Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Groundfish Fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska, 40988-40990 [2015-17191]

Download as PDF 40988 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 134 / Tuesday, July 14, 2015 / Proposed Rules [FR Doc. 2015–17016 Filed 7–13–15; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 679 RIN 0648–XD649 Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Groundfish Fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; intent to prepare an environmental impact statement; request for written comments. AGENCY: NMFS, in consultation with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council), announces its intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on a new management program for trawl groundfish fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska (GOA), in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). The proposed action would create a new management program that would allocate allowable harvest to individuals, cooperatives, and other entities that participate in GOA trawl groundfish fisheries. The proposed action is intended to improve stock conservation by imposing accountability measures for utilizing target, incidental, and prohibited species catch, creating incentives to eliminate wasteful fishing practices, providing mechanisms for participants to control and reduce bycatch in the trawl groundfish fisheries, and to improve safety of life at sea and operational efficiencies. The EIS will analyze the impacts to the human environment resulting from the proposed trawl bycatch management program. NMFS will accept written comments from the public to identify the issues of concern and assist the Council in determining the appropriate range of management alternatives for the EIS. DATES: Written comments will be accepted through August 28, 2015. ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by NOAA– NMFS–2014–0150, by any of the following methods: • Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to www.regulations.gov/ #!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2014- asabaliauskas on DSK5VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:44 Jul 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 0150, click the ‘‘Comment Now!’’ icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments. • Mail: Submit written comments to Glenn Merrill, Assistant Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian. Mail comments to P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802–1668. Instructions: Comments sent by any other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address), confidential business information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter ‘‘N/A’’ in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous). FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Rachel Baker, (907) 586–7228 or email rachel.baker@noaa.gov. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), the United States has exclusive fishery management authority over all living marine resources found within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The management of these marine resources, with the exception of marine mammals and birds, is vested in the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary). The Council has the responsibility to prepare fishery management plans for the fishery resources that require conservation and management in the EEZ off Alaska. Management of the Federal groundfish fisheries in the GOA is carried out under the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Gulf of Alaska (FMP). The FMP, its amendments, and implementing regulations (found at 50 CFR part 679) are developed in accordance with the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and other applicable Federal laws and executive orders, notably the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Council is considering the establishment of a new management program for the GOA trawl groundfish fisheries. The proposed action would allocate allowable harvest of selected target and bycatch species to individuals, cooperatives, and other entities. The purpose of the program is to improve management of all species caught in the GOA trawl groundfish PO 00000 Frm 00051 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 fisheries by creating vessel-level and/or cooperative-level incentives to avoid and reduce bycatch, and to create accountability measures for participants when utilizing target and bycatch species. The Council also intends for the program to improve operational efficiencies, reduce incentives to fish during unsafe conditions, and support the continued participation of coastal communities that are dependent on the fisheries. NMFS and the Council have determined the preparation of an EIS may be required for this action because some important aspects of the bycatch management program on target and bycatch species and their users may be uncertain or unknown and may result in significant impacts on the human environment not previously analyzed. Thus, NMFS and the Council are initiating scoping for an EIS in the event an EIS is needed. NMFS and the Council are seeking information from the public through the EIS scoping process on the range of alternatives to be analyzed, and on the environmental, social, and economic issues to be considered in the analysis. Written comments generated during this scoping process will be provided to the Council and incorporated into the EIS for the proposed action. Management of the GOA Trawl Groundfish Fisheries The Council and NMFS annually establish biological thresholds and annual total allowable catch limits for groundfish species to sustainably manage the groundfish fisheries in the GOA. To achieve these objectives, NMFS requires vessel operators participating in GOA groundfish fisheries to comply with various restrictions, such as fishery closures, to maintain catch within specified total allowable catch limits. The GOA groundfish fishery restrictions also include measures that are intended to minimize catch of certain species, called prohibited species, which may not be retained for sale by the vessel harvesting groundfish. For example, current GOA groundfish fishery regulations require Pacific halibut prohibited species catch (PSC) to be discarded immediately after it is recorded, and Chinook salmon must be retained by the harvest vessel only until sampled by an observer. The GOA groundfish fishery restrictions also include PSC limits for Pacific halibut and Chinook salmon to constrain the amount of bycatch of these species in the groundfish fisheries. When harvest of prohibited species in a groundfish fishery reaches the specified PSC limit for that fishery, NMFS closes directed fishing for the target groundfish species, E:\FR\FM\14JYP1.SGM 14JYP1 asabaliauskas on DSK5VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 134 / Tuesday, July 14, 2015 / Proposed Rules even if the total allowable catch limit for that species has not been harvested. The GOA PSC limits are established on an annual basis by management area and are further apportioned by season, fishery category, gear, and operation type (e.g., catcher vessel or catcher/ processor). This apportionment process ensures that halibut and Chinook salmon PSC limit is available for use in groundfish fisheries earlier in the year, but limits that use so that PSC remains to support other groundfish fisheries that occur later in the year. The limits assigned to each season reflect halibut PSC likely to be taken during specific seasons by specific fisheries. For many years, the Council and NMFS have controlled the amount of fishing in the North Pacific Ocean by establishing scientifically-based harvest limits which ensure that fisheries are conservatively managed and do not exceed established biological thresholds. In addition to measures that control the amount of harvest, the Council and NMFS also implemented the license limitation program (LLP), which limits access to the groundfish, crab, and scallop fisheries in the GOA and the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. The LLP limits entry into federally managed fisheries. The groundfish LLP requires each vessel in the GOA to have an LLP license on board the vessel at all times while directed fishing for license limitation groundfish, with limited exemptions. The preamble to the final rule implementing the groundfish LLP provides a more detailed explanation of the rationale for specific provisions in the LLP (October 1, 1998; 63 FR 52642). While the LLP limits the total number of vessels that can participate in the fishery, it does not limit harvest by individual vessels or assign exclusive harvest privileges to specific vessels or entities. This has led to a competitive derby fishery in the GOA groundfish fisheries with fishermen racing each other to harvest as much fish as they can before the annual catch limit or the PSC limit is reached and the fishery is closed for the season. A derby fishery relies on a fairly rigid management structure that is not adaptable to changes in weather, markets, or other operating considerations. Therefore, a derby fishery often results in shorter fishing seasons and unsafe fishing practices. It can also create a substantial disincentive for participants to take actions to reduce bycatch use and waste, particularly if those actions could reduce groundfish catch rates. In a derby fishery, participants who choose not to take actions to reduce bycatch and waste stand to gain additional VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:44 Jul 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 groundfish catch by continuing to harvest at a higher bycatch rate, at the expense of any vessels engaged in bycatch avoidance. Allocation of allowable harvests in the form of exclusive harvest privileges is a management approach that replaces the rigid management structure of a derby fishery with a flexible program that provides accountability and removes disincentives to controlling and reducing bycatch and waste. Allocating exclusive harvest privileges to fishery participants can mitigate the potential negative impacts of a derby fishery on target and bycatch species, and on the operational and economic efficiency of the fisheries. In this type of management approach, a portion of the catch for a species is allocated to individual fishermen or groups. Each holder of a harvest privilege must stop fishing when his/her specific share of the quota is reached. This removes the incentives for each participant to maximize catch rates to capture a larger share of the available catch before the fishery is closed. As a result, participants can make operational choices to improve fishing practices. These choices could include fishing in a slower and more efficient fashion, using modified gear with a lower harvest rate but which reduces bycatch, coordinating with other vessel operators to avoid areas of high bycatch, and processing fish in ways that yield increased value but which are possible only by slowing the pace of the fishery. This management approach allows fishermen to plan their fishing effort around the weather, markets, or other business considerations and allows other fishery dependent businesses to plan more effectively. The Council has recommended, and NMFS has implemented, management programs in the EEZ off Alaska that allocate exclusive harvest privileges to fishery participants. Based on experience with these programs, the Council and NMFS have determined that allocating exclusive harvest privileges of target and bycatch species creates a structure for fishery participants to efficiently manage harvesting and processing activities that can result in reduced bycatch and improved utilization of groundfish fisheries. Additional information on these management programs is provided in the final rules implementing the American Fisheries Act in the Bering Sea (67 FR 79692, December 30, 2002), the Amendment 80 Program in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (72 FR 52668, September 14, 2007), and the Rockfish Program in the Central GOA (76 FR 81248, December 27, 2011). PO 00000 Frm 00052 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 40989 Over the past few years, the Council has recommended amendments to the FMP to reduce PSC in the GOA groundfish fisheries. Under Amendments 93 and 97 to the FMP, the Council recommended and NMFS implemented Chinook salmon PSC limits in the GOA trawl fisheries (77 FR 42629, July 20, 2012 and 79 FR 71350, December 2, 2014). Under Amendment 95 to the FMP, the Council recommended and NMFS implemented reductions to halibut PSC limits for GOA trawl and hook-and-line fisheries (79 FR 9625, February 20, 2014). This series of actions reflects the Council’s commitment to reduce PSC in the GOA groundfish fisheries. The Council also recognizes that although the current management system of establishing and apportioning PSC limits places a cap on the amount of PSC that may be used in GOA groundfish fisheries, the derby fishery under the LLP creates a substantial disincentive for participants to take actions to avoid and reduce PSC usage. In October 2012, the Council unanimously adopted a purpose and need statement, and goals and objectives, to support the development of a new management program that would allocate allowable harvest to individual, cooperatives, or other entities. The Council determined that this kind of management program would mitigate the adverse effects of the current derby-style race for fish by removing disincentives to reduce bycatch and PSC, and providing a more flexible and efficient management system for participants to better manage and utilize groundfish species in the GOA trawl fisheries. This new management program is referred to as a bycatch management program in the following sections of this notice. Proposed Action The proposed action to be analyzed in the EIS is a bycatch management program for the GOA trawl groundfish fisheries that allocates allowable harvest to individuals, cooperatives, or other entities. The bycatch management program would replace the derby fishery with a program that provides tools to effectively manage bycatch and reduce PSC use, and that promotes increased utilization of groundfish harvested in the GOA. The proposed action would apply to participants in Federal groundfish fisheries prosecuted with trawl gear in the following areas: (1) The Western GOA Regulatory Area (Western GOA), (2) the Central GOA Regulatory Area (Central GOA), and (3) the West Yakutat District of the Eastern GOA Regulatory Area (West Yakutat E:\FR\FM\14JYP1.SGM 14JYP1 40990 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 134 / Tuesday, July 14, 2015 / Proposed Rules District). These areas are defined at § 679.2 and shown in Figure 3 to 50 CFR part 679. Alternatives NMFS, in coordination with the Council, will evaluate a range of alternative bycatch management programs for the trawl groundfish fisheries in the Western GOA, Central GOA, and West Yakutat District. NMFS and the Council recognize that implementation of a GOA trawl bycatch management program allocating exclusive harvest privileges would result in substantial changes to many of the current management measures for the groundfish fisheries. The EIS will analyze these changes as well as alternative ways to manage target and bycatch species in the GOA groundfish fisheries. The potential alternatives already identified for the EIS include: Alternative 1 The existing management program (no action). asabaliauskas on DSK5VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS Alternative 2 A bycatch management program that would allocate exclusive harvest privileges to participants in the Western GOA, Central GOA, and West Yakutat District trawl groundfish fisheries who voluntarily join a cooperative. Participants who do not choose to join a cooperative would have the opportunity to participate in the current limited access management system under the groundfish LLP. In Alternative 2, the Council is considering allocating exclusive harvest privileges to cooperatives. Alternative 2 contains several elements and options for determining eligible participants, groundfish and PSC species to be allocated, and methods for determining allocations to cooperatives and the limited access fishery. Alternative 2 also includes elements and options for cooperative formation and membership that are intended to provide incentives for participation by harvesters and processors to improve coordination and operational efficiencies. Alternative 2 VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:44 Jul 13, 2015 Jkt 235001 also contains a number of elements that are intended to provide for fishery dependent community stability, such as harvest privilege consolidation limits and area- and port-specific delivery requirements. Alternative 3 A bycatch management program that would allocate exclusive harvest privileges to fishery participants who voluntarily join a cooperative and either 1) a Community Fishing Association as defined in section 303A(c)(3) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act or 2) an Adaptive Management Program. Participants who do not choose to join a cooperative would have the opportunity to participate in the current limited access management system under the groundfish LLP. In Alternative 3, the Council is considering allocating exclusive harvest privileges to cooperatives and either a Community Fishing Association or to persons who meet the criteria established for an Adaptive Management Program. The allocation to a Community Fishing Association or Adaptive Management Program would meet objectives that include providing for sustained participation of fishing communities, promoting conservation measures, and assisting vessel owneroperators, captains, and crew who want to enter and participate in the GOA trawl groundfish fisheries. Public Involvement Scoping is an early and open process for determining the scope of issues to be addressed in an EIS and for identifying the significant issues related to the proposed action. A principal objective of the scoping and public involvement process is to identify a range of reasonable management alternatives that, with adequate analysis, will delineate critical issues and provide a clear basis for distinguishing among those alternatives and selecting a preferred alternative. Through this notice, NMFS is notifying the public that an EIS and decision-making process PO 00000 Frm 00053 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 9990 for this proposed action have been initiated so that interested or affected people may participate and contribute to the final decision. NMFS is seeking written public comments on the scope of issues, including potential impacts, and alternatives that should be considered for bycatch management programs for the trawl groundfish fisheries in the Western GOA, Central GOA, and West Yakutat District of the GOA. Written comments should be as specific as possible to be the most helpful. Written comments received during the scoping process, including the names and addresses of those submitting them, will be considered part of the public record of this proposal and will be available for public inspection. Written comments will be accepted at the address above (see ADDRESSES). Please visit the NMFS Alaska Region Web site at https://www. alaskafisheries.noaa.gov for more information on the GOA trawl bycatch management program EIS and for guidance on submitting effective written public comments. The public is invited to participate and provide input at Council meetings where the latest scientific information regarding the GOA groundfish fisheries is reviewed and alternative bycatch management programs are developed and evaluated. Notice of future Council meetings will be published in the Federal Register and on the Internet at https://www.npfmc.org/. Please visit this Web site for information and guidance on participating in Council meetings. Additional information on the Council’s development of the GOA trawl bycatch management program is available at https://www.npfmc.org/goa-trawlbycatch-management/. Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. Dated: July 8, 2015. Emily H. Menashes, Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2015–17191 Filed 7–13–15; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P E:\FR\FM\14JYP1.SGM 14JYP1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 80, Number 134 (Tuesday, July 14, 2015)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 40988-40990]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2015-17191]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 679

RIN 0648-XD649


Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Groundfish 
Fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska

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

ACTION: Notice; intent to prepare an environmental impact statement; 
request for written comments.

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

SUMMARY: NMFS, in consultation with the North Pacific Fishery 
Management Council (Council), announces its intent to prepare an 
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on a new management program for 
trawl groundfish fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska (GOA), in accordance 
with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). The proposed 
action would create a new management program that would allocate 
allowable harvest to individuals, cooperatives, and other entities that 
participate in GOA trawl groundfish fisheries. The proposed action is 
intended to improve stock conservation by imposing accountability 
measures for utilizing target, incidental, and prohibited species 
catch, creating incentives to eliminate wasteful fishing practices, 
providing mechanisms for participants to control and reduce bycatch in 
the trawl groundfish fisheries, and to improve safety of life at sea 
and operational efficiencies. The EIS will analyze the impacts to the 
human environment resulting from the proposed trawl bycatch management 
program. NMFS will accept written comments from the public to identify 
the issues of concern and assist the Council in determining the 
appropriate range of management alternatives for the EIS.

DATES: Written comments will be accepted through August 28, 2015.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by 
NOAA-NMFS-2014-0150, by any of the following methods:
     Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to 
www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2014-0150, click the 
``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or 
attach your comments.
     Mail: Submit written comments to Glenn Merrill, Assistant 
Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region 
NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian. Mail comments to P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, 
AK 99802-1668.
    Instructions: Comments sent by any other method, to any other 
address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, 
may not be considered by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the 
public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on 
www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying 
information (e.g., name, address), confidential business information, 
or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily by the sender 
will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter 
``N/A'' in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Rachel Baker, (907) 586-7228 or email 
rachel.baker@noaa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery 
Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), the United 
States has exclusive fishery management authority over all living 
marine resources found within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The 
management of these marine resources, with the exception of marine 
mammals and birds, is vested in the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary). 
The Council has the responsibility to prepare fishery management plans 
for the fishery resources that require conservation and management in 
the EEZ off Alaska. Management of the Federal groundfish fisheries in 
the GOA is carried out under the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish 
of the Gulf of Alaska (FMP). The FMP, its amendments, and implementing 
regulations (found at 50 CFR part 679) are developed in accordance with 
the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and other applicable 
Federal laws and executive orders, notably the National Environmental 
Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
    The Council is considering the establishment of a new management 
program for the GOA trawl groundfish fisheries. The proposed action 
would allocate allowable harvest of selected target and bycatch species 
to individuals, cooperatives, and other entities. The purpose of the 
program is to improve management of all species caught in the GOA trawl 
groundfish fisheries by creating vessel-level and/or cooperative-level 
incentives to avoid and reduce bycatch, and to create accountability 
measures for participants when utilizing target and bycatch species. 
The Council also intends for the program to improve operational 
efficiencies, reduce incentives to fish during unsafe conditions, and 
support the continued participation of coastal communities that are 
dependent on the fisheries. NMFS and the Council have determined the 
preparation of an EIS may be required for this action because some 
important aspects of the bycatch management program on target and 
bycatch species and their users may be uncertain or unknown and may 
result in significant impacts on the human environment not previously 
analyzed. Thus, NMFS and the Council are initiating scoping for an EIS 
in the event an EIS is needed.
    NMFS and the Council are seeking information from the public 
through the EIS scoping process on the range of alternatives to be 
analyzed, and on the environmental, social, and economic issues to be 
considered in the analysis. Written comments generated during this 
scoping process will be provided to the Council and incorporated into 
the EIS for the proposed action.

Management of the GOA Trawl Groundfish Fisheries

    The Council and NMFS annually establish biological thresholds and 
annual total allowable catch limits for groundfish species to 
sustainably manage the groundfish fisheries in the GOA. To achieve 
these objectives, NMFS requires vessel operators participating in GOA 
groundfish fisheries to comply with various restrictions, such as 
fishery closures, to maintain catch within specified total allowable 
catch limits. The GOA groundfish fishery restrictions also include 
measures that are intended to minimize catch of certain species, called 
prohibited species, which may not be retained for sale by the vessel 
harvesting groundfish. For example, current GOA groundfish fishery 
regulations require Pacific halibut prohibited species catch (PSC) to 
be discarded immediately after it is recorded, and Chinook salmon must 
be retained by the harvest vessel only until sampled by an observer. 
The GOA groundfish fishery restrictions also include PSC limits for 
Pacific halibut and Chinook salmon to constrain the amount of bycatch 
of these species in the groundfish fisheries. When harvest of 
prohibited species in a groundfish fishery reaches the specified PSC 
limit for that fishery, NMFS closes directed fishing for the target 
groundfish species,

[[Page 40989]]

even if the total allowable catch limit for that species has not been 
harvested.
    The GOA PSC limits are established on an annual basis by management 
area and are further apportioned by season, fishery category, gear, and 
operation type (e.g., catcher vessel or catcher/processor). This 
apportionment process ensures that halibut and Chinook salmon PSC limit 
is available for use in groundfish fisheries earlier in the year, but 
limits that use so that PSC remains to support other groundfish 
fisheries that occur later in the year. The limits assigned to each 
season reflect halibut PSC likely to be taken during specific seasons 
by specific fisheries.
    For many years, the Council and NMFS have controlled the amount of 
fishing in the North Pacific Ocean by establishing scientifically-based 
harvest limits which ensure that fisheries are conservatively managed 
and do not exceed established biological thresholds. In addition to 
measures that control the amount of harvest, the Council and NMFS also 
implemented the license limitation program (LLP), which limits access 
to the groundfish, crab, and scallop fisheries in the GOA and the 
Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. The LLP limits entry into federally 
managed fisheries. The groundfish LLP requires each vessel in the GOA 
to have an LLP license on board the vessel at all times while directed 
fishing for license limitation groundfish, with limited exemptions. The 
preamble to the final rule implementing the groundfish LLP provides a 
more detailed explanation of the rationale for specific provisions in 
the LLP (October 1, 1998; 63 FR 52642).
    While the LLP limits the total number of vessels that can 
participate in the fishery, it does not limit harvest by individual 
vessels or assign exclusive harvest privileges to specific vessels or 
entities. This has led to a competitive derby fishery in the GOA 
groundfish fisheries with fishermen racing each other to harvest as 
much fish as they can before the annual catch limit or the PSC limit is 
reached and the fishery is closed for the season. A derby fishery 
relies on a fairly rigid management structure that is not adaptable to 
changes in weather, markets, or other operating considerations. 
Therefore, a derby fishery often results in shorter fishing seasons and 
unsafe fishing practices. It can also create a substantial disincentive 
for participants to take actions to reduce bycatch use and waste, 
particularly if those actions could reduce groundfish catch rates. In a 
derby fishery, participants who choose not to take actions to reduce 
bycatch and waste stand to gain additional groundfish catch by 
continuing to harvest at a higher bycatch rate, at the expense of any 
vessels engaged in bycatch avoidance.
    Allocation of allowable harvests in the form of exclusive harvest 
privileges is a management approach that replaces the rigid management 
structure of a derby fishery with a flexible program that provides 
accountability and removes disincentives to controlling and reducing 
bycatch and waste. Allocating exclusive harvest privileges to fishery 
participants can mitigate the potential negative impacts of a derby 
fishery on target and bycatch species, and on the operational and 
economic efficiency of the fisheries. In this type of management 
approach, a portion of the catch for a species is allocated to 
individual fishermen or groups. Each holder of a harvest privilege must 
stop fishing when his/her specific share of the quota is reached. This 
removes the incentives for each participant to maximize catch rates to 
capture a larger share of the available catch before the fishery is 
closed. As a result, participants can make operational choices to 
improve fishing practices. These choices could include fishing in a 
slower and more efficient fashion, using modified gear with a lower 
harvest rate but which reduces bycatch, coordinating with other vessel 
operators to avoid areas of high bycatch, and processing fish in ways 
that yield increased value but which are possible only by slowing the 
pace of the fishery. This management approach allows fishermen to plan 
their fishing effort around the weather, markets, or other business 
considerations and allows other fishery dependent businesses to plan 
more effectively.
    The Council has recommended, and NMFS has implemented, management 
programs in the EEZ off Alaska that allocate exclusive harvest 
privileges to fishery participants. Based on experience with these 
programs, the Council and NMFS have determined that allocating 
exclusive harvest privileges of target and bycatch species creates a 
structure for fishery participants to efficiently manage harvesting and 
processing activities that can result in reduced bycatch and improved 
utilization of groundfish fisheries. Additional information on these 
management programs is provided in the final rules implementing the 
American Fisheries Act in the Bering Sea (67 FR 79692, December 30, 
2002), the Amendment 80 Program in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands 
(72 FR 52668, September 14, 2007), and the Rockfish Program in the 
Central GOA (76 FR 81248, December 27, 2011).
    Over the past few years, the Council has recommended amendments to 
the FMP to reduce PSC in the GOA groundfish fisheries. Under Amendments 
93 and 97 to the FMP, the Council recommended and NMFS implemented 
Chinook salmon PSC limits in the GOA trawl fisheries (77 FR 42629, July 
20, 2012 and 79 FR 71350, December 2, 2014). Under Amendment 95 to the 
FMP, the Council recommended and NMFS implemented reductions to halibut 
PSC limits for GOA trawl and hook-and-line fisheries (79 FR 9625, 
February 20, 2014). This series of actions reflects the Council's 
commitment to reduce PSC in the GOA groundfish fisheries. The Council 
also recognizes that although the current management system of 
establishing and apportioning PSC limits places a cap on the amount of 
PSC that may be used in GOA groundfish fisheries, the derby fishery 
under the LLP creates a substantial disincentive for participants to 
take actions to avoid and reduce PSC usage.
    In October 2012, the Council unanimously adopted a purpose and need 
statement, and goals and objectives, to support the development of a 
new management program that would allocate allowable harvest to 
individual, cooperatives, or other entities. The Council determined 
that this kind of management program would mitigate the adverse effects 
of the current derby-style race for fish by removing disincentives to 
reduce bycatch and PSC, and providing a more flexible and efficient 
management system for participants to better manage and utilize 
groundfish species in the GOA trawl fisheries. This new management 
program is referred to as a bycatch management program in the following 
sections of this notice.

Proposed Action

    The proposed action to be analyzed in the EIS is a bycatch 
management program for the GOA trawl groundfish fisheries that 
allocates allowable harvest to individuals, cooperatives, or other 
entities. The bycatch management program would replace the derby 
fishery with a program that provides tools to effectively manage 
bycatch and reduce PSC use, and that promotes increased utilization of 
groundfish harvested in the GOA. The proposed action would apply to 
participants in Federal groundfish fisheries prosecuted with trawl gear 
in the following areas: (1) The Western GOA Regulatory Area (Western 
GOA), (2) the Central GOA Regulatory Area (Central GOA), and (3) the 
West Yakutat District of the Eastern GOA Regulatory Area (West Yakutat

[[Page 40990]]

District). These areas are defined at Sec.  679.2 and shown in Figure 3 
to 50 CFR part 679.

Alternatives

    NMFS, in coordination with the Council, will evaluate a range of 
alternative bycatch management programs for the trawl groundfish 
fisheries in the Western GOA, Central GOA, and West Yakutat District. 
NMFS and the Council recognize that implementation of a GOA trawl 
bycatch management program allocating exclusive harvest privileges 
would result in substantial changes to many of the current management 
measures for the groundfish fisheries. The EIS will analyze these 
changes as well as alternative ways to manage target and bycatch 
species in the GOA groundfish fisheries. The potential alternatives 
already identified for the EIS include:

Alternative 1

    The existing management program (no action).

Alternative 2

    A bycatch management program that would allocate exclusive harvest 
privileges to participants in the Western GOA, Central GOA, and West 
Yakutat District trawl groundfish fisheries who voluntarily join a 
cooperative. Participants who do not choose to join a cooperative would 
have the opportunity to participate in the current limited access 
management system under the groundfish LLP.
    In Alternative 2, the Council is considering allocating exclusive 
harvest privileges to cooperatives. Alternative 2 contains several 
elements and options for determining eligible participants, groundfish 
and PSC species to be allocated, and methods for determining 
allocations to cooperatives and the limited access fishery. Alternative 
2 also includes elements and options for cooperative formation and 
membership that are intended to provide incentives for participation by 
harvesters and processors to improve coordination and operational 
efficiencies. Alternative 2 also contains a number of elements that are 
intended to provide for fishery dependent community stability, such as 
harvest privilege consolidation limits and area- and port-specific 
delivery requirements.

Alternative 3

    A bycatch management program that would allocate exclusive harvest 
privileges to fishery participants who voluntarily join a cooperative 
and either 1) a Community Fishing Association as defined in section 
303A(c)(3) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act or 2) an Adaptive Management 
Program. Participants who do not choose to join a cooperative would 
have the opportunity to participate in the current limited access 
management system under the groundfish LLP.
    In Alternative 3, the Council is considering allocating exclusive 
harvest privileges to cooperatives and either a Community Fishing 
Association or to persons who meet the criteria established for an 
Adaptive Management Program. The allocation to a Community Fishing 
Association or Adaptive Management Program would meet objectives that 
include providing for sustained participation of fishing communities, 
promoting conservation measures, and assisting vessel owner-operators, 
captains, and crew who want to enter and participate in the GOA trawl 
groundfish fisheries.

Public Involvement

    Scoping is an early and open process for determining the scope of 
issues to be addressed in an EIS and for identifying the significant 
issues related to the proposed action. A principal objective of the 
scoping and public involvement process is to identify a range of 
reasonable management alternatives that, with adequate analysis, will 
delineate critical issues and provide a clear basis for distinguishing 
among those alternatives and selecting a preferred alternative. Through 
this notice, NMFS is notifying the public that an EIS and decision-
making process for this proposed action have been initiated so that 
interested or affected people may participate and contribute to the 
final decision.
    NMFS is seeking written public comments on the scope of issues, 
including potential impacts, and alternatives that should be considered 
for bycatch management programs for the trawl groundfish fisheries in 
the Western GOA, Central GOA, and West Yakutat District of the GOA. 
Written comments should be as specific as possible to be the most 
helpful. Written comments received during the scoping process, 
including the names and addresses of those submitting them, will be 
considered part of the public record of this proposal and will be 
available for public inspection. Written comments will be accepted at 
the address above (see ADDRESSES). Please visit the NMFS Alaska Region 
Web site at https://www.alaskafisheries.noaa.gov for more information on 
the GOA trawl bycatch management program EIS and for guidance on 
submitting effective written public comments.
    The public is invited to participate and provide input at Council 
meetings where the latest scientific information regarding the GOA 
groundfish fisheries is reviewed and alternative bycatch management 
programs are developed and evaluated. Notice of future Council meetings 
will be published in the Federal Register and on the Internet at https://www.npfmc.org/. Please visit this Web site for information and 
guidance on participating in Council meetings. Additional information 
on the Council's development of the GOA trawl bycatch management 
program is available at https://www.npfmc.org/goa-trawl-bycatch-management/.

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

    Dated: July 8, 2015.
Emily H. Menashes,
Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2015-17191 Filed 7-13-15; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P
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