Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act Provisions; Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Northeast Groundfish Fishery; Framework Adjustment 53, 25109-25143 [2015-09952]

Download as PDF Vol. 80 Friday, No. 84 May 1, 2015 Part IV Department of Commerce mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 648 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act Provisions; Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Final Rule and Interim Final Rule VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 PO 00000 Frm 00001 Fmt 4717 Sfmt 4717 E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 25110 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 648 [Docket No. 150105004–5355–01] RIN 0648–BE75 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act Provisions; Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Northeast Groundfish Fishery; Framework Adjustment 53 National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Final rule; request for comments. AGENCY: This final rule approves and implements Framework Adjustment 53 to the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan. This rule sets fishing years 2015–2017 catch limits for several groundfish stocks, modifies management measures for Gulf of Maine cod, and adopts other measures to improve the management of the groundfish fishery. This action is necessary to respond to updated scientific information and achieve the goals and objectives of the fishery management plan. The final measures are intended to prevent overfishing, rebuild overfished stocks, achieve optimum yield, and ensure that management measures are based on the best scientific information available. DATES: Effective May 1, 2015. Comments on the burden-hour estimates or other aspects of the collection-of-information requirements contained in this final rule must be received by June 30, 2015. ADDRESSES: Written comments regarding the burden-hour estimates or other aspects of the collection-ofinformation requirements contained in this final rule may be submitted by either of the following methods: • Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public comments via email to OIRA_Submission@omb.eop.gov. • Mail: Submit written comments to John K. Bullard, Regional Administrator, National Marine Fisheries Service, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930. Mark the outside of the envelope, ‘‘Comments on Groundfish Daily Catch Reporting.’’ Copies of Framework Adjustment 53, including the Environmental Assessment, the Regulatory Impact Review, and the Iinal Regulatory Flexibility Act analysis prepared by the mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 New England Fishery Management Council and NMFS in support of this action are available from John K. Bullard, Regional Administrator, NMFS Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930. The supporting documents are also accessible via the Internet at: http://www.nefmc.org/ management-plans/northeastmultispecies or http:// www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/ sustainable/species/multispecies. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Sarah Heil, Fishery Policy Analyst, phone: 978–281–9257; email: Sarah.Heil@noaa.gov. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Table of Contents 1. Summary of Approved Measures 2. Status Determination Criteria 3. Fishing Year 2015 Shared U.S./Canada Quotas 4. Fishing Years 2015–2017 Catch Limits 5. Gulf of Maine Cod Protection Measures 6. Default Catch Limits 7. Sector Carryover 8. Fishing Year 2015 Common Pool Management Measures 9. Fishing Year 2015 Northern Windowpane Flounder Accountability Measure 10. Daily Catch Reporting for Commercial Groundfish Vessels 11. Regulatory Corrections Under Regional Administrator Authority 1. Summary of Approved Measures This final rule approves and implements measures in Framework Adjustment 53 to the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan (FMP), and removes all measures that we previously implemented in the 2014 interim action for Gulf of Maine (GOM) cod. The New England Fishery Management Council developed Framework 53 primarily in response to new stock assessments that were conducted in 2014 for a number of groundfish stocks. The new measures implemented by this final rule include: • Revised status determination criteria for several groundfish stocks; • Fishing year 2015 shared U.S./ Canada quotas for transboundary Georges Bank (GB) stocks; • Fishing years 2015–2017 catch limits for several groundfish stocks; • GOM cod protection closures and possession restrictions; • A mechanism to set default catch limits in the event a future management action is delayed; and • A provision that allows groundfish sectors to carry over unused quota in response to a recent court ruling. This action also implements a number of other measures that are not part of Framework 53, but that were considered PO 00000 Frm 00002 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 under our authority specified in the FMP. We are including these measures in conjunction with the Framework 53 approved measures for expediency purposes. The additional measures implemented in this rule are listed below. • Management measures for the common pool fishery—this action implements initial fishing year 2015 trip limits for the common pool fishery. We have the authority to set management measures for the common pool fishery that will help ensure that the fishery achieves, but does not exceed, its catch limits. • Accountability measure (AM) for northern windowpane flounder—this action implements an AM for northern windowpane flounder for fishing year 2015 due to an overage of the 2014 catch limit for this stock. This AM requires sector and common pool vessels to use selective trawl gear when fishing in certain areas on GB. • Daily catch reporting for commercial groundfish vessels—this action implements a requirement that commercial groundfish vessels submit a daily catch report through the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) when declared into the GOM broad stock area and any other broad stock area on the same trip. Groundfish vessels must currently submit trip-level reports. However, we have the authority to modify the frequency of reporting, if necessary. • Other regulatory corrections—we are implementing several revisions to the regulations to correct references, remove unnecessary text, and make other minor edits. Each correction is described in the section ‘‘11. Regulatory Corrections Under Regional Administrator Authority.’’ 2. Status Determination Criteria The Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) conducted stock assessments in 2014 for GOM cod, GOM haddock, GOM winter flounder, GB yellowtail flounder, GB winter flounder, and pollock. To incorporate the results of these assessments, this action changes the status determination for GB yellowtail flounder to unknown and updates the numerical estimates of the status determination criteria for the remaining stocks. Table 1 provides the updated numerical estimates of the status determination criteria, and Table 2 summarizes changes in stock status based on the new stock assessments conducted in 2014. Although status determination relative to reference points is unknown for GB yellowtail flounder, the best scientific information available E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations point the stock assessment for GB yellowtail flounder can provide numerical estimates of status determination criteria, those estimates will be used to evaluate progress towards the existing rebuilding targets. rebuilding progress is made, catch limits will continue to be set at levels at which the Transboundary Resources Assessment Committee and the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) determine will prevent overfishing. Additionally, at whatever indicates that stock status is poor. The changes to the status determination criteria implemented in this action do not affect the rebuilding plan for this stock, which has an end date of 2032. Although biomass estimates are not currently available, to ensure that 25111 TABLE 1—NUMERICAL ESTIMATES OF STATUS DETERMINATION CRITERIA Biomass target SSBMSY or proxy (mt) Stock GOM Cod: M=0.2 Model .................................................... Mramp Model ..................................................... GOM Haddock ........................................................ GOM Winter Flounder ............................................ GB Yellowtail Flounder ........................................... GB Winter Flounder ................................................ Pollock .................................................................... 47,184 69,621 4,108 n/a n/a 8,100 76,900 Maximum fishing mortality threshold (FMSY or proxy) MSY (mt) 0.18 ........................................................................ 0.18 ........................................................................ 0.46 ........................................................................ 0.23 exploitation rate .............................................. n/a .......................................................................... 0.44 ........................................................................ 0.42 (equivalent to F5–7 = 0.27) ............................. 7,753 11,388 955 n/a n/a 3,200 14,800 SSB = Spawning Stock Biomass; MSY = Maximum Sustainable Yield; F = Fishing Mortality; M = Natural Mortality Note. An explanation of the two assessment models for GOM cod is provided in the section ‘‘4. Fishing Years 2015–2017 Catch Limits.’’ TABLE 2—SUMMARY OF CHANGES TO STOCK STATUS Previous assessment 2014 assessment Stock Overfishing? GOM Cod .................................................................................................................. GOM Haddock ........................................................................................................... GOM Winter Flounder ............................................................................................... GB Yellowtail Flounder .............................................................................................. GB Winter Flounder ................................................................................................... Pollock ....................................................................................................................... 1 Stock Overfished? Overfishing? Overfished? Yes .............. Yes .............. No ................ Yes .............. No ................ No ................ Yes .............. No 1 ............. Unknown ..... Yes .............. No ................ No ................ Yes .............. No ................ No ................ Unknown ..... No ............... No ................ Yes No Unknown Unknown No No was approaching an overfished condition 3. Fishing Year 2015 U.S./Canada Quotas Canada Resource Sharing Understanding. This action adopts shared U.S./Canada quotas for these stocks for fishing year 2015 based on 2014 assessments and the recommendations of the Transboundary Management Guidance Committee As described in the proposed rule, eastern GB cod, eastern GB haddock, and GB yellowtail flounder are jointly managed with Canada under the U.S./ (TMGC) (Table 3). For a more detailed discussion of the TMGC’s 2015 catch advice, see the TMGC’s guidance document at: http:// www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/ sustainable/species/multispecies/ index.html. TABLE 3—FISHING YEAR 2015 U.S./CANADA QUOTAS (mt, LIVE WEIGHT) AND PERCENT OF QUOTA ALLOCATED TO EACH COUNTRY Eastern GB Cod Eastern GB Haddock Total Shared Quota ....................................................................................................................... U.S. Quota ..................................................................................................................................... Canada Quota ............................................................................................................................... mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 Quota 650 ................ 124 (19%) ..... 526 (81%) ..... 37,000 ........... 17,760 (48%) 19,240 (52%) The regulations implementing the U.S./Canada Resource Sharing Understanding require that any overages of the U.S. quota for eastern GB cod, eastern GB haddock, or GB yellowtail flounder be deducted from the U.S. quota in the following fishing year. If fishing year 2014 catch information indicates that the U.S. fishery exceeded its quota for any of the shared stocks, we must reduce the respective U.S. quota for fishing year 2015 in a future VerDate Sep<11>2014 20:33 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 management action, as close to May 1, 2015, as possible. If any fishery that is allocated a portion of the U.S. quota exceeds its allocation, and causes an overage of the overall U.S. quota, the overage reduction would only be applied to that fishery’s allocation in the following fishing year. This ensures that catch by one component of the fishery does not negatively affect another component of the fishery. PO 00000 Frm 00003 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 GB Yellowtail Flounder 354 248 (70%) 106 (30%) 4. Fishing Years 2015–2017 Catch Limits This action adopts fishing years 2015– 2017 catch limits for GOM cod, GOM haddock, GOM winter flounder, GB winter flounder, GB yellowtail flounder (2015–2016 only), and pollock based on the 2014 assessments for these stocks. In addition, this action updates the 2015 catch limits for GB cod and GB haddock based on the U.S./Canada quotas for the E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 25112 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations portions of these stocks jointly managed with Canada. For all other stocks, the overall catch limits included in this rule are the same as those previously adopted in the final rules implementing Framework 50 and Framework 51 to the FMP, although small changes have been made to the distribution of these catch limits to the various components of the fishery. The catch limits implemented in this action, including overfishing limits (OFLs), acceptable biological catches (ABCs), and annual catch limits (ACLs), can be found in Tables 4 through 12. A summary of how these catch limits were developed, including the distribution to the various fishery components, was provided in the proposed rule. Additional information on the development of these catch limits is also provided in the Framework 53 each stock can be found in the final rule for 2015–2016 Sector Operations Plans and Contracts. There are no catch limits adopted for fishing years 2016 or 2017 for most groundfish stocks. Stock assessment updates for all groundfish stocks are scheduled for September 2015, and, based on these assessment updates, catch limits will be set in a future action for fishing years 2016–2018. Given the timing of the stock assessments, the management action for the 2016 fishing year is not expected to be completed by the start of the fishing year. As a result, this action adopts default catch limits that would be implemented on May 1, 2016, to prevent disruption to the fishery (see the section ‘‘6. Default Catch Limits’’). Environmental Assessment and its supporting appendices. The sector and common pool catch limits implemented in this action are based on potential sector contributions (PSCs) for fishing year 2015 and fishing year 2014 sector rosters. 2015 sector rosters will not be finalized until May 1, 2015, because individual permit holders have until the end of the 2014 fishing year (April 30, 2015) to drop out of a sector and fish in the common pool fishery for 2015. Therefore, it is possible that the sector and common pool catch limits in this action may change due to changes in the sector rosters. If changes to the sector rosters occur, updated catch limits will be announced as soon as possible in the 2015 fishing year to reflect the final sector rosters as of May 1, 2015. Sector specific allocations for TABLE 4—FISHING YEARS 2015–2017 OVERFISHING LIMITS AND ACCEPTABLE BIOLOGICAL CATCHES [mt, live weight] 2015 2016 2017 Stock OFL GB Cod .................................................... GOM Cod ................................................. GB Haddock ............................................. GOM Haddock ......................................... GB Yellowtail Flounder ............................ SNE/MA Yellowtail Flounder .................... CC/GOM Yellowtail Flounder ................... American Plaice ....................................... Witch Flounder ......................................... GB Winter Flounder ................................. GOM Winter Flounder .............................. SNE/MA Winter Flounder ........................ Redfish ..................................................... White Hake .............................................. Pollock ...................................................... N. Windowpane Flounder ........................ S. Windowpane Flounder ........................ Ocean Pout .............................................. Atlantic Halibut ......................................... Atlantic Wolffish ....................................... U.S. ABC 4,191 514 56,293 1,871 ........................ 1,056 1,194 2,021 1,846 3,242 688 4,439 16,845 6,237 21,538 202 730 313 198 94 OFL 1,980 386 24,366 1,454 248 700 548 1,544 783 2,010 510 1,676 11,974 4,713 16,600 151 548 235 100 70 U.S. ABC OFL U.S. ABC ........................ 514 ........................ 2,270 ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ 3,383 688 ........................ ........................ 6,314 21,864 ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ 386 ........................ 1,772 354 ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ 2,107 510 ........................ ........................ 4,645 16,600 ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ 514 ........................ 2,707 ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ 3,511 688 ........................ ........................ ........................ 24,598 ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ 386 ........................ 2,125 ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ 2,180 510 ........................ ........................ ........................ 16,600 ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ SNE/MA = Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic; CC = Cape Cod; N = Northern; S = Southern. Note: An empty cell indicates no OFL/ABC is adopted for that year. These catch limits will be set in a future action. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 Gulf of Maine Cod A detailed summary of the GOM cod stock assessment, and the development of catch limits for the 2015–2017 fishing years, was provided in the proposed rule to this action, and is not repeated here. In the proposed rule, we made a preliminary determination that an ABC of 386 mt would meet necessary conservation objectives, but requested additional comment on some aspects of this ABC. We received a number of comments in response to this request, including additional catch projections to better illustrate the potential biological impacts of various catch scenarios. After considering public VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 comment, supporting analysis, and the best scientific information available, we have determined that an ABC of 386 mt is appropriate and consistent with the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) and the National Standards. As described below, this ABC balances other MagnusonStevens Act objectives, including achieving optimum yield and taking into account the needs of fishing communities, without compromising conservation objectives to prevent overfishing and rebuild the stock. In light of current stock conditions, this ABC is a 75-percent reduction compared to 2014, which is in addition to the 80- PO 00000 Frm 00004 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 percent reduction implemented for fishing years 2013–2014. In total, the GOM cod catch limit has been reduced by 95 percent over the last 5 years. We are approving an ABC of 386 mt with the expectation that the catch limits implemented in this final rule will be reviewed following the September 2015 assessment for GOM cod. This assessment is intended to be incorporated for fishing year 2016. Fishing years 2016–2018 catch limits for GOM cod would be set based on the September 2015 assessment, and would replace the 2016–2017 catch limits adopted in this final rule. Uncertainties in catch projections can be exacerbated if 3-year specifications are set and E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations remain unchecked without additional stock assessment information. However, in this case, we determined that concerns for past performance, and the risk of erring in setting the ABC, are largely mitigated given the pending 2015 assessment. Therefore, our approval of the GOM cod ABC is, effectively, only approval for the first year of the remaining rebuilding time period. As described more fully in the proposed rule, the SSC initially recommended an OFL of 514 mt and a provisional ABC of 200 mt for fishing years 2015–2017 based on catch scenarios that the Council’s Groundfish Plan Development Team (PDT) presented. One provision of the ABC control rule in the FMP specifies that catch limits be based on 75 percent of FMSY or Frebuild, whichever is lower. As part of the 2014 assessment, catch projections were updated, and Frebuild was calculated as the constant F required to rebuild the stock by 2024. The SSC’s provisional ABC recommendation of 200 mt was the midpoint between the Frebuild catch for the scenario in which natural mortality is 0.2 and the scenario in which natural mortality increases, but returns to 0.2. This provisional ABC did not incorporate the projection that assumes natural mortality remains at 0.4, and that suggests rebuilding is not possible. As a result, the SSC determined that this provisional ABC was not consistent with its OFL recommendation, which was developed by averaging the 2015 FMSY catches from all three catch projections. Following discussion about the rebuilding potential of GOM cod, and the catch projection that indicates rebuilding is not possible, the SSC requested that the PDT provide analysis of the incidental catch of GOM cod. This request was in recognition of the ABC control rule that specifies that, if a stock cannot rebuild in the specified rebuilding period, even with no fishing, the ABC should be based on incidental bycatch, including a reduction in the bycatch rate. Based on analysis presented by the PDT, the SSC determined that the overall incidental catch of GOM cod was approximately 500–600 mt for the 2013 fishing year under the current operating conditions of the fishery. After consideration of this information, and examination of the available assessment information, the SSC recommended an ABC of 386 mt, which was calculated by taking 75 percent of the OFL. This recommendation was an attempt to balance the various natural mortality scenarios and catch projections from the VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 two assessment models with the various provisions of the ABC control rule. Similar to our conditional approval of the ABC, the SSC noted that it expected to revisit its catch advice for fishing years 2016–2017 following the 2015 assessment update. The PDT updated the catch projections following the SSC’s final ABC recommendation. These projections, along with the biological impacts analysis, indicate that an ABC of 386 mt has a 6- to 33-percent probability of overfishing in fishing year 2015. Although recognizing that catch projections can be optimistic, these probabilities are well below the median, and indicate that the ABC is sufficiently below the OFL to prevent overfishing. Further, for the two projection scenarios that indicate that rebuilding can occur, an ABC of 386 mt for fishing years 2015–2017 would still rebuild the stock by 2024. All of the available catch projections indicate that an ABC of 386 mt would result in a fishing mortality rate of 0.13–0.11, which would be the lowest fishing mortality rate in the assessment time series. This estimated fishing mortality rate would be an 80percent reduction from the estimated 2014 fishing mortality rate, and a 90percent reduction from the fishing mortality rate estimated for 2013. The catch projections that the PDT completed for the biological impacts analysis indicate that rebuilding could still occur under a 386-mt ABC for the 2015–2017 fishing years. However, since we published the proposed rule, we further examined various catch projection scenarios to better understand the trade-offs associated with an ABC of 386 mt. Based on this evaluation, a catch of 386 mt in fishing year 2015 is expected to have little functional difference in future catches and biomass compared to the 200-mt option that the SSC initially considered, but did not recommend. This is, in part, because catches would be lower under the 386-mt scenario in the out years of the rebuilding period compared to those needed under a catch of 200 mt. Considering this, we determined that an ABC of 386 mt would meet conservation objectives, and allow rebuilding to occur by 2024, while still trying to balance the need to achieve optimum yield for the groundfish fishery, as well as mitigate the economic impacts of the GOM cod catch limit, to the extent practicable. An ABC of 386 mt is expected to have substantial economic impacts on groundfish vessels, which are summarized later in this preamble. These impacts are expected to be disproportionately distributed among PO 00000 Frm 00005 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 25113 the groundfish fleet. The largest revenue reductions are expected for small vessels less than 50 ft (15 m), and those fishing from Gloucester, MA, and New Hampshire ports. The economic impacts of the GOM cod ABC implemented in this final rule are expected to be substantially greater than previous catch limit reductions for GOM cod and other groundfish stocks. Based on incidental catch information compiled by the PDT, an ABC of 386 mt is below the estimate of incidental catch of GOM cod that occurred in fishing year 2013. Incidental catch is largely a function of the overall ACL given the AMs in place for groundfish vessels. However, this information is illustrative of potential fishery operations under an ABC of 386 mt, which are expected to be greatly restricted, and in some cases eliminated. In fishing year 2013, when the ACL was reduced by 80 percent, incidental catch was estimated to be approximately 500–600 mt. Beginning in fishing year 2013, sectors primarily used their GOM cod allocation to access other groundfish stocks. Multiple sources of information indicate a marked decline in directed fishing for GOM cod. With an additional 75-percent reduction beginning in fishing year 2015, the incentive to target GOM cod is virtually eliminated, and the fishery will be, in effect, a ‘‘bycatch-only’’ fishery. The average GOM cod allocation for a sector will be 23,000 lb (10,433 kg), and many sectors will receive allocations less than 10,000 lb (4,536 kg). In addition, the recreational fishery will be prohibited from possessing GOM cod. Even under this incidental catch scenario, the GOM cod ABC is expected to severely restrict catch of other groundfish stocks, particularly GOM haddock, pollock, redfish, and some flatfish. We remain concerned about GOM cod stock status, and will continue to carefully consider management measures for this stock. The ABC we are implementing in this action is a complex balance between conservation objectives and other Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements. In an effort to closely monitor stock indicators, we reviewed the recent fall 2014 NEFSC bottom trawl survey indices. The fall survey indicated a small increase compared to 2012 and 2013; however, the general trend of survey indices, as well as recruitment, remains very low. While the updated survey information may provide an initial, and potentially positive, indication of improvement, it is difficult to anticipate the results of the full 2015 assessment. We will continue to carefully monitor stock indicators leading into the 2015 E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 25114 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations assessment to fully inform our reevaluation of the GOM cod catch limit, and the balancing of conservation and management objectives. Further, one concern we raised during the development of Framework 53, and in the proposed rule, is the importance of controlling fishing mortality to help ensure that conservation objectives are met. Available analyses suggest that an extremely low catch limit for GOM cod may create an economic incentive to misreport catch, and, if this occurs, could reduce the accuracy of catch apportionment. Information indicates that this incentive increases as the GOM cod catch limit is further reduced. To help ensure correct catch apportionment and compliance with the GOM cod ACL adopted in this action, we are also implementing an additional reporting requirement for common pool and sector vessels fishing in multiple broad stock areas on the same trip. This additional reporting requirement is described in the section ‘‘10. Daily Catch Reporting for Commercial Groundfish Vessels.’’ TABLE 5—FISHING YEAR 2015 CATCH LIMITS [mt, live weight] Stock Total groundfish fishery Total ACL GB Cod ............. GOM Cod .......... GB Haddock ...... GOM Haddock .. GB Yellowtail Flounder ......... SNE/MA Yellowtail Flounder ......... CC/GOM Yellowtail Flounder ......... American Plaice Witch Flounder .. GB Winter Flounder ......... GOM Winter Flounder ......... SNE/MA Winter Flounder ......... Redfish .............. White Hake ........ Pollock ............... N. Windowpane Flounder ......... S. Windowpane Flounder ......... Ocean Pout ....... Atlantic Halibut .. Atlantic Wolffish Preliminary sector Preliminary common pool Recreational fishery Midwater trawl fishery Scallop fishery Small-mesh fisheries State waters sub-component Other sub-component 1,886 366 23,204 1,375 1,787 328 21,759 1,329 1,753 202 21,603 949 34 5 156 9 .................... 121 .................... 372 .................... .................... 227 14 .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... 20 26 244 11 79 13 975 21 240 195 192 3 .................... .................... 38 5 na 2 666 557 457 102 .................... .................... 66 .................... 14 28 524 1,470 751 458 1,408 610 442 1,381 598 16 27 12 .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... 38 31 23 27 31 117 1,952 1,891 1,876 15 .................... .................... .................... .................... na 60 489 392 375 18 .................... .................... .................... .................... 87 10 1,607 11,393 4,484 15,878 1,306 11,034 4,343 13,720 1,149 10,974 4,311 13,628 157 60 32 92 .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... 117 120 47 996 184 239 94 1,162 144 98 na 98 .................... .................... .................... .................... 2 44 527 220 97 65 102 195 64 62 na na na na 102 195 64 62 .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... 183 .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... 55 2 30 1 186 24 3 3 TABLE 6—FISHING YEAR 2016 CATCH LIMITS [mt, live weight] Stock Total groundfish fishery Total ACL GOM Cod .......... GOM Haddock .. GB Yellowtail Flounder ......... GB Winter Flounder ......... GOM Winter Flounder ......... White Hake ........ Pollock ............... Preliminary sector Preliminary common pool Recreational fishery Midwater trawl fishery Scallop fishery Small-mesh fisheries State waters sub-component Other sub-component 366 1,675 328 1,620 202 1,155 5 12 121 453 .................... 16 .................... .................... .................... .................... 26 13 13 26 343 278 274 4 .................... .................... 55 7 na 4 2,046 1,982 1,967 15 .................... .................... .................... .................... na 63 489 4,420 15,878 392 4,280 13,720 375 4,249 13,628 18 31 92 .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... 87 46 996 10 93 1,162 TABLE 7—FISHING YEAR 2017 CATCH LIMITS mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 [mt, live weight] Stock Total ACL GOM Cod ......................... GOM Haddock ................. GB Winter Flounder ......... GOM Winter Flounder ...... VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 366 2,009 2,117 489 Jkt 235001 Total groundfish fishery Preliminary sector Preliminary common pool Recreational fishery Midwater trawl fishery 202 1,386 2,035 375 5 14 16 18 121 543 .................... .................... .................... 20 .................... .................... E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 328 1,943 2,051 392 PO 00000 Frm 00006 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 State waters sub-component Other sub-component 26 15 na 87 13 31 65 10 25115 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations TABLE 7—FISHING YEAR 2017 CATCH LIMITS—Continued [mt, live weight] Stock Total ACL Pollock .............................. Total groundfish fishery 15,878 Preliminary sector Preliminary common pool Recreational fishery Midwater trawl fishery 13,628 92 .................... .................... 13,720 State waters sub-component Other sub-component 996 1,162 TABLE 8—FISHING YEARS 2015–2017 COMMON POOL TRIMESTER TOTAL ALLOWABLE CATCHES [mt, live weight] 2015 2016 2017 Stock Trimester 1 Trimester 2 Trimester 3 Trimester 1 Trimester 2 Trimester 3 Trimester 1 Trimester 2 Trimester 3 8.6 1.3 42.0 2.56 0.6 21.4 5.5 6.6 3.4 1.2 6.5 14.9 12.0 25.7 12.7 1.7 51.3 2.47 0.9 37.7 5.5 9.9 3.8 3.5 6.6 18.5 9.8 32.1 13.1 1.8 62.2 4.46 1.6 42.8 4.7 11.0 5.2 10.1 4.4 26.2 9.8 33.9 .................... 1.3 .................... 3.1 0.9 .................... .................... .................... .................... 1.2 6.5 .................... 11.9 25.7 .................... 1.7 .................... 3.0 1.4 .................... .................... .................... .................... 3.7 6.6 .................... 9.7 32.1 .................... 1.8 .................... 5.4 2.3 .................... .................... .................... .................... 10.5 4.4 .................... 9.7 33.9 .................... 1.3 .................... 3.7 .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... 1.3 6.5 .................... .................... 25.7 .................... 1.7 .................... 3.6 .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... 3.8 6.6 .................... .................... 32.1 .................... 1.8 .................... 6.5 .................... .................... .................... .................... .................... 10.9 4.4 .................... .................... 33.9 GB Cod ..................................... GOM Cod .................................. GB Haddock .............................. GOM Haddock .......................... GB Yellowtail Flounder ............. SNE/MA Yellowtail Flounder ..... CC/GOM Yellowtail Flounder .... American Plaice ........................ Witch Flounder .......................... GB Winter Flounder .................. GOM Winter Flounder ............... Redfish ...................................... White Hake ................................ Pollock ....................................... Note. An empty cell indicates that no catch limit has been set yet for the stock. These catch limits will be set in a future management action. TABLE 9—FISHING YEARS 2015–2016 COMMON POOL INCIDENTAL TOTAL ALLOWABLE CATCHES [mt, live weight] Percent of common pool sub-ACL Stock GB Cod ........................................................................................................................................ GOM Cod ..................................................................................................................................... GB Yellowtail Flounder ................................................................................................................ CC/GOM Yellowtail Flounder ...................................................................................................... American Plaice ........................................................................................................................... Witch Flounder ............................................................................................................................. SNE/MA Winter Flounder ............................................................................................................ 2015 2 1 2 1 5 5 1 2016 0.69 0.05 0.06 0.16 1.37 0.62 1.57 na 0.05 0.09 na na na na TABLE 10—PERCENT OF INCIDENTAL TOTAL ALLOWABLE CATCH ALLOCATED TO EACH SPECIAL MANAGEMENT PROGRAM Regular B Days-at-Sea program Stock GB Cod ........................................................................................................................................ GOM Cod ..................................................................................................................................... GB Yellowtail Flounder ................................................................................................................ CC/GOM Yellowtail Flounder ...................................................................................................... American Plaice ........................................................................................................................... Witch Flounder ............................................................................................................................. SNE/MA Winter Flounder ............................................................................................................ White Hake .................................................................................................................................. 50 100 50 100 100 100 100 100 Closed Area I hook gear Haddock SAP Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP 16 ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ 34 ........................ 50 ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ SAP = Special Access Program. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 TABLE 11—FISHING YEARS 2015–2016 COMMON POOL INCIDENTAL TOTAL ALLOWABLE CATCHES FOR EACH SPECIAL MANAGEMENT PROGRAM [mt, live weight] Regular B Days-at-Sea program Closed Area I hook gear Haddock SAP Stock 2015 GB Cod .................................................... GOM Cod ................................................. VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 2016 0.34 0.05 PO 00000 Frm 00007 Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP 2015 na 0.05 Fmt 4701 2016 2015 2016 0.11 ........................ na ........................ 0.23 ........................ na ........................ Sfmt 4700 E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 25116 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations TABLE 11—FISHING YEARS 2015–2016 COMMON POOL INCIDENTAL TOTAL ALLOWABLE CATCHES FOR EACH SPECIAL MANAGEMENT PROGRAM—Continued [mt, live weight] Regular B Days-at-Sea program Closed Area I hook gear Haddock SAP Stock 2015 GB Yellowtail Flounder ............................ CC/GOM Yellowtail Flounder ................... American Plaice ....................................... Witch Flounder ......................................... SNE/MA Winter Flounder ........................ 2016 0.03 0.16 1.37 0.62 1.57 Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock SAP 2015 0.05 na na na na 2016 2015 2016 ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ 0.03 ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ 0.05 ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ TABLE 12—FISHING YEAR 2015 CLOSED AREA I HOOK GEAR HADDOCK SPECIAL ACCESS PROGRAM TOTAL ALLOWABLE CATCH [mt, live weight] Exploitable biomass Western GB B20151 Western GB BYear/B2004 Total allowable catch 169,027 ........................................................................................................................................ 59,159 2.166 2,448 1 The western GB exploitable biomass is assumed to be 35 percent of the total exploitable biomass. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 5. Gulf of Maine Cod Protection Measures This action re-configures the GOM rolling closures and prohibits possession of GOM cod for the recreational fishery. The GOM cod protection closures implemented in this final rule are summarized in Table 13 and Figure 1. These closures apply to all federally permitted commercial vessels, except for commercial vessels that are fishing with exempted gear or in an exempted fishery. Additionally, these closures do not apply to commercial vessels that are fishing exclusively in state waters provided the vessel does not have a Federal multispecies permit. As adopted in Amendment 16 to the FMP, sector vessels are exempt from the closures in March and October. The March and October closures also do not apply to Handgear A vessels, regardless of whether the vessel was fishing in the common pool or in a sector. Exempted gear, as defined in § 648.2, is deemed to be not capable of catching groundfish and currently includes: Pelagic hook and line; pelagic longline; spears; rakes; diving gear; cast nets; tongs; harpoons; weirs; dipnets; stop nets; pound nets; pelagic gillnets; pots and traps; shrimp trawls (with a properly configured grate); and surfclam and ocean quahog dredges. Based on the current list of approved exempted fisheries defined in § 648.80, the GOM cod protection closures do not apply to vessels fishing in the Midwater Trawl Gear Exempted Fishery, the Purse Seine Gear Exempted Fishery, the Raised Footrope Trawl Exempted Whiting Fishery, the Small Mesh Area 2 VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 Exemption Area, or the Scallop Dredge Exemption Area. Only the exempted fisheries that overlap in time and area with the cod protection closures are listed here. This list may change if any changes are made to exempted fisheries, or the protection closures, in a future action. TABLE 13—GULF OF MAINE COD PROTECTION CLOSURES Area Closures (30 minute square) Month May ................ June ............... July ................. August ............ September ..... October .......... November ...... December ...... January .......... February ......... March ............. April ................ All Vessels: 125 north of 42°20′ N. lat., 132, 133, 138, 139, 140. All Vessels: 125 north of 42°20′ N. lat., 132, 139, 140, 146, 147. None. None. None. Non-Sector Vessels: 124, 125. All Vessels: Portion of 124, 125. All Vessels: Portion of 124, 125. All Vessels: Portion of 124, 125. None. Non-Sector Vessels: 121, 122, 123. None. Note: Handgear A vessels are exempt from the same closures as sector vessels. The GOM cod closures are intended to protect spawning GOM cod, reduce fishing mortality on GOM cod, and provide additional fishing opportunities for groundfish vessels to target healthy groundfish stocks in areas that were PO 00000 Frm 00008 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 previously closed. These closures are subject to review when the GOM cod spawning stock biomass reaches the minimum biomass threshold (50 percent of SSBMSY). However, as we noted in the proposed rule, the Council could review and modify these closures at any time. Given the pending 2015 assessment, and additional spawning research, reviewing these protection closures as new information becomes available is likely more important than waiting for the minimum biomass threshold to be met. We also highlight a number of concerns below for April, and the Council could consider changes to GOM area closures in light of these concerns. Additionally, as we described in the proposed rule, given the extremely low GOM cod allocation, it is difficult to predict how groundfish vessels will operate in 2015, and we expect the number of active groundfish vessels could markedly decline. We intend to monitor fishing effort following the implementation of management measures for the 2015 fishing year to ensure that any effort changes do not undermine the effectiveness of the protection closures. The protection closures are an additional tool the Council is using to protect GOM cod, and are complementary to its requirement for setting catch limits that will prevent overfishing and help rebuild the stock. Based on the available information, protecting spawning GOM cod could help improve the chances of successful spawning events, and, as a result, help prevent failures of future year classes. Thus, the biological objective of these closures is to help prevent further biomass declines and improve the E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 likelihood of rebuilding GOM cod. In light of the low GOM cod catch limit, the protection closures were also designed to balance these biological objectives with access to healthy groundfish stocks. We highlighted some concerns in the proposed rule for the re-configuration of the GOM area closures. There are biological and economic trade-offs associated with the new closures, and we considered these trade-offs carefully. Available information suggests that once a specific spawning aggregation is lost, there is little indication that the aggregation could recover. As a result, we determined that the addition of winter closures is important because there are currently no protections for the winter spawning component. If the removal of April closures was recommended in isolation, with no additional spring or winter closures, we likely would have disapproved this measure. We determined, however, that the closed area recommendations for the winter and April time periods were presented as a package reflecting the Council’s balancing of conservation VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 benefits and impacts on the fishing industry, and, as such, could not be approved or disapproved independent of each other without undermining the Council’s intent. With the approval of the new area closures for GOM cod, we reiterate our concerns for the potential of the April opening to have negative impacts on other groundfish stocks that spawn in the spring. A number of these stocks are in poor condition (e.g., GOM winter flounder, CC/GOM yellowtail flounder), and, for plaice, the second 10-year rebuilding program was implemented in 2014 due to inadequate rebuilding progress. As we noted previously in this rule, we also remain concerned about GOM cod given its poor condition. The protection closures implemented in this final rule are closely related to measures under consideration in the Council’s Habitat Omnibus Amendment 2. We will continue to work with the Council to help ensure the goals and objectives of that Amendment are met. Recreational vessels are not subject to the GOM cod protection closures and could continue to fish in these areas. PO 00000 Frm 00009 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 25117 Federally permitted party and charter vessels are still required to obtain a letter of authorization to fish in the GOM closed areas. In lieu of the protection closures, this action adopts a prohibition on possession of GOM cod for all private recreational vessels fishing in Federal waters, and all federally permitted party and charter vessels. This is intended to reduce recreational fishing mortality on GOM cod, by reducing the incentive to target the stock, while still providing recreational vessels the opportunity to target other healthy groundfish stocks. Recent catch projections indicated that the recreational fishery would still exceed its allocation for GOM cod in the 2015 fishing year, due to bycatch, even with the prohibition on possession that is implemented in this action. Therefore, in a separate rulemaking, we are adopting additional recreational measures under our discretionary authority to help ensure the recreational fishery does not exceed its allocation for the 2015 fishing year. BILLING CODE 3510–22–P E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations BILLING CODE 3510–22–C 6. Default Catch Limits mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 Mechanism for Setting Default Catch Limits This action establishes a mechanism for setting default catch limits in the event a future management action is delayed. If final catch limits have not been implemented by the start of a fishing year on May 1, then default catch limits will be set at 35 percent of the previous year’s catch limit. If this value exceeds the Council’s VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 recommendation for the upcoming fishing year, the default catch limits will be reduced to an amount equal to the Council’s recommendation for the upcoming fishing year. Because groundfish vessels are not able to fish if final catch limits have not been implemented, this measure is intended to prevent disruption to the groundfish fishery if final catch limits are not in place by May 1. Each time a specifications action is implemented, we intend to also announce the default catch limits that PO 00000 Frm 00010 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 would go into place for the out year in the event a future management action is delayed. Once the Council’s recommendation is known for that year, we will determine if any of the default catch limits previously set would exceed the Council’s recommendation. If so, we will reduce the default catch limits consistent with the Council’s recommendation, and will announce this adjustment prior to the start of the fishing year on May 1. For example, if a framework action sets catch limits for the 2016–2018 fishing year, we would E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 ER01MY15.005</GPH> 25118 25119 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations announce the default catch limits for fishing year 2019 in the same final rule implementing the final 2016–2018 catch limits. If necessary, prior to the start of the 2019 fishing year, we will evaluate whether any of the default catch limits previously announced exceed the Council’s recommendation for 2019. If so, we would announce adjustments to the 2019 default catch limits prior to May 1, 2019. The default catch limits would be in place from May 1 through July 31, unless a final rule including finalized catch limits is implemented prior to July 31 that replaces the default catch limits. If final catch limits are not implemented by the end of the default specifications period, then no catch limits would be in place beginning on August 1. Under this scenario, commercial groundfish vessels would be unable to fish until final catch limits and allocations were implemented for the fishing year. All catch occurring while default catch limits are in place will be attributed to the appropriate fishery allocation and the final catch limits for the fishing year. The default catch limits will be distributed to the various components of the fishery based on the distribution adopted by the Council for the previous fishing year. Additionally, this measure does not change any of the existing AMs for any fishery. For example, if a sector catches its entire allocation of redfish specified for the default specifications time period, it will be prohibited from fishing in the redfish stock area until final specifications were set, or it leased additional allocation for this stock. The midwater trawl fishery is the only nongroundfish fishery with an inseason AM for its allocation of GOM and GB haddock. When the GOM or GB haddock catch cap specified for the default specifications period is caught, the directed herring fishery will be closed for all herring vessels fishing with midwater trawl gear for the remainder of the default specifications time period, unless final specifications were set prior to July 31. For other nongroundfish fisheries that receive an allocation (e.g., scallop, small-mesh), this measure will not affect current operations because these fisheries do not currently have inseason AMs. If default catch limits are implemented for any fishing year, groundfish sectors will not be subject to the 20-percent holdback of the prior year’s allocation. This holdback provision was implemented in Amendment 16 to the FMP to allow time for processing end-of-year transfers and determine whether any overage reductions are necessary. However, the holdback provision will not be necessary under default catch limits because additional precaution has already been built in with the 65percent reduction from the previous year’s catch limits. Although most FMPs implement default catch limits that are equal to the previous year’s catch limits, a more precautionary approach was necessary for groundfish catch limits. In recent years, there have been a number of substantial reductions in groundfish catch limits, up to 80 percent. Given the frequency of large reductions, default catch limits equal to the previous year’s catch limits could increase the risk of overfishing during the time period which default catch limits are implemented. As a result, reducing the default catch limits from the previous year’s catch limits is intended to help ensure that overfishing does not occur during the default time period. Default Catch Limits for Fishing Year 2016 Groundfish assessment updates are anticipated in September 2015, and these assessments are expected to be used to set catch limits for the 2016 fishing year beginning on May 1, 2016. However, due to the timing of these assessments, the Council’s management action that will adopt the catch limits for the 2016 fishing year is not expected to be completed in time to be implemented by May 1, 2016. As a result, this action sets default limits for the 2016 fishing year that will become effective May 1, 2016, unless otherwise replaced by final specifications (Tables 14 and 15). This action only sets default catch limits for those groundfish stocks that would not have final specifications in place for 2016, absent another management action. If the default catch limits exceed the Council’s recommendation for fishing year 2016, then they will be adjusted, as necessary, prior to May 1, 2016. TABLE 14—FISHING YEAR 2016 DEFAULT SPECIFICATIONS [mt, live weight] Stock U.S. ABC mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 GB Cod .................................................... GB Haddock ............................................. SNE/MA Yellowtail Flounder .................... CC/GOM Yellowtail Flounder ................... American Plaice ....................................... Witch Flounder ......................................... SNE/MA Winter Flounder ........................ Redfish ..................................................... N. Windowpane Flounder ........................ S. Windowpane Flounder ........................ Ocean Pout .............................................. Atlantic Halibut ......................................... Atlantic Wolffish ....................................... 693 8,528 245 192 540 274 587 4,191 53 192 82 35 25 Groundfish sub-ACL Total ACL 660 8,121 232 184 514 263 563 3,988 50 184 77 34 23 Preliminary sector sub-ACL 625 7,616 151 161 492 213 457 3,862 35 36 68 22 22 614 7,563 124 155 483 209 402 3,846 na na na na na Preliminary common pool sub-ACL 12 53 27 5 9 4 56 16 35 36 68 22 22 Midwater trawl fishery ........................ 79 ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ ........................ TABLE 15—FISHING YEAR 2016 DEFAULT COMMON POOL TRIMESTER TOTAL ALLOWABLE CATCHES [mt, live weight] Stock Trimester 1 GB Cod ........................................................................................................................................ GB Haddock ................................................................................................................................ SNE/MA Yellowtail Flounder ....................................................................................................... VerDate Sep<11>2014 20:33 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 PO 00000 Frm 00011 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 3.0 14.2 5.7 01MYR3 Trimester 2 4.4 17.4 10.1 Trimester 3 4.5 21.1 11.5 25120 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations TABLE 15—FISHING YEAR 2016 DEFAULT COMMON POOL TRIMESTER TOTAL ALLOWABLE CATCHES—Continued [mt, live weight] Stock Trimester 1 CC/GOM Yellowtail Flounder ...................................................................................................... American Plaice ........................................................................................................................... Witch Flounder ............................................................................................................................. Redfish ......................................................................................................................................... 7. Sector Carryover Currently, sectors can carry over up to 10 percent of their unused initial allocation into the next fishing year. However, a 2013 court ruling in Conservation Law Foundation v. Pritzker, et al. (Case No. 1:13–CV–0821– JEB) determined that available sector carryover combined with the total ACL for the upcoming fishing year, or total potential catch, cannot exceed the ABC. As a result, this action specifies that the maximum available carryover may be reduced if up to 10 percent of the unused sector sub-ACL, plus the total ACL for the upcoming fishing year, exceeds the ABC. For example, if 10 percent of sector carryover from the previous year plus the total ACL for the upcoming year was expected to exceed the ABC by 50 mt, then we would reduce the available carryover for each sector. The overall reduction of available carryover would be equal to 50 mt, and this amount would be applied to each sector proportional to the total PSCs of the vessels/permits enrolled in the sector. This measure is intended to reduce the risk of catches exceeding the ABCs that the SSC recommends. Sector Carryover From Fishing Year 2014 to 2015 Based on the catch limits implemented in this action, we evaluated whether the total potential catch in fishing year 2015 would exceed the proposed ABC if sectors carried over the maximum 10 percent of unused allocation allowed from 2014 to 2015 (Table 16). Under this scenario, total potential catch would exceed the 2015 ABC for all groundfish stocks, except for GOM haddock. As a result, we expect we will need to adjust the maximum amount of unused allocation that a sector can carry forward from 2014 to 2015 (down from 10 percent). However, it is possible that not all sectors will have 10 percent of unused allocation at the end of the 2014 fishing year. We will 1.9 2.2 1.2 4.0 Trimester 2 Trimester 3 1.9 3.3 1.3 5.0 1.6 3.7 1.8 7.1 make the final adjustment to the maximum carryover possible for each sector based on final 2014 catch for the sectors, each sector’s total unused allocation, and proportional to the cumulative PSCs of vessels/permits participating in the sector. We will announce this adjustment as close to May 1, 2015, as possible. Based on the catch limits adopted in this final rule, the de minimis carryover amount for the 2015 fishing year will be set at the default one percent of the 2015 overall sector sub-ACL. The overall de minimis amount will be applied to each sector based on the cumulative PSCs of vessels/permits participating in that sector. If the overall ACL for any allocated stock is exceeded for the 2015 fishing year, the allowed carryover harvested by a sector, minus its specified de minimis amount, will be counted against its allocation to determine whether an overage, subject to an AM, occurred. TABLE 16—EVALUATION OF MAXIMUM CARRYOVER ALLOWED FROM FISHING YEAR 2014 TO 2015 [mt, live weight] 2015 U.S. ABC Stock GB Cod ................................................................................ GOM cod .............................................................................. GB Haddock ......................................................................... GOM Haddock ..................................................................... SNE Yellowtail Flounder ...................................................... CC/GOM Yellowtail Flounder ............................................... Plaice ................................................................................... Witch Flounder ..................................................................... GB Winter Flounder ............................................................. GOM Winter Flounder .......................................................... SNE/MA Winter Flounder .................................................... Redfish ................................................................................. White Hake .......................................................................... Pollock .................................................................................. 2015 Total ACL 1,980 386 24,366 1,454 700 548 1,544 783 2,010 510 1,676 11,974 4,713 16,600 Potential carryover (10% of 2014 sector subACL) Total potential catch (2015 total ACL + potential carryover) Difference between total potential catch and ABC 174 81 1,705 43 46 46 136 60 336 68 106 1,052 425 1,314 2,060 447 24,909 1,418 712 570 1,605 811 2,287 558 1,714 12,445 4,909 17,192 80 61 543 ¥36 12 22 61 28 277 48 38 471 196 592 1,886 366 23,204 1,375 666 524 1,470 751 1,952 489 1,607 11,393 4,484 15,878 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 Note. Carryover of GB yellowtail flounder is not allowed because this stock is jointly managed with Canada. 8. 2015 Annual Measures Under Regional Administrator Authority The FMP gives us authority to implement certain types of management measures for the common pool fishery, the U.S./Canada Management Area, and VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 Special Management Programs on an annual basis, or as needed. This action implemented a number of these management measures for the 2015 fishing year. These measures are not part of Framework 53, and were not PO 00000 Frm 00012 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 specifically proposed by the Council. We are implementing them in conjunction with Framework 53 measures in this final rule for expediency purposes, and because they E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations relate to the catch limits proposed in Framework 53. Common Pool Trip Limits The initial fishing year 2015 days-atsea (DAS) possession limits and maximum trip limits for common pool vessels are included in Tables 17 and 18. These possession limits were developed after considering changes to the common pool catch limits, catch rates of each stock during 2014, and 25121 other available information. During the fishing year, we will adjust possession and trip limits, as necessary, to prevent common pool catch limits from being exceeded. TABLE 17—INITIAL FISHING YEAR 2015 COMMON POOL POSSESSION AND TRIP LIMITS Stock Possession and trip limits GB Cod (outside Eastern U.S./Canada Area) ......................................... GB Cod (inside Eastern U.S./Canada Area) ............................................ GOM Cod ................................................................................................. GB Haddock ............................................................................................. GOM Haddock .......................................................................................... GB Yellowtail Flounder ............................................................................. SNE/MA Yellowtail Flounder .................................................................... CC/GOM Yellowtail Flounder ................................................................... American plaice ........................................................................................ Witch Flounder ......................................................................................... GB Winter Flounder .................................................................................. GOM Winter Flounder .............................................................................. SNE/MA Winter Flounder ......................................................................... Redfish ...................................................................................................... White hake ................................................................................................ Pollock ...................................................................................................... Atlantic Halibut .......................................................................................... Windowpane Flounder .............................................................................. Ocean Pout ............................................................................................... Atlantic Wolffish ........................................................................................ 2,000 lb (907 kg) per DAS, up to 20,000 lb (9,072 kg) per trip. 100 lb (45 kg) per DAS, up to 500 lb (227 kg) per trip. 50 lb (23 kg) per DAS, up to 200 lb (91 kg) per trip. 25,000 lb (11,340 kg) per trip. 50 lb (23 kg) per DAS, up to 200 lb (91 kg) per trip. 100 lb (45 kg) per trip. 2,000 lb (907 kg) per DAS, up to 6,000 lb (2,722 kg) per trip. 1,500 lb (680 kg) per DAS up to 3,000 lb (1,361 kg) per trip. Unlimited. 1,000 lb (454 kg) per trip. 1,000 lb (454 kg) per trip. 1,000 lb (454 kg) per trip. 3,000 lb (1,361 kg) per DAS, up to 6,000 lb (2,722 kg) per trip. Unlimited. 1,500 lb (680 kg) per trip. 10,000 lb (4,536 kg) per trip. 1 fish per trip. Possession Prohibited. Possession Prohibited. Possession Prohibited. TABLE 18—INITIAL FISHING YEAR 2015 COD TRIP LIMITS FOR HANDGEAR A, HANDGEAR B, AND SMALL VESSEL CATEGORY PERMITS Permit/Stock Trip limit Handgear A—GOM Cod .......................................................................... Handgear A—GB Cod .............................................................................. Handgear B—GOM Cod .......................................................................... Handgear B—GB Cod .............................................................................. Small Vessel Category ............................................................................. 50 lb (23 kg) per trip. 300 lb (136 kg) per trip. 25 lb (11 kg) per trip. 75 lb (34 kg) per trip. 300 lb (136 kg) of cod, haddock, and yellowtail flounder combined; maximum of 50 lb (23 kg) of GOM cod and 50 lb (23 kg) of GOM haddock within the 300-lb (136-kg) combined trip limit. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 Closed Area II Yellowtail Flounder/ Haddock Special Access Program This action allocates zero trips for common pool vessels to target yellowtail flounder within the Closed Area II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock Special Access Program (SAP) for fishing year 2015. Vessels could still fish in this SAP in 2015 to target haddock, but must fish with a haddock separator trawl, a Ruhle trawl, or hook gear. Vessels will not be allowed to fish in this SAP using flounder nets. This SAP is open from August 1, 2015, through January 31, 2016. We have the authority to determine the allocation of the total number of trips into the Closed Area II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP based on several criteria, including the GB yellowtail flounder catch limit and the amount of GB yellowtail flounder caught outside of the SAP. The FMP specifies that no trips should be VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 allocated to the Closed Area II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP if the available GB yellowtail flounder catch is insufficient to support at least 150 trips with a 15,000-lb (6,804-kg) trip limit (or 2,250,000 lb (1,020,600 kg)). This calculation accounts for the projected catch from the area outside the SAP. Based on the proposed fishing year 2015 GB yellowtail flounder groundfish sub-ACL of 429,240 lb (194,700 kg), there is insufficient GB yellowtail flounder to allocate any trips to the SAP, even if the projected catch from outside the SAP area is zero. Further, given the low GB yellowtail flounder catch limit, catch rates outside of this SAP are more than adequate to fully harvest the 2015 GB yellowtail flounder allocation. PO 00000 Frm 00013 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 9. Fishing Year 2015 Northern Windowpane Flounder Accountability Measure For data reported through April 14, 2015, estimated catch of northern windowpane flounder is 239 mt, which is 166 percent of the total ACL (144 mt) and 118 percent of the OFL (202 mt). Of this estimated catch, the commercial groundfish fishery has caught 156 mt, and the scallop fishery has caught 83 mt. This catch estimate does not include catch from any other non-groundfish fisheries because inseason catch information is not available. However, catch from these components is typically very low. We are required to implement an AM for northern windowpane flounder in the year immediately following an overage if reliable data indicate that the total ACL has been exceeded. As a result, this final rule implements an AM for northern windowpane flounder for E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 25122 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations large gear restricted area is implemented for fishing year 2015 (Figure 2). There are no restrictions on common pool or sector vessels fishing with longline or gillnet gear. In addition, the AM will not affect any non-groundfish vessels because northern windowpane is not allocated to any non-groundfish fishery (e.g., scallop fishery). An overview of the windowpane AM can be found here: http:// www.nero.noaa.gov/sfd/sfdmulti.html. As a reminder, sectors cannot request an exemption from this AM. The AM will remain in place for the entire 2015 fishing year, unless modified through a future action. As long as additional overages do not occur, the AM will be removed at the start of the 2016 fishing year, beginning on May 1, 2016. 10. Daily Catch Reporting for Commercial Groundfish Vessels In the proposed rule, we highlighted our concern that the low GOM cod catch limit could provide a strong incentive to misreport or underreport catch on unobserved trips. Currently, commercial groundfish vessels that declare their intent to fish in multiple broad stock areas are required to submit trip-level catch reports via the VMS. However, in the proposed rule, we noted that requiring daily VMS catch reports was one potential tool that could help address our concerns for misreporting. After further consideration, and based on public comments we received, we are, through this final rule, requiring vessels to submit a daily VMS catch report on trips declared into the GOM Broad Stock Area and any other broad stock area (i.e., offshore GB or SNE) on the same trip. This reporting requirement is effective on May 1, 2015. In Amendment 16 to the FMP, the Council recommended requiring daily VMS catch reports for vessels that declare their intent to fish in multiple broad stock areas. Amendment 16 also gave NMFS the discretionary authority to modify this reporting requirement, as we determined was necessary to appropriately monitor the ACLs, while also reducing unnecessary duplication. At the time we implemented Amendment 16, we determined that only trip-level catch reports were necessary for vessels that declared their intent to fish in multiple broad stock areas, and we implemented this requirement beginning for the 2010 fishing year. In light of the GOM cod catch limit, we determined that daily VMS catch reports for trips declared into the GOM and other broad stock areas on the same trip will help ensure more accurate apportionment of cod catch to the GOM and GB stock areas, help enforcement efforts, and more effectively control mortality on the GOM cod stock. We also expect that the daily VMS catch report may promote more accurate VMS trip declarations because only vessels with a true intent of fishing in the GOM will declare into this area given the daily reporting requirement. Vessels subject to the daily VMS catch report requirement are not required to also submit a trip-level catch report. The same information currently required for trip-level catch reports will be required for the daily catch reports, namely a good-faith estimate of the amount of each regulated groundfish species retained (in pounds, landed weight) and the total amount of all species retained (in pounds, landed weight), including groundfish species and species managed by other FMPs, from each broad stock area. For applicable trips, daily VMS catch reports must be submitted for each calendar day of the trip (midnight to midnight), and must be submitted by 0900 hr of the following day. The requirement to submit a daily VMS catch report does not apply to vessels that declare their intent to fish in multiple broad stock areas, but not the GOM. These vessels are still only required to submit a trip-level catch report. For example, if a vessel declares into the offshore GB and SNE/MA Broad Stock Areas, it would only be subject to a trip-level report. This is intended to prevent unnecessary duplication. Most VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 PO 00000 Frm 00014 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 ER01MY15.006</GPH> mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 fishing year 2015 based on the most recent catch information for 2014. For fishing year 2015, common pool and sector vessels fishing on a groundfish trip with trawl gear are required to use one of the approved selective gears when fishing in the applicable AM area (haddock separator trawl, Ruhle trawl, or rope separator trawl). Because the overage is more than 20 percent, the Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations of our current concerns for catch attribution and compliance are in light of the GOM cod catch limit, and for trips fishing in both the GOM and GB broad stock areas. As a result, we determined that requiring a daily VMS catch report for vessels declared into multiple areas, but not into the GOM, was not necessary at this time. 11. Regulatory Corrections Under Regional Administrator Authority The following changes to the regulations are being made to correct references, inadvertent deletions, and other minor errors. In § 648.14(k)(7), the reference to the GOM Cod Spawning Protection Area (Whaleback) is corrected. This change was overlooked in a previous management action. In § 648.14(k)(12) and (13), the introductory text is revised to clarify that the general restrictions listed in these paragraphs apply to any person. In § 648.87(b)(1)(i)(C)(2), the reference to the sector AM provision is corrected. In § 648.89(f)(1), the reference to special provisions for recreational catch evaluation for fishing years 2010 and 2011 are removed. These provisions are no longer relevant. In § 648.90(a)(2)(i), the reference to a special provision for the biennial review for 2008 and 2009 is removed. This provision is no longer relevant. In § 648.90(a)(2)(viii), a reference is corrected that was overlooked during the implementation of a previous FMP action. In § 648.90(a)(5)(i), this rule corrects a spelling error. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 Comments and Responses on Measures Proposed in the Framework 53 Proposed Rule We received 48 comments during the comment period on the Framework 53 proposed rule. Public comments were submitted by the Council, 2 state marine fisheries agencies, 5 commercial fishing organizations, 1 groundfish sector, 7 commercial fishermen, 1 recreational fishing organization, 24 recreational fishermen, 4 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and 3 individuals. We requested specific comment on several measures proposed in Framework 53, including some aspects of the GOM cod catch limit and the GOM cod protection measures. Responses to the comments received are below, and, when possible, responses to similar comments on the proposed measures have been consolidated. VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 Status Determination Criteria Comment 1: Two state marine fisheries agencies supported the revised status determination criteria. Response: We agree, and are implementing these changes in this final rule. The revised status determination criteria for GB yellowtail flounder, as well as the updated numerical estimates of the status determination criteria for other groundfish stocks, incorporate the results of the 2014 assessments for these stocks. As a result, these revisions are based on the best scientific information available, and will help ensure the appropriate catch limits are set for these stocks. Fishing Year 2015 U.S./Canada Quotas Comment 2: One state marine fisheries agency supported the fishing year 2015 shared U.S./Canada quotas for eastern GB cod, eastern GB haddock, and GB yellowtail flounder. Response: We agree, and this final rule implements these quotas for fishing year 2015. The 2015 shared U.S./Canada quotas are based on the results of the 2014 Transboundary Resources Assessment Committee assessment, which represents the best scientific information available. These quotas are also consistent with the recommendations of the TMGC and the SSC. Fishing Year 2015–2017 Catch Limits (Excluding Gulf of Maine Cod) Comment 3: Two state marine fisheries agencies, one commercial fishing organization, two recreational fishermen, and one individual supported the fishing years 2015–2017 catch limits for groundfish stocks. One recreational fisherman reported catching much less GOM winter flounder in recent years. Response: We agree, and are implementing these catch limits for fishing years 2015–2017. These catch limits are based on the 2014 assessments for these stocks, which represent the best scientific information available, and are consistent with the SSC’s recommendations and conservation objectives. Assessment updates are scheduled for 2015 for all of these stocks, which will provide the opportunity to update the catch limits implemented in this final rule for fishing year 2016 and beyond. The results of the 2014 assessment update for GOM winter flounder show large declines in the survey indices in recent years. Based on the assessment, the GOM winter flounder catch limits in this action are a 50-percent reduction compared to 2014. This appears to PO 00000 Frm 00015 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 25123 corroborate the commenter’s observation of catching much less GOM winter flounder in recent years. The assessment peer review panel expressed concerns that recent biomass estimates substantially decreased despite relatively low catch, and reasons for this apparent decline are not known. Available catch information indicates that the majority of GOM winter flounder catch comes from the same statistical areas as the majority of the GOM cod catch. As a result, the substantial reduction in the GOM cod catch limit is expected to affect catch of GOM winter flounder. Comment 4: One commercial fishing organization, one groundfish sector, and one commercial fisherman opposed the catch limits for GB winter flounder, and noted that the catch limits are overly restrictive. The commercial fishing organization also commented that the Council adopted a 7-year rebuilding program for GB winter flounder with the intention of extending it to 10 years, if necessary, and that a 7-year trajectory is unnecessarily restrictive. The groundfish sector commented that the large reduction will have a negative economic impact on New Bedford. Response: We recognize that the reduction in the catch limit for GB winter flounder may be restrictive for groundfish vessels, particularly in light of other substantial reductions for key groundfish stocks that have been implemented in recent years. The economic impacts analysis for this action predicts that GB winter flounder will generate the third most revenue of all groundfish stocks for fishing year 2015 (following GB haddock and pollock, respectively), and that the groundfish fishery will fully utilize its available GB winter flounder quota. Although not fully captured in the economic analysis, selective gear requirements for northern windowpane flounder may reduce profitability for groundfish vessels targeting GB winter flounder. However, the catch limits are based on the 2014 assessment update for this stock, which is the best scientific information available, and are consistent with the SSC’s recommendation. Amendment 16 to the FMP adopted a 7-year rebuilding program for GB winter flounder with a 75-percent probability of rebuilding by 2017. This shorter time period and higher probability were adopted to provide additional flexibility in the event stock rebuilding lagged behind the planned rebuilding trajectory. However, it is unclear whether this would be the case for GB winter flounder. E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 25124 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations Based on the results of the 2014 assessment, estimated biomass for 2013 is approximately 85 percent of the biomass target. Catch projections also indicate that the stock has a 76-percent probability of rebuilding by 2017 if catches for the next 3 years are set based on Frebuild. Thus, it appears this stock is on its planned rebuilding trajectory. The SSC recommended ABCs based on Frebuild, and did not note any reason to depart from this approach. Further, although the GB winter flounder rebuilding program was not considered in Framework 53, given the retrospective pattern in the assessment, the PDT noted that the conservative rebuilding approach (higher probability) may be appropriate given the revised lower biomass estimates from the 2014 assessment. In any event, we can only approve or disapprove Framework 53 measures. Because the Council did not consider, or approve, extending the rebuilding timeframe for GB winter flounder in Framework 53, such a change is outside the scope and authority of this action. Comment 5: Although supportive of the GOM haddock catch limits included in this action, one commercial fishing organization noted concerns that strong year classes were down-weighted in the stock assessment, and that GB/GOM stock mixing is largely unaccounted for as well. Response: We acknowledge uncertainties around recent year classes, and the possibility of mixing between the GB and GOM haddock stocks. However, these issues were examined in the 2014 benchmark assessment for GOM haddock. The PDT and SSC also completed a review of haddock stock mixing, and this analysis was reviewed during the 2014 assessment. Based on the examination of these issues, the 2014 assessment appropriately accounted for year class uncertainty and mixing, and the peer review panel concluded this was the best scientific information available. The results of the 2014 stock assessment for GOM haddock indicate that the 2012 year class is strong. However, the size of this potentially large year class was identified as the largest source of uncertainty in the assessment, primarily because it is based on only two surveys. The final model did constrain recruitment estimates in the last 3 years of the time series. This type of adjustment is intended to offset uncertainties due to the low confidence in the survey observations that are not yet substantiated by fishery-dependent data. Although the 2012 year class appears strong, this estimate is still highly VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 uncertain, and the adjustment helps prevent overly optimistic results that could occur from anomalous survey tows. The assessment did explore sensitivity runs that further downweighted this year class; however, these sensitivity runs were not used to develop the fishing years 2015–2017 catch limits implemented in this action. We are closely monitoring stock indicators for GOM haddock to gauge if initial indications of a strong 2012 year class are substantiated. The fall 2014 survey indices have increased relative to 2013, and this is likely a function of the signal from incoming year classes. We expect that the 2015 assessment update for GOM haddock will provide additional information about the absolute size of the 2012 year class. However, recent survey indices appear to support the initial indications of a strong 2012 year class. While it is true that the assessment model does not account for mixing, this issue was examined during the 2014 benchmark assessment. The assessment examined multiple sources of evidence that indicated the annual percent mixing from GB to GOM is low (less than 0.8 percent), but there is considerable uncertainty regarding the degree of mixing. Both the peer review panel and the SSC noted the significant risk to GOM haddock that could occur if the wrong mixing rate is assumed, and ultimately concluded that additional research is needed to determine the stock movement rates before incorporating mixing into the assessment model. Gulf of Maine Cod Assessment Comment 6: Two commercial fishing organizations opposed the process used for the 2014 assessment update. The commenters noted that the process was not transparent, and that we only secured an ad-hoc peer review of the assessment after it had been completed. One commercial fishing organization noted that Framework 53 was largely intended to address northern windowpane flounder, and that the 2014 assessment for GOM cod disrupted this work. Response: We acknowledge that the 2014 assessment for GOM cod was not scheduled, and that stakeholders did not expect to receive updated stock information. In recent years, both the Council and stakeholders have frequently requested more timely information on stock conditions, as well as advanced notice when we see early indications of changes in stock condition. As a result, we have undertaken a number of efforts to develop a more efficient process for PO 00000 Frm 00016 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 generating information on stock status. In 2014, after examining the most recent survey data for GOM cod, we determined that all major indicators of stock health appeared to have deteriorated since the 2012 assessment. Catch and age data for 2012 and 2013 were also available at the time and used to conduct the 2014 stock assessment update. The intent of undertaking the update was part of our larger effort to provide early indications of changes in stock conditions. Once the preliminary results of the assessment update were clear, we shared the information with the Council, and then sought the Council’s assistance to conduct a peer review of the stock assessment. We recognize that recent AMs for northern windowpane flounder have reduced yield of other groundfish stocks on GB. The Council did consider management measures for northern windowpane flounder in Framework 53, including an allocation of this stock for the scallop fishery. However, the Council ultimately took no action on these measures because, as noted in the Council’s analysis, it determined that they would not have sufficiently addressed the goal of increasing catch accountability for individual fishery components. Further, in lieu of any changes in Framework 53, the Council set a 2015 priority to review windowpane flounder management, and, depending on the outcome of that review, the Council may potentially identify revisions to the existing management measures. Comment 7: One commercial fisherman, two recreational fishermen, and two commercial fishing organizations commented that, although GOM cod biomass is low, the 2014 assessment results are too pessimistic. These commenters noted that fishermen are reporting an increase in relative cod catch, and that they are catching more cod in areas not recently known for cod. Response: Throughout the development of Framework 53, we have continued to hear from commercial fishermen that cod catches, while still low, have increased relative to recent years. Analysis from the PDT shows a few signs of high cod tows in the commercial fishery. However, available catch data indicate that catch per unit effort has continued to decline through 2014. These data also show that the spatial re-distribution of cod catch patterns in 2013 and 2014 were primarily the result of a spatial shift in fishing effort. Catch efficiency of cod is greater in the western Gulf of Maine, and, in response to catch limit reductions in fishing year 2013, many vessels shifted effort east as one way to E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations avoid cod. Catch data indicate that the proportion of GOM cod caught from the western GOM declined coincident with an easterly shift in fishing effort. Although it is difficult to distinguish trends in catch per unit effort from declining catch limits, the available data do not appear to support an increased availability of GOM cod. However, if there has been a recent increase in GOM cod, we expect that this increase would be captured in the trawl surveys, and incorporated into subsequent assessments. Comment 8: One NGO commented that the 2014 assessment update did not take a precautionary approach for estimating recruitment. Another NGO commented on the potential for GOM cod to suffer depensation effects at such low biomass levels. Response: We disagree that the assessment did not take a precautionary approach for estimating recruitment. One term of reference for the peer review panel of the 2014 assessment was to perform short-term catch projections that accounted for recent recruitment. The peer review panel concluded that the recruitment protocol for the 2014 assessment update was consistent with the approved benchmark formulation, which assumes that recruitment success is compromised under current SSB levels. Additionally, for the 2014 assessment, age-1 recruitment was estimated using the geometric mean of the most recent 5 years (2009–2013), as opposed to the most recent 10 years, in further recognition of the lower recruitments in recent years. These catch projections using the 5-year geometric mean were used as the basis for the catch advice for fishing years 2015–2017 that we are implementing in this final rule. During the 2014 assessment, and the development of this action, there was some discussion on the potential for depensation given the very low biomass for GOM cod. Depensation can be caused by several factors, including reduced recruitment at lower SSB levels, reduced egg production or survival when age structure of the spawning population is truncated, or increased predation. As noted above, the catch projections do include the potential for recruitment to be compromised under certain SSB levels. This adjustment was intended to help account for possible depensation effects. Additionally, the 2014 assessment noted the potential for further declines in biomass and truncation of age-structure to affect future recruitment success, and that catch projections could be optimistic. These uncertainties were considered in the development of catch VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 advice for GOM cod and additional protection measures that are implemented in this final rule, as described elsewhere in this preamble, as well as corresponding measures for sectors that are implemented in the final rule for 2015 and 2016 Sector Operations Plans and Contracts. Comment 9: One commercial fishing organization noted concerns that the stock assessment does not adequately capture the specific geographic stock components for GOM cod. Response: The 2012 benchmark assessment for GOM cod identified multiple topics that warranted further investigation, including cod stock structure. Since the 2012 benchmark assessment, a workshop was held on stock structure of cod in the GOM region, and this workshop concluded that there are three genetic stocks. Although some workshop participants concluded there was sufficient evidence to indicate that the current management units should be revised, the workshop was not able to reach any conclusions on the most appropriate management response. Following this workshop, additional information has become available on cod stock structure, and the Council has also set a 2015 priority to examine how stock structure may affect management. The peer review panel for the 2014 assessment update discussed all of the available information on cod stock structure, and noted that this issue should be further considered in a benchmark assessment. In providing catch advice for fishing years 2015– 2017, the SSC also reiterated the importance of continuing the evaluation of cod stock structure, and that this work should be completed as soon as possible. Although recognizing that there are uncertainties in any stock assessment, we determined that the assessments relied on for this action are the best scientific information available. Cod stock structure, along with other topics identified for the GOM cod assessment, will continue to be examined. However, it should be noted that, currently, the GOM cod assessment scheduled for September 2015 is an operational assessment, and not a benchmark assessment. Fishing Years 2015–2017 Gulf of Maine Cod Catch Limits Comment 10: The Council, two state marine fisheries agencies, and three commercial fishing organizations supported the proposed GOM cod catch limits. Although supportive of the catch limit, one commercial fishing organization disagreed with our interpretation that an ABC of 386 mt PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 25125 was not strictly based on an Frebuild approach. This organization also commented that catch projections used to develop catch advice assumed a catch of 1,470 mt for 2014, and the realized 2014 catch is likely lower than this value. Response: For all of the reasons previously discussed in this preamble, we are implementing an ABC of 386 mt in this final rule. We recognize that there may be disagreements on how to characterize an ABC of 386 mt relative to the various provisions of the ABC control rule. However, based on the best scientific information available, and the SSC’s final report, we determined that an ABC of 386 mt is consistent with Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements. Based on updated catch projections, this ABC will end overfishing and will not jeopardize the stock’s ability to rebuild by 2024. Further, because no peer review body has been able to conclude that any scenario is more plausible than any other, an ABC of 386 mt appropriately incorporates all of the available catch projections. The updated catch projections show little difference in the future catches and biomass between an ABC of 386 mt and an ABC of 200 mt, in part because catch limits would likely need to be set lower under the 386-mt scenario in the out years of the rebuilding period than those needed under 200 mt. The PDT did explore the sensitivity of catch projections to the 2014 catch assumption. One sensitivity run was completed that assumed a 2014 catch of 1,000 mt instead of 1,470 mt. This sensitivity analysis indicated that a lower 2014 catch would result in approximately 60 mt more catch in 2015. The PDT did not evaluate the likelihood that catch would be 1,000 mt, however, and this sensitivity analysis was not generated for use in providing 2015 catch advice. Comment 11: The Council and one state marine fisheries agency noted concerns that we highlighted uncertainties and requested specific comments on various aspects of the ABC in the proposed rule, and that this appears to conflict with the SSC process for developing ABC recommendations. Response: We give great weight to the SSC’s recommendation. The SSC is charged with providing scientific advice to the Council, including ABC recommendations that will meet Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements. We recognize that the SSC considered its catch advice for GOM cod carefully, and thoroughly reviewed the available information. However, as specified in the Magnuson-Stevens Act, we must ensure that any fishery management E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 25126 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations plan is carried out in accordance with the provisions of the Act and the National Standards. In order to make a final determination, and as part of the public rulemaking process, we must carefully examine the available information and seek any clarifications necessary to ensure final measures are consistent with applicable requirements. In doing this, it provides the public additional opportunity to comment on the issues and respond to any concerns that we raise. We must then evaluate all comments that we receive during the proposed rule comment period together with the SSC’s deliberations, analysis of the proposed measures, and the best scientific information available. For these reasons, we considered it appropriate to raise our concerns regarding the SSC’s recommendation in order to make a final determination on the GOM cod catch limits adopted in this rule. Comment 12: Three NGOs opposed an ABC of 386 mt, and instead supported an ABC of 200 mt. These commenters asserted that an ABC of 386 mt was above the level associated with Frebuild, that it would fail to rebuild the stock by the rebuilding plan end date of 2024, and, as a result, was not consistent with National Standard 1, Amendment 16, and § 304(e) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. These commenters noted concerns about the retrospective pattern in the assessment and the past performance of catch projections. Response: We understand the concerns about GOM cod raised by the commenters, and we noted many of these concerns in the proposed rule. GOM cod stock status is poor and appropriate measures must be implemented to ensure conservation objectives are met. As we highlighted during the development of Framework 53, and in our approval of an ABC of 386 mt, we remain concerned for GOM cod, and are proceeding with the caveat that the ABC for the 2016 and 2017 fishing years must be reevaluated in light of the September 2015 assessment for this stock. The ABC adopted in this action is a complex balance between conservation objectives and other Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements that we must take into account. The development of the ABC adopted in this action is described earlier in the preamble of this rule, and the proposed rule, and is only briefly summarized again here. During the 2014 assessment update, rebuilding catch trajectories were updated based on the new rebuilding program adopted in Framework 51 to the FMP with an end date of 2024. These rebuilding catch projections assumed a constant F for the VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 remaining 9 years of the rebuilding plan. The PDT initially presented these Frebuild projections completed for the 2014 assessment update to the SSC, as well as an option to set a 200-mt constant catch, which was based on the two projection scenarios that indicated rebuilding was possible. The PDT updated the catch projections with the 200-mt constant ABC option, and these projections indicated the stock would still rebuild by 2024. The SSC recommended this provisional ABC of 200 mt, but noted that it was not consistent with the development of the OFL, which incorporated all three catch projections. As a result, the SSC requested additional information from the PDT to consider incidental catch in its ABC recommendation in order to incorporate all three plausible catch projection scenarios, as well as the control rule provision that specifies the ABC should be based on incidental bycatch if rebuilding cannot occur, even in the absence of fishing mortality. Updated catch projections indicate that the stock can rebuild by 2024 under an ABC of 386 mt for fishing years 2015–2017. Based on our examination of additional catch projections, we determined there is likely little functional biological difference between 200 mt and 386 mt. This is, in part, because lower catches may be necessary in the out years of the rebuilding program under the 386-mt ABC scenario compared to the 200-mt scenario. Based on the available projections, and analysis of the biological impacts of this action, we determined that an ABC of 386 mt is sufficiently below the OFL to prevent overfishing, and will not jeopardize rebuilding progress. We recognize the recent changes in the perception of stock status and uncertainties in groundfish catch projections. Multiple analyses have been completed that highlight the past performance of groundfish catch projections, and the SSC considers this information each time it provides catch advice for groundfish stocks. In many instances, a constant catch strategy has been used to help offset these uncertainties, and provide an increasingly larger scientific uncertainty buffer as the projections move further from the terminal year of the assessment. The SSC applied this strategy to GOM cod in its recommendation for fishing years 2015– 2017. However, more importantly, in providing its catch advice, the SSC noted that pending the results of the 2015 assessment, it would reconsider its catch advice for fishing year 2016 and beyond. PO 00000 Frm 00018 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 As we noted earlier in the preamble of this rule, we are approving an ABC of 386 mt with the expectation that the catch limits in this final rule will be reassessed for fishing years 2016 and beyond due to the GOM cod assessment update scheduled for September 2015. When considering all three of the available catch projection scenarios, an ABC of 386 mt was a higher option than other catch outputs, most notably the provisional recommendation of 200 mt. However, the 2015 assessment provides an opportunity to closely monitor the status of this stock in order to make any necessary adjustments to the catch limits adopted in this rule for future fishing years. Our approval of the GOM cod ABC, therefore, is, in effect, only approval for the first year (2015) of the remaining rebuilding time period. As a result, we determined that the uncertainties in projection and concerns for the past performance are mitigated given the pending assessment. Although the Council could have considered, and recommended, an ABC lower than the SSC’s recommendation of 386 mt, a lower ABC would not have mitigated economic impacts consistent with Magnuson-Stevens Act national standards and other requirements. In this case, to ignore an alternative that meets conservation objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and that could help mitigate some of the substantial economic impacts this action is expected to have, would not be consistent with National Standard 8, and could jeopardize achieving optimum yield for the groundfish fishery. Further, analysis prepared for this action indicates that a lower GOM cod catch limit may create an economic incentive to misreport catch. This incentive may increase under a 200-mt ABC compared to an ABC of 386 mt. Even a slight increase in misreporting could diminish the benefits of a lower catch limit because of the relatively small biological benefit expected from an ABC as low as 200 mt when compared to 386 mt. We have continued to reiterate the importance of controlling fishing mortality, and agree with commenters that this is necessary to help ensure conservation objectives are met for GOM cod. As a result, along with an ABC of 386 mt, we are also implementing an additional reporting requirement for groundfish vessels to help ensure catch remains within this limit, and have also made adjustments to sector exemptions for fishing year 2015 in light of GOM cod stock status. Comment 13: One NGO commented that the proposed rule and supporting E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations documents inadequately assess the biological impacts of the ABC (386 mt). Response: We disagree. The final report for the 2014 assessment update, supporting analyses developed by the PDT, Council and SSC deliberations, and the Framework 53 Environmental Assessment provide a thorough examination of the impacts of the ABC implemented in this final rule. The development of a GOM cod ABC occurred over the course of a peer review of the 2014 stock assessment, several PDT meetings, two SSC meetings, two Groundfish Committee meetings, and two Council meetings. All of this information, including summaries of the relevant meetings, is publically available, and all of it was incorporated into the Framework 53 Environmental Assessment, which was made available with the proposed rule for this action. Further, considering all of the available catch projections, there was a wide range of potential catches and fishing mortality rates examined in the supporting analyses. For example, the 2014 assessment update completed catch projections for various catch alternatives ranging from Frebuild to FMSY. Catch projections from the 2014 assessment update also explored the sensitivity of the projections to different recruitment assumptions to better ensure projections reflected the recent lower observed recruitment. Additionally, during the development of Framework 53, the SSC provisionally recommended an ABC of 200 mt. Although this ABC was not its final recommendation, the available catch projections provide a comparison between an ABC of 200 mt and an ABC of 386 mt. The biological impacts of 386 mt were also analyzed in the Framework 53 Environmental Assessment and catch projections were updated with an ABC of 386 mt. This analysis also compared the biological impacts of 386 mt to No Action. In the No Action alternative, groundfish vessels would have been unable to fish because catch limits would not have been set for a number of stocks. Under this scenario, catches would not be completely eliminated because incidental bycatch would still occur in other non-groundfish fisheries. However, the analysis concluded that there was little difference between these two scenarios (200 mt and 386 mt), and that the future catches and biomass indicated from the catch projections were relatively similar. The commenter offered no specific reasons or evidence that contradicts this analysis. Comment 14: Two individual fishermen, one state marine fisheries agency, and three commercial fishing VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 organizations reiterated concerns for the socio-economic impact of the GOM cod ABC. The state marine fisheries agency suggested that the predicted gross revenue losses are likely severe underestimates, and that the economic impacts analysis incorrectly assumed a fluid quota leasing market. Response: We highlighted similar concerns in the proposed rule, particularly our concern that this final rule will primarily impact small vessels and ports north of Boston (Gloucester, MA, and New Hampshire ports). Some measures are expected to provide marginal economic relief that could increase the viability of the inshore fleet. However, even measures designed to provide additional fishing opportunities will not mitigate all of the substantial economic impacts that are expected from the GOM cod ABC. The economic impacts analysis of this action noted that gross revenue for the groundfish fishery has declined in recent years (from $120 million in fishing year 2011 to $79 million in fishing year 2013). The predicted gross revenue losses for fishing year 2015 (approximately 10 percent) may mask some of the economic impacts to small vessels and ports. However, evaluation of the past performance of the economic model used for analysis suggests that, generally, the predicted gross revenues for a fishing year were relatively close to the realized values. Of course, there are uncertainties in the model, and although the model is intended to capture fishery-wide behavior changes related to catch limit changes, it can over-predict landings under a number of circumstances. With all of this in consideration, the economic impacts analysis concluded that the additional declines forecasted for fishing year 2015 would result in impacts to the entire groundfish fishery even greater than previous GOM cod catch limit reductions. Reductions in the GOM cod catch limit implemented in previous years resulted in economic losses; however, available information indicates the sector fishery has been able to adapt to some degree. Despite some ability to adapt under previous catch limit reductions, GOM cod was constraining in fishing year 2013. The economic impacts analysis did note that if it becomes difficult for fishermen to avoid GOM cod, the predicted gross revenues could be serious overestimates. Further, although the economic impacts analysis attempts to include the possibility of high GOM cod tows, it does not fully capture these risks. If observed trips encounter unexpected high GOM cod tows, these trips could endanger fishing PO 00000 Frm 00019 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 25127 operations for the entire sector. The quota leasing market, and potential changes in fishing year 2015, were discussed in the full economic impacts analysis, and are not repeated here. However, we recognize the comment that the analysis may not fully capture the current quota leasing market. Comment 15: One NGO commented that the management uncertainty buffer should be increased to account for potential observer bias. Another NGO commented that GOM cod needs realistic buffers, but didn’t specifically comment on whether the management uncertainty buffers for GOM cod should be adjusted. Response: Each time catch limits are set, the PDT reviews the management uncertainty buffers used for each fishery component and recommends any necessary adjustments. For Framework 53, the PDT reviewed the current management uncertainty buffers, as well as previous analysis completed in support of Framework 50 to the FMP, which set GOM cod catch limits for fishing years 2013–2015. Both the PDT and the Council have periodically discussed the possibility of increasing the buffers due to evidence that fishing behavior may differ on observed and unobserved trips, possibly resulting in an underestimate of discards. However, to date the PDT has been unable to estimate the amount of suspected bias of observed trips. Further, the PDT concluded that the direction of the bias can change year to year, for reasons that are unknown. As a result, the PDT has been unable to determine whether any adjustments to the existing buffers would be warranted to address potential bias. The PDT concluded that no new information is available at this time that would warrant any changes to the buffers previously adopted in Framework 50 to the FMP, and recommended no changes to the management uncertainty buffers. Comment 16: Multiple commenters suggested various types of management approaches in light of GOM cod stock status and the fishing year 2015 catch limit. Suggestions included splitting the GOM cod quota into biannual allocations or trimester, implementing dynamic inseason closures for bycatch avoidance, and banning all fishing for, or closing the directed fishing for, GOM cod. One NGO requested that we initiate a Secretarial amendment, and another has submitted a petition for rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act to prohibit commercial and recreational fishing for GOM cod and to limit catch to a level consistent with rebuilding requirements. E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 25128 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations Response: Other than the GOM cod possession restriction for the recreational fishery, none of the measures suggested by commenters were proposed in Framework 53, and so are beyond the scope and authority relating to this action because we can only approve or disapprove measures in a framework. In a future action, the Council could develop any combination of management measures it determines are necessary to meet the goals and objectives of the FMP. Additionally, sectors can voluntarily develop GOM cod avoidance mechanisms at any time. In fact, some sectors have already developed additional restrictions for member vessels to help avoid GOM cod and stay within the available allocation for the 2015 fishing year. Although it is still unclear how commercial groundfish vessels will operate in 2015, we expect that the sector fishery, to the extent possible, will continue to find ways to adapt to the new GOM cod catch limit, and target other groundfish stocks. With the initial 2013 reductions of the GOM cod catch limits, many groundfish vessels were no longer targeting GOM cod, and instead, used available GOM cod quota to access other stocks. Analysis indicates a dramatic decline in targeted GOM cod trips beginning in the 2013 fishing year. As noted earlier in this rule, with an additional 75-percent reduction in fishing year 2015, it is expected that the incentive for sector vessels to take targeted GOM cod trips is virtually eliminated given the extremely low GOM cod allocations that each sector will receive. We are also setting the GOM cod trip limit for the common pool fishery at 50 lb (23 kg) to reduce the incentive to target GOM cod. The combination of commercial measures, along with a prohibition on possession of GOM cod for the recreational fishery, is expected to, in effect, result in a ‘‘bycatch only’’ fishery. Section 304 of the Magnuson-Stevens Act provides the Secretary of Commerce with the authority to prepare, and implement, a fishery management plan if the Council fails to develop a plan after a reasonable period of time, or fails to submit a plan that meets necessary conservation and management objectives. We have carefully considered the available information, and determined that all of the management measures implemented in this final rule, along with corresponding measures implemented through the final rule for 2015–2016 Sector Operations Plans and Contracts and 2015 recreational measures, will provide sufficient protection for GOM cod to prevent overfishing and contribute to VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 rebuilding consistent with MagnusonStevens Act requirements. Further, as already noted, we will continue to work with the Council to ensure that GOM cod management measures are reviewed, or updated, as needed. As a result, a Secretarial amendment, at this time, is unnecessary and unwarranted. The petition for rulemaking is under consideration, and we will respond to this request consistent with the applicable requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act. Comment 17: Two NGOs, one state marine fisheries agency, and two commercial fishing organizations noted concerns for monitoring the low GOM cod catch limit in fishing year 2015. One NGO commented that calculation of the at-sea monitoring coverage level should be at the level of the individual vessel. The two commercial fishing organizations highlighted the importance of electronic monitoring (EM), and that this may provide a way to improve catch accounting. One organization commented that we should implement a requirement to restrict vessels to fishing in a single broad stock area on a trip. The Council also commented in response to the concerns we raised in the proposed rule, and noted that in Amendment 16 to the FMP, the Council provided us with the authority to implement daily catch reporting at any time we deem it necessary. Response: We agree that adequate monitoring, accounting, and enforcement are essential to help ensure catch limits are effective. A description of at-sea monitoring coverage levels is provided in the final rule for the 2015– 2016 Sector Operations Plans and Contracts, and is not repeated here. We recognize that the low GOM cod catch limit may create an economic incentive to misreport, which could reduce the accuracy of catch apportionment. Although we implemented a single broad stock area requirement in our initial 2014 interim action, this measure can severely restrict some fishing operations, and reduce the ability for groundfish vessels to target healthy groundfish stocks. In our 2014 interim action, we determined that, despite the potential negative economic impacts, the single broad stock area requirement was necessary as a midyear adjustment for the fishery. The 2014 assessment indicated that, if no action was taken, the measures in place for the 2014 fishing year would have resulted in substantial overfishing. The single broad stock area requirement was intended to help minimize further catch, and ensure the effectiveness of the interim measures. However, a PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 requirement to fish in a single broad stock area is not necessary to ensure the effectiveness of the final measures in this rule. All of the measures in this final rule, including a much lower catch limit, are being implemented at the beginning of the 2015 fishing year, as opposed to a mid-year implementation for the 2014 interim rule. These measures, along with corresponding measures implemented through the final rule for 2015–2016 Sector Operations Plans and Contracts, will provide sufficient protection for GOM cod to prevent overfishing and contribute to rebuilding consistent with MagnusonStevens Act requirements. To address concerns for potential misreporting, we are implementing a daily catch report requirement for vessels fishing in the GOM and other broad stock areas. This requirement is intended to help ensure accurate catch attribution and reduce the incentive for vessels to misreport. As the Council noted in its comment, a daily reporting requirement was recommended by the Council in Amendment 16 to the FMP. Amendment 16 also delegated authority to us to modify the frequency of reporting requirements, as necessary, to help ensure accurate catch accounting. At the time we implemented Amendment 16, we determined that daily reporting was not necessary, and implemented a trip-level reporting requirement for vessels fishing in multiple broad stock areas. However, for reasons described earlier in this rule, we determined daily catch reports are now necessary to help ensure the effectiveness of the measures implemented in this final rule. We agree that EM has the potential to be an effective monitoring tool in the groundfish fishery, but EM is not yet sufficiently developed at this time. We are currently working to address the challenges to implement EM, including legal requirements and data processing, and are also examining costs associated with EM. We are also working with several groundfish sectors for fishing year 2015 to help address some of the remaining challenges to implement EM. If successful, EM could be fully implemented as a monitoring program for a portion of the groundfish fishery in fishing year 2016. Comment 18: One commercial fishing organization commented that, in considering incidental catch, the SSC has addressed concerns for misreporting. The commenter noted that in trying to balance all of the plausible scenarios from the assessment, incorporating incidental catch information attempted to identify what level of catch may be required to keep E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations the fishery open without directed cod fishing. Response: We recognize that the SSC considered incidental catch information to help develop its final ABC recommendation. An ABC of 386 mt for GOM cod is a considerable reduction from the incidental catch estimates generated for fishing year 2013 (500–600 mt). Further, as discussed in other sections of this rule, an ACL of 1,470 mt in fishing year 2013 was constraining for groundfish vessels. Available analysis indicates there was a marked decline in directed GOM cod trips beginning in 2013. Although sector vessels were able to adapt to some extent to this first substantial reduction for GOM cod, the additional reduction in fishing year 2015 will be substantially more challenging. Thus, we expect that an ABC of 386 mt will effectively remove the incentive for commercial groundfish vessels to fish for this stock. Nevertheless, with such a low GOM cod allocation, and in considering the supporting analysis, the economic incentive to misreport could still be high, particularly if groundfish vessels continue to report an uptick in cod availability. As a result, as previously described, we are implementing an additional reporting requirement for commercial groundfish vessels to help ensure accurate catch attribution. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 Gulf of Maine Cod Protection Measures Protection Closures Comment 19: One state marine fisheries agency and two commercial fishing organizations supported the GOM cod protection closures. The state marine fisheries agency disagreed with our concerns for April, but noted that it expected we would closely monitor the fishery to understand the consequences of opening April. All of these commenters highlighted the importance of providing GOM cod protections while still affording access to healthy groundfish stocks. One other commercial fishing organization supported all of the closures, but noted concerns for the opening of April closures. Response: We generally agree with all of these comments, and as described earlier in this preamble, we approved the new GOM cod protection measures. There are some biological and economic trade-offs with the addition of winter and May-June closures and removal of April closures. We recognize the importance of providing access to healthy stocks, and support this objective of the cod closures, as long as it does not result in unanticipated VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 consequences. However, we remain concerned for GOM cod stock status, and the potential negative impact on other groundfish stocks as a result of opening April. We will continue to urge the Council to reconsider April closures in light of these concerns. We agree with the commenters that it is important to monitor the effectiveness of these closures, and we intend to closely monitor any potential effort shifts to help ensure the overall conservation objectives for these measures are met. To the extent possible, these closures should also be reviewed as new information becomes available to help identify any potential adjustments to these closures. We expect additional spawning research may also provide more information on spawning locations for GOM cod that the Council could use in its decisionmaking process. Comment 20: Two NGOs opposed the GOM cod protection closures and commented that the protection closures should be more expansive. One of these NGOs also commented that the protection closures are inadequate under the Magnuson-Stevens Act because they would fail to end overfishing. One commercial fishing organization noted concerns for the opening of April closures. Response: We share some of the concerns noted by commenters, and we have described these concerns in our approval of the protection closures in this final rule. However, we disagree that the protection closures are inadequate under the MagnusonStevens Act. As we described earlier in this rule, updated catch projections indicate that the GOM cod ABC of 386 mt will end overfishing and rebuild the stock. The new protection closures are complementary to this ABC, and are measures in addition to the ACLs and AMs adopted for GOM cod. The additional closures are intended to enhance the effectiveness of these conservation measures by further reducing fishing mortality on spawning aggregations. Any additional benefits realized from the area closures are important, particularly for the benefit of the winter spawning component of GOM cod. While more closures always have the potential for increasing the probability of meeting various conservation objectives, we determined that the closures, along with other management measures adopted for fishing year 2015, are sufficient to prevent overfishing and provide for rebuilding. The GOM cod protection measures, which include the area closures and the recreational possession restriction, were PO 00000 Frm 00021 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 25129 developed by the Council as a package. In developing these measures, the commercial closures were intended to balance biological and economic objectives resulting from the recommended actions. If the opening of April closures was recommended in isolation, with no additional spring or winter closures, we likely would have disapproved this measure. As stated in the preamble, however, we determined that we could not independently approve or disapprove the recommendations for winter and April without undermining the Council’s intent to balancing conservation benefits and impacts on the fishing industry. The addition of winter closures is important because there are currently no protections for this spawning component, and some information suggests that a spawning aggregation is not likely to recover once lost. Despite our concerns for GOM cod with the removal of April closures, there are May and June closures, so the removal of April does not completely eliminate protection of the spring spawning component. Some of the comments from an NGO noted that the protection closures adopted in this final rule would provide less protection than the status quo in a number of instances. In reviewing and analyzing the impacts of the protection closures, the status quo measures must be put in context for the commercial groundfish fishery. With the adoption of Amendment 16, sector vessels were exempt from a number of the GOM rolling closures because sectors are limited by stock-specific allocations and AMs. As noted in the supporting analysis for this document, although a number of closures are being removed, many of these closures only applied to the common pool fishery, which accounts for less than 2 percent of the fishery. In these instances, the impact of removing the closures is expected to be minimal because the sector fishery is already allowed access to these areas. Given our concerns for the status of GOM cod, we intend to closely monitor stock indicators and fishery operations. We will continue to work with the Council to ensure that the most appropriate GOM cod protection measures are in place. We expect that the Industry Based Survey for GOM Cod will restart at some point in 2015, and that this survey could provide additional information on cod spawning that the Council could use in the future. Additionally, the protection closures developed and implemented in this action overlap with the Council’s Habitat Omnibus Amendment. The Council is working to complete this E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 25130 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations Amendment, and we will continue to help the Council in this effort to ensure that the goals and objectives of this Amendment are met. Comment 21: Another commercial fishing organization opposed the closure of block 138 in May because it would restrict haddock and pollock catches, and suggested that this closure should be disapproved, or that only a portion of this block should be closed in May. This organization also commented that true spawning areas can only be identified through acoustic telemetry and passive acoustic monitoring. Response: As described earlier, the objectives of the protection closures were to reduce fishing mortality and protect spawning aggregations for GOM cod while allowing access to healthy groundfish stocks. The protection measures were designed to re-configure the existing GOM rolling closures. Although available information on spawning was used to help develop the protection closures in this final rule, other information was also used to evaluate the potential biological and economic trade-offs associated with the final measures. Block 138 was closed in the previous GOM rolling closures, and based on the available information, no change was recommended for this closure in Framework 53. Because the Council recommended that the entire block 138 be closed in May, we cannot modify this closure in any way, or only partially approve a portion of the closure, and still be consistent with the Council’s intent. However, in a future action, the Council could reconsider this closure, and make any modifications, if warranted. We disagree that spawning areas can only be identified through acoustic telemetry and passive acoustic monitoring. The Framework 53 Environmental Assessment describes the analytical techniques used to identify times and location of spawning for GOM cod. Identification of times and areas of potential spawning was not based on a single source of information. Multiple sources of information and analytical approaches were used to identify and corroborate spawning locations. The analyses note that the NEFSC and MA Division of Marine Fisheries trawl surveys have narrow seasonal coverage, which limits their applicability to spawning cod. However, the Industry Based Survey for GOM cod was specifically designed to study stock distribution and demographics of cod, and also recorded spawning condition of cod caught. As a result, the peer review of the Industry Based Survey concluded that one of the primary uses VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 of the survey data was to describe spawning activity of GOM cod. The Framework 53 analyses did note some caveats with the use of the ichthyoplankton survey data, particularly due to the time period of this survey. However, these data were determined to be useful because the areas highlighted as potential spawning locations were similar to the areas identified using trawl survey data. Comment 22: One NGO commented that it is generally supportive of timearea management for GOM cod, but cautioned that the final protection measures should be supported by the available data. The NGO also noted that we should commit to review the protection closures at a specific time to help ensure that effort shifts from the final measures does not undermine the effectiveness of these measures, or any measures developed by Take Reduction Teams. Response: We generally agree with this comment. As noted earlier in the preamble of this rule, we have some concerns for the removal of April closures, particularly due to potential effort shifts, and the potential impact on other groundfish stocks. Although the protection measures are subject to review once the GOM cod biomass reaches the biomass threshold, we will continue to urge the Council to reconsider these closures in light of their potential negative impacts on other groundfish stocks, and in light of GOM cod stock status. These closures should also be reviewed as more information becomes available for GOM cod. The 2015 assessment update will provide new information on the status of GOM cod, and we expect additional spawning research will be available in the near future that could help further identify areas important to cod spawning. Regulations to reduce the potential of serious injury and death of marine mammal species will be in place for the western Gulf of Maine regardless of the GOM cod protection closures. The Harbor Porpoise and Atlantic Right Whale Take Reduction Plans are not predicated on the existence of groundfish closed areas, or the GOM cod protection closures. As a result, it is only necessary to amend these Take Reduction Plans if new information indicates that additional interaction risks to marine mammal species are occurring. The Harbor Porpoise and Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Teams meet regularly to monitor the implementation of the final Take Reduction Plans for these species. These teams monitor any changes in the interaction rates and fishing behavior that may result from management PO 00000 Frm 00022 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 actions. Based on this review, the Take Reduction Teams determine if modifications to the Take Reduction Plans are warranted in order to meet the requirements of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. Comment 23: One commercial fishing organization commented that hook gear should be allowed in the protection closures because it does not interfere with spawning. Response: We disagree that hook gear should be allowed in the protection closures. As we noted in the proposed rule, the available research on GOM cod spawning indicates that fishing on spawning cod may affect spawning activity beyond just the removal of fish. Fishing activity may disrupt spawning signals, and, as a result, can reduce spawning success. Additionally, information indicates that if a spawning aggregation is disrupted by fishing activity, it will scatter and not return. Groundfish vessels fishing with hook gear are capable of interrupting spawning aggregations because they are capable of catching cod. Further, the protection closures are also intended to help reduce fishing mortality for GOM cod, and applying these closures to all commercial groundfish vessels was necessary to help ensure this objective is met. Additionally, it is important to note that Handgear A vessels were afforded similar flexibilities as sector vessels, regardless of whether they are fishing in the common pool or a sector. Handgear A vessels are exempt from both the March and October common pool closures. As indicated in the response to the next comment, we have similar concerns for the potential for other gear types to disrupt spawning, and would support the Council in reconsidering the fisheries and gears that are allowed to fish in the protection areas. Comment 24: Two commercial fishing organizations and one NGO noted that the list of exempted fisheries allowed into the GOM cod protection closures should be reviewed. One NGO also opposed allowing recreational groundfish vessels into these closure areas. Response: We highlighted similar concerns in the proposed rule relative to the gears that are allowed in these protection closures. Because fishing activity may disrupt spawning success, we noted that there is a potential for these exempted fisheries to diminish the additional spawning protection that the closures are intended to provide. We would support the Council reviewing the fisheries allowed into these protection closures, and, if warranted, to E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 remove the exception for some of these other fisheries and gears. Alternatively, the Council could also consider including other fisheries and gears for a subset of these protection closures to better protect GOM cod spawning while still providing these fisheries with some flexibility. As discussed earlier in this rule, the recreational fishery may still fish in these protection closures, similar to the previous GOM rolling closures. Instead, this action implements a prohibition on possession of GOM cod for the recreational fishery to help control fishing mortality of GOM cod for this fishery. The intent of this trade off was to help ensure the recreational fishery continued to have access to healthy groundfish stocks. Because most of the protection closures are inshore, it was expected that recreational vessels would largely not have been able to adjust to these closures due to business operations and safety concerns. Applying these protection closures to the commercial groundfish fishery is an important start to ensuring that spawning aggregations of GOM cod are protected. However, we would support the Council reconsidering whether protection closures, or a subset, should be applied to the recreational fishery. Recreational Fishery Prohibition on Possession of Gulf of Maine Cod Comment 25: One commercial fishing organization, two NGOs, one state marine fisheries agency, and one recreational fisherman supported a prohibition on possession of GOM cod for the recreational fishery. The recreational fisherman noted that survival rates of recreational released GOM cod are relatively high. Other comments highlighted that outreach is essential to ensure this measure is effective. Response: We agree on all of these points, and have approved this measure in this final rule. Updated catch projections indicated that if no adjustment was made to possession restrictions, recreational catch of GOM cod would have exceeded the recreational allocation by 400 percent. During the development of Framework 53, analysis also indicated that noncompliance in the recreational fishery could be as high as 50 percent. In response to this, we have initiated a number of new recreational outreach efforts to help inform recreational anglers of the existing management measures. Despite the possession restriction implemented in this final rule, projections indicated that the recreational fishery would still likely VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 exceed its GOM cod allocation unless additional measures are implemented. These projections may overestimate the potential recreational effort in 2015, and, if so, could also overestimate GOM cod catch. However, to help ensure that the recreational fishery does not exceed its allocations, we are implementing additional measures under our discretionary authority in a separate rulemaking. Available information does indicate that the discard mortality of recreationally caught GOM cod is low. Based on the 2012 benchmark assessment, 70 percent of the GOM cod discards from the recreational fishery were expected to survive. A recently conducted study provides additional information that suggests survival rates of released cod could be higher (85 percent). Comment 26: Eighteen recreational fishermen opposed a prohibition on possession of GOM cod for the recreational fishery. These commenters noted that the recreational fishery has little impact on the GOM cod stock, and that the commercial fishery, particularly draggers, have led to the current GOM cod stock status. Many of these commenters supported a small bag limit for GOM cod, and a few comments supported a bag limit of at least 10 fish. Commenters also expressed concern for the socio-economic impact of this measure. Response: We disagree. Both the recreational and the commercial groundfish fishery receive an allocation of GOM cod. Both fisheries have AMs, and we must implement management measures that will help ensure that each fishery stays within its allocation. Updated catch projections indicate that, even under zero possession, the recreational fishery would still exceed its allocation for GOM cod in fishing year 2015, unless additional measures are implemented. Additionally, catch projections that assumed a status quo bag limit (9 fish) indicated that recreational catch would exceed the 2015 allocation by more than 400 percent. We understand concerns for the socioeconomic impact of zero possession for the recreational fishery. Other measures for the recreational fishery were considered for this action to help protect GOM cod. However, these measures would not have mitigated economic impacts to the recreational fishery compared to zero possession. The GOM cod closures, if applied to the recreational fishery, would likely have had even greater economic impacts on the fishery. These closures are mainly inshore, and recreational vessels may PO 00000 Frm 00023 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 25131 have been unable to move to alternative areas to fish for other groundfish stocks. Analysis indicated that the total steam time to fish further offshore, around the closures, would have exceeded the standard party/charter trip of 4 or 6 hours. Zero possession will help ensure that fishing mortality by the recreational fishery is reduced for GOM cod, while still ensuring the recreational fishery has access to other healthy groundfish stocks. The Council can review this measure in any future action, and if warranted could implement different management measures for the recreational fishery, as long as they would still meet conservation objectives, and help ensure that the recreational fishery does not exceed its allocation. Comment 27: We received six comments from recreational fishermen about various aspects of recreational management measures for the 2015 fishing year, including opposition to the survival rates current used for the recreational caught GOM cod and haddock, the GOM haddock bag limit, the recreational rulemaking process, and recreational gear requirements. Response: None of these measures were specifically proposed in Framework 53, and therefore are beyond the scope and authority relating to this action. Although this action implements zero possession of GOM cod for the recreational fishery, we are implementing all other recreational measures, including GOM haddock measures, in a separate rulemaking under our discretionary authority to adjustment recreational measures. These measures are intended to prevent the recreational fishery from exceeding its allocations of GOM cod and GOM haddock for the 2015 fishing year. The issues raised by the commenters will be addressed in our separate rule implementing final recreational measures for fishing year 2015. Default Catch Limits Comment 28: One state marine fisheries agency and one commercial fishing organization supported the mechanism to establish default catch limits in years when a management action is delayed. The commercial fishing organization commented that default catch limits set at 35 percent of the previous year’s value would be extremely restrictive for groundfish vessels, but this was better than the alternative of no catch limits. Response: We agree, and are implementing this measure in this final rule. We recognize that default catch limits, if implemented, may be E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 25132 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 extremely restrictive for groundfish vessels. Although the 2015 assessment schedule is expected to delay implementation of the management action for fishing year 2016, this measure is not intended to allow lengthy delays in implementation of final measures. Default catch limits are available as a management tool to prevent disruption to the groundfish fishery, but any default specifications time period should not be allowed to languish. To help ensure that management actions are still implemented as quickly as possible, the default specifications time period is only from May 1 through July 31. If default catch limits were allowed to languish beyond this period, the severely restricted catch limits could prevent optimum yield in the fishery. Sector Carryover Provision Comment 29: One state marine fisheries agency supported this change to the carryover provision. Response: We agree and are implementing the revision to the sector carryover provision in this final rule. The measure is necessary to comply with a recent court ruling, and ensure that the total potential catch does not exceed the ABC for any stock. Comment 30: One commercial fishing organization expressed concern that the ever changing rules regarding carryover makes it difficult to stabilize business plans, as does the ability for the carryover amount to change year to year. Response: The revision to the sector carryover provision in this final rule is in response to a recent court ruling, as previously described. We have determined that the carryover provision is now consistent with MagnusonStevens Act requirements, and will help ensure that total potential catch does not exceed the ABC for any stock. As a result, we do not anticipate any further modifications of the sector carryover provision, unless the Council chooses to revisit this measure in a future action. We recognize some of the difficulties that sectors face in trying to plan. To help offset some of the uncertainty, we specified that the default de minimis amount is 1 percent of the overall sector sub-ACL for the upcoming fishing year. If it is necessary to change the default de minimis amount, we will announce this to sectors as soon as we know the recommended ABCs for the upcoming year. Similarly, once ABC recommendations are known for the upcoming year, we will announce the possibility that the maximum carryover amount may need to be adjusted. We cannot make a final determination on the maximum carryover amount until VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 we have final catch information for sectors; however, the initial determination that assumed a maximum of 10-percent carryover provides sectors with an upper bound. We also expect that the years with the greatest uncertainty will be years in which catch limits are dramatically reduced, as we would most likely have to adjust the maximum carryover allowed in those years. Common Pool Management Measures Comment 31: One state marine fisheries agency supported the common pool trip limits. Response: We agree, and are implementing these initial common pool trip limits for fishing year 2015. We will closely monitor common pool catch, and, if necessary, will make appropriate adjustments to the possession and trip limits for common pool vessels. Each year, it is difficult to predict common pool effort, and there is a possibility that some vessels may drop out of a sector and fish in the common pool for fishing year 2015. If this occurs, we may make adjustments to the trip limits to reflect any increases in the number of common pool vessels that are actively fishing. Comment 32: One commercial fisherman opposed a GOM cod trip limit of 50 lb (23 kg), and instead supported a trip limit of at least 100 lb (45 kg). The commenter noted that a 50-lb (23-kg) trip limit would result in high discards. Response: We disagree that the GOM cod trip limit should be set at 100 lb (45 kg). The trimester TAC for GOM cod is less than 2 mt for each trimester in fishing year 2015. In previous years, when we set the GOM cod trip limit at 100 lb (45 kg), common pool vessels continued to target the stock, and the GOM area was prematurely closed before the end of the trimester. A 50-lb (23-kg) trip limit will help create an incentive to avoid GOM cod. This trip limit will also help provide continued access to other groundfish stocks by helping to prevent a premature closure of the trimester. Comment 33: A number of commercial fishermen commented on common pool management measures. Comments included opposition to the current trimester TAC system used for the common pool, the trimester TACs should be divided among trimesters based on recent landings, and that the common pool fishery should receive 10 percent carryover similar to sectors. Response: None of these measures were considered in Framework 53, and they are beyond the scope and authority relating to this action. Any changes to the existing common pool management PO 00000 Frm 00024 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 measures would have to be developed through the Council process in a future management action. The Council could reconsider common pool management measures at any time provided these measures still met the necessary conservation requirements. For example, the trimester TAC AM system is only one type of reactive AM that the Council may use for the common pool fishery. The allocation of the common pool sub-ACL was developed as part of Amendment 16, and was based on landings through fishing year 2009. These distributions have been unchanged since the implementation of Amendment 16. However the Council can adjust the trimester TAC distribution in a framework action based on landings from the most recent 5 years. Again, any changes to the trimester TAC provision would have to be developed through the Council in a future management action. National Environmental Policy Act and Associated Analyses Comment 34: One NGO commented that Framework 53 does not meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) because it failed to include a reasonable range of alternatives for the GOM cod protection closures. The commenter noted that Framework 53 should have included the 2014 interim closures as one alternative, as well as an additional alternative that was developed by the PDT. Response: We disagree that this action does not meet the requirements of NEPA. Any comments about the sufficiency of the NEPA analysis of this framework must be considered in the context of the ongoing set of measures that adapt to changing conditions and information affecting the overall FMP, and the many different alternatives that have been analyzed over the years. Within this context, Framework 53 does include a reasonable range of alternatives for the GOM cod area closures that represented various combinations of closures based on the available information. The Purpose and Need of Framework 53 related to the area closures was to enhance spawning protection for GOM cod, help reduce fishing mortality of GOM cod, and to minimize the economic impact of the closures by providing access to healthy groundfish stocks. Although some of the area closures implemented in our 2014 interim action for GOM cod were intended to protect spawning aggregations, area closures were also used as a mechanism to reduce overfishing in lieu of reducing E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations the catch limit inseason. As a result, it was apparent that the 2014 interim closures would not have met the Purpose and Need of Framework 53 to provide access to healthy groundfish stocks because the interim closures were not designed, or intended, to meet this objective. Further, because the interim closures were designed to reduce overfishing in lieu of an ACL reduction, these closures would have been overly restrictive for fishing year 2015 once the GOM cod catch limit was reduced based on the 2014 assessment result. The PDT option that the commenter referenced closely resembled the 2014 interim action closures, and in some cases, was more restrictive than the interim closures. Because the protection closures are complementary to the GOM cod catch limit, the option presented by the PDT would likely have been overly restrictive. Further, this option would have virtually shut down the inshore GOM to the groundfish fishery for eight months of the year, and small inshore vessels would likely have been unable to adapt to these closures. Therefore, although the PDT presented this option to the Council’s Groundfish Oversight Committee, the Committee did not advance this option for consideration in Framework 53 because it clearly would not have met all of the goals and objectives of the action. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 Changes From the Proposed Rule We made one change from the proposed rule in this action. After further consideration of the available information and public comments, we are implementing a daily VMS catch report requirement for commercial groundfish vessels that declare their intent to fish in the GOM and any other broad stock area on the same trip. Given concerns for the low GOM cod catch limit and the potential incentive to misreport, we determined that daily VMS catch reports will help ensure more accurate catch apportionment and compliance with the cod catch limits. Classification Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the NMFS Assistant Administrator has determined that the management measures implemented in this final rule are necessary for the conservation and management of the Northeast groundfish fishery and consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law. This final rule has been determined to be significant for purposes of Executive Order (E.O.) 12866. This final rule does not contain policies with Federalism or ‘‘takings’’ VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 implications as those terms are defined in E.O. 13132 and E.O. 12630, respectively. The Assistant Administrator for Fisheries finds good cause, under authority contained in 5 U.S.C. 553(d)(3), to waive the 30-day delayed effectiveness of this action. The effective date of this action affects a parallel rulemaking approving sector operations plans for the start of the 2015 fishing year on May 1, 2015. In addition, this action sets fishing year 2015 catch limits for several groundfish stocks, revises GOM cod management measures to provide additional protection for the stock, and adopts other measures to improve the management of the groundfish fishery. This final rule must be in effect at the beginning of 2015 fishing year to fully capture the conservation and economic benefits of Framework 53 measures and the 2015 sector operations plans. During the development of the Framework 53, updated stock information for GOM cod became available. As a result of this updated stock information, the Council had to include additional measures in Framework 53 to respond to this information and increase protection for GOM cod given its poor status. As a result, this rulemaking could not be completed further before this date. Therefore, in order to have this action effective at the beginning of the 2015 fishing year, which begins on May 1, 2015, it is necessary to waive the 30-day delayed effectiveness of this rule. Failure to waive the 30-day delayed effectiveness would result in no catch limits being specified for a number of groundfish stocks. Without an allocation for these groundfish stocks, sector vessels would be unable to fish beginning on May 1, 2015. This would severely disrupt the fishery, and could result in foregone yield and revenue reductions. The groundfish fishery already faced substantial cuts in the catch limits for many key groundfish stocks beginning in 2013, and this final rule implements additional catch limit reductions. However, if sector vessels were unable to fish beginning on May 1, 2015, the negative economic impacts would exceed any negative economic impacts anticipated from this action. Any further disruption to the fishery that would result from a delay of this final rule could worsen the severe economic impacts to the groundfish fishery. This action includes specifications that would increase the catch limit for haddock, and reconfigures GOM closed areas to increase fishing opportunities on healthy groundfish stocks. These measures are PO 00000 Frm 00025 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 25133 intended to help mitigate the economic impacts of the reductions in catch limits for several key groundfish stocks. A delay in implementation of this action would greatly diminish any benefits of these specifications and other approved measures. For these reasons, a 30-day delay in the effectiveness of this rule is impracticable and contrary to the public interest. Final Regulatory Flexibility Analysis Section 604 of the RFA, 5 U.S.C. 604, requires Federal agencies to prepare a Final Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (FRFA) for each final rule. The FRFA describes the economic impact of this action on small entities. The FRFA includes a summary of significant issues raised by public comments, the analyses contained in Framework 53 and its accompanying Environmental Assessment/Regulatory Impact Review/ Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA), the IRFA summary in the proposed rule, as well as the summary provided below. A description of the action, why it is being considered, and the legal basis for this action are contained in Framework 53 and in the preamble to the proposed rule, as well as this final rule, and are not repeated here. A copy of the full analysis is available from the NMFS (see ADDRESSES). A Summary of the Significant Issues Raised by the Public in Response to the IRFA, a Summary of the Agency’s Assessment of Such Issues, and a Statement of Any Changes Made in the Final Rule as a Result of Such Comments Our responses to all of the comments received on the proposed rule, including those that raised significant issues with the proposed action, or commented on the economic analyses summarized in the IRFA, can be found in the Comments and Responses section of this rule. As outlined in that section, significant issues were raised by the public with respect to: • GOM cod catch limits for the 2015– 2017 fishing years; • GOM cod protection closures; and • The prohibition on possession of GOM cod for recreational fishing vessels. Comments 14 and 26 discussed the economic impacts of this action. Comment 14 noted that the GOM cod reduction would have severe negative impacts on the commercial groundfish fishery, and one of these commenters suggested that the analysis may have underestimated the predicted gross revenue losses as a result of the GOM cod reduction. Comment 26 highlighted E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 25134 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations Furthermore, multiple-permitted vessels and/or permits may be owned by entities affiliated by stock ownership, common management, identity of interest, contractual relationships, or economic dependency. For the purposes Description and Estimate of Number of of the RFA analysis, the ownership Small Entities to Which the Rule Would entities, not the individual vessels, are Apply considered to be the regulated entities. Ownership entities are defined as The Small Business Administration those entities with common ownership defines a small business as one that is: • independently owned and operated; personnel as listed on the permit application. Only permits with identical • not dominant in its field of ownership personnel are categorized as operation; • has annual receipts that do not an ownership entity. For example, if five permits have the same seven exceed— Æ $20.5 million in the case of persons listed as co-owners on their commercial finfish harvesting entities permit application, those seven persons would form one ownership entity, that (NAICS 1 114111) Æ $5.5 million in the case of hold those five permits. If two of those commercial shellfish harvesting entities seven owners also co-own additional vessels, that ownership arrangement (NAICS 114112) would be considered a separate Æ $7.5 million in the case of for-hire ownership entity for the purpose of this fishing entities (NAICS 114119); or • has fewer than— analysis. On June 1 of each year, ownership Æ 500 employees in the case of fish entities are identified based on a list of processors all permits for the most recent complete Æ 100 employees in the case of fish calendar year. The current ownership dealers. This final rule affects commercial and data set used for this analysis is based on calendar year 2013 and contains recreational fish harvesting entities average gross sales associated with those engaged in the groundfish fishery, the permits for calendar years 2011 through small-mesh multispecies and squid 2013. In addition to classifying a fisheries, the midwater trawl herring business (ownership entity) as small or fishery, and the scallop fishery. Individually-permitted vessels may hold large, a business can also be classified by its primary source of revenue. A permits for several fisheries, harvesting business is defined as being primarily species of fish that are regulated by engaged in fishing for finfish if it several different FMPs, even beyond obtains greater than 50 percent of its those impacted by the proposed action. concerns that the GOM cod possession restriction for the recreational fishery would have severe socio-economic impacts. There were no other comments directly related to the IRFA. gross sales from sales of finfish. Similarly, a business is defined as being primarily engaged in fishing for shellfish if it obtains greater than 50 percent of its gross sales from sales of shellfish. A description of the specific permits that are likely to be impacted by this action is provided below, along with a discussion of the impacted businesses, which can include multiple vessels and/ or permit types. Regulated Commercial Fish Harvesting Entities Table 19 describes the total number of commercial business entities potentially affected by the proposed action. As of May 1, 2014, there were 1,386 commercial business entities potentially affected by this action. These entities participate in, or are permitted for, the groundfish, small-mesh multispecies, herring midwater trawl, and scallop fisheries. For the groundfish fishery, this action directly regulates potentially affected entities through catch limits and other management measures designed to achieve the goals and objectives of the FMP. For the nongroundfish fisheries, this action includes allocations for groundfish stocks caught as bycatch in these fisheries. For each of these fisheries, there are AMs that are triggered if their respective allocations are exceeded. As a result, the likelihood of triggering an AM is a function of changes to the ACLs each year. TABLE 19—COMMERCIAL FISH HARVESTING ENTITIES REGULATED BY THIS FINAL RULE Type Total number Classified as small businesses Primarily finfish ............................................................................................................................................ Primarily shellfish ......................................................................................................................................... 813 573 813 549 Total ...................................................................................................................................................... 1,386 1,362 This action will directly impact entities engaged in the limited access groundfish fishery. The limited access groundfish fishery consists of those enrolled in the sector program and those in the common pool. Both sectors and the common pool are subject to catch limits, and AMs that prevent fishing in a respective stock area when the entire catch limit has been caught. Additionally, common pool vessels are subject to DAS restrictions and trip limits. All permit holders are eligible to enroll in the sector program; however, many vessels remain in the common pool because they have low catch histories of groundfish stocks, which translate into low PSCs. Low PSCs would limit a vessel’s viability in the sector program. In general, businesses enrolled in the sector program rely more heavily on sales of groundfish species than vessels enrolled in the common pool. As of May 1, 2014 (beginning of fishing year 2014), there were 1,046 individual limited access permits. Of these, 613 were enrolled in the sector program, and 433 were in the common pool. For fishing year 2013, which is the most recent complete fishing year, 708 of these limited access permits had landings of any species, and 360 of these permits had landings of groundfish species. Of the 1,046 individual limited access multispecies permits potentially impacted by this action, there are 868 distinct ownership entities. Of these, 855 are categorized as small entities, and 13 are categorized as large entities. 1 The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) is the standard used by Federal statistical agencies in classifying business establishments for the purpose of collecting, analyzing, and publishing statistical data related to the U.S. business economy. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 Limited Access Groundfish Fishery VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 PO 00000 Frm 00026 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations However, these totals may mask some diversity among the entities. Many, if not most, of these ownership entities maintain diversified harvest portfolios, obtaining gross sales from many fisheries and not dependent on any one. However, not all are equally diversified. This action is most likely to affect those entities that depend most heavily on sales from harvesting groundfish species. There are 114 entities that are groundfish-dependent, all of which are small, and all of which are finfish commercial harvesting businesses. Of these groundfish-dependent entities, 102 have some level of participation in the sector program, and 12 operate exclusively in the common pool. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 Limited Access Scallop Fisheries The limited access scallop fisheries include limited access scallop permits and Limited Access General Category (LAGC) scallop permits. Limited access scallop businesses are subject to a mixture of DAS restrictions and dedicated area trip restrictions. LAGC scallop businesses are able to acquire and trade LAGC scallop quota, and there is an annual cap on quota/landings. The scallop fishery receives an allocation for GB and SNE/MA yellowtail flounder and southern windowpane flounder. If these allocations are exceeded, AMs are implemented in a subsequent fishing year. These AMs close certain areas of high groundfish bycatch to scallop fishery, and the length of the closure depends on the magnitude of the overage. Of the total commercial business entities potentially affected by this action (1,386), there are 171 scallop fishing entities. The majority of these entities are defined as shellfish businesses (167). However, four of these entities are defined as finfish businesses, all of which are small. Of the total scallop fishing entities, 149 entities are classified as small entities. Midwater Trawl Fishery There are four categories of permits for the herring fishery. Three of these permit categories are limited access, and vary based on the allowable herring possession limits and areas fished. The fourth permit category is open access. Although there is a large number of open access permits issued each year, this category is subject to fairly low possession limits for herring, account for a very small amount of the herring landings, and derive relatively little revenue from the fishery. The midwater trawl herring fishery receives an allocation of GOM and GB haddock. Once the entire allocation for either stock has been caught, the directed VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 herring fishery is closed in the respective area for the remainder of the fishing year. Additionally, if the midwater trawl fishery exceeds its allocation, the overage is deducted from its allocation in the following fishing year. Of the total commercial business entities potentially regulated by this action (1,386), there are 71 herring fishing entities. Of these, 43 entities are defined as finfish businesses, all of which are small. There are 28 entities that are defined as shellfish businesses, and 21 of these are considered small. For the purposes of this analysis, squid is classified as shellfish. Thus, because there is some overlap with the herring and squid fisheries, it is likely that these shellfish entities derive most of their revenues from the squid fishery. Small-Mesh Fisheries The small-mesh exempted fishery allows vessels to harvest species in designated areas using mesh sizes smaller than the minimum mesh size required by the Northeast Multispecies FMP. To participate in the small-mesh multispecies (whiting) fishery, vessels must hold either a limited access multispecies permit or an open access multispecies permit. Limited access multispecies permit holders can only target whiting when not fishing under a DAS or a sector trip, and while declared out of the fishery. A description of limited access multispecies permits was provided above. Many of these vessels target both whiting and longfin squid on small-mesh trips and, therefore, most of them also have open access or limited access squid, mackerel, and butterfish permits. As a result, squid, mackerel, and butterfish permits were not handled separately in this analysis. The small-mesh fisheries receive an allocation of GB yellowtail flounder. If this allocation is exceeded, an AM is triggered for a subsequent fishing year. The AM requires small-mesh vessels to use selective trawl gear when fishing on GB. This gear restriction is only implemented for one year as a result of an overage, and is removed as long as additional overages do not occur. Of the total commercial harvesting entities potentially affected by this action, there are 570 small-mesh entities. However, this is not necessarily informative because not all of these entities are active in the whiting fishery. Based on the most recent information, 25 of these entities are considered active, with at least 1 lb of whiting landed. Of these entities, 7 are defined as finfish businesses, all of which are small. There are 18 entities that are defined as shellfish businesses, and 17 PO 00000 Frm 00027 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 25135 of these are considered small. Because there is overlap with the whiting and squid fisheries, it is likely that these shellfish entities derive most of their revenues from the squid fishery. Regulated Recreational Party/Charter Fishing Entities The charter/party permit is an open access groundfish permit that can be requested at any time, with the limitation that a vessel cannot have a limited access groundfish permit and an open access party/charter permit concurrently. There are no qualification criteria for this permit. Charter/party permits are subject to recreational management measures, including minimum fish sizes, possession restrictions, and seasonal closures. During calendar year 2014, 732 party/ charter permits were issued. Of these, 267 party/charter permit holders reported catching and retaining any groundfish species on at least one forhire trip. In addition, 204 party/charter permit holders reported catching at least one cod in 2014. While all party/charter fishing businesses that catch cod may be affected by the proposed action, the recreational groundfish fishery only receives an allocation for the GOM stock. Of the 204 party/charter businesses that reported to have caught cod, 106 reported catching cod in the GOM. A 2013 report indicated that, in the northeast United States, the mean gross sales was approximately $27,650 for a charter business and $13,500 for a party boat. Based on the available information, no business approached the $7.5 million large business threshold. Therefore, the 267 potentially regulated party/charter entities are all considered small businesses. Description of Projected Reporting, Recordkeeping, and Other Compliance Requirements This action contains a change to an information collection requirement, which has been approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under OMB Control Number 0648–0605: Northeast Multispecies Amendment 16 Data Collection. The revision requires vessels that declare trips into the GOM Broad Stock Area and any other broad stock area (i.e., GB or SNE/MA) on the same trip to submit a daily catch report via VMS. Vessels fishing in multiple broad stock areas are currently required to submit a trip-level VMS catch report, so this change only increases the frequency of submission for certain trips. The daily catch report is estimated to take 15 minutes to complete, and cost $2.08 per submission. Based on trips to E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 25136 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 multiple broad stock areas taken during the 2013 fishing year, the average trip length for vessels that fish in multiple broad stock areas on a single trip is 5 days. If vessels take 7 trips per year, the burden estimate for daily trip reports is 8 hours and $73. Public comment is sought regarding whether this collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions of the agency, including whether the information shall have practical utility; the accuracy of the burden estimate; ways to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected; and ways to minimize the burden of the collection of information, including through the use of automated collection techniques or other forms of information technology. Send comments on these or any other aspects of the collection of information to NMFS and to OMB (see ADDRESSES). Notwithstanding any other provision of the law, no person is required to respond to, and no person shall be subject to 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. Description of the Steps the Agency Has Taken To Minimize the Significant Economic Impact on Small Entities Consistent With the Stated Objectives of Applicable Statutes The economic impacts of the measures implemented in this action are summarized below and are discussed in more detail in sections 7.4 and 8.11 of the Framework 53 Environmental Assessment. Although small entities are defined based on gross sales of ownership groups, not physical characteristics of the vessel, it is reasonable to assume that larger vessels are more likely to be owned by large entities. The economic impacts of this action are anticipated to result in aggregate gross revenue losses of approximately $4 million in fishing year 2015, compared to predicted revenues for fishing year 2014. However, these losses are expected to be absorbed primarily by small businesses. Some vessel size classes and ports are predicted to have 50- to 80-percent declines in revenues from groundfish, and many vessels may be forced to relocate to Southern New England ports, or stop fishing altogether. Because predicted losses are expected to primarily affect small businesses, this action has the potential to place small entities at a competitive disadvantage relative to large entities. This is mainly because large entities may have more VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 flexibility to adjust to, and accommodate, the measures. However, as discussed in more detail below, the additional declines in gross revenues expected as a result of this action will pose serious difficulties for all groundfish vessels and their crew. Status Determination Criteria This action changes the GB yellowtail flounder status, relative to reference points, to unknown. In addition, this action updates the numerical estimates of the status determination criteria for GOM cod, GOM haddock, GOM winter flounder, GB winter flounder, and pollock. These updates result in lower values of MSY. For some of these, the lower values of MSY result in lower ACLs in the short-term, which is expected to have negative economic impacts (i.e., lower net revenues). However, the updates to the status determination criteria are expected to have positive stock benefits by helping to prevent overfishing. Thus, in the long-term, the changes to status determination criteria are expected to result in higher and more sustainable landings when compared to the No Action option. All of the revisions are based on the 2014 assessments for the respective stocks, and are therefore based on the best scientific information available. Status determination criteria are formulaic based on the results of a stock assessment. As a result, the only other alternative considered for this action was the No Action option, which would not update the status determination criteria for any groundfish stocks based on the 2014 assessments. This option would not incorporate the best scientific information available, and would not be consistent with Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements, and, as a result, was not selected. This option would not have any immediate economic impacts. However if this option resulted in overfishing in the long-term, then it would have severe negative economic impacts for the fisheries affected by this action. Annual Catch Limits This action sets catch limits for eastern GB cod and haddock, GOM cod, GOM haddock, GB yellowtail flounder, GOM winter flounder, and Pollock, and has the potential to affect groundfish (including small-mesh), midwater trawl, and scallop-dependent small entities. For the commercial groundfish fishery, the catch limits are expected to result in a 7-percent decrease in gross revenues on groundfish trips, or $6 million, compared to predicted gross revenues for fishing year 2014. PO 00000 Frm 00028 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 However, as described later, the aggregate predicted revenues for 2015 also depend on the other measures adopted in this action. The negative impacts of the approved catch limits are not expected to be uniformly distributed across vessels size classes. Vessels in the 30–50 ft (9–15 m) category are predicted to incur the largest decrease in gross revenues compared to 2014. Based only on the approved catch limits, vessels in this category could incur revenue losses of 33 percent, and aggregate losses are expected to be more as a result of other measures in this action. Larger vessel classes are not expected to be affected as heavily by the catch limits in this action. Based only on the approved catch limits, 50–75-ft (15–23-m) vessels are predicted to incur losses of 16 percent, and the largest vessels (75 ft (23 m) and greater) are predicted to incur losses of 3 percent. For the scallop, midwater trawl, and small-mesh fisheries, the catch limits implemented in this action include allocations for bycatch of groundfish species that occurs in these fisheries. The GB yellowtail flounder allocation for both the scallop and small-mesh fisheries would be a decrease in 2015 compared to 2014, which could increase the likelihood of triggering AMs. However, based on recent catch performance, AMs for GB yellowtail flounder have never been implemented for these fisheries as a result of an overage. Additionally, based on scallop management measures that are proposed for 2015, it is not expected that scallop effort will increase on GB relative to recent years. Although the reduction for GB yellowtail flounder could have negative economic impacts, these fisheries are not expected to exceed their respective allocations in 2015, and no AMs are expected to be triggered. For the midwater trawl fishery, the allocations for GOM and GB haddock are both expected to increase in 2015 relative to 2014. However, in fishing year 2013, the AM for GB haddock was triggered. As a result, it is possible that this could occur again in 2015 depending on catch rates of herring and haddock. If the AM for GB haddock is triggered, there could be negative economic impacts that result from foregone herring yield. The magnitude of these negative impacts would depend on how much herring quota remained at the time the AM was implemented, and whether other herring management areas were open for directed herring fishing. The catch limits are based on the latest stock assessment information, which is considered the best scientific information available, and the E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 applicable requirements in the FMP and the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The only other possible alternatives to the catch limits implemented in this action that would mitigate negative impacts would be higher catch limits. Alternative, higher catch limits, however, are not permissible under the law because they would not be consistent with the goals and objectives of the FMP, or the Magnuson-Stevens Act, particularly the requirement to prevent overfishing. The Magnuson-Stevens Act, and case law, prevent implementation of measures that conflict with conservation requirements, even if it means negative impacts are not mitigated. The catch limits implemented in this action are the highest allowed given the best scientific information available, the SSC’s recommendations, and requirements to end overfishing and rebuild fish stocks. The only other legally available alternatives to the catch limits in this action would be lower limits, which would not mitigate the economic impacts of this action to the fishery. Under the No Action option, no catch limits would be specified for the U.S./ Canada stocks, GB winter flounder, GOM winter flounder, or pollock. In this scenario, sector vessels would be unable to fish in the respective stock areas at the start of the 2015 fishing year if no allocations were specified. This would result in greater negative economic impacts for vessels compared to the proposed action due to lost revenues as a result of being unable to fish. The proposed action is predicted to result in approximately $77 million in gross revenues from groundfish trips. All of this revenue would be lost if no action was taken to specify catch limits. As a result, this alternative was not selected because if would fail to meet the Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements to achieve optimum yield and consider the needs of fishing communities. Gulf of Maine Cod Protection Measures This action re-configures the GOM rolling closures for commercial vessels and adopts a prohibition on possession of GOM cod for the recreational fishery. For the commercial groundfish fishery, this action is expected to result in less severe negative economic impacts than the approved catch limits alone. Based on predicted leasing practices, the negative economic impacts of the selected alternative are estimated to be greater compared to other alternatives considered that would have adopted additional GOM cod spawning closures. However, the aggregate economic impacts of the spawning closures that were considered for this action, but not VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 adopted, are largely driven by the flow of quota from smaller inshore vessels, which would be unable to fish, to larger offshore vessels. Although analysis indicated that the selected action would have greater negative impacts compared to these other alternatives, the negative impacts to small vessels are masked by the predicted aggregate gross revenues. The approved action would add closures in some months, while removing other closures, largely in the month of April. Removing closures in April was intended to provide vessels access to healthy groundfish stocks. As a result, the approved action is expected to improve the viability of the inshore fleet, and help mitigate the economic impacts of the approved catch limits, compared to other closure alternatives considered in the action that included different time-area combinations, and that would have maintained April closures. The ability of the approved action to provide increased spawning protection would largely dictate the long-term economic impacts of this action. If the approved action enhances spawning protection, which translates into increased stock rebuilding, then the long-term economic impacts would be positive. However, if the approved action does not enhance spawning protection or translate into increased stock rebuilding, then the long-term economic impacts would be similar to the status quo, or negative. For the recreational fishery, the prohibition on GOM cod possession is expected to result in short-term negative economic impacts, as it will likely result in some recreational anglers not booking party/charter trips. However, if the prohibition results in a decrease in fishing mortality relative to the status quo, then it could contribute to stock rebuilding. If this occurs, the long-term economic impacts of the prohibition could be positive if demand for party/ charter fishing trips increase as the stock rebuilds. Further, in the long-term, the recreational fishery would benefit from the commercial closures discussed above if they successfully enhance spawning protection and increase stock rebuilding. Adopting a possession restriction for the recreational fishery, in lieu of time and area closures to protect GOM cod, mitigated economic impacts for the recreational fishery to the extent practicable. The GOM cod protection closures that were considered in this action, but not adopted, would likely have had even greater economic impacts on the recreational fishery. These closures are mainly inshore, and analysis indicated that the total steam PO 00000 Frm 00029 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 25137 time to fish further offshore, around the closures, would have exceeded the standard party/charter trip of 4 or 6 hours. As a result, recreational vessels may have been unable to move to alternative areas to fish for other groundfish stocks. Default Groundfish Specifications This action establishes a mechanism for setting default catch limits in the event a management action is delayed. This is expected to have positive economic benefits, primarily for sector vessels, compared to the No Action option. Sector vessels are not allowed to fish without an allocation, so if no catch limits are specified for the fishing year, there would be severe negative economic impacts to the groundfish fishery. The default groundfish specifications are expected to prevent the situation that would otherwise occur if no action was taken. Sector Carryover This action modifies the provision that allows sectors to carryover unused allocation from one fishing year into the next fishing year. The economic impacts of the carryover provision are likely minor, and similar to the status quo. In any fishing year, if the maximum available sector carryover is reduced from 10 percent, this could have a negative economic impact. However, the approved action does not modify the AM for sectors that requires any overages, even overages that result from harvesting available carryover, must be paid back. As a result, the approved action is not expected to largely change sector operations compared to the No Action alternative. Small Entity Compliance Guide Section 212 of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996 states that, for each rule or group of related rules for which an agency is required to prepare a FRFA, the agency shall publish one or more guides to assist small entities in complying with the rule, and shall designate such publications as ‘‘small entity compliance guides.’’ The agency shall explain the actions a small entity is required to take to comply with a rule or group of rules. As part of this rulemaking process, a small entity compliance guide will be sent to all holders of Federal permits issued for the Northeast multispecies fisheries, as well as the scallop and herring fisheries that receive an allocation of some groundfish stocks. In addition, copies of this final rule and guides (i.e., information bulletins) are available from NMFS at E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 25138 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations the following Web site: http:// www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/. List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 648 Fisheries, Fishing, Recordkeeping and reporting requirements. Dated: April 23, 2015. Eileen Sobeck, Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service. For the reasons stated in the preamble, NMFS amends 50 CFR part 648 as follows: PART 648—FISHERIES OF THE NORTHEASTERN UNITED STATES 1. The authority citation for part 648 continues to read as follows: ■ Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. 2. In § 648.2: a. Lift the suspension of the definition for ‘‘Gillnet gear capable of catching multispecies’’ and revise it; and ■ b. Remove the definition for ‘‘Gillnet gear capable of catching multispecies (for purposes of the interim action)’’. The revision reads as follows: ■ ■ § 648.2 Definitions. * * * * * Gillnet gear capable of catching multispecies means all gillnet gear except pelagic gillnet gear specified at § 648.81(f)(5)(ii) and pelagic gillnet gear that is designed to fish for and is used to fish for or catch tunas, swordfish, and sharks. * * * * * § 648.10 [Amended] 3. In § 648.10, revise paragraph (k)(2) and remove paragraphs (k)(3)(i)(A) and (B). The revision reads as follows: ■ § 648.10 VMS and DAS requirements for vessel owners/operators. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 * * * * * (k) * * * (2) Reporting requirements for NE multispecies vessel owners or operators fishing in more than one broad stock area per trip. Unless otherwise provided in this paragraph (k)(2), the owner or operator of any vessel issued a NE multispecies limited access permit that has declared its intent to fish within multiple NE multispecies broad stock areas, as defined in paragraph (k)(3) of this section, on the same trip must submit a hail report via VMS providing a good-faith estimate of the amount of each regulated species retained (in pounds, landed weight) and the total amount of all species retained (in pounds, landed weight), including NE multispecies and species managed by VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 other FMPs, from each broad stock area. This reporting requirement is in addition to the reporting requirements specified in paragraph (k)(1) of this section and any other reporting requirements specified in this part. The report frequency is detailed in paragraphs (k)(2)(i) and (ii) of this section. (i) Vessels declaring into GOM Stock Area and any other stock area. A vessel declared to fish in the GOM Stock Area, as defined in paragraph (k)(3)(i), and any other stock area defined in (k)(3)(ii) through (iv) of this section, must submit a daily VMS catch report in 24-hr intervals for each day by 0900 hr of the following day. Reports are required even if groundfish species caught that day have not yet been landed. (ii) Vessels declaring into multiple broad stock areas not including GOM Stock Area. A vessel declared into multiple stock areas defined in (k)(3)(ii) through (iv) of this section, not including the GOM Stock Area I defined in (k)(3)(i), must submit a trip-level report via VMS prior to crossing the VMS demarcation line, as defined in § 648.10, upon its return to port following each fishing trip on which regulated species were caught, as instructed by the Regional Administrator. (iii) The Regional Administrator may adjust the reporting frequency specified in paragraph (k)(2) of this section. (iv) Exemptions from broad stock area VMS reporting requirements. (A) A vessel is exempt from the reporting requirements specified in paragraph (k)(2) of this section if it is fishing in a special management program, as specified in § 648.85, and is required to submit daily VMS catch reports consistent with the requirements of that program. (B) The Regional Administrator may exempt vessels on a sector trip from the reporting requirements specified in this paragraph (k)(2) if it is determined that such reporting requirements would duplicate those specified in § 648.87(b). * * * * * ■ 4. In § 648.14: ■ a. Lift the suspension of paragraphs (k)(6)(i)(E), (k)(7)(i)(A) and (B), (k)(12)(v)(E) and (F), (k)(12)(v)(K) and (L), (k)(13)(i)(D)(1) through (4), (k)(13)(ii)(B) through (D), (k)(13)(ii)(K) through (M), (k)(14)(viii), and (k)(16)(iii)(A) through (F); ■ b. Revise paragraph (k)(6)(i)(E); ■ c. Remove paragraph (k)(6)(i)(H); ■ d. Revise paragraphs (k)(7)(i)(A) and (B); ■ e. Remove paragraphs (k)(7)(i)(H) through (J); PO 00000 Frm 00030 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 f. Revise paragraph (k)(12)(i) introductory text; ■ g. Remove paragraphs (k)(12)(v)(K) through (N); ■ h. Revise paragraph (k)(13)(i) introductory text; ■ i. Remove paragraphs (k)(13)(i)(D)(5) and (6), (k)(13)(ii)(K) through (P), and (k)(14)(xii); ■ j. Revise paragraphs (k)(16) introductory text and (k)(16)(iii)(A) and (B); and ■ k. Remove paragraphs (k)(16)(iii)(D) through (H). The revisions read as follows: ■ § 648.14 Prohibitions. * * * * * (k) * * * (6) * * * (i) * * * (E) Use, set, haul back, fish with, possess on board a vessel, unless stowed and not available for immediate use as defined in § 648.2, or fail to remove, sink gillnet gear and other gillnet gear capable of catching NE multispecies, with the exception of single pelagic gillnets (as described in § 648.81(f)(5)(ii)), in the areas and for the times specified in § 648.80(g)(6)(i) and (ii), except as provided in § 648.80(g)(6)(i) and (ii), and § 648.81(f)(5)(ii), or unless otherwise authorized in writing by the Regional Administrator. * * * * * (7) * * * (i) * * * (A) Enter, be on a fishing vessel in, or fail to remove gear from the EEZ portion of the areas described in § 648.81(d)(1), (e)(1), (f)(4), and (g)(1), except as provided in § 648.81(d)(2), (e)(2), (f)(5), (g)(2), and (i). (B) Fish for, harvest, possess, or land regulated species in or from the closed areas specified in § 648.81(a) through (f) and (n), unless otherwise specified in § 648.81(c)(2)(iii), (f)(5)(i), (f)(5)(iv), (f)(5)(viii) and (ix), (i), (n)(2)(i), or as authorized under § 648.85. * * * * * (12) * * * (i) It is unlawful for any person to: * * * * * (13) * * * (i) It is unlawful for any person to: * * * * * (16) Recreational and charter/party requirements. It is unlawful for the owner or operator of a charter or party boat issued a valid Federal NE multispecies permit, or for a recreational vessel, as applicable, unless otherwise specified in § 648.17, to do any of the following if fishing under the recreational or charter/party regulations: * * * * * E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 25139 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations (iii) * * * (A) Fail to comply with the applicable restrictions if transiting the GOM Regulated Mesh Area with cod on board that was caught outside the GOM Regulated Mesh Area. (B) Fail to comply with the requirements specified in § 648.81(f)(5)(v) when fishing in the areas described in § 648.81(d)(1), (e)(1), and (f)(4) during the time periods specified. * * * * * ■ 5. In § 648.80: ■ a. Lift the suspension of paragraphs (a)(3)(vi), (a)(3)(viii), (a)(4)(iii), (a)(4)(ix), and (g)(6)(i) and (ii); ■ b. Remove paragraphs (a)(3)(viii) and (ix) and (a)(4)(ix) and (x); ■ c. Revise paragraphs (g)(6)(i) and (ii); and ■ d. Remove paragraphs (g)(6)(iii) and (iv). The revisions read as follows: § 648.80 NE multispecies regulated mesh areas and restrictions on gear and methods of fishing. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 * * * * * (g) * * * (6) * * * (i) Requirements for gillnet gear capable of catching NE multispecies to reduce harbor porpoise takes. In addition to the requirements for gillnet fishing identified in this section, all persons owning or operating vessels in the EEZ that fish with sink gillnet gear and other gillnet gear capable of catching NE multispecies, with the exception of single pelagic gillnets (as described in § 648.81(f)(5)(ii)), must comply with the applicable provisions of the Harbor Porpoise Take Reduction Plan found in § 229.33 of this title. (ii) Requirements for gillnet gear capable of catching NE multispecies to prevent large whale takes. In addition to the requirements for gillnet fishing identified in this section, all persons owning or operating vessels in the EEZ that fish with sink gillnet gear and other gillnet gear capable of catching NE multispecies, with the exception of single pelagic gillnets (as described in § 648.81(f)(5)(ii)), must comply with the applicable provisions of the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan found in § 229.32 of this title. * * * * * ■ 6. In § 648.81: ■ a. Lift suspension of paragraphs (d)(1) through (4), (e)(1) and (2), (f)(1) and (2), (g)(1)(i), (o)(1)(iii), (iv) and (viii) through (x), and (o)(2)(iv); ■ b. Revise paragraph (d)(2); VerDate Sep<11>2014 20:33 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 c. Remove paragraphs (d)(3) through (6); ■ d. Revise paragraph (e)(2); ■ e. Remove paragraphs (e)(3) and (4); ■ f. Revise paragraph (f); ■ g. Remove paragraph (g)(1)(vii); ■ h. Revise paragraphs (g)(2) introductory text, (g)(2)(i), and (i); and ■ i. Remove paragraph (o). The revisions read as follows: ■ § 648.81 NE multispecies closed areas and measures to protect EFH. * * * * * (d) * * * (2) Unless otherwise restricted under the EFH Closure(s) specified in paragraph (h) of this section, paragraph (d)(1) of this section does not apply to persons on fishing vessels or fishing vessels that meet the criteria in paragraphs (f)(5)(ii) through (v) of this section. * * * * * (e) * * * (2) Unless otherwise restricted under paragraph (h) of this section, paragraph (e)(1) of this section does not apply to persons on fishing vessels or fishing vessels that meet the criteria in paragraphs (f)(5)(ii) through (v) of this section consistent with the requirements specified under § 648.80(a)(5). * * * * * (f) GOM Cod Protection Closures. (1) Unless otherwise allowed in this part, no fishing vessel or person on a fishing vessel may enter, fish in, or be in; and no fishing gear capable of catching NE multispecies may be in, or on board a vessel in GOM Cod Protection Closures I through V as described, and during the times specified, in paragraphs (f)(4)(i) through (v) of this section. (2) Any vessel subject to a GOM cod protection closure may transit the area, provided it complies with the requirements specified in paragraph (i) of this section. (3) The New England Fishery Management Council shall review the GOM Cod Protection Closures Areas specified in this section when the spawning stock biomass for GOM cod reaches the minimum biomass threshold specified for the stock (50 percent of SSBMSY). (4) GOM Cod Protection Closure Areas. Charts depicting these areas are available from the Regional Administrator upon request. (i) GOM Cod Protection Closure I. From May 1 through May 31, the restrictions specified in paragraphs (f)(1) and (2) of this section apply to GOM Cod Protection Closure I, which is the area bounded by the following PO 00000 Frm 00031 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 coordinates connected in the order stated by straight lines: GOM COD PROTECTION CLOSURE I [May 1–May 31] Point CPCI CPCI CPCI CPCI CPCI CPCI CPCI CPCI CPCI 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 1 N. latitude ........... ........... ........... ........... ........... ........... ........... ........... ........... 43°30′ 43°30′ 43°00′ 43°00′ 42°30′ 42°30′ 42°20′ 42°20′ 43°30′ N N N N N N N N N W. longitude (1) 69°30′ 69°30′ 70°00′ 70°00′ 70°30′ 70°30′ W W W W W W (2) (3) (1) (3) 1 The intersection of 43°30′ N latitude and the coastline of Maine. 2 The intersection of 42°20′ N latitude and the coastline of Massachusetts. 3 From Point 8 back to Point 1 following the coastline of the United States. (ii) GOM Cod Protection Closure II. From June 1 through June 30, the restrictions specified in paragraphs (f)(1) and (2) of this section apply to GOM Cod Protection Closure II, which is the area bounded by the following coordinates connected in the order stated by straight lines: GOM COD PROTECTION CLOSURE II [June 1–June 30] Point CPCII CPCII CPCII CPCII CPCII CPCII CPCII CPCII CPCII CPCII CPCII CPCII 1 .......... 2 .......... 3 .......... 4 .......... 5 .......... 6 .......... 7 .......... 8 .......... 9 .......... 10 ........ 11 ........ 1 .......... N. latitude (1) 43°30′ 43°30′ 42°30′ 42°30′ 42°20′ 42°20′ 42°30′ 42°30′ 43°00′ 43°00′ (1) N N N N N N N N N N W. longitude 69°30′ 69°30′ 70°00′ 70°00′ 70°30′ 70°30′ W W W W W W (2) (3) (4) (3) 70°30′ W 70°30′ W (5) (6) 69°30′ W 6 1 The intersection of 69°30′ W longitude and the coastline of Maine. 2 The intersection of 42°20′ N latitude and the coastline of Massachusetts. 3 From Point 7 to Point 8 following the coastline of Massachusetts. 4 The intersection of 42°30′ N latitude and the coastline of Massachusetts. 5 The intersection of 43°00′ N latitude and the coastline of New Hampshire. 6 From Point 11 back to Point 1 following the coastlines of New Hampshire and Maine. (iii) GOM Cod Protection Closure III. From November 1 through January 31, the restrictions specified in paragraphs (f)(1) and (2) of this section apply to GOM Cod Protection Closure III, which is the area bounded by the following coordinates connected in the order stated by straight lines: E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 25140 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations GOM COD PROTECTION CLOSURE III [November 1–January 31] Point CPCIII CPCIII CPCIII CPCIII CPCIII CPCIII CPCIII 1 2 3 4 5 6 1 N. latitude ......... ......... ......... ......... ......... ......... ......... 42°30′ 42°30′ 42°15′ 42°15′ 42°00′ 42°00′ 42°30′ N N N N N N N W. longitude (1) 70°30′ 70°30′ 70°24′ 70°24′ W W W W (2) (3) (1) (3) 1 The intersection of 42°30′ N latitude and the Massachusetts coastline. 2 The intersection of 42°00′ N latitude and the mainland Massachusetts coastline at Kingston, MA. 3 From Point 6 back to Point 1 following the coastline of Massachusetts. (iv) GOM Cod Protection Closure IV. From October 1 through October 31, the restrictions specified in paragraphs (f)(1) and (2) of this section apply to GOM Cod Protection Closure IV, which is the area bounded by the following coordinates connected in the order stated by straight lines: GOM COD PROTECTION CLOSURE IV [October 1–October 31] Point CPCIV CPCIV CPCIV CPCIV CPCIV 1 2 3 4 1 N. latitude ........ ........ ........ ........ ........ 42°30′ 42°30′ 42°00′ 42°00′ 42°30′ N N N N N W. longitude (1) 70°00′ W 70°00′ W (2) (3) (1) (3) 1 The intersection of 42°30′ N latitude and the Massachusetts coastline 2 The intersection of 42°00′ N latitude and the mainland Massachusetts coastline at Kingston, MA 3 From Point 4 back to Point 1 following the coastline of Massachusetts (v) GOM Cod Protection Closure V. From March 1 through March 31, the restrictions specified in paragraphs (f)(1) and (2) of this section GOM Cod Protection Closure V, which is the area bounded by the following coordinates connected in the order stated by straight lines: GOM COD PROTECTION CLOSURE V [March 1–March 31] mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 Point CPCV CPCV CPCV CPCV CPCV 1 2 3 4 1 ......... ......... ......... ......... ......... N. latitude 42°30′ 42°30′ 42°00′ 42°00′ 42°30′ N N N N N W. longitude 70°00′ 68°30′ 68°30′ 70°00′ 70°00′ W W W W W (5) The GOM cod protection closures specified in this section do not apply to persons aboard fishing vessels or fishing vessels that meet any of the following criteria: VerDate Sep<11>2014 20:33 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 (i) That have not been issued a multispecies permit and that are fishing exclusively in state waters; (ii) That are fishing with or using exempted gear as defined under this part, except for pelagic gillnet gear capable of catching NE multispecies, unless fishing with a single pelagic gillnet not longer than 300 ft (91.4 m) and not greater than 6 ft (1.83 m) deep, with a maximum mesh size of 3 inches (7.6 cm), provided that: (A) The net is attached to the boat and fished in the upper two-thirds of the water column; (B) The net is marked with the owner’s name and vessel identification number; (C) There is no retention of regulated species; and (D) There is no other gear on board capable of catching NE multispecies; (iii) That are fishing in the Midwater Trawl Gear Exempted Fishery as specified in § 648.80(d); (iv) That are fishing in the Purse Seine Gear Exempted Fishery as specified in § 648.80(e); (v) That are fishing under charter/ party or recreational regulations specified in § 648.89, provided that: (A) For vessels fishing under charter/ party regulations in a GOM cod protection closure described under paragraph (f)(4) of this section, it has on board a letter of authorization issued by the Regional Administrator, which is valid from the date of enrollment through the duration of the closure or 3 months duration, whichever is greater; for vessels fishing under charter/party regulations in the Cashes Ledge Closure Area or Western GOM Area Closure, as described under paragraphs (d) and (e) of this section, respectively, it has on board a letter of authorization issued by the Regional Administrator, which is valid from the date of enrollment until the end of the fishing year; (B) Fish species managed by the NEFMC or MAFMC that are harvested or possessed by the vessel, are not sold or intended for trade, barter or sale, regardless of where the fish are caught; (C) The vessel has no gear other than rod and reel or handline on board; and (D) The vessel does not use any NE multispecies DAS during the entire period for which the letter of authorization is valid; (vi) That are fishing with or using scallop dredge gear when fishing under a scallop DAS or when lawfully fishing in the Scallop Dredge Fishery Exemption Area as described in § 648.80(a)(11), provided the vessel does not retain any regulated NE multispecies during a trip, or on any part of a trip; or PO 00000 Frm 00032 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 (vii) That are fishing in the Raised Footrope Trawl Exempted Whiting Fishery, as specified in § 648.80(a)(15), or in the Small Mesh Area II Exemption Area, as specified in § 648.80(a)(9); (viii) That are fishing on a sector trip, as defined in this part, and in the GOM Cod Protection Closures IV or V, as specified in paragraphs (f)(4)(iv) and (v) of this section; or (ix) That are fishing under the provisions of a Northeast multispecies Handgear A permit, as specified at § 648.82(b)(6), and in the GOM Cod Protection Closures IV or V, as specified in paragraphs (f)(4)(iv) and (v) of this section . (g) * * * (2) Paragraph (g)(1) of this section does not apply to persons on fishing vessels or to fishing vessels that meet any of the following criteria: (i) That meet the criteria in paragraphs (f)(5)(i), (ii), or (iii) of this section; * * * * * (i) Transiting. Unless otherwise restricted or specified in this paragraph (i), a vessel may transit CA I, the Nantucket Lightship Closed Area, the Cashes Ledge Closed Area, the Western GOM Closure Area, the GOM Cod Protection Closures, the GB Seasonal Closure Area, the EFH Closure Areas, and the GOM Cod Spawning Protection Area, as defined in paragraphs (a)(1), (c)(1), (d)(1), (e)(1), (f)(4), (g)(1), (h)(1), and (n)(1), of this section, respectively, provided that its gear is stowed and not available for immediate use as defined in § 648.2. A vessel may transit CA II, as defined in paragraph (b)(1) of this section, in accordance with paragraph (b)(2)(iv) of this section. Private recreational or charter/party vessels fishing under the Northeast multispecies provisions specified at § 648.89 may transit the GOM Cod Spawning Protection Area, as defined in paragraph (n)(1) of this section, provided all bait and hooks are removed from fishing rods, and any regulated species on board have been caught outside the GOM Cod Spawning Protection Area and has been gutted and stored. * * * * * § 648.82 [Amended] 7. In § 648.82, lift the suspension of paragraphs (b)(5) through (8), and remove paragraphs (b)(7) through (10). ■ § 648.85 [Amended] 8. In § 648.85, lift the suspension of paragraphs (b)(6)(iv)(D) and (K) and remove paragraphs (b)(6)(iv)(K) and (L). ■ E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations § 648.86 [Amended] 9. In § 648.86, lift the suspension of paragraphs (b)(1) through (7) and remove paragraphs (b)(5) through (10). ■ 10. In § 648.87: ■ a. Lift the suspension of paragraphs (b)(1)(v)(A), (b)(1)(ix), (b)(1)(x), (c)(2)(i), (c)(2)(ii)(A) and (B), (c)(2)(ii)(E), and (c)(2)(iii); ■ b. Revise paragraphs (b)(1)(i)(C) and (b)(1)(iii)(C); ■ c. Remove paragraphs (b)(1)(v)(C) and (b)(1)(x) and (xi); ■ d. Revise paragraphs (c)(2)(i) and (c)(2)(ii)(B); and ■ e. Remove paragraphs (c)(2)(ii)(E) through (G) and (c)(2)(iii) and (iv). The revisions read as follows: ■ § 648.87 Sector allocation. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 * * * * * (b) * * * (1) * * * (i) * * * (C) Carryover. (1) With the exception of GB yellowtail flounder, a sector may carryover an amount of ACE equal to 10 percent of its original ACE for each stock that is unused at the end of one fishing year into the following fishing year, provided that the total unused sector ACE plus the overall ACL for the following fishing year does not exceed the ABC for the fishing year in which the carryover may be harvested. If this total exceeds the ABC, NMFS shall adjust the maximum amount of unused ACE that a sector may carryover (down from 10 percent) to an amount equal to the ABC of the following fishing year. Any adjustments made would be applied to each sector based on its total unused ACE and proportional to the cumulative PSCs of vessels/permits participating in the sector for the particular fishing year, as described in paragraph (b)(1)(i)(E) of this section. (i) Eastern GB Stocks Carryover. Any unused ACE allocated for Eastern GB stocks in accordance with paragraph (b)(1)(i)(B) of this section shall contribute to the carryover allowance for each stock, as specified in this paragraph (b)(1)(i)(C)(1), but shall not increase individual sector’s allocation of Eastern GB stocks during the following year. (ii) This carryover ACE remains effective during the subsequent fishing year even if vessels that contributed to the sector allocation during the previous fishing year are no longer participating in the same sector for the subsequent fishing year. (2) Carryover accounting. (i) If the overall ACL for a particular stock is exceeded, the allowed carryover of a particular stock harvested by a sector, VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 minus the NMFS-specified de minimis amount, shall be counted against the sector’s ACE for purposes of determining an overage subject to the AM in paragraph (b)(1)(iii) of this section. (ii) De Minimis Carryover Amount. The de minimis carryover amount is one percent of the overall sector sub-ACL for the fishing year in which the carryover would be harvested. NMFS may change this de minimis carryover amount for any fishing year through notice consistent with the Administrative Procedure Act. The overall de minimis carryover amount would be applied to each sector proportional to the cumulative PSCs of vessels/permits participating in the sector for the particular fishing year, as described in paragraph (b)(1)(i)(E) of this section. * * * * * (iii) * * * (C) ACE buffer. At the beginning of each fishing year, NMFS shall withhold 20 percent of a sector’s ACE for each stock for a period of up to 61 days (i.e., through June 30), unless otherwise specified by NMFS, to allow time to process any ACE transfers submitted at the end of the fishing year pursuant to paragraph (b)(1)(viii) of this section and to determine whether the ACE allocated to any sector needs to be reduced, or any overage penalties need to be applied to individual permits/vessels in the current fishing year to accommodate an ACE overage by that sector during the previous fishing year, as specified in paragraph (b)(1)(iii) of this section. NMFS shall not withhold 20 percent of a sector’s ACE at the beginning of a fishing year in which default specifications are in effect, as specified in § 648.90(a)(3). * * * * * (c) * * * (2) * * * (i) Regulations that may not be exempted for sector participants. The Regional Administrator may not exempt participants in a sector from the following Federal fishing regulations: Specific times and areas within the NE multispecies year-round closure areas; permitting restrictions (e.g., vessel upgrades, etc.); gear restrictions designed to minimize habitat impacts (e.g., roller gear restrictions, etc.); reporting requirements; AMs specified in § 648.90(a)(5)(i)(D). For the purposes of this paragraph (c)(2)(i), the DAS reporting requirements specified in § 648.82; the SAP-specific reporting requirements specified in § 648.85; and the reporting requirements associated with a dockside monitoring program are not considered reporting requirements, PO 00000 Frm 00033 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 25141 and the Regional Administrator may exempt sector participants from these requirements as part of the approval of yearly operations plans. For the purpose of this paragraph (c)(2)(i), the Regional Administrator may not grant sector participants exemptions from the NE multispecies year-round closures areas defined as Essential Fish Habitat Closure Areas as defined in § 648.81(h); the Fippennies Ledge Area as defined in paragraph (c)(2)(i)(A) of this section; Closed Area I and Closed Area II, as defined in § 648.81(a) and (b), respectively, during the period February 16 through April 30; and the Western GOM Closure Area, as defined at § 648.81(e), where it overlaps with GOM Cod Protection Closures I through III, as defined in § 648.81(f)(4). This list may be modified through a framework adjustment, as specified in § 648.90. * * * * * (ii) * * * (B) The GOM Cod Protection Closures IV and V specified in § 648.81(f)(4)(iv) and (v) and the GB Seasonal Closed Area specified in § 648.81(g)(1); * * * * * § 648.88 [Amended] 11. In § 648.88, lift the suspension of paragraphs (a)(1) and (3), and remove paragraphs (a)(3) and (4). ■ 12. In § 648.89: ■ a. Lift the suspension of paragraphs (b)(3), (c)(1) and (2), (c)(8), and (e)(1) through (4); ■ b. Revise paragraphs (c)(1) and (c)(2)(i); ■ c.. Remove paragraphs (c)(2)(v) and (c)(8) and (9); ■ c. Revise paragraph (e)(1); ■ d. Remove paragraphs (e)(4) through (7); and ■ e. Revise paragraph (f). The revisions read as follows: ■ § 648.89 Recreational and charter/party vessel restrictions. * * * * * (c) Possession Restrictions—(1) Recreational fishing vessels. (i) Each person on a private recreational vessel may possess no more than 10 cod per day in, or harvested from, the EEZ when fishing outside of the GOM Regulated Mesh Area specified in § 648.80(a)(1). (ii) When fishing in the GOM Regulated Mesh Area specified in § 648.80(a)(1), persons aboard private recreational fishing vessels may not fish for or possess any cod with the exception that private recreational vessels in possession of cod caught outside the GOM Regulated Mesh Area specified in § 648.80(a)(1) may transit this area, provided all bait and hooks E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 25142 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations are removed from fishing rods and any cod on board has been gutted and stored. (iii) For purposes of counting fish, fillets will be converted to whole fish at the place of landing by dividing the number of fillets by two. If fish are filleted into a single (butterfly) fillet, such fillet shall be deemed to be from one whole fish. (iv) Cod harvested by recreational fishing vessels in or from the EEZ with more than one person aboard may be pooled in one or more containers. Compliance with the possession limit will be determined by dividing the number of fish on board by the number of persons on board. If there is a violation of the possession limit on board a vessel carrying more than one person, the violation shall be deemed to have been committed by the owner or operator of the vessel. (v) Cod must be stored so as to be readily available for inspection. (2) Charter/party vessels. (i) Persons aboard charter/party fishing vessels permitted under this part and not fishing under the NE multispecies DAS program or on a sector trip that are fishing in the GOM Regulated Mesh Area specified in § 648.80(a)(1) may not fish for, possess, or land any cod with the exception that charter/party vessels in possession of cod caught outside the GOM Regulated Mesh Area specified in § 648.80(a)(1) may transit this area, provided all bait and hooks are removed from fishing rods and any cod on board has been gutted and stored. * * * * * (e) * * * (1) GOM Closed Areas. (i) A vessel fishing under charter/party regulations may not fish in the GOM closed areas specified in § 648.81(d)(1), (e)(1), and (f)(4) during the time periods specified in those paragraphs, unless the vessel has on board a valid letter of authorization issued by the Regional Administrator pursuant to § 648.81(f)(5)(v) and paragraph (e)(3) of this section. The conditions and restrictions of the letter of authorization must be complied with for a minimum of 3 months if the vessel fishes or intends to fish in the GOM cod protection closures; or for the rest of the fishing year, beginning with the start of the participation period of the letter of authorization, if the vessel fishes or intends to fish in the year-round GOM closure areas. (ii) A vessel fishing under charter/ party regulations may not fish in the GOM Cod Spawning Protection Area specified at § 648.81(n)(1) during the time period specified in that paragraph, VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 unless the vessel complies with the requirements specified at § 648.81(n)(2)(iii). * * * * * (f) Recreational fishery AM—(1) Catch evaluation. As soon as recreational catch data are available for the entire previous fishing year, the Regional Administrator will evaluate whether recreational catches exceed any of the sub-ACLs specified for the recreational fishery pursuant to § 648.90(a)(4). When evaluating recreational catch, the components of recreational catch that are used shall be the same as those used in the most recent assessment for that particular stock. To determine if any sub-ACL specified for the recreational fishery was exceeded, the Regional Administrator shall compare the 3-year average of recreational catch to the 3year average of the recreational sub-ACL for each stock. (2) Reactive AM adjustment. (i) If it is determined that any recreational subACL was exceeded, as specified in paragraph (f)(1) of this section, the Regional Administrator, after consultation with the New England Fishery Management Council, shall develop measures necessary to prevent the recreational fishery from exceeding the appropriate sub-ACL in future years. Appropriate AMs for the recreational fishery, including adjustments to fishing season, minimum fish size, or possession limits, may be implemented in a manner consistent with the Administrative Procedure Act, with final measures published in the Federal Register no later than January when possible. Separate AMs shall be developed for the private and charter/ party components of the recreational fishery. (ii) The Regional Administrator shall not adjust the possession limit for GOM cod, under the reactive AM authority specified in paragraph (f)(2)(i) of this section, as long as possession of this stock is prohibited for the recreational fishery, as specified in paragraph (c) of this section. (3) Proactive AM adjustment. (i) When necessary, the Regional Administrator, after consultation with the New England Fishery Management Council, may adjust recreational measures to ensure the recreational fishery achieves, but does not exceed any recreational fishery sub-ACL in a future fishing year. Appropriate AMs for the recreational fishery, including adjustments to fishing season, minimum fish size, or possession limits, may be implemented in a manner consistent with the Administrative Procedure Act, with final measures published in the PO 00000 Frm 00034 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 Federal Register prior to the start of the fishing year where possible. In specifying these AMs, the Regional Administrator shall take into account the non-binding prioritization of possible measures recommended by the Council: for cod, first increases to minimum fish sizes, then adjustments to seasons, followed by changes to bag limits; and for haddock, first increases to minimum size limits, then changes to bag limits, and then adjustments to seasons. (ii) The Regional Administrator shall not adjust the possession limit for GOM cod, under the proactive AM authority specified in paragraph (f)(3)(i) of this section, as long as possession of this stock is prohibited for the recreational fishery, as specified in paragraph (c) of this section. ■ 13. In § 648.90, revise paragraphs (a)(2)(i) and (viii), (a)(3), and (a)(5)(i) introductory text to read as follows: § 648.90 NE multispecies assessment, framework procedures and specifications, and flexible area action system. * * * * * (a) * * * (2) * * * (i) The NE multispecies PDT shall meet on or before September 30 every other year to perform a review of the fishery, using the most current scientific information available provided primarily from the NEFSC. Data provided by states, ASMFC, the USCG, and other sources may also be considered by the PDT. Based on this review, the PDT will develop ACLs for the upcoming fishing year(s) as described in paragraph (a)(4) of this section and develop options for consideration by the Council if necessary, on any changes, adjustments, or additions to DAS allocations, closed areas, or other measures necessary to rebuild overfished stocks and achieve the FMP goals and objectives. * * * * * (viii) If the Regional Administrator concurs in the Council’s recommendation, a final rule shall be published in the Federal Register on or about April 1 of each year, with the exception noted in paragraph (a)(2)(vii) of this section. If the Council fails to submit a recommendation to the Regional Administrator by February 1 that meets the FMP goals and objectives, the Regional Administrator may publish as a proposed rule one of the options reviewed and not rejected by the Council, provided that the option meets the FMP objectives and is consistent with other applicable law. If, after considering public comment, the Regional Administrator decides to E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with RULES3 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and Regulations approve the option published as a proposed rule, the action will be published as a final rule in the Federal Register. * * * * * (3) Default OFLs, ABCs, and ACLs. (i) Unless otherwise specified in this paragraph (a)(3), if final specifications are not published in the Federal Register for the start of a fishing year, as outlined in paragraph (a)(4) of this section, specifications for that fishing year shall be set at 35 percent of the previous year’s specifications for each NE multispecies stock, including the U.S./Canada shared resources, for the period of time beginning on May 1 and ending on July 31, unless superseded by the final rule implementing the current year’s specifications. (ii) If the default specifications exceed the Council’s recommendations for any stock for the current year, the specifications for that stock shall be reduced to the Council’s recommendation through notice consistent with the Administrative Procedure Act. (iii) These specifications shall be subdivided among the various subcomponents of the fishery consistent with the ABC/ACL distribution adopted for the previous year’s specifications. * * * * * (5) * * * (i) AMs for the NE multispecies commercial and recreational fisheries. If the catch of regulated species or ocean pout by a sub-component of the NE multispecies fishery (i.e., common pool vessels, sector vessels, or private recreational and charter/party vessels) exceeds the amount allocated to each sub-component, as specified in paragraph (a)(4)(iii)(H) of this section, then the applicable AM for that subcomponent of the fishery shall take effect, pursuant to paragraphs (a)(5)(i)(A) through (C) of this section. In determining the applicability of AMs specified for a sub-component of the NE multispecies fishery in paragraphs (a)(5)(i)(A) through (C) of this section, the Regional Administrator shall consider available information regarding the catch of regulated species and ocean pout by each sub-component of the NE multispecies fishery, plus each subcomponent’s share of any overage of the overall ACL for a particular stock caused by excessive catch by vessels outside of the FMP, exempted fisheries, or the Atlantic sea scallop fishery, as specified in this paragraph (a)(5), as appropriate. * * * * * [FR Doc. 2015–09952 Filed 4–30–15; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P VerDate Sep<11>2014 19:31 Apr 30, 2015 Jkt 235001 DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 648 [Docket No. 140821699–5361–02] RIN 0648–XD461 Magnuson-Stevens Act Provisions; Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Northeast Multispecies Fishery; 2015 and 2016 Sector Operations Plans and 2015 Contracts and Allocation of Northeast Multispecies Annual Catch Entitlements National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Final rule. AGENCY: We have partially approved sector operations plans and contracts for fishing years 2015 and 2016, granting regulatory exemptions for fishing years 2015 and 2016, and providing Northeast multispecies annual catch entitlements to approved sectors for fishing year 2015. Approval of sector operations plans is necessary to allocate annual catch entitlements to the sectors and for the sectors to operate. The Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan allows limited access permit holders to form sectors, and requires sectors to submit their operations plans and contracts to us, NMFS, for approval or disapproval. Approved sectors are exempt from certain effort control regulations and receive allocations of Northeast multispecies based on its members’ fishing history. DATES: Sector operations plans and regulatory exemptions are effective May 1, 2015, through April 30, 2017. Northeast multispecies annual catch entitlements for sectors are effective May 1, 2015, through April 30, 2016. ADDRESSES: Copies of each sector’s final operations plan and contract, and the environmental assessment (EA), are available from the NMFS Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office: John K. Bullard, Regional Administrator, National Marine Fisheries Service, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930. These documents are also accessible via the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Liz Sullivan, Fishery Management Specialist, phone (978) 282–8493, fax (978) 281–9135. To review Federal Register documents referenced in this rule, you can visit: http:// SUMMARY: PO 00000 Frm 00035 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4700 25143 www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/ sustainable/species/multispecies. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Background Amendment 13 to the Northeast (NE) Multispecies Fishery Management Plan (FMP) (69 FR 22906, April 27, 2004) established a process for forming sectors within the NE multispecies (groundfish) fishery, and Amendment 16 to the FMP (74 FR 18262, April 9, 2010), followed by Framework Adjustment 45 to the FMP (76 FR 23042, April 25, 2011) and Framework 48 to the FMP (78 FR 26118; May 3, 2013), expanded and revised sector management. The FMP defines a sector as ‘‘[a] group of persons (three or more persons, none of whom have an ownership interest in the other two persons in the sector) holding limited access vessel permits who have voluntarily entered into a contract and agree to certain fishing restrictions for a specified period of time, and which has been granted a TAC(s) [sic] in order to achieve objectives consistent with applicable FMP goals and objectives.’’ Sectors are self-selecting, meaning each sector can choose its members. The NE multispecies sector management system allocates a portion of the NE multispecies stocks to each sector. These annual sector allocations are known as annual catch entitlements (ACE). These allocations are a portion of a stock’s annual catch limit (ACL) available to commercial NE multispecies vessels within a sector, based on the collective fishing history of a sector’s members. Currently, sectors may receive allocations of most largemesh NE multispecies stocks with the exception of Atlantic halibut, windowpane flounder, Atlantic wolffish, and ocean pout, which are non-allocated. A sector determines how to harvest its ACEs and may decide to consolidate operations to fewer vessels. Because sectors elect to receive an allocation under a quota-based system, the FMP grants sector vessels several ‘‘universal’’ exemptions from the FMP’s effort controls. These universal exemptions apply to: Trip limits on allocated stocks; the Georges Bank (GB) Seasonal Closure Area; NE multispecies days-at-sea (DAS) restrictions; the requirement to use a 6.5-inch (16.5-cm) mesh codend when fishing with selective gear on GB; portions of the Gulf of Maine (GOM) Cod Protection Closures (as created by Framework 53; implemented concurrently with this rule); and the at-sea monitoring (ASM) coverage rate for sector vessels fishing on a monkfish DAS in the Southern New England (SNE) Broad Stock Area E:\FR\FM\01MYR3.SGM 01MYR3

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 80, Number 84 (Friday, May 1, 2015)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 25109-25143]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2015-09952]



[[Page 25109]]

Vol. 80

Friday,

No. 84

May 1, 2015

Part IV





Department of Commerce





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





National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration





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





50 CFR Part 648





Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act Provisions; 
Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Final Rule and Interim 
Final Rule

Federal Register / Vol. 80 , No. 84 / Friday, May 1, 2015 / Rules and 
Regulations

[[Page 25110]]


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

DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 648

[Docket No. 150105004-5355-01]
RIN 0648-BE75


Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act 
Provisions; Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Northeast 
Groundfish Fishery; Framework Adjustment 53

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

ACTION: Final rule; request for comments.

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

SUMMARY: This final rule approves and implements Framework Adjustment 
53 to the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan. This rule 
sets fishing years 2015-2017 catch limits for several groundfish 
stocks, modifies management measures for Gulf of Maine cod, and adopts 
other measures to improve the management of the groundfish fishery. 
This action is necessary to respond to updated scientific information 
and achieve the goals and objectives of the fishery management plan. 
The final measures are intended to prevent overfishing, rebuild 
overfished stocks, achieve optimum yield, and ensure that management 
measures are based on the best scientific information available.

DATES: Effective May 1, 2015. Comments on the burden-hour estimates or 
other aspects of the collection-of-information requirements contained 
in this final rule must be received by June 30, 2015.

ADDRESSES: Written comments regarding the burden-hour estimates or 
other aspects of the collection-of-information requirements contained 
in this final rule may be submitted by either of the following methods:
     Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public 
comments via email to OIRA_Submission@omb.eop.gov.
     Mail: Submit written comments to John K. Bullard, Regional 
Administrator, National Marine Fisheries Service, 55 Great Republic 
Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930. Mark the outside of the envelope, 
``Comments on Groundfish Daily Catch Reporting.''
    Copies of Framework Adjustment 53, including the Environmental 
Assessment, the Regulatory Impact Review, and the Iinal Regulatory 
Flexibility Act analysis prepared by the New England Fishery Management 
Council and NMFS in support of this action are available from John K. 
Bullard, Regional Administrator, NMFS Greater Atlantic Regional 
Fisheries Office, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930. The 
supporting documents are also accessible via the Internet at: http://www.nefmc.org/management-plans/northeast-multispecies or http://www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/sustainable/species/multispecies.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Sarah Heil, Fishery Policy Analyst, 
phone: 978-281-9257; email: Sarah.Heil@noaa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Table of Contents

1. Summary of Approved Measures
2. Status Determination Criteria
3. Fishing Year 2015 Shared U.S./Canada Quotas
4. Fishing Years 2015-2017 Catch Limits
5. Gulf of Maine Cod Protection Measures
6. Default Catch Limits
7. Sector Carryover
8. Fishing Year 2015 Common Pool Management Measures
9. Fishing Year 2015 Northern Windowpane Flounder Accountability 
Measure
10. Daily Catch Reporting for Commercial Groundfish Vessels
11. Regulatory Corrections Under Regional Administrator Authority

1. Summary of Approved Measures

    This final rule approves and implements measures in Framework 
Adjustment 53 to the Northeast Multispecies Fishery Management Plan 
(FMP), and removes all measures that we previously implemented in the 
2014 interim action for Gulf of Maine (GOM) cod. The New England 
Fishery Management Council developed Framework 53 primarily in response 
to new stock assessments that were conducted in 2014 for a number of 
groundfish stocks. The new measures implemented by this final rule 
include:
     Revised status determination criteria for several 
groundfish stocks;
     Fishing year 2015 shared U.S./Canada quotas for 
transboundary Georges Bank (GB) stocks;
     Fishing years 2015-2017 catch limits for several 
groundfish stocks;
     GOM cod protection closures and possession restrictions;
     A mechanism to set default catch limits in the event a 
future management action is delayed; and
     A provision that allows groundfish sectors to carry over 
unused quota in response to a recent court ruling.
    This action also implements a number of other measures that are not 
part of Framework 53, but that were considered under our authority 
specified in the FMP. We are including these measures in conjunction 
with the Framework 53 approved measures for expediency purposes. The 
additional measures implemented in this rule are listed below.
     Management measures for the common pool fishery--this 
action implements initial fishing year 2015 trip limits for the common 
pool fishery. We have the authority to set management measures for the 
common pool fishery that will help ensure that the fishery achieves, 
but does not exceed, its catch limits.
     Accountability measure (AM) for northern windowpane 
flounder--this action implements an AM for northern windowpane flounder 
for fishing year 2015 due to an overage of the 2014 catch limit for 
this stock. This AM requires sector and common pool vessels to use 
selective trawl gear when fishing in certain areas on GB.
     Daily catch reporting for commercial groundfish vessels--
this action implements a requirement that commercial groundfish vessels 
submit a daily catch report through the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) 
when declared into the GOM broad stock area and any other broad stock 
area on the same trip. Groundfish vessels must currently submit trip-
level reports. However, we have the authority to modify the frequency 
of reporting, if necessary.
     Other regulatory corrections--we are implementing several 
revisions to the regulations to correct references, remove unnecessary 
text, and make other minor edits. Each correction is described in the 
section ``11. Regulatory Corrections Under Regional Administrator 
Authority.''

2. Status Determination Criteria

    The Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) conducted stock 
assessments in 2014 for GOM cod, GOM haddock, GOM winter flounder, GB 
yellowtail flounder, GB winter flounder, and pollock. To incorporate 
the results of these assessments, this action changes the status 
determination for GB yellowtail flounder to unknown and updates the 
numerical estimates of the status determination criteria for the 
remaining stocks. Table 1 provides the updated numerical estimates of 
the status determination criteria, and Table 2 summarizes changes in 
stock status based on the new stock assessments conducted in 2014.
    Although status determination relative to reference points is 
unknown for GB yellowtail flounder, the best scientific information 
available

[[Page 25111]]

indicates that stock status is poor. The changes to the status 
determination criteria implemented in this action do not affect the 
rebuilding plan for this stock, which has an end date of 2032. Although 
biomass estimates are not currently available, to ensure that 
rebuilding progress is made, catch limits will continue to be set at 
levels at which the Transboundary Resources Assessment Committee and 
the Council's Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) determine will 
prevent overfishing. Additionally, at whatever point the stock 
assessment for GB yellowtail flounder can provide numerical estimates 
of status determination criteria, those estimates will be used to 
evaluate progress towards the existing rebuilding targets.

                          Table 1--Numerical Estimates of Status Determination Criteria
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                               Biomass target
                   Stock                      SSBMSY or proxy     Maximum fishing mortality         MSY (mt)
                                                    (mt)          threshold  (FMSY or proxy)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
GOM Cod:
    M=0.2 Model............................             47,184  0.18.........................              7,753
    Mramp Model............................             69,621  0.18.........................             11,388
GOM Haddock................................              4,108  0.46.........................                955
GOM Winter Flounder........................                n/a  0.23 exploitation rate.......                n/a
GB Yellowtail Flounder.....................                n/a  n/a..........................                n/a
GB Winter Flounder.........................              8,100  0.44.........................              3,200
Pollock....................................             76,900  0.42 (equivalent to F5	7 =                14,800
                                                                 0.27).
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
SSB = Spawning Stock Biomass; MSY = Maximum Sustainable Yield; F = Fishing Mortality; M = Natural Mortality
Note. An explanation of the two assessment models for GOM cod is provided in the section ``4. Fishing Years 2015-
  2017 Catch Limits.''


                                   Table 2--Summary of Changes to Stock Status
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                           Previous assessment                        2014 assessment
             Stock              --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                     Overfishing?         Overfished?        Overfishing?         Overfished?
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
GOM Cod........................  Yes................  Yes...............  Yes...............  Yes
GOM Haddock....................  Yes................  No \1\............  No................  No
GOM Winter Flounder............  No.................  Unknown...........  No................  Unknown
GB Yellowtail Flounder.........  Yes................  Yes...............  Unknown...........  Unknown
GB Winter Flounder.............  No.................  No................  No................  No
Pollock........................  No.................  No................  No................  No
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Stock was approaching an overfished condition

3. Fishing Year 2015 U.S./Canada Quotas

    As described in the proposed rule, eastern GB cod, eastern GB 
haddock, and GB yellowtail flounder are jointly managed with Canada 
under the U.S./Canada Resource Sharing Understanding. This action 
adopts shared U.S./Canada quotas for these stocks for fishing year 2015 
based on 2014 assessments and the recommendations of the Transboundary 
Management Guidance Committee (TMGC) (Table 3). For a more detailed 
discussion of the TMGC's 2015 catch advice, see the TMGC's guidance 
document at: http://www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/sustainable/species/multispecies/index.html.

 Table 3--Fishing Year 2015 U.S./Canada Quotas (mt, Live Weight) and Percent of Quota Allocated to Each Country
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
               Quota                      Eastern GB Cod          Eastern GB Haddock      GB Yellowtail Flounder
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Total Shared Quota.................  650.....................  37,000..................  354
U.S. Quota.........................  124 (19%)...............  17,760 (48%)............  248 (70%)
Canada Quota.......................  526 (81%)...............  19,240 (52%)............  106 (30%)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The regulations implementing the U.S./Canada Resource Sharing 
Understanding require that any overages of the U.S. quota for eastern 
GB cod, eastern GB haddock, or GB yellowtail flounder be deducted from 
the U.S. quota in the following fishing year. If fishing year 2014 
catch information indicates that the U.S. fishery exceeded its quota 
for any of the shared stocks, we must reduce the respective U.S. quota 
for fishing year 2015 in a future management action, as close to May 1, 
2015, as possible. If any fishery that is allocated a portion of the 
U.S. quota exceeds its allocation, and causes an overage of the overall 
U.S. quota, the overage reduction would only be applied to that 
fishery's allocation in the following fishing year. This ensures that 
catch by one component of the fishery does not negatively affect 
another component of the fishery.

4. Fishing Years 2015-2017 Catch Limits

    This action adopts fishing years 2015-2017 catch limits for GOM 
cod, GOM haddock, GOM winter flounder, GB winter flounder, GB 
yellowtail flounder (2015-2016 only), and pollock based on the 2014 
assessments for these stocks. In addition, this action updates the 2015 
catch limits for GB cod and GB haddock based on the U.S./Canada quotas 
for the

[[Page 25112]]

portions of these stocks jointly managed with Canada. For all other 
stocks, the overall catch limits included in this rule are the same as 
those previously adopted in the final rules implementing Framework 50 
and Framework 51 to the FMP, although small changes have been made to 
the distribution of these catch limits to the various components of the 
fishery. The catch limits implemented in this action, including 
overfishing limits (OFLs), acceptable biological catches (ABCs), and 
annual catch limits (ACLs), can be found in Tables 4 through 12. A 
summary of how these catch limits were developed, including the 
distribution to the various fishery components, was provided in the 
proposed rule. Additional information on the development of these catch 
limits is also provided in the Framework 53 Environmental Assessment 
and its supporting appendices.
    The sector and common pool catch limits implemented in this action 
are based on potential sector contributions (PSCs) for fishing year 
2015 and fishing year 2014 sector rosters. 2015 sector rosters will not 
be finalized until May 1, 2015, because individual permit holders have 
until the end of the 2014 fishing year (April 30, 2015) to drop out of 
a sector and fish in the common pool fishery for 2015. Therefore, it is 
possible that the sector and common pool catch limits in this action 
may change due to changes in the sector rosters. If changes to the 
sector rosters occur, updated catch limits will be announced as soon as 
possible in the 2015 fishing year to reflect the final sector rosters 
as of May 1, 2015. Sector specific allocations for each stock can be 
found in the final rule for 2015-2016 Sector Operations Plans and 
Contracts.
    There are no catch limits adopted for fishing years 2016 or 2017 
for most groundfish stocks. Stock assessment updates for all groundfish 
stocks are scheduled for September 2015, and, based on these assessment 
updates, catch limits will be set in a future action for fishing years 
2016-2018. Given the timing of the stock assessments, the management 
action for the 2016 fishing year is not expected to be completed by the 
start of the fishing year. As a result, this action adopts default 
catch limits that would be implemented on May 1, 2016, to prevent 
disruption to the fishery (see the section ``6. Default Catch 
Limits'').

                                  Table 4--Fishing Years 2015-2017 Overfishing Limits and Acceptable Biological Catches
                                                                    [mt, live weight]
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                       2015                            2016                            2017
                          Stock                          -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                OFL          U.S. ABC           OFL          U.S. ABC           OFL          U.S. ABC
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
GB Cod..................................................           4,191           1,980  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............
GOM Cod.................................................             514             386             514             386             514             386
GB Haddock..............................................          56,293          24,366  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............
GOM Haddock.............................................           1,871           1,454           2,270           1,772           2,707           2,125
GB Yellowtail Flounder..................................  ..............             248  ..............             354  ..............  ..............
SNE/MA Yellowtail Flounder..............................           1,056             700  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............
CC/GOM Yellowtail Flounder..............................           1,194             548  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............
American Plaice.........................................           2,021           1,544  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............
Witch Flounder..........................................           1,846             783  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............
GB Winter Flounder......................................           3,242           2,010           3,383           2,107           3,511           2,180
GOM Winter Flounder.....................................             688             510             688             510             688             510
SNE/MA Winter Flounder..................................           4,439           1,676  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............
Redfish.................................................          16,845          11,974  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............
White Hake..............................................           6,237           4,713           6,314           4,645  ..............  ..............
Pollock.................................................          21,538          16,600          21,864          16,600          24,598          16,600
N. Windowpane Flounder..................................             202             151  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............
S. Windowpane Flounder..................................             730             548  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............
Ocean Pout..............................................             313             235  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............
Atlantic Halibut........................................             198             100  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............
Atlantic Wolffish.......................................              94              70  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
SNE/MA = Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic; CC = Cape Cod; N = Northern; S = Southern.
Note: An empty cell indicates no OFL/ABC is adopted for that year. These catch limits will be set in a future action.

Gulf of Maine Cod

    A detailed summary of the GOM cod stock assessment, and the 
development of catch limits for the 2015-2017 fishing years, was 
provided in the proposed rule to this action, and is not repeated here. 
In the proposed rule, we made a preliminary determination that an ABC 
of 386 mt would meet necessary conservation objectives, but requested 
additional comment on some aspects of this ABC. We received a number of 
comments in response to this request, including additional catch 
projections to better illustrate the potential biological impacts of 
various catch scenarios. After considering public comment, supporting 
analysis, and the best scientific information available, we have 
determined that an ABC of 386 mt is appropriate and consistent with the 
requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and 
Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) and the National Standards. As 
described below, this ABC balances other Magnuson-Stevens Act 
objectives, including achieving optimum yield and taking into account 
the needs of fishing communities, without compromising conservation 
objectives to prevent overfishing and rebuild the stock. In light of 
current stock conditions, this ABC is a 75-percent reduction compared 
to 2014, which is in addition to the 80-percent reduction implemented 
for fishing years 2013-2014. In total, the GOM cod catch limit has been 
reduced by 95 percent over the last 5 years.
    We are approving an ABC of 386 mt with the expectation that the 
catch limits implemented in this final rule will be reviewed following 
the September 2015 assessment for GOM cod. This assessment is intended 
to be incorporated for fishing year 2016. Fishing years 2016-2018 catch 
limits for GOM cod would be set based on the September 2015 assessment, 
and would replace the 2016-2017 catch limits adopted in this final 
rule. Uncertainties in catch projections can be exacerbated if 3-year 
specifications are set and

[[Page 25113]]

remain unchecked without additional stock assessment information. 
However, in this case, we determined that concerns for past 
performance, and the risk of erring in setting the ABC, are largely 
mitigated given the pending 2015 assessment. Therefore, our approval of 
the GOM cod ABC is, effectively, only approval for the first year of 
the remaining rebuilding time period.
    As described more fully in the proposed rule, the SSC initially 
recommended an OFL of 514 mt and a provisional ABC of 200 mt for 
fishing years 2015-2017 based on catch scenarios that the Council's 
Groundfish Plan Development Team (PDT) presented. One provision of the 
ABC control rule in the FMP specifies that catch limits be based on 75 
percent of FMSY or Frebuild, whichever is lower. 
As part of the 2014 assessment, catch projections were updated, and 
Frebuild was calculated as the constant F required to 
rebuild the stock by 2024. The SSC's provisional ABC recommendation of 
200 mt was the midpoint between the Frebuild catch for the 
scenario in which natural mortality is 0.2 and the scenario in which 
natural mortality increases, but returns to 0.2. This provisional ABC 
did not incorporate the projection that assumes natural mortality 
remains at 0.4, and that suggests rebuilding is not possible. As a 
result, the SSC determined that this provisional ABC was not consistent 
with its OFL recommendation, which was developed by averaging the 2015 
FMSY catches from all three catch projections.
    Following discussion about the rebuilding potential of GOM cod, and 
the catch projection that indicates rebuilding is not possible, the SSC 
requested that the PDT provide analysis of the incidental catch of GOM 
cod. This request was in recognition of the ABC control rule that 
specifies that, if a stock cannot rebuild in the specified rebuilding 
period, even with no fishing, the ABC should be based on incidental 
bycatch, including a reduction in the bycatch rate. Based on analysis 
presented by the PDT, the SSC determined that the overall incidental 
catch of GOM cod was approximately 500-600 mt for the 2013 fishing year 
under the current operating conditions of the fishery. After 
consideration of this information, and examination of the available 
assessment information, the SSC recommended an ABC of 386 mt, which was 
calculated by taking 75 percent of the OFL. This recommendation was an 
attempt to balance the various natural mortality scenarios and catch 
projections from the two assessment models with the various provisions 
of the ABC control rule. Similar to our conditional approval of the 
ABC, the SSC noted that it expected to revisit its catch advice for 
fishing years 2016-2017 following the 2015 assessment update.
    The PDT updated the catch projections following the SSC's final ABC 
recommendation. These projections, along with the biological impacts 
analysis, indicate that an ABC of 386 mt has a 6- to 33-percent 
probability of overfishing in fishing year 2015. Although recognizing 
that catch projections can be optimistic, these probabilities are well 
below the median, and indicate that the ABC is sufficiently below the 
OFL to prevent overfishing. Further, for the two projection scenarios 
that indicate that rebuilding can occur, an ABC of 386 mt for fishing 
years 2015-2017 would still rebuild the stock by 2024. All of the 
available catch projections indicate that an ABC of 386 mt would result 
in a fishing mortality rate of 0.13-0.11, which would be the lowest 
fishing mortality rate in the assessment time series. This estimated 
fishing mortality rate would be an 80-percent reduction from the 
estimated 2014 fishing mortality rate, and a 90-percent reduction from 
the fishing mortality rate estimated for 2013.
    The catch projections that the PDT completed for the biological 
impacts analysis indicate that rebuilding could still occur under a 
386-mt ABC for the 2015-2017 fishing years. However, since we published 
the proposed rule, we further examined various catch projection 
scenarios to better understand the trade-offs associated with an ABC of 
386 mt. Based on this evaluation, a catch of 386 mt in fishing year 
2015 is expected to have little functional difference in future catches 
and biomass compared to the 200-mt option that the SSC initially 
considered, but did not recommend. This is, in part, because catches 
would be lower under the 386-mt scenario in the out years of the 
rebuilding period compared to those needed under a catch of 200 mt. 
Considering this, we determined that an ABC of 386 mt would meet 
conservation objectives, and allow rebuilding to occur by 2024, while 
still trying to balance the need to achieve optimum yield for the 
groundfish fishery, as well as mitigate the economic impacts of the GOM 
cod catch limit, to the extent practicable.
    An ABC of 386 mt is expected to have substantial economic impacts 
on groundfish vessels, which are summarized later in this preamble. 
These impacts are expected to be disproportionately distributed among 
the groundfish fleet. The largest revenue reductions are expected for 
small vessels less than 50 ft (15 m), and those fishing from 
Gloucester, MA, and New Hampshire ports. The economic impacts of the 
GOM cod ABC implemented in this final rule are expected to be 
substantially greater than previous catch limit reductions for GOM cod 
and other groundfish stocks.
    Based on incidental catch information compiled by the PDT, an ABC 
of 386 mt is below the estimate of incidental catch of GOM cod that 
occurred in fishing year 2013. Incidental catch is largely a function 
of the overall ACL given the AMs in place for groundfish vessels. 
However, this information is illustrative of potential fishery 
operations under an ABC of 386 mt, which are expected to be greatly 
restricted, and in some cases eliminated.
    In fishing year 2013, when the ACL was reduced by 80 percent, 
incidental catch was estimated to be approximately 500-600 mt. 
Beginning in fishing year 2013, sectors primarily used their GOM cod 
allocation to access other groundfish stocks. Multiple sources of 
information indicate a marked decline in directed fishing for GOM cod. 
With an additional 75-percent reduction beginning in fishing year 2015, 
the incentive to target GOM cod is virtually eliminated, and the 
fishery will be, in effect, a ``bycatch-only'' fishery. The average GOM 
cod allocation for a sector will be 23,000 lb (10,433 kg), and many 
sectors will receive allocations less than 10,000 lb (4,536 kg). In 
addition, the recreational fishery will be prohibited from possessing 
GOM cod. Even under this incidental catch scenario, the GOM cod ABC is 
expected to severely restrict catch of other groundfish stocks, 
particularly GOM haddock, pollock, redfish, and some flatfish.
    We remain concerned about GOM cod stock status, and will continue 
to carefully consider management measures for this stock. The ABC we 
are implementing in this action is a complex balance between 
conservation objectives and other Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements. In 
an effort to closely monitor stock indicators, we reviewed the recent 
fall 2014 NEFSC bottom trawl survey indices. The fall survey indicated 
a small increase compared to 2012 and 2013; however, the general trend 
of survey indices, as well as recruitment, remains very low. While the 
updated survey information may provide an initial, and potentially 
positive, indication of improvement, it is difficult to anticipate the 
results of the full 2015 assessment. We will continue to carefully 
monitor stock indicators leading into the 2015

[[Page 25114]]

assessment to fully inform our re-evaluation of the GOM cod catch 
limit, and the balancing of conservation and management objectives.
    Further, one concern we raised during the development of Framework 
53, and in the proposed rule, is the importance of controlling fishing 
mortality to help ensure that conservation objectives are met. 
Available analyses suggest that an extremely low catch limit for GOM 
cod may create an economic incentive to misreport catch, and, if this 
occurs, could reduce the accuracy of catch apportionment. Information 
indicates that this incentive increases as the GOM cod catch limit is 
further reduced. To help ensure correct catch apportionment and 
compliance with the GOM cod ACL adopted in this action, we are also 
implementing an additional reporting requirement for common pool and 
sector vessels fishing in multiple broad stock areas on the same trip. 
This additional reporting requirement is described in the section ``10. 
Daily Catch Reporting for Commercial Groundfish Vessels.''

                                                                             Table 5--Fishing Year 2015 Catch Limits
                                                                                        [mt, live weight]
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                               Total                                               Midwater                                State
                            Stock                               Total ACL    groundfish  Preliminary  Preliminary  Recreational     trawl       Scallop     Small-mesh  waters sub-   Other sub-
                                                                              fishery       sector    common pool     fishery      fishery      fishery     fisheries    component    component
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
GB Cod.......................................................        1,886        1,787        1,753           34  ............  ...........  ...........  ...........           20           79
GOM Cod......................................................          366          328          202            5           121  ...........  ...........  ...........           26           13
GB Haddock...................................................       23,204       21,759       21,603          156  ............          227  ...........  ...........          244          975
GOM Haddock..................................................        1,375        1,329          949            9           372           14  ...........  ...........           11           21
GB Yellowtail Flounder.......................................          240          195          192            3  ............  ...........           38            5           na            2
SNE/MA Yellowtail Flounder...................................          666          557          457          102  ............  ...........           66  ...........           14           28
CC/GOM Yellowtail Flounder...................................          524          458          442           16  ............  ...........  ...........  ...........           38           27
American Plaice..............................................        1,470        1,408        1,381           27  ............  ...........  ...........  ...........           31           31
Witch Flounder...............................................          751          610          598           12  ............  ...........  ...........  ...........           23          117
GB Winter Flounder...........................................        1,952        1,891        1,876           15  ............  ...........  ...........  ...........           na           60
GOM Winter Flounder..........................................          489          392          375           18  ............  ...........  ...........  ...........           87           10
SNE/MA Winter Flounder.......................................        1,607        1,306        1,149          157  ............  ...........  ...........  ...........          117          184
Redfish......................................................       11,393       11,034       10,974           60  ............  ...........  ...........  ...........          120          239
White Hake...................................................        4,484        4,343        4,311           32  ............  ...........  ...........  ...........           47           94
Pollock......................................................       15,878       13,720       13,628           92  ............  ...........  ...........  ...........          996        1,162
N. Windowpane Flounder.......................................          144           98           na           98  ............  ...........  ...........  ...........            2           44
S. Windowpane Flounder.......................................          527          102           na          102  ............  ...........          183  ...........           55          186
Ocean Pout...................................................          220          195           na          195  ............  ...........  ...........  ...........            2           24
Atlantic Halibut.............................................           97           64           na           64  ............  ...........  ...........  ...........           30            3
Atlantic Wolffish............................................           65           62           na           62  ............  ...........  ...........  ...........            1            3
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


                                                                             Table 6--Fishing Year 2016 Catch Limits
                                                                                        [mt, live weight]
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                               Total                                               Midwater                                State
                            Stock                               Total ACL    groundfish  Preliminary  Preliminary  Recreational     trawl       Scallop     Small-mesh  waters sub-   Other sub-
                                                                              fishery       sector    common pool     fishery      fishery      fishery     fisheries    component    component
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
GOM Cod......................................................          366          328          202            5           121  ...........  ...........  ...........           26           13
GOM Haddock..................................................        1,675        1,620        1,155           12           453           16  ...........  ...........           13           26
GB Yellowtail Flounder.......................................          343          278          274            4  ............  ...........           55            7           na            4
GB Winter Flounder...........................................        2,046        1,982        1,967           15  ............  ...........  ...........  ...........           na           63
GOM Winter Flounder..........................................          489          392          375           18  ............  ...........  ...........  ...........           87           10
White Hake...................................................        4,420        4,280        4,249           31  ............  ...........  ...........  ...........           46           93
Pollock......................................................       15,878       13,720       13,628           92  ............  ...........  ...........  ...........          996        1,162
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


                                                         Table 7--Fishing Year 2017 Catch Limits
                                                                    [mt, live weight]
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                 Total                                               Midwater      State
                     Stock                        Total ACL    groundfish  Preliminary  Preliminary  Recreational     trawl     waters sub-   Other sub-
                                                                fishery       sector    common pool     fishery      fishery     component    component
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
GOM Cod........................................          366          328          202            5           121  ...........           26           13
GOM Haddock....................................        2,009        1,943        1,386           14           543           20           15           31
GB Winter Flounder.............................        2,117        2,051        2,035           16  ............  ...........           na           65
GOM Winter Flounder............................          489          392          375           18  ............  ...........           87           10

[[Page 25115]]

 
Pollock........................................       15,878       13,720       13,628           92  ............  ...........          996        1,162
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


                                     Table 8--Fishing Years 2015-2017 Common Pool Trimester Total Allowable Catches
                                                                    [mt, live weight]
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                      2015                                   2016                                   2017
               Stock                --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                     Trimester 1  Trimester 2  Trimester 3  Trimester 1  Trimester 2  Trimester 3  Trimester 1  Trimester 2  Trimester 3
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
GB Cod.............................          8.6         12.7         13.1  ...........  ...........  ...........  ...........  ...........  ...........
GOM Cod............................          1.3          1.7          1.8          1.3          1.7          1.8          1.3          1.7          1.8
GB Haddock.........................         42.0         51.3         62.2  ...........  ...........  ...........  ...........  ...........  ...........
GOM Haddock........................         2.56         2.47         4.46          3.1          3.0          5.4          3.7          3.6          6.5
GB Yellowtail Flounder.............          0.6          0.9          1.6          0.9          1.4          2.3  ...........  ...........  ...........
SNE/MA Yellowtail Flounder.........         21.4         37.7         42.8  ...........  ...........  ...........  ...........  ...........  ...........
CC/GOM Yellowtail Flounder.........          5.5          5.5          4.7  ...........  ...........  ...........  ...........  ...........  ...........
American Plaice....................          6.6          9.9         11.0  ...........  ...........  ...........  ...........  ...........  ...........
Witch Flounder.....................          3.4          3.8          5.2  ...........  ...........  ...........  ...........  ...........  ...........
GB Winter Flounder.................          1.2          3.5         10.1          1.2          3.7         10.5          1.3          3.8         10.9
GOM Winter Flounder................          6.5          6.6          4.4          6.5          6.6          4.4          6.5          6.6          4.4
Redfish............................         14.9         18.5         26.2  ...........  ...........  ...........  ...........  ...........  ...........
White Hake.........................         12.0          9.8          9.8         11.9          9.7          9.7  ...........  ...........  ...........
Pollock............................         25.7         32.1         33.9         25.7         32.1         33.9         25.7         32.1         33.9
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Note. An empty cell indicates that no catch limit has been set yet for the stock. These catch limits will be set in a future management action.


                 Table 9--Fishing Years 2015-2016 Common Pool Incidental Total Allowable Catches
                                                [mt, live weight]
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                    Percent of
                              Stock                                 common pool        2015            2016
                                                                      sub-ACL
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
GB Cod..........................................................               2            0.69              na
GOM Cod.........................................................               1            0.05            0.05
GB Yellowtail Flounder..........................................               2            0.06            0.09
CC/GOM Yellowtail Flounder......................................               1            0.16              na
American Plaice.................................................               5            1.37              na
Witch Flounder..................................................               5            0.62              na
SNE/MA Winter Flounder..........................................               1            1.57              na
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


       Table 10--Percent of Incidental Total Allowable Catch Allocated to Each Special Management Program
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                   Closed Area I   Eastern U.S./
                              Stock                               Regular B Days-    hook gear    Canada Haddock
                                                                  at-Sea program    Haddock SAP         SAP
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
GB Cod..........................................................              50              16              34
GOM Cod.........................................................             100  ..............  ..............
GB Yellowtail Flounder..........................................              50  ..............              50
CC/GOM Yellowtail Flounder......................................             100  ..............  ..............
American Plaice.................................................             100  ..............  ..............
Witch Flounder..................................................             100  ..............  ..............
SNE/MA Winter Flounder..........................................             100  ..............  ..............
White Hake......................................................             100  ..............  ..............
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
SAP = Special Access Program.


                  Table 11--Fishing Years 2015-2016 Common Pool Incidental Total Allowable Catches for Each Special Management Program
                                                                    [mt, live weight]
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                           Regular B Days-at-Sea program      Closed Area I hook gear       Eastern U.S./Canada Haddock
                                                         --------------------------------           Haddock SAP                         SAP
                          Stock                                                          ---------------------------------------------------------------
                                                               2015            2016            2015            2016            2015            2016
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
GB Cod..................................................            0.34              na            0.11              na            0.23              na
GOM Cod.................................................            0.05            0.05  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............

[[Page 25116]]

 
GB Yellowtail Flounder..................................            0.03            0.05  ..............  ..............            0.03            0.05
CC/GOM Yellowtail Flounder..............................            0.16              na  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............
American Plaice.........................................            1.37              na  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............
Witch Flounder..........................................            0.62              na  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............
SNE/MA Winter Flounder..................................            1.57              na  ..............  ..............  ..............  ..............
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Table 12--Fishing Year 2015 Closed Area I Hook Gear Haddock Special Access Program Total Allowable Catch
                                                [mt, live weight]
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                  Western GB       Western GB    Total allowable
                     Exploitable biomass                           B2015\1\       BYear/B2004         catch
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
169,027......................................................          59,159            2.166            2,448
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ The western GB exploitable biomass is assumed to be 35 percent of the total exploitable biomass.

5. Gulf of Maine Cod Protection Measures

    This action re-configures the GOM rolling closures and prohibits 
possession of GOM cod for the recreational fishery. The GOM cod 
protection closures implemented in this final rule are summarized in 
Table 13 and Figure 1. These closures apply to all federally permitted 
commercial vessels, except for commercial vessels that are fishing with 
exempted gear or in an exempted fishery. Additionally, these closures 
do not apply to commercial vessels that are fishing exclusively in 
state waters provided the vessel does not have a Federal multispecies 
permit. As adopted in Amendment 16 to the FMP, sector vessels are 
exempt from the closures in March and October. The March and October 
closures also do not apply to Handgear A vessels, regardless of whether 
the vessel was fishing in the common pool or in a sector.
    Exempted gear, as defined in Sec.  648.2, is deemed to be not 
capable of catching groundfish and currently includes: Pelagic hook and 
line; pelagic longline; spears; rakes; diving gear; cast nets; tongs; 
harpoons; weirs; dipnets; stop nets; pound nets; pelagic gillnets; pots 
and traps; shrimp trawls (with a properly configured grate); and 
surfclam and ocean quahog dredges. Based on the current list of 
approved exempted fisheries defined in Sec.  648.80, the GOM cod 
protection closures do not apply to vessels fishing in the Midwater 
Trawl Gear Exempted Fishery, the Purse Seine Gear Exempted Fishery, the 
Raised Footrope Trawl Exempted Whiting Fishery, the Small Mesh Area 2 
Exemption Area, or the Scallop Dredge Exemption Area. Only the exempted 
fisheries that overlap in time and area with the cod protection 
closures are listed here. This list may change if any changes are made 
to exempted fisheries, or the protection closures, in a future action.

             Table 13--Gulf of Maine Cod Protection Closures
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                             Area Closures (30 minute
                 Month                               square)
------------------------------------------------------------------------
May....................................  All Vessels: 125 north of
                                          42[deg]20' N. lat., 132, 133,
                                          138, 139, 140.
June...................................  All Vessels: 125 north of
                                          42[deg]20' N. lat., 132, 139,
                                          140, 146, 147.
July...................................  None.
August.................................  None.
September..............................  None.
October................................  Non-Sector Vessels: 124, 125.
November...............................  All Vessels: Portion of 124,
                                          125.
December...............................  All Vessels: Portion of 124,
                                          125.
January................................  All Vessels: Portion of 124,
                                          125.
February...............................  None.
March..................................  Non-Sector Vessels: 121, 122,
                                          123.
April..................................  None.
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Note: Handgear A vessels are exempt from the same closures as sector
  vessels.

    The GOM cod closures are intended to protect spawning GOM cod, 
reduce fishing mortality on GOM cod, and provide additional fishing 
opportunities for groundfish vessels to target healthy groundfish 
stocks in areas that were previously closed. These closures are subject 
to review when the GOM cod spawning stock biomass reaches the minimum 
biomass threshold (50 percent of SSBMSY). However, as we 
noted in the proposed rule, the Council could review and modify these 
closures at any time. Given the pending 2015 assessment, and additional 
spawning research, reviewing these protection closures as new 
information becomes available is likely more important than waiting for 
the minimum biomass threshold to be met. We also highlight a number of 
concerns below for April, and the Council could consider changes to GOM 
area closures in light of these concerns. Additionally, as we described 
in the proposed rule, given the extremely low GOM cod allocation, it is 
difficult to predict how groundfish vessels will operate in 2015, and 
we expect the number of active groundfish vessels could markedly 
decline. We intend to monitor fishing effort following the 
implementation of management measures for the 2015 fishing year to 
ensure that any effort changes do not undermine the effectiveness of 
the protection closures.
    The protection closures are an additional tool the Council is using 
to protect GOM cod, and are complementary to its requirement for 
setting catch limits that will prevent overfishing and help rebuild the 
stock. Based on the available information, protecting spawning GOM cod 
could help improve the chances of successful spawning events, and, as a 
result, help prevent failures of future year classes. Thus, the 
biological objective of these closures is to help prevent further 
biomass declines and improve the

[[Page 25117]]

likelihood of rebuilding GOM cod. In light of the low GOM cod catch 
limit, the protection closures were also designed to balance these 
biological objectives with access to healthy groundfish stocks.
    We highlighted some concerns in the proposed rule for the re-
configuration of the GOM area closures. There are biological and 
economic trade-offs associated with the new closures, and we considered 
these trade-offs carefully. Available information suggests that once a 
specific spawning aggregation is lost, there is little indication that 
the aggregation could recover. As a result, we determined that the 
addition of winter closures is important because there are currently no 
protections for the winter spawning component. If the removal of April 
closures was recommended in isolation, with no additional spring or 
winter closures, we likely would have disapproved this measure. We 
determined, however, that the closed area recommendations for the 
winter and April time periods were presented as a package reflecting 
the Council's balancing of conservation benefits and impacts on the 
fishing industry, and, as such, could not be approved or disapproved 
independent of each other without undermining the Council's intent.
    With the approval of the new area closures for GOM cod, we 
reiterate our concerns for the potential of the April opening to have 
negative impacts on other groundfish stocks that spawn in the spring. A 
number of these stocks are in poor condition (e.g., GOM winter 
flounder, CC/GOM yellowtail flounder), and, for plaice, the second 10-
year rebuilding program was implemented in 2014 due to inadequate 
rebuilding progress. As we noted previously in this rule, we also 
remain concerned about GOM cod given its poor condition. The protection 
closures implemented in this final rule are closely related to measures 
under consideration in the Council's Habitat Omnibus Amendment 2. We 
will continue to work with the Council to help ensure the goals and 
objectives of that Amendment are met.
    Recreational vessels are not subject to the GOM cod protection 
closures and could continue to fish in these areas. Federally permitted 
party and charter vessels are still required to obtain a letter of 
authorization to fish in the GOM closed areas. In lieu of the 
protection closures, this action adopts a prohibition on possession of 
GOM cod for all private recreational vessels fishing in Federal waters, 
and all federally permitted party and charter vessels. This is intended 
to reduce recreational fishing mortality on GOM cod, by reducing the 
incentive to target the stock, while still providing recreational 
vessels the opportunity to target other healthy groundfish stocks. 
Recent catch projections indicated that the recreational fishery would 
still exceed its allocation for GOM cod in the 2015 fishing year, due 
to bycatch, even with the prohibition on possession that is implemented 
in this action. Therefore, in a separate rulemaking, we are adopting 
additional recreational measures under our discretionary authority to 
help ensure the recreational fishery does not exceed its allocation for 
the 2015 fishing year.
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P

[[Page 25118]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TR01MY15.005

BILLING CODE 3510-22-C

6. Default Catch Limits

Mechanism for Setting Default Catch Limits

    This action establishes a mechanism for setting default catch 
limits in the event a future management action is delayed. If final 
catch limits have not been implemented by the start of a fishing year 
on May 1, then default catch limits will be set at 35 percent of the 
previous year's catch limit. If this value exceeds the Council's 
recommendation for the upcoming fishing year, the default catch limits 
will be reduced to an amount equal to the Council's recommendation for 
the upcoming fishing year. Because groundfish vessels are not able to 
fish if final catch limits have not been implemented, this measure is 
intended to prevent disruption to the groundfish fishery if final catch 
limits are not in place by May 1.
    Each time a specifications action is implemented, we intend to also 
announce the default catch limits that would go into place for the out 
year in the event a future management action is delayed. Once the 
Council's recommendation is known for that year, we will determine if 
any of the default catch limits previously set would exceed the 
Council's recommendation. If so, we will reduce the default catch 
limits consistent with the Council's recommendation, and will announce 
this adjustment prior to the start of the fishing year on May 1. For 
example, if a framework action sets catch limits for the 2016-2018 
fishing year, we would

[[Page 25119]]

announce the default catch limits for fishing year 2019 in the same 
final rule implementing the final 2016-2018 catch limits. If necessary, 
prior to the start of the 2019 fishing year, we will evaluate whether 
any of the default catch limits previously announced exceed the 
Council's recommendation for 2019. If so, we would announce adjustments 
to the 2019 default catch limits prior to May 1, 2019.
    The default catch limits would be in place from May 1 through July 
31, unless a final rule including finalized catch limits is implemented 
prior to July 31 that replaces the default catch limits. If final catch 
limits are not implemented by the end of the default specifications 
period, then no catch limits would be in place beginning on August 1. 
Under this scenario, commercial groundfish vessels would be unable to 
fish until final catch limits and allocations were implemented for the 
fishing year. All catch occurring while default catch limits are in 
place will be attributed to the appropriate fishery allocation and the 
final catch limits for the fishing year.
    The default catch limits will be distributed to the various 
components of the fishery based on the distribution adopted by the 
Council for the previous fishing year. Additionally, this measure does 
not change any of the existing AMs for any fishery. For example, if a 
sector catches its entire allocation of redfish specified for the 
default specifications time period, it will be prohibited from fishing 
in the redfish stock area until final specifications were set, or it 
leased additional allocation for this stock. The midwater trawl fishery 
is the only non-groundfish fishery with an inseason AM for its 
allocation of GOM and GB haddock. When the GOM or GB haddock catch cap 
specified for the default specifications period is caught, the directed 
herring fishery will be closed for all herring vessels fishing with 
midwater trawl gear for the remainder of the default specifications 
time period, unless final specifications were set prior to July 31. For 
other non-groundfish fisheries that receive an allocation (e.g., 
scallop, small-mesh), this measure will not affect current operations 
because these fisheries do not currently have inseason AMs.
    If default catch limits are implemented for any fishing year, 
groundfish sectors will not be subject to the 20-percent holdback of 
the prior year's allocation. This holdback provision was implemented in 
Amendment 16 to the FMP to allow time for processing end-of-year 
transfers and determine whether any overage reductions are necessary. 
However, the holdback provision will not be necessary under default 
catch limits because additional precaution has already been built in 
with the 65-percent reduction from the previous year's catch limits.
    Although most FMPs implement default catch limits that are equal to 
the previous year's catch limits, a more precautionary approach was 
necessary for groundfish catch limits. In recent years, there have been 
a number of substantial reductions in groundfish catch limits, up to 80 
percent. Given the frequency of large reductions, default catch limits 
equal to the previous year's catch limits could increase the risk of 
overfishing during the time period which default catch limits are 
implemented. As a result, reducing the default catch limits from the 
previous year's catch limits is intended to help ensure that 
overfishing does not occur during the default time period.

Default Catch Limits for Fishing Year 2016

    Groundfish assessment updates are anticipated in September 2015, 
and these assessments are expected to be used to set catch limits for 
the 2016 fishing year beginning on May 1, 2016. However, due to the 
timing of these assessments, the Council's management action that will 
adopt the catch limits for the 2016 fishing year is not expected to be 
completed in time to be implemented by May 1, 2016. As a result, this 
action sets default limits for the 2016 fishing year that will become 
effective May 1, 2016, unless otherwise replaced by final 
specifications (Tables 14 and 15). This action only sets default catch 
limits for those groundfish stocks that would not have final 
specifications in place for 2016, absent another management action. If 
the default catch limits exceed the Council's recommendation for 
fishing year 2016, then they will be adjusted, as necessary, prior to 
May 1, 2016.

                                                   Table 14--Fishing Year 2016 Default Specifications
                                                                    [mt, live weight]
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                                            Preliminary
                          Stock                              U.S. ABC        Total ACL    Groundfish sub-   Preliminary     common pool   Midwater trawl
                                                                                                ACL       sector sub-ACL      sub-ACL         fishery
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
GB Cod..................................................             693             660             625             614              12  ..............
GB Haddock..............................................           8,528           8,121           7,616           7,563              53              79
SNE/MA Yellowtail Flounder..............................             245             232             151             124              27  ..............
CC/GOM Yellowtail Flounder..............................             192             184             161             155               5  ..............
American Plaice.........................................             540             514             492             483               9  ..............
Witch Flounder..........................................             274             263             213             209               4  ..............
SNE/MA Winter Flounder..................................             587             563             457             402              56  ..............
Redfish.................................................           4,191           3,988           3,862           3,846              16  ..............
N. Windowpane Flounder..................................              53              50              35              na              35  ..............
S. Windowpane Flounder..................................             192             184              36              na              36  ..............
Ocean Pout..............................................              82              77              68              na              68  ..............
Atlantic Halibut........................................              35              34              22              na              22  ..............
Atlantic Wolffish.......................................              25              23              22              na              22  ..............
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


                Table 15--Fishing Year 2016 Default Common Pool Trimester Total Allowable Catches
                                                [mt, live weight]
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                              Stock                                 Trimester 1     Trimester 2     Trimester 3
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
GB Cod..........................................................             3.0             4.4             4.5
GB Haddock......................................................            14.2            17.4            21.1
SNE/MA Yellowtail Flounder......................................             5.7            10.1            11.5

[[Page 25120]]

 
CC/GOM Yellowtail Flounder......................................             1.9             1.9             1.6
American Plaice.................................................             2.2             3.3             3.7
Witch Flounder..................................................             1.2             1.3             1.8
Redfish.........................................................             4.0             5.0             7.1
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

7. Sector Carryover

    Currently, sectors can carry over up to 10 percent of their unused 
initial allocation into the next fishing year. However, a 2013 court 
ruling in Conservation Law Foundation v. Pritzker, et al. (Case No. 
1:13-CV-0821-JEB) determined that available sector carryover combined 
with the total ACL for the upcoming fishing year, or total potential 
catch, cannot exceed the ABC. As a result, this action specifies that 
the maximum available carryover may be reduced if up to 10 percent of 
the unused sector sub-ACL, plus the total ACL for the upcoming fishing 
year, exceeds the ABC. For example, if 10 percent of sector carryover 
from the previous year plus the total ACL for the upcoming year was 
expected to exceed the ABC by 50 mt, then we would reduce the available 
carryover for each sector. The overall reduction of available carryover 
would be equal to 50 mt, and this amount would be applied to each 
sector proportional to the total PSCs of the vessels/permits enrolled 
in the sector. This measure is intended to reduce the risk of catches 
exceeding the ABCs that the SSC recommends.

Sector Carryover From Fishing Year 2014 to 2015

    Based on the catch limits implemented in this action, we evaluated 
whether the total potential catch in fishing year 2015 would exceed the 
proposed ABC if sectors carried over the maximum 10 percent of unused 
allocation allowed from 2014 to 2015 (Table 16). Under this scenario, 
total potential catch would exceed the 2015 ABC for all groundfish 
stocks, except for GOM haddock. As a result, we expect we will need to 
adjust the maximum amount of unused allocation that a sector can carry 
forward from 2014 to 2015 (down from 10 percent). However, it is 
possible that not all sectors will have 10 percent of unused allocation 
at the end of the 2014 fishing year. We will make the final adjustment 
to the maximum carryover possible for each sector based on final 2014 
catch for the sectors, each sector's total unused allocation, and 
proportional to the cumulative PSCs of vessels/permits participating in 
the sector. We will announce this adjustment as close to May 1, 2015, 
as possible.
    Based on the catch limits adopted in this final rule, the de 
minimis carryover amount for the 2015 fishing year will be set at the 
default one percent of the 2015 overall sector sub-ACL. The overall de 
minimis amount will be applied to each sector based on the cumulative 
PSCs of vessels/permits participating in that sector. If the overall 
ACL for any allocated stock is exceeded for the 2015 fishing year, the 
allowed carryover harvested by a sector, minus its specified de minimis 
amount, will be counted against its allocation to determine whether an 
overage, subject to an AM, occurred.

                Table 16--Evaluation of Maximum Carryover Allowed From Fishing Year 2014 to 2015
                                                [mt, live weight]
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                       Total
                                                                     Potential       potential      Difference
                                                                  carryover (10%    catch (2015    between total
              Stock                2015 U.S. ABC  2015 Total ACL  of 2014 sector    total ACL +      potential
                                                                     sub-ACL)        potential     catch and ABC
                                                                                    carryover)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
GB Cod..........................           1,980           1,886             174           2,060              80
GOM cod.........................             386             366              81             447              61
GB Haddock......................          24,366          23,204           1,705          24,909             543
GOM Haddock.....................           1,454           1,375              43           1,418             -36
SNE Yellowtail Flounder.........             700             666              46             712              12
CC/GOM Yellowtail Flounder......             548             524              46             570              22
Plaice..........................           1,544           1,470             136           1,605              61
Witch Flounder..................             783             751              60             811              28
GB Winter Flounder..............           2,010           1,952             336           2,287             277
GOM Winter Flounder.............             510             489              68             558              48
SNE/MA Winter Flounder..........           1,676           1,607             106           1,714              38
Redfish.........................          11,974          11,393           1,052          12,445             471
White Hake......................           4,713           4,484             425           4,909             196
Pollock.........................          16,600          15,878           1,314          17,192             592
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Note. Carryover of GB yellowtail flounder is not allowed because this stock is jointly managed with Canada.

8. 2015 Annual Measures Under Regional Administrator Authority

    The FMP gives us authority to implement certain types of management 
measures for the common pool fishery, the U.S./Canada Management Area, 
and Special Management Programs on an annual basis, or as needed. This 
action implemented a number of these management measures for the 2015 
fishing year. These measures are not part of Framework 53, and were not 
specifically proposed by the Council. We are implementing them in 
conjunction with Framework 53 measures in this final rule for 
expediency purposes, and because they

[[Page 25121]]

relate to the catch limits proposed in Framework 53.

Common Pool Trip Limits

    The initial fishing year 2015 days-at-sea (DAS) possession limits 
and maximum trip limits for common pool vessels are included in Tables 
17 and 18. These possession limits were developed after considering 
changes to the common pool catch limits, catch rates of each stock 
during 2014, and other available information. During the fishing year, 
we will adjust possession and trip limits, as necessary, to prevent 
common pool catch limits from being exceeded.

   Table 17--Initial Fishing Year 2015 Common Pool Possession and Trip
                                 Limits
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 Stock                      Possession and trip limits
------------------------------------------------------------------------
GB Cod (outside Eastern U.S./Canada      2,000 lb (907 kg) per DAS, up
 Area).                                   to 20,000 lb (9,072 kg) per
                                          trip.
GB Cod (inside Eastern U.S./Canada       100 lb (45 kg) per DAS, up to
 Area).                                   500 lb (227 kg) per trip.
GOM Cod................................  50 lb (23 kg) per DAS, up to
                                          200 lb (91 kg) per trip.
GB Haddock.............................  25,000 lb (11,340 kg) per trip.
GOM Haddock............................  50 lb (23 kg) per DAS, up to
                                          200 lb (91 kg) per trip.
GB Yellowtail Flounder.................  100 lb (45 kg) per trip.
SNE/MA Yellowtail Flounder.............  2,000 lb (907 kg) per DAS, up
                                          to 6,000 lb (2,722 kg) per
                                          trip.
CC/GOM Yellowtail Flounder.............  1,500 lb (680 kg) per DAS up to
                                          3,000 lb (1,361 kg) per trip.
American plaice........................  Unlimited.
Witch Flounder.........................  1,000 lb (454 kg) per trip.
GB Winter Flounder.....................  1,000 lb (454 kg) per trip.
GOM Winter Flounder....................  1,000 lb (454 kg) per trip.
SNE/MA Winter Flounder.................  3,000 lb (1,361 kg) per DAS, up
                                          to 6,000 lb (2,722 kg) per
                                          trip.
Redfish................................  Unlimited.
White hake.............................  1,500 lb (680 kg) per trip.
Pollock................................  10,000 lb (4,536 kg) per trip.
Atlantic Halibut.......................  1 fish per trip.
Windowpane Flounder....................  Possession Prohibited.
Ocean Pout.............................  Possession Prohibited.
Atlantic Wolffish......................  Possession Prohibited.
------------------------------------------------------------------------


   Table 18--Initial Fishing Year 2015 Cod Trip Limits for Handgear A,
              Handgear B, and Small Vessel Category Permits
------------------------------------------------------------------------
              Permit/Stock                          Trip limit
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Handgear A--GOM Cod....................  50 lb (23 kg) per trip.
Handgear A--GB Cod.....................  300 lb (136 kg) per trip.
Handgear B--GOM Cod....................  25 lb (11 kg) per trip.
Handgear B--GB Cod.....................  75 lb (34 kg) per trip.
Small Vessel Category..................  300 lb (136 kg) of cod,
                                          haddock, and yellowtail
                                          flounder combined; maximum of
                                          50 lb (23 kg) of GOM cod and
                                          50 lb (23 kg) of GOM haddock
                                          within the 300-lb (136-kg)
                                          combined trip limit.
------------------------------------------------------------------------

Closed Area II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock Special Access Program

    This action allocates zero trips for common pool vessels to target 
yellowtail flounder within the Closed Area II Yellowtail Flounder/
Haddock Special Access Program (SAP) for fishing year 2015. Vessels 
could still fish in this SAP in 2015 to target haddock, but must fish 
with a haddock separator trawl, a Ruhle trawl, or hook gear. Vessels 
will not be allowed to fish in this SAP using flounder nets. This SAP 
is open from August 1, 2015, through January 31, 2016.
    We have the authority to determine the allocation of the total 
number of trips into the Closed Area II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP 
based on several criteria, including the GB yellowtail flounder catch 
limit and the amount of GB yellowtail flounder caught outside of the 
SAP. The FMP specifies that no trips should be allocated to the Closed 
Area II Yellowtail Flounder/Haddock SAP if the available GB yellowtail 
flounder catch is insufficient to support at least 150 trips with a 
15,000-lb (6,804-kg) trip limit (or 2,250,000 lb (1,020,600 kg)). This 
calculation accounts for the projected catch from the area outside the 
SAP. Based on the proposed fishing year 2015 GB yellowtail flounder 
groundfish sub-ACL of 429,240 lb (194,700 kg), there is insufficient GB 
yellowtail flounder to allocate any trips to the SAP, even if the 
projected catch from outside the SAP area is zero. Further, given the 
low GB yellowtail flounder catch limit, catch rates outside of this SAP 
are more than adequate to fully harvest the 2015 GB yellowtail flounder 
allocation.

9. Fishing Year 2015 Northern Windowpane Flounder Accountability 
Measure

    For data reported through April 14, 2015, estimated catch of 
northern windowpane flounder is 239 mt, which is 166 percent of the 
total ACL (144 mt) and 118 percent of the OFL (202 mt). Of this 
estimated catch, the commercial groundfish fishery has caught 156 mt, 
and the scallop fishery has caught 83 mt. This catch estimate does not 
include catch from any other non-groundfish fisheries because inseason 
catch information is not available. However, catch from these 
components is typically very low.
    We are required to implement an AM for northern windowpane flounder 
in the year immediately following an overage if reliable data indicate 
that the total ACL has been exceeded. As a result, this final rule 
implements an AM for northern windowpane flounder for

[[Page 25122]]

fishing year 2015 based on the most recent catch information for 2014. 
For fishing year 2015, common pool and sector vessels fishing on a 
groundfish trip with trawl gear are required to use one of the approved 
selective gears when fishing in the applicable AM area (haddock 
separator trawl, Ruhle trawl, or rope separator trawl). Because the 
overage is more than 20 percent, the large gear restricted area is 
implemented for fishing year 2015 (Figure 2). There are no restrictions 
on common pool or sector vessels fishing with longline or gillnet gear. 
In addition, the AM will not affect any non-groundfish vessels because 
northern windowpane is not allocated to any non-groundfish fishery 
(e.g., scallop fishery).
    An overview of the windowpane AM can be found here: http://www.nero.noaa.gov/sfd/sfdmulti.html. As a reminder, sectors cannot 
request an exemption from this AM. The AM will remain in place for the 
entire 2015 fishing year, unless modified through a future action. As 
long as additional overages do not occur, the AM will be removed at the 
start of the 2016 fishing year, beginning on May 1, 2016.
[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TR01MY15.006

10. Daily Catch Reporting for Commercial Groundfish Vessels

    In the proposed rule, we highlighted our concern that the low GOM 
cod catch limit could provide a strong incentive to misreport or 
underreport catch on unobserved trips. Currently, commercial groundfish 
vessels that declare their intent to fish in multiple broad stock areas 
are required to submit trip-level catch reports via the VMS. However, 
in the proposed rule, we noted that requiring daily VMS catch reports 
was one potential tool that could help address our concerns for 
misreporting. After further consideration, and based on public comments 
we received, we are, through this final rule, requiring vessels to 
submit a daily VMS catch report on trips declared into the GOM Broad 
Stock Area and any other broad stock area (i.e., offshore GB or SNE) on 
the same trip. This reporting requirement is effective on May 1, 2015.
    In Amendment 16 to the FMP, the Council recommended requiring daily 
VMS catch reports for vessels that declare their intent to fish in 
multiple broad stock areas. Amendment 16 also gave NMFS the 
discretionary authority to modify this reporting requirement, as we 
determined was necessary to appropriately monitor the ACLs, while also 
reducing unnecessary duplication. At the time we implemented Amendment 
16, we determined that only trip-level catch reports were necessary for 
vessels that declared their intent to fish in multiple broad stock 
areas, and we implemented this requirement beginning for the 2010 
fishing year.
    In light of the GOM cod catch limit, we determined that daily VMS 
catch reports for trips declared into the GOM and other broad stock 
areas on the same trip will help ensure more accurate apportionment of 
cod catch to the GOM and GB stock areas, help enforcement efforts, and 
more effectively control mortality on the GOM cod stock. We also expect 
that the daily VMS catch report may promote more accurate VMS trip 
declarations because only vessels with a true intent of fishing in the 
GOM will declare into this area given the daily reporting requirement.
    Vessels subject to the daily VMS catch report requirement are not 
required to also submit a trip-level catch report. The same information 
currently required for trip-level catch reports will be required for 
the daily catch reports, namely a good-faith estimate of the amount of 
each regulated groundfish species retained (in pounds, landed weight) 
and the total amount of all species retained (in pounds, landed 
weight), including groundfish species and species managed by other 
FMPs, from each broad stock area. For applicable trips, daily VMS catch 
reports must be submitted for each calendar day of the trip (midnight 
to midnight), and must be submitted by 0900 hr of the following day.
    The requirement to submit a daily VMS catch report does not apply 
to vessels that declare their intent to fish in multiple broad stock 
areas, but not the GOM. These vessels are still only required to submit 
a trip-level catch report. For example, if a vessel declares into the 
offshore GB and SNE/MA Broad Stock Areas, it would only be subject to a 
trip-level report. This is intended to prevent unnecessary duplication. 
Most

[[Page 25123]]

of our current concerns for catch attribution and compliance are in 
light of the GOM cod catch limit, and for trips fishing in both the GOM 
and GB broad stock areas. As a result, we determined that requiring a 
daily VMS catch report for vessels declared into multiple areas, but 
not into the GOM, was not necessary at this time.

11. Regulatory Corrections Under Regional Administrator Authority

    The following changes to the regulations are being made to correct 
references, inadvertent deletions, and other minor errors.
    In Sec.  648.14(k)(7), the reference to the GOM Cod Spawning 
Protection Area (Whaleback) is corrected. This change was overlooked in 
a previous management action.
    In Sec.  648.14(k)(12) and (13), the introductory text is revised 
to clarify that the general restrictions listed in these paragraphs 
apply to any person.
    In Sec.  648.87(b)(1)(i)(C)(2), the reference to the sector AM 
provision is corrected.
    In Sec.  648.89(f)(1), the reference to special provisions for 
recreational catch evaluation for fishing years 2010 and 2011 are 
removed. These provisions are no longer relevant.
    In Sec.  648.90(a)(2)(i), the reference to a special provision for 
the biennial review for 2008 and 2009 is removed. This provision is no 
longer relevant.
    In Sec.  648.90(a)(2)(viii), a reference is corrected that was 
overlooked during the implementation of a previous FMP action.
    In Sec.  648.90(a)(5)(i), this rule corrects a spelling error.

Comments and Responses on Measures Proposed in the Framework 53 
Proposed Rule

    We received 48 comments during the comment period on the Framework 
53 proposed rule. Public comments were submitted by the Council, 2 
state marine fisheries agencies, 5 commercial fishing organizations, 1 
groundfish sector, 7 commercial fishermen, 1 recreational fishing 
organization, 24 recreational fishermen, 4 non-governmental 
organizations (NGOs), and 3 individuals. We requested specific comment 
on several measures proposed in Framework 53, including some aspects of 
the GOM cod catch limit and the GOM cod protection measures. Responses 
to the comments received are below, and, when possible, responses to 
similar comments on the proposed measures have been consolidated.

Status Determination Criteria

    Comment 1: Two state marine fisheries agencies supported the 
revised status determination criteria.
    Response: We agree, and are implementing these changes in this 
final rule. The revised status determination criteria for GB yellowtail 
flounder, as well as the updated numerical estimates of the status 
determination criteria for other groundfish stocks, incorporate the 
results of the 2014 assessments for these stocks. As a result, these 
revisions are based on the best scientific information available, and 
will help ensure the appropriate catch limits are set for these stocks.

Fishing Year 2015 U.S./Canada Quotas

    Comment 2: One state marine fisheries agency supported the fishing 
year 2015 shared U.S./Canada quotas for eastern GB cod, eastern GB 
haddock, and GB yellowtail flounder.
    Response: We agree, and this final rule implements these quotas for 
fishing year 2015. The 2015 shared U.S./Canada quotas are based on the 
results of the 2014 Transboundary Resources Assessment Committee 
assessment, which represents the best scientific information available. 
These quotas are also consistent with the recommendations of the TMGC 
and the SSC.

Fishing Year 2015-2017 Catch Limits (Excluding Gulf of Maine Cod)

    Comment 3: Two state marine fisheries agencies, one commercial 
fishing organization, two recreational fishermen, and one individual 
supported the fishing years 2015-2017 catch limits for groundfish 
stocks. One recreational fisherman reported catching much less GOM 
winter flounder in recent years.
    Response: We agree, and are implementing these catch limits for 
fishing years 2015-2017. These catch limits are based on the 2014 
assessments for these stocks, which represent the best scientific 
information available, and are consistent with the SSC's 
recommendations and conservation objectives. Assessment updates are 
scheduled for 2015 for all of these stocks, which will provide the 
opportunity to update the catch limits implemented in this final rule 
for fishing year 2016 and beyond.
    The results of the 2014 assessment update for GOM winter flounder 
show large declines in the survey indices in recent years. Based on the 
assessment, the GOM winter flounder catch limits in this action are a 
50-percent reduction compared to 2014. This appears to corroborate the 
commenter's observation of catching much less GOM winter flounder in 
recent years. The assessment peer review panel expressed concerns that 
recent biomass estimates substantially decreased despite relatively low 
catch, and reasons for this apparent decline are not known. Available 
catch information indicates that the majority of GOM winter flounder 
catch comes from the same statistical areas as the majority of the GOM 
cod catch. As a result, the substantial reduction in the GOM cod catch 
limit is expected to affect catch of GOM winter flounder.
    Comment 4: One commercial fishing organization, one groundfish 
sector, and one commercial fisherman opposed the catch limits for GB 
winter flounder, and noted that the catch limits are overly 
restrictive. The commercial fishing organization also commented that 
the Council adopted a 7-year rebuilding program for GB winter flounder 
with the intention of extending it to 10 years, if necessary, and that 
a 7-year trajectory is unnecessarily restrictive. The groundfish sector 
commented that the large reduction will have a negative economic impact 
on New Bedford.
    Response: We recognize that the reduction in the catch limit for GB 
winter flounder may be restrictive for groundfish vessels, particularly 
in light of other substantial reductions for key groundfish stocks that 
have been implemented in recent years. The economic impacts analysis 
for this action predicts that GB winter flounder will generate the 
third most revenue of all groundfish stocks for fishing year 2015 
(following GB haddock and pollock, respectively), and that the 
groundfish fishery will fully utilize its available GB winter flounder 
quota. Although not fully captured in the economic analysis, selective 
gear requirements for northern windowpane flounder may reduce 
profitability for groundfish vessels targeting GB winter flounder. 
However, the catch limits are based on the 2014 assessment update for 
this stock, which is the best scientific information available, and are 
consistent with the SSC's recommendation.
    Amendment 16 to the FMP adopted a 7-year rebuilding program for GB 
winter flounder with a 75-percent probability of rebuilding by 2017. 
This shorter time period and higher probability were adopted to provide 
additional flexibility in the event stock rebuilding lagged behind the 
planned rebuilding trajectory. However, it is unclear whether this 
would be the case for GB winter flounder.

[[Page 25124]]

    Based on the results of the 2014 assessment, estimated biomass for 
2013 is approximately 85 percent of the biomass target. Catch 
projections also indicate that the stock has a 76-percent probability 
of rebuilding by 2017 if catches for the next 3 years are set based on 
Frebuild. Thus, it appears this stock is on its planned 
rebuilding trajectory. The SSC recommended ABCs based on 
Frebuild, and did not note any reason to depart from this 
approach. Further, although the GB winter flounder rebuilding program 
was not considered in Framework 53, given the retrospective pattern in 
the assessment, the PDT noted that the conservative rebuilding approach 
(higher probability) may be appropriate given the revised lower biomass 
estimates from the 2014 assessment. In any event, we can only approve 
or disapprove Framework 53 measures. Because the Council did not 
consider, or approve, extending the rebuilding timeframe for GB winter 
flounder in Framework 53, such a change is outside the scope and 
authority of this action.
    Comment 5: Although supportive of the GOM haddock catch limits 
included in this action, one commercial fishing organization noted 
concerns that strong year classes were down-weighted in the stock 
assessment, and that GB/GOM stock mixing is largely unaccounted for as 
well.
    Response: We acknowledge uncertainties around recent year classes, 
and the possibility of mixing between the GB and GOM haddock stocks. 
However, these issues were examined in the 2014 benchmark assessment 
for GOM haddock. The PDT and SSC also completed a review of haddock 
stock mixing, and this analysis was reviewed during the 2014 
assessment. Based on the examination of these issues, the 2014 
assessment appropriately accounted for year class uncertainty and 
mixing, and the peer review panel concluded this was the best 
scientific information available.
    The results of the 2014 stock assessment for GOM haddock indicate 
that the 2012 year class is strong. However, the size of this 
potentially large year class was identified as the largest source of 
uncertainty in the assessment, primarily because it is based on only 
two surveys. The final model did constrain recruitment estimates in the 
last 3 years of the time series. This type of adjustment is intended to 
offset uncertainties due to the low confidence in the survey 
observations that are not yet substantiated by fishery-dependent data. 
Although the 2012 year class appears strong, this estimate is still 
highly uncertain, and the adjustment helps prevent overly optimistic 
results that could occur from anomalous survey tows. The assessment did 
explore sensitivity runs that further down-weighted this year class; 
however, these sensitivity runs were not used to develop the fishing 
years 2015-2017 catch limits implemented in this action.
    We are closely monitoring stock indicators for GOM haddock to gauge 
if initial indications of a strong 2012 year class are substantiated. 
The fall 2014 survey indices have increased relative to 2013, and this 
is likely a function of the signal from incoming year classes. We 
expect that the 2015 assessment update for GOM haddock will provide 
additional information about the absolute size of the 2012 year class. 
However, recent survey indices appear to support the initial 
indications of a strong 2012 year class.
    While it is true that the assessment model does not account for 
mixing, this issue was examined during the 2014 benchmark assessment. 
The assessment examined multiple sources of evidence that indicated the 
annual percent mixing from GB to GOM is low (less than 0.8 percent), 
but there is considerable uncertainty regarding the degree of mixing. 
Both the peer review panel and the SSC noted the significant risk to 
GOM haddock that could occur if the wrong mixing rate is assumed, and 
ultimately concluded that additional research is needed to determine 
the stock movement rates before incorporating mixing into the 
assessment model.

Gulf of Maine Cod Assessment

    Comment 6: Two commercial fishing organizations opposed the process 
used for the 2014 assessment update. The commenters noted that the 
process was not transparent, and that we only secured an ad-hoc peer 
review of the assessment after it had been completed. One commercial 
fishing organization noted that Framework 53 was largely intended to 
address northern windowpane flounder, and that the 2014 assessment for 
GOM cod disrupted this work.
    Response: We acknowledge that the 2014 assessment for GOM cod was 
not scheduled, and that stakeholders did not expect to receive updated 
stock information. In recent years, both the Council and stakeholders 
have frequently requested more timely information on stock conditions, 
as well as advanced notice when we see early indications of changes in 
stock condition. As a result, we have undertaken a number of efforts to 
develop a more efficient process for generating information on stock 
status. In 2014, after examining the most recent survey data for GOM 
cod, we determined that all major indicators of stock health appeared 
to have deteriorated since the 2012 assessment. Catch and age data for 
2012 and 2013 were also available at the time and used to conduct the 
2014 stock assessment update. The intent of undertaking the update was 
part of our larger effort to provide early indications of changes in 
stock conditions. Once the preliminary results of the assessment update 
were clear, we shared the information with the Council, and then sought 
the Council's assistance to conduct a peer review of the stock 
assessment.
    We recognize that recent AMs for northern windowpane flounder have 
reduced yield of other groundfish stocks on GB. The Council did 
consider management measures for northern windowpane flounder in 
Framework 53, including an allocation of this stock for the scallop 
fishery. However, the Council ultimately took no action on these 
measures because, as noted in the Council's analysis, it determined 
that they would not have sufficiently addressed the goal of increasing 
catch accountability for individual fishery components. Further, in 
lieu of any changes in Framework 53, the Council set a 2015 priority to 
review windowpane flounder management, and, depending on the outcome of 
that review, the Council may potentially identify revisions to the 
existing management measures.
    Comment 7: One commercial fisherman, two recreational fishermen, 
and two commercial fishing organizations commented that, although GOM 
cod biomass is low, the 2014 assessment results are too pessimistic. 
These commenters noted that fishermen are reporting an increase in 
relative cod catch, and that they are catching more cod in areas not 
recently known for cod.
    Response: Throughout the development of Framework 53, we have 
continued to hear from commercial fishermen that cod catches, while 
still low, have increased relative to recent years. Analysis from the 
PDT shows a few signs of high cod tows in the commercial fishery. 
However, available catch data indicate that catch per unit effort has 
continued to decline through 2014. These data also show that the 
spatial re-distribution of cod catch patterns in 2013 and 2014 were 
primarily the result of a spatial shift in fishing effort. Catch 
efficiency of cod is greater in the western Gulf of Maine, and, in 
response to catch limit reductions in fishing year 2013, many vessels 
shifted effort east as one way to

[[Page 25125]]

avoid cod. Catch data indicate that the proportion of GOM cod caught 
from the western GOM declined coincident with an easterly shift in 
fishing effort. Although it is difficult to distinguish trends in catch 
per unit effort from declining catch limits, the available data do not 
appear to support an increased availability of GOM cod. However, if 
there has been a recent increase in GOM cod, we expect that this 
increase would be captured in the trawl surveys, and incorporated into 
subsequent assessments.
    Comment 8: One NGO commented that the 2014 assessment update did 
not take a precautionary approach for estimating recruitment. Another 
NGO commented on the potential for GOM cod to suffer depensation 
effects at such low biomass levels.
    Response: We disagree that the assessment did not take a 
precautionary approach for estimating recruitment. One term of 
reference for the peer review panel of the 2014 assessment was to 
perform short-term catch projections that accounted for recent 
recruitment. The peer review panel concluded that the recruitment 
protocol for the 2014 assessment update was consistent with the 
approved benchmark formulation, which assumes that recruitment success 
is compromised under current SSB levels. Additionally, for the 2014 
assessment, age-1 recruitment was estimated using the geometric mean of 
the most recent 5 years (2009-2013), as opposed to the most recent 10 
years, in further recognition of the lower recruitments in recent 
years. These catch projections using the 5-year geometric mean were 
used as the basis for the catch advice for fishing years 2015-2017 that 
we are implementing in this final rule.
    During the 2014 assessment, and the development of this action, 
there was some discussion on the potential for depensation given the 
very low biomass for GOM cod. Depensation can be caused by several 
factors, including reduced recruitment at lower SSB levels, reduced egg 
production or survival when age structure of the spawning population is 
truncated, or increased predation. As noted above, the catch 
projections do include the potential for recruitment to be compromised 
under certain SSB levels. This adjustment was intended to help account 
for possible depensation effects. Additionally, the 2014 assessment 
noted the potential for further declines in biomass and truncation of 
age-structure to affect future recruitment success, and that catch 
projections could be optimistic. These uncertainties were considered in 
the development of catch advice for GOM cod and additional protection 
measures that are implemented in this final rule, as described 
elsewhere in this preamble, as well as corresponding measures for 
sectors that are implemented in the final rule for 2015 and 2016 Sector 
Operations Plans and Contracts.
    Comment 9: One commercial fishing organization noted concerns that 
the stock assessment does not adequately capture the specific 
geographic stock components for GOM cod.
    Response: The 2012 benchmark assessment for GOM cod identified 
multiple topics that warranted further investigation, including cod 
stock structure. Since the 2012 benchmark assessment, a workshop was 
held on stock structure of cod in the GOM region, and this workshop 
concluded that there are three genetic stocks. Although some workshop 
participants concluded there was sufficient evidence to indicate that 
the current management units should be revised, the workshop was not 
able to reach any conclusions on the most appropriate management 
response. Following this workshop, additional information has become 
available on cod stock structure, and the Council has also set a 2015 
priority to examine how stock structure may affect management.
    The peer review panel for the 2014 assessment update discussed all 
of the available information on cod stock structure, and noted that 
this issue should be further considered in a benchmark assessment. In 
providing catch advice for fishing years 2015-2017, the SSC also 
reiterated the importance of continuing the evaluation of cod stock 
structure, and that this work should be completed as soon as possible. 
Although recognizing that there are uncertainties in any stock 
assessment, we determined that the assessments relied on for this 
action are the best scientific information available. Cod stock 
structure, along with other topics identified for the GOM cod 
assessment, will continue to be examined. However, it should be noted 
that, currently, the GOM cod assessment scheduled for September 2015 is 
an operational assessment, and not a benchmark assessment.

Fishing Years 2015-2017 Gulf of Maine Cod Catch Limits

    Comment 10: The Council, two state marine fisheries agencies, and 
three commercial fishing organizations supported the proposed GOM cod 
catch limits. Although supportive of the catch limit, one commercial 
fishing organization disagreed with our interpretation that an ABC of 
386 mt was not strictly based on an Frebuild approach. This 
organization also commented that catch projections used to develop 
catch advice assumed a catch of 1,470 mt for 2014, and the realized 
2014 catch is likely lower than this value.
    Response: For all of the reasons previously discussed in this 
preamble, we are implementing an ABC of 386 mt in this final rule. We 
recognize that there may be disagreements on how to characterize an ABC 
of 386 mt relative to the various provisions of the ABC control rule. 
However, based on the best scientific information available, and the 
SSC's final report, we determined that an ABC of 386 mt is consistent 
with Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements. Based on updated catch 
projections, this ABC will end overfishing and will not jeopardize the 
stock's ability to rebuild by 2024. Further, because no peer review 
body has been able to conclude that any scenario is more plausible than 
any other, an ABC of 386 mt appropriately incorporates all of the 
available catch projections. The updated catch projections show little 
difference in the future catches and biomass between an ABC of 386 mt 
and an ABC of 200 mt, in part because catch limits would likely need to 
be set lower under the 386-mt scenario in the out years of the 
rebuilding period than those needed under 200 mt.
    The PDT did explore the sensitivity of catch projections to the 
2014 catch assumption. One sensitivity run was completed that assumed a 
2014 catch of 1,000 mt instead of 1,470 mt. This sensitivity analysis 
indicated that a lower 2014 catch would result in approximately 60 mt 
more catch in 2015. The PDT did not evaluate the likelihood that catch 
would be 1,000 mt, however, and this sensitivity analysis was not 
generated for use in providing 2015 catch advice.
    Comment 11: The Council and one state marine fisheries agency noted 
concerns that we highlighted uncertainties and requested specific 
comments on various aspects of the ABC in the proposed rule, and that 
this appears to conflict with the SSC process for developing ABC 
recommendations.
    Response: We give great weight to the SSC's recommendation. The SSC 
is charged with providing scientific advice to the Council, including 
ABC recommendations that will meet Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements. 
We recognize that the SSC considered its catch advice for GOM cod 
carefully, and thoroughly reviewed the available information. However, 
as specified in the Magnuson-Stevens Act, we must ensure that any 
fishery management

[[Page 25126]]

plan is carried out in accordance with the provisions of the Act and 
the National Standards. In order to make a final determination, and as 
part of the public rulemaking process, we must carefully examine the 
available information and seek any clarifications necessary to ensure 
final measures are consistent with applicable requirements. In doing 
this, it provides the public additional opportunity to comment on the 
issues and respond to any concerns that we raise. We must then evaluate 
all comments that we receive during the proposed rule comment period 
together with the SSC's deliberations, analysis of the proposed 
measures, and the best scientific information available. For these 
reasons, we considered it appropriate to raise our concerns regarding 
the SSC's recommendation in order to make a final determination on the 
GOM cod catch limits adopted in this rule.
    Comment 12: Three NGOs opposed an ABC of 386 mt, and instead 
supported an ABC of 200 mt. These commenters asserted that an ABC of 
386 mt was above the level associated with Frebuild, that it 
would fail to rebuild the stock by the rebuilding plan end date of 
2024, and, as a result, was not consistent with National Standard 1, 
Amendment 16, and Sec.  304(e) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. These 
commenters noted concerns about the retrospective pattern in the 
assessment and the past performance of catch projections.
    Response: We understand the concerns about GOM cod raised by the 
commenters, and we noted many of these concerns in the proposed rule. 
GOM cod stock status is poor and appropriate measures must be 
implemented to ensure conservation objectives are met. As we 
highlighted during the development of Framework 53, and in our approval 
of an ABC of 386 mt, we remain concerned for GOM cod, and are 
proceeding with the caveat that the ABC for the 2016 and 2017 fishing 
years must be reevaluated in light of the September 2015 assessment for 
this stock. The ABC adopted in this action is a complex balance between 
conservation objectives and other Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements 
that we must take into account.
    The development of the ABC adopted in this action is described 
earlier in the preamble of this rule, and the proposed rule, and is 
only briefly summarized again here. During the 2014 assessment update, 
rebuilding catch trajectories were updated based on the new rebuilding 
program adopted in Framework 51 to the FMP with an end date of 2024. 
These rebuilding catch projections assumed a constant F for the 
remaining 9 years of the rebuilding plan. The PDT initially presented 
these Frebuild projections completed for the 2014 assessment 
update to the SSC, as well as an option to set a 200-mt constant catch, 
which was based on the two projection scenarios that indicated 
rebuilding was possible. The PDT updated the catch projections with the 
200-mt constant ABC option, and these projections indicated the stock 
would still rebuild by 2024. The SSC recommended this provisional ABC 
of 200 mt, but noted that it was not consistent with the development of 
the OFL, which incorporated all three catch projections. As a result, 
the SSC requested additional information from the PDT to consider 
incidental catch in its ABC recommendation in order to incorporate all 
three plausible catch projection scenarios, as well as the control rule 
provision that specifies the ABC should be based on incidental bycatch 
if rebuilding cannot occur, even in the absence of fishing mortality.
    Updated catch projections indicate that the stock can rebuild by 
2024 under an ABC of 386 mt for fishing years 2015-2017. Based on our 
examination of additional catch projections, we determined there is 
likely little functional biological difference between 200 mt and 386 
mt. This is, in part, because lower catches may be necessary in the out 
years of the rebuilding program under the 386-mt ABC scenario compared 
to the 200-mt scenario. Based on the available projections, and 
analysis of the biological impacts of this action, we determined that 
an ABC of 386 mt is sufficiently below the OFL to prevent overfishing, 
and will not jeopardize rebuilding progress.
    We recognize the recent changes in the perception of stock status 
and uncertainties in groundfish catch projections. Multiple analyses 
have been completed that highlight the past performance of groundfish 
catch projections, and the SSC considers this information each time it 
provides catch advice for groundfish stocks. In many instances, a 
constant catch strategy has been used to help offset these 
uncertainties, and provide an increasingly larger scientific 
uncertainty buffer as the projections move further from the terminal 
year of the assessment. The SSC applied this strategy to GOM cod in its 
recommendation for fishing years 2015-2017. However, more importantly, 
in providing its catch advice, the SSC noted that pending the results 
of the 2015 assessment, it would reconsider its catch advice for 
fishing year 2016 and beyond.
    As we noted earlier in the preamble of this rule, we are approving 
an ABC of 386 mt with the expectation that the catch limits in this 
final rule will be reassessed for fishing years 2016 and beyond due to 
the GOM cod assessment update scheduled for September 2015. When 
considering all three of the available catch projection scenarios, an 
ABC of 386 mt was a higher option than other catch outputs, most 
notably the provisional recommendation of 200 mt. However, the 2015 
assessment provides an opportunity to closely monitor the status of 
this stock in order to make any necessary adjustments to the catch 
limits adopted in this rule for future fishing years. Our approval of 
the GOM cod ABC, therefore, is, in effect, only approval for the first 
year (2015) of the remaining rebuilding time period. As a result, we 
determined that the uncertainties in projection and concerns for the 
past performance are mitigated given the pending assessment.
    Although the Council could have considered, and recommended, an ABC 
lower than the SSC's recommendation of 386 mt, a lower ABC would not 
have mitigated economic impacts consistent with Magnuson-Stevens Act 
national standards and other requirements. In this case, to ignore an 
alternative that meets conservation objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens 
Act, and that could help mitigate some of the substantial economic 
impacts this action is expected to have, would not be consistent with 
National Standard 8, and could jeopardize achieving optimum yield for 
the groundfish fishery.
    Further, analysis prepared for this action indicates that a lower 
GOM cod catch limit may create an economic incentive to misreport 
catch. This incentive may increase under a 200-mt ABC compared to an 
ABC of 386 mt. Even a slight increase in misreporting could diminish 
the benefits of a lower catch limit because of the relatively small 
biological benefit expected from an ABC as low as 200 mt when compared 
to 386 mt. We have continued to reiterate the importance of controlling 
fishing mortality, and agree with commenters that this is necessary to 
help ensure conservation objectives are met for GOM cod. As a result, 
along with an ABC of 386 mt, we are also implementing an additional 
reporting requirement for groundfish vessels to help ensure catch 
remains within this limit, and have also made adjustments to sector 
exemptions for fishing year 2015 in light of GOM cod stock status.
    Comment 13: One NGO commented that the proposed rule and supporting

[[Page 25127]]

documents inadequately assess the biological impacts of the ABC (386 
mt).
    Response: We disagree. The final report for the 2014 assessment 
update, supporting analyses developed by the PDT, Council and SSC 
deliberations, and the Framework 53 Environmental Assessment provide a 
thorough examination of the impacts of the ABC implemented in this 
final rule. The development of a GOM cod ABC occurred over the course 
of a peer review of the 2014 stock assessment, several PDT meetings, 
two SSC meetings, two Groundfish Committee meetings, and two Council 
meetings. All of this information, including summaries of the relevant 
meetings, is publically available, and all of it was incorporated into 
the Framework 53 Environmental Assessment, which was made available 
with the proposed rule for this action.
    Further, considering all of the available catch projections, there 
was a wide range of potential catches and fishing mortality rates 
examined in the supporting analyses. For example, the 2014 assessment 
update completed catch projections for various catch alternatives 
ranging from Frebuild to FMSY. Catch projections 
from the 2014 assessment update also explored the sensitivity of the 
projections to different recruitment assumptions to better ensure 
projections reflected the recent lower observed recruitment.
    Additionally, during the development of Framework 53, the SSC 
provisionally recommended an ABC of 200 mt. Although this ABC was not 
its final recommendation, the available catch projections provide a 
comparison between an ABC of 200 mt and an ABC of 386 mt. The 
biological impacts of 386 mt were also analyzed in the Framework 53 
Environmental Assessment and catch projections were updated with an ABC 
of 386 mt. This analysis also compared the biological impacts of 386 mt 
to No Action. In the No Action alternative, groundfish vessels would 
have been unable to fish because catch limits would not have been set 
for a number of stocks. Under this scenario, catches would not be 
completely eliminated because incidental bycatch would still occur in 
other non-groundfish fisheries. However, the analysis concluded that 
there was little difference between these two scenarios (200 mt and 386 
mt), and that the future catches and biomass indicated from the catch 
projections were relatively similar. The commenter offered no specific 
reasons or evidence that contradicts this analysis.
    Comment 14: Two individual fishermen, one state marine fisheries 
agency, and three commercial fishing organizations reiterated concerns 
for the socio-economic impact of the GOM cod ABC. The state marine 
fisheries agency suggested that the predicted gross revenue losses are 
likely severe underestimates, and that the economic impacts analysis 
incorrectly assumed a fluid quota leasing market.
    Response: We highlighted similar concerns in the proposed rule, 
particularly our concern that this final rule will primarily impact 
small vessels and ports north of Boston (Gloucester, MA, and New 
Hampshire ports). Some measures are expected to provide marginal 
economic relief that could increase the viability of the inshore fleet. 
However, even measures designed to provide additional fishing 
opportunities will not mitigate all of the substantial economic impacts 
that are expected from the GOM cod ABC. The economic impacts analysis 
of this action noted that gross revenue for the groundfish fishery has 
declined in recent years (from $120 million in fishing year 2011 to $79 
million in fishing year 2013). The predicted gross revenue losses for 
fishing year 2015 (approximately 10 percent) may mask some of the 
economic impacts to small vessels and ports. However, evaluation of the 
past performance of the economic model used for analysis suggests that, 
generally, the predicted gross revenues for a fishing year were 
relatively close to the realized values. Of course, there are 
uncertainties in the model, and although the model is intended to 
capture fishery-wide behavior changes related to catch limit changes, 
it can over-predict landings under a number of circumstances. With all 
of this in consideration, the economic impacts analysis concluded that 
the additional declines forecasted for fishing year 2015 would result 
in impacts to the entire groundfish fishery even greater than previous 
GOM cod catch limit reductions.
    Reductions in the GOM cod catch limit implemented in previous years 
resulted in economic losses; however, available information indicates 
the sector fishery has been able to adapt to some degree. Despite some 
ability to adapt under previous catch limit reductions, GOM cod was 
constraining in fishing year 2013. The economic impacts analysis did 
note that if it becomes difficult for fishermen to avoid GOM cod, the 
predicted gross revenues could be serious overestimates. Further, 
although the economic impacts analysis attempts to include the 
possibility of high GOM cod tows, it does not fully capture these 
risks. If observed trips encounter unexpected high GOM cod tows, these 
trips could endanger fishing operations for the entire sector. The 
quota leasing market, and potential changes in fishing year 2015, were 
discussed in the full economic impacts analysis, and are not repeated 
here. However, we recognize the comment that the analysis may not fully 
capture the current quota leasing market.
    Comment 15: One NGO commented that the management uncertainty 
buffer should be increased to account for potential observer bias. 
Another NGO commented that GOM cod needs realistic buffers, but didn't 
specifically comment on whether the management uncertainty buffers for 
GOM cod should be adjusted.
    Response: Each time catch limits are set, the PDT reviews the 
management uncertainty buffers used for each fishery component and 
recommends any necessary adjustments. For Framework 53, the PDT 
reviewed the current management uncertainty buffers, as well as 
previous analysis completed in support of Framework 50 to the FMP, 
which set GOM cod catch limits for fishing years 2013-2015.
    Both the PDT and the Council have periodically discussed the 
possibility of increasing the buffers due to evidence that fishing 
behavior may differ on observed and unobserved trips, possibly 
resulting in an underestimate of discards. However, to date the PDT has 
been unable to estimate the amount of suspected bias of observed trips. 
Further, the PDT concluded that the direction of the bias can change 
year to year, for reasons that are unknown. As a result, the PDT has 
been unable to determine whether any adjustments to the existing 
buffers would be warranted to address potential bias. The PDT concluded 
that no new information is available at this time that would warrant 
any changes to the buffers previously adopted in Framework 50 to the 
FMP, and recommended no changes to the management uncertainty buffers.
    Comment 16: Multiple commenters suggested various types of 
management approaches in light of GOM cod stock status and the fishing 
year 2015 catch limit. Suggestions included splitting the GOM cod quota 
into biannual allocations or trimester, implementing dynamic inseason 
closures for bycatch avoidance, and banning all fishing for, or closing 
the directed fishing for, GOM cod. One NGO requested that we initiate a 
Secretarial amendment, and another has submitted a petition for 
rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act to prohibit 
commercial and recreational fishing for GOM cod and to limit catch to a 
level consistent with rebuilding requirements.

[[Page 25128]]

    Response: Other than the GOM cod possession restriction for the 
recreational fishery, none of the measures suggested by commenters were 
proposed in Framework 53, and so are beyond the scope and authority 
relating to this action because we can only approve or disapprove 
measures in a framework. In a future action, the Council could develop 
any combination of management measures it determines are necessary to 
meet the goals and objectives of the FMP. Additionally, sectors can 
voluntarily develop GOM cod avoidance mechanisms at any time. In fact, 
some sectors have already developed additional restrictions for member 
vessels to help avoid GOM cod and stay within the available allocation 
for the 2015 fishing year. Although it is still unclear how commercial 
groundfish vessels will operate in 2015, we expect that the sector 
fishery, to the extent possible, will continue to find ways to adapt to 
the new GOM cod catch limit, and target other groundfish stocks.
    With the initial 2013 reductions of the GOM cod catch limits, many 
groundfish vessels were no longer targeting GOM cod, and instead, used 
available GOM cod quota to access other stocks. Analysis indicates a 
dramatic decline in targeted GOM cod trips beginning in the 2013 
fishing year. As noted earlier in this rule, with an additional 75-
percent reduction in fishing year 2015, it is expected that the 
incentive for sector vessels to take targeted GOM cod trips is 
virtually eliminated given the extremely low GOM cod allocations that 
each sector will receive. We are also setting the GOM cod trip limit 
for the common pool fishery at 50 lb (23 kg) to reduce the incentive to 
target GOM cod. The combination of commercial measures, along with a 
prohibition on possession of GOM cod for the recreational fishery, is 
expected to, in effect, result in a ``bycatch only'' fishery.
    Section 304 of the Magnuson-Stevens Act provides the Secretary of 
Commerce with the authority to prepare, and implement, a fishery 
management plan if the Council fails to develop a plan after a 
reasonable period of time, or fails to submit a plan that meets 
necessary conservation and management objectives. We have carefully 
considered the available information, and determined that all of the 
management measures implemented in this final rule, along with 
corresponding measures implemented through the final rule for 2015-2016 
Sector Operations Plans and Contracts and 2015 recreational measures, 
will provide sufficient protection for GOM cod to prevent overfishing 
and contribute to rebuilding consistent with Magnuson-Stevens Act 
requirements. Further, as already noted, we will continue to work with 
the Council to ensure that GOM cod management measures are reviewed, or 
updated, as needed. As a result, a Secretarial amendment, at this time, 
is unnecessary and unwarranted.
    The petition for rulemaking is under consideration, and we will 
respond to this request consistent with the applicable requirements of 
the Administrative Procedure Act.
    Comment 17: Two NGOs, one state marine fisheries agency, and two 
commercial fishing organizations noted concerns for monitoring the low 
GOM cod catch limit in fishing year 2015. One NGO commented that 
calculation of the at-sea monitoring coverage level should be at the 
level of the individual vessel. The two commercial fishing 
organizations highlighted the importance of electronic monitoring (EM), 
and that this may provide a way to improve catch accounting. One 
organization commented that we should implement a requirement to 
restrict vessels to fishing in a single broad stock area on a trip. The 
Council also commented in response to the concerns we raised in the 
proposed rule, and noted that in Amendment 16 to the FMP, the Council 
provided us with the authority to implement daily catch reporting at 
any time we deem it necessary.
    Response: We agree that adequate monitoring, accounting, and 
enforcement are essential to help ensure catch limits are effective. A 
description of at-sea monitoring coverage levels is provided in the 
final rule for the 2015-2016 Sector Operations Plans and Contracts, and 
is not repeated here.
    We recognize that the low GOM cod catch limit may create an 
economic incentive to misreport, which could reduce the accuracy of 
catch apportionment. Although we implemented a single broad stock area 
requirement in our initial 2014 interim action, this measure can 
severely restrict some fishing operations, and reduce the ability for 
groundfish vessels to target healthy groundfish stocks. In our 2014 
interim action, we determined that, despite the potential negative 
economic impacts, the single broad stock area requirement was necessary 
as a mid-year adjustment for the fishery. The 2014 assessment indicated 
that, if no action was taken, the measures in place for the 2014 
fishing year would have resulted in substantial overfishing. The single 
broad stock area requirement was intended to help minimize further 
catch, and ensure the effectiveness of the interim measures. However, a 
requirement to fish in a single broad stock area is not necessary to 
ensure the effectiveness of the final measures in this rule. All of the 
measures in this final rule, including a much lower catch limit, are 
being implemented at the beginning of the 2015 fishing year, as opposed 
to a mid-year implementation for the 2014 interim rule. These measures, 
along with corresponding measures implemented through the final rule 
for 2015-2016 Sector Operations Plans and Contracts, will provide 
sufficient protection for GOM cod to prevent overfishing and contribute 
to rebuilding consistent with Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements.
    To address concerns for potential misreporting, we are implementing 
a daily catch report requirement for vessels fishing in the GOM and 
other broad stock areas. This requirement is intended to help ensure 
accurate catch attribution and reduce the incentive for vessels to 
misreport. As the Council noted in its comment, a daily reporting 
requirement was recommended by the Council in Amendment 16 to the FMP. 
Amendment 16 also delegated authority to us to modify the frequency of 
reporting requirements, as necessary, to help ensure accurate catch 
accounting. At the time we implemented Amendment 16, we determined that 
daily reporting was not necessary, and implemented a trip-level 
reporting requirement for vessels fishing in multiple broad stock 
areas. However, for reasons described earlier in this rule, we 
determined daily catch reports are now necessary to help ensure the 
effectiveness of the measures implemented in this final rule.
    We agree that EM has the potential to be an effective monitoring 
tool in the groundfish fishery, but EM is not yet sufficiently 
developed at this time. We are currently working to address the 
challenges to implement EM, including legal requirements and data 
processing, and are also examining costs associated with EM. We are 
also working with several groundfish sectors for fishing year 2015 to 
help address some of the remaining challenges to implement EM. If 
successful, EM could be fully implemented as a monitoring program for a 
portion of the groundfish fishery in fishing year 2016.
    Comment 18: One commercial fishing organization commented that, in 
considering incidental catch, the SSC has addressed concerns for 
misreporting. The commenter noted that in trying to balance all of the 
plausible scenarios from the assessment, incorporating incidental catch 
information attempted to identify what level of catch may be required 
to keep

[[Page 25129]]

the fishery open without directed cod fishing.
    Response: We recognize that the SSC considered incidental catch 
information to help develop its final ABC recommendation. An ABC of 386 
mt for GOM cod is a considerable reduction from the incidental catch 
estimates generated for fishing year 2013 (500-600 mt). Further, as 
discussed in other sections of this rule, an ACL of 1,470 mt in fishing 
year 2013 was constraining for groundfish vessels. Available analysis 
indicates there was a marked decline in directed GOM cod trips 
beginning in 2013. Although sector vessels were able to adapt to some 
extent to this first substantial reduction for GOM cod, the additional 
reduction in fishing year 2015 will be substantially more challenging. 
Thus, we expect that an ABC of 386 mt will effectively remove the 
incentive for commercial groundfish vessels to fish for this stock.
    Nevertheless, with such a low GOM cod allocation, and in 
considering the supporting analysis, the economic incentive to 
misreport could still be high, particularly if groundfish vessels 
continue to report an uptick in cod availability. As a result, as 
previously described, we are implementing an additional reporting 
requirement for commercial groundfish vessels to help ensure accurate 
catch attribution.

Gulf of Maine Cod Protection Measures

Protection Closures
    Comment 19: One state marine fisheries agency and two commercial 
fishing organizations supported the GOM cod protection closures. The 
state marine fisheries agency disagreed with our concerns for April, 
but noted that it expected we would closely monitor the fishery to 
understand the consequences of opening April. All of these commenters 
highlighted the importance of providing GOM cod protections while still 
affording access to healthy groundfish stocks. One other commercial 
fishing organization supported all of the closures, but noted concerns 
for the opening of April closures.
    Response: We generally agree with all of these comments, and as 
described earlier in this preamble, we approved the new GOM cod 
protection measures. There are some biological and economic trade-offs 
with the addition of winter and May-June closures and removal of April 
closures. We recognize the importance of providing access to healthy 
stocks, and support this objective of the cod closures, as long as it 
does not result in unanticipated consequences. However, we remain 
concerned for GOM cod stock status, and the potential negative impact 
on other groundfish stocks as a result of opening April. We will 
continue to urge the Council to reconsider April closures in light of 
these concerns.
    We agree with the commenters that it is important to monitor the 
effectiveness of these closures, and we intend to closely monitor any 
potential effort shifts to help ensure the overall conservation 
objectives for these measures are met. To the extent possible, these 
closures should also be reviewed as new information becomes available 
to help identify any potential adjustments to these closures. We expect 
additional spawning research may also provide more information on 
spawning locations for GOM cod that the Council could use in its 
decision-making process.
    Comment 20: Two NGOs opposed the GOM cod protection closures and 
commented that the protection closures should be more expansive. One of 
these NGOs also commented that the protection closures are inadequate 
under the Magnuson-Stevens Act because they would fail to end 
overfishing. One commercial fishing organization noted concerns for the 
opening of April closures.
    Response: We share some of the concerns noted by commenters, and we 
have described these concerns in our approval of the protection 
closures in this final rule. However, we disagree that the protection 
closures are inadequate under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. As we described 
earlier in this rule, updated catch projections indicate that the GOM 
cod ABC of 386 mt will end overfishing and rebuild the stock. The new 
protection closures are complementary to this ABC, and are measures in 
addition to the ACLs and AMs adopted for GOM cod. The additional 
closures are intended to enhance the effectiveness of these 
conservation measures by further reducing fishing mortality on spawning 
aggregations. Any additional benefits realized from the area closures 
are important, particularly for the benefit of the winter spawning 
component of GOM cod. While more closures always have the potential for 
increasing the probability of meeting various conservation objectives, 
we determined that the closures, along with other management measures 
adopted for fishing year 2015, are sufficient to prevent overfishing 
and provide for rebuilding.
    The GOM cod protection measures, which include the area closures 
and the recreational possession restriction, were developed by the 
Council as a package. In developing these measures, the commercial 
closures were intended to balance biological and economic objectives 
resulting from the recommended actions. If the opening of April 
closures was recommended in isolation, with no additional spring or 
winter closures, we likely would have disapproved this measure. As 
stated in the preamble, however, we determined that we could not 
independently approve or disapprove the recommendations for winter and 
April without undermining the Council's intent to balancing 
conservation benefits and impacts on the fishing industry. The addition 
of winter closures is important because there are currently no 
protections for this spawning component, and some information suggests 
that a spawning aggregation is not likely to recover once lost. Despite 
our concerns for GOM cod with the removal of April closures, there are 
May and June closures, so the removal of April does not completely 
eliminate protection of the spring spawning component.
    Some of the comments from an NGO noted that the protection closures 
adopted in this final rule would provide less protection than the 
status quo in a number of instances. In reviewing and analyzing the 
impacts of the protection closures, the status quo measures must be put 
in context for the commercial groundfish fishery. With the adoption of 
Amendment 16, sector vessels were exempt from a number of the GOM 
rolling closures because sectors are limited by stock-specific 
allocations and AMs. As noted in the supporting analysis for this 
document, although a number of closures are being removed, many of 
these closures only applied to the common pool fishery, which accounts 
for less than 2 percent of the fishery. In these instances, the impact 
of removing the closures is expected to be minimal because the sector 
fishery is already allowed access to these areas.
    Given our concerns for the status of GOM cod, we intend to closely 
monitor stock indicators and fishery operations. We will continue to 
work with the Council to ensure that the most appropriate GOM cod 
protection measures are in place. We expect that the Industry Based 
Survey for GOM Cod will restart at some point in 2015, and that this 
survey could provide additional information on cod spawning that the 
Council could use in the future. Additionally, the protection closures 
developed and implemented in this action overlap with the Council's 
Habitat Omnibus Amendment. The Council is working to complete this

[[Page 25130]]

Amendment, and we will continue to help the Council in this effort to 
ensure that the goals and objectives of this Amendment are met.
    Comment 21: Another commercial fishing organization opposed the 
closure of block 138 in May because it would restrict haddock and 
pollock catches, and suggested that this closure should be disapproved, 
or that only a portion of this block should be closed in May. This 
organization also commented that true spawning areas can only be 
identified through acoustic telemetry and passive acoustic monitoring.
    Response: As described earlier, the objectives of the protection 
closures were to reduce fishing mortality and protect spawning 
aggregations for GOM cod while allowing access to healthy groundfish 
stocks. The protection measures were designed to re-configure the 
existing GOM rolling closures. Although available information on 
spawning was used to help develop the protection closures in this final 
rule, other information was also used to evaluate the potential 
biological and economic trade-offs associated with the final measures. 
Block 138 was closed in the previous GOM rolling closures, and based on 
the available information, no change was recommended for this closure 
in Framework 53. Because the Council recommended that the entire block 
138 be closed in May, we cannot modify this closure in any way, or only 
partially approve a portion of the closure, and still be consistent 
with the Council's intent. However, in a future action, the Council 
could reconsider this closure, and make any modifications, if 
warranted.
    We disagree that spawning areas can only be identified through 
acoustic telemetry and passive acoustic monitoring. The Framework 53 
Environmental Assessment describes the analytical techniques used to 
identify times and location of spawning for GOM cod. Identification of 
times and areas of potential spawning was not based on a single source 
of information. Multiple sources of information and analytical 
approaches were used to identify and corroborate spawning locations.
    The analyses note that the NEFSC and MA Division of Marine 
Fisheries trawl surveys have narrow seasonal coverage, which limits 
their applicability to spawning cod. However, the Industry Based Survey 
for GOM cod was specifically designed to study stock distribution and 
demographics of cod, and also recorded spawning condition of cod 
caught. As a result, the peer review of the Industry Based Survey 
concluded that one of the primary uses of the survey data was to 
describe spawning activity of GOM cod. The Framework 53 analyses did 
note some caveats with the use of the ichthyoplankton survey data, 
particularly due to the time period of this survey. However, these data 
were determined to be useful because the areas highlighted as potential 
spawning locations were similar to the areas identified using trawl 
survey data.
    Comment 22: One NGO commented that it is generally supportive of 
time-area management for GOM cod, but cautioned that the final 
protection measures should be supported by the available data. The NGO 
also noted that we should commit to review the protection closures at a 
specific time to help ensure that effort shifts from the final measures 
does not undermine the effectiveness of these measures, or any measures 
developed by Take Reduction Teams.
    Response: We generally agree with this comment. As noted earlier in 
the preamble of this rule, we have some concerns for the removal of 
April closures, particularly due to potential effort shifts, and the 
potential impact on other groundfish stocks. Although the protection 
measures are subject to review once the GOM cod biomass reaches the 
biomass threshold, we will continue to urge the Council to reconsider 
these closures in light of their potential negative impacts on other 
groundfish stocks, and in light of GOM cod stock status. These closures 
should also be reviewed as more information becomes available for GOM 
cod. The 2015 assessment update will provide new information on the 
status of GOM cod, and we expect additional spawning research will be 
available in the near future that could help further identify areas 
important to cod spawning.
    Regulations to reduce the potential of serious injury and death of 
marine mammal species will be in place for the western Gulf of Maine 
regardless of the GOM cod protection closures. The Harbor Porpoise and 
Atlantic Right Whale Take Reduction Plans are not predicated on the 
existence of groundfish closed areas, or the GOM cod protection 
closures. As a result, it is only necessary to amend these Take 
Reduction Plans if new information indicates that additional 
interaction risks to marine mammal species are occurring. The Harbor 
Porpoise and Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Teams meet regularly 
to monitor the implementation of the final Take Reduction Plans for 
these species. These teams monitor any changes in the interaction rates 
and fishing behavior that may result from management actions. Based on 
this review, the Take Reduction Teams determine if modifications to the 
Take Reduction Plans are warranted in order to meet the requirements of 
the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.
    Comment 23: One commercial fishing organization commented that hook 
gear should be allowed in the protection closures because it does not 
interfere with spawning.
    Response: We disagree that hook gear should be allowed in the 
protection closures. As we noted in the proposed rule, the available 
research on GOM cod spawning indicates that fishing on spawning cod may 
affect spawning activity beyond just the removal of fish. Fishing 
activity may disrupt spawning signals, and, as a result, can reduce 
spawning success. Additionally, information indicates that if a 
spawning aggregation is disrupted by fishing activity, it will scatter 
and not return. Groundfish vessels fishing with hook gear are capable 
of interrupting spawning aggregations because they are capable of 
catching cod. Further, the protection closures are also intended to 
help reduce fishing mortality for GOM cod, and applying these closures 
to all commercial groundfish vessels was necessary to help ensure this 
objective is met. Additionally, it is important to note that Handgear A 
vessels were afforded similar flexibilities as sector vessels, 
regardless of whether they are fishing in the common pool or a sector. 
Handgear A vessels are exempt from both the March and October common 
pool closures.
    As indicated in the response to the next comment, we have similar 
concerns for the potential for other gear types to disrupt spawning, 
and would support the Council in reconsidering the fisheries and gears 
that are allowed to fish in the protection areas.
    Comment 24: Two commercial fishing organizations and one NGO noted 
that the list of exempted fisheries allowed into the GOM cod protection 
closures should be reviewed. One NGO also opposed allowing recreational 
groundfish vessels into these closure areas.
    Response: We highlighted similar concerns in the proposed rule 
relative to the gears that are allowed in these protection closures. 
Because fishing activity may disrupt spawning success, we noted that 
there is a potential for these exempted fisheries to diminish the 
additional spawning protection that the closures are intended to 
provide. We would support the Council reviewing the fisheries allowed 
into these protection closures, and, if warranted, to

[[Page 25131]]

remove the exception for some of these other fisheries and gears. 
Alternatively, the Council could also consider including other 
fisheries and gears for a subset of these protection closures to better 
protect GOM cod spawning while still providing these fisheries with 
some flexibility.
    As discussed earlier in this rule, the recreational fishery may 
still fish in these protection closures, similar to the previous GOM 
rolling closures. Instead, this action implements a prohibition on 
possession of GOM cod for the recreational fishery to help control 
fishing mortality of GOM cod for this fishery. The intent of this trade 
off was to help ensure the recreational fishery continued to have 
access to healthy groundfish stocks. Because most of the protection 
closures are inshore, it was expected that recreational vessels would 
largely not have been able to adjust to these closures due to business 
operations and safety concerns. Applying these protection closures to 
the commercial groundfish fishery is an important start to ensuring 
that spawning aggregations of GOM cod are protected. However, we would 
support the Council reconsidering whether protection closures, or a 
subset, should be applied to the recreational fishery.
Recreational Fishery Prohibition on Possession of Gulf of Maine Cod
    Comment 25: One commercial fishing organization, two NGOs, one 
state marine fisheries agency, and one recreational fisherman supported 
a prohibition on possession of GOM cod for the recreational fishery. 
The recreational fisherman noted that survival rates of recreational 
released GOM cod are relatively high. Other comments highlighted that 
outreach is essential to ensure this measure is effective.
    Response: We agree on all of these points, and have approved this 
measure in this final rule. Updated catch projections indicated that if 
no adjustment was made to possession restrictions, recreational catch 
of GOM cod would have exceeded the recreational allocation by 400 
percent. During the development of Framework 53, analysis also 
indicated that non-compliance in the recreational fishery could be as 
high as 50 percent. In response to this, we have initiated a number of 
new recreational outreach efforts to help inform recreational anglers 
of the existing management measures.
    Despite the possession restriction implemented in this final rule, 
projections indicated that the recreational fishery would still likely 
exceed its GOM cod allocation unless additional measures are 
implemented. These projections may overestimate the potential 
recreational effort in 2015, and, if so, could also overestimate GOM 
cod catch. However, to help ensure that the recreational fishery does 
not exceed its allocations, we are implementing additional measures 
under our discretionary authority in a separate rulemaking.
    Available information does indicate that the discard mortality of 
recreationally caught GOM cod is low. Based on the 2012 benchmark 
assessment, 70 percent of the GOM cod discards from the recreational 
fishery were expected to survive. A recently conducted study provides 
additional information that suggests survival rates of released cod 
could be higher (85 percent).
    Comment 26: Eighteen recreational fishermen opposed a prohibition 
on possession of GOM cod for the recreational fishery. These commenters 
noted that the recreational fishery has little impact on the GOM cod 
stock, and that the commercial fishery, particularly draggers, have led 
to the current GOM cod stock status. Many of these commenters supported 
a small bag limit for GOM cod, and a few comments supported a bag limit 
of at least 10 fish. Commenters also expressed concern for the socio-
economic impact of this measure.
    Response: We disagree. Both the recreational and the commercial 
groundfish fishery receive an allocation of GOM cod. Both fisheries 
have AMs, and we must implement management measures that will help 
ensure that each fishery stays within its allocation. Updated catch 
projections indicate that, even under zero possession, the recreational 
fishery would still exceed its allocation for GOM cod in fishing year 
2015, unless additional measures are implemented. Additionally, catch 
projections that assumed a status quo bag limit (9 fish) indicated that 
recreational catch would exceed the 2015 allocation by more than 400 
percent.
    We understand concerns for the socio-economic impact of zero 
possession for the recreational fishery. Other measures for the 
recreational fishery were considered for this action to help protect 
GOM cod. However, these measures would not have mitigated economic 
impacts to the recreational fishery compared to zero possession. The 
GOM cod closures, if applied to the recreational fishery, would likely 
have had even greater economic impacts on the fishery. These closures 
are mainly inshore, and recreational vessels may have been unable to 
move to alternative areas to fish for other groundfish stocks. Analysis 
indicated that the total steam time to fish further offshore, around 
the closures, would have exceeded the standard party/charter trip of 4 
or 6 hours.
    Zero possession will help ensure that fishing mortality by the 
recreational fishery is reduced for GOM cod, while still ensuring the 
recreational fishery has access to other healthy groundfish stocks. The 
Council can review this measure in any future action, and if warranted 
could implement different management measures for the recreational 
fishery, as long as they would still meet conservation objectives, and 
help ensure that the recreational fishery does not exceed its 
allocation.
    Comment 27: We received six comments from recreational fishermen 
about various aspects of recreational management measures for the 2015 
fishing year, including opposition to the survival rates current used 
for the recreational caught GOM cod and haddock, the GOM haddock bag 
limit, the recreational rulemaking process, and recreational gear 
requirements.
    Response: None of these measures were specifically proposed in 
Framework 53, and therefore are beyond the scope and authority relating 
to this action. Although this action implements zero possession of GOM 
cod for the recreational fishery, we are implementing all other 
recreational measures, including GOM haddock measures, in a separate 
rulemaking under our discretionary authority to adjustment recreational 
measures. These measures are intended to prevent the recreational 
fishery from exceeding its allocations of GOM cod and GOM haddock for 
the 2015 fishing year. The issues raised by the commenters will be 
addressed in our separate rule implementing final recreational measures 
for fishing year 2015.

Default Catch Limits

    Comment 28: One state marine fisheries agency and one commercial 
fishing organization supported the mechanism to establish default catch 
limits in years when a management action is delayed. The commercial 
fishing organization commented that default catch limits set at 35 
percent of the previous year's value would be extremely restrictive for 
groundfish vessels, but this was better than the alternative of no 
catch limits.
    Response: We agree, and are implementing this measure in this final 
rule. We recognize that default catch limits, if implemented, may be

[[Page 25132]]

extremely restrictive for groundfish vessels. Although the 2015 
assessment schedule is expected to delay implementation of the 
management action for fishing year 2016, this measure is not intended 
to allow lengthy delays in implementation of final measures. Default 
catch limits are available as a management tool to prevent disruption 
to the groundfish fishery, but any default specifications time period 
should not be allowed to languish. To help ensure that management 
actions are still implemented as quickly as possible, the default 
specifications time period is only from May 1 through July 31. If 
default catch limits were allowed to languish beyond this period, the 
severely restricted catch limits could prevent optimum yield in the 
fishery.

Sector Carryover Provision

    Comment 29: One state marine fisheries agency supported this change 
to the carryover provision.
    Response: We agree and are implementing the revision to the sector 
carryover provision in this final rule. The measure is necessary to 
comply with a recent court ruling, and ensure that the total potential 
catch does not exceed the ABC for any stock.
    Comment 30: One commercial fishing organization expressed concern 
that the ever changing rules regarding carryover makes it difficult to 
stabilize business plans, as does the ability for the carryover amount 
to change year to year.
    Response: The revision to the sector carryover provision in this 
final rule is in response to a recent court ruling, as previously 
described. We have determined that the carryover provision is now 
consistent with Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements, and will help ensure 
that total potential catch does not exceed the ABC for any stock. As a 
result, we do not anticipate any further modifications of the sector 
carryover provision, unless the Council chooses to revisit this measure 
in a future action.
    We recognize some of the difficulties that sectors face in trying 
to plan. To help offset some of the uncertainty, we specified that the 
default de minimis amount is 1 percent of the overall sector sub-ACL 
for the upcoming fishing year. If it is necessary to change the default 
de minimis amount, we will announce this to sectors as soon as we know 
the recommended ABCs for the upcoming year. Similarly, once ABC 
recommendations are known for the upcoming year, we will announce the 
possibility that the maximum carryover amount may need to be adjusted. 
We cannot make a final determination on the maximum carryover amount 
until we have final catch information for sectors; however, the initial 
determination that assumed a maximum of 10-percent carryover provides 
sectors with an upper bound. We also expect that the years with the 
greatest uncertainty will be years in which catch limits are 
dramatically reduced, as we would most likely have to adjust the 
maximum carryover allowed in those years.

Common Pool Management Measures

    Comment 31: One state marine fisheries agency supported the common 
pool trip limits.
    Response: We agree, and are implementing these initial common pool 
trip limits for fishing year 2015. We will closely monitor common pool 
catch, and, if necessary, will make appropriate adjustments to the 
possession and trip limits for common pool vessels. Each year, it is 
difficult to predict common pool effort, and there is a possibility 
that some vessels may drop out of a sector and fish in the common pool 
for fishing year 2015. If this occurs, we may make adjustments to the 
trip limits to reflect any increases in the number of common pool 
vessels that are actively fishing.
    Comment 32: One commercial fisherman opposed a GOM cod trip limit 
of 50 lb (23 kg), and instead supported a trip limit of at least 100 lb 
(45 kg). The commenter noted that a 50-lb (23-kg) trip limit would 
result in high discards.
    Response: We disagree that the GOM cod trip limit should be set at 
100 lb (45 kg). The trimester TAC for GOM cod is less than 2 mt for 
each trimester in fishing year 2015. In previous years, when we set the 
GOM cod trip limit at 100 lb (45 kg), common pool vessels continued to 
target the stock, and the GOM area was prematurely closed before the 
end of the trimester. A 50-lb (23-kg) trip limit will help create an 
incentive to avoid GOM cod. This trip limit will also help provide 
continued access to other groundfish stocks by helping to prevent a 
premature closure of the trimester.
    Comment 33: A number of commercial fishermen commented on common 
pool management measures. Comments included opposition to the current 
trimester TAC system used for the common pool, the trimester TACs 
should be divided among trimesters based on recent landings, and that 
the common pool fishery should receive 10 percent carryover similar to 
sectors.
    Response: None of these measures were considered in Framework 53, 
and they are beyond the scope and authority relating to this action. 
Any changes to the existing common pool management measures would have 
to be developed through the Council process in a future management 
action. The Council could reconsider common pool management measures at 
any time provided these measures still met the necessary conservation 
requirements. For example, the trimester TAC AM system is only one type 
of reactive AM that the Council may use for the common pool fishery.
    The allocation of the common pool sub-ACL was developed as part of 
Amendment 16, and was based on landings through fishing year 2009. 
These distributions have been unchanged since the implementation of 
Amendment 16. However the Council can adjust the trimester TAC 
distribution in a framework action based on landings from the most 
recent 5 years. Again, any changes to the trimester TAC provision would 
have to be developed through the Council in a future management action.

National Environmental Policy Act and Associated Analyses

    Comment 34: One NGO commented that Framework 53 does not meet the 
requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) because it 
failed to include a reasonable range of alternatives for the GOM cod 
protection closures. The commenter noted that Framework 53 should have 
included the 2014 interim closures as one alternative, as well as an 
additional alternative that was developed by the PDT.
    Response: We disagree that this action does not meet the 
requirements of NEPA. Any comments about the sufficiency of the NEPA 
analysis of this framework must be considered in the context of the 
ongoing set of measures that adapt to changing conditions and 
information affecting the overall FMP, and the many different 
alternatives that have been analyzed over the years. Within this 
context, Framework 53 does include a reasonable range of alternatives 
for the GOM cod area closures that represented various combinations of 
closures based on the available information. The Purpose and Need of 
Framework 53 related to the area closures was to enhance spawning 
protection for GOM cod, help reduce fishing mortality of GOM cod, and 
to minimize the economic impact of the closures by providing access to 
healthy groundfish stocks.
    Although some of the area closures implemented in our 2014 interim 
action for GOM cod were intended to protect spawning aggregations, area 
closures were also used as a mechanism to reduce overfishing in lieu of 
reducing

[[Page 25133]]

the catch limit inseason. As a result, it was apparent that the 2014 
interim closures would not have met the Purpose and Need of Framework 
53 to provide access to healthy groundfish stocks because the interim 
closures were not designed, or intended, to meet this objective. 
Further, because the interim closures were designed to reduce 
overfishing in lieu of an ACL reduction, these closures would have been 
overly restrictive for fishing year 2015 once the GOM cod catch limit 
was reduced based on the 2014 assessment result.
    The PDT option that the commenter referenced closely resembled the 
2014 interim action closures, and in some cases, was more restrictive 
than the interim closures. Because the protection closures are 
complementary to the GOM cod catch limit, the option presented by the 
PDT would likely have been overly restrictive. Further, this option 
would have virtually shut down the inshore GOM to the groundfish 
fishery for eight months of the year, and small inshore vessels would 
likely have been unable to adapt to these closures. Therefore, although 
the PDT presented this option to the Council's Groundfish Oversight 
Committee, the Committee did not advance this option for consideration 
in Framework 53 because it clearly would not have met all of the goals 
and objectives of the action.

Changes From the Proposed Rule

    We made one change from the proposed rule in this action. After 
further consideration of the available information and public comments, 
we are implementing a daily VMS catch report requirement for commercial 
groundfish vessels that declare their intent to fish in the GOM and any 
other broad stock area on the same trip. Given concerns for the low GOM 
cod catch limit and the potential incentive to misreport, we determined 
that daily VMS catch reports will help ensure more accurate catch 
apportionment and compliance with the cod catch limits.

Classification

    Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the 
NMFS Assistant Administrator has determined that the management 
measures implemented in this final rule are necessary for the 
conservation and management of the Northeast groundfish fishery and 
consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law.
    This final rule has been determined to be significant for purposes 
of Executive Order (E.O.) 12866.
    This final rule does not contain policies with Federalism or 
``takings'' implications as those terms are defined in E.O. 13132 and 
E.O. 12630, respectively.
    The Assistant Administrator for Fisheries finds good cause, under 
authority contained in 5 U.S.C. 553(d)(3), to waive the 30-day delayed 
effectiveness of this action. The effective date of this action affects 
a parallel rulemaking approving sector operations plans for the start 
of the 2015 fishing year on May 1, 2015. In addition, this action sets 
fishing year 2015 catch limits for several groundfish stocks, revises 
GOM cod management measures to provide additional protection for the 
stock, and adopts other measures to improve the management of the 
groundfish fishery. This final rule must be in effect at the beginning 
of 2015 fishing year to fully capture the conservation and economic 
benefits of Framework 53 measures and the 2015 sector operations plans.
    During the development of the Framework 53, updated stock 
information for GOM cod became available. As a result of this updated 
stock information, the Council had to include additional measures in 
Framework 53 to respond to this information and increase protection for 
GOM cod given its poor status. As a result, this rulemaking could not 
be completed further before this date. Therefore, in order to have this 
action effective at the beginning of the 2015 fishing year, which 
begins on May 1, 2015, it is necessary to waive the 30-day delayed 
effectiveness of this rule.
    Failure to waive the 30-day delayed effectiveness would result in 
no catch limits being specified for a number of groundfish stocks. 
Without an allocation for these groundfish stocks, sector vessels would 
be unable to fish beginning on May 1, 2015. This would severely disrupt 
the fishery, and could result in foregone yield and revenue reductions. 
The groundfish fishery already faced substantial cuts in the catch 
limits for many key groundfish stocks beginning in 2013, and this final 
rule implements additional catch limit reductions. However, if sector 
vessels were unable to fish beginning on May 1, 2015, the negative 
economic impacts would exceed any negative economic impacts anticipated 
from this action. Any further disruption to the fishery that would 
result from a delay of this final rule could worsen the severe economic 
impacts to the groundfish fishery. This action includes specifications 
that would increase the catch limit for haddock, and re-configures GOM 
closed areas to increase fishing opportunities on healthy groundfish 
stocks. These measures are intended to help mitigate the economic 
impacts of the reductions in catch limits for several key groundfish 
stocks. A delay in implementation of this action would greatly diminish 
any benefits of these specifications and other approved measures. For 
these reasons, a 30-day delay in the effectiveness of this rule is 
impracticable and contrary to the public interest.

Final Regulatory Flexibility Analysis

    Section 604 of the RFA, 5 U.S.C. 604, requires Federal agencies to 
prepare a Final Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (FRFA) for each final 
rule. The FRFA describes the economic impact of this action on small 
entities. The FRFA includes a summary of significant issues raised by 
public comments, the analyses contained in Framework 53 and its 
accompanying Environmental Assessment/Regulatory Impact Review/Initial 
Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA), the IRFA summary in the 
proposed rule, as well as the summary provided below. A description of 
the action, why it is being considered, and the legal basis for this 
action are contained in Framework 53 and in the preamble to the 
proposed rule, as well as this final rule, and are not repeated here. A 
copy of the full analysis is available from the NMFS (see ADDRESSES).

A Summary of the Significant Issues Raised by the Public in Response to 
the IRFA, a Summary of the Agency's Assessment of Such Issues, and a 
Statement of Any Changes Made in the Final Rule as a Result of Such 
Comments

    Our responses to all of the comments received on the proposed rule, 
including those that raised significant issues with the proposed 
action, or commented on the economic analyses summarized in the IRFA, 
can be found in the Comments and Responses section of this rule. As 
outlined in that section, significant issues were raised by the public 
with respect to:
     GOM cod catch limits for the 2015-2017 fishing years;
     GOM cod protection closures; and
     The prohibition on possession of GOM cod for recreational 
fishing vessels.
    Comments 14 and 26 discussed the economic impacts of this action. 
Comment 14 noted that the GOM cod reduction would have severe negative 
impacts on the commercial groundfish fishery, and one of these 
commenters suggested that the analysis may have underestimated the 
predicted gross revenue losses as a result of the GOM cod reduction. 
Comment 26 highlighted

[[Page 25134]]

concerns that the GOM cod possession restriction for the recreational 
fishery would have severe socio-economic impacts. There were no other 
comments directly related to the IRFA.

Description and Estimate of Number of Small Entities to Which the Rule 
Would Apply

    The Small Business Administration defines a small business as one 
that is:
     independently owned and operated;
     not dominant in its field of operation;
     has annual receipts that do not exceed--
    [cir] $20.5 million in the case of commercial finfish harvesting 
entities (NAICS \1\ 114111)
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    \1\ The North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) is 
the standard used by Federal statistical agencies in classifying 
business establishments for the purpose of collecting, analyzing, 
and publishing statistical data related to the U.S. business 
economy.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    [cir] $5.5 million in the case of commercial shellfish harvesting 
entities (NAICS 114112)
    [cir] $7.5 million in the case of for-hire fishing entities (NAICS 
114119); or
     has fewer than--
    [cir] 500 employees in the case of fish processors
    [cir] 100 employees in the case of fish dealers.
    This final rule affects commercial and recreational fish harvesting 
entities engaged in the groundfish fishery, the small-mesh multispecies 
and squid fisheries, the midwater trawl herring fishery, and the 
scallop fishery. Individually-permitted vessels may hold permits for 
several fisheries, harvesting species of fish that are regulated by 
several different FMPs, even beyond those impacted by the proposed 
action. Furthermore, multiple-permitted vessels and/or permits may be 
owned by entities affiliated by stock ownership, common management, 
identity of interest, contractual relationships, or economic 
dependency. For the purposes of the RFA analysis, the ownership 
entities, not the individual vessels, are considered to be the 
regulated entities.
    Ownership entities are defined as those entities with common 
ownership personnel as listed on the permit application. Only permits 
with identical ownership personnel are categorized as an ownership 
entity. For example, if five permits have the same seven persons listed 
as co-owners on their permit application, those seven persons would 
form one ownership entity, that hold those five permits. If two of 
those seven owners also co-own additional vessels, that ownership 
arrangement would be considered a separate ownership entity for the 
purpose of this analysis.
    On June 1 of each year, ownership entities are identified based on 
a list of all permits for the most recent complete calendar year. The 
current ownership data set used for this analysis is based on calendar 
year 2013 and contains average gross sales associated with those 
permits for calendar years 2011 through 2013. In addition to 
classifying a business (ownership entity) as small or large, a business 
can also be classified by its primary source of revenue. A business is 
defined as being primarily engaged in fishing for finfish if it obtains 
greater than 50 percent of its gross sales from sales of finfish. 
Similarly, a business is defined as being primarily engaged in fishing 
for shellfish if it obtains greater than 50 percent of its gross sales 
from sales of shellfish.
    A description of the specific permits that are likely to be 
impacted by this action is provided below, along with a discussion of 
the impacted businesses, which can include multiple vessels and/or 
permit types.

Regulated Commercial Fish Harvesting Entities

    Table 19 describes the total number of commercial business entities 
potentially affected by the proposed action. As of May 1, 2014, there 
were 1,386 commercial business entities potentially affected by this 
action. These entities participate in, or are permitted for, the 
groundfish, small-mesh multispecies, herring midwater trawl, and 
scallop fisheries. For the groundfish fishery, this action directly 
regulates potentially affected entities through catch limits and other 
management measures designed to achieve the goals and objectives of the 
FMP. For the non-groundfish fisheries, this action includes allocations 
for groundfish stocks caught as bycatch in these fisheries. For each of 
these fisheries, there are AMs that are triggered if their respective 
allocations are exceeded. As a result, the likelihood of triggering an 
AM is a function of changes to the ACLs each year.

  Table 19--Commercial Fish Harvesting Entities Regulated by this Final
                                  Rule
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                         Classified as
               Type                    Total number     small businesses
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Primarily finfish.................                813                813
Primarily shellfish...............                573                549
                                   -------------------------------------
    Total.........................              1,386              1,362
------------------------------------------------------------------------

Limited Access Groundfish Fishery
    This action will directly impact entities engaged in the limited 
access groundfish fishery. The limited access groundfish fishery 
consists of those enrolled in the sector program and those in the 
common pool. Both sectors and the common pool are subject to catch 
limits, and AMs that prevent fishing in a respective stock area when 
the entire catch limit has been caught. Additionally, common pool 
vessels are subject to DAS restrictions and trip limits. All permit 
holders are eligible to enroll in the sector program; however, many 
vessels remain in the common pool because they have low catch histories 
of groundfish stocks, which translate into low PSCs. Low PSCs would 
limit a vessel's viability in the sector program. In general, 
businesses enrolled in the sector program rely more heavily on sales of 
groundfish species than vessels enrolled in the common pool.
    As of May 1, 2014 (beginning of fishing year 2014), there were 
1,046 individual limited access permits. Of these, 613 were enrolled in 
the sector program, and 433 were in the common pool. For fishing year 
2013, which is the most recent complete fishing year, 708 of these 
limited access permits had landings of any species, and 360 of these 
permits had landings of groundfish species.
    Of the 1,046 individual limited access multispecies permits 
potentially impacted by this action, there are 868 distinct ownership 
entities. Of these, 855 are categorized as small entities, and 13 are 
categorized as large entities.

[[Page 25135]]

However, these totals may mask some diversity among the entities. Many, 
if not most, of these ownership entities maintain diversified harvest 
portfolios, obtaining gross sales from many fisheries and not dependent 
on any one. However, not all are equally diversified. This action is 
most likely to affect those entities that depend most heavily on sales 
from harvesting groundfish species. There are 114 entities that are 
groundfish-dependent, all of which are small, and all of which are 
finfish commercial harvesting businesses. Of these groundfish-dependent 
entities, 102 have some level of participation in the sector program, 
and 12 operate exclusively in the common pool.
Limited Access Scallop Fisheries
    The limited access scallop fisheries include limited access scallop 
permits and Limited Access General Category (LAGC) scallop permits. 
Limited access scallop businesses are subject to a mixture of DAS 
restrictions and dedicated area trip restrictions. LAGC scallop 
businesses are able to acquire and trade LAGC scallop quota, and there 
is an annual cap on quota/landings. The scallop fishery receives an 
allocation for GB and SNE/MA yellowtail flounder and southern 
windowpane flounder. If these allocations are exceeded, AMs are 
implemented in a subsequent fishing year. These AMs close certain areas 
of high groundfish bycatch to scallop fishery, and the length of the 
closure depends on the magnitude of the overage.
    Of the total commercial business entities potentially affected by 
this action (1,386), there are 171 scallop fishing entities. The 
majority of these entities are defined as shellfish businesses (167). 
However, four of these entities are defined as finfish businesses, all 
of which are small. Of the total scallop fishing entities, 149 entities 
are classified as small entities.
Midwater Trawl Fishery
    There are four categories of permits for the herring fishery. Three 
of these permit categories are limited access, and vary based on the 
allowable herring possession limits and areas fished. The fourth permit 
category is open access. Although there is a large number of open 
access permits issued each year, this category is subject to fairly low 
possession limits for herring, account for a very small amount of the 
herring landings, and derive relatively little revenue from the 
fishery. The midwater trawl herring fishery receives an allocation of 
GOM and GB haddock. Once the entire allocation for either stock has 
been caught, the directed herring fishery is closed in the respective 
area for the remainder of the fishing year. Additionally, if the 
midwater trawl fishery exceeds its allocation, the overage is deducted 
from its allocation in the following fishing year.
    Of the total commercial business entities potentially regulated by 
this action (1,386), there are 71 herring fishing entities. Of these, 
43 entities are defined as finfish businesses, all of which are small. 
There are 28 entities that are defined as shellfish businesses, and 21 
of these are considered small. For the purposes of this analysis, squid 
is classified as shellfish. Thus, because there is some overlap with 
the herring and squid fisheries, it is likely that these shellfish 
entities derive most of their revenues from the squid fishery.
Small-Mesh Fisheries
    The small-mesh exempted fishery allows vessels to harvest species 
in designated areas using mesh sizes smaller than the minimum mesh size 
required by the Northeast Multispecies FMP. To participate in the 
small-mesh multispecies (whiting) fishery, vessels must hold either a 
limited access multispecies permit or an open access multispecies 
permit. Limited access multispecies permit holders can only target 
whiting when not fishing under a DAS or a sector trip, and while 
declared out of the fishery. A description of limited access 
multispecies permits was provided above. Many of these vessels target 
both whiting and longfin squid on small-mesh trips and, therefore, most 
of them also have open access or limited access squid, mackerel, and 
butterfish permits. As a result, squid, mackerel, and butterfish 
permits were not handled separately in this analysis.
    The small-mesh fisheries receive an allocation of GB yellowtail 
flounder. If this allocation is exceeded, an AM is triggered for a 
subsequent fishing year. The AM requires small-mesh vessels to use 
selective trawl gear when fishing on GB. This gear restriction is only 
implemented for one year as a result of an overage, and is removed as 
long as additional overages do not occur.
    Of the total commercial harvesting entities potentially affected by 
this action, there are 570 small-mesh entities. However, this is not 
necessarily informative because not all of these entities are active in 
the whiting fishery. Based on the most recent information, 25 of these 
entities are considered active, with at least 1 lb of whiting landed. 
Of these entities, 7 are defined as finfish businesses, all of which 
are small. There are 18 entities that are defined as shellfish 
businesses, and 17 of these are considered small. Because there is 
overlap with the whiting and squid fisheries, it is likely that these 
shellfish entities derive most of their revenues from the squid 
fishery.

Regulated Recreational Party/Charter Fishing Entities

    The charter/party permit is an open access groundfish permit that 
can be requested at any time, with the limitation that a vessel cannot 
have a limited access groundfish permit and an open access party/
charter permit concurrently. There are no qualification criteria for 
this permit. Charter/party permits are subject to recreational 
management measures, including minimum fish sizes, possession 
restrictions, and seasonal closures.
    During calendar year 2014, 732 party/charter permits were issued. 
Of these, 267 party/charter permit holders reported catching and 
retaining any groundfish species on at least one for-hire trip. In 
addition, 204 party/charter permit holders reported catching at least 
one cod in 2014. While all party/charter fishing businesses that catch 
cod may be affected by the proposed action, the recreational groundfish 
fishery only receives an allocation for the GOM stock. Of the 204 
party/charter businesses that reported to have caught cod, 106 reported 
catching cod in the GOM.
    A 2013 report indicated that, in the northeast United States, the 
mean gross sales was approximately $27,650 for a charter business and 
$13,500 for a party boat. Based on the available information, no 
business approached the $7.5 million large business threshold. 
Therefore, the 267 potentially regulated party/charter entities are all 
considered small businesses.

Description of Projected Reporting, Recordkeeping, and Other Compliance 
Requirements

    This action contains a change to an information collection 
requirement, which has been approved by the Office of Management and 
Budget (OMB) under OMB Control Number 0648-0605: Northeast Multispecies 
Amendment 16 Data Collection. The revision requires vessels that 
declare trips into the GOM Broad Stock Area and any other broad stock 
area (i.e., GB or SNE/MA) on the same trip to submit a daily catch 
report via VMS. Vessels fishing in multiple broad stock areas are 
currently required to submit a trip-level VMS catch report, so this 
change only increases the frequency of submission for certain trips. 
The daily catch report is estimated to take 15 minutes to complete, and 
cost $2.08 per submission. Based on trips to

[[Page 25136]]

multiple broad stock areas taken during the 2013 fishing year, the 
average trip length for vessels that fish in multiple broad stock areas 
on a single trip is 5 days. If vessels take 7 trips per year, the 
burden estimate for daily trip reports is 8 hours and $73.
    Public comment is sought regarding whether this collection of 
information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions of 
the agency, including whether the information shall have practical 
utility; the accuracy of the burden estimate; ways to enhance the 
quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected; and 
ways to minimize the burden of the collection of information, including 
through the use of automated collection techniques or other forms of 
information technology. Send comments on these or any other aspects of 
the collection of information to NMFS and to OMB (see ADDRESSES).
    Notwithstanding any other provision of the law, no person is 
required to respond to, and no person shall be subject to 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.

Description of the Steps the Agency Has Taken To Minimize the 
Significant Economic Impact on Small Entities Consistent With the 
Stated Objectives of Applicable Statutes

    The economic impacts of the measures implemented in this action are 
summarized below and are discussed in more detail in sections 7.4 and 
8.11 of the Framework 53 Environmental Assessment. Although small 
entities are defined based on gross sales of ownership groups, not 
physical characteristics of the vessel, it is reasonable to assume that 
larger vessels are more likely to be owned by large entities. The 
economic impacts of this action are anticipated to result in aggregate 
gross revenue losses of approximately $4 million in fishing year 2015, 
compared to predicted revenues for fishing year 2014. However, these 
losses are expected to be absorbed primarily by small businesses. Some 
vessel size classes and ports are predicted to have 50- to 80-percent 
declines in revenues from groundfish, and many vessels may be forced to 
relocate to Southern New England ports, or stop fishing altogether.
    Because predicted losses are expected to primarily affect small 
businesses, this action has the potential to place small entities at a 
competitive disadvantage relative to large entities. This is mainly 
because large entities may have more flexibility to adjust to, and 
accommodate, the measures. However, as discussed in more detail below, 
the additional declines in gross revenues expected as a result of this 
action will pose serious difficulties for all groundfish vessels and 
their crew.

Status Determination Criteria

    This action changes the GB yellowtail flounder status, relative to 
reference points, to unknown. In addition, this action updates the 
numerical estimates of the status determination criteria for GOM cod, 
GOM haddock, GOM winter flounder, GB winter flounder, and pollock. 
These updates result in lower values of MSY. For some of these, the 
lower values of MSY result in lower ACLs in the short-term, which is 
expected to have negative economic impacts (i.e., lower net revenues). 
However, the updates to the status determination criteria are expected 
to have positive stock benefits by helping to prevent overfishing. 
Thus, in the long-term, the changes to status determination criteria 
are expected to result in higher and more sustainable landings when 
compared to the No Action option. All of the revisions are based on the 
2014 assessments for the respective stocks, and are therefore based on 
the best scientific information available.
    Status determination criteria are formulaic based on the results of 
a stock assessment. As a result, the only other alternative considered 
for this action was the No Action option, which would not update the 
status determination criteria for any groundfish stocks based on the 
2014 assessments. This option would not incorporate the best scientific 
information available, and would not be consistent with Magnuson-
Stevens Act requirements, and, as a result, was not selected. This 
option would not have any immediate economic impacts. However if this 
option resulted in overfishing in the long-term, then it would have 
severe negative economic impacts for the fisheries affected by this 
action.

Annual Catch Limits

    This action sets catch limits for eastern GB cod and haddock, GOM 
cod, GOM haddock, GB yellowtail flounder, GOM winter flounder, and 
Pollock, and has the potential to affect groundfish (including small-
mesh), midwater trawl, and scallop-dependent small entities.
    For the commercial groundfish fishery, the catch limits are 
expected to result in a 7-percent decrease in gross revenues on 
groundfish trips, or $6 million, compared to predicted gross revenues 
for fishing year 2014. However, as described later, the aggregate 
predicted revenues for 2015 also depend on the other measures adopted 
in this action. The negative impacts of the approved catch limits are 
not expected to be uniformly distributed across vessels size classes. 
Vessels in the 30-50 ft (9-15 m) category are predicted to incur the 
largest decrease in gross revenues compared to 2014. Based only on the 
approved catch limits, vessels in this category could incur revenue 
losses of 33 percent, and aggregate losses are expected to be more as a 
result of other measures in this action. Larger vessel classes are not 
expected to be affected as heavily by the catch limits in this action. 
Based only on the approved catch limits, 50-75-ft (15-23-m) vessels are 
predicted to incur losses of 16 percent, and the largest vessels (75 ft 
(23 m) and greater) are predicted to incur losses of 3 percent.
    For the scallop, midwater trawl, and small-mesh fisheries, the 
catch limits implemented in this action include allocations for bycatch 
of groundfish species that occurs in these fisheries. The GB yellowtail 
flounder allocation for both the scallop and small-mesh fisheries would 
be a decrease in 2015 compared to 2014, which could increase the 
likelihood of triggering AMs. However, based on recent catch 
performance, AMs for GB yellowtail flounder have never been implemented 
for these fisheries as a result of an overage. Additionally, based on 
scallop management measures that are proposed for 2015, it is not 
expected that scallop effort will increase on GB relative to recent 
years. Although the reduction for GB yellowtail flounder could have 
negative economic impacts, these fisheries are not expected to exceed 
their respective allocations in 2015, and no AMs are expected to be 
triggered.
    For the midwater trawl fishery, the allocations for GOM and GB 
haddock are both expected to increase in 2015 relative to 2014. 
However, in fishing year 2013, the AM for GB haddock was triggered. As 
a result, it is possible that this could occur again in 2015 depending 
on catch rates of herring and haddock. If the AM for GB haddock is 
triggered, there could be negative economic impacts that result from 
foregone herring yield. The magnitude of these negative impacts would 
depend on how much herring quota remained at the time the AM was 
implemented, and whether other herring management areas were open for 
directed herring fishing.
    The catch limits are based on the latest stock assessment 
information, which is considered the best scientific information 
available, and the

[[Page 25137]]

applicable requirements in the FMP and the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The 
only other possible alternatives to the catch limits implemented in 
this action that would mitigate negative impacts would be higher catch 
limits. Alternative, higher catch limits, however, are not permissible 
under the law because they would not be consistent with the goals and 
objectives of the FMP, or the Magnuson-Stevens Act, particularly the 
requirement to prevent overfishing. The Magnuson-Stevens Act, and case 
law, prevent implementation of measures that conflict with conservation 
requirements, even if it means negative impacts are not mitigated. The 
catch limits implemented in this action are the highest allowed given 
the best scientific information available, the SSC's recommendations, 
and requirements to end overfishing and rebuild fish stocks. The only 
other legally available alternatives to the catch limits in this action 
would be lower limits, which would not mitigate the economic impacts of 
this action to the fishery.
    Under the No Action option, no catch limits would be specified for 
the U.S./Canada stocks, GB winter flounder, GOM winter flounder, or 
pollock. In this scenario, sector vessels would be unable to fish in 
the respective stock areas at the start of the 2015 fishing year if no 
allocations were specified. This would result in greater negative 
economic impacts for vessels compared to the proposed action due to 
lost revenues as a result of being unable to fish. The proposed action 
is predicted to result in approximately $77 million in gross revenues 
from groundfish trips. All of this revenue would be lost if no action 
was taken to specify catch limits. As a result, this alternative was 
not selected because if would fail to meet the Magnuson-Stevens Act 
requirements to achieve optimum yield and consider the needs of fishing 
communities.

Gulf of Maine Cod Protection Measures

    This action re-configures the GOM rolling closures for commercial 
vessels and adopts a prohibition on possession of GOM cod for the 
recreational fishery. For the commercial groundfish fishery, this 
action is expected to result in less severe negative economic impacts 
than the approved catch limits alone. Based on predicted leasing 
practices, the negative economic impacts of the selected alternative 
are estimated to be greater compared to other alternatives considered 
that would have adopted additional GOM cod spawning closures. However, 
the aggregate economic impacts of the spawning closures that were 
considered for this action, but not adopted, are largely driven by the 
flow of quota from smaller inshore vessels, which would be unable to 
fish, to larger offshore vessels. Although analysis indicated that the 
selected action would have greater negative impacts compared to these 
other alternatives, the negative impacts to small vessels are masked by 
the predicted aggregate gross revenues. The approved action would add 
closures in some months, while removing other closures, largely in the 
month of April. Removing closures in April was intended to provide 
vessels access to healthy groundfish stocks. As a result, the approved 
action is expected to improve the viability of the inshore fleet, and 
help mitigate the economic impacts of the approved catch limits, 
compared to other closure alternatives considered in the action that 
included different time-area combinations, and that would have 
maintained April closures.
    The ability of the approved action to provide increased spawning 
protection would largely dictate the long-term economic impacts of this 
action. If the approved action enhances spawning protection, which 
translates into increased stock rebuilding, then the long-term economic 
impacts would be positive. However, if the approved action does not 
enhance spawning protection or translate into increased stock 
rebuilding, then the long-term economic impacts would be similar to the 
status quo, or negative.
    For the recreational fishery, the prohibition on GOM cod possession 
is expected to result in short-term negative economic impacts, as it 
will likely result in some recreational anglers not booking party/
charter trips. However, if the prohibition results in a decrease in 
fishing mortality relative to the status quo, then it could contribute 
to stock rebuilding. If this occurs, the long-term economic impacts of 
the prohibition could be positive if demand for party/charter fishing 
trips increase as the stock rebuilds. Further, in the long-term, the 
recreational fishery would benefit from the commercial closures 
discussed above if they successfully enhance spawning protection and 
increase stock rebuilding.
    Adopting a possession restriction for the recreational fishery, in 
lieu of time and area closures to protect GOM cod, mitigated economic 
impacts for the recreational fishery to the extent practicable. The GOM 
cod protection closures that were considered in this action, but not 
adopted, would likely have had even greater economic impacts on the 
recreational fishery. These closures are mainly inshore, and analysis 
indicated that the total steam time to fish further offshore, around 
the closures, would have exceeded the standard party/charter trip of 4 
or 6 hours. As a result, recreational vessels may have been unable to 
move to alternative areas to fish for other groundfish stocks.

Default Groundfish Specifications

    This action establishes a mechanism for setting default catch 
limits in the event a management action is delayed. This is expected to 
have positive economic benefits, primarily for sector vessels, compared 
to the No Action option. Sector vessels are not allowed to fish without 
an allocation, so if no catch limits are specified for the fishing 
year, there would be severe negative economic impacts to the groundfish 
fishery. The default groundfish specifications are expected to prevent 
the situation that would otherwise occur if no action was taken.

Sector Carryover

    This action modifies the provision that allows sectors to carryover 
unused allocation from one fishing year into the next fishing year. The 
economic impacts of the carryover provision are likely minor, and 
similar to the status quo. In any fishing year, if the maximum 
available sector carryover is reduced from 10 percent, this could have 
a negative economic impact. However, the approved action does not 
modify the AM for sectors that requires any overages, even overages 
that result from harvesting available carryover, must be paid back. As 
a result, the approved action is not expected to largely change sector 
operations compared to the No Action alternative.

Small Entity Compliance Guide

    Section 212 of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness 
Act of 1996 states that, for each rule or group of related rules for 
which an agency is required to prepare a FRFA, the agency shall publish 
one or more guides to assist small entities in complying with the rule, 
and shall designate such publications as ``small entity compliance 
guides.'' The agency shall explain the actions a small entity is 
required to take to comply with a rule or group of rules. As part of 
this rulemaking process, a small entity compliance guide will be sent 
to all holders of Federal permits issued for the Northeast multispecies 
fisheries, as well as the scallop and herring fisheries that receive an 
allocation of some groundfish stocks. In addition, copies of this final 
rule and guides (i.e., information bulletins) are available from NMFS 
at

[[Page 25138]]

the following Web site: http://www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov/.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 648

    Fisheries, Fishing, Recordkeeping and reporting requirements.

    Dated: April 23, 2015.
Eileen Sobeck,
Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.

    For the reasons stated in the preamble, NMFS amends 50 CFR part 648 
as follows:

PART 648--FISHERIES OF THE NORTHEASTERN UNITED STATES

0
1. The authority citation for part 648 continues to read as follows:

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


0
2. In Sec.  648.2:
0
a. Lift the suspension of the definition for ``Gillnet gear capable of 
catching multispecies'' and revise it; and
0
b. Remove the definition for ``Gillnet gear capable of catching 
multispecies (for purposes of the interim action)''.
    The revision reads as follows:


Sec.  648.2  Definitions.

* * * * *
    Gillnet gear capable of catching multispecies means all gillnet 
gear except pelagic gillnet gear specified at Sec.  648.81(f)(5)(ii) 
and pelagic gillnet gear that is designed to fish for and is used to 
fish for or catch tunas, swordfish, and sharks.
* * * * *


Sec.  648.10  [Amended]

0
3. In Sec.  648.10, revise paragraph (k)(2) and remove paragraphs 
(k)(3)(i)(A) and (B).
    The revision reads as follows:


Sec.  648.10  VMS and DAS requirements for vessel owners/operators.

* * * * *
    (k) * * *
    (2) Reporting requirements for NE multispecies vessel owners or 
operators fishing in more than one broad stock area per trip. Unless 
otherwise provided in this paragraph (k)(2), the owner or operator of 
any vessel issued a NE multispecies limited access permit that has 
declared its intent to fish within multiple NE multispecies broad stock 
areas, as defined in paragraph (k)(3) of this section, on the same trip 
must submit a hail report via VMS providing a good-faith estimate of 
the amount of each regulated species retained (in pounds, landed 
weight) and the total amount of all species retained (in pounds, landed 
weight), including NE multispecies and species managed by other FMPs, 
from each broad stock area. This reporting requirement is in addition 
to the reporting requirements specified in paragraph (k)(1) of this 
section and any other reporting requirements specified in this part. 
The report frequency is detailed in paragraphs (k)(2)(i) and (ii) of 
this section.
    (i) Vessels declaring into GOM Stock Area and any other stock area. 
A vessel declared to fish in the GOM Stock Area, as defined in 
paragraph (k)(3)(i), and any other stock area defined in (k)(3)(ii) 
through (iv) of this section, must submit a daily VMS catch report in 
24-hr intervals for each day by 0900 hr of the following day. Reports 
are required even if groundfish species caught that day have not yet 
been landed.
    (ii) Vessels declaring into multiple broad stock areas not 
including GOM Stock Area. A vessel declared into multiple stock areas 
defined in (k)(3)(ii) through (iv) of this section, not including the 
GOM Stock Area I defined in (k)(3)(i), must submit a trip-level report 
via VMS prior to crossing the VMS demarcation line, as defined in Sec.  
648.10, upon its return to port following each fishing trip on which 
regulated species were caught, as instructed by the Regional 
Administrator.
    (iii) The Regional Administrator may adjust the reporting frequency 
specified in paragraph (k)(2) of this section.
    (iv) Exemptions from broad stock area VMS reporting requirements. 
(A) A vessel is exempt from the reporting requirements specified in 
paragraph (k)(2) of this section if it is fishing in a special 
management program, as specified in Sec.  648.85, and is required to 
submit daily VMS catch reports consistent with the requirements of that 
program.
    (B) The Regional Administrator may exempt vessels on a sector trip 
from the reporting requirements specified in this paragraph (k)(2) if 
it is determined that such reporting requirements would duplicate those 
specified in Sec.  648.87(b).
* * * * *

0
4. In Sec.  648.14:
0
a. Lift the suspension of paragraphs (k)(6)(i)(E), (k)(7)(i)(A) and 
(B), (k)(12)(v)(E) and (F), (k)(12)(v)(K) and (L), (k)(13)(i)(D)(1) 
through (4), (k)(13)(ii)(B) through (D), (k)(13)(ii)(K) through (M), 
(k)(14)(viii), and (k)(16)(iii)(A) through (F);
0
b. Revise paragraph (k)(6)(i)(E);
0
c. Remove paragraph (k)(6)(i)(H);
0
d. Revise paragraphs (k)(7)(i)(A) and (B);
0
e. Remove paragraphs (k)(7)(i)(H) through (J);
0
f. Revise paragraph (k)(12)(i) introductory text;
0
g. Remove paragraphs (k)(12)(v)(K) through (N);
0
h. Revise paragraph (k)(13)(i) introductory text;
0
i. Remove paragraphs (k)(13)(i)(D)(5) and (6), (k)(13)(ii)(K) through 
(P), and (k)(14)(xii);
0
j. Revise paragraphs (k)(16) introductory text and (k)(16)(iii)(A) and 
(B); and
0
k. Remove paragraphs (k)(16)(iii)(D) through (H).
    The revisions read as follows:


Sec.  648.14  Prohibitions.

* * * * *
    (k) * * *
    (6) * * *
    (i) * * *
    (E) Use, set, haul back, fish with, possess on board a vessel, 
unless stowed and not available for immediate use as defined in Sec.  
648.2, or fail to remove, sink gillnet gear and other gillnet gear 
capable of catching NE multispecies, with the exception of single 
pelagic gillnets (as described in Sec.  648.81(f)(5)(ii)), in the areas 
and for the times specified in Sec.  648.80(g)(6)(i) and (ii), except 
as provided in Sec.  648.80(g)(6)(i) and (ii), and Sec.  
648.81(f)(5)(ii), or unless otherwise authorized in writing by the 
Regional Administrator.
* * * * *
    (7) * * *
    (i) * * *
    (A) Enter, be on a fishing vessel in, or fail to remove gear from 
the EEZ portion of the areas described in Sec.  648.81(d)(1), (e)(1), 
(f)(4), and (g)(1), except as provided in Sec.  648.81(d)(2), (e)(2), 
(f)(5), (g)(2), and (i).
    (B) Fish for, harvest, possess, or land regulated species in or 
from the closed areas specified in Sec.  648.81(a) through (f) and (n), 
unless otherwise specified in Sec.  648.81(c)(2)(iii), (f)(5)(i), 
(f)(5)(iv), (f)(5)(viii) and (ix), (i), (n)(2)(i), or as authorized 
under Sec.  648.85.
* * * * *
    (12) * * *
    (i) It is unlawful for any person to:
* * * * *
    (13) * * *
    (i) It is unlawful for any person to:
* * * * *
    (16) Recreational and charter/party requirements. It is unlawful 
for the owner or operator of a charter or party boat issued a valid 
Federal NE multispecies permit, or for a recreational vessel, as 
applicable, unless otherwise specified in Sec.  648.17, to do any of 
the following if fishing under the recreational or charter/party 
regulations:
* * * * *

[[Page 25139]]

    (iii) * * *
    (A) Fail to comply with the applicable restrictions if transiting 
the GOM Regulated Mesh Area with cod on board that was caught outside 
the GOM Regulated Mesh Area.
    (B) Fail to comply with the requirements specified in Sec.  
648.81(f)(5)(v) when fishing in the areas described in Sec.  
648.81(d)(1), (e)(1), and (f)(4) during the time periods specified.
* * * * *

0
5. In Sec.  648.80:
0
a. Lift the suspension of paragraphs (a)(3)(vi), (a)(3)(viii), 
(a)(4)(iii), (a)(4)(ix), and (g)(6)(i) and (ii);
0
b. Remove paragraphs (a)(3)(viii) and (ix) and (a)(4)(ix) and (x);
0
c. Revise paragraphs (g)(6)(i) and (ii); and
0
d. Remove paragraphs (g)(6)(iii) and (iv).
    The revisions read as follows:


Sec.  648.80  NE multispecies regulated mesh areas and restrictions on 
gear and methods of fishing.

* * * * *
    (g) * * *
    (6) * * *
    (i) Requirements for gillnet gear capable of catching NE 
multispecies to reduce harbor porpoise takes. In addition to the 
requirements for gillnet fishing identified in this section, all 
persons owning or operating vessels in the EEZ that fish with sink 
gillnet gear and other gillnet gear capable of catching NE 
multispecies, with the exception of single pelagic gillnets (as 
described in Sec.  648.81(f)(5)(ii)), must comply with the applicable 
provisions of the Harbor Porpoise Take Reduction Plan found in Sec.  
229.33 of this title.
    (ii) Requirements for gillnet gear capable of catching NE 
multispecies to prevent large whale takes. In addition to the 
requirements for gillnet fishing identified in this section, all 
persons owning or operating vessels in the EEZ that fish with sink 
gillnet gear and other gillnet gear capable of catching NE 
multispecies, with the exception of single pelagic gillnets (as 
described in Sec.  648.81(f)(5)(ii)), must comply with the applicable 
provisions of the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Plan found in 
Sec.  229.32 of this title.
* * * * *

0
6. In Sec.  648.81:
0
a. Lift suspension of paragraphs (d)(1) through (4), (e)(1) and (2), 
(f)(1) and (2), (g)(1)(i), (o)(1)(iii), (iv) and (viii) through (x), 
and (o)(2)(iv);
0
b. Revise paragraph (d)(2);
0
c. Remove paragraphs (d)(3) through (6);
0
d. Revise paragraph (e)(2);
0
e. Remove paragraphs (e)(3) and (4);
0
f. Revise paragraph (f);
0
g. Remove paragraph (g)(1)(vii);
0
h. Revise paragraphs (g)(2) introductory text, (g)(2)(i), and (i); and
0
i. Remove paragraph (o).
    The revisions read as follows:


Sec.  648.81  NE multispecies closed areas and measures to protect EFH.

* * * * *
    (d) * * *
    (2) Unless otherwise restricted under the EFH Closure(s) specified 
in paragraph (h) of this section, paragraph (d)(1) of this section does 
not apply to persons on fishing vessels or fishing vessels that meet 
the criteria in paragraphs (f)(5)(ii) through (v) of this section.
* * * * *
    (e) * * *
    (2) Unless otherwise restricted under paragraph (h) of this 
section, paragraph (e)(1) of this section does not apply to persons on 
fishing vessels or fishing vessels that meet the criteria in paragraphs 
(f)(5)(ii) through (v) of this section consistent with the requirements 
specified under Sec.  648.80(a)(5).
* * * * *
    (f) GOM Cod Protection Closures. (1) Unless otherwise allowed in 
this part, no fishing vessel or person on a fishing vessel may enter, 
fish in, or be in; and no fishing gear capable of catching NE 
multispecies may be in, or on board a vessel in GOM Cod Protection 
Closures I through V as described, and during the times specified, in 
paragraphs (f)(4)(i) through (v) of this section.
    (2) Any vessel subject to a GOM cod protection closure may transit 
the area, provided it complies with the requirements specified in 
paragraph (i) of this section.
    (3) The New England Fishery Management Council shall review the GOM 
Cod Protection Closures Areas specified in this section when the 
spawning stock biomass for GOM cod reaches the minimum biomass 
threshold specified for the stock (50 percent of SSBMSY).
    (4) GOM Cod Protection Closure Areas. Charts depicting these areas 
are available from the Regional Administrator upon request.
    (i) GOM Cod Protection Closure I. From May 1 through May 31, the 
restrictions specified in paragraphs (f)(1) and (2) of this section 
apply to GOM Cod Protection Closure I, which is the area bounded by the 
following coordinates connected in the order stated by straight lines:

                      GOM Cod Protection Closure I
                             [May 1-May 31]
------------------------------------------------------------------------
             Point                   N. latitude         W. longitude
------------------------------------------------------------------------
CPCI 1.........................  43[deg]30' N         \(1)\
CPCI 2.........................  43[deg]30' N         69[deg]30' W
CPCI 3.........................  43[deg]00' N         69[deg]30' W
CPCI 4.........................  43[deg]00' N         70[deg]00' W
CPCI 5.........................  42[deg]30' N         70[deg]00' W
CPCI 6.........................  42[deg]30' N         70[deg]30' W
CPCI 7.........................  42[deg]20' N         70[deg]30' W
CPCI 8.........................  42[deg]20' N         \(2) (3)\
CPCI 1.........................  43[deg]30' N         \(1) (3)\
------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ The intersection of 43[deg]30' N latitude and the coastline of
  Maine.
\2\ The intersection of 42[deg]20' N latitude and the coastline of
  Massachusetts.
\3\ From Point 8 back to Point 1 following the coastline of the United
  States.

    (ii) GOM Cod Protection Closure II. From June 1 through June 30, 
the restrictions specified in paragraphs (f)(1) and (2) of this section 
apply to GOM Cod Protection Closure II, which is the area bounded by 
the following coordinates connected in the order stated by straight 
lines:

                      GOM Cod Protection Closure II
                            [June 1-June 30]
------------------------------------------------------------------------
             Point                   N. latitude         W. longitude
------------------------------------------------------------------------
CPCII 1........................  \(1)\                69[deg]30' W
CPCII 2........................  43[deg]30' N         69[deg]30' W
CPCII 3........................  43[deg]30' N         70[deg]00' W
CPCII 4........................  42[deg]30' N         70[deg]00' W
CPCII 5........................  42[deg]30' N         70[deg]30' W
CPCII 6........................  42[deg]20' N         70[deg]30' W
CPCII 7........................  42[deg]20' N         \(2) (3)\
CPCII 8........................  42[deg]30' N         \(4) (3)\
CPCII 9........................  42[deg]30' N         70[deg]30' W
CPCII 10.......................  43[deg]00' N         70[deg]30' W
CPCII 11.......................  43[deg]00' N         \(5) (6)\
CPCII 1........................  \(1)\                69[deg]30' W \6\
------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ The intersection of 69[deg]30' W longitude and the coastline of
  Maine.
\2\ The intersection of 42[deg]20' N latitude and the coastline of
  Massachusetts.
\3\ From Point 7 to Point 8 following the coastline of Massachusetts.
\4\ The intersection of 42[deg]30' N latitude and the coastline of
  Massachusetts.
\5\ The intersection of 43[deg]00' N latitude and the coastline of New
  Hampshire.
\6\ From Point 11 back to Point 1 following the coastlines of New
  Hampshire and Maine.

    (iii) GOM Cod Protection Closure III. From November 1 through 
January 31, the restrictions specified in paragraphs (f)(1) and (2) of 
this section apply to GOM Cod Protection Closure III, which is the area 
bounded by the following coordinates connected in the order stated by 
straight lines:

[[Page 25140]]



                     GOM Cod Protection Closure III
                         [November 1-January 31]
------------------------------------------------------------------------
             Point                   N. latitude         W. longitude
------------------------------------------------------------------------
CPCIII 1.......................  42[deg]30' N         \(1)\
CPCIII 2.......................  42[deg]30' N         70[deg]30' W
CPCIII 3.......................  42[deg]15' N         70[deg]30' W
CPCIII 4.......................  42[deg]15' N         70[deg]24' W
CPCIII 5.......................  42[deg]00' N         70[deg]24' W
CPCIII 6.......................  42[deg]00' N         \(2) (3)\
CPCIII 1.......................  42[deg]30' N         \(1) (3)\
------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ The intersection of 42[deg]30' N latitude and the Massachusetts
  coastline.
\2\ The intersection of 42[deg]00' N latitude and the mainland
  Massachusetts coastline at Kingston, MA.
\3\ From Point 6 back to Point 1 following the coastline of
  Massachusetts.

    (iv) GOM Cod Protection Closure IV. From October 1 through October 
31, the restrictions specified in paragraphs (f)(1) and (2) of this 
section apply to GOM Cod Protection Closure IV, which is the area 
bounded by the following coordinates connected in the order stated by 
straight lines:

                      GOM Cod Protection Closure IV
                         [October 1-October 31]
------------------------------------------------------------------------
             Point                   N. latitude         W. longitude
------------------------------------------------------------------------
CPCIV 1........................  42[deg]30' N         \(1)\
CPCIV 2........................  42[deg]30' N         70[deg]00' W
CPCIV 3........................  42[deg]00' N         70[deg]00' W
CPCIV 4........................  42[deg]00' N         \(2) (3)\
CPCIV 1........................  42[deg]30' N         \(1) (3)\
------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ The intersection of 42[deg]30' N latitude and the Massachusetts
  coastline
\2\ The intersection of 42[deg]00' N latitude and the mainland
  Massachusetts coastline at Kingston, MA
\3\ From Point 4 back to Point 1 following the coastline of
  Massachusetts

    (v) GOM Cod Protection Closure V. From March 1 through March 31, 
the restrictions specified in paragraphs (f)(1) and (2) of this section 
GOM Cod Protection Closure V, which is the area bounded by the 
following coordinates connected in the order stated by straight lines:

                      GOM Cod Protection Closure V
                           [March 1-March 31]
------------------------------------------------------------------------
             Point                   N. latitude         W. longitude
------------------------------------------------------------------------
CPCV 1.........................  42[deg]30' N         70[deg]00' W
CPCV 2.........................  42[deg]30' N         68[deg]30' W
CPCV 3.........................  42[deg]00' N         68[deg]30' W
CPCV 4.........................  42[deg]00' N         70[deg]00' W
CPCV 1.........................  42[deg]30' N         70[deg]00' W
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    (5) The GOM cod protection closures specified in this section do 
not apply to persons aboard fishing vessels or fishing vessels that 
meet any of the following criteria:
    (i) That have not been issued a multispecies permit and that are 
fishing exclusively in state waters;
    (ii) That are fishing with or using exempted gear as defined under 
this part, except for pelagic gillnet gear capable of catching NE 
multispecies, unless fishing with a single pelagic gillnet not longer 
than 300 ft (91.4 m) and not greater than 6 ft (1.83 m) deep, with a 
maximum mesh size of 3 inches (7.6 cm), provided that:
    (A) The net is attached to the boat and fished in the upper two-
thirds of the water column;
    (B) The net is marked with the owner's name and vessel 
identification number;
    (C) There is no retention of regulated species; and
    (D) There is no other gear on board capable of catching NE 
multispecies;
    (iii) That are fishing in the Midwater Trawl Gear Exempted Fishery 
as specified in Sec.  648.80(d);
    (iv) That are fishing in the Purse Seine Gear Exempted Fishery as 
specified in Sec.  648.80(e);
    (v) That are fishing under charter/party or recreational 
regulations specified in Sec.  648.89, provided that:
    (A) For vessels fishing under charter/party regulations in a GOM 
cod protection closure described under paragraph (f)(4) of this 
section, it has on board a letter of authorization issued by the 
Regional Administrator, which is valid from the date of enrollment 
through the duration of the closure or 3 months duration, whichever is 
greater; for vessels fishing under charter/party regulations in the 
Cashes Ledge Closure Area or Western GOM Area Closure, as described 
under paragraphs (d) and (e) of this section, respectively, it has on 
board a letter of authorization issued by the Regional Administrator, 
which is valid from the date of enrollment until the end of the fishing 
year;
    (B) Fish species managed by the NEFMC or MAFMC that are harvested 
or possessed by the vessel, are not sold or intended for trade, barter 
or sale, regardless of where the fish are caught;
    (C) The vessel has no gear other than rod and reel or handline on 
board; and
    (D) The vessel does not use any NE multispecies DAS during the 
entire period for which the letter of authorization is valid;
    (vi) That are fishing with or using scallop dredge gear when 
fishing under a scallop DAS or when lawfully fishing in the Scallop 
Dredge Fishery Exemption Area as described in Sec.  648.80(a)(11), 
provided the vessel does not retain any regulated NE multispecies 
during a trip, or on any part of a trip; or
    (vii) That are fishing in the Raised Footrope Trawl Exempted 
Whiting Fishery, as specified in Sec.  648.80(a)(15), or in the Small 
Mesh Area II Exemption Area, as specified in Sec.  648.80(a)(9);
    (viii) That are fishing on a sector trip, as defined in this part, 
and in the GOM Cod Protection Closures IV or V, as specified in 
paragraphs (f)(4)(iv) and (v) of this section; or
    (ix) That are fishing under the provisions of a Northeast 
multispecies Handgear A permit, as specified at Sec.  648.82(b)(6), and 
in the GOM Cod Protection Closures IV or V, as specified in paragraphs 
(f)(4)(iv) and (v) of this section .
    (g) * * *
    (2) Paragraph (g)(1) of this section does not apply to persons on 
fishing vessels or to fishing vessels that meet any of the following 
criteria:
    (i) That meet the criteria in paragraphs (f)(5)(i), (ii), or (iii) 
of this section;
* * * * *
    (i) Transiting. Unless otherwise restricted or specified in this 
paragraph (i), a vessel may transit CA I, the Nantucket Lightship 
Closed Area, the Cashes Ledge Closed Area, the Western GOM Closure 
Area, the GOM Cod Protection Closures, the GB Seasonal Closure Area, 
the EFH Closure Areas, and the GOM Cod Spawning Protection Area, as 
defined in paragraphs (a)(1), (c)(1), (d)(1), (e)(1), (f)(4), (g)(1), 
(h)(1), and (n)(1), of this section, respectively, provided that its 
gear is stowed and not available for immediate use as defined in Sec.  
648.2. A vessel may transit CA II, as defined in paragraph (b)(1) of 
this section, in accordance with paragraph (b)(2)(iv) of this section. 
Private recreational or charter/party vessels fishing under the 
Northeast multispecies provisions specified at Sec.  648.89 may transit 
the GOM Cod Spawning Protection Area, as defined in paragraph (n)(1) of 
this section, provided all bait and hooks are removed from fishing 
rods, and any regulated species on board have been caught outside the 
GOM Cod Spawning Protection Area and has been gutted and stored.
* * * * *


Sec.  648.82  [Amended]

0
7. In Sec.  648.82, lift the suspension of paragraphs (b)(5) through 
(8), and remove paragraphs (b)(7) through (10).


Sec.  648.85  [Amended]

0
8. In Sec.  648.85, lift the suspension of paragraphs (b)(6)(iv)(D) and 
(K) and remove paragraphs (b)(6)(iv)(K) and (L).

[[Page 25141]]

Sec.  648.86  [Amended]

0
9. In Sec.  648.86, lift the suspension of paragraphs (b)(1) through 
(7) and remove paragraphs (b)(5) through (10).

0
10. In Sec.  648.87:
0
a. Lift the suspension of paragraphs (b)(1)(v)(A), (b)(1)(ix), 
(b)(1)(x), (c)(2)(i), (c)(2)(ii)(A) and (B), (c)(2)(ii)(E), and 
(c)(2)(iii);
0
b. Revise paragraphs (b)(1)(i)(C) and (b)(1)(iii)(C);
0
c. Remove paragraphs (b)(1)(v)(C) and (b)(1)(x) and (xi);
0
d. Revise paragraphs (c)(2)(i) and (c)(2)(ii)(B); and
0
e. Remove paragraphs (c)(2)(ii)(E) through (G) and (c)(2)(iii) and 
(iv).
    The revisions read as follows:


Sec.  648.87  Sector allocation.

* * * * *
    (b) * * *
    (1) * * *
    (i) * * *
    (C) Carryover. (1) With the exception of GB yellowtail flounder, a 
sector may carryover an amount of ACE equal to 10 percent of its 
original ACE for each stock that is unused at the end of one fishing 
year into the following fishing year, provided that the total unused 
sector ACE plus the overall ACL for the following fishing year does not 
exceed the ABC for the fishing year in which the carryover may be 
harvested. If this total exceeds the ABC, NMFS shall adjust the maximum 
amount of unused ACE that a sector may carryover (down from 10 percent) 
to an amount equal to the ABC of the following fishing year. Any 
adjustments made would be applied to each sector based on its total 
unused ACE and proportional to the cumulative PSCs of vessels/permits 
participating in the sector for the particular fishing year, as 
described in paragraph (b)(1)(i)(E) of this section.
    (i) Eastern GB Stocks Carryover. Any unused ACE allocated for 
Eastern GB stocks in accordance with paragraph (b)(1)(i)(B) of this 
section shall contribute to the carryover allowance for each stock, as 
specified in this paragraph (b)(1)(i)(C)(1), but shall not increase 
individual sector's allocation of Eastern GB stocks during the 
following year.
    (ii) This carryover ACE remains effective during the subsequent 
fishing year even if vessels that contributed to the sector allocation 
during the previous fishing year are no longer participating in the 
same sector for the subsequent fishing year.
    (2) Carryover accounting. (i) If the overall ACL for a particular 
stock is exceeded, the allowed carryover of a particular stock 
harvested by a sector, minus the NMFS-specified de minimis amount, 
shall be counted against the sector's ACE for purposes of determining 
an overage subject to the AM in paragraph (b)(1)(iii) of this section.
    (ii) De Minimis Carryover Amount. The de minimis carryover amount 
is one percent of the overall sector sub-ACL for the fishing year in 
which the carryover would be harvested. NMFS may change this de minimis 
carryover amount for any fishing year through notice consistent with 
the Administrative Procedure Act. The overall de minimis carryover 
amount would be applied to each sector proportional to the cumulative 
PSCs of vessels/permits participating in the sector for the particular 
fishing year, as described in paragraph (b)(1)(i)(E) of this section.
* * * * *
    (iii) * * *
    (C) ACE buffer. At the beginning of each fishing year, NMFS shall 
withhold 20 percent of a sector's ACE for each stock for a period of up 
to 61 days (i.e., through June 30), unless otherwise specified by NMFS, 
to allow time to process any ACE transfers submitted at the end of the 
fishing year pursuant to paragraph (b)(1)(viii) of this section and to 
determine whether the ACE allocated to any sector needs to be reduced, 
or any overage penalties need to be applied to individual permits/
vessels in the current fishing year to accommodate an ACE overage by 
that sector during the previous fishing year, as specified in paragraph 
(b)(1)(iii) of this section. NMFS shall not withhold 20 percent of a 
sector's ACE at the beginning of a fishing year in which default 
specifications are in effect, as specified in Sec.  648.90(a)(3).
* * * * *
    (c) * * *
    (2) * * *
    (i) Regulations that may not be exempted for sector participants. 
The Regional Administrator may not exempt participants in a sector from 
the following Federal fishing regulations: Specific times and areas 
within the NE multispecies year-round closure areas; permitting 
restrictions (e.g., vessel upgrades, etc.); gear restrictions designed 
to minimize habitat impacts (e.g., roller gear restrictions, etc.); 
reporting requirements; AMs specified in Sec.  648.90(a)(5)(i)(D). For 
the purposes of this paragraph (c)(2)(i), the DAS reporting 
requirements specified in Sec.  648.82; the SAP-specific reporting 
requirements specified in Sec.  648.85; and the reporting requirements 
associated with a dockside monitoring program are not considered 
reporting requirements, and the Regional Administrator may exempt 
sector participants from these requirements as part of the approval of 
yearly operations plans. For the purpose of this paragraph (c)(2)(i), 
the Regional Administrator may not grant sector participants exemptions 
from the NE multispecies year-round closures areas defined as Essential 
Fish Habitat Closure Areas as defined in Sec.  648.81(h); the 
Fippennies Ledge Area as defined in paragraph (c)(2)(i)(A) of this 
section; Closed Area I and Closed Area II, as defined in Sec.  
648.81(a) and (b), respectively, during the period February 16 through 
April 30; and the Western GOM Closure Area, as defined at Sec.  
648.81(e), where it overlaps with GOM Cod Protection Closures I through 
III, as defined in Sec.  648.81(f)(4). This list may be modified 
through a framework adjustment, as specified in Sec.  648.90.
* * * * *
    (ii) * * *
    (B) The GOM Cod Protection Closures IV and V specified in Sec.  
648.81(f)(4)(iv) and (v) and the GB Seasonal Closed Area specified in 
Sec.  648.81(g)(1);
* * * * *


Sec.  648.88  [Amended]

0
11. In Sec.  648.88, lift the suspension of paragraphs (a)(1) and (3), 
and remove paragraphs (a)(3) and (4).

0
12. In Sec.  648.89:
0
a. Lift the suspension of paragraphs (b)(3), (c)(1) and (2), (c)(8), 
and (e)(1) through (4);
0
b. Revise paragraphs (c)(1) and (c)(2)(i);
0
c.. Remove paragraphs (c)(2)(v) and (c)(8) and (9);
0
c. Revise paragraph (e)(1);
0
d. Remove paragraphs (e)(4) through (7); and
0
e. Revise paragraph (f).
    The revisions read as follows:


Sec.  648.89  Recreational and charter/party vessel restrictions.

* * * * *
    (c) Possession Restrictions--(1) Recreational fishing vessels. (i) 
Each person on a private recreational vessel may possess no more than 
10 cod per day in, or harvested from, the EEZ when fishing outside of 
the GOM Regulated Mesh Area specified in Sec.  648.80(a)(1).
    (ii) When fishing in the GOM Regulated Mesh Area specified in Sec.  
648.80(a)(1), persons aboard private recreational fishing vessels may 
not fish for or possess any cod with the exception that private 
recreational vessels in possession of cod caught outside the GOM 
Regulated Mesh Area specified in Sec.  648.80(a)(1) may transit this 
area, provided all bait and hooks

[[Page 25142]]

are removed from fishing rods and any cod on board has been gutted and 
stored.
    (iii) For purposes of counting fish, fillets will be converted to 
whole fish at the place of landing by dividing the number of fillets by 
two. If fish are filleted into a single (butterfly) fillet, such fillet 
shall be deemed to be from one whole fish.
    (iv) Cod harvested by recreational fishing vessels in or from the 
EEZ with more than one person aboard may be pooled in one or more 
containers. Compliance with the possession limit will be determined by 
dividing the number of fish on board by the number of persons on board. 
If there is a violation of the possession limit on board a vessel 
carrying more than one person, the violation shall be deemed to have 
been committed by the owner or operator of the vessel.
    (v) Cod must be stored so as to be readily available for 
inspection.
    (2) Charter/party vessels. (i) Persons aboard charter/party fishing 
vessels permitted under this part and not fishing under the NE 
multispecies DAS program or on a sector trip that are fishing in the 
GOM Regulated Mesh Area specified in Sec.  648.80(a)(1) may not fish 
for, possess, or land any cod with the exception that charter/party 
vessels in possession of cod caught outside the GOM Regulated Mesh Area 
specified in Sec.  648.80(a)(1) may transit this area, provided all 
bait and hooks are removed from fishing rods and any cod on board has 
been gutted and stored.
* * * * *
    (e) * * *
    (1) GOM Closed Areas. (i) A vessel fishing under charter/party 
regulations may not fish in the GOM closed areas specified in Sec.  
648.81(d)(1), (e)(1), and (f)(4) during the time periods specified in 
those paragraphs, unless the vessel has on board a valid letter of 
authorization issued by the Regional Administrator pursuant to Sec.  
648.81(f)(5)(v) and paragraph (e)(3) of this section. The conditions 
and restrictions of the letter of authorization must be complied with 
for a minimum of 3 months if the vessel fishes or intends to fish in 
the GOM cod protection closures; or for the rest of the fishing year, 
beginning with the start of the participation period of the letter of 
authorization, if the vessel fishes or intends to fish in the year-
round GOM closure areas.
    (ii) A vessel fishing under charter/party regulations may not fish 
in the GOM Cod Spawning Protection Area specified at Sec.  648.81(n)(1) 
during the time period specified in that paragraph, unless the vessel 
complies with the requirements specified at Sec.  648.81(n)(2)(iii).
* * * * *
    (f) Recreational fishery AM--(1) Catch evaluation. As soon as 
recreational catch data are available for the entire previous fishing 
year, the Regional Administrator will evaluate whether recreational 
catches exceed any of the sub-ACLs specified for the recreational 
fishery pursuant to Sec.  648.90(a)(4). When evaluating recreational 
catch, the components of recreational catch that are used shall be the 
same as those used in the most recent assessment for that particular 
stock. To determine if any sub-ACL specified for the recreational 
fishery was exceeded, the Regional Administrator shall compare the 3-
year average of recreational catch to the 3-year average of the 
recreational sub-ACL for each stock.
    (2) Reactive AM adjustment. (i) If it is determined that any 
recreational sub-ACL was exceeded, as specified in paragraph (f)(1) of 
this section, the Regional Administrator, after consultation with the 
New England Fishery Management Council, shall develop measures 
necessary to prevent the recreational fishery from exceeding the 
appropriate sub-ACL in future years. Appropriate AMs for the 
recreational fishery, including adjustments to fishing season, minimum 
fish size, or possession limits, may be implemented in a manner 
consistent with the Administrative Procedure Act, with final measures 
published in the Federal Register no later than January when possible. 
Separate AMs shall be developed for the private and charter/party 
components of the recreational fishery.
    (ii) The Regional Administrator shall not adjust the possession 
limit for GOM cod, under the reactive AM authority specified in 
paragraph (f)(2)(i) of this section, as long as possession of this 
stock is prohibited for the recreational fishery, as specified in 
paragraph (c) of this section.
    (3) Proactive AM adjustment. (i) When necessary, the Regional 
Administrator, after consultation with the New England Fishery 
Management Council, may adjust recreational measures to ensure the 
recreational fishery achieves, but does not exceed any recreational 
fishery sub-ACL in a future fishing year. Appropriate AMs for the 
recreational fishery, including adjustments to fishing season, minimum 
fish size, or possession limits, may be implemented in a manner 
consistent with the Administrative Procedure Act, with final measures 
published in the Federal Register prior to the start of the fishing 
year where possible. In specifying these AMs, the Regional 
Administrator shall take into account the non-binding prioritization of 
possible measures recommended by the Council: for cod, first increases 
to minimum fish sizes, then adjustments to seasons, followed by changes 
to bag limits; and for haddock, first increases to minimum size limits, 
then changes to bag limits, and then adjustments to seasons.
    (ii) The Regional Administrator shall not adjust the possession 
limit for GOM cod, under the proactive AM authority specified in 
paragraph (f)(3)(i) of this section, as long as possession of this 
stock is prohibited for the recreational fishery, as specified in 
paragraph (c) of this section.

0
13. In Sec.  648.90, revise paragraphs (a)(2)(i) and (viii), (a)(3), 
and (a)(5)(i) introductory text to read as follows:


Sec.  648.90  NE multispecies assessment, framework procedures and 
specifications, and flexible area action system.

* * * * *
    (a) * * *
    (2) * * *
    (i) The NE multispecies PDT shall meet on or before September 30 
every other year to perform a review of the fishery, using the most 
current scientific information available provided primarily from the 
NEFSC. Data provided by states, ASMFC, the USCG, and other sources may 
also be considered by the PDT. Based on this review, the PDT will 
develop ACLs for the upcoming fishing year(s) as described in paragraph 
(a)(4) of this section and develop options for consideration by the 
Council if necessary, on any changes, adjustments, or additions to DAS 
allocations, closed areas, or other measures necessary to rebuild 
overfished stocks and achieve the FMP goals and objectives.
* * * * *
    (viii) If the Regional Administrator concurs in the Council's 
recommendation, a final rule shall be published in the Federal Register 
on or about April 1 of each year, with the exception noted in paragraph 
(a)(2)(vii) of this section. If the Council fails to submit a 
recommendation to the Regional Administrator by February 1 that meets 
the FMP goals and objectives, the Regional Administrator may publish as 
a proposed rule one of the options reviewed and not rejected by the 
Council, provided that the option meets the FMP objectives and is 
consistent with other applicable law. If, after considering public 
comment, the Regional Administrator decides to

[[Page 25143]]

approve the option published as a proposed rule, the action will be 
published as a final rule in the Federal Register.
* * * * *
    (3) Default OFLs, ABCs, and ACLs. (i) Unless otherwise specified in 
this paragraph (a)(3), if final specifications are not published in the 
Federal Register for the start of a fishing year, as outlined in 
paragraph (a)(4) of this section, specifications for that fishing year 
shall be set at 35 percent of the previous year's specifications for 
each NE multispecies stock, including the U.S./Canada shared resources, 
for the period of time beginning on May 1 and ending on July 31, unless 
superseded by the final rule implementing the current year's 
specifications.
    (ii) If the default specifications exceed the Council's 
recommendations for any stock for the current year, the specifications 
for that stock shall be reduced to the Council's recommendation through 
notice consistent with the Administrative Procedure Act.
    (iii) These specifications shall be subdivided among the various 
sub-components of the fishery consistent with the ABC/ACL distribution 
adopted for the previous year's specifications.
* * * * *
    (5) * * *
    (i) AMs for the NE multispecies commercial and recreational 
fisheries. If the catch of regulated species or ocean pout by a sub-
component of the NE multispecies fishery (i.e., common pool vessels, 
sector vessels, or private recreational and charter/party vessels) 
exceeds the amount allocated to each sub-component, as specified in 
paragraph (a)(4)(iii)(H) of this section, then the applicable AM for 
that sub-component of the fishery shall take effect, pursuant to 
paragraphs (a)(5)(i)(A) through (C) of this section. In determining the 
applicability of AMs specified for a sub-component of the NE 
multispecies fishery in paragraphs (a)(5)(i)(A) through (C) of this 
section, the Regional Administrator shall consider available 
information regarding the catch of regulated species and ocean pout by 
each sub-component of the NE multispecies fishery, plus each sub-
component's share of any overage of the overall ACL for a particular 
stock caused by excessive catch by vessels outside of the FMP, exempted 
fisheries, or the Atlantic sea scallop fishery, as specified in this 
paragraph (a)(5), as appropriate.
* * * * *
[FR Doc. 2015-09952 Filed 4-30-15; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P