402(a)(1) for including a fishery on the AD, because it operates in the same waters that turtles are known to occur, this gear type is known to result in the incidental take of sea turtles based on documented takes, and NMFS intends to monitor this fishery. California Yellowtail, Barracuda, and White Seabass Drift Gillnet Fishery (Mesh Size >3.5 in. and <14 in.) The California yellowtail, barracuda, and white seabass drift gillnet fishery (30 vessels/persons) targets primarily yellowtail and white seabass, and secondarily barracuda, with target species typically determined by market demand on a short-term basis. Drift gillnets are up to 6,000 ft. (1,829 m) long and are set at the surface. The mesh size depends on target species and is typically 6.0–6.5 in (15–16.5 cm). When targeting yellowtail and barracuda, the mesh size must be ≥3.5 in (9 cm); when targeting white seabass, the mesh size must be ≥6 in (15.2 cm). From June 16 to March 14 not more than 20%, by number, of a load of fish may be white seabass with a total length of 28 in (71 cm). A maximum of ten white seabass per load may be taken if taken in gillnet or trammel nets with meshes from 3.5– 6.0 in (9–15 cm) in length. The fishery operates year-round, primarily south of Point Conception with some effort around San Clemente Island and San Nicolas Island. This fishery is a limited entry fishery with various gear restrictions and area closures managed by the CDFG. This fishery is classified as Category II on the MMPA LOF, which authorizes NMFS to observe this fishery in state waters for marine mammal interactions and to collect information on sea turtles should a take occur on an observed trip. This fishery was included in the 2010 AD. This fishery was observed at 5% of all trips in 2010, 3% in 2011, and 1% in 2012. During that time, no sea turtle bycatch was observed in the fishery. Notwithstanding the fact that no sea turtle takes were documented in this fishery during this three year period, NMFS again includes this fishery pursuant to the criteria identified at 50 CFR 222.402(a)(1) for including a fishery on the AD because it operates in the same waters that turtles are known to occur, this gear type is known to result in the incidental take of sea turtles based on documented takes, and NMFS intends to monitor this fishery. PO 00000 Frm 00034 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 Chesapeake Bay Inshore Gillnet Fishery The Chesapeake Bay inshore gillnet fishery (estimated 1,126 vessels/ persons) targets menhaden and croaker using gillnet gear with mesh sizes ranging from 2.875–5 in (7.3–12.7 cm), depending on the target species. The fishery operates between the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and the mainland. The fishery is managed under the Interstate Fishery Management Plans (FMPs) for Atlantic menhaden and Atlantic croaker. Gillnets in Chesapeake Bay also target striped bass and spot croaker. This fishery is classified as Category II on the MMPA LOF, and was included in the 2010 AD. There has been limited observer coverage in this fishery since 2010, with 12 observed trips in 2010, one observed trip in 2011, and three observed trips in 2013. To date, observer coverage in gillnet fisheries has focused on Federally-managed fisheries. There is a need to better understand the gear fished in state waters and the extent to which this gear interacts with sea turtles. Given the risk of interaction and the limited data currently available on interactions, NMFS again includes this fishery pursuant to the criteria identified at 50 CFR 222.402(a)(1) for listing a fishery on the AD because sea turtles are known to occur in the same areas where the fishery operates, takes have been previously documented in similar gear, the fishery operates during a period of high sea turtle strandings, and NMFS intends to monitor this fishery. Long Island Inshore Gillnet Fishery The Long Island Sound inshore gillnet fishery (estimated 20 vessels/persons) includes all gillnet fisheries operating west of a line from the north fork of the eastern end of Long Island, New York (Orient Point to Plum Island to Fishers Island) to Watch Hill, Rhode Island (59 FR 43703, August 25, 1994). Target species include bluefish, striped bass, weakfish, and summer flounder. This fishery is classified as Category II on the MMPA LOF and was included in the 2010 AD. There has been limited observer coverage in this fishery since 2010. To date, observer coverage in gillnet fisheries has focused on Federally-managed fisheries. However, the NMFS Northeast Fisheries Observer Program has worked with the state of New York to develop a plan to achieve observer coverage in New York state waters between 2014 and 2017, which includes approximately 250 gillnet trips annually. There is a need to better understand the gear fished in state waters and the extent to which this gear E:\FR\FM\19MRR1.SGM 19MRR1 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 53 / Thursday, March 19, 2015 / Rules and Regulations Rmajette on DSK2VPTVN1PROD with RULES interacts with sea turtles. Given the risk of interaction and the limited data currently available on interactions, and the new partnership with the State of New York, NMFS again includes this fishery pursuant to the criteria identified at 50 CFR 222.402(a)(1) for listing a fishery on the AD. NMFS also makes this determination because sea turtles are known to occur in the same areas where the fishery operates, takes have been previously documented in similar gear, the fishery operates during a period of high sea turtle strandings, and NMFS intends to monitor this fishery. North Carolina Inshore Gillnet Fishery The North Carolina inshore gillnet fishery (approximately 1,323 vessels/ persons) targets species including southern flounder, weakfish, bluefish, Atlantic croaker, striped mullet, spotted seatrout, Spanish mackerel, striped bass, spot, red drum, black drum, and shad. This fishery includes any fishing effort using any type of gillnet gear, including set (float and sink), drift, and runaround gillnet for any target species inshore of the COLREGS lines in North Carolina. This fishery is managed under state and Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) interstate FMPs, applying net and mesh size regulations, and seasonal area closures in the Pamlico Sound Gillnet Restricted Area. NMFS issued two ESA section 10(a)(1)(B) permits for the North Carolina state-wide inshore gillnet fishery to incidentally take sea turtles in 2013, and to incidentally take Atlantic sturgeon in 2014, which include all inshore, estuarine waters, including Core Sound and Pamlico Sound. The permits require the State of North Carolina to maintain a minimum of 7% observer coverage for large mesh gillnet in each state management area for the spring, summer, and fall seasons. It also requires a minimum of 2% observer coverage for small mesh gillnets. Since issuance of the sea turtle incidental take permit in September 2013, it is estimated that 261 green sea turtles (173 alive, 88 dead) and 15 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles (all alive), have been incidentally taken in the inshore large mesh gillnet fishery. Additionally, one live green sea turtle was observed in the small mesh gillnet fishery. This fishery is classified as Category II on the MMPA LOF, and was included in the 2010 AD. NMFS has observed this fishery with limited coverage since 2010, observing 42 trips in 2010, 18 trips in 2011, 22 trips in 2012, and 28 trips in 2013. Although the state is currently required to maintain observer coverage in inshore waters, NMFS again VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:06 Mar 18, 2015 Jkt 235001 includes this fishery pursuant to the criteria identified at 50 CFR 222.402(a)(1) for listing a fishery on the AD because sea turtles are known to occur in the same areas where the fishery operates, takes have been previously documented in this fishery, the fishery operates during a period of high sea turtle strandings, and NMFS intends to monitor this fishery. Gulf of Mexico Gillnet Fishery The Gulf of Mexico Gillnet Fishery (estimated 724 vessels/persons) operates in state inshore waters, targeting finfish, including Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, striped mullet, Florida pompano, and southern flounder using sink gillnets and strike gillnets. This fishery is classified as Category II on the MMPA LOF, which authorizes NMFS to observe this fishery for marine mammal interactions and to collect information on sea turtles should a take occur on an observed trip. To better characterize fishing effort and bycatch, the NMFS Southeast Gillnet Observer Program began placing observers on state commercial gillnet vessels in coastal Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama in 2012. NMFS includes this fishery in the 2015 AD because sea turtles are known to occur in the same areas where the fishery operates and takes have been documented in similar other fisheries using gillnet gear, and NMFS intends to monitor this fishery. Trap/Pot Fisheries Sea turtles are known to become entangled in the buoy lines (also called vertical lines) of trap/pot gear, and there have been anecdotal reports that sea turtles may interact with the trap/pot itself. Turtles entangled in trap/pot gear may drown or suffer injuries (and potential subsequent mortality) due to constriction by the rope or line. Takes of both leatherback and hard-shelled sea turtles have been documented in this gear type. NMFS Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office (GARFO), formerly the Northeast Regional Office, established the Northeast Atlantic Sea Turtle Disentanglement Network (STDN) in 2002 to respond to entanglements in vertical lines associated with trap/pot gear. Reports of entangled sea turtles come from fishermen, boaters, and the general public. Since 2002, entanglements in vertical lines have averaged 20.4 annually. Takes in 2012 and 2013 increased significantly with 41 and 56 takes documented in each year, respectively. These numbers include all vertical line interactions, the vast majority of which were identified as trap/pot gear (as opposed to gillnet PO 00000 Frm 00035 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 14325 gear). A more systematic data collection on these interactions is needed to begin understanding the extent to which interactions occur in order to implement the prohibitions against takes, including preventing or minimizing takes. Three pot/trap fisheries were included in the 2010 AD; Atlantic Blue Crab Trap/Pot Fishery, Atlantic Mixed Species Trap/Pot Fishery, and the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic American Lobster Trap/Pot Fishery. However, limited or no observer coverage has been achieved in these fisheries since listing on the 2010 AD. While some pot/ trap vessels can be observed through traditional methods, other vessels participating in these fisheries, especially in state waters, may be too small to carry observers, which create challenges for observer programs. Further discussions regarding the most appropriate and effective methodologies for observing the pot/trap fisheries will be beneficial. On June 27, 2014, NMFS published a final rule under the MMPA that will reduce the volume of vertical lines in Atlantic waters (79 FR 36586). In addition to helping conserve and recover large whales, this reduction is expected to benefit sea turtles. NMFS will continue to monitor the implementation of this rule and evaluate its effectiveness. In addition, staff from GARFO, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC), and Fisheries and Oceans Canada met in December 2014 to discuss technologies that may apply to mitigating sea turtle interactions with vertical lines. Based on these discussions, the GARFO and NEFSC are developing a research plan related to vertical line and sea turtle interactions. This plan will consider observer coverage in these fisheries. New methods to more effectively monitor these fisheries may be developed and implemented as an outcome of this meeting. Based on the input from the states, NMFS again includes all three pot/trap fisheries in the 2015 AD, further described below. Atlantic Blue Crab Trap/Pot Fishery The Atlantic blue crab trap/pot fishery (estimated 8,557 vessels/ persons) targets blue crab using pots baited with fish or poultry typically set in rows in shallow water. The pot position is marked by either a floating or sinking buoy line attached to a surface buoy. The fishery occurs yearround from the south shore of Long Island at 72° 30′ W. long. in the Atlantic and east of the fishery management demarcation line between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico (50 CFR 600.105), including state waters. The fishery is managed under state FMPs. E:\FR\FM\19MRR1.SGM 19MRR1 14326 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 53 / Thursday, March 19, 2015 / Rules and Regulations This fishery is classified as Category II on the MMPA LOF and was included in the 2010 AD. However, since NMFS included this fishery in the 2010 AD, NMFS has been unable to observe the fishery, as discussed above. Accordingly, NMFS again includes this fishery pursuant to the criteria identified at 50 CFR 222.402(a)(1) for listing a fishery on the AD because sea turtles are known to occur in the same areas where the fishery operates, takes have been documented in similar gear types (i.e. lobster pot fishery), and NMFS intends to monitor this fishery. Rmajette on DSK2VPTVN1PROD with RULES Atlantic Mixed Species Trap/Pot Fishery The Atlantic mixed species trap/pot fishery (estimated 3,467 vessels/ persons) targets species including hagfish, shrimp, conch/whelk, red crab, Jonah crab, rock crab, black sea bass, scup, tautog, cod, haddock, pollock, redfish (ocean perch), white hake, spot, skate, catfish, and stone crab. The fishery includes all trap/pot operations from the Maine-Canada border south through the waters east of the fishery management demarcation line between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico (50 CFR 600.105), but does not include the following trap/pot fisheries (as defined on the MMPA LOF): Northeast/Mid-Atlantic American lobster trap/pot; Atlantic blue crab trap/ pot; Florida spiny lobster trap/pot; Southeastern U.S. Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico stone crab trap/pot; U.S. MidAtlantic eel trap/pot fisheries; and the Southeastern U.S. Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico golden crab fishery (68 FR 1421, January 10, 2003). The fishery is managed under various Interstate and Federal FMPs. This fishery is classified as Category II on the MMPA LOF and was included in the 2010 AD. However, since listing this fishery on the 2010 AD, NMFS has been unable to observe the fishery, as discussed above. Accordingly, NMFS again includes this fishery pursuant to the criteria identified at 50 CFR 222.402(a)(1) for listing a fishery on the AD because sea turtles are known to occur in the same areas where the fishery operates, takes have been documented in similar gear types (i.e. lobster pot fishery), and NMFS intends to monitor this fishery. Northeast/Mid-Atlantic American Lobster Trap/Pot Fishery The Northeast/Mid-Atlantic American lobster trap/pot fishery (estimated 11,693 vessels/persons) targets American lobster primarily with traps, while approximately 2–3% of the target species is taken by mobile gear (trawls and dredges). The fishery operates in VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:06 Mar 18, 2015 Jkt 235001 inshore and offshore waters from Maine to New Jersey, and may extend as far south as Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Approximately 80% of American lobster is harvested from state waters; therefore, the ASMFC has the primary regulatory role. The fishery is managed in state waters under the ASMFC Interstate FMP and in Federal waters under the Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management Act. This fishery is classified as Category I on the MMPA LOF and was included in the 2010 AD. Since that time, NMFS observed 22 lobster trips in 2013 and 32 trips in 2014, with 216 observation days planned for the 2014–2015 schedule. NMFS STDN has documented 83 leatherback entanglements in lobster trap gear operating in Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey since 2002. These entanglements have occurred between May and October (STDN, unpublished data), which is the time period when observer coverage for this fishery will be focused. NMFS again includes this fishery pursuant to the criteria identified at 50 CFR 222.402(a)(1) for listing a fishery on the AD because sea turtles are known to occur in the same areas where the fishery operates, takes have been documented in this fishery, and NMFS intends to monitor this fishery. Weir/Seine/Floating Trap Fisheries Pound net, weir, seine and floating trap fisheries may use mesh similar to that used in gillnets, but the gear is prosecuted differently from traditional gillnets. For example, pound net leaders have a mesh component similar to a gillnet; yet sea turtles have been documented entangled in pound net leaders. Pound net leaders in the Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay are subject to requirements designed to reduce sea turtle bycatch. Purse seines, weirs and floating traps also have the potential to entangle and drown sea turtles, as they are set similarly to pound nets. Turtles have been documented in the pounds of pound net gear and/or weirs in Massachusetts, New York, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia. The turtles observed in these pounds have generally been alive and uninjured. In Virginia, sea turtles have been documented becoming entangled with the leader, which often results in mortality. Four pound net/weir/seine fisheries were included on the 2010 AD: the MidAtlantic haul/beach seine, the MidAtlantic menhaden purse seine, the Mid-Atlantic mixed species stop seine/ weir/pound net, and the Virginia pound net fishery. Based on the information PO 00000 Frm 00036 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 provided by states and the best available scientific information, NMFS includes again two of these fisheries: the MidAtlantic haul/beach seine fishery, MidAtlantic menhaden purse seine fishery, and adds the Rhode Island floating trap fishery on the 2015 AD. Mid-Atlantic Haul/Beach Seine Fishery The Mid-Atlantic haul/beach seine fishery (estimated 565 vessels/persons) targets striped bass, mullet, spot, weakfish, sea trout, bluefish, kingfish, and harvest fish using seines with one end secured (e.g., swipe nets and long seines) and seines secured at both ends or those anchored to the beach and hauled up on the beach. The beach seine system also uses a bunt and a wash net that are attached to the beach and extend into the surf. The beach seines soak for less than two hours. The fishery occurs in waters west of 72° 30′ W. long. and north of a line extending due east from the North Carolina-South Carolina border. Fishing on the Outer Banks, North Carolina occurs primarily in the spring (April to June) and fall (October to December). In the Chesapeake Bay, this gear has been historically fished in the southwest portion of the Bay with some effort in the northwest portion. Effort begins to increase in early May, peaks in early/ mid-June, and continues into July. During this time, based on historical data from Virginia, approximately 100 haul seine trips occur. Beach haul seines have been documented to interact with sea turtles. The fishery is managed under the Interstate FMPs for Bluefish and for Atlantic Striped Bass of the Atlantic Coast from Maine through North Carolina, and is subject to Bottlenose Dolphin Take Reduction Plan implementing regulations. This fishery is classified as Category II on the MMPA LOF and was included in the 2010 AD. NMFS observed this fishery at low levels prior to 2008, but it has not been observed since then. NMFS again includes this fishery pursuant to the criteria identified at 50 CFR 222.402(a)(1) for listing a fishery on the AD based on suspected interactions with sea turtles given the nature of the gear and fishing methodology in addition to effort overlapping with sea turtle distribution. In the Chesapeake Bay, the fishery operates at the same time as historically elevated sea turtle strandings, and NMFS intends to monitor this fishery. Mid-Atlantic Menhaden Purse Seine Fishery The Mid-Atlantic menhaden purse seine fishery (estimated 5 vessels/ E:\FR\FM\19MRR1.SGM 19MRR1 14327 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 53 / Thursday, March 19, 2015 / Rules and Regulations persons) targets menhaden and thread herring using purse seine gear. Most sets occur within 3 mi (4.8 km) of shore with the majority of the effort occurring off North Carolina from November to January, and moving northward during warmer months to southern New England. The fishery is managed under the Interstate FMP for Atlantic Menhaden. In the Chesapeake Bay, this fishery operates to a limited extent during a period of high sea turtle strandings (May and June). This fishery is classified as Category II on the MMPA LOF and was listed on the 2010 AD. NMFS has observed this fishery at low levels, with nine trips observed in 2010, and three trips observed in 2012. NMFS again includes this fishery pursuant to the criteria identified at 50 CFR 222.402(a)(1) for listing a fishery on the AD, given the nature of the gear and fishing methodology in addition to effort overlapping with sea turtle distribution, and NMFS intends to monitor this fishery. Rhode Island Floating Trap Fishery The Rhode Island Floating Trap Fishery (estimated nine vessels/persons) is a small fishery that sets traps similar to a weir/pound net seasonally (MayOctober) targeting scup, striped sea bass, and squid. This fishery is classified as Category III on the MMPA LOF, and NMFS has not previously required vessels operating in this fishery to carry an observer under MMPA authority. This fishery was not included in the 2010 AD. Turtles have been documented in the pounds of pound net gear and/or weirs in Massachusetts, New York, Maryland, and Virginia, which operates similarly to the Rhode Island Floating Trap Fishery. There have also been anecdotal reports of sea turtle interactions in this fishery, but bycatch levels are unknown. NMFS includes this fishery pursuant to the criteria identified at 50 CFR 222.402(a)(1) for listing a fishery on the AD because sea turtles are known to occur in the same areas where the fishery operates, takes have been documented in similar gear types, such as the Virginia and Maryland pound nets, and NMFS intends to monitor this fishery. TABLE 1—STATE AND FEDERAL COMMERCIAL FISHERIES INCLUDED ON THE 2015 ANNUAL DETERMINATION Years eligible to carry observers Fishery Trawl Fisheries Southeastern U.S. Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico shrimp trawl .............................................................................................................. Gulf of Mexico mixed species fish trawl ........................................................................................................................................ 2015–2019 2015–2019 Gillnet Fisheries California halibut, white seabass and other species set gillnet (>3.5 in mesh) ........................................................................... California yellowtail, barracuda, and white seabass drift gillnet (mesh size >3.5 in. and <14 in.) ............................................... Chesapeake Bay inshore gillnet .................................................................................................................................................... Long Island inshore gillnet ............................................................................................................................................................. North Carolina inshore gillnet ........................................................................................................................................................ Gulf of Mexico gillnet ..................................................................................................................................................................... 2015–2019 2015–2019 2015–2019 2015–2019 2015–2019 2015–2019 Trap/pot Fisheries Atlantic blue crab trap/pot .............................................................................................................................................................. Atlantic mixed species trap/pot ...................................................................................................................................................... Northeast/Mid-Atlantic American lobster trap/pot .......................................................................................................................... 2015–2019 2015–2019 2015–2019 Pound Net/Weir/Seine Fisheries Mid-Atlantic haul/beach seine ........................................................................................................................................................ Mid-Atlantic menhaden purse seine .............................................................................................................................................. Rhode Island floating trap ............................................................................................................................................................. Rmajette on DSK2VPTVN1PROD with RULES Classification The Chief Counsel for Regulation of the Department of Commerce certified to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business Administration at the proposed rule stage that this rule would not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. NMFS published the factual basis for that certification in the proposed rule, and does not repeat it here. NMFS received no comments on this certification. Accordingly, no regulatory flexibility analysis is required, and none was prepared. The information collection for the AD is approved under Office of VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:06 Mar 18, 2015 Jkt 235001 Management and Budget (OMB) under OMB control number 0648–0593. Notwithstanding any other provision of the law, no person is required to respond to, nor shall any person be subject to a penalty for failure to comply with, a collection of information subject to the requirements of the Paperwork Reduction Act, unless that collection of information displays a currently valid OMB Control Number. This final rule has been determined to be not significant for the purposes of Executive Order 12866. An environmental assessment (EA) was prepared under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on the issuance of the regulations to implement this observer requirement in PO 00000 Frm 00037 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 2015–2019 2015–2019 2015–2019 50 CFR part 222, subpart D. The EA concluded that implementing these regulations would not have a significant impact on the human environment. This final rule would not make any significant change in the management of fisheries included on the AD, and therefore, this final rule would not change the analysis or conclusion of the EA. If NMFS takes a management action for a specific fishery, for example, requiring fishing gear modifications, NMFS would first prepare any environmental document required under NEPA and specific to that action. This final rule would not affect species listed as threatened or endangered under the ESA or their associated critical habitat. The impacts E:\FR\FM\19MRR1.SGM 19MRR1 14328 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 53 / Thursday, March 19, 2015 / Rules and Regulations of numerous fisheries have been analyzed in various biological opinions, and this final rule would not affect the conclusions of those opinions. The inclusion of fisheries on the AD is not considered to be a management action that would adversely affect threatened or endangered species. If NMFS takes a management action, for example, requiring modifications to fishing gear and/or practices, NMFS would review the action for potential adverse effects to listed species under the ESA. This final rule would have no adverse impacts on sea turtles and may have a positive impact on sea turtles by improving knowledge of sea turtles and the fisheries interacting with sea turtles through information collected from observer programs. This final rule would not affect the land or water uses or natural resources of the coastal zone, as specified under section 307 of the Coastal Zone Management Act. Dated: March 12, 2015. Samuel D. Rauch, III, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2015–06341 Filed 3–18–15; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 622 [Docket No. 140728622–5225–02] RIN 0648–BE44 Fisheries of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic; Reef Fish Fishery of the Gulf of Mexico; Red Snapper Management Measures National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Final rule. AGENCY: NMFS implements management measures described in a framework action to the Fishery Management Plan for the Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico (FMP), as prepared by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Council). This final rule revises the recreational accountability measures (AMs) by establishing a recreational annual catch target (ACT) and quota overage adjustment for red snapper in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf). The purpose of Rmajette on DSK2VPTVN1PROD with RULES SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 15:06 Mar 18, 2015 Jkt 235001 this final rule is to help achieve optimum yield (OY) for the Gulf red snapper resource and better ensure red snapper recreational landings do not exceed the recreational quota established in the rebuilding plan. DATES: This rule is effective April 20, 2015. ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of the framework action, which includes an environmental assessment, a regulatory impact review, and a Regulatory Flexibility Act analysis may be obtained from the Southeast Regional Office Web site at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/ sustainable_fisheries/gulf_fisheries/ reef_fish/index.html. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Peter Hood, Southeast Regional Office, NMFS, telephone 727–824–5305; email: Peter.Hood@noaa.gov. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NMFS and the Council manage the Gulf reef fish fishery under the FMP. The Council prepared the FMP and NMFS implements the FMP through regulations at 50 CFR part 622 under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act). On November 21, 2014, NMFS published a proposed rule for the framework action and requested public comment (79 FR 69418). The proposed rule and the framework action outline the rationale for the actions contained in this final rule. A summary of the actions implemented by the framework action and this final rule is provided below. Management Measures Contained in This Final Rule This final rule revises the red snapper recreational AMs to support management efforts to maintain landings within the recreational quota and to mitigate any recreational quota overages should they occur. Red Snapper Recreational ACT and Season Length This final rule establishes a red snapper recreational ACT by applying a buffer to the recreational quota that is based on the Council’s annual catch limit (ACL)/ACT control rule developed in the Generic ACL/Amendment (76 FR 82044, December 29, 2011). The ACL/ ACT control rule is used to determine the appropriate target catch levels that account for management uncertainty in maintaining catches at or below the ACL (quota). The control rule is intended to be applied separately to the recreational and commercial sectors because each sector has different levels of management uncertainty. The control rule recommends no buffer be applied PO 00000 Frm 00038 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 to the quota for the red snapper commercial sector because the sector is managed by an IFQ program, has accurate landings data, and has not exceeded its quota in the last 7 years the IFQ program has been in effect. For the recreational sector, the control rule recommends applying a 20-percent buffer to the quota primarily because the recreational quota has been exceeded in 3 of the last 4 years. When the 20percent buffer is applied to the quota, it results in an ACT of 4.312 million lb (1.956 million kg), round weight. This final rule also revises the procedure for determining the recreational season length (closure date). Beginning in the 2015 fishing year, the red snapper recreational season closure date will be based on when the recreational ACT will be met instead of when the recreational quota will be met. Using the ACT to set the season length serves as an in-season AM and reduces the probability of exceeding the recreational quota during a fishing year from 50 percent to 15 percent. Red Snapper Recreational Post-Season AM This final rule also revises the recreational AMs to include a quota overage adjustment (payback) should the recreational quota be exceeded while the red snapper stock is overfished. If red snapper are overfished and the recreational quota is exceeded, then in the year following the overage, the recreational quota will be reduced by the amount of the recreational quota overage in the prior fishing year, unless the best scientific information available determines that a greater, lesser, or no overage adjustment is necessary. If the quota is adjusted, the recreational ACT will also be reduced to maintain the 20percent buffer between the ACT and the adjusted quota. Comments and Responses NMFS received a total of 40 public comments on the proposed rule: 2 Comments from non-governmental organizations, 4 comments from fishing organizations, and the rest from individuals. Ten commenters submitted suggestions for the reef fish fishery that were outside the scope of the framework and the proposed rule, including comments related to reallocation between sectors, regional management, area closures, different fishing seasons, making red snapper a gamefish, and establishing a recreational tag system. A number of commenters also expressed opinions about the status of the red snapper stock. Eleven commenters stated general opposition to the rule, while 4 commenters expressed general E:\FR\FM\19MRR1.SGM 19MRR1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 80, Number 53 (Thursday, March 19, 2015)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 14319-14328]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2015-06341]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 222

[Docket No. 140829733-5046-02]
RIN 0648-BE35


2015 Annual Determination To Implement the Sea Turtle Observer 
Requirement

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

ACTION: Final rule.

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

SUMMARY: The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) publishes its 
final Annual Determination (AD) for 2015, pursuant to its authority 
under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Through the AD, NMFS identifies 
U.S. fisheries operating in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and 
Pacific Ocean that will be required to take observers upon NMFS' 
request. The purpose of observing

[[Page 14320]]

identified fisheries is to learn more about sea turtle interactions in 
a given fishery, evaluate measures to prevent or reduce sea turtle 
takes, and implement the prohibition against sea turtle takes. 
Fisheries identified on the 2015 AD (see Table 1) will be eligible to 
carry observers as of January 1, 2015 and will remain on the AD for a 
five-year period. The fisheries listed on the final determination will 
be required to carry observers upon NMFS' request until December 31, 
2019.

DATES: Effective April 18, 2015.

ADDRESSES: See SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION for a listing of all Regional 
Offices.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Sara McNulty, Office of Protected 
Resources, 301-427-8402; Ellen Keane, Greater Atlantic Region, 978-282-
8476; Dennis Klemm, Southeast Region, 727-824-5312; Dan Lawson, West 
Coast Region, 562-980-3209; Irene Kelly, Pacific Islands Region, 808-
725-5141. Individuals who use a telecommunications device for the 
hearing impaired may call the Federal Information Relay Service at 1-
800-877-8339 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through 
Friday, excluding Federal holidays.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Availability of Published Materials

    Information regarding the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) List 
of Fisheries (LOF) may be obtained at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/interactions/lof/ and information regarding Marine Mammal Stock 
Assessment Reports may be obtained at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/sars/ 
or from any NMFS Regional Office at the addresses listed below:
     NMFS, Greater Atlantic Region, 55 Great Republic Drive, 
Gloucester, MA 01930;
     NMFS, Southeast Region, 263 13th Avenue South, St. 
Petersburg, FL 33701;
     NMFS, West Coast Region, 501 W. Ocean Blvd., Suite 4200, 
Long Beach, CA 90802;
     NMFS, Pacific Islands Region, Protected Resources, 1845 
Wasp Blvd., Building 176, Honolulu, HI 96818.

Purpose of the Sea Turtle Observer Requirement

    Under the ESA, 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq., NMFS has the responsibility 
to implement programs to conserve marine species listed as endangered 
or threatened. All sea turtles found in U.S. waters are listed as 
either endangered or threatened under the ESA. Kemp's ridley 
(Lepidochelys kempii), loggerhead (Caretta caretta; North Pacific 
distinct population segment), leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea), and 
hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) sea turtles are listed as 
endangered. Loggerhead (Caretta caretta; Northwest Atlantic distinct 
population segment), green (Chelonia mydas), and olive ridley 
(Lepidochelys olivacea) sea turtles are listed as threatened, except 
for breeding colony populations of green turtles in Florida and on the 
Pacific coast of Mexico, and breeding colony populations of olive 
ridleys on the Pacific coast of Mexico, which are listed as endangered. 
Due to the inability to distinguish between populations of green and 
olive ridley turtles away from the nesting beach, NMFS considers these 
turtles endangered wherever they occur in U.S. waters. While some sea 
turtle populations have shown signs of recovery, many populations 
continue to decline.
    Incidental take, or bycatch, in fishing gear is the primary 
anthropogenic source of sea turtle injury and mortality in U.S. waters. 
Section 9 of the ESA prohibits the take (including harassing, harming, 
pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding, killing, trapping, capturing, 
collecting or attempting to engage in any such conduct), including 
incidental take, of endangered sea turtles. Pursuant to section 4(d) of 
the ESA, NMFS has issued regulations extending the prohibition of take, 
with exceptions, to threatened sea turtles (50 CFR 223.205 and 
223.206). The purpose of the sea turtle observer requirement and the AD 
is ultimately to implement ESA sections 9 and 4(d), which prohibit the 
incidental take of endangered and threatened sea turtles, respectively, 
and to conserve sea turtles. Section 11 of the ESA provides for civil 
and criminal penalties for anyone who violates a regulation issued 
pursuant to the ESA, including regulations that implement the take 
prohibition, as well as for the issuance of regulations to enforce the 
take prohibitions. NMFS may grant exceptions to the take prohibitions 
for activities that are covered by an incidental take statement or an 
incidental take permit issued pursuant to ESA section 7 or 10, 
respectively. To do so, NMFS must determine the activity that will 
result in incidental take is not likely to jeopardize the continued 
existence of the affected listed species. For some Federal fisheries 
and most state fisheries, NMFS has not granted an exception for 
incidental takes of sea turtles primarily because we lack information 
about fishery-sea turtle interactions.
    The most effective way for NMFS to learn about sea turtle-fishery 
interactions, in order to implement management measures and prevent or 
minimize take, is to place observers aboard fishing vessels. In 2007, 
NMFS issued a regulation (50 CFR 222.402) establishing procedures to 
annually identify, pursuant to specified criteria and after notice and 
opportunity for comment, those fisheries in which the agency intends to 
place observers (72 FR 43176, August 3, 2007). These regulations 
specify that NMFS may place observers on U.S. fishing vessels, 
commercial or recreational, operating in U.S. territorial waters, the 
U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ), or on the high seas, or on vessels 
that are otherwise subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. 
Failure to comply with the requirements under this rule may result in 
civil or criminal penalties under the ESA.
    NMFS will pay the direct costs for vessels to carry observers. 
These include observer salary and insurance costs. NMFS may also 
evaluate other potential direct costs, should they arise. Once 
selected, a fishery will be eligible to be observed for a period of 
five years without further action by NMFS. This will enable NMFS to 
develop an appropriate sampling protocol to investigate whether, how, 
when, where, and under what conditions incidental takes are occurring; 
evaluate whether existing measures are minimizing or preventing takes; 
and develop ESA management measures that implement the prohibitions 
against take and that conserve sea turtles.

Process for Developing an Annual Determination

    Pursuant to 50 CFR 222.402, NOAA's Assistant Administrator for 
Fisheries (AA), in consultation with Regional Administrators and 
Fisheries Science Center Directors, developed a proposed AD identifying 
which fisheries are required to carry observers, if requested, to 
monitor potential interactions with sea turtles. NMFS provided an 
opportunity for public comment on any proposed determination. The 
determination is based on the best available scientific, commercial, or 
other information regarding sea turtle-fishery interactions; sea turtle 
distribution; sea turtle strandings; fishing techniques, gears used, 
target species, seasons and areas fished; and/or qualitative data from 
logbooks or fisher reports. The AD is based on the extent to which:
    (1) The fishery operates in the same waters and at the same time as 
sea turtles are present;
    (2) The fishery operates at the same time or prior to elevated sea 
turtle strandings; or

[[Page 14321]]

    (3) The fishery uses a gear or technique that is known or likely to 
result in incidental take of sea turtles based on documented or 
reported takes in the same or similar fisheries; and
    (4) NMFS intends to monitor the fishery and anticipates that it 
will have the funds to do so.
    For the 2015 AD, the AA used the most recent version of the 
annually published MMPA List of Fisheries (LOF) as the comprehensive 
list of commercial fisheries for consideration. The LOF includes all 
known state and Federal commercial fisheries that occur in U.S. waters 
and on the high seas. However, in preparing the AD, we do not rely on 
the three-part MMPA classification scheme used for fisheries on the 
LOF. In addition, unlike the LOF, the AD may include recreational 
fisheries likely to interact with sea turtles on the basis of the best 
available information.
    NMFS consulted with appropriate state and Federal fisheries 
officials to identify which fisheries, both commercial and 
recreational, should be considered on the AD. Recommendations were 
received from six state agencies. Gear types recommended for 
consideration included gillnet, trawl, trap/pot, pound net, seine, and 
hook-and line. NMFS considered all recommendations carefully in 
developing the proposed list of fisheries to be included. Although the 
comments and recommendations provided to NMFS by states were based upon 
the best available information on their fisheries, NMFS received more 
recommendations for fisheries to include on the 2015 AD than is 
practical based on the four previously noted criteria (50 CFR 
222.402(a)). The AD is not an exhaustive or comprehensive list of all 
fisheries with documented or suspected takes of sea turtles. For some 
fisheries, NMFS may already be addressing incidental take through 
another mechanism (e.g., rulemaking to implement modifications to 
fishing gear and/or practices), may be observing the fishery under a 
separate statutory authority, or will consider including them in future 
ADs based on the four previously noted criteria (50 CFR 222.402(a)). 
Note also that fisheries not included on the 2015 AD may still be 
observed under a different authority than the ESA (e.g., MMPA, MSA).
    Notice of the final determination will be published in the Federal 
Register and made in writing to individuals permitted for each fishery 
identified on the AD. NMFS will also notify state agencies and provide 
notification through publication in local newspapers, radio broadcasts, 
and other means, as appropriate. Once included in the final 
determination, a fishery will remain eligible for observer coverage for 
a period of five years to enable the design of an appropriate sampling 
program and to ensure collection of sufficient scientific data for 
analysis. If NMFS determines that more than five years are needed to 
obtain sufficient scientific data, NMFS will include the fishery in the 
proposed AD again prior to the end of the fifth year.
    In the 2010 AD, NMFS identified 19 fisheries that were required to 
carry observers for a period of five years, through December 31, 2014, 
if requested by NMFS. Because of a lack of resources to implement new 
observer programs or expand existing programs, NMFS has not identified 
any additional fisheries on the AD since 2010. Eleven of the 19 
fisheries included on the 2010 AD have been included on the 2015 AD, 
and are described further below. The remaining eight fisheries were 
summarized in the proposed 2015 AD (October 22, 2014, 79 FR 63066).

Implementation of Observer Coverage in a Fishery Listed in the 2015 AD

    As part of the 2015 AD, NMFS has included, to the extent 
practicable, information on the fisheries or gear types to be observed, 
geographic and seasonal scope of coverage, and any other relevant 
information. For each of these fisheries or gear types, NMFS intends to 
monitor the fishery and anticipates that it will have the funds to do 
so. After publication of this final AD, a 30-day delay in the effective 
date for implementing observer coverage will follow, except for those 
fisheries where the AA has determined that there is good cause pursuant 
to the Administrative Procedure Act to make the rule effective without 
a 30-day delay.
    The design of any observer program for fisheries identified through 
the AD process, including how observers would be allocated to 
individual vessels, will vary among fisheries, fishing sectors, gear 
types, and geographic regions and will ultimately be determined by the 
individual NMFS Regional Office, Science Center or observer program. 
During the program design, NMFS will be guided by the following 
standards for distributing and placing observers among fisheries 
identified on the AD and among vessels in those fisheries:
    (1) The requirement to obtain the best available scientific 
information;
    (2) The requirement that observers be assigned fairly and equitably 
among fisheries and among vessels in a fishery;
    (3) The requirement that no individual person or vessel, or group 
of persons or vessels, be subject to inappropriate, excessive observer 
coverage; and
    (4) The need to minimize costs and avoid duplication, where 
practicable.
    Vessels subject to observer coverage under the AD must comply with 
observer safety requirements specified at 50 CFR 600.725 and 50 CFR 
600.746. Specifically, 50 CFR 600.746(c) requires vessels to provide 
adequate and safe conditions for carrying an observer and conditions 
that allow for operation of normal observer functions. To provide such 
conditions, a vessel must comply with the applicable regulations 
regarding observer accommodations (see 50 CFR parts 229, 300, 600, 622, 
635, 648, 660, and 679) and possess a current United States Coast Guard 
(USCG) Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Examination decal or a USCG 
certificate of examination. A vessel that fails to meet these 
requirements at the time an observer is to be deployed on the vessel is 
prohibited from fishing (50 CFR 600.746(f)) unless NMFS determines that 
an alternative platform (e.g., a second vessel) may be used, or 
determines that a vessel with inadequate or unsafe facilities is not be 
required to take an observer under 50 CFR 222.404. In any case, all 
persons on a vessel must cooperate in the operation of observer 
functions. Observer programs designed or carried out in accordance with 
50 CFR 222.404 would be required to be consistent with existing 
observer-related NOAA policies and regulations, such as those under the 
Fair Labor and Standards Act (29 U.S.C. 201 et seq.), the Service 
Contract Act (41 U.S.C. 351 et seq.), Observer Health and Safety 
regulations (50 CFR part 600), and other relevant policies.
    Again, note that fisheries not included on the 2015 AD may still be 
observed under statutory authority other than the ESA (e.g., MMPA, 
MSA). Additional information on observer programs in commercial 
fisheries can be found on the NMFS National Observer Program's Web 
site: http://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/observer-home/; links to individual 
regional observer programs may also be found on this Web site.

Sea Turtle Distribution

    The sea turtle distribution and ecological use of habitats that 
leads to the overlap of sea turtles and fisheries is critical 
information that NMFS uses to inform the development of the final AD. A 
summary of this information was included in the proposed AD (October 
22, 2014, 79 FR 63066) and was considered in the development of the 
final 2015 AD.

[[Page 14322]]

Comments and Responses

    NMFS received a total of seven comments on the proposed rule from 
members of the public, the State of North Carolina, and Turtle Island 
Restoration Network. Commenters expressed general support of the rule 
or fishery observer programs, some with additional suggestions and 
requests for the inclusion or exclusion of particular fisheries. All 
substantive comments are specifically addressed below. Comments on 
issues outside the scope of the AD were noted, but are not responded to 
in this final rule.

General Comments

    Comment 1: Six commenters expressed general support of the rule.
    Response: NMFS agrees, and has included 14 fisheries on the 2015 AD 
to allow for increased data gathering on sea turtle bycatch in order to 
accomplish the purposes of the rule.
    Comment 2: The Turtle Island Restoration Network recommended that 
the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico pelagic longline and 
highly-migratory species fisheries be divided into independent fishery 
listings rather than treated as a whole, to ensure that adequate 
observer coverage is applied and subsequent independent ESA authority 
given.
    Response: This recommendation is outside the scope of this 
rulemaking given the criteria for including fisheries on the AD as 
codified in the 2007 regulation (50 CFR 222.402), which specifies that 
NMFS will use the most recently published LOF as the comprehensive set 
of commercial fisheries to be considered for inclusion on the AD.

Comments on Gillnet Fisheries

    Comment 3: The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural 
Resources (NCDENR) expressed concern on the inclusion of the North 
Carolina inshore gillnet fishery and recommended that the fishery not 
be included on the 2015 AD. This concern was based on several factors 
including the low level of Federal observer effort expended on the 
fishery since it was included in the 2010 AD, the relatively high level 
of observer effort associated with the state observer program, 
communication difficulties that inclusion can create when both state 
and federal observer programs interact with fishers, existence of 
permits and regulations to reduce sea turtle interactions within the 
fishery, and NMFS observer effort is already in place under MMPA 
authority.
    Response: After considering this recommendation, NMFS has 
determined the best course of action is to include the North Carolina 
inshore gillnet fishery on the 2015 AD. In 2013, NMFS issued an ESA 
section 10(a)(1)(B) incidental take permit (ITP) to NCDENR, Division of 
Marine Fisheries, for the incidental take of sea turtles in the North 
Carolina inshore gillnet fishery. As a requirement of the permit, 
NCDENR must maintain a specific level of observer coverage to monitor 
and track the level of incidental take that is occurring. Although 
NCDENR is currently observing this fishery under the authority of the 
ITP, the observer coverage required by the ITP does not include all 
areas where the fishery operates. NMFS has evaluated the entire North 
Carolina inshore gillnet fishery based on the AD criteria, and has 
determined that this fishery meets the criteria for inclusion on the 
2015 AD. However, NMFS does not intend to place observers on vessels in 
a fishery subject to observer requirements under an ITP without 
discussion and coordination with the state.
    NMFS understands there may be confusion when multiple government 
agencies have regulatory authority to observe, resulting in both 
Federal and state observers within a fishery. NMFS strives to clarify 
and improve the communication process regarding fishery observer 
requirements with local, state, and other federal entities to achieve 
the highest possible level of compliance and coordination.
    Comment 4: The Turtle Island Restoration Network recommended that 
all drift gillnet fisheries be monitored, particularly the California 
thresher shark/swordfish drift net fishery, due to the impacts these 
fisheries have on sea turtles.
    Response: NMFS acknowledges that there are other fisheries, in 
addition to those listed on the 2015 AD, that may be a concern for sea 
turtles. The 2015 AD is not meant to be a comprehensive list of 
fisheries that interact with sea turtles or fisheries that require 
monitoring, but rather a focused list, based on specific inclusion 
criteria (see Purpose of the Sea Turtle Observer Requirement section). 
NMFS evaluates fisheries for inclusion on the AD on an annual basis and 
will re-evaluate the gillnet fisheries recommend by Turtle Island 
Restoration Network in future AD's. The California thresher shark/
swordfish drift gillnet fishery is currently listed as a Category I 
fishery on the LOF, and therefore NMFS may monitor this entire fishery 
for marine mammals, which also allows for the collection of information 
on sea turtle bycatch. Dedicated observer coverage of this fishery is 
currently a top priority of NMFS and is considered necessary and 
essential to the successful implementation and monitoring of the 
Pacific Offshore Cetacean Take Reduction Plan and Endangered Species 
Act requirements already in place for the fishery. Indications are that 
observer coverage goals and mandates for this fishery are likely to 
increase in the foreseeable future due to management considerations 
already in place. Because NMFS does not intend to monitor this fishery 
beyond its existing coverage under other authorities, NMFS is not 
including this fishery on the 2015 AD.

Comments on Seine/Weir/Pound Net Fisheries

    Comment 5: The Turtle Island Restoration Network expressed concern 
that the Virginia Pound Net and U.S. Mid-Atlantic mixed species stop 
seine/weir/pound net fisheries were not included in the 2015 AD.
    Response: In accordance with the criteria for listing a fishery on 
the AD, NMFS is not including the Virginia Pound Net or the Mid-
Atlantic mixed species stop seine/weir/pound net on the 2015 AD because 
NMFS does not intend to monitor these fisheries for sea turtle takes at 
this time. NMFS has observed the Virginia Pound Net fishery for sea 
turtle takes in the past, and NMFS currently maintains the authority to 
observe for marine mammals. Although these fisheries are not included 
on the 2015 AD, the AD is published annually and these fisheries may be 
considered for inclusion on a future AD.

Comments on Longline Fisheries

    Comment 6: The Turtle Island Restoration Network commented that, 
although sea turtle takes occur in association with longline fisheries, 
no longline fishery was included in the 2015 AD and recommended that 
longline fisheries (particularly the Hawaii deep-set and shallow-set 
longline fisheries, as well as the western Pacific pelagic deep-set 
fishery) be included and observed if funding becomes available for NMFS 
to undertake additional observing effort.
    Response: NMFS agrees that sea turtle interactions occur in 
association with longline fisheries. However, in accordance with the 
criteria for listing a fishery on the AD, described above, NMFS is not 
including the longline fisheries noted by the Turtle Island Restoration 
Network on the 2015 AD because NMFS does not intend to monitor the 
fishery beyond the existing coverage. At this time, NMFS believes that 
monitoring efforts available through MMPA and MSA authorities provide

[[Page 14323]]

sufficient monitoring coverage for assessing sea turtle interactions in 
longline fisheries. As noted earlier, information on sea turtles is 
collected whenever an interaction occurs on an observed trip. NMFS does 
not currently have funding available to add observer coverage 
specifically for the purposes of monitoring for sea turtle bycatch, and 
therefore these fisheries did not meet the criteria for listing on the 
2015 AD. NMFS will continue to assess these and other fisheries for 
inclusion on future ADs.

Fisheries Included on the 2015 Annual Determination

    NMFS includes 14 fisheries (12 in the Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico 
and 2 in the Pacific Ocean) on the 2015 AD. The 14 fisheries, described 
below and listed in Table 1, represent several gear types, including 
trawl, gillnet, trap/pot, and weir/seine.
    The 2014 LOF (79 FR 14418, March 14, 2014) was used as the 
comprehensive list of commercial fisheries to evaluate for inclusion on 
the AD. All of the fisheries included on the AD are also included in 
the 2015 LOF (79 FR 77919, December 29, 2014). The fishery name, 
definition, and number of vessels/persons for fisheries listed on the 
AD are taken from the most recent LOF. Additionally, the fishery 
descriptions below include a particular fishery's current 
classification on the MMPA LOF (i.e., Category I, II, or III); Category 
I and II fisheries are required to carry observers under the MMPA if 
requested by NMFS. As noted previously, NMFS also has authority to 
observe fisheries in Federal waters under the MSA and collect sea 
turtle bycatch information.

Trawl Fisheries

    Interactions with trawl fisheries are of particular concern for sea 
turtles, because forced submergence in any type of restrictive gear can 
lead to lack of oxygen and subsequent death by drowning. Metabolic 
changes that can impair a sea turtle's ability to function can occur 
within minutes of forced submergence (Lutcavage et al., 1997).
    Trawls that are not outfitted with turtle excluder devices (TEDs) 
may result in forced submergence. Currently, only otter trawl fisheries 
capable of catching shrimp and operating south of Cape Charles, 
Virginia, and in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as trawl fisheries 
targeting summer flounder south of Cape Charles, Virginia, in the 
summer flounder fishery-sea turtle protection area (50 CFR 222.102), 
are required to use TEDs.

Southeastern U.S. Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico Shrimp Trawl Fishery

    The Southeastern U.S. Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico shrimp trawl fishery 
(estimated 4,950 vessels/persons) targets shrimp using various types of 
trawls; NMFS will focus on the component of the fishery that uses 
skimmer trawls for the 2015 AD. Skimmer trawls are used primarily in 
inshore/inland shallow waters (typically less than 20 ft. (6.1 m)) to 
target shrimp. The skimmer trawl has a rigid ``L''-shaped or triangular 
metal frame with the inboard portion of the frame attached to the 
vessel and the outboard portion attached to a skid that runs along the 
seabed.
    Skimmer trawl use increased in response to TED requirements for 
shrimp bottom otter trawls. Skimmer trawls currently have no TED 
requirement, but are subject to tow time limits of 55 minutes from 
April 1 to October 31, and 75 minutes from November 1 to March 31. 
Skimmer trawls are used in North Carolina, Florida (Gulf Coast), 
Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. There are documented takes of sea 
turtles in skimmer trawls in North Carolina and the Gulf of Mexico. All 
Gulf of Mexico states, except Texas, include skimmer trawls as an 
allowable gear. In recent years, the skimmer trawl has become a major 
gear in the inshore shrimp fishery in the Northern Gulf and also has 
some use in inshore North Carolina. Louisiana hosts the vast majority 
of skimmer boats, with 2,248 skimmer and butterfly net trawlers 
reporting landings in 2008. In 2008, Mississippi had approximately 62 
active skimmer, butterfly, and chopstick boats, Alabama had 60 active 
skimmer boats, and North Carolina had 97 skimmer vessels (NMFS 2014). 
However, skimmer vessels in North Carolina have declined in recent 
years to 64 active vessels in 2010.
    Skimmer trawl effort overlaps with sea turtle distribution and, as 
noted above, takes have been observed in this fishery. In response to 
high numbers of sea turtle strandings since 2010, a portion of fishery 
observer effort was shifted from otter trawls to the nearshore skimmer 
trawls in the northern Gulf of Mexico during the summers of 2012, 2013, 
and 2014. In 2012, 119 sea days were observed in the skimmer trawl 
fishery resulting in 24 observed interactions with sea turtles. In 
2013, 145 sea days were observed, resulting in 8 observed interactions 
with sea turtles. In 2014, 82 sea days were observed, resulting in 10 
observed interactions with sea turtles.
    Continued observer coverage to understand the scope and impact of 
turtle takes in this fishery is needed to inform management decisions 
on what additional actions may be necessary to minimize and prevent sea 
turtle takes, and further sea turtle conservation and recovery.
    The Southeastern U.S. Atlantic/Gulf of Mexico shrimp trawl fishery 
is classified as Category II on the MMPA LOF, and mandatory observer 
coverage in Federal waters began in 2007 under the MSA. The fishery is 
currently observed at approximately 1% of total fishery effort. The 
fishery was previously included in the 2010 AD, which allowed for 
observer coverage to be shifted to skimmer trawls to specifically 
investigate bycatch of sea turtles. NMFS includes this fishery again 
pursuant to the criteria identified at 50 CFR 222.402(a)(1) for 
including a fishery on the AD, because sea turtles are known to occur 
in the same areas where the fishery operates, takes have been 
previously documented in this fishery, and NMFS intends to continue to 
focus observer coverage in the component of the fishery that uses 
skimmer trawls.

Gulf of Mexico Mixed Species Trawl Fishery

    The Gulf of Mexico Mixed Species Trawl Fishery (estimated 20 
vessels/persons) targets fish using various types of trawl gear, 
including bottom otter trawl gear targeting sheepshead. This fishery is 
located in state waters, and is classified as Category III on the MMPA 
LOF. NMFS has not previously required vessels operating in this fishery 
to carry an observer under MMPA authority, and this fishery was not 
included in the 2010 AD. NMFS includes this fishery in the 2015 AD 
pursuant to the criteria identified at 50 CFR 222.402(a)(1) for 
including a fishery on the AD, because sea turtles are known to occur 
in the same areas where the fishery operates, takes have been 
documented in similar gear types, mainly the shrimp trawl fishery, and 
NMFS intends to monitor this fishery.

Gillnet Fisheries

    Sea turtles are vulnerable to entanglement and drowning in 
gillnets, especially when the gear is left unattended. The main risk to 
sea turtles from capture in gillnet gear is forced submergence. Sea 
turtle entanglement in gillnets can also result in severe constriction 
wounds and/or abrasions. Large mesh gillnets (e.g., 10-12 in. [25.4-
30.5 cm] stretched mesh or greater) have been documented as 
particularly effective at capturing sea turtles. Additionally, sea 
turtles have

[[Page 14324]]

been documented entangled in smaller mesh gillnets.
    Given known interactions between sea turtles and this gear type, 
and the need to obtain more coverage on state inshore fisheries, NMFS 
includes the California Halibut, White Seabass and Other Species Set 
Gillnet Fishery; California Yellowtail, Barracuda, and White Seabass 
Drift Gillnet Fishery; Chesapeake Bay Inshore Gillnet Fishery; Long 
Island Inshore Gillnet Fishery; North Carolina Inshore Gillnet Fishery; 
and Gulf of Mexico Gillnet Fishery in the 2015 AD. Each of these 
fisheries, with the exception of the Gulf of Mexico Gillnet Fishery, 
was listed on the 2010 AD.

California Halibut, White Seabass and Other Species Set Gillnet Fishery 
(>3.5 in Mesh)

    The California halibut, white seabass, and other species set 
gillnet fishery (estimated 50 vessels/persons) targets halibut, white 
seabass, and other species from the U.S.-Mexico border north to 
Monterey Bay using 200 fathom (1,200 ft.; 366 m) gillnets with a 
stretch mesh size of 8.5 in (31.6 cm). Net soak duration is typically 
8-10, 19-24, or 44-49 hours at a depth ranging from 15-50 fathoms (90-
300 ft.; 27-91 m), with most sets from 15-35 fathoms (90-210 ft.; 27-64 
m). No more than 1500 fathoms (9,000 ft.; 2,743 m) of gill or trammel 
net may be fished in combination for California halibut and angel 
shark. Fishing occurs year-round, with effort generally increasing 
during summer months and declining during the last three months of the 
year. The central California portion of the fishery from Point Arguello 
to Point Reyes has been closed since September 2002, following a state 
ban on gillnets inshore of 60 fathoms (360 ft.; 110 m). Since 1990, set 
gill nets have been prohibited in state waters south of Point Arguello 
and within 70 fathoms (420 ft.; 128 m) or one mile (1.6 km), whichever 
is less, around the Channel Islands. The California Department of Fish 
and Game (CDFG) manages the fishery as a limited entry fishery with 
gear restrictions and area closures.
    This fishery is classified as Category II on the MMPA LOF, which 
authorizes NMFS to observe this fishery in state waters for marine 
mammal interactions and to collect information on sea turtles should a 
take occur on an observed trip. This fishery was included in the 2010 
AD. This fishery was observed at 13% of all trips in 2010, 8% in 2011, 
and 6% in 2012. During that time, no sea turtle bycatch was observed in 
the fishery. Notwithstanding the fact that no sea turtle takes were 
documented in this fishery during this three year period, NMFS again 
includes this fishery pursuant to the criteria identified at 50 CFR 
222.402(a)(1) for including a fishery on the AD, because it operates in 
the same waters that turtles are known to occur, this gear type is 
known to result in the incidental take of sea turtles based on 
documented takes, and NMFS intends to monitor this fishery.

California Yellowtail, Barracuda, and White Seabass Drift Gillnet 
Fishery (Mesh Size >3.5 in. and <14 in.)

    The California yellowtail, barracuda, and white seabass drift 
gillnet fishery (30 vessels/persons) targets primarily yellowtail and 
white seabass, and secondarily barracuda, with target species typically 
determined by market demand on a short-term basis. Drift gillnets are 
up to 6,000 ft. (1,829 m) long and are set at the surface. The mesh 
size depends on target species and is typically 6.0-6.5 in (15-16.5 
cm). When targeting yellowtail and barracuda, the mesh size must be 
>=3.5 in (9 cm); when targeting white seabass, the mesh size must be 
>=6 in (15.2 cm). From June 16 to March 14 not more than 20%, by 
number, of a load of fish may be white seabass with a total length of 
28 in (71 cm). A maximum of ten white seabass per load may be taken if 
taken in gillnet or trammel nets with meshes from 3.5-6.0 in (9-15 cm) 
in length. The fishery operates year-round, primarily south of Point 
Conception with some effort around San Clemente Island and San Nicolas 
Island. This fishery is a limited entry fishery with various gear 
restrictions and area closures managed by the CDFG.
    This fishery is classified as Category II on the MMPA LOF, which 
authorizes NMFS to observe this fishery in state waters for marine 
mammal interactions and to collect information on sea turtles should a 
take occur on an observed trip. This fishery was included in the 2010 
AD. This fishery was observed at 5% of all trips in 2010, 3% in 2011, 
and 1% in 2012. During that time, no sea turtle bycatch was observed in 
the fishery. Notwithstanding the fact that no sea turtle takes were 
documented in this fishery during this three year period, NMFS again 
includes this fishery pursuant to the criteria identified at 50 CFR 
222.402(a)(1) for including a fishery on the AD because it operates in 
the same waters that turtles are known to occur, this gear type is 
known to result in the incidental take of sea turtles based on 
documented takes, and NMFS intends to monitor this fishery.

Chesapeake Bay Inshore Gillnet Fishery

    The Chesapeake Bay inshore gillnet fishery (estimated 1,126 
vessels/persons) targets menhaden and croaker using gillnet gear with 
mesh sizes ranging from 2.875-5 in (7.3-12.7 cm), depending on the 
target species. The fishery operates between the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-
Tunnel and the mainland. The fishery is managed under the Interstate 
Fishery Management Plans (FMPs) for Atlantic menhaden and Atlantic 
croaker. Gillnets in Chesapeake Bay also target striped bass and spot 
croaker.
    This fishery is classified as Category II on the MMPA LOF, and was 
included in the 2010 AD. There has been limited observer coverage in 
this fishery since 2010, with 12 observed trips in 2010, one observed 
trip in 2011, and three observed trips in 2013. To date, observer 
coverage in gillnet fisheries has focused on Federally-managed 
fisheries. There is a need to better understand the gear fished in 
state waters and the extent to which this gear interacts with sea 
turtles. Given the risk of interaction and the limited data currently 
available on interactions, NMFS again includes this fishery pursuant to 
the criteria identified at 50 CFR 222.402(a)(1) for listing a fishery 
on the AD because sea turtles are known to occur in the same areas 
where the fishery operates, takes have been previously documented in 
similar gear, the fishery operates during a period of high sea turtle 
strandings, and NMFS intends to monitor this fishery.

Long Island Inshore Gillnet Fishery

    The Long Island Sound inshore gillnet fishery (estimated 20 
vessels/persons) includes all gillnet fisheries operating west of a 
line from the north fork of the eastern end of Long Island, New York 
(Orient Point to Plum Island to Fishers Island) to Watch Hill, Rhode 
Island (59 FR 43703, August 25, 1994). Target species include bluefish, 
striped bass, weakfish, and summer flounder.
    This fishery is classified as Category II on the MMPA LOF and was 
included in the 2010 AD. There has been limited observer coverage in 
this fishery since 2010. To date, observer coverage in gillnet 
fisheries has focused on Federally-managed fisheries. However, the NMFS 
Northeast Fisheries Observer Program has worked with the state of New 
York to develop a plan to achieve observer coverage in New York state 
waters between 2014 and 2017, which includes approximately 250 gillnet 
trips annually. There is a need to better understand the gear fished in 
state waters and the extent to which this gear

[[Page 14325]]

interacts with sea turtles. Given the risk of interaction and the 
limited data currently available on interactions, and the new 
partnership with the State of New York, NMFS again includes this 
fishery pursuant to the criteria identified at 50 CFR 222.402(a)(1) for 
listing a fishery on the AD. NMFS also makes this determination because 
sea turtles are known to occur in the same areas where the fishery 
operates, takes have been previously documented in similar gear, the 
fishery operates during a period of high sea turtle strandings, and 
NMFS intends to monitor this fishery.

North Carolina Inshore Gillnet Fishery

    The North Carolina inshore gillnet fishery (approximately 1,323 
vessels/persons) targets species including southern flounder, weakfish, 
bluefish, Atlantic croaker, striped mullet, spotted seatrout, Spanish 
mackerel, striped bass, spot, red drum, black drum, and shad. This 
fishery includes any fishing effort using any type of gillnet gear, 
including set (float and sink), drift, and runaround gillnet for any 
target species inshore of the COLREGS lines in North Carolina. This 
fishery is managed under state and Atlantic States Marine Fisheries 
Commission (ASMFC) interstate FMPs, applying net and mesh size 
regulations, and seasonal area closures in the Pamlico Sound Gillnet 
Restricted Area.
    NMFS issued two ESA section 10(a)(1)(B) permits for the North 
Carolina state-wide inshore gillnet fishery to incidentally take sea 
turtles in 2013, and to incidentally take Atlantic sturgeon in 2014, 
which include all inshore, estuarine waters, including Core Sound and 
Pamlico Sound. The permits require the State of North Carolina to 
maintain a minimum of 7% observer coverage for large mesh gillnet in 
each state management area for the spring, summer, and fall seasons. It 
also requires a minimum of 2% observer coverage for small mesh 
gillnets. Since issuance of the sea turtle incidental take permit in 
September 2013, it is estimated that 261 green sea turtles (173 alive, 
88 dead) and 15 Kemp's ridley sea turtles (all alive), have been 
incidentally taken in the inshore large mesh gillnet fishery. 
Additionally, one live green sea turtle was observed in the small mesh 
gillnet fishery.
    This fishery is classified as Category II on the MMPA LOF, and was 
included in the 2010 AD. NMFS has observed this fishery with limited 
coverage since 2010, observing 42 trips in 2010, 18 trips in 2011, 22 
trips in 2012, and 28 trips in 2013. Although the state is currently 
required to maintain observer coverage in inshore waters, NMFS again 
includes this fishery pursuant to the criteria identified at 50 CFR 
222.402(a)(1) for listing a fishery on the AD because sea turtles are 
known to occur in the same areas where the fishery operates, takes have 
been previously documented in this fishery, the fishery operates during 
a period of high sea turtle strandings, and NMFS intends to monitor 
this fishery.

Gulf of Mexico Gillnet Fishery

    The Gulf of Mexico Gillnet Fishery (estimated 724 vessels/persons) 
operates in state inshore waters, targeting finfish, including Spanish 
mackerel, king mackerel, striped mullet, Florida pompano, and southern 
flounder using sink gillnets and strike gillnets.
    This fishery is classified as Category II on the MMPA LOF, which 
authorizes NMFS to observe this fishery for marine mammal interactions 
and to collect information on sea turtles should a take occur on an 
observed trip. To better characterize fishing effort and bycatch, the 
NMFS Southeast Gillnet Observer Program began placing observers on 
state commercial gillnet vessels in coastal Louisiana, Mississippi, and 
Alabama in 2012. NMFS includes this fishery in the 2015 AD because sea 
turtles are known to occur in the same areas where the fishery operates 
and takes have been documented in similar other fisheries using gillnet 
gear, and NMFS intends to monitor this fishery.

Trap/Pot Fisheries

    Sea turtles are known to become entangled in the buoy lines (also 
called vertical lines) of trap/pot gear, and there have been anecdotal 
reports that sea turtles may interact with the trap/pot itself. Turtles 
entangled in trap/pot gear may drown or suffer injuries (and potential 
subsequent mortality) due to constriction by the rope or line. Takes of 
both leatherback and hard-shelled sea turtles have been documented in 
this gear type. NMFS Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office 
(GARFO), formerly the Northeast Regional Office, established the 
Northeast Atlantic Sea Turtle Disentanglement Network (STDN) in 2002 to 
respond to entanglements in vertical lines associated with trap/pot 
gear. Reports of entangled sea turtles come from fishermen, boaters, 
and the general public. Since 2002, entanglements in vertical lines 
have averaged 20.4 annually. Takes in 2012 and 2013 increased 
significantly with 41 and 56 takes documented in each year, 
respectively. These numbers include all vertical line interactions, the 
vast majority of which were identified as trap/pot gear (as opposed to 
gillnet gear). A more systematic data collection on these interactions 
is needed to begin understanding the extent to which interactions occur 
in order to implement the prohibitions against takes, including 
preventing or minimizing takes.
    Three pot/trap fisheries were included in the 2010 AD; Atlantic 
Blue Crab Trap/Pot Fishery, Atlantic Mixed Species Trap/Pot Fishery, 
and the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic American Lobster Trap/Pot Fishery. 
However, limited or no observer coverage has been achieved in these 
fisheries since listing on the 2010 AD. While some pot/trap vessels can 
be observed through traditional methods, other vessels participating in 
these fisheries, especially in state waters, may be too small to carry 
observers, which create challenges for observer programs. Further 
discussions regarding the most appropriate and effective methodologies 
for observing the pot/trap fisheries will be beneficial. On June 27, 
2014, NMFS published a final rule under the MMPA that will reduce the 
volume of vertical lines in Atlantic waters (79 FR 36586). In addition 
to helping conserve and recover large whales, this reduction is 
expected to benefit sea turtles. NMFS will continue to monitor the 
implementation of this rule and evaluate its effectiveness. In 
addition, staff from GARFO, the Northeast Fisheries Science Center 
(NEFSC), and Fisheries and Oceans Canada met in December 2014 to 
discuss technologies that may apply to mitigating sea turtle 
interactions with vertical lines. Based on these discussions, the GARFO 
and NEFSC are developing a research plan related to vertical line and 
sea turtle interactions. This plan will consider observer coverage in 
these fisheries. New methods to more effectively monitor these 
fisheries may be developed and implemented as an outcome of this 
meeting. Based on the input from the states, NMFS again includes all 
three pot/trap fisheries in the 2015 AD, further described below.

Atlantic Blue Crab Trap/Pot Fishery

    The Atlantic blue crab trap/pot fishery (estimated 8,557 vessels/
persons) targets blue crab using pots baited with fish or poultry 
typically set in rows in shallow water. The pot position is marked by 
either a floating or sinking buoy line attached to a surface buoy. The 
fishery occurs year-round from the south shore of Long Island at 
72[deg] 30' W. long. in the Atlantic and east of the fishery management 
demarcation line between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico (50 
CFR 600.105), including state waters. The fishery is managed under 
state FMPs.

[[Page 14326]]

    This fishery is classified as Category II on the MMPA LOF and was 
included in the 2010 AD. However, since NMFS included this fishery in 
the 2010 AD, NMFS has been unable to observe the fishery, as discussed 
above. Accordingly, NMFS again includes this fishery pursuant to the 
criteria identified at 50 CFR 222.402(a)(1) for listing a fishery on 
the AD because sea turtles are known to occur in the same areas where 
the fishery operates, takes have been documented in similar gear types 
(i.e. lobster pot fishery), and NMFS intends to monitor this fishery.

Atlantic Mixed Species Trap/Pot Fishery

    The Atlantic mixed species trap/pot fishery (estimated 3,467 
vessels/persons) targets species including hagfish, shrimp, conch/
whelk, red crab, Jonah crab, rock crab, black sea bass, scup, tautog, 
cod, haddock, pollock, redfish (ocean perch), white hake, spot, skate, 
catfish, and stone crab. The fishery includes all trap/pot operations 
from the Maine-Canada border south through the waters east of the 
fishery management demarcation line between the Atlantic Ocean and the 
Gulf of Mexico (50 CFR 600.105), but does not include the following 
trap/pot fisheries (as defined on the MMPA LOF): Northeast/Mid-Atlantic 
American lobster trap/pot; Atlantic blue crab trap/pot; Florida spiny 
lobster trap/pot; Southeastern U.S. Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico stone crab 
trap/pot; U.S. Mid-Atlantic eel trap/pot fisheries; and the 
Southeastern U.S. Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico golden crab fishery (68 FR 
1421, January 10, 2003). The fishery is managed under various 
Interstate and Federal FMPs.
    This fishery is classified as Category II on the MMPA LOF and was 
included in the 2010 AD. However, since listing this fishery on the 
2010 AD, NMFS has been unable to observe the fishery, as discussed 
above. Accordingly, NMFS again includes this fishery pursuant to the 
criteria identified at 50 CFR 222.402(a)(1) for listing a fishery on 
the AD because sea turtles are known to occur in the same areas where 
the fishery operates, takes have been documented in similar gear types 
(i.e. lobster pot fishery), and NMFS intends to monitor this fishery.

Northeast/Mid-Atlantic American Lobster Trap/Pot Fishery

    The Northeast/Mid-Atlantic American lobster trap/pot fishery 
(estimated 11,693 vessels/persons) targets American lobster primarily 
with traps, while approximately 2-3% of the target species is taken by 
mobile gear (trawls and dredges). The fishery operates in inshore and 
offshore waters from Maine to New Jersey, and may extend as far south 
as Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Approximately 80% of American lobster 
is harvested from state waters; therefore, the ASMFC has the primary 
regulatory role. The fishery is managed in state waters under the ASMFC 
Interstate FMP and in Federal waters under the Atlantic Coastal 
Fisheries Cooperative Management Act.
    This fishery is classified as Category I on the MMPA LOF and was 
included in the 2010 AD. Since that time, NMFS observed 22 lobster 
trips in 2013 and 32 trips in 2014, with 216 observation days planned 
for the 2014-2015 schedule. NMFS STDN has documented 83 leatherback 
entanglements in lobster trap gear operating in Maine, Massachusetts, 
Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey since 2002. These 
entanglements have occurred between May and October (STDN, unpublished 
data), which is the time period when observer coverage for this fishery 
will be focused.
    NMFS again includes this fishery pursuant to the criteria 
identified at 50 CFR 222.402(a)(1) for listing a fishery on the AD 
because sea turtles are known to occur in the same areas where the 
fishery operates, takes have been documented in this fishery, and NMFS 
intends to monitor this fishery.

Weir/Seine/Floating Trap Fisheries

    Pound net, weir, seine and floating trap fisheries may use mesh 
similar to that used in gillnets, but the gear is prosecuted 
differently from traditional gillnets. For example, pound net leaders 
have a mesh component similar to a gillnet; yet sea turtles have been 
documented entangled in pound net leaders. Pound net leaders in the 
Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay are subject to requirements 
designed to reduce sea turtle bycatch. Purse seines, weirs and floating 
traps also have the potential to entangle and drown sea turtles, as 
they are set similarly to pound nets. Turtles have been documented in 
the pounds of pound net gear and/or weirs in Massachusetts, New York, 
Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia. The turtles observed in these 
pounds have generally been alive and uninjured. In Virginia, sea 
turtles have been documented becoming entangled with the leader, which 
often results in mortality.
    Four pound net/weir/seine fisheries were included on the 2010 AD: 
the Mid-Atlantic haul/beach seine, the Mid-Atlantic menhaden purse 
seine, the Mid-Atlantic mixed species stop seine/weir/pound net, and 
the Virginia pound net fishery. Based on the information provided by 
states and the best available scientific information, NMFS includes 
again two of these fisheries: the Mid-Atlantic haul/beach seine 
fishery, Mid-Atlantic menhaden purse seine fishery, and adds the Rhode 
Island floating trap fishery on the 2015 AD.

Mid-Atlantic Haul/Beach Seine Fishery

    The Mid-Atlantic haul/beach seine fishery (estimated 565 vessels/
persons) targets striped bass, mullet, spot, weakfish, sea trout, 
bluefish, kingfish, and harvest fish using seines with one end secured 
(e.g., swipe nets and long seines) and seines secured at both ends or 
those anchored to the beach and hauled up on the beach. The beach seine 
system also uses a bunt and a wash net that are attached to the beach 
and extend into the surf. The beach seines soak for less than two 
hours. The fishery occurs in waters west of 72[deg] 30' W. long. and 
north of a line extending due east from the North Carolina-South 
Carolina border. Fishing on the Outer Banks, North Carolina occurs 
primarily in the spring (April to June) and fall (October to December). 
In the Chesapeake Bay, this gear has been historically fished in the 
southwest portion of the Bay with some effort in the northwest portion. 
Effort begins to increase in early May, peaks in early/mid-June, and 
continues into July. During this time, based on historical data from 
Virginia, approximately 100 haul seine trips occur. Beach haul seines 
have been documented to interact with sea turtles.
    The fishery is managed under the Interstate FMPs for Bluefish and 
for Atlantic Striped Bass of the Atlantic Coast from Maine through 
North Carolina, and is subject to Bottlenose Dolphin Take Reduction 
Plan implementing regulations.
    This fishery is classified as Category II on the MMPA LOF and was 
included in the 2010 AD. NMFS observed this fishery at low levels prior 
to 2008, but it has not been observed since then. NMFS again includes 
this fishery pursuant to the criteria identified at 50 CFR 
222.402(a)(1) for listing a fishery on the AD based on suspected 
interactions with sea turtles given the nature of the gear and fishing 
methodology in addition to effort overlapping with sea turtle 
distribution. In the Chesapeake Bay, the fishery operates at the same 
time as historically elevated sea turtle strandings, and NMFS intends 
to monitor this fishery.

Mid-Atlantic Menhaden Purse Seine Fishery

    The Mid-Atlantic menhaden purse seine fishery (estimated 5 vessels/

[[Page 14327]]

persons) targets menhaden and thread herring using purse seine gear. 
Most sets occur within 3 mi (4.8 km) of shore with the majority of the 
effort occurring off North Carolina from November to January, and 
moving northward during warmer months to southern New England. The 
fishery is managed under the Interstate FMP for Atlantic Menhaden. In 
the Chesapeake Bay, this fishery operates to a limited extent during a 
period of high sea turtle strandings (May and June). This fishery is 
classified as Category II on the MMPA LOF and was listed on the 2010 
AD. NMFS has observed this fishery at low levels, with nine trips 
observed in 2010, and three trips observed in 2012. NMFS again includes 
this fishery pursuant to the criteria identified at 50 CFR 
222.402(a)(1) for listing a fishery on the AD, given the nature of the 
gear and fishing methodology in addition to effort overlapping with sea 
turtle distribution, and NMFS intends to monitor this fishery.

Rhode Island Floating Trap Fishery

    The Rhode Island Floating Trap Fishery (estimated nine vessels/
persons) is a small fishery that sets traps similar to a weir/pound net 
seasonally (May-October) targeting scup, striped sea bass, and squid.
    This fishery is classified as Category III on the MMPA LOF, and 
NMFS has not previously required vessels operating in this fishery to 
carry an observer under MMPA authority. This fishery was not included 
in the 2010 AD. Turtles have been documented in the pounds of pound net 
gear and/or weirs in Massachusetts, New York, Maryland, and Virginia, 
which operates similarly to the Rhode Island Floating Trap Fishery. 
There have also been anecdotal reports of sea turtle interactions in 
this fishery, but bycatch levels are unknown. NMFS includes this 
fishery pursuant to the criteria identified at 50 CFR 222.402(a)(1) for 
listing a fishery on the AD because sea turtles are known to occur in 
the same areas where the fishery operates, takes have been documented 
in similar gear types, such as the Virginia and Maryland pound nets, 
and NMFS intends to monitor this fishery.

  Table 1--State and Federal Commercial Fisheries Included on the 2015
                          Annual Determination
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                       Years eligible to
                       Fishery                          carry observers
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                             Trawl Fisheries
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Southeastern U.S. Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico shrimp              2015-2019
 trawl...............................................
Gulf of Mexico mixed species fish trawl..............          2015-2019
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                            Gillnet Fisheries
------------------------------------------------------------------------
California halibut, white seabass and other species            2015-2019
 set gillnet (>3.5 in mesh)..........................
California yellowtail, barracuda, and white seabass            2015-2019
 drift gillnet (mesh size >3.5 in. and <14 in.)......
Chesapeake Bay inshore gillnet.......................          2015-2019
Long Island inshore gillnet..........................          2015-2019
North Carolina inshore gillnet.......................          2015-2019
Gulf of Mexico gillnet...............................          2015-2019
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                           Trap/pot Fisheries
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Atlantic blue crab trap/pot..........................          2015-2019
Atlantic mixed species trap/pot......................          2015-2019
Northeast/Mid-Atlantic American lobster trap/pot.....          2015-2019
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                     Pound Net/Weir/Seine Fisheries
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Mid-Atlantic haul/beach seine........................          2015-2019
Mid-Atlantic menhaden purse seine....................          2015-2019
Rhode Island floating trap...........................          2015-2019
------------------------------------------------------------------------

Classification

    The Chief Counsel for Regulation of the Department of Commerce 
certified to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business 
Administration at the proposed rule stage that this rule would not have 
a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small 
entities. NMFS published the factual basis for that certification in 
the proposed rule, and does not repeat it here. NMFS received no 
comments on this certification. Accordingly, no regulatory flexibility 
analysis is required, and none was prepared.
    The information collection for the AD is approved under Office of 
Management and Budget (OMB) under OMB control number 0648-0593.
    Notwithstanding any other provision of the law, no person is 
required to respond to, nor shall any person be subject to a penalty 
for failure to comply with, a collection of information subject to the 
requirements of the Paperwork Reduction Act, unless that collection of 
information displays a currently valid OMB Control Number.
    This final rule has been determined to be not significant for the 
purposes of Executive Order 12866.
    An environmental assessment (EA) was prepared under the National 
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on the issuance of the regulations to 
implement this observer requirement in 50 CFR part 222, subpart D. The 
EA concluded that implementing these regulations would not have a 
significant impact on the human environment. This final rule would not 
make any significant change in the management of fisheries included on 
the AD, and therefore, this final rule would not change the analysis or 
conclusion of the EA. If NMFS takes a management action for a specific 
fishery, for example, requiring fishing gear modifications, NMFS would 
first prepare any environmental document required under NEPA and 
specific to that action.
    This final rule would not affect species listed as threatened or 
endangered under the ESA or their associated critical habitat. The 
impacts

[[Page 14328]]

of numerous fisheries have been analyzed in various biological 
opinions, and this final rule would not affect the conclusions of those 
opinions. The inclusion of fisheries on the AD is not considered to be 
a management action that would adversely affect threatened or 
endangered species. If NMFS takes a management action, for example, 
requiring modifications to fishing gear and/or practices, NMFS would 
review the action for potential adverse effects to listed species under 
the ESA.
    This final rule would have no adverse impacts on sea turtles and 
may have a positive impact on sea turtles by improving knowledge of sea 
turtles and the fisheries interacting with sea turtles through 
information collected from observer programs.
    This final rule would not affect the land or water uses or natural 
resources of the coastal zone, as specified under section 307 of the 
Coastal Zone Management Act.

    Dated: March 12, 2015.
Samuel D. Rauch, III,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2015-06341 Filed 3-18-15; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P