Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Management Area; American Fisheries Act; Amendment 111, 71649-71675 [2015-28889]

Download as PDF Vol. 80 Monday, No. 220 November 16, 2015 Part V Department of Commerce mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 679 Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Management Area; American Fisheries Act; Amendment 111; Proposed Rule VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Jkt 238001 PO 00000 Frm 00001 Fmt 4717 Sfmt 4717 E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM 16NOP2 71650 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / Proposed Rules DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 679 [Docket No. 150817730–5730–01] RIN 0648–BF29 Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Management Area; American Fisheries Act; Amendment 111 National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments. AGENCY: NMFS proposes regulations to implement Amendment 111 to the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Management Area (FMP). The proposed rule would reduce bycatch limits, also known as prohibited species catch (PSC) limits, for Pacific halibut in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) groundfish fisheries by specific amounts in four groundfish sectors: The Amendment 80 sector (nonpollock trawl catcher/processors); the BSAI trawl limited access sector (all non-Amendment 80 trawl fishery participants); the non-trawl sector (primarily hook-and-line catcher/ processors); and the Western Alaska Community Development Quota Program (CDQ Program, also referred to as the CDQ sector). This action is necessary to minimize halibut bycatch in the BSAI groundfish fisheries to the extent practicable and to achieve, on a continuing basis, optimum yield from the BSAI groundfish fisheries. This action is intended to promote the goals and objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the FMP, and other applicable laws. DATES: Submit comments on or before December 16, 2015. ADDRESSES: You may submit comments, identified by NOAA–NMFS–2015–0092, by any one 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-20150092, click the ‘‘Comment Now!’’ icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments. • Mail: Address written comments to Glenn Merrill, Assistant Regional mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Jkt 238001 Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian. Mail comments to P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802. 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 voluntarily submitted by the commenter will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter N/ A in the required fields, if you wish to remain anonymous). Written comments regarding the burden-hour estimates or other aspects of the collection-of-information requirements contained in this proposed rule may be submitted by mail to NMFS at the above address; emailed to OIRA_ submission@omb.eop.gov; or faxed to 202–395–5806. Electronic copies of Amendment 111 to the FMP and the Environmental Assessment/Regulatory Impact Review/ Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (Analysis) for this action may be obtained from http:// www.regulations.gov or from the Alaska Region Web site at http:// alaskafisheries.noaa.gov. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mary Alice McKeen, 907–586–7228. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Table of Contents I. Authority for Action II. Background A. The Halibut Resource 1. Status of the Halibut Stock 2. Halibut Removals 3. Allocation of Halibut Among Fisheries B. Halibut Fisheries in the BSAI C. Comparing Commercial Halibut Catch and Halibut Bycatch (PSC) in the Groundfish Fisheries in the BSAI D. Halibut Bycatch Management in the BSAI Groundfish Fisheries 1. Annual Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Limits and Apportionments of PSC Limits 2. Overview of the BSAI Groundfish Sectors a. Amendment 80 Sector b. BSAI Trawl Limited Access Sector c. BSAI Non-trawl Sector d. CDQ Sector 3. Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Use in the BSAI Groundfish Sectors III. Rationale and Impacts of Amendment 111 and the Proposed Rule A. Methods for Analysis of Impacts B. Impacts on the Halibut Stock C. Impacts on Halibut Fishery Participants and Fishing Communities PO 00000 Frm 00002 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 D. Impacts on BSAI Groundfish Fishery Participants and Fishing Communities 1. Amendment 80 Sector Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Limit Reduction 2. BSAI Trawl Limited Access Sector Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Limit Reduction 3. BSAI Non-Trawl Sector Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Limit Reduction 4. CDQ Sector Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Limit Reduction E. Summary of Impacts IV. The Proposed Rule A. Reduction in Halibut PSC Limits 1. Amendment 80 Sector 2. BSAI Trawl Limited Access Sector 3. BSAI Non-Trawl Sector 4. CDQ Sector B. Minor Change in Terminology C. Reorganization and Other Technical Changes V. Classification A. Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis 1. Number and Description of Small Entities Directly Regulated by the Proposed Action 2. Federal Rules That May Duplicate, Overlap, or Conflict With the Proposed Action 3. Impacts of the Action on Small Entities 4. Description of Significant Alternatives Considered 5. Recordkeeping and Recording Requirements B. Tribal Consultation I. Authority for Action NMFS manages the groundfish fisheries in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the BSAI under the FMP. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) prepared, and the Secretary of Commerce approved, the FMP pursuant to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) and other applicable laws. Regulations implementing the FMP appear at 50 CFR part 679. General regulations that pertain to U.S. fisheries appear at 50 CFR part 600. The Council submitted Amendment 111 for review by the Secretary of Commerce. A notice of availability of Amendment 111 was published in the Federal Register on October 29, 2015, with comments invited through December 28, 2015. All relevant written comments received by that time, whether specifically directed to Amendment 111, or to the proposed rule, will be considered in the approval/ disapproval decision on Amendment 111. II. Background Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) is fully utilized in Alaska as a target species in subsistence, personal use, recreational (sport), and commercial halibut fisheries. Halibut has significant social, cultural, and economic importance to fishery E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM 16NOP2 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / Proposed Rules participants and fishing communities throughout the geographical range of the resource. Halibut is also incidentally taken as bycatch in groundfish fisheries. The Magnuson-Stevens Act defines bycatch as ‘‘fish which are harvested in a fishery, but which are not sold or kept for personal use, and includes economic discards and regulatory discards. The term does not include fish released alive under a recreational catch and release fishery management program.’’ 16 U.S.C. 1802 3(2). The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) and NMFS manage Pacific halibut fisheries through regulations established under the authority of the Northern Pacific Halibut Act of 1982 (Halibut Act) (16 U.S.C. 773–773k). The IPHC adopts regulations governing the target fishery for Pacific halibut under the Convention between the United States and Canada for the Preservation of the Halibut Fishery of the North Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea (Convention), signed at Ottawa, Ontario, on March 2, 1953, as amended by a Protocol Amending the Convention (signed at Washington, DC, on March 29, 1979). For the United States, regulations governing the fishery for Pacific halibut developed by the IPHC are subject to acceptance by the Secretary of State with concurrence from the Secretary of Commerce. After acceptance by the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Commerce, NMFS publishes the IPHC regulations in the Federal Register as annual management measures pursuant to 50 CFR 300.62. The final rule implementing IPHC regulations for 2015 published on March 17, 2015 (80 FR 13771). Section 773c(c) of the Halibut Act also provides the Council with authority to develop regulations that are in addition to, and not in conflict with, approved IPHC regulations. The Council has exercised this authority in the development of Federal regulations for the halibut fishery such as (1) Subsistence halibut fishery management measures, codified at § 300.65; (2) the limited access program for charter vessels in the guided sport fishery, codified at § 300.67; and (3) the Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) Program for the commercial halibut and sablefish fisheries, codified at 50 CFR part 679, under the authority of section 773 of the Halibut Act and section 303(b) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. In recent years, catch limits for the commercial halibut fishery in the BSAI have declined in response to changing halibut stock conditions while limits on the maximum amount of halibut bycatch allowed in the groundfish fisheries have remained constant. The VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Jkt 238001 proposed rule would reduce halibut bycatch limits, also referred to as halibut PSC limits, in the BSAI groundfish fisheries. This proposed reduction in halibut PSC limits is consistent with the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act to minimize bycatch to the extent practicable while achieving, on a continuing basis, optimum yield from the groundfish fisheries. This section of the preamble provides background on the halibut resource, halibut management, the halibut fisheries, and halibut bycatch in the groundfish fisheries in the BSAI. The following two sections describe the rationale and impacts of Amendment 111 and the proposed rule. This preamble cites the most recent available data consistent with the Analysis prepared to support this action. The most recent data available varies depending on the specific data source. The Analysis and this preamble use (1) data through 2015 for information on commercial halibut fishery catch limits, (2) data through 2014 for information on the halibut stock and halibut PSC use, and (3) data through 2013 for information on commercial halibut harvests and revenue and groundfish fisheries harvests and revenue. The Analysis and this preamble describe the potential impacts on the halibut stock and commercial, personal use, sport, and subsistence halibut fisheries in terms of net pounds instead of metric tons. This is a long-standing practice by the IPHC because the IPHC measures biomass and directed fishery removals in terms of net weight in pounds (i.e., halibut that is headed and gutted) and not metric tons. The calculation of net pounds used by the IPHC adjusts the total weight of removals in pounds by reducing the total weight by 25 percent to calculate net weight in pounds. The Analysis uses metric tons when describing groundfish catch, halibut PSC limits, and the amount of halibut bycatch (PSC) used in the groundfish fisheries. This is consistent with a long-standing practice by NMFS. A. The Halibut Resource 1. Status of the Halibut Stock The IPHC assesses the status of the Pacific halibut stock at a coastwide level from California to the Bering Sea. Each year, the IPHC estimates the amount of exploitable biomass. Exploitable biomass is composed of halibut that are 26 inches in length or greater (O26), the size of fish that are accessible to fishing gear used in the IPHC halibut stock survey and in the halibut fisheries. PO 00000 Frm 00003 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 71651 From 2000 through 2010, exploitable biomass declined primarily as a result of decreasing size at age and smaller recruitments than those observed through the 1980s and 1990s. Since 2011, the exploitable biomass has been increasing slightly from a recent low of approximately 175 million pounds in 2011 to approximately 180 million pounds in 2015 (see Table 3–1 in Section 3.1.1.1 of the Analysis). Annually, the IPHC also assesses female spawning biomass, another important indicator of the status of the halibut stock. Female spawning biomass is composed of female halibut of reproductive size. Generally, this includes female halibut that are O26, but a small proportion of the female spawning biomass includes female halibut less than 26 inches in length (U26). Female spawning biomass is considered an important indicator of the long-term reproductive health of the halibut resource. Since 2013, the estimated female spawning biomass appears to have stabilized near 200 million pounds. The stock assessment models used by the IPHC in 2015 project a stable or slightly increasing female spawning biomass over the next 3 years assuming current removal rates from all sources (see Table 3–4 in Section 3.1.2.1 of the Analysis). Collectively, the current status of exploitable biomass and female spawning biomass indicate that the halibut stock is stable or potentially increasing slightly in overall abundance. Section 3.1.1 of the Analysis provides additional detail on the current and projected status of halibut exploitable biomass and female spawning biomass. It is important to note that halibut is not a groundfish species under the FMP and therefore is not subject to the provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act requiring the establishment of an annual overfishing limit (OFL), an acceptable biological catch (ABC), or a total allowable catch (TAC) limit. The OFL represents a level of removals that cannot be exceeded without jeopardizing the sustainability of the stock. The ABC represents the maximum permissible harvest and is less than the OFL. The TAC represents the actual permissible catch limit. The TAC may be set equal to or less than the ABC; the TAC cannot exceed the ABC. The OFL and ABC are biologicallybased harvest limits that are not to be exceeded. After the OFLs and ABCs are established, the Council recommends and NMFS implements annual TACs (see Section 3.2.3 of the FMP for a description of the process for specifying OFLs, ABCs, and TACs for groundfish fisheries in the BSAI). E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM 16NOP2 71652 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / Proposed Rules mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 Although halibut is not managed under an OFL, ABC, or TAC, the IPHC has developed policy to control removals during conditions of declining or poor stock abundance. The IPHC harvest policy includes a harvest control rule that reduces commercial harvest rates linearly if the stock is estimated to have fallen below established thresholds for female spawning biomass. These harvest control rules would severely curtail removals during times of particularly poor stock conditions. These harvest control rules have not been triggered, even during the most recent years of relatively low exploitable biomass (see Section 3.1.1.1 and Section 3.1.2.1 of the Analysis). The best available information from the most recent halibut stock assessment indicates that the halibut female spawning biomass (SB) is estimated to be 42 percent of the equilibrium condition in the absence of fishing (SB42%). A female spawning biomass of SB42% represents a 1 out of 10 chance that the stock is below 42 percent of the equilibrium condition in the absence of fishing. Removals at this level of female spawning biomass are generally considered to represent a conservative and risk-averse level of removals in federally-managed groundfish fisheries in the BSAI off Alaska (see Section 3.1.1.1 of the Analysis). A level of SB42%, is significantly above the IPHC’s harvest control rule thresholds that trigger additional restrictions on the commercial halibut fishery during times of poor stock status. IPHC’s harvest control rules trigger reductions in halibut harvest rates at thresholds of SB30% and SB20%. The best available data indicate that at current levels of removals, the halibut biomass would be expected to be stable, and well above the thresholds established by the IPHC. Additional information on the anticipated impacts of the proposed rule on the status of halibut stock is provided in Sections 3.1.1.1 and 3.1.5.3 of the Analysis. 2. Halibut Removals Total annual removals of halibut from all sources at the coastwide level have been low in recent years compared to historical total annual removals. Total annual halibut removals include harvests in the commercial, personal use, sport, and subsistence fisheries, as well as bycatch and wastage (i.e., bycatch in the commercial halibut fishery). From 2000 through 2010, total halibut removals averaged 90 million pounds and were as high as almost 100 million pounds in 2004 and 2005. Total annual removals averaged 50 million pounds from 2011 through 2014. The VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Jkt 238001 relatively low levels of total removals in recent years (i.e., from 2011 through 2014) of approximately 50 million pounds correspond with declining exploitable biomass, from the late 1990s to around 2010. See Section 3.1.3 and 3.1.4 in the Analysis for additional information on halibut removals. The commercial fisheries for halibut are the largest source of coastwide removals, accounting for an average of 62 percent (31 million pounds) of total removals from 2011 through 2014. Removals from personal use, sport and subsistence fisheries are a much smaller component of total coastwide removals, collectively averaging 16 percent of total removals from 2011 through 2014. Overall, the total amount and proportion of commercial removals has varied with exploitable biomass, increasing as exploitable biomass increases and decreasing as exploitable biomass decreases. The total amount of personal use, sport, and subsistence removals has been relatively constant since 2011, but the proportion of personal use, sport and subsistence removals has increased as the exploitable biomass and commercial removals have decreased. Bycatch is the second largest component of total coastwide removals and averaged 19 percent of total removals from 2011 through 2014. Bycatch of halibut in groundfish fisheries averaged 9.4 million pounds coastwide from 2011 through 2014. Although bycatch represents the second largest source of halibut removals, the total tonnage of bycatch removals in recent years (i.e., 2011 through 2014) is at its lowest level since 1990 (see Figure 3–11 in Section 3.1.3 and Table 3–18 in Section 3.1.4 of the Analysis). From 2011 through 2014, halibut bycatch removals ranged from a high of 10.1 million pounds in 2012 to a low of 8.9 million pounds in 2013. The majority of halibut bycatch coastwide is taken in groundfish fisheries in the Alaska EEZ, mostly in the BSAI groundfish fisheries. From 2011 through 2014, halibut bycatch in the BSAI represented on average 58 percent of the total coastwide halibut bycatch, and 10 percent of the total coastwide removals of halibut (see Table 3–10 in Section 3.1.3.3 and Table 3–18 in Section 3.1.4 of the Analysis). 3. Allocation of Halibut Among Fisheries Pacific halibut is allocated among fisheries by a combination of management actions taken by the IPHC, the Council, and NMFS. The IPHC annually completes a halibut stock assessment and makes recommendations for annual PO 00000 Frm 00004 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 management measures for the halibut fishery within Convention waters. These annual management measures include specific regulations governing the commercial halibut fishery, including area-specific catch limits, authorized gear, and fishing season dates. In the United States, the IPHC recommendations are subject to acceptance by the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Commerce, as described above in the ‘‘Authority for Action’’ section of this preamble. See Section 3.1.2 of the Analysis and the 2015 annual management measures for additional information on the process for establishing commercial halibut fishery catch limits (80 FR 13771, March 17, 2015). Although the halibut stock is assessed at a coastwide level, commercial catch limits are established for each IPHC regulatory area (Area). Area 2 is composed of Area 2A (Washington, Oregon, and California); Area 2B (British Columbia); and Area 2C (Southeast Alaska). Area 3 is composed of Area 3A (Central Gulf of Alaska); Area 3B (Western Gulf of Alaska); and Area 4 (BSAI) composed of Areas 4A, 4B, 4C, 4D and 4E. The IPHC combines Areas 4C, 4D, and 4E into Area 4CDE for purposes of establishing a commercial fishery catch limit. Areas 4A and 4C, 4D, and 4E roughly correspond to the Bering Sea Subarea defined in the FMP. Area 4B roughly corresponds to the Aleutian Islands Subarea in the FMP. Area 4CDE encompasses most of the Bering Sea Subarea in the FMP. See Figure 15 in Part 679 and Table 1–1 in Section 1.5 of the Analysis for Area maps and additional information on halibut and groundfish management areas in the BSAI. The IPHC has developed a harvest policy and area apportionment model for determining commercial halibut fishery catch limits in all Areas. Under the harvest policy and area apportionment model, the total amount of allowable halibut harvest (called the Total Constant Exploitation Yield) is designated for each Area. The IPHC deducts all removals other than commercial fishery harvests (i.e., bycatch, personal use, sport, subsistence, and wastage) that are greater than 26 inches in length (O26) from the Total Constant Exploitation Yield. The resulting amount of halibut is called the Fishery Constant Exploitation Yield. The Fishery Constant Exploitation Yield is more commonly known as the ‘‘blue line catch limit.’’ However, the IPHC is not required to select the blue line catch limit as the annual commercial catch limit for an Area. The IPHC has the E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM 16NOP2 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / Proposed Rules discretion on an annual basis to select a commercial catch limit that is greater than or less than the blue line catch limit (i.e., the Fishery Constant Exploitation Yield). The IPHC considers the blue line catch limit along with information on different levels of harvest above and below the blue line catch limit to accommodate greater flexibility when selecting commercial catch limits. The IPHC utilizes a decision table that estimates the consequences to halibut stock, fishery status, and trends from a range of commercial catch limits at, above, and below the blue line catch limit (see Table 3–4 in Section 3.1.2.2 of the Analysis). This decision table accommodates uncertainty in the stock status and allows the IPHC to weigh the risk and benefits of management choices as it sets the annual commercial catch limits. For example, the IPHC consistently considers the socioeconomic impacts of different commercial catch limits in an Area on fishery participants. In some instances, the IPHC has recommended an areaspecific commercial catch limit that is greater than the blue line catch limit to prevent adverse economic impacts from reduced harvest levels for fishery participants and fishing communities dependent on the fishery. The flexibility that the IPHC has in setting commercial catch limits is demonstrated in the difference between the commercial catch limits relative to the blue line catch limits derived from application of its harvest policy. From 2006 (the first year the IPHC adopted its harvest policy) through 2015, the IPHC coastwide commercial catch limit recommendation exceeded the combined blue line catch limits for all Areas in 7 of the 10 years; and Areaspecific commercial catch limits have exceeded blue line catch limits in all Areas at least once, and for some Areas, in most years over the past 10 years (see Table 3–5 in Section 3.1.2.2 of the Analysis). Although the IPHC has adopted commercial catch limits greater than the blue line catch limit in most years, the halibut stock has not fallen to levels that reach the harvest control rule thresholds described in the ‘‘Status of the Halibut Stock’’ section of this preamble. Although neither the blue line catch limit derived from the IPHC’s harvest policy, nor any commercial catch limit adopted by the IPHC is the same as an OFL, ABC, or TAC used for management of groundfish fisheries in Alaska, Section 3.1.1.1 of the Analysis notes that ‘‘in the last four years, there is no information to suggest that halibut is subject to ‘overfishing’ as that term is VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Jkt 238001 commonly applied to stocks managed under the Magnuson-Stevens Act.’’ For a more complete description of the IPHC process for establishing commercial catch limits, see Section 3.1.2.2 of the Analysis. Under IPHC harvest policy, the amount of bycatch (including wastage in the commercial fishery) in an Area can affect the amounts of halibut available for harvest in commercial, personal use, sport, and subsistence fisheries in future years. Bycatch includes O26 and U26 halibut. The proportion of bycatch comprised of O26 and U26 halibut varies by Area. Under the current IPHC harvest policy, halibut bycatch in an Area that is O26 is deducted from the amount of halibut available for the commercial fishery. Therefore, reductions in the amount of O26 bycatch could provide an opportunity to increase the commercial catch limits for that Area in the year following the reduction. The amount of U26 bycatch in the groundfish fishery or U26 wastage in the commercial halibut fishery could impact future harvests in commercial halibut fisheries and in personal use, sport, and subsistence use fisheries in all Areas coastwide. This is due to the migration of U26 halibut among Areas. Although information on the migration of U26 halibut on a coastwide basis is limited, the best available information indicates that a portion of the U26 halibut in Area 4 migrate in a southward pattern through the Gulf of Alaska (Areas 3B and 3A), Southeast Alaska (Area 2C), British Columbia (Area 2B), and ultimately to the west coast of the United States (Area 2A). Therefore, reducing U26 halibut removed as bycatch in Area 4 would be expected to contribute to the exploitable biomass in various Areas as these halibut grow to a size where they can reproduce and become available for harvest in halibut fisheries in future years in Area 4 and elsewhere along the coast. Section 3.1.3.5 of the Analysis contains additional information on the proportions of halibut bycatch that are O26 and U26 by Area. Section 3.1.1.2 of the Analysis contains additional information on the distribution and migration of halibut among Areas. B. Halibut Fisheries in the BSAI IPHC and NMFS regulations authorize the harvest of halibut in commercial, personal use, sport and subsistence fisheries only by hook-and-line gear. In the BSAI (Area 4), halibut is harvested primarily in commercial fisheries and secondarily in personal use, subsistence, and sport fisheries. Based on recent harvest data from 2011 PO 00000 Frm 00005 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 71653 through 2014, the sport fishery operating out of ports in the BSAI harvests approximately 20,000 pounds in Area 4 compared to approximately 40,000 pounds of personal use and subsistence harvest from Area 4, and more than 3,000,000 pounds in the Area 4 commercial fishery. Given the limited sport harvest in Area 4 and that this action is not likely to impact the sport fishery, this preamble does not address the sport fishery in additional detail. See Sections 3.1.2 and 3.1.4 of the Analysis for additional detail on personal use, sport, subsistence, and commercial halibut harvests in Area 4. Subsistence halibut is caught by a rural resident or a member of a federally-recognized Alaska Native tribe for direct personal or family consumption as food, sharing for personal or family consumption as food, or customary trade. Pursuant to section 773c(c) of the Halibut Act, the Council developed, and NMFS implemented, the Subsistence Halibut Program to manage subsistence harvests in Alaska. Persons fishing for subsistence halibut must obtain a Subsistence Halibut Registration Certificate. Special permits for community harvest, ceremonial, and educational purposes also are available to qualified Alaska communities and federally-recognized Alaska Native tribes. A complete description of the Subsistence Halibut Program is provided in the final rule to implement the program (68 FR 18145, April 15, 2003). In addition to subsistence harvest, IPHC annual management measures allow halibut caught in the commercial halibut fishery that are less than the legal size limit of 32 inches to be retained for personal use in the Area 4D and 4E CDQ halibut fishery as long as the fish are not sold or bartered. The CDQ groups are required to report the amount of personal use halibut retained during the CDQ halibut fishery to the IPHC. Section 3.1.4.4 of the Analysis contains a description of the personal use fishery. The commercial halibut fishery in the BSAI is managed under the IFQ and CDQ Programs that allocate exclusive harvest privileges. The IFQ Program was implemented in 1995 (58 FR 59375, November 9, 1993). The Council and NMFS designed the IFQ Program to end a wasteful and unsafe ‘‘race for fish,’’ and maintain the social and economic character of the fixed-gear fisheries and the coastal fishing communities where many of these fisheries are based. Access to the halibut and sablefish fisheries is limited to those persons holding quota share (QS). Quota shares equate to exclusive harvesting privileges E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM 16NOP2 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 71654 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / Proposed Rules that are given effect on an annual basis through the issuance of IFQ permits. An annual IFQ permit authorizes the permit holder to harvest a specified amount of IFQ halibut or sablefish in a regulatory area. The CDQ Program was established in 1992 and amended substantially in 2006 (57 FR 54936, November 23, 1992). Under Section 305(i)(1)(D) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, a total of 65 villages are authorized to participate in the CDQ Program. Six CDQ groups represent these villages. CDQ groups manage and administer allocations of crab, groundfish, and halibut and use the revenue derived from the harvest of these CDQ allocations to fund economic development activities and provide employment opportunities on behalf of the villages they represent. Section 305(i)(B) of the MagnusonStevens Act specifies the proportion of crab, groundfish, and halibut in the BSAI allocated to the CDQ Program. Section 305(i)(C) of the MagnusonStevens Act specifies the proportion of the overall CDQ Program allocations assigned to each CDQ group. Each year, NMFS publishes the specific annual allocations to each CDQ group on the Alaska Region Web site at: http:// www.alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/cdq/ current_historical.htm. The amount of halibut for commercial harvest allocated to the CDQ Program varies by halibut management area and ranges from 20 to 100 percent of the commercial catch limits assigned to Areas 4B, 4C, 4D, and 4E. See Section 3.1.4.1 and Section 4.4.6 of the Analysis for additional information on the CDQ Program. The combined CDQ and IFQ halibut fisheries in Area 4 were harvested by, on average, approximately 330 vessels from 2008 through 2013 (see Table 4–93 in Section 4.5.2 of the Analysis). The majority of these 330 vessels participate in the CDQ halibut fishery. Most vessels participating in the CDQ halibut fishery use small vessels that make relatively small harvests of several hundred or several thousand pounds. Fewer vessels participate in the IFQ fishery, but approximately 80 percent of the overall halibut harvest in Area 4 comes from vessels participating in the IFQ fishery (see Section 4.5.1 of the Analysis for additional detail). The CDQ and IFQ halibut fisheries provide revenue to vessel owners and crew members that harvest halibut. These fisheries also provide economic benefits to shorebased halibut processors and socioeconomic benefits to BSAI fishing communities that provide support services to the halibut harvesting and processing sectors. The Analysis estimates that halibut harvests VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Jkt 238001 in the Area 4 CDQ and IFQ fisheries averaged 6.8 million pounds and generated an average of $32 million in ex-vessel revenues annually from 2008 through 2013. Area 4 halibut harvests and ex-vessel revenues declined over this period, resulting in negative economic impacts for fishery participants and affected fishing communities. Since 2008, the Area 4 catch limit has declined by 63 percent from the peak catch limit of 8.85 million pounds in 2008 to a low of 3.28 million pounds in 2014. The 2015 Area 4 commercial catch limit has increased slightly from the recent low in 2014 to 3.82 million pounds. In 2008, the Area 4 commercial ex-vessel value peaked at $38 million. In 2013, Area 4 commercial ex-vessel value was at its lowest at $18 million. The declines in commercial catch limits have been greatest in Area 4CDE. In Area 4CDE, the commercial halibut fishery catch limit declined by 67 percent from the peak catch limit of 3.89 million pounds in 2008 to a low of 1.285 million pounds in 2014 and 2015. During this period, the IPHC decided to provide additional harvest opportunity in Area 4CDE by adopting higher commercial catch limits than would have resulted if the IPHC’s blue line harvest policy recommendations were actually implemented. See Section 3.1.4.1, Section 4.5, and Appendix C of the Analysis for a complete description of the Area 4 commercial halibut fishery and the fishery participants. Additional detail on the IPHC’s harvest policy and catch limits is provided in Section 3.1.2.1 of the Analysis. C. Comparing Commercial Halibut Catch and Halibut Bycatch (PSC) in the Groundfish Fisheries in the BSAI In Area 4, the specific proportion of removals that are taken as bycatch in the groundfish fisheries or as catch in the commercial halibut fishery has shifted over time. From 1990 to 1996 (the period prior to the recent peak and decline in removals in the halibut fishery), the commercial halibut fisheries averaged 37 percent and bycatch averaged 60 percent of total halibut removals in Area 4. From 1997 to 2011 (the period of the greatest increase and subsequent decline in the total removals of halibut), the commercial halibut fishery removals increased as a portion of total removals; the commercial halibut fisheries averaged 57 percent and bycatch averaged 41 percent of total halibut removals. In more recent years, the proportion of halibut removals from the commercial halibut fishery has declined. From 2012 through 2014 (the PO 00000 Frm 00006 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 period of recent stability in the halibut exploitable biomass), the commercial halibut fishery averaged 41 percent and bycatch averaged 55 percent of total removals. See Figure 3–12 and Section 3.1.3 of the Analysis for additional detail. Area 4CDE comprises most of the Bering Sea subarea and historically is the portion of Area 4 where the greatest removals of halibut from commercial fisheries and bycatch occur (see Figure 3–14 in Section 3.1.3.3 of the Analysis). From 1990 to 1996, the commercial halibut fisheries averaged 23 percent and bycatch averaged 77 percent of total halibut removals in Area 4CDE. From 1997 to 2011, commercial halibut fishery removals in Area 4CDE increased as a portion of total removals; the commercial halibut fisheries averaged 44 percent and bycatch averaged 56 percent of total halibut removals in Area 4CDE. In recent years, proportion of halibut removals from the commercial halibut fishery has declined. From 2012 through 2014, the commercial halibut fishery averaged 31 percent and bycatch averaged 68 percent of removals in Area 4CDE. See Figure 3–12 in Section 3.1.3.3 of the Analysis. D. Halibut Bycatch Management in the BSAI Groundfish Fisheries The Magnuson-Stevens Act authorizes the Council and NMFS to manage groundfish fisheries in the Alaska EEZ that take halibut as bycatch. The groundfish fisheries cannot be prosecuted without some level of halibut bycatch because groundfish and halibut occur in the same areas at the same times and no fishing gear or technique has been developed that can avoid all halibut bycatch. However, the Council and NMFS have taken a number of management actions over the past several decades to minimize halibut bycatch in the BSAI groundfish fisheries. Most importantly, the Council has designated Pacific halibut and several other species (herring, salmon and steelhead, king crab, and Tanner crab) as ‘‘prohibited species’’ (Section 3.6.1 of the FMP). By regulation, the operator of any vessel fishing for groundfish in the BSAI must minimize the catch of prohibited species (§ 679.21(b)(2)(i)). Although halibut is taken as bycatch by vessels using all types of gear (trawl, hook-and-line, pot, and jig gear), halibut bycatch primarily occurs in the trawl and hook-and-line groundfish fisheries. NMFS manages halibut bycatch in the BSAI by (1) establishing halibut PSC limits for trawl and non-trawl fisheries; (2) apportioning those halibut PSC E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM 16NOP2 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / Proposed Rules mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 limits to groundfish sectors, fishery categories, and seasons; and (3) managing groundfish fisheries to prevent PSC from exceeding the established limits. The following sections provide additional information on the process NMFS uses to establish, apportion, and manage halibut PSC limits in the BSAI. Consistent with National Standard 1 and National Standard 9 of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the Council and NMFS use halibut PSC limits in the BSAI groundfish fisheries to minimize bycatch to the extent practicable while achieving, on a continuing basis, optimum yield from the groundfish fisheries. Halibut PSC limits in the groundfish fisheries provide an additional constraint on halibut PSC mortality and promote conservation of the halibut resource. With one limited exception described later in this preamble, groundfish fishing is prohibited once a halibut PSC limit has been reached for a particular sector or season. Therefore, halibut PSC limits must be set to balance the needs of fishermen, fishing communities, and U.S. consumers that depend on both halibut and groundfish resources. 1. Annual Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Limits and Apportionments of PSC Limits The total annual halibut PSC limit in the BSAI is 4,575 metric tons (mt) (10.1 million pounds). Of this amount, 3,675 mt is apportioned to trawl gear and 900 mt is apportioned to non-trawl gear as specified at § 679.21(e). Trawl gear in the BSAI groundfish fisheries includes pelagic (midwater) trawl gear and nonpelagic (bottom) trawl gear. Non-trawl gear in the BSAI groundfish fisheries includes pot, hook-and-line, and jig gear. The halibut PSC limit for trawl gear of 3,675 mt has been unchanged since 2000 (65 FR 31105, May 16, 2000). Section 3.6.4 of the FMP and § 679.21(e) specify that the halibut PSC limit for trawl gear will be apportioned among three groundfish sectors: (1) The CDQ Program (also called the CDQ sector in the proposed rule preamble), (2) the Amendment 80 sector, and (3) the BSAI trawl limited access sector. A portion of the BSAI halibut PSC limit for trawl gear is first apportioned for use by the CDQ sector. The CDQ sector comprises all trawl and non-trawl vessels that harvest groundfish under the CDQ Program. The CDQ sector receives its halibut PSC apportionment as a Prohibited Species Quota (PSQ) Reserve (§ 679.2). Section 3.7.4.6 of the FMP and regulations at § 679.21(e) allocate 393 mt of the BSAI halibut PSC VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Jkt 238001 limit to the groundfish CDQ sector as PSQ Reserve. NMFS further apportions the halibut PSQ Reserve to each CDQ group as PSQ (§ 679.2) in proportion to the percentages specified by NMFS (71 FR 51804, August 31, 2006). PSQ serves as a halibut PSC limit for BSAI groundfish harvests by each CDQ group. Under § 679.21(e)(3)(i)(A) and (e)(4)(i)(A), the halibut PSQ Reserve of 393 mt is deducted from the PSC limits established for both the trawl sector and the non-trawl sector: 326 mt is deducted from the trawl gear halibut PSC limit of 3,675 mt and 67 mt is deducted from the non-trawl gear halibut PSC limit of 900 mt. Sections 679.21(e)(3)(i)(A) and (e)(4)(i)(A) specify that the PSQ reserve is not further apportioned by gear or fishery or season. Therefore, the CDQ groups may use their halibut PSQ in any trawl or non-trawl gear groundfish CDQ fishery, subject to other requirements in regulation. Following the deduction of the halibut PSQ reserve, the BSAI halibut PSC limit for trawl gear is further divided between the Amendment 80 and BSAI trawl limited access sectors as specified in Table 35 to part 679. The Amendment 80 sector is apportioned 2,325 mt. This amount is further apportioned to Amendment 80 cooperatives and the Amendment 80 limited access fishery, if any vessels elect to participate in the limited access fishery for that year. The apportionment of halibut PSC to an Amendment 80 cooperative is for exclusive use by the vessels participating in that cooperative. The method for apportioning halibut PSC between Amendment 80 cooperatives and the Amendment 80 limited access fishery is described at § 679.91(d)(2) and (3). Beginning in 2011, all participants in the Amendment 80 sector have participated in Amendment 80 cooperatives. Therefore, this preamble describes the harvesting and apportionment of halibut PSC to Amendment 80 cooperatives in greater detail. The BSAI trawl limited access sector is assigned 875 mt of halibut PSC. This amount is further apportioned into PSC allowances among fishery categories through the annual harvest specifications process for those fishery categories in which BSAI trawl limited access fishery vessels participate. These fishery categories are (1) pollock/Atka mackerel/‘‘other species’’ fishery, (2) Pacific cod fishery, (3) rockfish fishery, and the 4) yellowfin sole fishery (80 FR 11919, March 5, 2015)). The Amendment 80 Program established provisions that do not make PO 00000 Frm 00007 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 71655 the full amount of the halibut PSC limit available to the trawl sector (see Table 35 to part 679). A portion of the PSC limit is left ‘‘in the water’’ and is not available for use as halibut PSC in the groundfish fisheries. Since 2013, the annual amount of halibut PSC limit left in the water has been 150 mt. Additional description of the impacts of implementation of the Amendment 80 Program on BSAI halibut PSC apportionment is provided in the following ‘‘Overview of the BSAI Groundfish Sectors’’ section of the preamble. The BSAI halibut PSC limit for nontrawl gear of 900 mt has been in effect since 1993 (58 FR 14524, March 18, 1993). After assigning 67 mt for use by the CDQ sector as PSQ Reserve as described above, the remaining 833 mt of the non-trawl limit is further apportioned into PSC allowances among fishery categories through the annual harvest specifications process (80 FR 11919, March 5, 2015). These fishery categories are specified in § 679.21(e)(4)(ii) as: (1) Pacific cod hook-and-line catcher vessel fishery, (2) Pacific cod hook-and-line catcher/ processor fishery, (3) sablefish hookand-line fishery, (4) groundfish jig gear fishery, (5) groundfish pot gear fishery, and (6) other non-trawl fisheries. Section 3.6 of the FMP authorizes the Council to exempt specific gear types from the non-trawl halibut PSC limits that are established through the annual harvest specifications process. In past annual consultations with the Council, NMFS has exempted pot gear, jig gear, and the sablefish IFQ hook-and-line gear fishery categories from the non-trawl halibut PSC limit. The Council and NMFS have exempted these gear types from halibut PSC limits, given the limited amount of halibut bycatch that is known to occur by pot and jig gear compared to the total halibut PSC use by other gear types. The sablefish IFQ hook-and-line fishery has not been included based on limited halibut PSC use, particularly in the BSAI. Additional rationale for exempting these gear types from halibut PSC limits is contained in the final 2015 and 2016 harvest specifications (80 FR 11919, March 5, 2015). Figure 1 shows the process for establishing BSAI annual halibut PSC limits for each groundfish sector and the associated halibut PSC limits established for 2015 (see Section 2.1 of the Analysis for additional information). BILLING CODE 3510–22–P E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM 16NOP2 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 71656 VerDate Sep<11>2014 Jkt 238001 BSAI Halibut PSC Limits (4,575 mt) Trawl PSC (3,675 mt) PO 00000 Non-Trawl PSC (900 mt) Frm 00008 + I I + ~ Trawl COO PSO Reserve (326 mtl Non-Trawl COO PSO (67 mt) Fmt 4701 Non-Trawl Non-COO PSC (833 mtl I Sfmt 4702 + Amendment 80 (2,325 mt) E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM COO PSO Reserve (Unspecified Gear) (393 mt) _ t---- I I AI Other Targets 1 I (58mt) L- ------1 I __ ~ ! ___ 1 Pacific Cod Amendment 80 Cooperatives (2,325 mt) I ~ 16NOP2 -- ~---- ~ r-------1 1 I Non-Trawl CVs (15mt) 1 1 ! 'If BSAI Trawl Limited Access Fishery (875mt) Unallocated Amendment 80 reductions (150 mt) Amendment 80 Limited Access (Omt) ~ _(7;5~~ _: 1 Non-Trawl CPs 1 1 (760 mt) : Specified in regulation Trawl NonCOO PSC (3,349 mt) J, I L.------ EP16NO15.214</GPH> + __ y____ 1 + + + 1 Pollock/ - - - --- - - -- -- , r -- - - --I 1 Atka Mackerel/ : I Pacific Cod I : Rockfish 1 I Yellowfin Sole 1 (453 mtl I 1 (5 mtl 1 I (167 mt) : Other Species 1 I 1 (250 mt) I L - - - - - .. - - - - - - ' - - - - - - - L------ r-------1 Target fishery : 1 apportionment set in 1 I annual harvest 1 I specifications 1 L.-------- Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / Proposed Rules 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Figure 1. Flow Chart of the BSAI Halibut PSC Limit Apportionment Process and the Established Limits for 2015 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / Proposed Rules BILLING CODE 3510–22–C mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 2. Overview of the BSAI Groundfish Sectors a. Amendment 80 Sector The Amendment 80 sector comprises trawl catcher/processors in the BSAI active in groundfish fisheries other than Bering Sea pollock (i.e., the head-andgut fleet or Amendment 80 vessels). The Amendment 80 species are the following six species: BSAI Atka mackerel, Aleutian Islands Pacific ocean perch, BSAI flathead sole, BSAI Pacific cod, BSAI rock sole, and BSAI yellowfin sole (§ 679.2). The Amendment 80 Program allocates a portion of the TACs of the Amendment 80 species between the Amendment 80 Program and other trawl fishery participants (72 FR 52668, September 14, 2007). The Amendment 80 Program also allocates crab and halibut PSC limits to constrain bycatch of these species while Amendment 80 vessels harvest groundfish. Fishing under the Amendment 80 Program began in 2008. The Amendment 80 Program allocated QS for Amendment 80 species based on the historical catch of these species by Amendment 80 vessels. The Amendment 80 Program allows and facilitates the formation of Amendment 80 cooperatives among QS holders who receive an exclusive harvest privilege. This exclusive harvest privilege allows Amendment 80 cooperative participants to collaboratively manage their fishing operations and more efficiently harvest groundfish and PSC allocations. The Amendment 80 sector can be divided between vessels that focus primarily on flatfish (i.e., Alaska plaice, arrowtooth flounder, flathead sole, rock sole, and yellowfin sole) and those vessels that focus on Atka mackerel. In 2013, eleven Amendment 80 vessels focused on flatfish targets. Eight vessels focused on targeting Atka mackerel. The flatfish-focused vessels have higher rates of halibut bycatch than the Atka mackerel vessels. Section 4.4.2 of the Analysis provides detailed information on Amendment 80 sector participants, harvests, and revenues in the BSAI groundfish fisheries. Annually, each Amendment 80 QS holder elects to participate either in a cooperative or the limited access fishery. Participants in the limited access fishery do not receive an exclusive harvest privilege for a portion of the TACs allocated to the Amendment 80 Program. Beginning in 2011, all QS holders have participated in one of two Amendment 80 cooperatives. For additional detail see Amendment 80 Cooperative Reports available on the NMFS Alaska Region VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Jkt 238001 Web site, http:// alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/ sustainablefisheries/amds/80/ default.htm. As specified in Section 3.7.5.2.1 of the FMP and at § 679.91, NMFS annually establishes a halibut PSC limit of 2,325 mt for the Amendment 80 sector. This halibut PSC limit is apportioned between Amendment 80 cooperatives and the limited access fishery according to § 679.91. Amendment 80 cooperatives are responsible for coordinating fishing activities to ensure the cooperative halibut PSC allocation is not exceeded. Section 679.91(h)(3)(xvi) prohibit each Amendment 80 cooperative from using halibut PSC in excess of the amount specified on its annual Amendment 80 Cooperative Quota permit. The regulations further specify that each member of the Amendment 80 cooperative is jointly and severally liable for any violations of the Amendment 80 Program regulations while fishing under the authority of an Amendment 80 Cooperative Quota permit. In a year when there are vessels participating in the Amendment 80 limited access fishery, NMFS apportions the halibut PSC limit for the Amendment 80 limited access fishery into PSC allowances for the following six trawl fishery categories in which the vessels could participate: (1) Yellowfin sole fishery, (2) rock sole/flathead sole/ ‘‘other flatfish’’ fishery, (3) Greenland turbot/arrowtooth flounder/Kamchatka flounder/sablefish fishery, (4) rockfish fishery, (5) Pacific cod fishery, and (6) pollock/Atka mackerel/‘‘other species’’ fishery, which includes the midwater pollock fishery (see § 679.21(e)(3)(i)(B), (e)(3)(ii)(C), and (e)(3)(iv)). NMFS manages the Amendment 80 limited access fishery halibut PSC allowances because participants in the Amendment 80 limited access fishery do not have exclusive privileges to use a specific amount of halibut PSC. To manage halibut PSC, NMFS monitors participation and PSC use in the Amendment 80 limited access fishery categories. Except for the pollock/Atka mackerel/‘‘other species’’ fishery, NMFS has the authority to close a trawl fishery category in the Amendment 80 limited access fishery if NMFS concludes that the fishery category will, or has, exceeded its halibut PSC allowance. A halibut PSC allowance is enforced through the prohibition against conducting any fishing contrary to notification of inseason action, closure, or adjustment (§ 679.7(a)(2)). The regulations establishing the exception for the pollock/Atka mackerel/‘‘other species’’ fishery are explained below in PO 00000 Frm 00009 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 71657 the section ‘‘BSAI Trawl Limited Access Sector.’’ Section 2.2.1 of the Analysis and the final rule implementing the Amendment 80 Program provide more detailed information on the process NMFS uses to assign Amendment 80 species and halibut PSC to each Amendment 80 cooperative and the Amendment 80 limited access fishery (72 FR 52668, September 14, 2007). The allocations of Amendment 80 species TACs and apportionments of halibut PSC to each of the Amendment 80 cooperatives are provided in the final 2014 and 2015 harvest specifications for the BSAI groundfish fisheries (80 FR 11919, March 05, 2015). The Amendment 80 groundfish fisheries provide revenue to Amendment 80 vessel owners and crew members that harvest and process groundfish. In addition, the fisheries provide socioeconomic benefits to fishing communities that provide support services for Amendment 80 vessel operations. Amendment 80 groundfish harvests in the BSAI averaged 328,000 mt and generated $325 million in wholesale revenues annually from 2008 through 2013. Three groundfish species provided over threequarters of the wholesale revenue for the Amendment 80 fleet from 2008 through 2013: yellowfin sole (38 percent of total revenue), Atka mackerel (20 percent), and rock sole (19 percent). b. BSAI Trawl Limited Access Sector The BSAI trawl limited access sector comprises all the trawl vessels in the BSAI except Amendment 80 catcher/ processors. From 2008 to 2013, 141 vessels participated in the BSAI trawl limited access sector: 99 American Fisheries Act (AFA) catcher vessels that primarily target pollock and also fish for Pacific cod; 17 AFA catcher/processors that primarily target pollock and also fish for yellowfin sole and Pacific cod; and 25 non-AFA catcher vessels that primarily target Pacific cod and yellowfin sole, with some also targeting Atka mackerel and Pacific ocean perch (see Section 4.4.3 of the Analysis for additional detail). The AFA is a limited access program for Bering Sea pollock implemented by statute in 1998 (Public Law 105–277, 16 U.S.C.A. statutory note). The AFA specified eligible vessels, established sector allocations of pollock, and allowed vessels to form cooperatives. All AFA catcher vessels and catcher/ processors participate in the pollock fishery through cooperatives. The pollock fishery accounts for 64 percent of all groundfish harvests in the BSAI but takes a relatively small proportion of E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM 16NOP2 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 71658 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / Proposed Rules halibut bycatch, averaging only 8 percent of total halibut bycatch in the BSAI from 2008 through 2013. The BSAI trawl limited access sector is a limited access sector because vessels must have a License Limitation Program (LLP) groundfish license to conduct directed fishing for any groundfish in BSAI (see § 679.4(k)(1)). The LLP is a limited access program because a limited number of licenses are issued and a person only received an LLP license if that person met specific eligibility requirements. However, the LLP does not allocate exclusive harvest privileges for a specific portion of a fishery TAC like the Amendment 80 Program does for the six Amendment 80 species or like the AFA does for Bering Sea pollock. Thus, for all species but pollock, vessels in the BSAI trawl limited access sector are in competition with other participants to maximize their harvest of target species before they reach either their halibut PSC limits, or in the case of Bering Sea pollock, Chinook salmon PSC limits. As specified in Section 3.7.5.2.1 of the FMP and at § 679.91, NMFS annually establishes a halibut PSC limit of 875 mt for the BSAI trawl limited access sector. This halibut PSC limit of 875 mt is apportioned to fishery categories through the annual harvest specification process. NMFS apportions this sector’s PSC limit into PSC allowances among the following trawl fishery categories: (1) Yellowfin sole fishery, (2) rock sole/ flathead sole/‘‘other flatfish’’ fishery, (3) Greenland turbot/arrowtooth flounder/ Kamchatka flounder/sablefish fishery, (4) rockfish fishery, (5) Pacific cod fishery, and (6) pollock/Atka mackerel/ ‘‘other species’’ fishery, which includes the midwater pollock fishery. For additional detail see Table 16 in the 2015 and 2015 final harvest specifications (80 FR 11919, March 5, 2015) and § 679.21(e)(3)(i)(B), (e)(3)(ii)(C), and (e)(3)(iv)). After NMFS establishes PSC allowances for these trawl fishery categories, NMFS may, through the annual harvest specification process, further apportion the allowances by season, according to criteria specified in regulation (§ 679.21(e)(5)). NMFS apportions some halibut PSC allowances in specific groundfish fisheries by season to ensure that a portion of the halibut PSC allowance for that fishery is available for use earlier in the year and a portion of the halibut PSC allowance remains to support groundfish fishing in that fishery that occurs later in the year. The limits assigned to each season for a groundfish fishery reflect halibut PSC likely to be taken during that season in that fishery. VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Jkt 238001 In general, the PSC regulations state that if NMFS determines that any of these trawl fisheries will reach the PSC allowance for that fishery (or a seasonal apportionment of an allowance), NMFS closes that trawl fishery in the BSAI for the rest of the year, or, if applicable, for the rest of the season (§ 679.21(e)(7)(v)). NMFS has authority under current regulations to close the following trawl fisheries if they will reach their halibut PSC allowance: (1) Yellowfin sole fishery, (2) rock sole/flathead sole/ ‘‘other flatfish’’ fishery, (3) Greenland turbot/arrowtooth flounder/Kamchatka flounder/sablefish fishery, (4) rockfish fishery, and (5) Pacific cod fishery (§ 679.21(e)(7)(v)). For example, in May 2014, NMFS closed the yellowfin sole fishery throughout the BSAI to prevent that fishery from exceeding its halibut PSC allowance (79 FR 29136, May 21, 2014). The Pacific cod and yellowfin sole fisheries are the primary fisheries that can be constrained by halibut PSC limits in the BSAI trawl limited access sector. The regulations include an exception for the pollock/Atka mackerel/‘‘other species’’ fishery category. If the pollock/ Atka mackerel/‘‘other species’’ fishery category will reach its halibut PSC allowance, NMFS does not have the authority to close the pollock/Atka mackerel/‘‘other species’’ fishery category. This is the result of the interaction of several regulations. As noted previously, NMFS must count all halibut PSC in the midwater pollock fishery category against the PSC allowance for the pollock/Atka mackerel/‘‘other species’’ fishery category (§ 679.21(e)(3)(ii)(C)). By a regulation adopted in 1992, if the PSC allowance for the pollock/Atka mackerel/‘‘other species’’ category will be reached, NMFS only has authority to close directed fishing for pollock to trawl vessels using nonpelagic trawl gear (57 FR 43926, 43935, September 23, 1992; § 679.21(e)(7)(i)). However, in 2000, NMFS prohibited directed fishing for pollock in the BSAI with nonpelagic trawl gear at all times and extended that prohibition to CDQ sector vessels in 2006 (65 FR 31105, May 16, 2000; 71 FR 36694, June 28, 2006; § 679.24(b)(4)). Thus, if the halibut PSC allowance for the trawl fishery category of pollock/ Atka mackerel/‘‘other species’’ will be reached, NMFS does not have authority to take additional action. The Council did not recommend, and NMFS did not propose, changes in the management of the pollock/Atka mackerel/‘‘other species’’ fishery. Even though NMFS does not have authority to close this fishery, halibut PSC use in the pollock/Atka mackerel/ PO 00000 Frm 00010 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 ‘‘other species’’ fishery category recently (i.e., 2013 and 2014) was below the amount the PSC allowance for this fishery category. Based on recent halibut PSC use, NMFS anticipates that halibut PSC in this trawl fishery category would not exceed the PSC allowance that would be established for this fishery category under this proposed rule in future years. However, if this fishery did exceed its PSC allowance, NMFS considers recent halibut PSC use each year when it establishes PSC allowances and could increase the PSC allowance for this fishery category. But because the regulation establishes an overall halibut PSC limit for the BSAI trawl limited access sector of 710 mt, an increase in the halibut PSC allowance for one fishery category in this sector would be matched by a corresponding decrease in the halibut PSC allowance for other fishery category or categories in this sector. The BSAI trawl limited access fisheries provide revenue to vessel owners and crew members that harvest and process groundfish. In addition, the fisheries provide socioeconomic benefits to fishing communities that provide support services for BSAI trawl limited access vessel operations. Groundfish harvests in the BSAI trawl limited access fisheries averaged 1 million mt and generated $1.3 billion in wholesale revenues from 2008 through 2013. During this period, the pollock fishery was 93 percent of the groundfish harvest and wholesale revenue for the BSAI trawl limited access sector. The Pacific cod fishery was 4 percent and the yellowfin sole fishery was 2 percent of the groundfish harvest and wholesale revenue for the BSAI trawl limited access sector. Section 4.4.3 of the Analysis provides detailed information on participants, harvests, and revenues in the BSAI trawl limited access sector fisheries. c. BSAI Non-trawl Sector The BSAI non-trawl sector comprises all the non-trawl vessels in the BSAI except vessels fishing for groundfish in the CDQ sector. Non-trawl vessels participating in the CDQ sector are addressed in the following section of the preamble. As described in the ‘‘Annual Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Limits and Apportionments of PSC Limits’’ section of the preamble above, the Council and NMFS have exempted pot gear, jig gear, and the sablefish IFQ hook-and-line gear fishery categories from halibut PSC limits. Because these three fishery categories are currently exempted from halibut PSC limits, this section of the preamble does not address these fishery categories (see Section 3.1.3.1 of the E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM 16NOP2 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / Proposed Rules Analysis for additional detail on the pot gear, jig gear, and the sablefish IFQ hook-and-line gear fishery categories). From 2008 to 2013, an average of 47 vessels participated in the portion of the BSAI non-trawl sector subject to halibut PSC limits: 35 hook-and-line catcher/ processor vessels that primarily targeted Pacific cod and to a lesser extent Greenland turbot; and 12 hook-and-line catcher vessels that targeted only Pacific cod. Hook-and-line catcher/processor vessels that target Pacific cod comprise the greatest number of vessels and amount of harvests in the non-trawl sector. The Analysis shows that from 2008 through 2013, hook-and-line catcher/processors harvested more than 98 percent of all of the fish harvested by the non-trawl sector. Most of this harvest was from the BSAI Pacific cod fishery. The BSAI hook-and-line catcher/processors harvested 99 percent of the total amount of Pacific cod harvested in the BSAI by non-trawl vessels. The BSAI Pacific cod fishery comprised 98 percent of total harvests for the hook-and-line catcher/processors from 2008 through 2013 (see Sections 4.4.4 and 4.4.5 of the Analysis). All but one hook-and-line catcher/processor fishing in the BSAI participates in a voluntary cooperative, the Freezer Longline Conservation Cooperative (FLCC). The FLCC has allowed hookand-line catcher/processors to fish as a coordinated group and has allowed less efficient vessels to decrease fishing or stop entirely. Additional details about the FLCC are provided in Section 4.4.4.8 of the Analysis. The BSAI non-trawl sector also includes hook-and-line catcher vessels that exclusively target Pacific cod. Data from 2008 through 2013 show that harvests of BSAI Pacific cod comprised 100 percent of the total harvests and total revenue for these vessels. The BSAI hook-and-line catcher vessels targeting Pacific cod harvested 1 percent of the total amount of Pacific cod harvested in the BSAI by non-trawl vessels from 2008 through 2013. During this period, 42 unique vessels participated in the hook-and-line catcher vessel fishery, although the number of vessels participating in this fishery has declined from 20 in 2008 to 11 in 2013 (see Section 4.4.5.1 of the Analysis). Some non-trawl vessels also harvest groundfish other than Pacific cod, but harvests of these other species are limited. Over the past decade, only hook-and-line catcher/processors have participated in the other non-trawl fisheries, specifically targeting Greenland turbot. Hook-and-line VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Jkt 238001 catcher/processor harvested approximately 40 percent of the total amount of Greenland turbot harvested in the BSAI from 2008 through 2013 (see Table 4–10 in Section 4.4.1.6 and Table 4–50 in Section 4.4.4.2 of the Analysis). During this time period, 20 unique vessels participated in the hookand-line catcher/processor fishery for Greenland turbot, although the number of vessels participating in recent years (from 2010 through 2013) has ranged between 13 and 7 each year (see Section 4.4.4.1 of the Analysis). Under current regulations, the nontrawl sector’s PSC limit of 833 mt is apportioned under the annual harvest specification process. Section 679.21(e)(4)(i)(C) specifies that NMFS will apportion the BSAI non-trawl sector’s PSC limit into PSC allowances ‘‘based on each category’s proportional share of the anticipated bycatch mortality of halibut during a fishing year and the need to optimize the amount of total groundfish harvested under the non-trawl halibut PSC limit.’’ As explained above in ‘‘Annual Halibut Bycatch (PSC) limits and Apportionment of PSC limits,’’ NMFS has apportioned the PSC limit for the BSAI non-trawl sector among three nontrawl fishery categories: (1) Pacific cod hook-and-line catcher vessel fishery, (2) Pacific cod hook-and-line catcher/ processor fishery, and (3) other nontrawl fisheries. NMFS has the same authority to apportion, by season, the halibut PSC allowances among the nontrawl fisheries as it has for the trawl fisheries (§ 679.21(e)(5)). As with trawl fisheries, NMFS manages the halibut PSC allowances for the non-trawl fisheries through fishery closures. Section 679.21(e)(8) specifies that if NMFS concludes that a non-trawl fishery will reach its halibut PSC allowance (or a seasonal apportionment of an allowance), it will close that nontrawl fishery in the entire BSAI for the rest of the year (or the rest of the season). The non-trawl fisheries provide revenue to vessel owners and crew members that harvest and process groundfish on catcher vessels and catcher/processors. In addition, the fisheries provide economic benefits to shorebased processors that receive landings of Pacific cod from catcher vessels and to fishing communities that provide support services for BSAI nontrawl vessel operations. Groundfish harvests in the BSAI non-trawl fisheries averaged 116,000 mt and generated $160 million in wholesale revenues annually from 2008 through 2013. Sections 4.4.4 and 4.4.5 of the Analysis provides detailed information on participants, PO 00000 Frm 00011 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 71659 harvests, and revenues in the BSAI trawl limited access groundfish fisheries. d. CDQ Sector The CDQ sector includes all trawl and non-trawl vessels that harvest groundfish under the CDQ Program. CDQ vessels primarily target pollock using trawl gear and target Pacific cod using hook-and-line gear. Other species such as yellowfin sole, several flatfish species, Atka mackerel and Pacific ocean perch allocated to the CDQ sector are targeted by vessels using trawl gear. From 2008 to 2013, 56 vessels participated in the CDQ sector using trawl and non-trawl gear to harvest BSAI groundfish, with nearly 60 percent of the vessels operating in the pollock and Pacific cod target fisheries. The pollock fishery accounted for 73 percent of the total groundfish harvest in the CDQ sector from 2008 through 2013. Vessels participating in the CDQ sector fully harvest the sector’s pollock and Pacific cod allocations. Vessels participating in the CDQ sector have not fully harvested other allocations of groundfish species due to a variety of operational factors and choices described in Section 4.4.6 of the Analysis. As specified in Section 3.7.4.6 of the FMP and at § 679.21(e), NMFS annually establishes a halibut PSC limit of 393 mt for the CDQ sector. The halibut PSC limit is divided among the six CDQ groups by established percentages (71 FR 51804 (August 31, 2006). Each CDQ group receives an apportionment of this halibut PSC limit as halibut prohibited species quota (PSQ), which is a specific amount of halibut that vessels fishing for that CDQ group may use in a year. The apportionment of halibut PSQ to each CDQ group is similar to the apportionment of halibut PSC Cooperative Quota to an Amendment 80 cooperative. The CDQ group manages the use of its halibut PSQ apportionment. The CDQ group has the responsibility to ensure that the vessels fishing its CDQ groundfish allocation do not use halibut PSQ in excess of the amount of the CDQ group’s halibut PSQ. This limit is enforced at § 679.7(d)(3), which prohibits a CDQ group from exceeding its apportionment of halibut PSQ. The CDQ groundfish fisheries provide revenue to CDQ groups that receive royalties from leasing their groundfish allocations for harvest by vessels that participate in non-CDQ groundfish fisheries. In addition, CDQ groundfish harvests provide revenue to vessel owners and crew members that harvest and process groundfish on catcher E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM 16NOP2 71660 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / Proposed Rules vessels and catcher/processors, to shorebased processors that receive landings of CDQ groundfish, and to fishing communities that provide support services for vessels fishing in CDQ groundfish fisheries. By species, the CDQ groundfish allocations that generate revenue for the CDQ groups are as follows: 75 percent of wholesale revenue from pollock; 15 percent from Pacific cod; 6 percent from yellowfin sole; and 4 percent from all other species. Section 4.4.6.1 of the Analysis describes the vessels that participate in harvesting the CDQ allocations of groundfish. From 2008 through 2013, the CDQ sector has consistently harvested almost 100 percent of its pollock allocations. The average annual pollock harvests from 2008 through 2014 are 112,000 mt resulting in $150 million in wholesale revenues. From 2008 through 2013, the CDQ sector harvested an average of 60 percent of its non-pollock species allocations. During this period, vessels in the CDQ sector averaged annual nonpollock groundfish harvests of 42,000 mt and $50 million in wholesale revenues. Section 4.4.6 of the Analysis provides detailed information on participants, harvests, and revenues in the CDQ groundfish fisheries. As described in the ‘‘Halibut Fisheries in the BSAI’’ section of the preamble above, CDQ groups also receive an annual allocation of the commercial halibut fishery catch limit recommended by the IPHC. CDQ halibut allocations provide revenue to vessel owners and crew members that harvest and process halibut, to shorebased processors that receive landings of CDQ halibut, and to fishing communities that provide support services for vessels fishing in CDQ halibut fisheries. Sections 4.5.1 and 4.5.2 of the Analysis provide detailed information on participants, harvests, and revenues in the CDQ halibut fisheries. 3. Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Use in the BSAI Groundfish Sectors The annual halibut PSC limit established for each BSAI groundfish sector is an upper limit on halibut PSC in that sector for that year. However, the amount of halibut PSC used by a BSAI groundfish sector is almost always less than its halibut PSC limit. Halibut PSC use is less than the halibut PSC limit due to a wide range of operational factors such as the need to avoid a closure or an enforcement action if a PSC allocation or allowance is reached. Table 1 shows the halibut PSC limit and average halibut PSC use for the Amendment 80, BSAI trawl limited access, BSAI non-trawl, and CDQ sectors from 2008 through 2014. TABLE 1—CURRENT BSAI HALIBUT PSC LIMITS AND USE BY BSAI GROUNDFISH SECTOR FROM 2008 THROUGH 2014 Average annual BSAI halibut PSC use from 2008–2014 as a % of total annual BSAI halibut PSC use Average annual BSAI halibut PSC use from 2008–2014 as % of the sector’s BSAI halibut PSC limit Current annual BSAI halibut PSC limit (mt ) Current annual BSAI halibut PSC limit as a % of the total annual BSAI halibut PSC limit Amendment 80 sector .......................................................... BSAI trawl limited access sector ......................................... BSAI non-trawl sector .......................................................... CDQ sector .......................................................................... 2,325 875 833 393 53 20 19 9 2,047 710 505 215 59 20 15 6 88 81 61 55 Total for all sectors ....................................................... 4,426 100 3,477 100 79 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 BSAI Groundfish sector Table 1 shows that the Amendment 80 sector used the largest portion of halibut PSC in recent years. The Amendment 80 sector used, on average, approximately 60 percent of the total amount of halibut PSC used by all BSAI groundfish sectors from 2008 through 2014. The BSAI trawl limited access sector used 20 percent, the BSAI nontrawl sector used 15 percent, and the CDQ sector used 6 percent of the total amount of halibut PSC. Table 3–14 in Section 3.1.3.3 of the Analysis shows halibut PSC annually for each sector from 2008 through 2014. The Amendment 80 sector used, on average, 88 percent of its annual halibut PSC limit from 2008 through 2014. Halibut PSC use in the Amendment 80 sector varies annually, and the sector’s use as a percentage of the limit from 2008 through 2014 ranged from 78 percent in 2011 to 97 percent in 2010. The BSAI trawl limited access sector used, on average, 81 percent of its annual halibut PSC limit from 2008 VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Jkt 238001 through 2014, varying from 55 percent of the sector limit in 2010 to 110 percent of the sector limit in 2012. The BSAI non-trawl sector used, on average, 61 percent of its annual halibut PSC limit from 2008 through 2014. Like the trawl sectors, halibut PSC use in the non-trawl sector varied substantially on an annual basis. Almost all of the halibut PSC in the non-trawl sector is used by hook-and-line catcher/ processors targeting Pacific cod. These vessels averaged 98 percent of the total non-trawl halibut PSC use from 2008 through 2014. Halibut PSC use in the Pacific cod hook-and-line catcher/ processor sector has declined since 2010 following formation of the FLCC. From 2008 through 2014, halibut PSC use by the non-trawl sector ranged from 52 percent of the sector limit in 2014 to 74 percent of the sector limit in 2008. The CDQ sector used, on average, 55 percent of its annual halibut PSC limit from 2008 through 2014, varying from 38 percent of the sector limit in 2009 to PO 00000 Frm 00012 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 Average annual BSAI halibut PSC use from 2008–2014 (mt) 67 percent of the sector limit in 2013. Halibut PSC use in the CDQ sector has typically been much lower than the PSC limit due to a variety of operational choices to limit catch of some groundfish species, and the methods used by CDQ groups to assign halibut PSC when fishing jointly for CDQ and non-CDQ species. Section 4.4.6.2 of the Analysis describes these factors in greater detail. For all sectors, Section 3.1.3.3 of the Analysis describes the annual variations in halibut PSC use resulting from changes in groundfish TACs and changes in weather, environmental conditions, and other factors. Historical halibut PSC use information shows that each sector’s PSC use has varied annually in response to these changing conditions. NMFS anticipates that these annual variations in halibut PSC use would continue under the proposed rule. E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM 16NOP2 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / Proposed Rules mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 III. Rationale and Impacts of Amendment 111 and the Proposed Rule Amendment 111 and the proposed rule would reduce the current halibut PSC limits for the BSAI groundfish fisheries. Amendment 111 and the proposed rule are necessary to minimize halibut bycatch to the extent practicable in the BSAI groundfish fisheries, while at the same time providing for the longterm sustainable optimum yield from the groundfish fisheries. By reducing halibut PSC in the groundfish fisheries from current levels, the proposed rule may provide additional harvest opportunities in halibut fisheries in the BSAI and, ultimately, in other Areas (Areas 2 and 3). This section describes the rationale for and the anticipated impacts of the halibut PSC limit reductions that would be implemented by the proposed rule. In recommending the proposed rule, the Council considered the fact that the halibut resource is fully allocated. Recent declines in halibut exploitable biomass, particularly in Area 4 in the BSAI, underscore the need to minimize bycatch of halibut in the groundfish fisheries to the extent practicable. Since the existing BSAI halibut PSC limits were established in 2000, the exploitable biomass has declined and the commercial halibut sector has experienced decreased catch limits as a result (see Section 2.4 of the Analysis). Since 2008, the commercial halibut fishery catch limit in the BSAI in Area 4 has declined, although the 2015 commercial catch limit in Area 4 has increased slightly from the recent low in 2014. The Council determined that the proposed rule is necessary because catch limits for the commercial halibut fisheries in the BSAI have declined in recent years and because the halibut PSC used in the BSAI groundfish fisheries has increased as a proportion of total halibut removals. In recommending the proposed rule, the Council and NMFS considered alternatives that ranged from a 10 percent to a 50 percent reduction in halibut PSC limits for each of the four BSAI groundfish sectors: the Amendment 80, the BSAI trawl limited access, the non-trawl, and the CDQ sectors. The Council and NMFS determined that it was appropriate to recommend a PSC limit reduction for each sector to recognize differences among the sectors in halibut PSC use and management as well as differences in fishery participation, gear and operation type, and available tools to further reduce halibut PSC use. In making its recommendation, the Council and NMFS also considered the VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Jkt 238001 national standards in section 301(a) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. This preamble has already described the consideration of National Standard 1 (prevent overfishing while ensuring, on a continuing basis, optimum yield from the fisheries), and National Standard 9 (minimize bycatch, to the extent practicable, and where bycatch cannot be avoided, minimize bycatch mortality). Two other national standards were particularly relevant to the Council and NMFS in developing Amendment 111 and the proposed rule: National Standard 8 (provide for the sustained participation of fishing communities and to the extent practicable, minimize adverse economic impacts on such communities) and National Standard 4 (allocation of fishing privileges shall be fair and equitable). Section 6.1 of the Analysis provides additional detail on the consideration of the national standards. The Council believes, and NMFS agrees, that the proposed PSC limit reductions are consistent with the national standards. The Council and NMFS considered the impacts of alternative ranges of halibut PSC limit reductions on (1) the halibut stock, (2) the halibut fishery participants and fishing communities that are engaged in directed halibut fisheries in the BSAI and in other Areas, and (3) the BSAI groundfish fishery participants and fishing communities that are engaged in the BSAI groundfish fisheries. The Analysis provides detailed information that the Council and NMFS considered for the proposed rule. After considering these factors, the Council recommended, and NMFS proposes, to reduce halibut PSC limits by 25 percent in the Amendment 80 sector, 15 percent in the BSAI trawl limited access sector, 15 percent in the non-trawl sector, and 20 percent in the CDQ sector. The resulting halibut PSC limits from this proposed reduction would be 1,745 mt for the Amendment 80 sector; 745 mt for the BSAI trawl limited access sector; 710 mt for the BSAI non-trawl sector; and 315 mt for the CDQ sector. The following sections of the preamble describe the rationale for and impacts of the proposed rule on the halibut stock, the directed halibut fishery and fishing communities, and the BSAI groundfish fishery participants and fishing communities. A. Methods for Analysis of Impacts In order to analyze the impact of the proposed rule and other alternatives considered, the Analysis made two broad assumptions. First, the Analysis assumed the IPHC would (1) differentiate halibut that are over 26 PO 00000 Frm 00013 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 71661 inches in length (O26) from halibut that are under 26 inches in length (U26) for purposes of the annual stock assessment and for establishing commercial fishery catch limits, and (2) establish the blue line catch limit as the commercial fishery catch limit for all IPHC areas. The Analysis assumes application of the IPHC harvest policy because it represents the stated policies of the IPHC and because possible changes in this policy, or the specific commercial catch limits that will actually be adopted by the IPHC, cannot be known or predicted. As described above in the ‘‘Allocation of Halibut Among Fisheries’’ section above, the IPHC is not required to apply its harvest policy and frequently has deviated from it when adopting annual catch limits. However, for purposes of this analysis, assuming application of the IPHC harvest policy is the best available method for analyzing the effects of Amendment 111 and the proposed rule. Second, based on this assumption, the Analysis provides a prospective evaluation of the economic impacts of halibut PSC limit reductions on halibut fisheries and the groundfish fisheries for ten years (2014 through 2023) under two scenarios with different assumptions about the ability of fishery participants to coordinate harvesting activities to minimize halibut PSC. The ‘‘low impact’’ scenario assumes that fishery participants are able to coordinate harvesting activities to achieve almost optimal efficiency in the use of PSC across all sectors. In other words, the impact of halibut PSC reductions can be mitigated to the maximum extent practicable through well-coordinated sector-wide efforts. The ‘‘high impact’’ scenario assumes significantly less coordination across the sector and models each company operating individually to optimize its PSC use. In other words, each company within a sector will attempt to mitigate the impact of halibut PSC reductions on their operations, but with less wellcoordinated sector-wide efforts. Section 4.6 of the Analysis details the methods used. Based on the Analysis and information provided to the Council in public testimony, NMFS determined that the BSAI groundfish sectors have varying abilities to optimize efficient use of halibut PSC, and it is likely that the actual economic impacts of the proposed rule will fall within the range between the low impact and high impact scenarios presented in the Analysis. B. Impacts on the Halibut Stock The Council determined, and NMFS agrees, that the proposed rule would E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM 16NOP2 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 71662 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / Proposed Rules reduce halibut PSC relative to current halibut PSC use. This reduction in halibut PSC use is expected to increase the total amount of halibut exploitable biomass, and potentially the female spawning biomass. Reductions in halibut PSC would be expected to provide additional harvest opportunities to commercial, personal use, sport, and subsistence halibut fisheries in the BSAI and in other Areas. Overall, the Council’s recommendation is expected to result in a decrease of approximately 361 mt in halibut PSC relative to current levels of halibut PSC use (see Section 4.13 of the Analysis). A decrease of 361 mt represents approximately a 10 percent decrease in total halibut PSC relative to current use. This estimate is based on the assumption that the Amendment 80 sector, which is the sector most constrained by the proposed halibut PSC limit, would fully use its halibut PSC limit of 1,745 mt in each year. As Table 1 of this preamble and Section 3.1.3.3 of the Analysis show, the BSAI groundfish sectors have consistently used less than their halibut PSC allocations due to regulatory and operational limits. Therefore, the actual PSC reduction would likely be higher than this estimate. The best available information estimates that approximately 64 percent of the halibut PSC mortality in the BSAI is O26 halibut (see Table 4–219 in Section 4.14.1.4 of the Analysis). Assuming that the IPHC were to apply its current harvest policy when adopting annual catch limits and the proportion of O26 and U26 bycatch remains constant, the halibut ‘‘savings’’ from reductions in halibut PSC use under the proposed rule would be expected to provide an additional commercial harvest opportunity in the year following the halibut PSC reduction. Therefore, the primary impact of the proposed rule would be to provide additional harvest opportunity to the Area 4 commercial fishery because most (64 percent) of the bycatch is O26. This result would be expected under all of the alternatives to reduce halibut PSC limits (from 10 to 50 percent) considered by the Council and NMFS. The best available information estimates that approximately 36 percent of halibut PSC mortality in the BSAI is U26 halibut (see Table 4–219 in Section 4.14.1.4 of the Analysis). The proposed reductions in halibut PSC use would decrease mortality of U26 halibut, which could benefit the halibut stock by contributing to the long-term abundance of the halibut resource. Ultimately, reductions in U26 bycatch could result in additional halibut that can grow and VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Jkt 238001 reproduce and then ultimately be harvested in the commercial, personal use, sport and subsistence fisheries on a coastwide basis. The extent to which a decrease in U26 halibut PSC may affect the coastwide female spawning biomass is not well-known based on the best available information (see Section 3.1.1.2 of the Analysis for additional detail). While the impacts of a decrease in U26 halibut mortality on the coastwide halibut stock are not well-known, the best available information suggests that reductions in U26 halibut PSC under the proposed rule are unlikely to impact the long-term abundance of the halibut stock. The Analysis estimates that even under the most conservative halibut PSC reductions considered by the Council, a 50 percent reduction of the PSC limits in all four BSAI groundfish sectors, the reduction in the amount of U26 halibut PSC would likely range from 690,000 pounds to 740,000 pounds. Therefore, even under the greatest PSC limit reduction alternatives considered, this reduction would represent less than 1 percent of the 2015 coastwide female spawning halibut biomass (see Table 3–1 in Section 3.1.1 of the Analysis). The Council determined, and NMFS agrees, that under the reduction in U26 halibut mortality estimated from the proposed rule, a reduction estimated to range from 188,000 to 210,000 pounds, the proposed rule could result in some conservation benefit compared to the status quo. The conservation benefit would be limited because it comprises a small proportion of the total female spawning biomass (less than 1 percent of the total female spawning biomass). The specific long-term impacts of reduced U26 bycatch on potential longterm commercial, personal use, sport, or subsistence harvests in a specific Area cannot be predicted with certainty given the available information. Some of the factors affecting the ability to determine impacts are the variable time required for U26 bycatch to grow, reproduce, and become available for harvest; changes in halibut stock abundance on a coastwide basis; and changes in the distribution of harvestable biomass by area in the future. Section 4.14.1.2 of the Analysis reviewed the potential long-term halibut stock impacts of halibut bycatch reduction measures throughout all Areas under a range of assumptions and concluded that the overall impact of these reductions was limited on an annual and 10-year basis. Therefore, under the proposed rule, overall halibut mortality would not be expected to change significantly. PO 00000 Frm 00014 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 C. Impacts on Halibut Fishery Participants and Fishing Communities In recommending the proposed rule, the Council and NMFS considered the impacts of reducing halibut PSC limits on fishermen and fishing communities that depend on the halibut resources in the BSAI and in other Areas in Alaska, British Columbia, and the U.S. West Coast, including the commercial, personal use, sport, and subsistence fisheries (see Section 4.13.3 and 4.14.1 of the Analysis). Specifically, the Analysis estimates the potential increases in halibut fishery harvests and revenues in Area 4 and in other Areas from reduced halibut PSC limits. The proposed reduction in halibut PSC limits could benefit participants in the commercial halibut fisheries if it results in increased levels of harvestable halibut and increased catch limits. Catch limits are not established for the personal use, sport, and subsistence halibut fisheries in Area 4, and the proposed reduction in halibut PSC limits is not expected to impact halibut harvests in those fisheries in the near term, because harvests in personal use, sport, and subsistence fisheries are deducted before commercial catch limits are established. The Analysis estimates that the proposed rule could result in increased commercial fishery harvests in Area 4 ranging from 315,000 pounds to 353,000 pounds each year compared to current levels of harvests over the 10-year period used for the Analysis. This increased harvest is estimated to provide additional commercial halibut fishery revenues ranging from $3.4 million to $3.5 million each year, which would total $34 million to $38 million over the 10-year period (see Table 4–210 in Section 4.14 of the Analysis). This increased revenue is due to the increased availability of O26 and U26 to the commercial halibut fishery from the halibut PSC reductions. The Analysis estimates that the proposed rule could reduce U26 bycatch that may provide an additional 64,000 pounds to 72,000 pounds of directed halibut harvest annually in Areas outside of Area 4 (i.e., Areas 2 and 3). These savings are estimated to provide additional halibut revenues to fishery participants ranging from $2.7 million to $3 million annually over a 10-year period once the proposed rule is implemented. The Analysis notes that these potential benefits would not accrue until the halibut have reached a size where they could be harvested. The Analysis assumes this will occur from 6 through 10 years after the halibut PSC E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM 16NOP2 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / Proposed Rules mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 savings occur (see Table 4–211 in Section 4.14 of the Analysis). The Analysis describes the potential impacts of the proposed rule on BSAI coastal fishing communities that participate in the halibut fishery, especially in Area 4CDE. Section 4.14.1.3 of the Analysis states that the proposed action is likely to provide the greatest benefit to fishing communities in the BSAI that are highly dependent on halibut as a primary source of revenue for local vessels that participate in the commercial fishery. Appendix C to the Analysis includes a detailed description of the fishing communities most dependent on the halibut resource in the BSAI. Relative to the status quo, the proposed rule may provide additional opportunities for fishing community residents to harvest halibut by reducing the maximum amount of halibut PSC that can be taken in the groundfish fisheries. Although additional reductions in halibut PSC limits may provide additional harvest opportunities to residents participating in the commercial halibut fishery, the benefit to any one community would be limited by the distribution of harvest privileges among participants in the IFQ and CDQ Programs (see Section 4.14.1.4 of the Analysis for additional detail). D. Impacts on BSAI Groundfish Fishery Participants and Fishing Communities The Council and NMFS considered the impacts of reduced halibut PSC limits on BSAI groundfish sector participants. As discussed in Section 4.14.2.2 of the Analysis, the Council and NMFS considered a number of factors in making the proposed reductions to halibut PSC limits for each BSAI groundfish sector. First, the Council and NMFS considered the relative amount of halibut PSC in each of the BSAI groundfish sectors. Second, the Council and NMFS considered whether a groundfish sector had been able to harvest groundfish TACs with lower amounts of halibut PSC use than the sector’s current limit. Third, the Council and NMFS considered the ‘‘tools’’ (i.e., changes in fishery operations) available to each groundfish sector to adapt to halibut PSC limit reductions. Fourth, the Council and NMFS considered the potential socioeconomic impacts of reduced halibut PSC limits. As part of this last consideration, the Council and NMFS considered both the adverse socioeconomic impacts of halibut PSC limit reductions from reduced groundfish harvests on BSAI groundfish harvesters and fishing communities that participate in groundfish fisheries, as well as the potential benefits to the halibut harvesters and fishing VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Jkt 238001 communities that participate in the halibut fishery. The Analysis provides detailed information for each of these factors. 1. Amendment 80 Sector Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Limit Reduction The Council recommended, and NMFS proposes, a minimum 25 percent reduction in the halibut PSC limit for the Amendment 80 sector. The reduction in the halibut PSC limit for the Amendment 80 sector from 2,325 mt to 1,745 mt is a reduction of 580 mt. The proposed halibut PSC limit of 1,745 mt would be a 15 percent reduction from the amount of halibut PSC used, on average, by the Amendment 80 sector from 2008 through 2014. The proposed halibut PSC limit would be a 17 percent reduction from Amendment 80 sector halibut PSC use in 2014 (see Section 3.1.3.3 of the Analysis). This is the largest reduction for any of the four groundfish sectors subject to the proposed rule. This 1,745 halibut PSC limit would apply to all Amendment 80 vessels participating in an Amendment 80 cooperative. The Council also considered a more restrictive halibut PSC limit that would apply to any participants in the Amendment 80 limited access fishery. Because all Amendment 80 vessels are assigned to Amendment 80 cooperatives currently, and are likely to continue to participate in Amendment 80 cooperatives in the future, the Council and NMFS anticipate that the 1,745 mt halibut PSC limit will apply to the entire Amendment 80 sector. The halibut PSC limit that would apply to participants in the Amendment 80 limited access fishery is described later in this preamble. The Amendment 80 sector uses the largest portion of halibut PSC in the BSAI groundfish fisheries: 59 percent from 2008 through 2014 as shown in Table 1 in this preamble and in Section 3.1.3.3 of the Analysis. Therefore, the proposed halibut PSC limit would be expected to have the greatest impact on the Amendment 80 sector relative to the other BSAI groundfish sectors. The Council and NMFS considered the use of halibut PSC by the Amendment 80 sector. On average, the Amendment 80 sector has not used the full amount of its halibut PSC allocation as shown above in Table 1 in this preamble and in Table 3–14 in Section 3.1.3.3 of the Analysis. The Analysis shows that total groundfish harvests by the Amendment 80 sector in the years of lowest and highest halibut PSC use were not substantially different from the average total amount of groundfish PO 00000 Frm 00015 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 71663 harvested by the Amendment 80 sector from 2008 through 2014. The Amendment 80 sector averaged 324,000 mt of groundfish harvest from 2008 through 2014. The Amendment 80 sector harvested 325,000 mt of groundfish in 2011, the year of lowest PSC use, and 337,000 mt in 2010, the year of highest PSC use (see Table 4–1 in Section 4.4.1.1 of the Analysis). The Council determined, and NMFS agrees, that the best available information indicates that the proposed halibut PSC limit for the Amendment 80 sector would be below its lowest use of halibut PSC in any year. The Council and NMFS recognize that some of the patterns of halibut PSC use observed in the Amendment 80 sector are due to a range of biological, oceanographic, and operational factors, but the Analysis indicates that halibut PSC rates could be reduced through additional changes in fishery operations (i.e., the expanded use of tools). Although the Analysis does not specifically quantify how easily or how much improvement can be made with limited impact on groundfish harvests, the Analysis indicates that limiting harvests or modifying fishery operations could reduce PSC use considerably. Although the Analysis indicates that the Amendment 80 sector could lower its use of halibut PSC through changes in fishery operations, the Council and NMFS agree that the proposed rule would likely result in reduced groundfish harvests for the Amendment 80 sector. The Council and NMFS considered the tools available to the Amendment 80 sector to reduce halibut PSC under the proposed rule. First, the Council and NMFS considered recently implemented regulatory provisions that could aid the Amendment 80 sector’s ability to adapt to reduced halibut PSC limits. Section 3.1.3.6 and Appendices A and B of the Analysis describe that implementation of the flatfish flexibility program in 2014 allows the sector to increase or decrease harvests of yellowfin sole, rock sole, or flathead sole throughout the season to respond to changing bycatch and market conditions (79 FR 56671, September 23, 2014). Additional Atka mackerel opportunities became available to the Amendment 80 fleet with the implementation of revised Steller sea lion protection measures in 2015 (79 FR 70286, November 25, 2014). Although Atka mackerel is not evenly allocated among all Amendment 80 vessels, it provides additional harvest opportunity for a high value groundfish species with a low rate of halibut PSC that could offset other halibut PSC use E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM 16NOP2 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 71664 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / Proposed Rules in a cooperative and that could reduce overall halibut PSC use for the sector. Second, the Council and NMFS considered the tools that have, in whole or in part, been voluntarily adopted by the Amendment 80 sector. Public testimony from representatives of the Amendment 80 sector indicated that some of these tools have not been fully used by all fishery participants in recent years. This indicates additional reductions in halibut PSC through the expanded use of these tools are achievable and practicable. These tools are described in detail in Section 3.1.3.6 and Appendix B of the Analysis and are summarized here: • Expanding the use of gear modifications known as excluders to reduce the bycatch of halibut; • Improving communication on the fishing grounds within and between Amendment 80 cooperatives; • Using modified pelagic trawl gear to harvest groundfish instead of nonpelagic gear. Generally, pelagic trawl gear has a lower incidental rate of halibut bycatch and it has shown promise in the Central Gulf of Alaska rockfish fisheries, and other fisheries nationally in harvesting a number of groundfish species; • Using test hauls to gauge halibut rates and considering the use of nighttime hauls that tend to have lower halibut PSC rates; • Modifying the timing of fishing to reduce halibut PSC rates toward the end of the year; • Defining a threshold halibut PSC rate (e.g., when the halibut PSC rate is greater than 80 percent of the average halibut PSC rate) that would lead to fishery management actions such as stopping fishing in an area or moving fishing operations. Requiring vessels to react to these rates through Amendment 80 cooperative contracts could significantly reduce halibut PSC limits; • Shifting the composition of species that are harvested to focus on species that appear to have a lower intrinsic rate of halibut PSC than other species (e.g., shifting away from arrowtooth flounder to yellowfin sole); and • Establishing measures to shift fishing effort away from specific geographic locations with higher halibut PSC rates relative to other areas. Although the proposed rule would establish a halibut PSC limit of 1,745 mt, NMFS believes it is likely that the Amendment 80 sector, specifically participants in the Amendment 80 cooperatives, would use less halibut PSC than the proposed limit. Testimony before the Council indicated that Amendment 80 participants typically manage their halibut PSC allocations VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Jkt 238001 with a 5 percent buffer, meaning that an Amendment 80 cooperative would plan to use at least 5 percent less halibut PSC than the Cooperative Quota allocation it receives. NMFS believes that Amendment 80 vessels are likely to establish a buffer as described in public testimony to the Council because the consequences of a cooperative exceeding its halibut PSC allocation can be significant: Financial penalties by the cooperative against the vessel or vessels that resulted in the cooperative exceeding its allocation of halibut PSC; an enforcement action against the cooperative pursuant to § § 679.91(h)(3)(xvi); and a prohibition against fishing for all Amendment 80 species pursuant to § 679.7(o)(4)(v). The Council and NMFS considered the socioeconomic impact of the proposed rule on the Amendment 80 sector and fishing communities participating in the Amendment 80 fisheries. Table 4–187 in Section 4.13.1 of the Analysis estimates that the proposed rule would result in BSAI groundfish harvest reductions in the Amendment 80 sector between 9,500 mt to 25,700 mt each year during the 10year analytical period, for a total of 95,000 mt to 257,000 mt for the full 10year period. The Analysis estimates that the reduction in Amendment 80 groundfish harvests would reduce wholesale revenues for fishery participants from $6.2 million to $18.7 million for each year during the 10-year analytical period. The total wholesale revenue reduction is estimated to range from $62 million to $187 million for the full 10-year period. The Analysis describes that reduced groundfish harvests and revenues would also negatively impact fishing communities that are engaged in the BSAI groundfish fisheries (see Section 4.14.2 and Appendix C of the Analysis). Section 4.4.2.5 describes that the economic value of the use of halibut as PSC in the Amendment 80 sector is substantial as measured by average groundfish wholesale revenue generated per mt of halibut used as PSC to support the Amendment 80 sector. The Council and NMFS considered a range of alternatives that would have resulted in halibut PSC reductions to Amendment 80 cooperatives ranging from a 10 percent to a 50 percent reduction relative to the current limit. As shown in Table 1 of this preamble, the average halibut PSC used in the Amendment 80 sector from 2008 through 2014 was 2,047 mt, which is less than the 10 percent reduction alternative (i.e., 2,093 mt). The Amendment 80 sector has demonstrated that it can maintain a high level of PO 00000 Frm 00016 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 groundfish harvests in some years and use an amount of halibut PSC that is equivalent to a 20 percent reduction in its halibut PSC limit. At the upper end, alternatives that would have reduced the halibut PSC limit by 50, 45, 40, 35, or 30 percent would have come at significant economic cost to the Amendment 80 sector and fishing communities participating in the Amendment 80 sector fisheries. The best available information suggests it is not clear that additional changes in fishery operations could accommodate these high levels of reductions other than foregoing substantial harvest and revenue. Overall, alternatives that would have imposed a 50, 45, 40, 35, or 30 percent reduction would have been expected to reduce net benefits to the Nation because the socioeconomic benefits from the potential increase in harvest opportunities would be less than the negative socioeconomic impacts from foregone BSAI groundfish harvests. Section 4.8.1 of the Analysis describes the relative impacts of alternatives that would have further reduced halibut PSC limits for Amendment 80 cooperatives. The proposed rule would implement a halibut PSC reduction that balances the need to minimize bycatch to the extent practicable while considering the net benefits to the Nation, the impacts to fishing communities, and the long-term objective of providing for a sustained groundfish harvest by Amendment 80 cooperatives. Ultimately, the Council determined, and NMFS agrees, that the proposed rule would minimize halibut bycatch to the extent practicable in the Amendment 80 sector after considering information on the sector’s use of halibut PSC in recent years, the availability of a number of tools for Amendment 80 cooperatives and vessels to reduce halibut PSC use, the likely impact on net benefits to the Nation, and potential additional harvest opportunities to halibut fishery participants in Area 4 and elsewhere. Under the status quo and the proposed rule, if all Amendment 80 vessels participate in a cooperative, the Amendment 80 cooperatives will be allocated the total proposed Amendment 80 sector halibut PSC limit of 1,745 mt. If any Amendment 80 vessels elect to participate in the limited access fishery, the proposed rule would reduce the halibut PSC limit for that fishery by 40 percent from the status quo. This reduction of 40 percent of the halibut PSC limit would only apply to the proportional amount of Amendment 80 QS assigned to the Amendment 80 limited access fishery. For example, if E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM 16NOP2 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / Proposed Rules 100 percent of the Amendment 80 QS (i.e., 100 percent of the Amendment 80 vessels) are assigned to the Amendment 80 limited access fishery in a particular year, and none is assigned to Amendment 80 cooperatives, the Amendment 80 limited access fishery would collectively be assigned a PSC limit of 1,395 mt, an amount that is 40 percent less than the current Amendment 80 sector halibut PSC limit of 2,325 mt. If only a portion of the Amendment 80 QS and vessels are assigned to the Amendment 80 limited access fishery, NMFS would use the process described in Section 2.2.1 of the Analysis to allocate PSC limits between the Amendment 80 cooperatives and vessels in the limited access fishery. A brief summary of that process is provided here. NMFS would first determine the amount of halibut PSC that would be assigned to the Amendment 80 cooperatives. For example, if 80 percent of the Amendment 80 QS were assigned to cooperatives, NMFS would allocate 1,396 mt of halibut PSC (80 percent of the proposed Amendment 80 sector halibut PSC limit of 1,745 mt) to the cooperative (1,745 mt * 0.8 = 1,396). To calculate the amount of halibut PSC assigned for use in the Amendment 80 limited access fishery, NMFS would subtract the amount of halibut PSC allocated to Amendment 80 cooperatives from the total Amendment 80 sector PSC limit. In this example, this amount would be 349 mt (1,745 mt ¥ 1,396 mt = 349 mt). NMFS would apply an additional 20 percent reduction by multiplying the remaining amount of halibut PSC remaining by 0.8 or 80 percent (349 mt * 0.8 = 279 mt). Therefore, this assignment of 279 mt would represent a 40 percent reduction compared to the status quo assignment to the Amendment 80 limited access fishery. Under the proposed rule, some halibut PSC available to the Amendment 80 sector will be left unallocated and remain in the water if a portion of the Amendment 80 sector participates in the Amendment 80 limited access fishery. Using the example above, 1,396 mt is allocated to the Amendment 80 cooperatives, and 279 mt is assigned to the Amendment 80 limited access fishery. This adds up to 1,675 mt, an amount that is 70 mt less than the amount of halibut PSC (1,745 mt) that could have been allocated if all Amendment 80 sector participants were members of a cooperative. The Council and NMFS considered the same factors for the halibut PSC limit applicable to the Amendment 80 cooperatives for the Amendment 80 VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Jkt 238001 limited access fishery. However, the Council recommended, and NMFS proposes, the more restrictive halibut PSC limit for the Amendment 80 limited access fishery to encourage cooperative management. Cooperative management is likely to provide a sustainable longterm approach to bycatch management. A fast-paced Amendment 80 limited access fishery could result in PSC that exceeds its halibut PSC limit. Therefore, a larger PSC limit reduction is appropriate to recognize management uncertainty and encourage cooperative formation as described in Section 4.8.2 of the Analysis. The Council recommended and NMFS proposes a halibut PSC limit reduction of 40 percent for the Amendment 80 limited access fishery after considering the fact that although it is likely that all participants in the Amendment 80 sector will continue to fish in cooperatives, there are a range of factors that could create conditions that result in a participant ending up in the Amendment 80 limited access fishery. These factors include specific cooperative structure and participation requirements, and an individual’s operating conditions. Therefore, the Council determined, and NMFS agrees, that a halibut PSC limit more restrictive than a 40 percent reduction would not be consistent with the purpose and need for this action because it could create incentives for members of a cooperative to purposefully exclude a specific Amendment 80 QS holder from cooperative membership. This exclusion could force that QS holder to participate in the limited access fishery and diminish their competitiveness within the sector to the potential benefit of other Amendment 80 QS holders. Similarly, a halibut PSC limit less restrictive than 40 percent may not provide sufficient incentives to encourage and maintain cooperative formation. A less restrictive halibut PSC limit could result in a PSC limit for the Amendment 80 limited access fishery that would encourage entry in the fishery and result in a difficult to manage ‘‘race for fish’’ that could result in halibut PSC limits being exceeded. See Section 2.2.1 of the Analysis for additional details on the proposed reduction to the Amendment 80 sector halibut PSC limit. 2. BSAI Trawl Limited Access Sector Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Limit Reduction The proposed rule would establish a 15 percent reduction in the halibut PSC limit for the BSAI trawl limited access sector. The reduction in the PSC limit for the BSAI trawl limited access sector from 875 mt to 745 mt is a reduction of PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 71665 130 mt. The BSAI trawl limited access sector used the second largest portion of halibut PSC in the BSAI groundfish fisheries from 2008 through 2014 (20 percent, as shown in Table 1 in this preamble and in Section 3.1.3.3 of the Analysis). The Council and NMFS considered halibut PSC use in the BSAI trawl limited access sector. The BSAI trawl limited access sector, on average, has not used the full amount of halibut PSC assigned to the sector. As shown in Table 1 in this preamble and in Table 3–14 in Section 3.1.3.3 of the Analysis, on average the BSAI trawl limited access sector used 81 percent of the BSAI trawl limited access sector halibut PSC limit from 2008 through 2014. As described in the ‘‘Overview of the BSAI Groundfish Sectors’’ section above, the Pacific cod and yellowfin sole fisheries are the primary fisheries that would be constrained by the proposed halibut PSC limits in the BSAI trawl limited access sector. Overall PSC used in the Pacific cod and yellowfin sole fisheries from 2008 through 2014 averaged 64 percent of the sector’s annual apportionments (see Tables 4–38 and 4–39 in Section 4.4.3.4 of the Analysis). From 2008 through 2014, the BSAI trawl limited access sector did not exceed the PSC apportioned to the Pacific cod fishery, used only 36 percent of its apportionment in one year (2009), and has used less than 60 percent of its apportionment in 3 years (2008, 2010, and 2011) (see Tables 4–38 and 4–39 in Section 4.4.3.4 of the Analysis for more detail). From 2008 through 2014, the BSAI trawl limited access sector exceeded the PSC apportioned to the yellowfin sole fishery in one year (2013), but has used only 16 percent of its apportionment in one year (2010), and has used less than 50 percent of its apportionment in 2 years (2009 and 2011) [see Tables 4–38 and 4–39 in Section 4.4.3.4 of the Analysis for more detail]. The Analysis and public testimony indicate that there are a variety of factors that contributed to lower PSC use in these years including changing oceanographic conditions, the amount of TAC available for harvests, and operational choices by vessel operators to fish in different areas or fisheries. However, the best available data on halibut PSC use indicate that in most years it is reasonable to expect that both Pacific cod and yellowfin sole can be harvested under the halibut PSC limits established by the proposed rule. The Council and NMFS considered the tools that could be adopted by the BSAI trawl limited access sector. The Analysis describes a number of tools E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM 16NOP2 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 71666 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / Proposed Rules that are currently available to the BSAI trawl limited sector to achieve overall bycatch levels similar to those in 2009, 2010, and 2011. First, the pollock fishery could undertake, and has undertaken measures to minimize bycatch, even though it would not be directly limited by this proposed action. Those measures are important because the pollock fishery comprises roughly 41 percent of the PSC use in the BSAI trawl limited access sector (see Figure 4–28 in Section 4.4.3.4 of the Analysis). The pollock fleet is fully managed under a catch share program, the AFA, and has demonstrated a well-established ability to constrain and reduce bycatch below established limits. Section 4.6.3 of the Analysis describes that the AFA sector has demonstrated an ability to consistently maintain bycatch of Chinook salmon below the PSC limits established in Amendment 91 to the FMP (75 FR 53026, August 30, 2010). The best available information indicates that the recent lower amount of halibut PSC use in the pollock fishery is not likely to increase given increased scrutiny by the AFA sector on halibut PSC. Second, additional opportunities, though limited, are available to harvest Pacific cod and pollock in the Aleutian Islands and later in the year under revised Steller sea lion protection measures that were implemented in 2015 (79 FR 70286, November 25, 2014). The opportunity to harvest Pacific cod and pollock later in the year and in the Aleutian Islands provides additional flexibility for vessels in the BSAI trawl limited access sector to fish when and where halibut PSC rates may be lower. Section 4.9 of the Analysis notes that a ‘‘race for fish’’ exists in the BSAI trawl limited access sector, specifically in the Pacific cod and yellowfin sole fisheries. Appendix B of the Analysis examined the operations of catcher/processors in the yellowfin sole fishery and notes that several changes in fishery behavior could be undertaken by this fleet to minimize halibut PSC. Because the yellowfin sole fishery is not managed under a catch share program, there may be some limitations on the ability of participants to coordinate efforts to establish threshold PSC rates and adopt measures to react to those rates by shifting geographic locations, but some level of coordination seems practicable among the participants in this fishery. The Council and NMFS considered the socioeconomic impact of the proposed rule on the BSAI trawl limited access sector and fishing communities that participate in the fisheries. Reductions in halibut PSC limits greater than actual halibut PSC use could be expected to impose a substantial VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Jkt 238001 socioeconomic cost on some BSAI trawl limited access sector participants. Under the two economic scenarios considered, and summarized in Table 4–210 in Section 4.14 of the Analysis, reduced revenue to the BSAI trawl limited access sector from the proposed halibut PSC limit reduction ranges from $14 million to $31 million dollars over a 10-year period, or $1.4 million to $3.2 million dollars annually, of the first wholesale value to the BSAI trawl limited access sector for non-pollock harvests. Section 4.4.3.5 of the Analysis describes that the economic value of the use of halibut as PSC in the BSAI trawl limited access sector is substantial as measured by the average groundfish wholesale revenue generated per metric ton of halibut used as PSC to support BSAI trawl limited access sector. The proposed rule establishes a halibut PSC limit reduction that recognizes there are more limited tools for the BSAI trawl limited access sector than the Amendment 80 sector, but that the BSAI trawl limited sector has demonstrated an ability, on average, to maintain existing harvests at the level of the proposed reduction. Under the proposed rule, the BSAI trawl limited access sector would have to reduce its halibut PSC use relative to several recent years of halibut PSC use. As described in Appendix B of the Analysis, the BSAI trawl limited access sector has some tools available to reduce halibut PSC use. Reducing groundfish fishing or changing behavior during time periods with higher halibut rates may result in some mitigation of the impacts of a reduction in halibut PSC limits. Fishing earlier in the year would appear to result in lower halibut PSC rates. The proposed rule would result in halibut PSC limits that could be restrictive in some years relative to current management. However, the halibut PSC reduction implemented by the proposed rule would be expected to result in limited reductions in groundfish harvests in most years. The Council and NMFS considered a range of alternative halibut PSC reductions for the BSAI trawl limited access sector. Less restrictive halibut PSC limit reductions (i.e., a 10 percent reduction) would not be expected to have an impact on current or likely future halibut PSC use because the BSAI trawl limited access sector has demonstrated an ability to maintain halibut PSC limits below this level. The Council and NMFS also considered more restrictive halibut PSC limits. Ultimately, the Council recommended, and NMFS proposes the 15 percent reduction after considering the relatively limited impact of the BSAI PO 00000 Frm 00018 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 trawl limited access sector on halibut PSC use, the more limited tools available to the sector to practicably reduce its halibut PSC use, and the overall socioeconomic cost to the sector, communities participating in the sector, and the Nation resulting from more restrictive halibut PSC limits. The Council and NMFS also considered the limited benefits that further reductions in halibut PSC limits may provide to halibut fishery users and communities participating in the halibut fishery. The Council and NMFS determined that the proposed halibut PSC limit is likely to provide incentives for the BSAI trawl limited access sector to more fully develop and use tools that improve on the reduced halibut PSC use achieved in 2010 and 2011. 3. BSAI Non-Trawl Sector Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Limit Reduction The BSAI non-trawl sector has the third greatest amount of halibut PSC use among the BSAI groundfish fishery sectors. As Table 1 in this preamble and Table 4–209 in Section 4.14 of the Analysis show, the non-trawl sector is assigned 833 mt, or approximately 19 percent of the current halibut PSC limit in the BSAI, and used approximately 15 percent of the average amount of halibut PSC used in the BSAI from 2008 through 2014. The Council and NMFS considered halibut PSC use in the non-trawl sector. The non-trawl sector has clearly used far less than its current PSC apportionment, particularly in recent years. Table 1 in this preamble shows that from 2008 through 2014, the combined non-trawl sectors have used an average of 61 percent of the total non-trawl halibut PSC apportionment. Pacific cod hook-and-line catcher/ processors have used 99.4 percent of the non-trawl halibut PSC on average from 2008 through 2014. Because of the overwhelming use of halibut PSC by Pacific cod hook-and-line catcher/ processors relative to other non-trawl fishery participants, this section is focused primarily on the impacts of the proposed action on Pacific cod hookand-line catcher/processors. The Council and NMFS also considered the tools that could be adopted by the non-trawl sector. The Analysis and public testimony have described the efforts by hook-and-line catcher/processors to minimize their halibut PSC use in recent years. Appendix B of the Analysis describes a range of performance metrics for this fleet. The data in Appendix B show a consistent trend of lower halibut PSC rates year-over-year, particularly beginning in 2011 (see Table 7 in E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM 16NOP2 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / Proposed Rules Appendix B of the Analysis). Appendix B does not show a clear signal of increasing halibut PSC use by Pacific cod hook-and-line catcher/processors toward the end of the year as shown for the Amendment 80 and BSAI trawl limited access sectors (see Figure 11 in Appendix B of the Analysis). This suggests that the Pacific cod hook-andline catcher/processors are likely employing some operational tools that have led to lower halibut PSC use in recent years (see Tables 4 and 5 in Appendix B of the Analysis). Table 4–210 in Section 4.14 of the Analysis shows that reductions in halibut PSC would not be expected to limit groundfish harvest in the nontrawl sector until reductions reach a level 30 percent lower than the current halibut PSC limit. Therefore, the proposed reduction in the current halibut PSC limit by 15 percent would not be expected to result in reduced groundfish harvests and revenues. Based on the best available information, the proposed action would not likely have a negative economic impact on the non-trawl sector because all harvests could be accommodated under the reduced limit. The Council and NMFS considered the socioeconomic impact of the proposed rule on the non-trawl sector and communities participating in the non-trawl fisheries. Reductions in halibut PSC limits would have to be greater than actual halibut PSC use to impose a substantial socioeconomic cost on the non-trawl sector participants. Under the two economic scenarios considered, and summarized in Table 4–210 in Section 4.14 of the Analysis, the impacts of reduced halibut PSC limits to the non-trawl sector would not be expected to have an economic cost from reduced groundfish revenues until the halibut PSC limit is reduced by at least 30 percent. Section 4.4.4.5 describes that the economic value of the use of halibut as PSC is substantial in the non-trawl fishery, as measured by the average wholesale groundfish revenue generated per mt of halibut used as PSC to support the non-trawl sector. The Council and NMFS considered more restrictive halibut PSC reductions for the non-trawl sector. The Analysis shows that halibut PSC limit reductions would need to be extremely high relative to the current halibut PSC limit to yield actual reductions from current use. For example, a 50 percent reduction in the PSC limit for the nontrawl sector to a PSC limit of 380 mt would yield only 96 mt of savings compared to the 2008 through 2014 average, or only 10 mt relative to 2014 VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Jkt 238001 use (See Table 1 of this preamble and Table 4–209 in Section 4.14 of the Analysis). The Council did not recommend, and NMFS does not propose, more restrictive halibut PSC limits for the non-trawl sector given the relatively limited use of halibut PSC by the non-trawl sector, the consistent trend of halibut PSC use that is well below current halibut PSC limits, and the limited benefit that additional reductions would be likely to provide to the halibut fishery and communities participating in the halibut fishery relative to the negative socioeconomic impacts to participants in the non-trawl sector. Given these factors, the Council and NMFS determined that the proposed reduction is consistent with the purpose and need for this action and additional reductions in the non-trawl halibut PSC limit would not be practicable. 4. CDQ Sector Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Limit Reduction The CDQ sector has the fourth greatest impact on PSC of the BSAI groundfish sectors. As Table 1 in this preamble and Table 4–209 in Section 4.14 of the Analysis show, the CDQ sector is assigned approximately 9 percent of the current halibut PSC limit in the BSAI, and uses approximately 6 percent of the average amount of halibut PSC in the BSAI from 2008 through 2014. The Council and NMFS considered halibut PSC use in the CDQ sector. The CDQ sector has consistently used far less halibut PSC than its current PSC limit, particularly in recent years. Table 1 of this preamble shows that from 2008 through 2014, the sector has used an average of 55 percent of its halibut PSC limit. PSC use has not exceeded 70 percent of the CDQ sector halibut PSC limit, and no CDQ group has exceeded its halibut PSC limit during this time. The Council and NMFS also considered the tools that could be adopted by the CDQ sector. The CDQ sector clearly has, and uses, many of the tools that are available to the Amendment 80, AFA, and Pacific cod hook-and-line catcher/processor sectors because CDQ groups harvest their allocations in conjunction with vessels operating in those fisheries (Section 3.1.3.6 of the Analysis). The data on the use of halibut PSC indicates that these tools are being effectively used to minimize halibut PSC use in the CDQ sector. The Council and NMFS considered the socioeconomic impact of the proposed rule on the CDQ sector and communities participating in the CDQ fisheries. The proposed rule would not be expected to have an adverse PO 00000 Frm 00019 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 71667 economic impact on the CDQ groups and would not be expected to constrain groundfish harvests. Table 4–210 in Section 4.14 of the Analysis shows that until halibut PSC reductions reach a level of 35 percent, there does not appear to be an economic impact on the CDQ sector from reduced groundfish harvests and revenues. Section 4.4.6 of the Analysis contains additional information on the economic impacts of the proposed rule for the CDQ sector. As Table 4–210 in Section 4.14 of the Analysis shows, the proposed halibut PSC reduction of 20 percent relative to current limits would not materially impact the CDQ participants, but would prevent the potential increase of halibut PSC use in future years. It is clear that the level of halibut PSC reduction proposed in this rule is practicable because in all years analyzed, halibut PSC use by the CDQ sector has been less than this limit. The Council and NMFS considered whether additional halibut PSC limit reductions would be appropriate given the substantial gap between actual halibut PSC use and the current halibut PSC limit in the CDQ sector. The Analysis shows that halibut PSC limit reductions would need to be extremely high relative to the current halibut PSC limit to yield actual deductions. For example, a 50 percent reduction in the CDQ sector halibut PSC limit to 197 mt would yield only 18 mt of savings compared to the average use from 2008 through 2014 average, or only 47 mt relative to 2014 use. Neither the Analysis nor public testimony indicated that it is reasonable to expect that halibut PSC use in the CDQ sector will increase relative to current use. Therefore, the Council and NMFS determined that it is impracticable to establish a reduction that would be expected to substantially constrain the CDQ sector given the limited amount of halibut PSC used by the sector and the limited potential harvest opportunity to the commercial halibut fishery that a more restrictive halibut PSC limit would provide. E. Summary of Impacts During public testimony to the Council, some participants in halibut fisheries and members of the public recommended greater reductions of halibut PSC limits than the proposed rule would implement. However, halibut bycatch cannot be avoided completely, unless groundfish fishing is completely stopped. The Council and NMFS believe that more stringent PSC limit reductions are not practicable for the groundfish sectors. E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM 16NOP2 71668 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / Proposed Rules As described above, the Council and NMFS considered impacts on the halibut stock and concluded that under all the alternatives considered, the impact on exploitable biomass and the halibut female spawning biomass was not likely to be significant. The Council and NMFS considered the impact on the halibut fishery and fishing communities participating in the halibut fishery and concluded that larger halibut PSC reductions in some sectors, particularly the Amendment 80 and BSAI trawl limited access sectors, would be expected to provide greater harvest opportunities in the halibut fisheries than would be realized under the proposed reductions. However, the Council and NMFS considered that larger halibut PSC reductions in these two sectors would be expected to have an adverse impact from foregone groundfish harvests and revenues. The adverse socioeconomic impact on fishing communities participating in the groundfish fisheries would be greater with larger halibut PSC reductions. Based on the best available information, the Council and NMFS anticipate that participants in the Amendment 80 and BSAI trawl limited access sectors will need to modify their fishing behavior in response to lower halibut PSC limits. Based on the Analysis and public testimony received from groundfish industry participants on the extent to which individual vessels are able to change their fishing behavior to reduce PSC use, the Council and NMFS believe that the proposed halibut PSC reductions would minimize halibut bycatch to the extent practicable. IV. The Proposed Rule The proposed rule would implement Amendment 111 to the FMP primarily by revising § 679.21 to reduce BSAI halibut PSC limits for the Amendment 80 sector, BSAI trawl limited access sector, BSAI non-trawl sector, and the CDQ Program. The proposed rule would also make minor changes in terminology, reorganize regulatory text, and make other technical changes. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 A. Reduction in Halibut PSC Limits The proposed rule would establish the following halibut PSC limits at § 679.21(b): 1,745 mt for the Amendment 80 sector; 745 mt for the BSAI trawl limited access sector; 710 mt for the BSAI non-trawl sector; and 315 mt for the CDQ Program. These limits result in an overall BSAI halibut PSC limit of 3,515 mt. VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Jkt 238001 1. Amendment 80 Sector The proposed rule would establish at § 679.21(b)(1)(i) a maximum halibut PSC limit of 1,745 mt for the Amendment 80 sector. If no vessels participate in the Amendment 80 limited access fishery in a year, NMFS will allocate the entire Amendment 80 halibut PSC limit of 1,745 mt among the Amendment 80 cooperatives that submitted a timely application for an Amendment 80 cooperative permit for that year. If any Amendment 80 vessels chose to fish in the Amendment 80 limited access fishery, the proposed rule would establish the amount of PSC assigned to the Amendment 80 limited access fishery. The proposed rule would revise § 679.91(d)(1) and (d)(3), so that the Amendment 80 limited access fishery would be assigned only 80 percent of the halibut PSC that is remaining after halibut PSC has been assigned to Amendment 80 cooperatives. This regulatory change would result in an overall reduction of the halibut PSC limit to the Amendment 80 limited access sector of 40 percent compared to existing regulations. With these proposed regulatory changes, it is important to note that the combined halibut PSC limit for Amendment 80 cooperatives and the Amendment 80 limited access fishery would not sum to 1,745 mt. As described earlier in this preamble, the Amendment 80 limited access fishery would be assigned an amount of PSC that is 20 percent less than what the vessels in the Amendment 80 limited access fishery would receive if they had participated in a cooperative for that year. 2. BSAI Trawl Limited Access Sector The proposed rule would establish at § 679.21(b)(1)(ii) a halibut PSC limit of 745 mt for the BSAI trawl limited access sector. The proposed rule would make no change in the annual harvest specification process whereby NMFS apportions the overall sector PSC limit of the BSAI trawl limited access sector into PSC allowances for these trawl fishery categories. The proposed rule would make no change in the process whereby NMFS may make seasonal apportionments of the trawl PSC allowances. 3. BSAI Non-Trawl Sector The proposed rule would establish at § 679.21(b)(1)(iii) a halibut PSC limit of 710 mt for the BSAI non-trawl sector. The proposed rule would make no change in the annual harvest specification process whereby NMFS has authority to apportion the overall sector PSC limit into non-trawl fishery PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 categories. The proposed rule would make no change in the annual harvest specification process whereby NMFS has authority to make seasonal apportions of the non-trawl PSC allowances. NMFS will continue annual consultations with the Council to determine whether the pot gear, jig gear, and the sablefish IFQ hook-and-line gear fisheries will be exempt from the nontrawl halibut PSC limit as described in the ‘‘Annual Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Limits and Apportionments of PSC Limits’’ section of this preamble. 4. CDQ Sector The proposed rule would establish at § 679.21(b)(1)(iv) a halibut PSC limit of 315 mt for the CDQ Program (i.e., CDQ sector). This amount would not be deducted from the trawl PSC limit or the non-trawl PSC limit. The proposed rule would not modify the designation of this PSC limit as a PSQ Reserve. The proposed rule would remove provisions at § 679.21(e)(3)(i)(A)(2)(ii) and § 679.21(e)(4)(i)(A) that allocate a portion of the halibut PSQ reserve from the trawl sector and a portion from the non-trawl sector. These regulatory provisions are no longer necessary with the establishment of a separate halibut PSC limit for the CDQ Program at § 679.21(b)(1)(iv). The proposed rule would make no other changes in the process for the establishment and use of the halibut PSQ Reserve under the CDQ Program. B. Minor Change in Terminology The proposed rule would make a minor change in terminology and use ‘‘halibut PSC allowances’’ rather than ‘‘halibut bycatch allowances’’ to describe the apportionment of a halibut PSC sector limit into fishery categories. Section 679.21(e) currently uses ‘‘bycatch allowances’’ to describe the subdivision of a halibut PSC sector limit into fishery categories. NMFS believes that the term ‘‘PSC allowance’’ is more accurate than ‘‘bycatch allowance’’ because bycatch is broader than PSC. NMFS acknowledges that bycatch is often, or even typically, used to refer to the unintended catch of halibut by the groundfish fisheries. However, NMFS concluded that the regulatory text should use the accurate term, PSC, in regulations governing the catch of halibut by the BSAI groundfish fisheries. The proposed rule also changes the term ‘‘incidental catch’’ to ‘‘PSC’’ at § 679.21(e)(3)(ii)(C). The current regulations at § 679.21(e)(3)(ii)(C) direct NMFS to count incidental catch of all halibut taken by the midwater pollock fishery against the bycatch allowance E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM 16NOP2 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / Proposed Rules for the pollock/Atka mackerel/‘‘other species’’ category. The definition of ‘‘incidental catch’’ in § 679.2 excludes fish that are discarded and returned to the sea. The proposed rule uses the correct term, halibut PSC, in § 679.21(b)(1)(ii)(C) to describe halibut caught by the midwater pollock fishery. C. Reorganization and Other Technical Changes The proposed rule would reorganize § 679.21 by creating a new § 679.21(b) that will contain all the provisions that are specific to BSAI halibut PSC limits. In the current regulations, § 679.21(a) is reserved, § 679.21(b) contains general provisions regarding PSC management, and § 679.21(e) contains provisions for BSAI PSC limits for all prohibited species: halibut, salmon, crab, and herring. The proposed rule would move the general provisions from § 679.21(b) to § 679.21(a). The proposed rule would place all provisions in § 679.21(e) that are specific to BSAI halibut PSC limits into § 679.21(b). The proposed rule would specify the BSAI halibut PSC limits for each of the four groundfish sectors in § 679.21(b) and would note that the total of all the BSAI halibut PSC limits is 3,515 mt. This consolidation of BSAI halibut PSC regulations into § 679.21(b) would clarify the regulations for the public. The proposed reorganization of halibut PSC regulations at § 679.21(b) would have four sections. Section 679.21(b)(1) would establish the halibut PSC limits for the four groundfish sectors: the Amendment 80 sector; the BSAI trawl limited access sector; the BSAI non-trawl sector; and the CDQ Program. Section 679.21(b)(2) would maintain NMFS’s authority to make seasonal apportionments of PSC allowances, which is currently at § 679.21(e)(5). Section 679.21(b)(3) would maintain the provisions regarding notification of PSC allowances, which is currently at § 679.21(e)(6). Section 679.21(b)(4) would maintain the management of BSAI halibut PSC allowances through directed fishery closures, which is currently at § 679.21(e)(7)(i) and (v). 71669 The proposed rule would also revise Table 35 to part 679. Table 35 currently specifies the BSAI halibut PSC limits for the Amendment 80 sector and BSAI trawl limited access sector. The proposed rule would change Table 35 to include the revised halibut PSC limits. Because halibut PSC regulations at § 679.21(e) are cross-referenced in other regulations, the proposed rule would change all cross-references to the halibut-specific provisions in § 679.21(e) throughout part 679 to the new halibut-specific regulations at § 679.21(b). The proposed rule would also change all cross-references in current regulations to the general PSC provisions that are now in § 679.21(b) to the new location for the general provisions in § 679.21(a). For each revised paragraph, this proposed rule includes the revised cross-references in the regulatory text and repeats the text that is not otherwise modified. Table 2 lists the location of regulations with cross-references that would be revised by the proposed rule. TABLE 2—LIST OF PROPOSED CHANGES IN CROSS-REFERENCES Location of revised cross-references § 679.2, definitions of definitions of ‘‘Directed fishing’’, ‘‘Herring Savings Area’’, ‘‘PSQ reserve’’, and ‘‘Sablefish’’. § 679.7(a)(12), § 679.7(k)(1)(v), and § 679.7(k)(4)(iii). § 679.20(d)(2). § 679.23(f), and § 679.23(g)(3). § 679.24(c)(2)(ii)(A), § 679.24(c)(2)(ii)(B), § 679.24(c)(3), § 679.24(c)(4), and § 679.24(a)(2)(ii)(A). § 679.26(d)(2). § 679.31(a)(4). § 679.64(a)(3). V. Classification Pursuant to Section 304(b)(1)(A) and 305(d) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the NMFS Assistant Administrator has determined that the proposed rule is consistent with the FMP, other provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law, subject to further consideration of comments received during the public comment period. The proposed rule has been determined to be not significant for purposes of Executive Order 12866. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 A. Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis An Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA) was prepared for this action, as required by Section 603 of the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA). The IRFA describes the economic impact the proposed rule, if adopted, would have on small entities. The IRFA describes the reasons why this action is being proposed; the objectives and legal basis for the proposed rule; the number and VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Jkt 238001 description of small entities directly regulated by the proposed action; any projected reporting, recordkeeping, or other compliance requirements of the proposed rule; any overlapping, duplicative, or conflicting Federal rules; impacts of the action on small entities; and any significant alternatives to the proposed rule that would accomplish the stated objectives of the MagnusonStevens Act, and any other applicable statutes, and would minimize any significant adverse impacts of the proposed rule on small entities. Descriptions of the proposed action, its purpose, and the legal basis are contained earlier in this preamble and are not repeated here. A summary of the IRFA follows. A copy of the IRFA is available from NMFS (see ADDRESSES). 1. Number and Description of Small Entities Directly Regulated by the Proposed Action The proposed action would directly regulate those entities that participate in PO 00000 Frm 00021 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 harvesting groundfish from the Federal or parallel groundfish fisheries of the BSAI subject to a halibut PSC limit. The RFA recognizes and defines three kinds of small entities that could be regulated by this proposed action: (1) Small businesses, (2) small non-profit organizations, and (3) small government jurisdictions. This proposed action would directly regulate small businesses that participate in the harvesting of groundfish, and small non-profit organizations. The IFRA estimates the number of directly regulated small entities based on size criteria established for industry sectors defined by the Small Business Administration (SBA). According to the SBA criteria, the groundfish fishery is defined as a finfish harvesting sector. An entity primarily involved in finfish harvesting is a small entity if it is independently owned and operated and not dominant in its field of operation (including its affiliates), and if it has combined annual gross receipts not in E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM 16NOP2 71670 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / Proposed Rules excess of $20.5 million for all its affiliated operations worldwide. Based on the best available and most recent data from 2014, the IRFA estimates that a maximum of up to 178 vessels could be directly regulated by this action. The IRFA assumes that each vessel is a unique entity. The IRFA states that this likely overestimates the total number of directly regulated entities because some vessels are likely affiliated through common ownership. However, these potential affiliations are not known with the best available data and cannot be predicted. Only 19 of these directly regulated entities are estimated to be small entities based on the best available data on the gross receipts from these entities and their known affiliates. Seventeen of these small entities are hook-and-line catcher vessels that participate in the non-trawl sector, and two are trawl catcher vessels that participate in the BSAI trawl limited access sector, specifically the Pacific cod target fishery. The IRFA states that all six of the CDQ groups would be directly regulated by this proposed action. The six CDQ groups are: The Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, the Coastal Villages Region Fund, the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation, and the Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association. Each of the six CDQ groups receives an exclusive allocation of halibut PSC that would be reduced (i.e., regulated) under this proposed action. The six CDQ groups are non-profit organizations and none is dominant in its field; consequently each is defined as a small entity under the RFA. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 2. Federal Rules That May Duplicate, Overlap, or Conflict With the Proposed Action NMFS has not identified any duplication, overlap, or conflict between this proposed action and existing Federal rules. 3. Impacts of the Action on Small Entities The proposed action is intended to reduce halibut PSC mortality by decreasing halibut PSC limits available for use in the BSAI groundfish fisheries. Any reductions in harvest by groundfish harvesters would impact revenue generated from the BSAI groundfish fisheries. The 17 hook-and-line catcher vessels that participate in the non-trawl sector are not likely to be affected by the proposed reduction in the halibut PSC VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Jkt 238001 limit for the non-trawl sector because current and anticipated halibut PSC use in this sector is substantially less than the proposed halibut PSC limit that would be established. The 2 trawl catcher vessels that participate in the BSAI trawl limited access sector may be limited by the proposed reduction in the halibut PSC limit for the BSAI trawl limited access sector (15 percent) in some years because halibut PSC use by the BSAI trawl limited access sector has exceeded the halibut PSC limit that would be established by the proposed action. The six CDQ groups are not likely to be affected by the proposed reduction in the halibut PSC limit for the CDQ sector (20 percent) because current and anticipated halibut PSC use in the CDQ sector is substantially less than the proposed halibut PSC limit that would be established. However, some CDQ groups will experience an adverse impact from PSC reductions in the Amendment 80 and BSAI trawl limited access sectors, to the extent that they have ownership interests in vessels operating in those sectors, and the proposed halibut PSC limits constrain harvest and resulting revenue. The CDQ groups’ ownership interests are described in Section 4.12 of the Analysis. 4. Description of Significant Alternatives Considered The Council considered an extensive series of alternatives, options, and suboptions to reduce halibut PSC limits in the BSAI, including the ‘‘no action’’ alternative. The RIR presents the complete set of alternatives (see ADDRESSES). Alternative 1 is Status Quo/ No Action alternative, which would retain the current BSAI halibut PSC limits in the FMP and in regulations. Alternative 2 would amend the FMP and regulations to reduce BSAI halibut PSC limits for six groundfish sectors. Alternative 2 includes six options. Each of the options under Alternative 2 contained seven suboptions analyzing halibut PSC limit reductions ranging from 10 percent to 50 percent for each sector. Option 1 would reduce halibut PSC limits for the Amendment 80 sector. The reductions would range from 232 mt to 1,162 mt. Option 2 would reduce halibut PSC limits for the BSAI trawl limited access sector. The reductions would range from 87 mt to 437 mt. Option 3 would reduce halibut PSC limits for the Pacific cod hook-andline catcher/processor sector. The reductions would range from 76 mt to 380 mt. Option 4 would reduce halibut PSC limits for hook-and-line vessels participating in target fisheries other PO 00000 Frm 00022 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 than Pacific cod or sablefish. The reductions would range from 6 mt to 29 mt. Option 5 would reduce halibut PSC limits for the Pacific cod hook-and-line catcher vessel sector. The reductions would range from 1 mt to 7 mt. Option 6 would reduce halibut PSC limits for the CDQ sector. The reductions would range from 39 mt to 196 mt. Section 2.5 of the Analysis describes other significant alternatives to the proposed rule that the Council considered but did not advance for further analysis: (1) Apportioning the halibut PSC limit for the BSAI trawl limited access sector between AFA trawl catcher vessels and non-AFA trawl catch vessels based on the halibut PSC by these vessel categories from 2009 through 2013; (2) implementing permanent measures in the Amendment 80 sector for deck sorting of halibut; (3) establishing a seasonal apportionment of the halibut PSC limit for the BSAI trawl limited access sector. Each of these alternatives would have changed the current management structure for regulating halibut PSC limits in BSAI. The Council’s preferred alternative is a straightforward reduction in halibut PSC limits by sector. The Council’s preferred alternative leaves the current management structure intact and most expeditiously achieves the Council’s objective of reducing halibut PSC limit to the extent practicable in accord with National Standard 9. Based on the best available scientific data and information, none of the alternatives except the preferred alternative appear to have the potential to accomplish the stated objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and other applicable statutes (as reflected in the proposed action), while minimizing any significant adverse economic impact on small entities beyond those achieved under the proposed action. The proposed action would minimize bycatch to the extent practicable with existing management tools. Thus, the proposed action would minimize the impacts on small entities in the BSAI groundfish fisheries and promote more efficient use of the available halibut PSC limits. 5. Recordkeeping and Reporting Requirements This action does not modify recordkeeping or reporting requirements. B. Tribal Consultation Executive Order (E.O.) 13175 of November 6, 2000 (25 U.S.C. 450 note), the Executive Memorandum of April 29, 1994 (25 U.S.C. 450 note), the American Indian and Alaska Native Policy of the E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM 16NOP2 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / Proposed Rules U.S. Department of Commerce (March 30, 1995), and the Department of Commerce Tribal Consultation and Coordination policy (78 FR 33331, June 4, 2013) outline the responsibilities of NMFS for Federal policies that have tribal implications. Section 161 of Public Law 108–199 (188 Stat. 452), as amended by section 518 of Public Law 109–447 (118 Stat. 3267), extends the consultation requirements of E.O. 13175 to Alaska Native corporations. Under the E.O. and agency policies, NMFS must ensure meaningful and timely input by tribal officials and representatives of Alaska Native corporations in the development of regulatory policies that have tribal implications. NMFS will provide a copy of this proposed rule to all federally recognized tribal governments and Alaska Native corporations to notify them of the opportunity to comment or request a consultation on this proposed action. Section 5(b)(2)(B) of E.O. 13175 requires NMFS to prepare a ‘‘tribal summary impact statement’’ for any regulation that has tribal implications, that imposes substantial direct compliance costs on Indian tribal governments, and is not required by statute. The tribal summary impact statement must contain (1) a description of the extent of the agency’s prior consultation with tribal officials, (2) a summary of the nature of their concerns, (3) the agency’s position supporting the need to issue the regulation, and (4) a statement of the extent to which the concerns of tribal officials have been met. If the Secretary of Commerce approves this proposed action, a tribal impact summary statement that addresses the four questions above will be included in the final rule. List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 679 Alaska, Fisheries, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 1. The authority citation for 50 CFR part 679 continues to read as follows: Authority: 16 U.S.C. 773 et seq.; 1801 et seq.; 3631 et seq.; Pub. L. 108–447; Pub. L. 111–281. VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Jkt 238001 Definitions. * * * * * Directed fishing means: * * * * * (5) With respect to the harvest of flatfish in the Bering Sea subarea, for purposes of nonpelagic trawl restrictions under § 679.22(a) and modified nonpelagic trawl gear requirements under §§ 679.7(c)(5) and 679.24(f), fishing with nonpelagic trawl gear during any fishing trip that results in a retained aggregate amount of yellowfin sole, rock sole, Greenland turbot, arrowtooth flounder, flathead sole, Alaska plaice, and other flatfish that is greater than the retained amount of any other fishery category defined under § 679.21(b)(1)(ii) or of sablefish. * * * * * Herring Savings Area means any of three areas in the BSAI presented in Figure 4 to this part (see also § 679.21(b)(4) for additional closure information). * * * * * PSQ reserve means the amount of a prohibited species catch limit established under § 679.21 that has been allocated to the CDQ Program under § 679.21. * * * * * Sablefish (black cod) means Anoplopoma fimbria. (See also IFQ sablefish; sablefish as a prohibited species at § 679.21(a)(5); and sablefish as a prohibited species at § 679.24(c)(2)(ii)). * * * * * ■ 3. In § 679.7, revise paragraphs (a)(12), (k)(1)(v), and (k)(4)(iii) to read as follows: Prohibitions. * For the reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 679 is proposed to be amended as follows: ■ § 679.2 § 679.7 Dated: November 9, 2015. Samuel D. Rauch III, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine Fisheries Service. PART 679—FISHERIES OF THE EXCLUSIVE ECONOMIC ZONE OFF ALASKA 2. In § 679.2, revise the definitions for paragraph (5) of ‘‘Directed fishing’’, ‘‘Herring Savings Area’’, ‘‘PSQ reserve’’, and ‘‘Sablefish (black cod)’’ to read as follows: ■ * * * * (a) * * * (12) Prohibited species donation program. Retain or possess prohibited species, defined at § 679.21(a)(1), except as permitted to do so under the PSD program as provided by § 679.26, or as authorized by other applicable law. * * * * * (k) * * * (1) * * * (v) Directed fishing after a sideboard closure. Use a listed AFA catcher/ processor or a catcher/processor designated on a listed AFA catcher/ processor permit to engage in directed fishing for a groundfish species or species group in the BSAI after the PO 00000 Frm 00023 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 71671 Regional Administrator has issued an AFA catcher/processor sideboard directed fishing closure for that groundfish species or species group under §§ 679.20(d)(1)(iv), 679.21(b)(4)(iii), or 679.21(e)(3)(v). * * * * * (4) * * * (iii) Groundfish sideboard closures. Use an AFA catcher vessel to engage in directed fishing for a groundfish species or species group in the BSAI or GOA after the Regional Administrator has issued an AFA catcher vessel sideboard directed fishing closure for that groundfish species or species group under § 679.20(d)(1)(iv), 679.21(b)(4)(iii), or 679.21(e)(3)(iv), if the vessel’s AFA permit does not contain a sideboard exemption for that groundfish species or species group. * * * * * ■ 4. In § 679.21, ■ a. Redesignate paragraph (b) as paragraph (a); ■ b. Revise newly redesignated paragraph (a)(4); ■ c. Add a new paragraph (b); ■ d. Revise paragraph (e) heading; ■ e. Remove and reserve paragraphs (e)(1)(iv), (e)(2), and (e)(3)(i)(A)(2); ■ f. Revise paragraph (e)(3)(ii) heading, paragraphs (e)(3)(ii)(A) and (C), (e)(3)(iv), paragraph (e)(3)(iv)(B)(2) heading, (e)(3)(v), and (e)(3)(vi)(A) and (B); ■ g. Remove and reserve paragraph (e)(4); ■ h. Remove paragraph (e)(5)(iv); ■ i. Revise paragraphs (e)(6)(i) and (ii), and (e)(7)(i); ■ j. Remove and reserve paragraph (e)(7)(v); and ■ k. Remove paragraph (e)(8). The revisions and additions read as follows: § 679.21 Prohibited species by catch management. (a) * * * (4) Prohibited species taken seaward of the EEZ off Alaska. No vessel fishing for groundfish in the GOA or BSAI may have on board any species listed in this paragraph (a) that was taken in waters seaward of these management areas, regardless of whether retention of such species was authorized by other applicable laws. * * * * * (b) BSAI halibut PSC limits—(1) Establishment of BSAI halibut PSC limits. Subject to the provisions in paragraphs (b)(1)(i) through (iv) of this section, the following four BSAI halibut PSC limits are established, which total 3,515 mt: Amendment 80 sector—1,745 mt; BSAI trawl limited access sector— E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM 16NOP2 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 71672 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / Proposed Rules 745 mt; BSAI non-trawl sector—710 mt; and CDQ Program—315 mt (established as a PSQ reserve). (i) Amendment 80 sector. The PSC limit of halibut caught while conducting any fishery in the Amendment 80 sector is an amount of halibut equivalent to 1,745 mt of halibut mortality. Halibut PSC limits within the Amendment 80 sector will be established for Amendment 80 cooperatives and the Amendment 80 limited access fishery according to the procedure and formulae in § 679.91(d) and (f). If halibut PSC is assigned to the Amendment 80 limited access fishery, it will be apportioned into PSC allowances for trawl fishery categories according to the procedure in paragraphs (b)(1)(ii)(A)(2) and (3) of this section. (ii) BSAI trawl limited access sector— (A) General. (1) The PSC limit of halibut caught while conducting any fishery in the BSAI trawl limited access sector is an amount of halibut equivalent to 745 mt of halibut mortality. (2) NMFS, after consultation with the Council, will apportion the PSC limit set forth under paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(A)(1) of this section into PSC allowances for the trawl fishery categories defined in paragraphs (b)(1)(ii)(B)(1) through (6) of this section. (3) Apportionment of the trawl halibut PSC limit set forth under paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(A)(1) of this section among the trawl fishery categories will be based on each category’s proportional share of the anticipated halibut PSC during a fishing year and the need to optimize the amount of total groundfish harvested under the halibut PSC limit for this sector. (4) The sum of all PSC allowances for this sector will equal the PSC limit set forth under paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(A)(1) of this section. (B) Trawl fishery categories. For purposes of apportioning the trawl PSC limit set forth under paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(A)(1) of this section among trawl fisheries, the following fishery categories are specified and defined in terms of round-weight equivalents of those groundfish species or species groups for which a TAC has been specified under § 679.20. (1) Midwater pollock fishery. Fishing with trawl gear during any weekly reporting period that results in a catch of pollock that is 95 percent or more of the total amount of groundfish caught during the week. (2) Flatfish fishery. Fishing with trawl gear during any weekly reporting period that results in a retained aggregate amount of rock sole, ‘‘other flatfish,’’ and yellowfin sole that is greater than VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Jkt 238001 the retained amount of any other fishery category defined under this paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(B). (i) Yellowfin sole fishery. Fishing with trawl gear during any weekly reporting period that is defined as a flatfish fishery under this paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(B)(2) and results in a retained amount of yellowfin sole that is 70 percent or more of the retained aggregate amount of rock sole, ‘‘other flatfish,’’ and yellowfin sole. (ii) Rock sole/flathead sole/Alaska plaice/‘‘other flatfish’’ fishery. Fishing with trawl gear during any weekly reporting period that is defined as a flatfish fishery under this paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(B)(2) and is not a yellowfin sole fishery as defined under paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(B)(2)(i) of this section. (3) Greenland turbot/arrowtooth flounder/Kamchatka flounder/sablefish fishery. Fishing with trawl gear during any weekly reporting period that results in a retained aggregate amount of Greenland turbot, arrowtooth flounder, Kamchatka flounder, and sablefish that is greater than the retained amount of any other fishery category defined under this paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(B). (4) Rockfish fishery. Fishing with trawl gear during any weekly reporting period that results in a retained aggregate amount of rockfish species that is greater than the retained amount of any other fishery category defined under this paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(B). (5) Pacific cod fishery. Fishing with trawl gear during any weekly reporting period that results in a retained aggregate amount of Pacific cod that is greater than the retained amount of any other groundfish fishery category defined under this paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(B). (6) Pollock/Atka mackerel/‘‘other species.’’ Fishing with trawl gear during any weekly reporting period that results in a retained aggregate amount of pollock other than pollock harvested in the midwater pollock fishery defined under paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(B)(1) of this section, Atka mackerel, and ‘‘other species’’ that is greater than the retained amount of any other fishery category defined under this paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(B). (C) Halibut PSC in midwater pollock fishery. Any amount of halibut that is incidentally taken in the midwater pollock fishery, as defined in paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(B)(1) of this section, will be counted against the halibut PSC allowance specified for the pollock/Atka mackerel/‘‘other species’’ category, as defined in paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(B)(6) of this section. (iii) BSAI Non-trawl Sector—(A) General. (1) The PSC limit of halibut PO 00000 Frm 00024 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 caught while conducting any fishery in the BSAI non-trawl sector is an amount of halibut equivalent to 710 mt of halibut mortality. (2) NMFS, after consultation with the Council, will apportion the PSC limit set forth under paragraph (b)(1)(iii)(A)(1) into PSC allowances for the non-trawl fishery categories defined under paragraph (b)(1)(iii)(B) of this section. (3) Apportionment of the non-trawl halibut PSC limit of 710 mt among the non-trawl fishery categories will be based on each category’s proportional share of the anticipated halibut PSC during a fishing year and the need to optimize the amount of total groundfish harvested under the halibut PSC limit for this sector. (4) The sum of all PSC allowances for this sector will equal the PSC limit set forth under paragraph (b)(1)(iii)(A)(1) of this section. (B) Non-trawl fishery categories. For purposes of apportioning the non-trawl halibut PSC limit among fisheries, the following fishery categories are specified and defined in terms of roundweight equivalents of those BSAI groundfish species for which a TAC has been specified under § 679.20. (1) Pacific cod hook-and-line catcher vessel fishery. Catcher vessels fishing with hook-and-line gear during any weekly reporting period that results in a retained catch of Pacific cod that is greater than the retained amount of any other groundfish species. (2) Pacific cod hook-and-line catcher/ processor fishery. Catcher/processors fishing with hook-and-line gear during any weekly reporting period that results in a retained catch of Pacific cod that is greater than the retained amount of any other groundfish species. (3) Sablefish hook-and-line fishery. Fishing with hook-and-line gear during any weekly reporting period that results in a retained catch of sablefish that is greater than the retained amount of any other groundfish species. (4) Groundfish jig gear fishery. Fishing with jig gear during any weekly reporting period that results in a retained catch of groundfish. (5) Groundfish pot gear fishery. Fishing with pot gear under restrictions set forth in § 679.24(b) during any weekly reporting period that results in a retained catch of groundfish. (6) Other non-trawl fisheries. Fishing for groundfish with non-trawl gear during any weekly reporting period that results in a retained catch of groundfish and does not qualify as a Pacific cod hook-and-line catcher vessel fishery, a Pacific cod hook-and-line catcher/ processor fishery, a sablefish hook-and- E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM 16NOP2 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / Proposed Rules line fishery, a jig gear fishery, or a groundfish pot gear fishery as defined under paragraphs (b)(1)(iii)(B)(1) through (5) of this section. (iv) CDQ Program. The PSC limit of halibut caught while conducting any fishery in the CDQ Program is an amount of halibut equivalent to 315 mt of halibut mortality. The PSC limit to the CDQ Program will be treated as a Prohibited Species Quota (PSQ) reserve to the CDQ Program for all purposes under 50 CFR part 679 including §§ 679.31 and 679.7(d)(3). The PSQ limit is not apportioned by gear, fishery, or season. (2) Seasonal apportionments of BSAI halibut PSC allowances—(i) General. NMFS, after consultation with the Council, may apportion a halibut PSC allowance on a seasonal basis. (ii) Factors to be considered. NMFS will base any seasonal apportionment of a PSC allowance on the following types of information: (A) Seasonal distribution of prohibited species; (B) Seasonal distribution of target groundfish species relative to prohibited species distribution; (C) Expected PSC needs on a seasonal basis relevant to change in prohibited species biomass and expected catches of target groundfish species; (D) Expected variations in PSC rates throughout the fishing year; (E) Expected changes in directed groundfish fishing seasons; (F) Expected start of fishing effort; or (G) Economic effects of establishing seasonal prohibited species apportionments on segments of the target groundfish industry. (iii) Seasonal trawl fishery PSC allowances—(A) Unused seasonal apportionments. Unused seasonal apportionments of trawl fishery PSC allowances made under paragraph (b)(2) of this section will be added to its respective fishery PSC allowance for the next season during a current fishing year. (B) Seasonal apportionment exceeded. If a seasonal apportionment of a trawl fishery PSC allowance made under paragraph (b)(2) of this section is exceeded, the amount by which the seasonal apportionment is exceeded will be deducted from its respective apportionment for the next season during a current fishing year. (iv) Seasonal non-trawl fishery PSC allowances—(A) Unused seasonal apportionments. Any unused portion of a seasonal non-trawl fishery PSC allowance made under paragraph (b)(2) of this section will be reapportioned to the fishery’s remaining seasonal PSC allowances during a current fishing year VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Jkt 238001 in a manner determined by NMFS, after consultation with the Council, based on the types of information listed under paragraph (b)(2)(ii) of this section. (B) Seasonal apportionment exceeded. If a seasonal apportionment of a non-trawl fishery PSC allowance made under paragraph (b)(2) of this section is exceeded, the amount by which the seasonal apportionment is exceeded will be deducted from the fishery’s remaining seasonal PSC allowances during a current fishing year in a manner determined by NMFS, after consultation with the Council, based on the types of information listed under paragraph (b)(2)(ii) of this section. (3) Notification of allowances—(i) General. NMFS will publish in the Federal Register, for up to two fishing years, the proposed and final BSAI halibut PSC allowances, the seasonal apportionments thereof, and the manner in which seasonal apportionments of non-trawl fishery PSC allowances will be managed. (ii) Public comment. Public comment will be accepted by NMFS on the proposed PSC allowances seasonal apportionments thereof, and the manner in which seasonal apportionments of non-trawl fishery PSC allowances will be managed, for a period specified in the notice of proposed specifications published in the Federal Register. (4) Management of BSAI halibut PSC allowances—(i) Trawl sector— Amendment 80 limited access fishery and BSAI trawl limited access sector: Closures—(A) Exception. When a PSC allowance, or seasonal apportionment thereof, specified for the pollock/Atka mackerel/‘‘other species’’ fishery category, as defined in § 679.21(b)(1)(ii)(B)(6) is reached, only directed fishing for pollock is closed to trawl vessels using nonpelagic trawl gear. (B) Closures. Except as provided in paragraph (b)(4)(i)(A) of this section, if, during the fishing year, the Regional Administrator determines that U.S. fishing vessels participating in any of the trawl fishery categories listed in paragraphs (b)(1)(ii)(B)(2) through (6) of this section will catch the halibut PSC allowance, or seasonal apportionment thereof, specified for that fishery category under paragraph (b)(1)(i) or (b)(1)(ii) of this section, NMFS will publish in the Federal Register the closure of the entire BSAI to directed fishing for each species and/or species group in that fishery category for the remainder of the year or for the remainder of the season. (ii) BSAI non-trawl sector: Closures. If, during the fishing year, the Regional Administrator determines that U.S. PO 00000 Frm 00025 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 71673 fishing vessels participating in any of the non-trawl fishery categories listed under paragraph (b)(1)(iii) of this section will catch the halibut PSC allowance, or seasonal apportionment thereof, specified for that fishery category under paragraph (b)(1)(iii) of this section, NMFS will publish in the Federal Register the closure of the entire BSAI to directed fishing with the relevant gear type for each species and/ or species group in that fishery category. (iii) AFA PSC sideboard limits. Halibut PSC limits for the AFA catcher/ processor sector and the AFA trawl catcher vessel sector will be established pursuant to § 679.64(a) and (b) and managed through directed fishing closures for the AFA catcher/processor sector and the AFA trawl catcher vessel sector in the groundfish fisheries for which the PSC limit applies. * * * * * (e) BSAI PSC limits for crab, salmon, herring— * * * * * (3) * * * (ii) Red king crab, C. bairdi, and C. opilio—(A) General. For vessels engaged in directed fishing for groundfish in the BSAI, other than vessels fishing under a CQ permit assigned to an Amendment 80 cooperative, the PSC limits for red king crab, C. bairdi, and C. opilio will be apportioned to the trawl fishery categories defined in paragraphs (e)(3)(iv)(B) through (F) of this section. * * * * * (C) Incidental catch in midwater pollock fishery. Any amount of red king crab, C. bairdi, or C. opilio that is incidentally taken in the midwater pollock fishery as defined in paragraph (e)(3)(iv)(A) of this section will be counted against the bycatch allowances specified for the pollock/Atka mackerel/ ‘‘other species’’ category defined in paragraph (e)(3)(iv)(F) of this section. * * * * * (iv) Trawl fishery categories. For purposes of apportioning trawl PSC limits for crab and herring among fisheries, other than crab PSC CQ assigned to an Amendment 80 cooperative, the following fishery categories are specified and defined in terms of round-weight equivalents of those groundfish species or species groups for which a TAC has been specified under § 679.20. (B) * * * (2) Rock sole/flathead sole/Alaska plaice/‘‘other flatfish’’ fishery. * * * * * * * * (v) AFA prohibited species catch limitations. Crab PSC limits for the AFA catcher/processor sector and the AFA trawl catcher vessel sector will be E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM 16NOP2 71674 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / Proposed Rules established according to the procedures and formulas set out in § 679.64(a) and (b) and managed through directed fishing closures for the AFA catcher/ processor sector and the AFA trawl catcher vessel sector in the groundfish fisheries for which the PSC limit applies. (vi) * * * (A) Crab PSC limits for the Amendment 80 sector in the BSAI will be established according to the procedure and formulae set out in § 679.91(d) through (f); and (B) Crab PSC assigned to the Amendment 80 limited access fishery will be managed through directed fishing closures for Amendment 80 vessels to which the crab bycatch limits apply. * * * * * (6) * * * (i) General. NMFS will publish in the Federal Register, for up to two fishing years, the annual red king crab PSC limit, and, if applicable, the amount of this PSC limit specified for the RKCSS, the annual C. bairdi PSC limit, the annual C. opilio PSC limit, the proposed and final PSQ reserve amounts, the proposed and final bycatch allowances, and the seasonal apportionments thereof, as required by paragraph (e) of this section. (ii) Public comment. Public comment will be accepted by NMFS on the proposed annual red king crab PSC limit and, if applicable, the amount of this PSC limit specified for the RKCSS, the annual C. bairdi PSC limit, the annual C. opilio PSC limit, the proposed and final bycatch allowances, seasonal apportionments thereof, and the manner in which seasonal apportionments of non-trawl fishery bycatch allowances will be managed, for a period specified in the notice of proposed specifications published in the Federal Register. (7) * * * (i) Exception. When a bycatch allowance, or seasonal apportionment thereof, specified for the pollock/Atka mackerel/‘‘other species’’ fishery category is reached, only directed fishing for pollock is closed to trawl vessels using nonpelagic trawl gear. * * * * * ■ 5. In § 679.31, revise paragraph (a)(4) to read as follows: § 679.31 CDQ and PSQ reserves, allocations, and transfers. (a) * * * (4) PSQ reserve. (See §§ 679.21(e)(3)(i)(A) and 679.21(b)(1)(iv)) * * * * * ■ 6. In § 679.64, revise paragraph (a)(3) to read as follows: § 679.64 Harvesting sideboard limits in other fisheries. (a) * * * (3) How will AFA catcher/processor sideboard limits be managed? The Regional Administrator will manage groundfish harvest limits and PSC bycatch limits for AFA catcher/ processors through directed fishing closures in fisheries established under paragraph (a)(1) of this section in accordance with the procedures set out in §§ 679.20(d)(1)(iv) and 679.21(b)(4)(iii). * * * * * ■ 7. In § 679.91, revise paragraphs (d)(1) and (3) to read as follows: § 679.91 Amendment 80 Program annual harvester privileges. * * * * * Location (d) * * * (1) Amount of Amendment 80 halibut PSC for the Amendment 80 sector. The amount of halibut PSC limit for the Amendment 80 sector for each calendar year is specified in Table 35 to this part. That halibut PSC is then assigned to Amendment 80 cooperatives and the Amendment 80 limited access fishery pursuant to paragraphs (d)(2) and (3) of this section. If one or more Amendment 80 vessels participate in the Amendment 80 limited access fishery, the halibut PSC limit assigned to the Amendment 80 sector will be reduced pursuant to paragraph (d)(3) of this section. * * * * * (3) Amount of Amendment 80 halibut PSC assigned to the Amendment 80 limited access fishery. The amount of Amendment 80 halibut PSC assigned to the Amendment 80 limited access fishery is equal to the amount of halibut PSC assigned to the Amendment 80 sector, as specified in Table 35 to this part, subtracting the amount of Amendment 80 halibut PSC assigned as CQ to all Amendment 80 cooperatives as determined in paragraph (d)(2)(iv) of this section, multiplied by 80 percent. * * * * * §§ 679.20, 679.23, 679.24, and 679.26 [Amended] 8. At each of the locations shown in the ‘‘Location’’ column, remove the phrase indicated in the ‘‘Remove’’ column and replace it with the phrase indicated in the ‘‘Add’’ column for the number of times indicated in the ‘‘Frequency’’ column. ■ Remove § 679.20(d)(2) ............................................................................................................................... § 679.23(f) .................................................................................................................................... § 679.23(g)(3) ............................................................................................................................... § 679.24(c)(2)(ii)(A) ...................................................................................................................... § 679.24(c)(2)(ii)(B) ...................................................................................................................... § 679.24(c)(3) ............................................................................................................................... § 679.24(c)(4) ............................................................................................................................... § 679.25(a)(2)(ii)(A) ...................................................................................................................... § 679.26(d)(2) ............................................................................................................................... § 679.21(b) § 679.21(b) § 679.21(b) § 679.21(b) § 679.21(b) § 679.21(b) § 679.21(b) § 679.21(b) § 679.21(b) 9. Revise table 35 to part 679 to read as follows: mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 ■ VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Jkt 238001 PO 00000 Frm 00026 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 4702 E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM 16NOP2 Add § 679.21(a) § 679.21(a) § 679.21(a) § 679.21(a) § 679.21(a) § 679.21(a) § 679.21(a) § 679.21(a) § 679.21(a) Frequency 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 Federal Register / Vol. 80, No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / Proposed Rules 71675 TABLE 35 TO PART 679—APPORTIONMENT OF CRAB PSC AND HALIBUT PSC BETWEEN THE AMENDMENT 80 AND BSAI TRAWL LIMITED ACCESS SECTORS Halibut PSC limit in the BSAI Fishery .......................................................................... Amendment 80 sector .......................................... BSAI trawl limited access ..................................... Zone 1 Red king crab PSC limit . . . C. opilio crab PSC limit (COBLZ) . . . Zone 1 C. bairdi crab PSC limit . . . Zone 2 C. bairdi crab PSC limit . . . as a percentage of the total BSAI trawl PSC limit after allocation as PSQ 1,745mt ......................... 745 mt .......................... 49.98 30.58 49.15 32.14 42.11 46.99 23.67 46.81 10. Revise table 40 to part 679 to read as follows: ■ TABLE 40 TO PART 679—BSAI HALIBUT PSC SIDEBOARD LIMITS FOR AFA CATCHER/PROCESSORS AND AFA CATCHER VESSELS The AFA catcher/processor halibut PSC sideboard limit in metric tons is . . . In the following target species categories as defined in § 679.21(b)(1)(iii) and (e)(3)(iv) . . . All target species categories ................................................................................................................................... Pacific cod trawl ....................................................................................................................................................... Pacific cod hook-and-line or pot .............................................................................................................................. Yellowfin sole ........................................................................................................................................................... Rock sole/flathead sole/‘‘other flatfish’’ 1 ................................................................................................................. Turbot/Arrowtooth/Sablefish .................................................................................................................................... Rockfish 2 ................................................................................................................................................................. Pollock/Atka mackerel/‘‘other species’’ .................................................................................................................... The AFA catcher vessel halibut PSC sideboard limit in metric tons is . . . 286 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 887 2 101 228 0 2 5 1 ‘‘Other flatfish’’ for PSC monitoring includes all flatfish species, except for halibut (a prohibited species), Greenland turbot, rock sole, flathead sole, yellowfin sole, and arrowtooth flounder. 2 Applicable from July 1 through December 31. [FR Doc. 2015–28889 Filed 11–13–15; 8:45 am] mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS2 BILLING CODE 3510–22–P VerDate Sep<11>2014 23:20 Nov 13, 2015 Jkt 238001 PO 00000 Frm 00027 Fmt 4701 Sfmt 9990 E:\FR\FM\16NOP2.SGM 16NOP2

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 80, Number 220 (Monday, November 16, 2015)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 71649-71675]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2015-28889]



[[Page 71649]]

Vol. 80

Monday,

No. 220

November 16, 2015

Part V





Department of Commerce





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 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration





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50 CFR Part 679





 Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Bering Sea and 
Aleutian Islands Management Area; American Fisheries Act; Amendment 
111; Proposed Rule

Federal Register / Vol. 80 , No. 220 / Monday, November 16, 2015 / 
Proposed Rules

[[Page 71650]]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 679

[Docket No. 150817730-5730-01]
RIN 0648-BF29


Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Bering Sea 
and Aleutian Islands Management Area; American Fisheries Act; Amendment 
111

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

ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: NMFS proposes regulations to implement Amendment 111 to the 
Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Bering Sea and Aleutian 
Islands Management Area (FMP). The proposed rule would reduce bycatch 
limits, also known as prohibited species catch (PSC) limits, for 
Pacific halibut in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) 
groundfish fisheries by specific amounts in four groundfish sectors: 
The Amendment 80 sector (non-pollock trawl catcher/processors); the 
BSAI trawl limited access sector (all non-Amendment 80 trawl fishery 
participants); the non-trawl sector (primarily hook-and-line catcher/
processors); and the Western Alaska Community Development Quota Program 
(CDQ Program, also referred to as the CDQ sector). This action is 
necessary to minimize halibut bycatch in the BSAI groundfish fisheries 
to the extent practicable and to achieve, on a continuing basis, 
optimum yield from the BSAI groundfish fisheries. This action is 
intended to promote the goals and objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens 
Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the FMP, and other applicable 
laws.

DATES: Submit comments on or before December 16, 2015.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2015-0092, 
by any one 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-2015-0092, click the 
``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or 
attach your comments.
     Mail: Address written comments to Glenn Merrill, Assistant 
Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region 
NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian. Mail comments to P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, 
AK 99802.
    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 voluntarily submitted by the 
commenter will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous 
comments (enter N/A in the required fields, if you wish to remain 
anonymous).
    Written comments regarding the burden-hour estimates or other 
aspects of the collection-of-information requirements contained in this 
proposed rule may be submitted by mail to NMFS at the above address; 
emailed to OIRA_submission@omb.eop.gov; or faxed to 202-395-5806.
    Electronic copies of Amendment 111 to the FMP and the Environmental 
Assessment/Regulatory Impact Review/Initial Regulatory Flexibility 
Analysis (Analysis) for this action may be obtained from http://www.regulations.gov or from the Alaska Region Web site at http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mary Alice McKeen, 907-586-7228.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Table of Contents

I. Authority for Action
II. Background
    A. The Halibut Resource
    1. Status of the Halibut Stock
    2. Halibut Removals
    3. Allocation of Halibut Among Fisheries
    B. Halibut Fisheries in the BSAI
    C. Comparing Commercial Halibut Catch and Halibut Bycatch (PSC) 
in the Groundfish Fisheries in the BSAI
    D. Halibut Bycatch Management in the BSAI Groundfish Fisheries
    1. Annual Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Limits and Apportionments of PSC 
Limits
    2. Overview of the BSAI Groundfish Sectors
    a. Amendment 80 Sector
    b. BSAI Trawl Limited Access Sector
    c. BSAI Non-trawl Sector
    d. CDQ Sector
    3. Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Use in the BSAI Groundfish Sectors
III. Rationale and Impacts of Amendment 111 and the Proposed Rule
    A. Methods for Analysis of Impacts
    B. Impacts on the Halibut Stock
    C. Impacts on Halibut Fishery Participants and Fishing 
Communities
    D. Impacts on BSAI Groundfish Fishery Participants and Fishing 
Communities
    1. Amendment 80 Sector Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Limit Reduction
    2. BSAI Trawl Limited Access Sector Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Limit 
Reduction
    3. BSAI Non-Trawl Sector Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Limit Reduction
    4. CDQ Sector Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Limit Reduction
    E. Summary of Impacts
IV. The Proposed Rule
    A. Reduction in Halibut PSC Limits
    1. Amendment 80 Sector
    2. BSAI Trawl Limited Access Sector
    3. BSAI Non-Trawl Sector
    4. CDQ Sector
    B. Minor Change in Terminology
    C. Reorganization and Other Technical Changes
V. Classification
    A. Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis
    1. Number and Description of Small Entities Directly Regulated 
by the Proposed Action
    2. Federal Rules That May Duplicate, Overlap, or Conflict With 
the Proposed Action
    3. Impacts of the Action on Small Entities
    4. Description of Significant Alternatives Considered
    5. Recordkeeping and Recording Requirements
B. Tribal Consultation

I. Authority for Action

    NMFS manages the groundfish fisheries in the Exclusive Economic 
Zone (EEZ) of the BSAI under the FMP. The North Pacific Fishery 
Management Council (Council) prepared, and the Secretary of Commerce 
approved, the FMP pursuant to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation 
and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) and other applicable laws. 
Regulations implementing the FMP appear at 50 CFR part 679. General 
regulations that pertain to U.S. fisheries appear at 50 CFR part 600.
    The Council submitted Amendment 111 for review by the Secretary of 
Commerce. A notice of availability of Amendment 111 was published in 
the Federal Register on October 29, 2015, with comments invited through 
December 28, 2015. All relevant written comments received by that time, 
whether specifically directed to Amendment 111, or to the proposed 
rule, will be considered in the approval/disapproval decision on 
Amendment 111.

II. Background

    Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) is fully utilized in 
Alaska as a target species in subsistence, personal use, recreational 
(sport), and commercial halibut fisheries. Halibut has significant 
social, cultural, and economic importance to fishery

[[Page 71651]]

participants and fishing communities throughout the geographical range 
of the resource. Halibut is also incidentally taken as bycatch in 
groundfish fisheries. The Magnuson-Stevens Act defines bycatch as 
``fish which are harvested in a fishery, but which are not sold or kept 
for personal use, and includes economic discards and regulatory 
discards. The term does not include fish released alive under a 
recreational catch and release fishery management program.'' 16 U.S.C. 
1802 3(2).
    The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) and NMFS manage 
Pacific halibut fisheries through regulations established under the 
authority of the Northern Pacific Halibut Act of 1982 (Halibut Act) (16 
U.S.C. 773-773k). The IPHC adopts regulations governing the target 
fishery for Pacific halibut under the Convention between the United 
States and Canada for the Preservation of the Halibut Fishery of the 
North Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea (Convention), signed at Ottawa, 
Ontario, on March 2, 1953, as amended by a Protocol Amending the 
Convention (signed at Washington, DC, on March 29, 1979). For the 
United States, regulations governing the fishery for Pacific halibut 
developed by the IPHC are subject to acceptance by the Secretary of 
State with concurrence from the Secretary of Commerce. After acceptance 
by the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Commerce, NMFS publishes 
the IPHC regulations in the Federal Register as annual management 
measures pursuant to 50 CFR 300.62. The final rule implementing IPHC 
regulations for 2015 published on March 17, 2015 (80 FR 13771).
    Section 773c(c) of the Halibut Act also provides the Council with 
authority to develop regulations that are in addition to, and not in 
conflict with, approved IPHC regulations. The Council has exercised 
this authority in the development of Federal regulations for the 
halibut fishery such as (1) Subsistence halibut fishery management 
measures, codified at Sec.  300.65; (2) the limited access program for 
charter vessels in the guided sport fishery, codified at Sec.  300.67; 
and (3) the Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) Program for the commercial 
halibut and sablefish fisheries, codified at 50 CFR part 679, under the 
authority of section 773 of the Halibut Act and section 303(b) of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act.
    In recent years, catch limits for the commercial halibut fishery in 
the BSAI have declined in response to changing halibut stock conditions 
while limits on the maximum amount of halibut bycatch allowed in the 
groundfish fisheries have remained constant. The proposed rule would 
reduce halibut bycatch limits, also referred to as halibut PSC limits, 
in the BSAI groundfish fisheries. This proposed reduction in halibut 
PSC limits is consistent with the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens 
Act to minimize bycatch to the extent practicable while achieving, on a 
continuing basis, optimum yield from the groundfish fisheries. This 
section of the preamble provides background on the halibut resource, 
halibut management, the halibut fisheries, and halibut bycatch in the 
groundfish fisheries in the BSAI. The following two sections describe 
the rationale and impacts of Amendment 111 and the proposed rule.
    This preamble cites the most recent available data consistent with 
the Analysis prepared to support this action. The most recent data 
available varies depending on the specific data source. The Analysis 
and this preamble use (1) data through 2015 for information on 
commercial halibut fishery catch limits, (2) data through 2014 for 
information on the halibut stock and halibut PSC use, and (3) data 
through 2013 for information on commercial halibut harvests and revenue 
and groundfish fisheries harvests and revenue.
    The Analysis and this preamble describe the potential impacts on 
the halibut stock and commercial, personal use, sport, and subsistence 
halibut fisheries in terms of net pounds instead of metric tons. This 
is a long-standing practice by the IPHC because the IPHC measures 
biomass and directed fishery removals in terms of net weight in pounds 
(i.e., halibut that is headed and gutted) and not metric tons. The 
calculation of net pounds used by the IPHC adjusts the total weight of 
removals in pounds by reducing the total weight by 25 percent to 
calculate net weight in pounds. The Analysis uses metric tons when 
describing groundfish catch, halibut PSC limits, and the amount of 
halibut bycatch (PSC) used in the groundfish fisheries. This is 
consistent with a long-standing practice by NMFS.

A. The Halibut Resource

1. Status of the Halibut Stock
    The IPHC assesses the status of the Pacific halibut stock at a 
coastwide level from California to the Bering Sea. Each year, the IPHC 
estimates the amount of exploitable biomass. Exploitable biomass is 
composed of halibut that are 26 inches in length or greater (O26), the 
size of fish that are accessible to fishing gear used in the IPHC 
halibut stock survey and in the halibut fisheries. From 2000 through 
2010, exploitable biomass declined primarily as a result of decreasing 
size at age and smaller recruitments than those observed through the 
1980s and 1990s. Since 2011, the exploitable biomass has been 
increasing slightly from a recent low of approximately 175 million 
pounds in 2011 to approximately 180 million pounds in 2015 (see Table 
3-1 in Section 3.1.1.1 of the Analysis).
    Annually, the IPHC also assesses female spawning biomass, another 
important indicator of the status of the halibut stock. Female spawning 
biomass is composed of female halibut of reproductive size. Generally, 
this includes female halibut that are O26, but a small proportion of 
the female spawning biomass includes female halibut less than 26 inches 
in length (U26). Female spawning biomass is considered an important 
indicator of the long-term reproductive health of the halibut resource. 
Since 2013, the estimated female spawning biomass appears to have 
stabilized near 200 million pounds. The stock assessment models used by 
the IPHC in 2015 project a stable or slightly increasing female 
spawning biomass over the next 3 years assuming current removal rates 
from all sources (see Table 3-4 in Section 3.1.2.1 of the Analysis).
    Collectively, the current status of exploitable biomass and female 
spawning biomass indicate that the halibut stock is stable or 
potentially increasing slightly in overall abundance. Section 3.1.1 of 
the Analysis provides additional detail on the current and projected 
status of halibut exploitable biomass and female spawning biomass.
    It is important to note that halibut is not a groundfish species 
under the FMP and therefore is not subject to the provisions of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act requiring the establishment of an annual 
overfishing limit (OFL), an acceptable biological catch (ABC), or a 
total allowable catch (TAC) limit. The OFL represents a level of 
removals that cannot be exceeded without jeopardizing the 
sustainability of the stock. The ABC represents the maximum permissible 
harvest and is less than the OFL. The TAC represents the actual 
permissible catch limit. The TAC may be set equal to or less than the 
ABC; the TAC cannot exceed the ABC. The OFL and ABC are biologically-
based harvest limits that are not to be exceeded. After the OFLs and 
ABCs are established, the Council recommends and NMFS implements annual 
TACs (see Section 3.2.3 of the FMP for a description of the process for 
specifying OFLs, ABCs, and TACs for groundfish fisheries in the BSAI).

[[Page 71652]]

    Although halibut is not managed under an OFL, ABC, or TAC, the IPHC 
has developed policy to control removals during conditions of declining 
or poor stock abundance. The IPHC harvest policy includes a harvest 
control rule that reduces commercial harvest rates linearly if the 
stock is estimated to have fallen below established thresholds for 
female spawning biomass. These harvest control rules would severely 
curtail removals during times of particularly poor stock conditions. 
These harvest control rules have not been triggered, even during the 
most recent years of relatively low exploitable biomass (see Section 
3.1.1.1 and Section 3.1.2.1 of the Analysis).
    The best available information from the most recent halibut stock 
assessment indicates that the halibut female spawning biomass (SB) is 
estimated to be 42 percent of the equilibrium condition in the absence 
of fishing (SB42%). A female spawning biomass of 
SB42% represents a 1 out of 10 chance that the stock is 
below 42 percent of the equilibrium condition in the absence of 
fishing. Removals at this level of female spawning biomass are 
generally considered to represent a conservative and risk-averse level 
of removals in federally-managed groundfish fisheries in the BSAI off 
Alaska (see Section 3.1.1.1 of the Analysis). A level of 
SB42%, is significantly above the IPHC's harvest control 
rule thresholds that trigger additional restrictions on the commercial 
halibut fishery during times of poor stock status. IPHC's harvest 
control rules trigger reductions in halibut harvest rates at thresholds 
of SB30% and SB20%. The best available data 
indicate that at current levels of removals, the halibut biomass would 
be expected to be stable, and well above the thresholds established by 
the IPHC. Additional information on the anticipated impacts of the 
proposed rule on the status of halibut stock is provided in Sections 
3.1.1.1 and 3.1.5.3 of the Analysis.
2. Halibut Removals
    Total annual removals of halibut from all sources at the coastwide 
level have been low in recent years compared to historical total annual 
removals. Total annual halibut removals include harvests in the 
commercial, personal use, sport, and subsistence fisheries, as well as 
bycatch and wastage (i.e., bycatch in the commercial halibut fishery). 
From 2000 through 2010, total halibut removals averaged 90 million 
pounds and were as high as almost 100 million pounds in 2004 and 2005. 
Total annual removals averaged 50 million pounds from 2011 through 
2014. The relatively low levels of total removals in recent years 
(i.e., from 2011 through 2014) of approximately 50 million pounds 
correspond with declining exploitable biomass, from the late 1990s to 
around 2010. See Section 3.1.3 and 3.1.4 in the Analysis for additional 
information on halibut removals.
    The commercial fisheries for halibut are the largest source of 
coastwide removals, accounting for an average of 62 percent (31 million 
pounds) of total removals from 2011 through 2014. Removals from 
personal use, sport and subsistence fisheries are a much smaller 
component of total coastwide removals, collectively averaging 16 
percent of total removals from 2011 through 2014. Overall, the total 
amount and proportion of commercial removals has varied with 
exploitable biomass, increasing as exploitable biomass increases and 
decreasing as exploitable biomass decreases. The total amount of 
personal use, sport, and subsistence removals has been relatively 
constant since 2011, but the proportion of personal use, sport and 
subsistence removals has increased as the exploitable biomass and 
commercial removals have decreased.
    Bycatch is the second largest component of total coastwide removals 
and averaged 19 percent of total removals from 2011 through 2014. 
Bycatch of halibut in groundfish fisheries averaged 9.4 million pounds 
coastwide from 2011 through 2014. Although bycatch represents the 
second largest source of halibut removals, the total tonnage of bycatch 
removals in recent years (i.e., 2011 through 2014) is at its lowest 
level since 1990 (see Figure 3-11 in Section 3.1.3 and Table 3-18 in 
Section 3.1.4 of the Analysis). From 2011 through 2014, halibut bycatch 
removals ranged from a high of 10.1 million pounds in 2012 to a low of 
8.9 million pounds in 2013. The majority of halibut bycatch coastwide 
is taken in groundfish fisheries in the Alaska EEZ, mostly in the BSAI 
groundfish fisheries. From 2011 through 2014, halibut bycatch in the 
BSAI represented on average 58 percent of the total coastwide halibut 
bycatch, and 10 percent of the total coastwide removals of halibut (see 
Table 3-10 in Section 3.1.3.3 and Table 3-18 in Section 3.1.4 of the 
Analysis).
3. Allocation of Halibut Among Fisheries
    Pacific halibut is allocated among fisheries by a combination of 
management actions taken by the IPHC, the Council, and NMFS. The IPHC 
annually completes a halibut stock assessment and makes recommendations 
for annual management measures for the halibut fishery within 
Convention waters. These annual management measures include specific 
regulations governing the commercial halibut fishery, including area-
specific catch limits, authorized gear, and fishing season dates. In 
the United States, the IPHC recommendations are subject to acceptance 
by the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Commerce, as described 
above in the ``Authority for Action'' section of this preamble. See 
Section 3.1.2 of the Analysis and the 2015 annual management measures 
for additional information on the process for establishing commercial 
halibut fishery catch limits (80 FR 13771, March 17, 2015).
    Although the halibut stock is assessed at a coastwide level, 
commercial catch limits are established for each IPHC regulatory area 
(Area). Area 2 is composed of Area 2A (Washington, Oregon, and 
California); Area 2B (British Columbia); and Area 2C (Southeast 
Alaska). Area 3 is composed of Area 3A (Central Gulf of Alaska); Area 
3B (Western Gulf of Alaska); and Area 4 (BSAI) composed of Areas 4A, 
4B, 4C, 4D and 4E. The IPHC combines Areas 4C, 4D, and 4E into Area 
4CDE for purposes of establishing a commercial fishery catch limit. 
Areas 4A and 4C, 4D, and 4E roughly correspond to the Bering Sea 
Subarea defined in the FMP. Area 4B roughly corresponds to the Aleutian 
Islands Subarea in the FMP. Area 4CDE encompasses most of the Bering 
Sea Subarea in the FMP. See Figure 15 in Part 679 and Table 1-1 in 
Section 1.5 of the Analysis for Area maps and additional information on 
halibut and groundfish management areas in the BSAI.
    The IPHC has developed a harvest policy and area apportionment 
model for determining commercial halibut fishery catch limits in all 
Areas. Under the harvest policy and area apportionment model, the total 
amount of allowable halibut harvest (called the Total Constant 
Exploitation Yield) is designated for each Area. The IPHC deducts all 
removals other than commercial fishery harvests (i.e., bycatch, 
personal use, sport, subsistence, and wastage) that are greater than 26 
inches in length (O26) from the Total Constant Exploitation Yield. The 
resulting amount of halibut is called the Fishery Constant Exploitation 
Yield. The Fishery Constant Exploitation Yield is more commonly known 
as the ``blue line catch limit.'' However, the IPHC is not required to 
select the blue line catch limit as the annual commercial catch limit 
for an Area. The IPHC has the

[[Page 71653]]

discretion on an annual basis to select a commercial catch limit that 
is greater than or less than the blue line catch limit (i.e., the 
Fishery Constant Exploitation Yield).
    The IPHC considers the blue line catch limit along with information 
on different levels of harvest above and below the blue line catch 
limit to accommodate greater flexibility when selecting commercial 
catch limits. The IPHC utilizes a decision table that estimates the 
consequences to halibut stock, fishery status, and trends from a range 
of commercial catch limits at, above, and below the blue line catch 
limit (see Table 3-4 in Section 3.1.2.2 of the Analysis). This decision 
table accommodates uncertainty in the stock status and allows the IPHC 
to weigh the risk and benefits of management choices as it sets the 
annual commercial catch limits. For example, the IPHC consistently 
considers the socioeconomic impacts of different commercial catch 
limits in an Area on fishery participants. In some instances, the IPHC 
has recommended an area-specific commercial catch limit that is greater 
than the blue line catch limit to prevent adverse economic impacts from 
reduced harvest levels for fishery participants and fishing communities 
dependent on the fishery.
    The flexibility that the IPHC has in setting commercial catch 
limits is demonstrated in the difference between the commercial catch 
limits relative to the blue line catch limits derived from application 
of its harvest policy. From 2006 (the first year the IPHC adopted its 
harvest policy) through 2015, the IPHC coastwide commercial catch limit 
recommendation exceeded the combined blue line catch limits for all 
Areas in 7 of the 10 years; and Area-specific commercial catch limits 
have exceeded blue line catch limits in all Areas at least once, and 
for some Areas, in most years over the past 10 years (see Table 3-5 in 
Section 3.1.2.2 of the Analysis).
    Although the IPHC has adopted commercial catch limits greater than 
the blue line catch limit in most years, the halibut stock has not 
fallen to levels that reach the harvest control rule thresholds 
described in the ``Status of the Halibut Stock'' section of this 
preamble. Although neither the blue line catch limit derived from the 
IPHC's harvest policy, nor any commercial catch limit adopted by the 
IPHC is the same as an OFL, ABC, or TAC used for management of 
groundfish fisheries in Alaska, Section 3.1.1.1 of the Analysis notes 
that ``in the last four years, there is no information to suggest that 
halibut is subject to `overfishing' as that term is commonly applied to 
stocks managed under the Magnuson-Stevens Act.'' For a more complete 
description of the IPHC process for establishing commercial catch 
limits, see Section 3.1.2.2 of the Analysis.
    Under IPHC harvest policy, the amount of bycatch (including wastage 
in the commercial fishery) in an Area can affect the amounts of halibut 
available for harvest in commercial, personal use, sport, and 
subsistence fisheries in future years. Bycatch includes O26 and U26 
halibut. The proportion of bycatch comprised of O26 and U26 halibut 
varies by Area. Under the current IPHC harvest policy, halibut bycatch 
in an Area that is O26 is deducted from the amount of halibut available 
for the commercial fishery. Therefore, reductions in the amount of O26 
bycatch could provide an opportunity to increase the commercial catch 
limits for that Area in the year following the reduction.
    The amount of U26 bycatch in the groundfish fishery or U26 wastage 
in the commercial halibut fishery could impact future harvests in 
commercial halibut fisheries and in personal use, sport, and 
subsistence use fisheries in all Areas coastwide. This is due to the 
migration of U26 halibut among Areas. Although information on the 
migration of U26 halibut on a coastwide basis is limited, the best 
available information indicates that a portion of the U26 halibut in 
Area 4 migrate in a southward pattern through the Gulf of Alaska (Areas 
3B and 3A), Southeast Alaska (Area 2C), British Columbia (Area 2B), and 
ultimately to the west coast of the United States (Area 2A). Therefore, 
reducing U26 halibut removed as bycatch in Area 4 would be expected to 
contribute to the exploitable biomass in various Areas as these halibut 
grow to a size where they can reproduce and become available for 
harvest in halibut fisheries in future years in Area 4 and elsewhere 
along the coast. Section 3.1.3.5 of the Analysis contains additional 
information on the proportions of halibut bycatch that are O26 and U26 
by Area. Section 3.1.1.2 of the Analysis contains additional 
information on the distribution and migration of halibut among Areas.

B. Halibut Fisheries in the BSAI

    IPHC and NMFS regulations authorize the harvest of halibut in 
commercial, personal use, sport and subsistence fisheries only by hook-
and-line gear. In the BSAI (Area 4), halibut is harvested primarily in 
commercial fisheries and secondarily in personal use, subsistence, and 
sport fisheries. Based on recent harvest data from 2011 through 2014, 
the sport fishery operating out of ports in the BSAI harvests 
approximately 20,000 pounds in Area 4 compared to approximately 40,000 
pounds of personal use and subsistence harvest from Area 4, and more 
than 3,000,000 pounds in the Area 4 commercial fishery. Given the 
limited sport harvest in Area 4 and that this action is not likely to 
impact the sport fishery, this preamble does not address the sport 
fishery in additional detail. See Sections 3.1.2 and 3.1.4 of the 
Analysis for additional detail on personal use, sport, subsistence, and 
commercial halibut harvests in Area 4.
    Subsistence halibut is caught by a rural resident or a member of a 
federally-recognized Alaska Native tribe for direct personal or family 
consumption as food, sharing for personal or family consumption as 
food, or customary trade. Pursuant to section 773c(c) of the Halibut 
Act, the Council developed, and NMFS implemented, the Subsistence 
Halibut Program to manage subsistence harvests in Alaska. Persons 
fishing for subsistence halibut must obtain a Subsistence Halibut 
Registration Certificate. Special permits for community harvest, 
ceremonial, and educational purposes also are available to qualified 
Alaska communities and federally-recognized Alaska Native tribes. A 
complete description of the Subsistence Halibut Program is provided in 
the final rule to implement the program (68 FR 18145, April 15, 2003).
    In addition to subsistence harvest, IPHC annual management measures 
allow halibut caught in the commercial halibut fishery that are less 
than the legal size limit of 32 inches to be retained for personal use 
in the Area 4D and 4E CDQ halibut fishery as long as the fish are not 
sold or bartered. The CDQ groups are required to report the amount of 
personal use halibut retained during the CDQ halibut fishery to the 
IPHC. Section 3.1.4.4 of the Analysis contains a description of the 
personal use fishery.
    The commercial halibut fishery in the BSAI is managed under the IFQ 
and CDQ Programs that allocate exclusive harvest privileges. The IFQ 
Program was implemented in 1995 (58 FR 59375, November 9, 1993). The 
Council and NMFS designed the IFQ Program to end a wasteful and unsafe 
``race for fish,'' and maintain the social and economic character of 
the fixed-gear fisheries and the coastal fishing communities where many 
of these fisheries are based. Access to the halibut and sablefish 
fisheries is limited to those persons holding quota share (QS). Quota 
shares equate to exclusive harvesting privileges

[[Page 71654]]

that are given effect on an annual basis through the issuance of IFQ 
permits. An annual IFQ permit authorizes the permit holder to harvest a 
specified amount of IFQ halibut or sablefish in a regulatory area.
    The CDQ Program was established in 1992 and amended substantially 
in 2006 (57 FR 54936, November 23, 1992). Under Section 305(i)(1)(D) of 
the Magnuson-Stevens Act, a total of 65 villages are authorized to 
participate in the CDQ Program. Six CDQ groups represent these 
villages. CDQ groups manage and administer allocations of crab, 
groundfish, and halibut and use the revenue derived from the harvest of 
these CDQ allocations to fund economic development activities and 
provide employment opportunities on behalf of the villages they 
represent.
    Section 305(i)(B) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act specifies the 
proportion of crab, groundfish, and halibut in the BSAI allocated to 
the CDQ Program. Section 305(i)(C) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act 
specifies the proportion of the overall CDQ Program allocations 
assigned to each CDQ group. Each year, NMFS publishes the specific 
annual allocations to each CDQ group on the Alaska Region Web site at: 
http://www.alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/cdq/current_historical.htm. The 
amount of halibut for commercial harvest allocated to the CDQ Program 
varies by halibut management area and ranges from 20 to 100 percent of 
the commercial catch limits assigned to Areas 4B, 4C, 4D, and 4E. See 
Section 3.1.4.1 and Section 4.4.6 of the Analysis for additional 
information on the CDQ Program.
    The combined CDQ and IFQ halibut fisheries in Area 4 were harvested 
by, on average, approximately 330 vessels from 2008 through 2013 (see 
Table 4-93 in Section 4.5.2 of the Analysis). The majority of these 330 
vessels participate in the CDQ halibut fishery. Most vessels 
participating in the CDQ halibut fishery use small vessels that make 
relatively small harvests of several hundred or several thousand 
pounds. Fewer vessels participate in the IFQ fishery, but approximately 
80 percent of the overall halibut harvest in Area 4 comes from vessels 
participating in the IFQ fishery (see Section 4.5.1 of the Analysis for 
additional detail).
    The CDQ and IFQ halibut fisheries provide revenue to vessel owners 
and crew members that harvest halibut. These fisheries also provide 
economic benefits to shorebased halibut processors and socioeconomic 
benefits to BSAI fishing communities that provide support services to 
the halibut harvesting and processing sectors. The Analysis estimates 
that halibut harvests in the Area 4 CDQ and IFQ fisheries averaged 6.8 
million pounds and generated an average of $32 million in ex-vessel 
revenues annually from 2008 through 2013. Area 4 halibut harvests and 
ex-vessel revenues declined over this period, resulting in negative 
economic impacts for fishery participants and affected fishing 
communities.
    Since 2008, the Area 4 catch limit has declined by 63 percent from 
the peak catch limit of 8.85 million pounds in 2008 to a low of 3.28 
million pounds in 2014. The 2015 Area 4 commercial catch limit has 
increased slightly from the recent low in 2014 to 3.82 million pounds. 
In 2008, the Area 4 commercial ex-vessel value peaked at $38 million. 
In 2013, Area 4 commercial ex-vessel value was at its lowest at $18 
million. The declines in commercial catch limits have been greatest in 
Area 4CDE. In Area 4CDE, the commercial halibut fishery catch limit 
declined by 67 percent from the peak catch limit of 3.89 million pounds 
in 2008 to a low of 1.285 million pounds in 2014 and 2015. During this 
period, the IPHC decided to provide additional harvest opportunity in 
Area 4CDE by adopting higher commercial catch limits than would have 
resulted if the IPHC's blue line harvest policy recommendations were 
actually implemented. See Section 3.1.4.1, Section 4.5, and Appendix C 
of the Analysis for a complete description of the Area 4 commercial 
halibut fishery and the fishery participants. Additional detail on the 
IPHC's harvest policy and catch limits is provided in Section 3.1.2.1 
of the Analysis.

C. Comparing Commercial Halibut Catch and Halibut Bycatch (PSC) in the 
Groundfish Fisheries in the BSAI

    In Area 4, the specific proportion of removals that are taken as 
bycatch in the groundfish fisheries or as catch in the commercial 
halibut fishery has shifted over time. From 1990 to 1996 (the period 
prior to the recent peak and decline in removals in the halibut 
fishery), the commercial halibut fisheries averaged 37 percent and 
bycatch averaged 60 percent of total halibut removals in Area 4. From 
1997 to 2011 (the period of the greatest increase and subsequent 
decline in the total removals of halibut), the commercial halibut 
fishery removals increased as a portion of total removals; the 
commercial halibut fisheries averaged 57 percent and bycatch averaged 
41 percent of total halibut removals. In more recent years, the 
proportion of halibut removals from the commercial halibut fishery has 
declined. From 2012 through 2014 (the period of recent stability in the 
halibut exploitable biomass), the commercial halibut fishery averaged 
41 percent and bycatch averaged 55 percent of total removals. See 
Figure 3-12 and Section 3.1.3 of the Analysis for additional detail.
    Area 4CDE comprises most of the Bering Sea subarea and historically 
is the portion of Area 4 where the greatest removals of halibut from 
commercial fisheries and bycatch occur (see Figure 3-14 in Section 
3.1.3.3 of the Analysis). From 1990 to 1996, the commercial halibut 
fisheries averaged 23 percent and bycatch averaged 77 percent of total 
halibut removals in Area 4CDE. From 1997 to 2011, commercial halibut 
fishery removals in Area 4CDE increased as a portion of total removals; 
the commercial halibut fisheries averaged 44 percent and bycatch 
averaged 56 percent of total halibut removals in Area 4CDE. In recent 
years, proportion of halibut removals from the commercial halibut 
fishery has declined. From 2012 through 2014, the commercial halibut 
fishery averaged 31 percent and bycatch averaged 68 percent of removals 
in Area 4CDE. See Figure 3-12 in Section 3.1.3.3 of the Analysis.

D. Halibut Bycatch Management in the BSAI Groundfish Fisheries

    The Magnuson-Stevens Act authorizes the Council and NMFS to manage 
groundfish fisheries in the Alaska EEZ that take halibut as bycatch. 
The groundfish fisheries cannot be prosecuted without some level of 
halibut bycatch because groundfish and halibut occur in the same areas 
at the same times and no fishing gear or technique has been developed 
that can avoid all halibut bycatch. However, the Council and NMFS have 
taken a number of management actions over the past several decades to 
minimize halibut bycatch in the BSAI groundfish fisheries.
    Most importantly, the Council has designated Pacific halibut and 
several other species (herring, salmon and steelhead, king crab, and 
Tanner crab) as ``prohibited species'' (Section 3.6.1 of the FMP). By 
regulation, the operator of any vessel fishing for groundfish in the 
BSAI must minimize the catch of prohibited species (Sec.  
679.21(b)(2)(i)).
    Although halibut is taken as bycatch by vessels using all types of 
gear (trawl, hook-and-line, pot, and jig gear), halibut bycatch 
primarily occurs in the trawl and hook-and-line groundfish fisheries. 
NMFS manages halibut bycatch in the BSAI by (1) establishing halibut 
PSC limits for trawl and non-trawl fisheries; (2) apportioning those 
halibut PSC

[[Page 71655]]

limits to groundfish sectors, fishery categories, and seasons; and (3) 
managing groundfish fisheries to prevent PSC from exceeding the 
established limits. The following sections provide additional 
information on the process NMFS uses to establish, apportion, and 
manage halibut PSC limits in the BSAI.
    Consistent with National Standard 1 and National Standard 9 of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act, the Council and NMFS use halibut PSC limits in 
the BSAI groundfish fisheries to minimize bycatch to the extent 
practicable while achieving, on a continuing basis, optimum yield from 
the groundfish fisheries. Halibut PSC limits in the groundfish 
fisheries provide an additional constraint on halibut PSC mortality and 
promote conservation of the halibut resource. With one limited 
exception described later in this preamble, groundfish fishing is 
prohibited once a halibut PSC limit has been reached for a particular 
sector or season. Therefore, halibut PSC limits must be set to balance 
the needs of fishermen, fishing communities, and U.S. consumers that 
depend on both halibut and groundfish resources.
1. Annual Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Limits and Apportionments of PSC Limits
    The total annual halibut PSC limit in the BSAI is 4,575 metric tons 
(mt) (10.1 million pounds). Of this amount, 3,675 mt is apportioned to 
trawl gear and 900 mt is apportioned to non-trawl gear as specified at 
Sec.  679.21(e). Trawl gear in the BSAI groundfish fisheries includes 
pelagic (midwater) trawl gear and non-pelagic (bottom) trawl gear. Non-
trawl gear in the BSAI groundfish fisheries includes pot, hook-and-
line, and jig gear.
    The halibut PSC limit for trawl gear of 3,675 mt has been unchanged 
since 2000 (65 FR 31105, May 16, 2000). Section 3.6.4 of the FMP and 
Sec.  679.21(e) specify that the halibut PSC limit for trawl gear will 
be apportioned among three groundfish sectors: (1) The CDQ Program 
(also called the CDQ sector in the proposed rule preamble), (2) the 
Amendment 80 sector, and (3) the BSAI trawl limited access sector.
    A portion of the BSAI halibut PSC limit for trawl gear is first 
apportioned for use by the CDQ sector. The CDQ sector comprises all 
trawl and non-trawl vessels that harvest groundfish under the CDQ 
Program. The CDQ sector receives its halibut PSC apportionment as a 
Prohibited Species Quota (PSQ) Reserve (Sec.  679.2). Section 3.7.4.6 
of the FMP and regulations at Sec.  679.21(e) allocate 393 mt of the 
BSAI halibut PSC limit to the groundfish CDQ sector as PSQ Reserve. 
NMFS further apportions the halibut PSQ Reserve to each CDQ group as 
PSQ (Sec.  679.2) in proportion to the percentages specified by NMFS 
(71 FR 51804, August 31, 2006). PSQ serves as a halibut PSC limit for 
BSAI groundfish harvests by each CDQ group.
    Under Sec.  679.21(e)(3)(i)(A) and (e)(4)(i)(A), the halibut PSQ 
Reserve of 393 mt is deducted from the PSC limits established for both 
the trawl sector and the non-trawl sector: 326 mt is deducted from the 
trawl gear halibut PSC limit of 3,675 mt and 67 mt is deducted from the 
non-trawl gear halibut PSC limit of 900 mt. Sections 679.21(e)(3)(i)(A) 
and (e)(4)(i)(A) specify that the PSQ reserve is not further 
apportioned by gear or fishery or season. Therefore, the CDQ groups may 
use their halibut PSQ in any trawl or non-trawl gear groundfish CDQ 
fishery, subject to other requirements in regulation.
    Following the deduction of the halibut PSQ reserve, the BSAI 
halibut PSC limit for trawl gear is further divided between the 
Amendment 80 and BSAI trawl limited access sectors as specified in 
Table 35 to part 679. The Amendment 80 sector is apportioned 2,325 mt. 
This amount is further apportioned to Amendment 80 cooperatives and the 
Amendment 80 limited access fishery, if any vessels elect to 
participate in the limited access fishery for that year. The 
apportionment of halibut PSC to an Amendment 80 cooperative is for 
exclusive use by the vessels participating in that cooperative. The 
method for apportioning halibut PSC between Amendment 80 cooperatives 
and the Amendment 80 limited access fishery is described at Sec.  
679.91(d)(2) and (3). Beginning in 2011, all participants in the 
Amendment 80 sector have participated in Amendment 80 cooperatives. 
Therefore, this preamble describes the harvesting and apportionment of 
halibut PSC to Amendment 80 cooperatives in greater detail.
    The BSAI trawl limited access sector is assigned 875 mt of halibut 
PSC. This amount is further apportioned into PSC allowances among 
fishery categories through the annual harvest specifications process 
for those fishery categories in which BSAI trawl limited access fishery 
vessels participate. These fishery categories are (1) pollock/Atka 
mackerel/``other species'' fishery, (2) Pacific cod fishery, (3) 
rockfish fishery, and the 4) yellowfin sole fishery (80 FR 11919, March 
5, 2015)).
    The Amendment 80 Program established provisions that do not make 
the full amount of the halibut PSC limit available to the trawl sector 
(see Table 35 to part 679). A portion of the PSC limit is left ``in the 
water'' and is not available for use as halibut PSC in the groundfish 
fisheries. Since 2013, the annual amount of halibut PSC limit left in 
the water has been 150 mt. Additional description of the impacts of 
implementation of the Amendment 80 Program on BSAI halibut PSC 
apportionment is provided in the following ``Overview of the BSAI 
Groundfish Sectors'' section of the preamble.
    The BSAI halibut PSC limit for non-trawl gear of 900 mt has been in 
effect since 1993 (58 FR 14524, March 18, 1993). After assigning 67 mt 
for use by the CDQ sector as PSQ Reserve as described above, the 
remaining 833 mt of the non-trawl limit is further apportioned into PSC 
allowances among fishery categories through the annual harvest 
specifications process (80 FR 11919, March 5, 2015). These fishery 
categories are specified in Sec.  679.21(e)(4)(ii) as: (1) Pacific cod 
hook-and-line catcher vessel fishery, (2) Pacific cod hook-and-line 
catcher/processor fishery, (3) sablefish hook-and-line fishery, (4) 
groundfish jig gear fishery, (5) groundfish pot gear fishery, and (6) 
other non-trawl fisheries.
    Section 3.6 of the FMP authorizes the Council to exempt specific 
gear types from the non-trawl halibut PSC limits that are established 
through the annual harvest specifications process. In past annual 
consultations with the Council, NMFS has exempted pot gear, jig gear, 
and the sablefish IFQ hook-and-line gear fishery categories from the 
non-trawl halibut PSC limit. The Council and NMFS have exempted these 
gear types from halibut PSC limits, given the limited amount of halibut 
bycatch that is known to occur by pot and jig gear compared to the 
total halibut PSC use by other gear types. The sablefish IFQ hook-and-
line fishery has not been included based on limited halibut PSC use, 
particularly in the BSAI. Additional rationale for exempting these gear 
types from halibut PSC limits is contained in the final 2015 and 2016 
harvest specifications (80 FR 11919, March 5, 2015).
    Figure 1 shows the process for establishing BSAI annual halibut PSC 
limits for each groundfish sector and the associated halibut PSC limits 
established for 2015 (see Section 2.1 of the Analysis for additional 
information).
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P

[[Page 71656]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP16NO15.214


[[Page 71657]]


BILLING CODE 3510-22-C
2. Overview of the BSAI Groundfish Sectors
a. Amendment 80 Sector
    The Amendment 80 sector comprises trawl catcher/processors in the 
BSAI active in groundfish fisheries other than Bering Sea pollock 
(i.e., the head-and-gut fleet or Amendment 80 vessels). The Amendment 
80 species are the following six species: BSAI Atka mackerel, Aleutian 
Islands Pacific ocean perch, BSAI flathead sole, BSAI Pacific cod, BSAI 
rock sole, and BSAI yellowfin sole (Sec.  679.2). The Amendment 80 
Program allocates a portion of the TACs of the Amendment 80 species 
between the Amendment 80 Program and other trawl fishery participants 
(72 FR 52668, September 14, 2007). The Amendment 80 Program also 
allocates crab and halibut PSC limits to constrain bycatch of these 
species while Amendment 80 vessels harvest groundfish. Fishing under 
the Amendment 80 Program began in 2008.
    The Amendment 80 Program allocated QS for Amendment 80 species 
based on the historical catch of these species by Amendment 80 vessels. 
The Amendment 80 Program allows and facilitates the formation of 
Amendment 80 cooperatives among QS holders who receive an exclusive 
harvest privilege. This exclusive harvest privilege allows Amendment 80 
cooperative participants to collaboratively manage their fishing 
operations and more efficiently harvest groundfish and PSC allocations.
    The Amendment 80 sector can be divided between vessels that focus 
primarily on flatfish (i.e., Alaska plaice, arrowtooth flounder, 
flathead sole, rock sole, and yellowfin sole) and those vessels that 
focus on Atka mackerel. In 2013, eleven Amendment 80 vessels focused on 
flatfish targets. Eight vessels focused on targeting Atka mackerel. The 
flatfish-focused vessels have higher rates of halibut bycatch than the 
Atka mackerel vessels. Section 4.4.2 of the Analysis provides detailed 
information on Amendment 80 sector participants, harvests, and revenues 
in the BSAI groundfish fisheries.
    Annually, each Amendment 80 QS holder elects to participate either 
in a cooperative or the limited access fishery. Participants in the 
limited access fishery do not receive an exclusive harvest privilege 
for a portion of the TACs allocated to the Amendment 80 Program. 
Beginning in 2011, all QS holders have participated in one of two 
Amendment 80 cooperatives. For additional detail see Amendment 80 
Cooperative Reports available on the NMFS Alaska Region Web site, 
http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/sustainablefisheries/amds/80/default.htm.
    As specified in Section 3.7.5.2.1 of the FMP and at Sec.  679.91, 
NMFS annually establishes a halibut PSC limit of 2,325 mt for the 
Amendment 80 sector. This halibut PSC limit is apportioned between 
Amendment 80 cooperatives and the limited access fishery according to 
Sec.  679.91. Amendment 80 cooperatives are responsible for 
coordinating fishing activities to ensure the cooperative halibut PSC 
allocation is not exceeded. Section 679.91(h)(3)(xvi) prohibit each 
Amendment 80 cooperative from using halibut PSC in excess of the amount 
specified on its annual Amendment 80 Cooperative Quota permit. The 
regulations further specify that each member of the Amendment 80 
cooperative is jointly and severally liable for any violations of the 
Amendment 80 Program regulations while fishing under the authority of 
an Amendment 80 Cooperative Quota permit.
    In a year when there are vessels participating in the Amendment 80 
limited access fishery, NMFS apportions the halibut PSC limit for the 
Amendment 80 limited access fishery into PSC allowances for the 
following six trawl fishery categories in which the vessels could 
participate: (1) Yellowfin sole fishery, (2) rock sole/flathead sole/
``other flatfish'' fishery, (3) Greenland turbot/arrowtooth flounder/
Kamchatka flounder/sablefish fishery, (4) rockfish fishery, (5) Pacific 
cod fishery, and (6) pollock/Atka mackerel/``other species'' fishery, 
which includes the midwater pollock fishery (see Sec.  
679.21(e)(3)(i)(B), (e)(3)(ii)(C), and (e)(3)(iv)).
    NMFS manages the Amendment 80 limited access fishery halibut PSC 
allowances because participants in the Amendment 80 limited access 
fishery do not have exclusive privileges to use a specific amount of 
halibut PSC. To manage halibut PSC, NMFS monitors participation and PSC 
use in the Amendment 80 limited access fishery categories. Except for 
the pollock/Atka mackerel/``other species'' fishery, NMFS has the 
authority to close a trawl fishery category in the Amendment 80 limited 
access fishery if NMFS concludes that the fishery category will, or 
has, exceeded its halibut PSC allowance. A halibut PSC allowance is 
enforced through the prohibition against conducting any fishing 
contrary to notification of inseason action, closure, or adjustment 
(Sec.  679.7(a)(2)). The regulations establishing the exception for the 
pollock/Atka mackerel/``other species'' fishery are explained below in 
the section ``BSAI Trawl Limited Access Sector.''
    Section 2.2.1 of the Analysis and the final rule implementing the 
Amendment 80 Program provide more detailed information on the process 
NMFS uses to assign Amendment 80 species and halibut PSC to each 
Amendment 80 cooperative and the Amendment 80 limited access fishery 
(72 FR 52668, September 14, 2007). The allocations of Amendment 80 
species TACs and apportionments of halibut PSC to each of the Amendment 
80 cooperatives are provided in the final 2014 and 2015 harvest 
specifications for the BSAI groundfish fisheries (80 FR 11919, March 
05, 2015).
    The Amendment 80 groundfish fisheries provide revenue to Amendment 
80 vessel owners and crew members that harvest and process groundfish. 
In addition, the fisheries provide socioeconomic benefits to fishing 
communities that provide support services for Amendment 80 vessel 
operations. Amendment 80 groundfish harvests in the BSAI averaged 
328,000 mt and generated $325 million in wholesale revenues annually 
from 2008 through 2013. Three groundfish species provided over three-
quarters of the wholesale revenue for the Amendment 80 fleet from 2008 
through 2013: yellowfin sole (38 percent of total revenue), Atka 
mackerel (20 percent), and rock sole (19 percent).
b. BSAI Trawl Limited Access Sector
    The BSAI trawl limited access sector comprises all the trawl 
vessels in the BSAI except Amendment 80 catcher/processors. From 2008 
to 2013, 141 vessels participated in the BSAI trawl limited access 
sector: 99 American Fisheries Act (AFA) catcher vessels that primarily 
target pollock and also fish for Pacific cod; 17 AFA catcher/processors 
that primarily target pollock and also fish for yellowfin sole and 
Pacific cod; and 25 non-AFA catcher vessels that primarily target 
Pacific cod and yellowfin sole, with some also targeting Atka mackerel 
and Pacific ocean perch (see Section 4.4.3 of the Analysis for 
additional detail).
    The AFA is a limited access program for Bering Sea pollock 
implemented by statute in 1998 (Public Law 105-277, 16 U.S.C.A. 
statutory note). The AFA specified eligible vessels, established sector 
allocations of pollock, and allowed vessels to form cooperatives. All 
AFA catcher vessels and catcher/processors participate in the pollock 
fishery through cooperatives. The pollock fishery accounts for 64 
percent of all groundfish harvests in the BSAI but takes a relatively 
small proportion of

[[Page 71658]]

halibut bycatch, averaging only 8 percent of total halibut bycatch in 
the BSAI from 2008 through 2013.
    The BSAI trawl limited access sector is a limited access sector 
because vessels must have a License Limitation Program (LLP) groundfish 
license to conduct directed fishing for any groundfish in BSAI (see 
Sec.  679.4(k)(1)). The LLP is a limited access program because a 
limited number of licenses are issued and a person only received an LLP 
license if that person met specific eligibility requirements. However, 
the LLP does not allocate exclusive harvest privileges for a specific 
portion of a fishery TAC like the Amendment 80 Program does for the six 
Amendment 80 species or like the AFA does for Bering Sea pollock. Thus, 
for all species but pollock, vessels in the BSAI trawl limited access 
sector are in competition with other participants to maximize their 
harvest of target species before they reach either their halibut PSC 
limits, or in the case of Bering Sea pollock, Chinook salmon PSC 
limits.
    As specified in Section 3.7.5.2.1 of the FMP and at Sec.  679.91, 
NMFS annually establishes a halibut PSC limit of 875 mt for the BSAI 
trawl limited access sector. This halibut PSC limit of 875 mt is 
apportioned to fishery categories through the annual harvest 
specification process. NMFS apportions this sector's PSC limit into PSC 
allowances among the following trawl fishery categories: (1) Yellowfin 
sole fishery, (2) rock sole/flathead sole/``other flatfish'' fishery, 
(3) Greenland turbot/arrowtooth flounder/Kamchatka flounder/sablefish 
fishery, (4) rockfish fishery, (5) Pacific cod fishery, and (6) 
pollock/Atka mackerel/``other species'' fishery, which includes the 
midwater pollock fishery. For additional detail see Table 16 in the 
2015 and 2015 final harvest specifications (80 FR 11919, March 5, 2015) 
and Sec.  679.21(e)(3)(i)(B), (e)(3)(ii)(C), and (e)(3)(iv)).
    After NMFS establishes PSC allowances for these trawl fishery 
categories, NMFS may, through the annual harvest specification process, 
further apportion the allowances by season, according to criteria 
specified in regulation (Sec.  679.21(e)(5)). NMFS apportions some 
halibut PSC allowances in specific groundfish fisheries by season to 
ensure that a portion of the halibut PSC allowance for that fishery is 
available for use earlier in the year and a portion of the halibut PSC 
allowance remains to support groundfish fishing in that fishery that 
occurs later in the year. The limits assigned to each season for a 
groundfish fishery reflect halibut PSC likely to be taken during that 
season in that fishery.
    In general, the PSC regulations state that if NMFS determines that 
any of these trawl fisheries will reach the PSC allowance for that 
fishery (or a seasonal apportionment of an allowance), NMFS closes that 
trawl fishery in the BSAI for the rest of the year, or, if applicable, 
for the rest of the season (Sec.  679.21(e)(7)(v)). NMFS has authority 
under current regulations to close the following trawl fisheries if 
they will reach their halibut PSC allowance: (1) Yellowfin sole 
fishery, (2) rock sole/flathead sole/``other flatfish'' fishery, (3) 
Greenland turbot/arrowtooth flounder/Kamchatka flounder/sablefish 
fishery, (4) rockfish fishery, and (5) Pacific cod fishery (Sec.  
679.21(e)(7)(v)). For example, in May 2014, NMFS closed the yellowfin 
sole fishery throughout the BSAI to prevent that fishery from exceeding 
its halibut PSC allowance (79 FR 29136, May 21, 2014). The Pacific cod 
and yellowfin sole fisheries are the primary fisheries that can be 
constrained by halibut PSC limits in the BSAI trawl limited access 
sector.
    The regulations include an exception for the pollock/Atka mackerel/
``other species'' fishery category. If the pollock/Atka mackerel/
``other species'' fishery category will reach its halibut PSC 
allowance, NMFS does not have the authority to close the pollock/Atka 
mackerel/``other species'' fishery category. This is the result of the 
interaction of several regulations. As noted previously, NMFS must 
count all halibut PSC in the midwater pollock fishery category against 
the PSC allowance for the pollock/Atka mackerel/``other species'' 
fishery category (Sec.  679.21(e)(3)(ii)(C)). By a regulation adopted 
in 1992, if the PSC allowance for the pollock/Atka mackerel/``other 
species'' category will be reached, NMFS only has authority to close 
directed fishing for pollock to trawl vessels using nonpelagic trawl 
gear (57 FR 43926, 43935, September 23, 1992; Sec.  679.21(e)(7)(i)). 
However, in 2000, NMFS prohibited directed fishing for pollock in the 
BSAI with nonpelagic trawl gear at all times and extended that 
prohibition to CDQ sector vessels in 2006 (65 FR 31105, May 16, 2000; 
71 FR 36694, June 28, 2006; Sec.  679.24(b)(4)). Thus, if the halibut 
PSC allowance for the trawl fishery category of pollock/Atka mackerel/
``other species'' will be reached, NMFS does not have authority to take 
additional action. The Council did not recommend, and NMFS did not 
propose, changes in the management of the pollock/Atka mackerel/``other 
species'' fishery.
    Even though NMFS does not have authority to close this fishery, 
halibut PSC use in the pollock/Atka mackerel/``other species'' fishery 
category recently (i.e., 2013 and 2014) was below the amount the PSC 
allowance for this fishery category. Based on recent halibut PSC use, 
NMFS anticipates that halibut PSC in this trawl fishery category would 
not exceed the PSC allowance that would be established for this fishery 
category under this proposed rule in future years. However, if this 
fishery did exceed its PSC allowance, NMFS considers recent halibut PSC 
use each year when it establishes PSC allowances and could increase the 
PSC allowance for this fishery category. But because the regulation 
establishes an overall halibut PSC limit for the BSAI trawl limited 
access sector of 710 mt, an increase in the halibut PSC allowance for 
one fishery category in this sector would be matched by a corresponding 
decrease in the halibut PSC allowance for other fishery category or 
categories in this sector.
    The BSAI trawl limited access fisheries provide revenue to vessel 
owners and crew members that harvest and process groundfish. In 
addition, the fisheries provide socioeconomic benefits to fishing 
communities that provide support services for BSAI trawl limited access 
vessel operations. Groundfish harvests in the BSAI trawl limited access 
fisheries averaged 1 million mt and generated $1.3 billion in wholesale 
revenues from 2008 through 2013. During this period, the pollock 
fishery was 93 percent of the groundfish harvest and wholesale revenue 
for the BSAI trawl limited access sector. The Pacific cod fishery was 4 
percent and the yellowfin sole fishery was 2 percent of the groundfish 
harvest and wholesale revenue for the BSAI trawl limited access sector. 
Section 4.4.3 of the Analysis provides detailed information on 
participants, harvests, and revenues in the BSAI trawl limited access 
sector fisheries.
c. BSAI Non-trawl Sector
    The BSAI non-trawl sector comprises all the non-trawl vessels in 
the BSAI except vessels fishing for groundfish in the CDQ sector. Non-
trawl vessels participating in the CDQ sector are addressed in the 
following section of the preamble. As described in the ``Annual Halibut 
Bycatch (PSC) Limits and Apportionments of PSC Limits'' section of the 
preamble above, the Council and NMFS have exempted pot gear, jig gear, 
and the sablefish IFQ hook-and-line gear fishery categories from 
halibut PSC limits. Because these three fishery categories are 
currently exempted from halibut PSC limits, this section of the 
preamble does not address these fishery categories (see Section 3.1.3.1 
of the

[[Page 71659]]

Analysis for additional detail on the pot gear, jig gear, and the 
sablefish IFQ hook-and-line gear fishery categories).
    From 2008 to 2013, an average of 47 vessels participated in the 
portion of the BSAI non-trawl sector subject to halibut PSC limits: 35 
hook-and-line catcher/processor vessels that primarily targeted Pacific 
cod and to a lesser extent Greenland turbot; and 12 hook-and-line 
catcher vessels that targeted only Pacific cod.
    Hook-and-line catcher/processor vessels that target Pacific cod 
comprise the greatest number of vessels and amount of harvests in the 
non-trawl sector. The Analysis shows that from 2008 through 2013, hook-
and-line catcher/processors harvested more than 98 percent of all of 
the fish harvested by the non-trawl sector. Most of this harvest was 
from the BSAI Pacific cod fishery. The BSAI hook-and-line catcher/
processors harvested 99 percent of the total amount of Pacific cod 
harvested in the BSAI by non-trawl vessels. The BSAI Pacific cod 
fishery comprised 98 percent of total harvests for the hook-and-line 
catcher/processors from 2008 through 2013 (see Sections 4.4.4 and 4.4.5 
of the Analysis). All but one hook-and-line catcher/processor fishing 
in the BSAI participates in a voluntary cooperative, the Freezer 
Longline Conservation Cooperative (FLCC). The FLCC has allowed hook-
and-line catcher/processors to fish as a coordinated group and has 
allowed less efficient vessels to decrease fishing or stop entirely. 
Additional details about the FLCC are provided in Section 4.4.4.8 of 
the Analysis.
    The BSAI non-trawl sector also includes hook-and-line catcher 
vessels that exclusively target Pacific cod. Data from 2008 through 
2013 show that harvests of BSAI Pacific cod comprised 100 percent of 
the total harvests and total revenue for these vessels. The BSAI hook-
and-line catcher vessels targeting Pacific cod harvested 1 percent of 
the total amount of Pacific cod harvested in the BSAI by non-trawl 
vessels from 2008 through 2013. During this period, 42 unique vessels 
participated in the hook-and-line catcher vessel fishery, although the 
number of vessels participating in this fishery has declined from 20 in 
2008 to 11 in 2013 (see Section 4.4.5.1 of the Analysis).
    Some non-trawl vessels also harvest groundfish other than Pacific 
cod, but harvests of these other species are limited. Over the past 
decade, only hook-and-line catcher/processors have participated in the 
other non-trawl fisheries, specifically targeting Greenland turbot. 
Hook-and-line catcher/processor harvested approximately 40 percent of 
the total amount of Greenland turbot harvested in the BSAI from 2008 
through 2013 (see Table 4-10 in Section 4.4.1.6 and Table 4-50 in 
Section 4.4.4.2 of the Analysis). During this time period, 20 unique 
vessels participated in the hook-and-line catcher/processor fishery for 
Greenland turbot, although the number of vessels participating in 
recent years (from 2010 through 2013) has ranged between 13 and 7 each 
year (see Section 4.4.4.1 of the Analysis).
    Under current regulations, the non-trawl sector's PSC limit of 833 
mt is apportioned under the annual harvest specification process. 
Section 679.21(e)(4)(i)(C) specifies that NMFS will apportion the BSAI 
non-trawl sector's PSC limit into PSC allowances ``based on each 
category's proportional share of the anticipated bycatch mortality of 
halibut during a fishing year and the need to optimize the amount of 
total groundfish harvested under the non-trawl halibut PSC limit.'' As 
explained above in ``Annual Halibut Bycatch (PSC) limits and 
Apportionment of PSC limits,'' NMFS has apportioned the PSC limit for 
the BSAI non-trawl sector among three non-trawl fishery categories: (1) 
Pacific cod hook-and-line catcher vessel fishery, (2) Pacific cod hook-
and-line catcher/processor fishery, and (3) other non-trawl fisheries. 
NMFS has the same authority to apportion, by season, the halibut PSC 
allowances among the non-trawl fisheries as it has for the trawl 
fisheries (Sec.  679.21(e)(5)).
    As with trawl fisheries, NMFS manages the halibut PSC allowances 
for the non-trawl fisheries through fishery closures. Section 
679.21(e)(8) specifies that if NMFS concludes that a non-trawl fishery 
will reach its halibut PSC allowance (or a seasonal apportionment of an 
allowance), it will close that non-trawl fishery in the entire BSAI for 
the rest of the year (or the rest of the season).
    The non-trawl fisheries provide revenue to vessel owners and crew 
members that harvest and process groundfish on catcher vessels and 
catcher/processors. In addition, the fisheries provide economic 
benefits to shorebased processors that receive landings of Pacific cod 
from catcher vessels and to fishing communities that provide support 
services for BSAI non-trawl vessel operations. Groundfish harvests in 
the BSAI non-trawl fisheries averaged 116,000 mt and generated $160 
million in wholesale revenues annually from 2008 through 2013. Sections 
4.4.4 and 4.4.5 of the Analysis provides detailed information on 
participants, harvests, and revenues in the BSAI trawl limited access 
groundfish fisheries.
d. CDQ Sector
    The CDQ sector includes all trawl and non-trawl vessels that 
harvest groundfish under the CDQ Program. CDQ vessels primarily target 
pollock using trawl gear and target Pacific cod using hook-and-line 
gear. Other species such as yellowfin sole, several flatfish species, 
Atka mackerel and Pacific ocean perch allocated to the CDQ sector are 
targeted by vessels using trawl gear.
    From 2008 to 2013, 56 vessels participated in the CDQ sector using 
trawl and non-trawl gear to harvest BSAI groundfish, with nearly 60 
percent of the vessels operating in the pollock and Pacific cod target 
fisheries. The pollock fishery accounted for 73 percent of the total 
groundfish harvest in the CDQ sector from 2008 through 2013. Vessels 
participating in the CDQ sector fully harvest the sector's pollock and 
Pacific cod allocations. Vessels participating in the CDQ sector have 
not fully harvested other allocations of groundfish species due to a 
variety of operational factors and choices described in Section 4.4.6 
of the Analysis.
    As specified in Section 3.7.4.6 of the FMP and at Sec.  679.21(e), 
NMFS annually establishes a halibut PSC limit of 393 mt for the CDQ 
sector. The halibut PSC limit is divided among the six CDQ groups by 
established percentages (71 FR 51804 (August 31, 2006). Each CDQ group 
receives an apportionment of this halibut PSC limit as halibut 
prohibited species quota (PSQ), which is a specific amount of halibut 
that vessels fishing for that CDQ group may use in a year. The 
apportionment of halibut PSQ to each CDQ group is similar to the 
apportionment of halibut PSC Cooperative Quota to an Amendment 80 
cooperative. The CDQ group manages the use of its halibut PSQ 
apportionment. The CDQ group has the responsibility to ensure that the 
vessels fishing its CDQ groundfish allocation do not use halibut PSQ in 
excess of the amount of the CDQ group's halibut PSQ. This limit is 
enforced at Sec.  679.7(d)(3), which prohibits a CDQ group from 
exceeding its apportionment of halibut PSQ.
    The CDQ groundfish fisheries provide revenue to CDQ groups that 
receive royalties from leasing their groundfish allocations for harvest 
by vessels that participate in non-CDQ groundfish fisheries. In 
addition, CDQ groundfish harvests provide revenue to vessel owners and 
crew members that harvest and process groundfish on catcher

[[Page 71660]]

vessels and catcher/processors, to shorebased processors that receive 
landings of CDQ groundfish, and to fishing communities that provide 
support services for vessels fishing in CDQ groundfish fisheries. By 
species, the CDQ groundfish allocations that generate revenue for the 
CDQ groups are as follows: 75 percent of wholesale revenue from 
pollock; 15 percent from Pacific cod; 6 percent from yellowfin sole; 
and 4 percent from all other species. Section 4.4.6.1 of the Analysis 
describes the vessels that participate in harvesting the CDQ 
allocations of groundfish.
    From 2008 through 2013, the CDQ sector has consistently harvested 
almost 100 percent of its pollock allocations. The average annual 
pollock harvests from 2008 through 2014 are 112,000 mt resulting in 
$150 million in wholesale revenues. From 2008 through 2013, the CDQ 
sector harvested an average of 60 percent of its non-pollock species 
allocations. During this period, vessels in the CDQ sector averaged 
annual non-pollock groundfish harvests of 42,000 mt and $50 million in 
wholesale revenues. Section 4.4.6 of the Analysis provides detailed 
information on participants, harvests, and revenues in the CDQ 
groundfish fisheries.
    As described in the ``Halibut Fisheries in the BSAI'' section of 
the preamble above, CDQ groups also receive an annual allocation of the 
commercial halibut fishery catch limit recommended by the IPHC. CDQ 
halibut allocations provide revenue to vessel owners and crew members 
that harvest and process halibut, to shorebased processors that receive 
landings of CDQ halibut, and to fishing communities that provide 
support services for vessels fishing in CDQ halibut fisheries. Sections 
4.5.1 and 4.5.2 of the Analysis provide detailed information on 
participants, harvests, and revenues in the CDQ halibut fisheries.
3. Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Use in the BSAI Groundfish Sectors
    The annual halibut PSC limit established for each BSAI groundfish 
sector is an upper limit on halibut PSC in that sector for that year. 
However, the amount of halibut PSC used by a BSAI groundfish sector is 
almost always less than its halibut PSC limit. Halibut PSC use is less 
than the halibut PSC limit due to a wide range of operational factors 
such as the need to avoid a closure or an enforcement action if a PSC 
allocation or allowance is reached. Table 1 shows the halibut PSC limit 
and average halibut PSC use for the Amendment 80, BSAI trawl limited 
access, BSAI non-trawl, and CDQ sectors from 2008 through 2014.

        Table 1--Current BSAI Halibut PSC Limits and Use by BSAI Groundfish Sector From 2008 Through 2014
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                      Average         Average
                                                  Current annual                    annual BSAI     annual BSAI
                                                   BSAI halibut       Average       halibut PSC     halibut PSC
                                  Current annual  PSC limit as a    annual BSAI   use from 2008-  use from  2008-
     BSAI Groundfish sector        BSAI halibut   % of the total    halibut PSC   2014 as a % of   2014  as % of
                                  PSC limit  (mt    annual BSAI   use from 2008-   total annual    the  sector's
                                         )          halibut PSC     2014  (mt)     BSAI halibut    BSAI halibut
                                                       limit                          PSC use        PSC limit
 
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Amendment 80 sector.............           2,325              53           2,047              59              88
BSAI trawl limited access sector             875              20             710              20              81
BSAI non-trawl sector...........             833              19             505              15              61
CDQ sector......................             393               9             215               6              55
                                 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Total for all sectors.......           4,426             100           3,477             100              79
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Table 1 shows that the Amendment 80 sector used the largest portion 
of halibut PSC in recent years. The Amendment 80 sector used, on 
average, approximately 60 percent of the total amount of halibut PSC 
used by all BSAI groundfish sectors from 2008 through 2014. The BSAI 
trawl limited access sector used 20 percent, the BSAI non-trawl sector 
used 15 percent, and the CDQ sector used 6 percent of the total amount 
of halibut PSC.
    Table 3-14 in Section 3.1.3.3 of the Analysis shows halibut PSC 
annually for each sector from 2008 through 2014. The Amendment 80 
sector used, on average, 88 percent of its annual halibut PSC limit 
from 2008 through 2014. Halibut PSC use in the Amendment 80 sector 
varies annually, and the sector's use as a percentage of the limit from 
2008 through 2014 ranged from 78 percent in 2011 to 97 percent in 2010.
    The BSAI trawl limited access sector used, on average, 81 percent 
of its annual halibut PSC limit from 2008 through 2014, varying from 55 
percent of the sector limit in 2010 to 110 percent of the sector limit 
in 2012.
    The BSAI non-trawl sector used, on average, 61 percent of its 
annual halibut PSC limit from 2008 through 2014. Like the trawl 
sectors, halibut PSC use in the non-trawl sector varied substantially 
on an annual basis. Almost all of the halibut PSC in the non-trawl 
sector is used by hook-and-line catcher/processors targeting Pacific 
cod. These vessels averaged 98 percent of the total non-trawl halibut 
PSC use from 2008 through 2014. Halibut PSC use in the Pacific cod 
hook-and-line catcher/processor sector has declined since 2010 
following formation of the FLCC. From 2008 through 2014, halibut PSC 
use by the non-trawl sector ranged from 52 percent of the sector limit 
in 2014 to 74 percent of the sector limit in 2008.
    The CDQ sector used, on average, 55 percent of its annual halibut 
PSC limit from 2008 through 2014, varying from 38 percent of the sector 
limit in 2009 to 67 percent of the sector limit in 2013. Halibut PSC 
use in the CDQ sector has typically been much lower than the PSC limit 
due to a variety of operational choices to limit catch of some 
groundfish species, and the methods used by CDQ groups to assign 
halibut PSC when fishing jointly for CDQ and non-CDQ species. Section 
4.4.6.2 of the Analysis describes these factors in greater detail.
    For all sectors, Section 3.1.3.3 of the Analysis describes the 
annual variations in halibut PSC use resulting from changes in 
groundfish TACs and changes in weather, environmental conditions, and 
other factors. Historical halibut PSC use information shows that each 
sector's PSC use has varied annually in response to these changing 
conditions. NMFS anticipates that these annual variations in halibut 
PSC use would continue under the proposed rule.

[[Page 71661]]

III. Rationale and Impacts of Amendment 111 and the Proposed Rule

    Amendment 111 and the proposed rule would reduce the current 
halibut PSC limits for the BSAI groundfish fisheries. Amendment 111 and 
the proposed rule are necessary to minimize halibut bycatch to the 
extent practicable in the BSAI groundfish fisheries, while at the same 
time providing for the long-term sustainable optimum yield from the 
groundfish fisheries. By reducing halibut PSC in the groundfish 
fisheries from current levels, the proposed rule may provide additional 
harvest opportunities in halibut fisheries in the BSAI and, ultimately, 
in other Areas (Areas 2 and 3). This section describes the rationale 
for and the anticipated impacts of the halibut PSC limit reductions 
that would be implemented by the proposed rule.
    In recommending the proposed rule, the Council considered the fact 
that the halibut resource is fully allocated. Recent declines in 
halibut exploitable biomass, particularly in Area 4 in the BSAI, 
underscore the need to minimize bycatch of halibut in the groundfish 
fisheries to the extent practicable. Since the existing BSAI halibut 
PSC limits were established in 2000, the exploitable biomass has 
declined and the commercial halibut sector has experienced decreased 
catch limits as a result (see Section 2.4 of the Analysis).
    Since 2008, the commercial halibut fishery catch limit in the BSAI 
in Area 4 has declined, although the 2015 commercial catch limit in 
Area 4 has increased slightly from the recent low in 2014. The Council 
determined that the proposed rule is necessary because catch limits for 
the commercial halibut fisheries in the BSAI have declined in recent 
years and because the halibut PSC used in the BSAI groundfish fisheries 
has increased as a proportion of total halibut removals.
    In recommending the proposed rule, the Council and NMFS considered 
alternatives that ranged from a 10 percent to a 50 percent reduction in 
halibut PSC limits for each of the four BSAI groundfish sectors: the 
Amendment 80, the BSAI trawl limited access, the non-trawl, and the CDQ 
sectors. The Council and NMFS determined that it was appropriate to 
recommend a PSC limit reduction for each sector to recognize 
differences among the sectors in halibut PSC use and management as well 
as differences in fishery participation, gear and operation type, and 
available tools to further reduce halibut PSC use.
    In making its recommendation, the Council and NMFS also considered 
the national standards in section 301(a) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. 
This preamble has already described the consideration of National 
Standard 1 (prevent overfishing while ensuring, on a continuing basis, 
optimum yield from the fisheries), and National Standard 9 (minimize 
bycatch, to the extent practicable, and where bycatch cannot be 
avoided, minimize bycatch mortality). Two other national standards were 
particularly relevant to the Council and NMFS in developing Amendment 
111 and the proposed rule: National Standard 8 (provide for the 
sustained participation of fishing communities and to the extent 
practicable, minimize adverse economic impacts on such communities) and 
National Standard 4 (allocation of fishing privileges shall be fair and 
equitable). Section 6.1 of the Analysis provides additional detail on 
the consideration of the national standards. The Council believes, and 
NMFS agrees, that the proposed PSC limit reductions are consistent with 
the national standards.
    The Council and NMFS considered the impacts of alternative ranges 
of halibut PSC limit reductions on (1) the halibut stock, (2) the 
halibut fishery participants and fishing communities that are engaged 
in directed halibut fisheries in the BSAI and in other Areas, and (3) 
the BSAI groundfish fishery participants and fishing communities that 
are engaged in the BSAI groundfish fisheries. The Analysis provides 
detailed information that the Council and NMFS considered for the 
proposed rule.
    After considering these factors, the Council recommended, and NMFS 
proposes, to reduce halibut PSC limits by 25 percent in the Amendment 
80 sector, 15 percent in the BSAI trawl limited access sector, 15 
percent in the non-trawl sector, and 20 percent in the CDQ sector. The 
resulting halibut PSC limits from this proposed reduction would be 
1,745 mt for the Amendment 80 sector; 745 mt for the BSAI trawl limited 
access sector; 710 mt for the BSAI non-trawl sector; and 315 mt for the 
CDQ sector. The following sections of the preamble describe the 
rationale for and impacts of the proposed rule on the halibut stock, 
the directed halibut fishery and fishing communities, and the BSAI 
groundfish fishery participants and fishing communities.

A. Methods for Analysis of Impacts

    In order to analyze the impact of the proposed rule and other 
alternatives considered, the Analysis made two broad assumptions. 
First, the Analysis assumed the IPHC would (1) differentiate halibut 
that are over 26 inches in length (O26) from halibut that are under 26 
inches in length (U26) for purposes of the annual stock assessment and 
for establishing commercial fishery catch limits, and (2) establish the 
blue line catch limit as the commercial fishery catch limit for all 
IPHC areas. The Analysis assumes application of the IPHC harvest policy 
because it represents the stated policies of the IPHC and because 
possible changes in this policy, or the specific commercial catch 
limits that will actually be adopted by the IPHC, cannot be known or 
predicted. As described above in the ``Allocation of Halibut Among 
Fisheries'' section above, the IPHC is not required to apply its 
harvest policy and frequently has deviated from it when adopting annual 
catch limits. However, for purposes of this analysis, assuming 
application of the IPHC harvest policy is the best available method for 
analyzing the effects of Amendment 111 and the proposed rule.
    Second, based on this assumption, the Analysis provides a 
prospective evaluation of the economic impacts of halibut PSC limit 
reductions on halibut fisheries and the groundfish fisheries for ten 
years (2014 through 2023) under two scenarios with different 
assumptions about the ability of fishery participants to coordinate 
harvesting activities to minimize halibut PSC. The ``low impact'' 
scenario assumes that fishery participants are able to coordinate 
harvesting activities to achieve almost optimal efficiency in the use 
of PSC across all sectors. In other words, the impact of halibut PSC 
reductions can be mitigated to the maximum extent practicable through 
well-coordinated sector-wide efforts. The ``high impact'' scenario 
assumes significantly less coordination across the sector and models 
each company operating individually to optimize its PSC use. In other 
words, each company within a sector will attempt to mitigate the impact 
of halibut PSC reductions on their operations, but with less well-
coordinated sector-wide efforts. Section 4.6 of the Analysis details 
the methods used. Based on the Analysis and information provided to the 
Council in public testimony, NMFS determined that the BSAI groundfish 
sectors have varying abilities to optimize efficient use of halibut 
PSC, and it is likely that the actual economic impacts of the proposed 
rule will fall within the range between the low impact and high impact 
scenarios presented in the Analysis.

B. Impacts on the Halibut Stock

    The Council determined, and NMFS agrees, that the proposed rule 
would

[[Page 71662]]

reduce halibut PSC relative to current halibut PSC use. This reduction 
in halibut PSC use is expected to increase the total amount of halibut 
exploitable biomass, and potentially the female spawning biomass. 
Reductions in halibut PSC would be expected to provide additional 
harvest opportunities to commercial, personal use, sport, and 
subsistence halibut fisheries in the BSAI and in other Areas.
    Overall, the Council's recommendation is expected to result in a 
decrease of approximately 361 mt in halibut PSC relative to current 
levels of halibut PSC use (see Section 4.13 of the Analysis). A 
decrease of 361 mt represents approximately a 10 percent decrease in 
total halibut PSC relative to current use. This estimate is based on 
the assumption that the Amendment 80 sector, which is the sector most 
constrained by the proposed halibut PSC limit, would fully use its 
halibut PSC limit of 1,745 mt in each year. As Table 1 of this preamble 
and Section 3.1.3.3 of the Analysis show, the BSAI groundfish sectors 
have consistently used less than their halibut PSC allocations due to 
regulatory and operational limits. Therefore, the actual PSC reduction 
would likely be higher than this estimate.
    The best available information estimates that approximately 64 
percent of the halibut PSC mortality in the BSAI is O26 halibut (see 
Table 4-219 in Section 4.14.1.4 of the Analysis). Assuming that the 
IPHC were to apply its current harvest policy when adopting annual 
catch limits and the proportion of O26 and U26 bycatch remains 
constant, the halibut ``savings'' from reductions in halibut PSC use 
under the proposed rule would be expected to provide an additional 
commercial harvest opportunity in the year following the halibut PSC 
reduction. Therefore, the primary impact of the proposed rule would be 
to provide additional harvest opportunity to the Area 4 commercial 
fishery because most (64 percent) of the bycatch is O26. This result 
would be expected under all of the alternatives to reduce halibut PSC 
limits (from 10 to 50 percent) considered by the Council and NMFS.
    The best available information estimates that approximately 36 
percent of halibut PSC mortality in the BSAI is U26 halibut (see Table 
4-219 in Section 4.14.1.4 of the Analysis). The proposed reductions in 
halibut PSC use would decrease mortality of U26 halibut, which could 
benefit the halibut stock by contributing to the long-term abundance of 
the halibut resource. Ultimately, reductions in U26 bycatch could 
result in additional halibut that can grow and reproduce and then 
ultimately be harvested in the commercial, personal use, sport and 
subsistence fisheries on a coastwide basis. The extent to which a 
decrease in U26 halibut PSC may affect the coastwide female spawning 
biomass is not well-known based on the best available information (see 
Section 3.1.1.2 of the Analysis for additional detail).
    While the impacts of a decrease in U26 halibut mortality on the 
coastwide halibut stock are not well-known, the best available 
information suggests that reductions in U26 halibut PSC under the 
proposed rule are unlikely to impact the long-term abundance of the 
halibut stock. The Analysis estimates that even under the most 
conservative halibut PSC reductions considered by the Council, a 50 
percent reduction of the PSC limits in all four BSAI groundfish 
sectors, the reduction in the amount of U26 halibut PSC would likely 
range from 690,000 pounds to 740,000 pounds. Therefore, even under the 
greatest PSC limit reduction alternatives considered, this reduction 
would represent less than 1 percent of the 2015 coastwide female 
spawning halibut biomass (see Table 3-1 in Section 3.1.1 of the 
Analysis).
    The Council determined, and NMFS agrees, that under the reduction 
in U26 halibut mortality estimated from the proposed rule, a reduction 
estimated to range from 188,000 to 210,000 pounds, the proposed rule 
could result in some conservation benefit compared to the status quo. 
The conservation benefit would be limited because it comprises a small 
proportion of the total female spawning biomass (less than 1 percent of 
the total female spawning biomass). The specific long-term impacts of 
reduced U26 bycatch on potential long-term commercial, personal use, 
sport, or subsistence harvests in a specific Area cannot be predicted 
with certainty given the available information. Some of the factors 
affecting the ability to determine impacts are the variable time 
required for U26 bycatch to grow, reproduce, and become available for 
harvest; changes in halibut stock abundance on a coastwide basis; and 
changes in the distribution of harvestable biomass by area in the 
future. Section 4.14.1.2 of the Analysis reviewed the potential long-
term halibut stock impacts of halibut bycatch reduction measures 
throughout all Areas under a range of assumptions and concluded that 
the overall impact of these reductions was limited on an annual and 10-
year basis. Therefore, under the proposed rule, overall halibut 
mortality would not be expected to change significantly.

C. Impacts on Halibut Fishery Participants and Fishing Communities

    In recommending the proposed rule, the Council and NMFS considered 
the impacts of reducing halibut PSC limits on fishermen and fishing 
communities that depend on the halibut resources in the BSAI and in 
other Areas in Alaska, British Columbia, and the U.S. West Coast, 
including the commercial, personal use, sport, and subsistence 
fisheries (see Section 4.13.3 and 4.14.1 of the Analysis).
    Specifically, the Analysis estimates the potential increases in 
halibut fishery harvests and revenues in Area 4 and in other Areas from 
reduced halibut PSC limits. The proposed reduction in halibut PSC 
limits could benefit participants in the commercial halibut fisheries 
if it results in increased levels of harvestable halibut and increased 
catch limits. Catch limits are not established for the personal use, 
sport, and subsistence halibut fisheries in Area 4, and the proposed 
reduction in halibut PSC limits is not expected to impact halibut 
harvests in those fisheries in the near term, because harvests in 
personal use, sport, and subsistence fisheries are deducted before 
commercial catch limits are established.
    The Analysis estimates that the proposed rule could result in 
increased commercial fishery harvests in Area 4 ranging from 315,000 
pounds to 353,000 pounds each year compared to current levels of 
harvests over the 10-year period used for the Analysis. This increased 
harvest is estimated to provide additional commercial halibut fishery 
revenues ranging from $3.4 million to $3.5 million each year, which 
would total $34 million to $38 million over the 10-year period (see 
Table 4-210 in Section 4.14 of the Analysis). This increased revenue is 
due to the increased availability of O26 and U26 to the commercial 
halibut fishery from the halibut PSC reductions.
    The Analysis estimates that the proposed rule could reduce U26 
bycatch that may provide an additional 64,000 pounds to 72,000 pounds 
of directed halibut harvest annually in Areas outside of Area 4 (i.e., 
Areas 2 and 3). These savings are estimated to provide additional 
halibut revenues to fishery participants ranging from $2.7 million to 
$3 million annually over a 10-year period once the proposed rule is 
implemented. The Analysis notes that these potential benefits would not 
accrue until the halibut have reached a size where they could be 
harvested. The Analysis assumes this will occur from 6 through 10 years 
after the halibut PSC

[[Page 71663]]

savings occur (see Table 4-211 in Section 4.14 of the Analysis).
    The Analysis describes the potential impacts of the proposed rule 
on BSAI coastal fishing communities that participate in the halibut 
fishery, especially in Area 4CDE. Section 4.14.1.3 of the Analysis 
states that the proposed action is likely to provide the greatest 
benefit to fishing communities in the BSAI that are highly dependent on 
halibut as a primary source of revenue for local vessels that 
participate in the commercial fishery. Appendix C to the Analysis 
includes a detailed description of the fishing communities most 
dependent on the halibut resource in the BSAI. Relative to the status 
quo, the proposed rule may provide additional opportunities for fishing 
community residents to harvest halibut by reducing the maximum amount 
of halibut PSC that can be taken in the groundfish fisheries. Although 
additional reductions in halibut PSC limits may provide additional 
harvest opportunities to residents participating in the commercial 
halibut fishery, the benefit to any one community would be limited by 
the distribution of harvest privileges among participants in the IFQ 
and CDQ Programs (see Section 4.14.1.4 of the Analysis for additional 
detail).

D. Impacts on BSAI Groundfish Fishery Participants and Fishing 
Communities

    The Council and NMFS considered the impacts of reduced halibut PSC 
limits on BSAI groundfish sector participants. As discussed in Section 
4.14.2.2 of the Analysis, the Council and NMFS considered a number of 
factors in making the proposed reductions to halibut PSC limits for 
each BSAI groundfish sector. First, the Council and NMFS considered the 
relative amount of halibut PSC in each of the BSAI groundfish sectors. 
Second, the Council and NMFS considered whether a groundfish sector had 
been able to harvest groundfish TACs with lower amounts of halibut PSC 
use than the sector's current limit. Third, the Council and NMFS 
considered the ``tools'' (i.e., changes in fishery operations) 
available to each groundfish sector to adapt to halibut PSC limit 
reductions. Fourth, the Council and NMFS considered the potential 
socioeconomic impacts of reduced halibut PSC limits. As part of this 
last consideration, the Council and NMFS considered both the adverse 
socioeconomic impacts of halibut PSC limit reductions from reduced 
groundfish harvests on BSAI groundfish harvesters and fishing 
communities that participate in groundfish fisheries, as well as the 
potential benefits to the halibut harvesters and fishing communities 
that participate in the halibut fishery. The Analysis provides detailed 
information for each of these factors.
1. Amendment 80 Sector Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Limit Reduction
    The Council recommended, and NMFS proposes, a minimum 25 percent 
reduction in the halibut PSC limit for the Amendment 80 sector. The 
reduction in the halibut PSC limit for the Amendment 80 sector from 
2,325 mt to 1,745 mt is a reduction of 580 mt. The proposed halibut PSC 
limit of 1,745 mt would be a 15 percent reduction from the amount of 
halibut PSC used, on average, by the Amendment 80 sector from 2008 
through 2014. The proposed halibut PSC limit would be a 17 percent 
reduction from Amendment 80 sector halibut PSC use in 2014 (see Section 
3.1.3.3 of the Analysis). This is the largest reduction for any of the 
four groundfish sectors subject to the proposed rule.
    This 1,745 halibut PSC limit would apply to all Amendment 80 
vessels participating in an Amendment 80 cooperative. The Council also 
considered a more restrictive halibut PSC limit that would apply to any 
participants in the Amendment 80 limited access fishery. Because all 
Amendment 80 vessels are assigned to Amendment 80 cooperatives 
currently, and are likely to continue to participate in Amendment 80 
cooperatives in the future, the Council and NMFS anticipate that the 
1,745 mt halibut PSC limit will apply to the entire Amendment 80 
sector. The halibut PSC limit that would apply to participants in the 
Amendment 80 limited access fishery is described later in this 
preamble.
    The Amendment 80 sector uses the largest portion of halibut PSC in 
the BSAI groundfish fisheries: 59 percent from 2008 through 2014 as 
shown in Table 1 in this preamble and in Section 3.1.3.3 of the 
Analysis. Therefore, the proposed halibut PSC limit would be expected 
to have the greatest impact on the Amendment 80 sector relative to the 
other BSAI groundfish sectors.
    The Council and NMFS considered the use of halibut PSC by the 
Amendment 80 sector. On average, the Amendment 80 sector has not used 
the full amount of its halibut PSC allocation as shown above in Table 1 
in this preamble and in Table 3-14 in Section 3.1.3.3 of the Analysis. 
The Analysis shows that total groundfish harvests by the Amendment 80 
sector in the years of lowest and highest halibut PSC use were not 
substantially different from the average total amount of groundfish 
harvested by the Amendment 80 sector from 2008 through 2014. The 
Amendment 80 sector averaged 324,000 mt of groundfish harvest from 2008 
through 2014. The Amendment 80 sector harvested 325,000 mt of 
groundfish in 2011, the year of lowest PSC use, and 337,000 mt in 2010, 
the year of highest PSC use (see Table 4-1 in Section 4.4.1.1 of the 
Analysis). The Council determined, and NMFS agrees, that the best 
available information indicates that the proposed halibut PSC limit for 
the Amendment 80 sector would be below its lowest use of halibut PSC in 
any year.
    The Council and NMFS recognize that some of the patterns of halibut 
PSC use observed in the Amendment 80 sector are due to a range of 
biological, oceanographic, and operational factors, but the Analysis 
indicates that halibut PSC rates could be reduced through additional 
changes in fishery operations (i.e., the expanded use of tools). 
Although the Analysis does not specifically quantify how easily or how 
much improvement can be made with limited impact on groundfish 
harvests, the Analysis indicates that limiting harvests or modifying 
fishery operations could reduce PSC use considerably. Although the 
Analysis indicates that the Amendment 80 sector could lower its use of 
halibut PSC through changes in fishery operations, the Council and NMFS 
agree that the proposed rule would likely result in reduced groundfish 
harvests for the Amendment 80 sector.
    The Council and NMFS considered the tools available to the 
Amendment 80 sector to reduce halibut PSC under the proposed rule. 
First, the Council and NMFS considered recently implemented regulatory 
provisions that could aid the Amendment 80 sector's ability to adapt to 
reduced halibut PSC limits. Section 3.1.3.6 and Appendices A and B of 
the Analysis describe that implementation of the flatfish flexibility 
program in 2014 allows the sector to increase or decrease harvests of 
yellowfin sole, rock sole, or flathead sole throughout the season to 
respond to changing bycatch and market conditions (79 FR 56671, 
September 23, 2014). Additional Atka mackerel opportunities became 
available to the Amendment 80 fleet with the implementation of revised 
Steller sea lion protection measures in 2015 (79 FR 70286, November 25, 
2014). Although Atka mackerel is not evenly allocated among all 
Amendment 80 vessels, it provides additional harvest opportunity for a 
high value groundfish species with a low rate of halibut PSC that could 
offset other halibut PSC use

[[Page 71664]]

in a cooperative and that could reduce overall halibut PSC use for the 
sector.
    Second, the Council and NMFS considered the tools that have, in 
whole or in part, been voluntarily adopted by the Amendment 80 sector. 
Public testimony from representatives of the Amendment 80 sector 
indicated that some of these tools have not been fully used by all 
fishery participants in recent years. This indicates additional 
reductions in halibut PSC through the expanded use of these tools are 
achievable and practicable.
    These tools are described in detail in Section 3.1.3.6 and Appendix 
B of the Analysis and are summarized here:
     Expanding the use of gear modifications known as excluders 
to reduce the bycatch of halibut;
     Improving communication on the fishing grounds within and 
between Amendment 80 cooperatives;
     Using modified pelagic trawl gear to harvest groundfish 
instead of non-pelagic gear. Generally, pelagic trawl gear has a lower 
incidental rate of halibut bycatch and it has shown promise in the 
Central Gulf of Alaska rockfish fisheries, and other fisheries 
nationally in harvesting a number of groundfish species;
     Using test hauls to gauge halibut rates and considering 
the use of night-time hauls that tend to have lower halibut PSC rates;
     Modifying the timing of fishing to reduce halibut PSC 
rates toward the end of the year;
     Defining a threshold halibut PSC rate (e.g., when the 
halibut PSC rate is greater than 80 percent of the average halibut PSC 
rate) that would lead to fishery management actions such as stopping 
fishing in an area or moving fishing operations. Requiring vessels to 
react to these rates through Amendment 80 cooperative contracts could 
significantly reduce halibut PSC limits;
     Shifting the composition of species that are harvested to 
focus on species that appear to have a lower intrinsic rate of halibut 
PSC than other species (e.g., shifting away from arrowtooth flounder to 
yellowfin sole); and
     Establishing measures to shift fishing effort away from 
specific geographic locations with higher halibut PSC rates relative to 
other areas.
    Although the proposed rule would establish a halibut PSC limit of 
1,745 mt, NMFS believes it is likely that the Amendment 80 sector, 
specifically participants in the Amendment 80 cooperatives, would use 
less halibut PSC than the proposed limit. Testimony before the Council 
indicated that Amendment 80 participants typically manage their halibut 
PSC allocations with a 5 percent buffer, meaning that an Amendment 80 
cooperative would plan to use at least 5 percent less halibut PSC than 
the Cooperative Quota allocation it receives. NMFS believes that 
Amendment 80 vessels are likely to establish a buffer as described in 
public testimony to the Council because the consequences of a 
cooperative exceeding its halibut PSC allocation can be significant: 
Financial penalties by the cooperative against the vessel or vessels 
that resulted in the cooperative exceeding its allocation of halibut 
PSC; an enforcement action against the cooperative pursuant to Sec.  
Sec.  679.91(h)(3)(xvi); and a prohibition against fishing for all 
Amendment 80 species pursuant to Sec.  679.7(o)(4)(v).
    The Council and NMFS considered the socioeconomic impact of the 
proposed rule on the Amendment 80 sector and fishing communities 
participating in the Amendment 80 fisheries. Table 4-187 in Section 
4.13.1 of the Analysis estimates that the proposed rule would result in 
BSAI groundfish harvest reductions in the Amendment 80 sector between 
9,500 mt to 25,700 mt each year during the 10-year analytical period, 
for a total of 95,000 mt to 257,000 mt for the full 10-year period. The 
Analysis estimates that the reduction in Amendment 80 groundfish 
harvests would reduce wholesale revenues for fishery participants from 
$6.2 million to $18.7 million for each year during the 10-year 
analytical period. The total wholesale revenue reduction is estimated 
to range from $62 million to $187 million for the full 10-year period. 
The Analysis describes that reduced groundfish harvests and revenues 
would also negatively impact fishing communities that are engaged in 
the BSAI groundfish fisheries (see Section 4.14.2 and Appendix C of the 
Analysis). Section 4.4.2.5 describes that the economic value of the use 
of halibut as PSC in the Amendment 80 sector is substantial as measured 
by average groundfish wholesale revenue generated per mt of halibut 
used as PSC to support the Amendment 80 sector.
    The Council and NMFS considered a range of alternatives that would 
have resulted in halibut PSC reductions to Amendment 80 cooperatives 
ranging from a 10 percent to a 50 percent reduction relative to the 
current limit. As shown in Table 1 of this preamble, the average 
halibut PSC used in the Amendment 80 sector from 2008 through 2014 was 
2,047 mt, which is less than the 10 percent reduction alternative 
(i.e., 2,093 mt). The Amendment 80 sector has demonstrated that it can 
maintain a high level of groundfish harvests in some years and use an 
amount of halibut PSC that is equivalent to a 20 percent reduction in 
its halibut PSC limit. At the upper end, alternatives that would have 
reduced the halibut PSC limit by 50, 45, 40, 35, or 30 percent would 
have come at significant economic cost to the Amendment 80 sector and 
fishing communities participating in the Amendment 80 sector fisheries. 
The best available information suggests it is not clear that additional 
changes in fishery operations could accommodate these high levels of 
reductions other than foregoing substantial harvest and revenue.
    Overall, alternatives that would have imposed a 50, 45, 40, 35, or 
30 percent reduction would have been expected to reduce net benefits to 
the Nation because the socioeconomic benefits from the potential 
increase in harvest opportunities would be less than the negative 
socioeconomic impacts from foregone BSAI groundfish harvests. Section 
4.8.1 of the Analysis describes the relative impacts of alternatives 
that would have further reduced halibut PSC limits for Amendment 80 
cooperatives. The proposed rule would implement a halibut PSC reduction 
that balances the need to minimize bycatch to the extent practicable 
while considering the net benefits to the Nation, the impacts to 
fishing communities, and the long-term objective of providing for a 
sustained groundfish harvest by Amendment 80 cooperatives.
    Ultimately, the Council determined, and NMFS agrees, that the 
proposed rule would minimize halibut bycatch to the extent practicable 
in the Amendment 80 sector after considering information on the 
sector's use of halibut PSC in recent years, the availability of a 
number of tools for Amendment 80 cooperatives and vessels to reduce 
halibut PSC use, the likely impact on net benefits to the Nation, and 
potential additional harvest opportunities to halibut fishery 
participants in Area 4 and elsewhere.
    Under the status quo and the proposed rule, if all Amendment 80 
vessels participate in a cooperative, the Amendment 80 cooperatives 
will be allocated the total proposed Amendment 80 sector halibut PSC 
limit of 1,745 mt. If any Amendment 80 vessels elect to participate in 
the limited access fishery, the proposed rule would reduce the halibut 
PSC limit for that fishery by 40 percent from the status quo. This 
reduction of 40 percent of the halibut PSC limit would only apply to 
the proportional amount of Amendment 80 QS assigned to the Amendment 80 
limited access fishery. For example, if

[[Page 71665]]

100 percent of the Amendment 80 QS (i.e., 100 percent of the Amendment 
80 vessels) are assigned to the Amendment 80 limited access fishery in 
a particular year, and none is assigned to Amendment 80 cooperatives, 
the Amendment 80 limited access fishery would collectively be assigned 
a PSC limit of 1,395 mt, an amount that is 40 percent less than the 
current Amendment 80 sector halibut PSC limit of 2,325 mt.
    If only a portion of the Amendment 80 QS and vessels are assigned 
to the Amendment 80 limited access fishery, NMFS would use the process 
described in Section 2.2.1 of the Analysis to allocate PSC limits 
between the Amendment 80 cooperatives and vessels in the limited access 
fishery. A brief summary of that process is provided here. NMFS would 
first determine the amount of halibut PSC that would be assigned to the 
Amendment 80 cooperatives. For example, if 80 percent of the Amendment 
80 QS were assigned to cooperatives, NMFS would allocate 1,396 mt of 
halibut PSC (80 percent of the proposed Amendment 80 sector halibut PSC 
limit of 1,745 mt) to the cooperative (1,745 mt * 0.8 = 1,396). To 
calculate the amount of halibut PSC assigned for use in the Amendment 
80 limited access fishery, NMFS would subtract the amount of halibut 
PSC allocated to Amendment 80 cooperatives from the total Amendment 80 
sector PSC limit. In this example, this amount would be 349 mt (1,745 
mt - 1,396 mt = 349 mt). NMFS would apply an additional 20 percent 
reduction by multiplying the remaining amount of halibut PSC remaining 
by 0.8 or 80 percent (349 mt * 0.8 = 279 mt). Therefore, this 
assignment of 279 mt would represent a 40 percent reduction compared to 
the status quo assignment to the Amendment 80 limited access fishery.
    Under the proposed rule, some halibut PSC available to the 
Amendment 80 sector will be left unallocated and remain in the water if 
a portion of the Amendment 80 sector participates in the Amendment 80 
limited access fishery. Using the example above, 1,396 mt is allocated 
to the Amendment 80 cooperatives, and 279 mt is assigned to the 
Amendment 80 limited access fishery. This adds up to 1,675 mt, an 
amount that is 70 mt less than the amount of halibut PSC (1,745 mt) 
that could have been allocated if all Amendment 80 sector participants 
were members of a cooperative.
    The Council and NMFS considered the same factors for the halibut 
PSC limit applicable to the Amendment 80 cooperatives for the Amendment 
80 limited access fishery. However, the Council recommended, and NMFS 
proposes, the more restrictive halibut PSC limit for the Amendment 80 
limited access fishery to encourage cooperative management. Cooperative 
management is likely to provide a sustainable long-term approach to 
bycatch management. A fast-paced Amendment 80 limited access fishery 
could result in PSC that exceeds its halibut PSC limit. Therefore, a 
larger PSC limit reduction is appropriate to recognize management 
uncertainty and encourage cooperative formation as described in Section 
4.8.2 of the Analysis.
    The Council recommended and NMFS proposes a halibut PSC limit 
reduction of 40 percent for the Amendment 80 limited access fishery 
after considering the fact that although it is likely that all 
participants in the Amendment 80 sector will continue to fish in 
cooperatives, there are a range of factors that could create conditions 
that result in a participant ending up in the Amendment 80 limited 
access fishery. These factors include specific cooperative structure 
and participation requirements, and an individual's operating 
conditions. Therefore, the Council determined, and NMFS agrees, that a 
halibut PSC limit more restrictive than a 40 percent reduction would 
not be consistent with the purpose and need for this action because it 
could create incentives for members of a cooperative to purposefully 
exclude a specific Amendment 80 QS holder from cooperative membership. 
This exclusion could force that QS holder to participate in the limited 
access fishery and diminish their competitiveness within the sector to 
the potential benefit of other Amendment 80 QS holders. Similarly, a 
halibut PSC limit less restrictive than 40 percent may not provide 
sufficient incentives to encourage and maintain cooperative formation. 
A less restrictive halibut PSC limit could result in a PSC limit for 
the Amendment 80 limited access fishery that would encourage entry in 
the fishery and result in a difficult to manage ``race for fish'' that 
could result in halibut PSC limits being exceeded. See Section 2.2.1 of 
the Analysis for additional details on the proposed reduction to the 
Amendment 80 sector halibut PSC limit.
2. BSAI Trawl Limited Access Sector Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Limit 
Reduction
    The proposed rule would establish a 15 percent reduction in the 
halibut PSC limit for the BSAI trawl limited access sector. The 
reduction in the PSC limit for the BSAI trawl limited access sector 
from 875 mt to 745 mt is a reduction of 130 mt. The BSAI trawl limited 
access sector used the second largest portion of halibut PSC in the 
BSAI groundfish fisheries from 2008 through 2014 (20 percent, as shown 
in Table 1 in this preamble and in Section 3.1.3.3 of the Analysis).
    The Council and NMFS considered halibut PSC use in the BSAI trawl 
limited access sector. The BSAI trawl limited access sector, on 
average, has not used the full amount of halibut PSC assigned to the 
sector. As shown in Table 1 in this preamble and in Table 3-14 in 
Section 3.1.3.3 of the Analysis, on average the BSAI trawl limited 
access sector used 81 percent of the BSAI trawl limited access sector 
halibut PSC limit from 2008 through 2014.
    As described in the ``Overview of the BSAI Groundfish Sectors'' 
section above, the Pacific cod and yellowfin sole fisheries are the 
primary fisheries that would be constrained by the proposed halibut PSC 
limits in the BSAI trawl limited access sector. Overall PSC used in the 
Pacific cod and yellowfin sole fisheries from 2008 through 2014 
averaged 64 percent of the sector's annual apportionments (see Tables 
4-38 and 4-39 in Section 4.4.3.4 of the Analysis).
    From 2008 through 2014, the BSAI trawl limited access sector did 
not exceed the PSC apportioned to the Pacific cod fishery, used only 36 
percent of its apportionment in one year (2009), and has used less than 
60 percent of its apportionment in 3 years (2008, 2010, and 2011) (see 
Tables 4-38 and 4-39 in Section 4.4.3.4 of the Analysis for more 
detail). From 2008 through 2014, the BSAI trawl limited access sector 
exceeded the PSC apportioned to the yellowfin sole fishery in one year 
(2013), but has used only 16 percent of its apportionment in one year 
(2010), and has used less than 50 percent of its apportionment in 2 
years (2009 and 2011) [see Tables 4-38 and 4-39 in Section 4.4.3.4 of 
the Analysis for more detail]. The Analysis and public testimony 
indicate that there are a variety of factors that contributed to lower 
PSC use in these years including changing oceanographic conditions, the 
amount of TAC available for harvests, and operational choices by vessel 
operators to fish in different areas or fisheries. However, the best 
available data on halibut PSC use indicate that in most years it is 
reasonable to expect that both Pacific cod and yellowfin sole can be 
harvested under the halibut PSC limits established by the proposed 
rule.
    The Council and NMFS considered the tools that could be adopted by 
the BSAI trawl limited access sector. The Analysis describes a number 
of tools

[[Page 71666]]

that are currently available to the BSAI trawl limited sector to 
achieve overall bycatch levels similar to those in 2009, 2010, and 
2011. First, the pollock fishery could undertake, and has undertaken 
measures to minimize bycatch, even though it would not be directly 
limited by this proposed action. Those measures are important because 
the pollock fishery comprises roughly 41 percent of the PSC use in the 
BSAI trawl limited access sector (see Figure 4-28 in Section 4.4.3.4 of 
the Analysis). The pollock fleet is fully managed under a catch share 
program, the AFA, and has demonstrated a well-established ability to 
constrain and reduce bycatch below established limits. Section 4.6.3 of 
the Analysis describes that the AFA sector has demonstrated an ability 
to consistently maintain bycatch of Chinook salmon below the PSC limits 
established in Amendment 91 to the FMP (75 FR 53026, August 30, 2010). 
The best available information indicates that the recent lower amount 
of halibut PSC use in the pollock fishery is not likely to increase 
given increased scrutiny by the AFA sector on halibut PSC. Second, 
additional opportunities, though limited, are available to harvest 
Pacific cod and pollock in the Aleutian Islands and later in the year 
under revised Steller sea lion protection measures that were 
implemented in 2015 (79 FR 70286, November 25, 2014). The opportunity 
to harvest Pacific cod and pollock later in the year and in the 
Aleutian Islands provides additional flexibility for vessels in the 
BSAI trawl limited access sector to fish when and where halibut PSC 
rates may be lower.
    Section 4.9 of the Analysis notes that a ``race for fish'' exists 
in the BSAI trawl limited access sector, specifically in the Pacific 
cod and yellowfin sole fisheries. Appendix B of the Analysis examined 
the operations of catcher/processors in the yellowfin sole fishery and 
notes that several changes in fishery behavior could be undertaken by 
this fleet to minimize halibut PSC. Because the yellowfin sole fishery 
is not managed under a catch share program, there may be some 
limitations on the ability of participants to coordinate efforts to 
establish threshold PSC rates and adopt measures to react to those 
rates by shifting geographic locations, but some level of coordination 
seems practicable among the participants in this fishery.
    The Council and NMFS considered the socioeconomic impact of the 
proposed rule on the BSAI trawl limited access sector and fishing 
communities that participate in the fisheries. Reductions in halibut 
PSC limits greater than actual halibut PSC use could be expected to 
impose a substantial socioeconomic cost on some BSAI trawl limited 
access sector participants. Under the two economic scenarios 
considered, and summarized in Table 4-210 in Section 4.14 of the 
Analysis, reduced revenue to the BSAI trawl limited access sector from 
the proposed halibut PSC limit reduction ranges from $14 million to $31 
million dollars over a 10-year period, or $1.4 million to $3.2 million 
dollars annually, of the first wholesale value to the BSAI trawl 
limited access sector for non-pollock harvests. Section 4.4.3.5 of the 
Analysis describes that the economic value of the use of halibut as PSC 
in the BSAI trawl limited access sector is substantial as measured by 
the average groundfish wholesale revenue generated per metric ton of 
halibut used as PSC to support BSAI trawl limited access sector.
    The proposed rule establishes a halibut PSC limit reduction that 
recognizes there are more limited tools for the BSAI trawl limited 
access sector than the Amendment 80 sector, but that the BSAI trawl 
limited sector has demonstrated an ability, on average, to maintain 
existing harvests at the level of the proposed reduction. Under the 
proposed rule, the BSAI trawl limited access sector would have to 
reduce its halibut PSC use relative to several recent years of halibut 
PSC use. As described in Appendix B of the Analysis, the BSAI trawl 
limited access sector has some tools available to reduce halibut PSC 
use. Reducing groundfish fishing or changing behavior during time 
periods with higher halibut rates may result in some mitigation of the 
impacts of a reduction in halibut PSC limits. Fishing earlier in the 
year would appear to result in lower halibut PSC rates. The proposed 
rule would result in halibut PSC limits that could be restrictive in 
some years relative to current management. However, the halibut PSC 
reduction implemented by the proposed rule would be expected to result 
in limited reductions in groundfish harvests in most years.
    The Council and NMFS considered a range of alternative halibut PSC 
reductions for the BSAI trawl limited access sector. Less restrictive 
halibut PSC limit reductions (i.e., a 10 percent reduction) would not 
be expected to have an impact on current or likely future halibut PSC 
use because the BSAI trawl limited access sector has demonstrated an 
ability to maintain halibut PSC limits below this level. The Council 
and NMFS also considered more restrictive halibut PSC limits. 
Ultimately, the Council recommended, and NMFS proposes the 15 percent 
reduction after considering the relatively limited impact of the BSAI 
trawl limited access sector on halibut PSC use, the more limited tools 
available to the sector to practicably reduce its halibut PSC use, and 
the overall socioeconomic cost to the sector, communities participating 
in the sector, and the Nation resulting from more restrictive halibut 
PSC limits. The Council and NMFS also considered the limited benefits 
that further reductions in halibut PSC limits may provide to halibut 
fishery users and communities participating in the halibut fishery. The 
Council and NMFS determined that the proposed halibut PSC limit is 
likely to provide incentives for the BSAI trawl limited access sector 
to more fully develop and use tools that improve on the reduced halibut 
PSC use achieved in 2010 and 2011.
3. BSAI Non-Trawl Sector Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Limit Reduction
    The BSAI non-trawl sector has the third greatest amount of halibut 
PSC use among the BSAI groundfish fishery sectors. As Table 1 in this 
preamble and Table 4-209 in Section 4.14 of the Analysis show, the non-
trawl sector is assigned 833 mt, or approximately 19 percent of the 
current halibut PSC limit in the BSAI, and used approximately 15 
percent of the average amount of halibut PSC used in the BSAI from 2008 
through 2014.
    The Council and NMFS considered halibut PSC use in the non-trawl 
sector. The non-trawl sector has clearly used far less than its current 
PSC apportionment, particularly in recent years. Table 1 in this 
preamble shows that from 2008 through 2014, the combined non-trawl 
sectors have used an average of 61 percent of the total non-trawl 
halibut PSC apportionment. Pacific cod hook-and-line catcher/processors 
have used 99.4 percent of the non-trawl halibut PSC on average from 
2008 through 2014. Because of the overwhelming use of halibut PSC by 
Pacific cod hook-and-line catcher/processors relative to other non-
trawl fishery participants, this section is focused primarily on the 
impacts of the proposed action on Pacific cod hook-and-line catcher/
processors.
    The Council and NMFS also considered the tools that could be 
adopted by the non-trawl sector. The Analysis and public testimony have 
described the efforts by hook-and-line catcher/processors to minimize 
their halibut PSC use in recent years. Appendix B of the Analysis 
describes a range of performance metrics for this fleet. The data in 
Appendix B show a consistent trend of lower halibut PSC rates year-
over-year, particularly beginning in 2011 (see Table 7 in

[[Page 71667]]

Appendix B of the Analysis). Appendix B does not show a clear signal of 
increasing halibut PSC use by Pacific cod hook-and-line catcher/
processors toward the end of the year as shown for the Amendment 80 and 
BSAI trawl limited access sectors (see Figure 11 in Appendix B of the 
Analysis). This suggests that the Pacific cod hook-and-line catcher/
processors are likely employing some operational tools that have led to 
lower halibut PSC use in recent years (see Tables 4 and 5 in Appendix B 
of the Analysis).
    Table 4-210 in Section 4.14 of the Analysis shows that reductions 
in halibut PSC would not be expected to limit groundfish harvest in the 
non-trawl sector until reductions reach a level 30 percent lower than 
the current halibut PSC limit. Therefore, the proposed reduction in the 
current halibut PSC limit by 15 percent would not be expected to result 
in reduced groundfish harvests and revenues. Based on the best 
available information, the proposed action would not likely have a 
negative economic impact on the non-trawl sector because all harvests 
could be accommodated under the reduced limit.
    The Council and NMFS considered the socioeconomic impact of the 
proposed rule on the non-trawl sector and communities participating in 
the non-trawl fisheries. Reductions in halibut PSC limits would have to 
be greater than actual halibut PSC use to impose a substantial 
socioeconomic cost on the non-trawl sector participants. Under the two 
economic scenarios considered, and summarized in Table 4-210 in Section 
4.14 of the Analysis, the impacts of reduced halibut PSC limits to the 
non-trawl sector would not be expected to have an economic cost from 
reduced groundfish revenues until the halibut PSC limit is reduced by 
at least 30 percent. Section 4.4.4.5 describes that the economic value 
of the use of halibut as PSC is substantial in the non-trawl fishery, 
as measured by the average wholesale groundfish revenue generated per 
mt of halibut used as PSC to support the non-trawl sector.
    The Council and NMFS considered more restrictive halibut PSC 
reductions for the non-trawl sector. The Analysis shows that halibut 
PSC limit reductions would need to be extremely high relative to the 
current halibut PSC limit to yield actual reductions from current use. 
For example, a 50 percent reduction in the PSC limit for the non-trawl 
sector to a PSC limit of 380 mt would yield only 96 mt of savings 
compared to the 2008 through 2014 average, or only 10 mt relative to 
2014 use (See Table 1 of this preamble and Table 4-209 in Section 4.14 
of the Analysis). The Council did not recommend, and NMFS does not 
propose, more restrictive halibut PSC limits for the non-trawl sector 
given the relatively limited use of halibut PSC by the non-trawl 
sector, the consistent trend of halibut PSC use that is well below 
current halibut PSC limits, and the limited benefit that additional 
reductions would be likely to provide to the halibut fishery and 
communities participating in the halibut fishery relative to the 
negative socioeconomic impacts to participants in the non-trawl sector. 
Given these factors, the Council and NMFS determined that the proposed 
reduction is consistent with the purpose and need for this action and 
additional reductions in the non-trawl halibut PSC limit would not be 
practicable.
4. CDQ Sector Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Limit Reduction
    The CDQ sector has the fourth greatest impact on PSC of the BSAI 
groundfish sectors. As Table 1 in this preamble and Table 4-209 in 
Section 4.14 of the Analysis show, the CDQ sector is assigned 
approximately 9 percent of the current halibut PSC limit in the BSAI, 
and uses approximately 6 percent of the average amount of halibut PSC 
in the BSAI from 2008 through 2014.
    The Council and NMFS considered halibut PSC use in the CDQ sector. 
The CDQ sector has consistently used far less halibut PSC than its 
current PSC limit, particularly in recent years. Table 1 of this 
preamble shows that from 2008 through 2014, the sector has used an 
average of 55 percent of its halibut PSC limit. PSC use has not 
exceeded 70 percent of the CDQ sector halibut PSC limit, and no CDQ 
group has exceeded its halibut PSC limit during this time.
    The Council and NMFS also considered the tools that could be 
adopted by the CDQ sector. The CDQ sector clearly has, and uses, many 
of the tools that are available to the Amendment 80, AFA, and Pacific 
cod hook-and-line catcher/processor sectors because CDQ groups harvest 
their allocations in conjunction with vessels operating in those 
fisheries (Section 3.1.3.6 of the Analysis). The data on the use of 
halibut PSC indicates that these tools are being effectively used to 
minimize halibut PSC use in the CDQ sector.
    The Council and NMFS considered the socioeconomic impact of the 
proposed rule on the CDQ sector and communities participating in the 
CDQ fisheries. The proposed rule would not be expected to have an 
adverse economic impact on the CDQ groups and would not be expected to 
constrain groundfish harvests. Table 4-210 in Section 4.14 of the 
Analysis shows that until halibut PSC reductions reach a level of 35 
percent, there does not appear to be an economic impact on the CDQ 
sector from reduced groundfish harvests and revenues. Section 4.4.6 of 
the Analysis contains additional information on the economic impacts of 
the proposed rule for the CDQ sector.
    As Table 4-210 in Section 4.14 of the Analysis shows, the proposed 
halibut PSC reduction of 20 percent relative to current limits would 
not materially impact the CDQ participants, but would prevent the 
potential increase of halibut PSC use in future years. It is clear that 
the level of halibut PSC reduction proposed in this rule is practicable 
because in all years analyzed, halibut PSC use by the CDQ sector has 
been less than this limit.
    The Council and NMFS considered whether additional halibut PSC 
limit reductions would be appropriate given the substantial gap between 
actual halibut PSC use and the current halibut PSC limit in the CDQ 
sector. The Analysis shows that halibut PSC limit reductions would need 
to be extremely high relative to the current halibut PSC limit to yield 
actual deductions. For example, a 50 percent reduction in the CDQ 
sector halibut PSC limit to 197 mt would yield only 18 mt of savings 
compared to the average use from 2008 through 2014 average, or only 47 
mt relative to 2014 use. Neither the Analysis nor public testimony 
indicated that it is reasonable to expect that halibut PSC use in the 
CDQ sector will increase relative to current use. Therefore, the 
Council and NMFS determined that it is impracticable to establish a 
reduction that would be expected to substantially constrain the CDQ 
sector given the limited amount of halibut PSC used by the sector and 
the limited potential harvest opportunity to the commercial halibut 
fishery that a more restrictive halibut PSC limit would provide.

E. Summary of Impacts

    During public testimony to the Council, some participants in 
halibut fisheries and members of the public recommended greater 
reductions of halibut PSC limits than the proposed rule would 
implement. However, halibut bycatch cannot be avoided completely, 
unless groundfish fishing is completely stopped. The Council and NMFS 
believe that more stringent PSC limit reductions are not practicable 
for the groundfish sectors.

[[Page 71668]]

    As described above, the Council and NMFS considered impacts on the 
halibut stock and concluded that under all the alternatives considered, 
the impact on exploitable biomass and the halibut female spawning 
biomass was not likely to be significant. The Council and NMFS 
considered the impact on the halibut fishery and fishing communities 
participating in the halibut fishery and concluded that larger halibut 
PSC reductions in some sectors, particularly the Amendment 80 and BSAI 
trawl limited access sectors, would be expected to provide greater 
harvest opportunities in the halibut fisheries than would be realized 
under the proposed reductions. However, the Council and NMFS considered 
that larger halibut PSC reductions in these two sectors would be 
expected to have an adverse impact from foregone groundfish harvests 
and revenues. The adverse socioeconomic impact on fishing communities 
participating in the groundfish fisheries would be greater with larger 
halibut PSC reductions.
    Based on the best available information, the Council and NMFS 
anticipate that participants in the Amendment 80 and BSAI trawl limited 
access sectors will need to modify their fishing behavior in response 
to lower halibut PSC limits. Based on the Analysis and public testimony 
received from groundfish industry participants on the extent to which 
individual vessels are able to change their fishing behavior to reduce 
PSC use, the Council and NMFS believe that the proposed halibut PSC 
reductions would minimize halibut bycatch to the extent practicable.

IV. The Proposed Rule

    The proposed rule would implement Amendment 111 to the FMP 
primarily by revising Sec.  679.21 to reduce BSAI halibut PSC limits 
for the Amendment 80 sector, BSAI trawl limited access sector, BSAI 
non-trawl sector, and the CDQ Program. The proposed rule would also 
make minor changes in terminology, reorganize regulatory text, and make 
other technical changes.

A. Reduction in Halibut PSC Limits

    The proposed rule would establish the following halibut PSC limits 
at Sec.  679.21(b): 1,745 mt for the Amendment 80 sector; 745 mt for 
the BSAI trawl limited access sector; 710 mt for the BSAI non-trawl 
sector; and 315 mt for the CDQ Program. These limits result in an 
overall BSAI halibut PSC limit of 3,515 mt.
1. Amendment 80 Sector
    The proposed rule would establish at Sec.  679.21(b)(1)(i) a 
maximum halibut PSC limit of 1,745 mt for the Amendment 80 sector. If 
no vessels participate in the Amendment 80 limited access fishery in a 
year, NMFS will allocate the entire Amendment 80 halibut PSC limit of 
1,745 mt among the Amendment 80 cooperatives that submitted a timely 
application for an Amendment 80 cooperative permit for that year.
    If any Amendment 80 vessels chose to fish in the Amendment 80 
limited access fishery, the proposed rule would establish the amount of 
PSC assigned to the Amendment 80 limited access fishery. The proposed 
rule would revise Sec.  679.91(d)(1) and (d)(3), so that the Amendment 
80 limited access fishery would be assigned only 80 percent of the 
halibut PSC that is remaining after halibut PSC has been assigned to 
Amendment 80 cooperatives. This regulatory change would result in an 
overall reduction of the halibut PSC limit to the Amendment 80 limited 
access sector of 40 percent compared to existing regulations. With 
these proposed regulatory changes, it is important to note that the 
combined halibut PSC limit for Amendment 80 cooperatives and the 
Amendment 80 limited access fishery would not sum to 1,745 mt. As 
described earlier in this preamble, the Amendment 80 limited access 
fishery would be assigned an amount of PSC that is 20 percent less than 
what the vessels in the Amendment 80 limited access fishery would 
receive if they had participated in a cooperative for that year.
2. BSAI Trawl Limited Access Sector
    The proposed rule would establish at Sec.  679.21(b)(1)(ii) a 
halibut PSC limit of 745 mt for the BSAI trawl limited access sector. 
The proposed rule would make no change in the annual harvest 
specification process whereby NMFS apportions the overall sector PSC 
limit of the BSAI trawl limited access sector into PSC allowances for 
these trawl fishery categories. The proposed rule would make no change 
in the process whereby NMFS may make seasonal apportionments of the 
trawl PSC allowances.
3. BSAI Non-Trawl Sector
    The proposed rule would establish at Sec.  679.21(b)(1)(iii) a 
halibut PSC limit of 710 mt for the BSAI non-trawl sector. The proposed 
rule would make no change in the annual harvest specification process 
whereby NMFS has authority to apportion the overall sector PSC limit 
into non-trawl fishery categories. The proposed rule would make no 
change in the annual harvest specification process whereby NMFS has 
authority to make seasonal apportions of the non-trawl PSC allowances. 
NMFS will continue annual consultations with the Council to determine 
whether the pot gear, jig gear, and the sablefish IFQ hook-and-line 
gear fisheries will be exempt from the non-trawl halibut PSC limit as 
described in the ``Annual Halibut Bycatch (PSC) Limits and 
Apportionments of PSC Limits'' section of this preamble.
4. CDQ Sector
    The proposed rule would establish at Sec.  679.21(b)(1)(iv) a 
halibut PSC limit of 315 mt for the CDQ Program (i.e., CDQ sector). 
This amount would not be deducted from the trawl PSC limit or the non-
trawl PSC limit. The proposed rule would not modify the designation of 
this PSC limit as a PSQ Reserve.
    The proposed rule would remove provisions at Sec.  
679.21(e)(3)(i)(A)(2)(ii) and Sec.  679.21(e)(4)(i)(A) that allocate a 
portion of the halibut PSQ reserve from the trawl sector and a portion 
from the non-trawl sector. These regulatory provisions are no longer 
necessary with the establishment of a separate halibut PSC limit for 
the CDQ Program at Sec.  679.21(b)(1)(iv).
    The proposed rule would make no other changes in the process for 
the establishment and use of the halibut PSQ Reserve under the CDQ 
Program.

B. Minor Change in Terminology

    The proposed rule would make a minor change in terminology and use 
``halibut PSC allowances'' rather than ``halibut bycatch allowances'' 
to describe the apportionment of a halibut PSC sector limit into 
fishery categories. Section 679.21(e) currently uses ``bycatch 
allowances'' to describe the subdivision of a halibut PSC sector limit 
into fishery categories. NMFS believes that the term ``PSC allowance'' 
is more accurate than ``bycatch allowance'' because bycatch is broader 
than PSC. NMFS acknowledges that bycatch is often, or even typically, 
used to refer to the unintended catch of halibut by the groundfish 
fisheries. However, NMFS concluded that the regulatory text should use 
the accurate term, PSC, in regulations governing the catch of halibut 
by the BSAI groundfish fisheries.
    The proposed rule also changes the term ``incidental catch'' to 
``PSC'' at Sec.  679.21(e)(3)(ii)(C). The current regulations at Sec.  
679.21(e)(3)(ii)(C) direct NMFS to count incidental catch of all 
halibut taken by the midwater pollock fishery against the bycatch 
allowance

[[Page 71669]]

for the pollock/Atka mackerel/``other species'' category. The 
definition of ``incidental catch'' in Sec.  679.2 excludes fish that 
are discarded and returned to the sea. The proposed rule uses the 
correct term, halibut PSC, in Sec.  679.21(b)(1)(ii)(C) to describe 
halibut caught by the midwater pollock fishery.

C. Reorganization and Other Technical Changes

    The proposed rule would reorganize Sec.  679.21 by creating a new 
Sec.  679.21(b) that will contain all the provisions that are specific 
to BSAI halibut PSC limits. In the current regulations, Sec.  679.21(a) 
is reserved, Sec.  679.21(b) contains general provisions regarding PSC 
management, and Sec.  679.21(e) contains provisions for BSAI PSC limits 
for all prohibited species: halibut, salmon, crab, and herring. The 
proposed rule would move the general provisions from Sec.  679.21(b) to 
Sec.  679.21(a). The proposed rule would place all provisions in Sec.  
679.21(e) that are specific to BSAI halibut PSC limits into Sec.  
679.21(b). The proposed rule would specify the BSAI halibut PSC limits 
for each of the four groundfish sectors in Sec.  679.21(b) and would 
note that the total of all the BSAI halibut PSC limits is 3,515 mt. 
This consolidation of BSAI halibut PSC regulations into Sec.  679.21(b) 
would clarify the regulations for the public.
    The proposed reorganization of halibut PSC regulations at Sec.  
679.21(b) would have four sections. Section 679.21(b)(1) would 
establish the halibut PSC limits for the four groundfish sectors: the 
Amendment 80 sector; the BSAI trawl limited access sector; the BSAI 
non-trawl sector; and the CDQ Program. Section 679.21(b)(2) would 
maintain NMFS's authority to make seasonal apportionments of PSC 
allowances, which is currently at Sec.  679.21(e)(5). Section 
679.21(b)(3) would maintain the provisions regarding notification of 
PSC allowances, which is currently at Sec.  679.21(e)(6). Section 
679.21(b)(4) would maintain the management of BSAI halibut PSC 
allowances through directed fishery closures, which is currently at 
Sec.  679.21(e)(7)(i) and (v).
    The proposed rule would also revise Table 35 to part 679. Table 35 
currently specifies the BSAI halibut PSC limits for the Amendment 80 
sector and BSAI trawl limited access sector. The proposed rule would 
change Table 35 to include the revised halibut PSC limits.
    Because halibut PSC regulations at Sec.  679.21(e) are cross-
referenced in other regulations, the proposed rule would change all 
cross-references to the halibut-specific provisions in Sec.  679.21(e) 
throughout part 679 to the new halibut-specific regulations at Sec.  
679.21(b). The proposed rule would also change all cross-references in 
current regulations to the general PSC provisions that are now in Sec.  
679.21(b) to the new location for the general provisions in Sec.  
679.21(a). For each revised paragraph, this proposed rule includes the 
revised cross-references in the regulatory text and repeats the text 
that is not otherwise modified. Table 2 lists the location of 
regulations with cross-references that would be revised by the proposed 
rule.

          Table 2--List of Proposed Changes in Cross-References
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                  Location of revised cross-references
-------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sec.   679.2, definitions of definitions of ``Directed fishing'',
 ``Herring Savings Area'', ``PSQ reserve'', and ``Sablefish''.
Sec.   679.7(a)(12), Sec.   679.7(k)(1)(v), and Sec.   679.7(k)(4)(iii).
Sec.   679.20(d)(2).
Sec.   679.23(f), and Sec.   679.23(g)(3).
Sec.   679.24(c)(2)(ii)(A), Sec.   679.24(c)(2)(ii)(B), Sec.
 679.24(c)(3), Sec.   679.24(c)(4), and Sec.   679.24(a)(2)(ii)(A).
Sec.   679.26(d)(2).
Sec.   679.31(a)(4).
Sec.   679.64(a)(3).
------------------------------------------------------------------------

V. Classification

    Pursuant to Section 304(b)(1)(A) and 305(d) of the Magnuson-Stevens 
Act, the NMFS Assistant Administrator has determined that the proposed 
rule is consistent with the FMP, other provisions of the Magnuson-
Stevens Act, and other applicable law, subject to further consideration 
of comments received during the public comment period.
    The proposed rule has been determined to be not significant for 
purposes of Executive Order 12866.

A. Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis

    An Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA) was prepared for 
this action, as required by Section 603 of the Regulatory Flexibility 
Act (RFA). The IRFA describes the economic impact the proposed rule, if 
adopted, would have on small entities. The IRFA describes the reasons 
why this action is being proposed; the objectives and legal basis for 
the proposed rule; the number and description of small entities 
directly regulated by the proposed action; any projected reporting, 
recordkeeping, or other compliance requirements of the proposed rule; 
any overlapping, duplicative, or conflicting Federal rules; impacts of 
the action on small entities; and any significant alternatives to the 
proposed rule that would accomplish the stated objectives of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act, and any other applicable statutes, and would 
minimize any significant adverse impacts of the proposed rule on small 
entities. Descriptions of the proposed action, its purpose, and the 
legal basis are contained earlier in this preamble and are not repeated 
here. A summary of the IRFA follows. A copy of the IRFA is available 
from NMFS (see ADDRESSES).
1. Number and Description of Small Entities Directly Regulated by the 
Proposed Action
    The proposed action would directly regulate those entities that 
participate in harvesting groundfish from the Federal or parallel 
groundfish fisheries of the BSAI subject to a halibut PSC limit. The 
RFA recognizes and defines three kinds of small entities that could be 
regulated by this proposed action: (1) Small businesses, (2) small non-
profit organizations, and (3) small government jurisdictions. This 
proposed action would directly regulate small businesses that 
participate in the harvesting of groundfish, and small non-profit 
organizations.
    The IFRA estimates the number of directly regulated small entities 
based on size criteria established for industry sectors defined by the 
Small Business Administration (SBA). According to the SBA criteria, the 
groundfish fishery is defined as a finfish harvesting sector. An entity 
primarily involved in finfish harvesting is a small entity if it is 
independently owned and operated and not dominant in its field of 
operation (including its affiliates), and if it has combined annual 
gross receipts not in

[[Page 71670]]

excess of $20.5 million for all its affiliated operations worldwide. 
Based on the best available and most recent data from 2014, the IRFA 
estimates that a maximum of up to 178 vessels could be directly 
regulated by this action. The IRFA assumes that each vessel is a unique 
entity. The IRFA states that this likely overestimates the total number 
of directly regulated entities because some vessels are likely 
affiliated through common ownership. However, these potential 
affiliations are not known with the best available data and cannot be 
predicted.
    Only 19 of these directly regulated entities are estimated to be 
small entities based on the best available data on the gross receipts 
from these entities and their known affiliates. Seventeen of these 
small entities are hook-and-line catcher vessels that participate in 
the non-trawl sector, and two are trawl catcher vessels that 
participate in the BSAI trawl limited access sector, specifically the 
Pacific cod target fishery.
    The IRFA states that all six of the CDQ groups would be directly 
regulated by this proposed action. The six CDQ groups are: The Aleutian 
Pribilof Island Community Development Association, the Bristol Bay 
Economic Development Corporation, the Central Bering Sea Fishermen's 
Association, the Coastal Villages Region Fund, the Norton Sound 
Economic Development Corporation, and the Yukon Delta Fisheries 
Development Association. Each of the six CDQ groups receives an 
exclusive allocation of halibut PSC that would be reduced (i.e., 
regulated) under this proposed action. The six CDQ groups are non-
profit organizations and none is dominant in its field; consequently 
each is defined as a small entity under the RFA.
2. Federal Rules That May Duplicate, Overlap, or Conflict With the 
Proposed Action
    NMFS has not identified any duplication, overlap, or conflict 
between this proposed action and existing Federal rules.
3. Impacts of the Action on Small Entities
    The proposed action is intended to reduce halibut PSC mortality by 
decreasing halibut PSC limits available for use in the BSAI groundfish 
fisheries. Any reductions in harvest by groundfish harvesters would 
impact revenue generated from the BSAI groundfish fisheries. The 17 
hook-and-line catcher vessels that participate in the non-trawl sector 
are not likely to be affected by the proposed reduction in the halibut 
PSC limit for the non-trawl sector because current and anticipated 
halibut PSC use in this sector is substantially less than the proposed 
halibut PSC limit that would be established. The 2 trawl catcher 
vessels that participate in the BSAI trawl limited access sector may be 
limited by the proposed reduction in the halibut PSC limit for the BSAI 
trawl limited access sector (15 percent) in some years because halibut 
PSC use by the BSAI trawl limited access sector has exceeded the 
halibut PSC limit that would be established by the proposed action.
    The six CDQ groups are not likely to be affected by the proposed 
reduction in the halibut PSC limit for the CDQ sector (20 percent) 
because current and anticipated halibut PSC use in the CDQ sector is 
substantially less than the proposed halibut PSC limit that would be 
established. However, some CDQ groups will experience an adverse impact 
from PSC reductions in the Amendment 80 and BSAI trawl limited access 
sectors, to the extent that they have ownership interests in vessels 
operating in those sectors, and the proposed halibut PSC limits 
constrain harvest and resulting revenue. The CDQ groups' ownership 
interests are described in Section 4.12 of the Analysis.
4. Description of Significant Alternatives Considered
    The Council considered an extensive series of alternatives, 
options, and suboptions to reduce halibut PSC limits in the BSAI, 
including the ``no action'' alternative. The RIR presents the complete 
set of alternatives (see ADDRESSES). Alternative 1 is Status Quo/No 
Action alternative, which would retain the current BSAI halibut PSC 
limits in the FMP and in regulations. Alternative 2 would amend the FMP 
and regulations to reduce BSAI halibut PSC limits for six groundfish 
sectors. Alternative 2 includes six options. Each of the options under 
Alternative 2 contained seven suboptions analyzing halibut PSC limit 
reductions ranging from 10 percent to 50 percent for each sector. 
Option 1 would reduce halibut PSC limits for the Amendment 80 sector. 
The reductions would range from 232 mt to 1,162 mt. Option 2 would 
reduce halibut PSC limits for the BSAI trawl limited access sector. The 
reductions would range from 87 mt to 437 mt. Option 3 would reduce 
halibut PSC limits for the Pacific cod hook-and-line catcher/processor 
sector. The reductions would range from 76 mt to 380 mt. Option 4 would 
reduce halibut PSC limits for hook-and-line vessels participating in 
target fisheries other than Pacific cod or sablefish. The reductions 
would range from 6 mt to 29 mt. Option 5 would reduce halibut PSC 
limits for the Pacific cod hook-and-line catcher vessel sector. The 
reductions would range from 1 mt to 7 mt. Option 6 would reduce halibut 
PSC limits for the CDQ sector. The reductions would range from 39 mt to 
196 mt.
    Section 2.5 of the Analysis describes other significant 
alternatives to the proposed rule that the Council considered but did 
not advance for further analysis: (1) Apportioning the halibut PSC 
limit for the BSAI trawl limited access sector between AFA trawl 
catcher vessels and non-AFA trawl catch vessels based on the halibut 
PSC by these vessel categories from 2009 through 2013; (2) implementing 
permanent measures in the Amendment 80 sector for deck sorting of 
halibut; (3) establishing a seasonal apportionment of the halibut PSC 
limit for the BSAI trawl limited access sector. Each of these 
alternatives would have changed the current management structure for 
regulating halibut PSC limits in BSAI. The Council's preferred 
alternative is a straightforward reduction in halibut PSC limits by 
sector. The Council's preferred alternative leaves the current 
management structure intact and most expeditiously achieves the 
Council's objective of reducing halibut PSC limit to the extent 
practicable in accord with National Standard 9.
    Based on the best available scientific data and information, none 
of the alternatives except the preferred alternative appear to have the 
potential to accomplish the stated objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens 
Act and other applicable statutes (as reflected in the proposed 
action), while minimizing any significant adverse economic impact on 
small entities beyond those achieved under the proposed action. The 
proposed action would minimize bycatch to the extent practicable with 
existing management tools. Thus, the proposed action would minimize the 
impacts on small entities in the BSAI groundfish fisheries and promote 
more efficient use of the available halibut PSC limits.
5. Recordkeeping and Reporting Requirements
    This action does not modify recordkeeping or reporting 
requirements.

B. Tribal Consultation

    Executive Order (E.O.) 13175 of November 6, 2000 (25 U.S.C. 450 
note), the Executive Memorandum of April 29, 1994 (25 U.S.C. 450 note), 
the American Indian and Alaska Native Policy of the

[[Page 71671]]

U.S. Department of Commerce (March 30, 1995), and the Department of 
Commerce Tribal Consultation and Coordination policy (78 FR 33331, June 
4, 2013) outline the responsibilities of NMFS for Federal policies that 
have tribal implications. Section 161 of Public Law 108-199 (188 Stat. 
452), as amended by section 518 of Public Law 109-447 (118 Stat. 3267), 
extends the consultation requirements of E.O. 13175 to Alaska Native 
corporations. Under the E.O. and agency policies, NMFS must ensure 
meaningful and timely input by tribal officials and representatives of 
Alaska Native corporations in the development of regulatory policies 
that have tribal implications. NMFS will provide a copy of this 
proposed rule to all federally recognized tribal governments and Alaska 
Native corporations to notify them of the opportunity to comment or 
request a consultation on this proposed action.
    Section 5(b)(2)(B) of E.O. 13175 requires NMFS to prepare a 
``tribal summary impact statement'' for any regulation that has tribal 
implications, that imposes substantial direct compliance costs on 
Indian tribal governments, and is not required by statute. The tribal 
summary impact statement must contain (1) a description of the extent 
of the agency's prior consultation with tribal officials, (2) a summary 
of the nature of their concerns, (3) the agency's position supporting 
the need to issue the regulation, and (4) a statement of the extent to 
which the concerns of tribal officials have been met. If the Secretary 
of Commerce approves this proposed action, a tribal impact summary 
statement that addresses the four questions above will be included in 
the final rule.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 679

    Alaska, Fisheries, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements.

    Dated: November 9, 2015.
Samuel D. Rauch III,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.

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

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

0
1. The authority citation for 50 CFR part 679 continues to read as 
follows:

    Authority:  16 U.S.C. 773 et seq.; 1801 et seq.; 3631 et seq.; 
Pub. L. 108-447; Pub. L. 111-281.

0
2. In Sec.  679.2, revise the definitions for paragraph (5) of 
``Directed fishing'', ``Herring Savings Area'', ``PSQ reserve'', and 
``Sablefish (black cod)'' to read as follows:


Sec.  679.2  Definitions.

* * * * *
    Directed fishing means:
* * * * *
    (5) With respect to the harvest of flatfish in the Bering Sea 
subarea, for purposes of nonpelagic trawl restrictions under Sec.  
679.22(a) and modified nonpelagic trawl gear requirements under 
Sec. Sec.  679.7(c)(5) and 679.24(f), fishing with nonpelagic trawl 
gear during any fishing trip that results in a retained aggregate 
amount of yellowfin sole, rock sole, Greenland turbot, arrowtooth 
flounder, flathead sole, Alaska plaice, and other flatfish that is 
greater than the retained amount of any other fishery category defined 
under Sec.  679.21(b)(1)(ii) or of sablefish.
* * * * *
    Herring Savings Area means any of three areas in the BSAI presented 
in Figure 4 to this part (see also Sec.  679.21(b)(4) for additional 
closure information).
* * * * *
    PSQ reserve means the amount of a prohibited species catch limit 
established under Sec.  679.21 that has been allocated to the CDQ 
Program under Sec.  679.21.
* * * * *
    Sablefish (black cod) means Anoplopoma fimbria. (See also IFQ 
sablefish; sablefish as a prohibited species at Sec.  679.21(a)(5); and 
sablefish as a prohibited species at Sec.  679.24(c)(2)(ii)).
* * * * *
0
3. In Sec.  679.7, revise paragraphs (a)(12), (k)(1)(v), and 
(k)(4)(iii) to read as follows:


Sec.  679.7  Prohibitions.

* * * * *
    (a) * * *
    (12) Prohibited species donation program. Retain or possess 
prohibited species, defined at Sec.  679.21(a)(1), except as permitted 
to do so under the PSD program as provided by Sec.  679.26, or as 
authorized by other applicable law.
* * * * *
    (k) * * *
    (1) * * *
    (v) Directed fishing after a sideboard closure. Use a listed AFA 
catcher/processor or a catcher/processor designated on a listed AFA 
catcher/processor permit to engage in directed fishing for a groundfish 
species or species group in the BSAI after the Regional Administrator 
has issued an AFA catcher/processor sideboard directed fishing closure 
for that groundfish species or species group under Sec. Sec.  
679.20(d)(1)(iv), 679.21(b)(4)(iii), or 679.21(e)(3)(v).
* * * * *
    (4) * * *
    (iii) Groundfish sideboard closures. Use an AFA catcher vessel to 
engage in directed fishing for a groundfish species or species group in 
the BSAI or GOA after the Regional Administrator has issued an AFA 
catcher vessel sideboard directed fishing closure for that groundfish 
species or species group under Sec.  679.20(d)(1)(iv), 
679.21(b)(4)(iii), or 679.21(e)(3)(iv), if the vessel's AFA permit does 
not contain a sideboard exemption for that groundfish species or 
species group.
* * * * *
0
4. In Sec.  679.21,
0
a. Redesignate paragraph (b) as paragraph (a);
0
b. Revise newly redesignated paragraph (a)(4);
0
c. Add a new paragraph (b);
0
d. Revise paragraph (e) heading;
0
e. Remove and reserve paragraphs (e)(1)(iv), (e)(2), and 
(e)(3)(i)(A)(2);
0
f. Revise paragraph (e)(3)(ii) heading, paragraphs (e)(3)(ii)(A) and 
(C), (e)(3)(iv), paragraph (e)(3)(iv)(B)(2) heading, (e)(3)(v), and 
(e)(3)(vi)(A) and (B);
0
g. Remove and reserve paragraph (e)(4);
0
h. Remove paragraph (e)(5)(iv);
0
i. Revise paragraphs (e)(6)(i) and (ii), and (e)(7)(i);
0
j. Remove and reserve paragraph (e)(7)(v); and
0
k. Remove paragraph (e)(8).
    The revisions and additions read as follows:


Sec.  679.21  Prohibited species by catch management.

    (a) * * *
    (4) Prohibited species taken seaward of the EEZ off Alaska. No 
vessel fishing for groundfish in the GOA or BSAI may have on board any 
species listed in this paragraph (a) that was taken in waters seaward 
of these management areas, regardless of whether retention of such 
species was authorized by other applicable laws.
* * * * *
    (b) BSAI halibut PSC limits--(1) Establishment of BSAI halibut PSC 
limits. Subject to the provisions in paragraphs (b)(1)(i) through (iv) 
of this section, the following four BSAI halibut PSC limits are 
established, which total 3,515 mt: Amendment 80 sector--1,745 mt; BSAI 
trawl limited access sector--

[[Page 71672]]

745 mt; BSAI non-trawl sector--710 mt; and CDQ Program--315 mt 
(established as a PSQ reserve).
    (i) Amendment 80 sector. The PSC limit of halibut caught while 
conducting any fishery in the Amendment 80 sector is an amount of 
halibut equivalent to 1,745 mt of halibut mortality. Halibut PSC limits 
within the Amendment 80 sector will be established for Amendment 80 
cooperatives and the Amendment 80 limited access fishery according to 
the procedure and formulae in Sec.  679.91(d) and (f). If halibut PSC 
is assigned to the Amendment 80 limited access fishery, it will be 
apportioned into PSC allowances for trawl fishery categories according 
to the procedure in paragraphs (b)(1)(ii)(A)(2) and (3) of this 
section.
    (ii) BSAI trawl limited access sector--(A) General. (1) The PSC 
limit of halibut caught while conducting any fishery in the BSAI trawl 
limited access sector is an amount of halibut equivalent to 745 mt of 
halibut mortality.
    (2) NMFS, after consultation with the Council, will apportion the 
PSC limit set forth under paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(A)(1) of this section 
into PSC allowances for the trawl fishery categories defined in 
paragraphs (b)(1)(ii)(B)(1) through (6) of this section.
    (3) Apportionment of the trawl halibut PSC limit set forth under 
paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(A)(1) of this section among the trawl fishery 
categories will be based on each category's proportional share of the 
anticipated halibut PSC during a fishing year and the need to optimize 
the amount of total groundfish harvested under the halibut PSC limit 
for this sector.
    (4) The sum of all PSC allowances for this sector will equal the 
PSC limit set forth under paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(A)(1) of this section.
    (B) Trawl fishery categories. For purposes of apportioning the 
trawl PSC limit set forth under paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(A)(1) of this 
section among trawl fisheries, the following fishery categories are 
specified and defined in terms of round-weight equivalents of those 
groundfish species or species groups for which a TAC has been specified 
under Sec.  679.20.
    (1) Midwater pollock fishery. Fishing with trawl gear during any 
weekly reporting period that results in a catch of pollock that is 95 
percent or more of the total amount of groundfish caught during the 
week.
    (2) Flatfish fishery. Fishing with trawl gear during any weekly 
reporting period that results in a retained aggregate amount of rock 
sole, ``other flatfish,'' and yellowfin sole that is greater than the 
retained amount of any other fishery category defined under this 
paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(B).
    (i) Yellowfin sole fishery. Fishing with trawl gear during any 
weekly reporting period that is defined as a flatfish fishery under 
this paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(B)(2) and results in a retained amount of 
yellowfin sole that is 70 percent or more of the retained aggregate 
amount of rock sole, ``other flatfish,'' and yellowfin sole.
    (ii) Rock sole/flathead sole/Alaska plaice/``other flatfish'' 
fishery. Fishing with trawl gear during any weekly reporting period 
that is defined as a flatfish fishery under this paragraph 
(b)(1)(ii)(B)(2) and is not a yellowfin sole fishery as defined under 
paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(B)(2)(i) of this section.
    (3) Greenland turbot/arrowtooth flounder/Kamchatka flounder/
sablefish fishery. Fishing with trawl gear during any weekly reporting 
period that results in a retained aggregate amount of Greenland turbot, 
arrowtooth flounder, Kamchatka flounder, and sablefish that is greater 
than the retained amount of any other fishery category defined under 
this paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(B).
    (4) Rockfish fishery. Fishing with trawl gear during any weekly 
reporting period that results in a retained aggregate amount of 
rockfish species that is greater than the retained amount of any other 
fishery category defined under this paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(B).
    (5) Pacific cod fishery. Fishing with trawl gear during any weekly 
reporting period that results in a retained aggregate amount of Pacific 
cod that is greater than the retained amount of any other groundfish 
fishery category defined under this paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(B).
    (6) Pollock/Atka mackerel/``other species.'' Fishing with trawl 
gear during any weekly reporting period that results in a retained 
aggregate amount of pollock other than pollock harvested in the 
midwater pollock fishery defined under paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(B)(1) of 
this section, Atka mackerel, and ``other species'' that is greater than 
the retained amount of any other fishery category defined under this 
paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(B).
    (C) Halibut PSC in midwater pollock fishery. Any amount of halibut 
that is incidentally taken in the midwater pollock fishery, as defined 
in paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(B)(1) of this section, will be counted against 
the halibut PSC allowance specified for the pollock/Atka mackerel/
``other species'' category, as defined in paragraph (b)(1)(ii)(B)(6) of 
this section.
    (iii) BSAI Non-trawl Sector--(A) General. (1) The PSC limit of 
halibut caught while conducting any fishery in the BSAI non-trawl 
sector is an amount of halibut equivalent to 710 mt of halibut 
mortality.
    (2) NMFS, after consultation with the Council, will apportion the 
PSC limit set forth under paragraph (b)(1)(iii)(A)(1) into PSC 
allowances for the non-trawl fishery categories defined under paragraph 
(b)(1)(iii)(B) of this section.
    (3) Apportionment of the non-trawl halibut PSC limit of 710 mt 
among the non-trawl fishery categories will be based on each category's 
proportional share of the anticipated halibut PSC during a fishing year 
and the need to optimize the amount of total groundfish harvested under 
the halibut PSC limit for this sector.
    (4) The sum of all PSC allowances for this sector will equal the 
PSC limit set forth under paragraph (b)(1)(iii)(A)(1) of this section.
    (B) Non-trawl fishery categories. For purposes of apportioning the 
non-trawl halibut PSC limit among fisheries, the following fishery 
categories are specified and defined in terms of round-weight 
equivalents of those BSAI groundfish species for which a TAC has been 
specified under Sec.  679.20.
    (1) Pacific cod hook-and-line catcher vessel fishery. Catcher 
vessels fishing with hook-and-line gear during any weekly reporting 
period that results in a retained catch of Pacific cod that is greater 
than the retained amount of any other groundfish species.
    (2) Pacific cod hook-and-line catcher/processor fishery. Catcher/
processors fishing with hook-and-line gear during any weekly reporting 
period that results in a retained catch of Pacific cod that is greater 
than the retained amount of any other groundfish species.
    (3) Sablefish hook-and-line fishery. Fishing with hook-and-line 
gear during any weekly reporting period that results in a retained 
catch of sablefish that is greater than the retained amount of any 
other groundfish species.
    (4) Groundfish jig gear fishery. Fishing with jig gear during any 
weekly reporting period that results in a retained catch of groundfish.
    (5) Groundfish pot gear fishery. Fishing with pot gear under 
restrictions set forth in Sec.  679.24(b) during any weekly reporting 
period that results in a retained catch of groundfish.
    (6) Other non-trawl fisheries. Fishing for groundfish with non-
trawl gear during any weekly reporting period that results in a 
retained catch of groundfish and does not qualify as a Pacific cod 
hook-and-line catcher vessel fishery, a Pacific cod hook-and-line 
catcher/processor fishery, a sablefish hook-and-

[[Page 71673]]

line fishery, a jig gear fishery, or a groundfish pot gear fishery as 
defined under paragraphs (b)(1)(iii)(B)(1) through (5) of this section.
    (iv) CDQ Program. The PSC limit of halibut caught while conducting 
any fishery in the CDQ Program is an amount of halibut equivalent to 
315 mt of halibut mortality. The PSC limit to the CDQ Program will be 
treated as a Prohibited Species Quota (PSQ) reserve to the CDQ Program 
for all purposes under 50 CFR part 679 including Sec. Sec.  679.31 and 
679.7(d)(3). The PSQ limit is not apportioned by gear, fishery, or 
season.
    (2) Seasonal apportionments of BSAI halibut PSC allowances--(i) 
General. NMFS, after consultation with the Council, may apportion a 
halibut PSC allowance on a seasonal basis.
    (ii) Factors to be considered. NMFS will base any seasonal 
apportionment of a PSC allowance on the following types of information:
    (A) Seasonal distribution of prohibited species;
    (B) Seasonal distribution of target groundfish species relative to 
prohibited species distribution;
    (C) Expected PSC needs on a seasonal basis relevant to change in 
prohibited species biomass and expected catches of target groundfish 
species;
    (D) Expected variations in PSC rates throughout the fishing year;
    (E) Expected changes in directed groundfish fishing seasons;
    (F) Expected start of fishing effort; or
    (G) Economic effects of establishing seasonal prohibited species 
apportionments on segments of the target groundfish industry.
    (iii) Seasonal trawl fishery PSC allowances--(A) Unused seasonal 
apportionments. Unused seasonal apportionments of trawl fishery PSC 
allowances made under paragraph (b)(2) of this section will be added to 
its respective fishery PSC allowance for the next season during a 
current fishing year.
    (B) Seasonal apportionment exceeded. If a seasonal apportionment of 
a trawl fishery PSC allowance made under paragraph (b)(2) of this 
section is exceeded, the amount by which the seasonal apportionment is 
exceeded will be deducted from its respective apportionment for the 
next season during a current fishing year.
    (iv) Seasonal non-trawl fishery PSC allowances--(A) Unused seasonal 
apportionments. Any unused portion of a seasonal non-trawl fishery PSC 
allowance made under paragraph (b)(2) of this section will be 
reapportioned to the fishery's remaining seasonal PSC allowances during 
a current fishing year in a manner determined by NMFS, after 
consultation with the Council, based on the types of information listed 
under paragraph (b)(2)(ii) of this section.
    (B) Seasonal apportionment exceeded. If a seasonal apportionment of 
a non-trawl fishery PSC allowance made under paragraph (b)(2) of this 
section is exceeded, the amount by which the seasonal apportionment is 
exceeded will be deducted from the fishery's remaining seasonal PSC 
allowances during a current fishing year in a manner determined by 
NMFS, after consultation with the Council, based on the types of 
information listed under paragraph (b)(2)(ii) of this section.
    (3) Notification of allowances--(i) General. NMFS will publish in 
the Federal Register, for up to two fishing years, the proposed and 
final BSAI halibut PSC allowances, the seasonal apportionments thereof, 
and the manner in which seasonal apportionments of non-trawl fishery 
PSC allowances will be managed.
    (ii) Public comment. Public comment will be accepted by NMFS on the 
proposed PSC allowances seasonal apportionments thereof, and the manner 
in which seasonal apportionments of non-trawl fishery PSC allowances 
will be managed, for a period specified in the notice of proposed 
specifications published in the Federal Register.
    (4) Management of BSAI halibut PSC allowances--(i) Trawl sector--
Amendment 80 limited access fishery and BSAI trawl limited access 
sector: Closures--(A) Exception. When a PSC allowance, or seasonal 
apportionment thereof, specified for the pollock/Atka mackerel/``other 
species'' fishery category, as defined in Sec.  679.21(b)(1)(ii)(B)(6) 
is reached, only directed fishing for pollock is closed to trawl 
vessels using nonpelagic trawl gear.
    (B) Closures. Except as provided in paragraph (b)(4)(i)(A) of this 
section, if, during the fishing year, the Regional Administrator 
determines that U.S. fishing vessels participating in any of the trawl 
fishery categories listed in paragraphs (b)(1)(ii)(B)(2) through (6) of 
this section will catch the halibut PSC allowance, or seasonal 
apportionment thereof, specified for that fishery category under 
paragraph (b)(1)(i) or (b)(1)(ii) of this section, NMFS will publish in 
the Federal Register the closure of the entire BSAI to directed fishing 
for each species and/or species group in that fishery category for the 
remainder of the year or for the remainder of the season.
    (ii) BSAI non-trawl sector: Closures. If, during the fishing year, 
the Regional Administrator determines that U.S. fishing vessels 
participating in any of the non-trawl fishery categories listed under 
paragraph (b)(1)(iii) of this section will catch the halibut PSC 
allowance, or seasonal apportionment thereof, specified for that 
fishery category under paragraph (b)(1)(iii) of this section, NMFS will 
publish in the Federal Register the closure of the entire BSAI to 
directed fishing with the relevant gear type for each species and/or 
species group in that fishery category.
    (iii) AFA PSC sideboard limits. Halibut PSC limits for the AFA 
catcher/processor sector and the AFA trawl catcher vessel sector will 
be established pursuant to Sec.  679.64(a) and (b) and managed through 
directed fishing closures for the AFA catcher/processor sector and the 
AFA trawl catcher vessel sector in the groundfish fisheries for which 
the PSC limit applies.
* * * * *
    (e) BSAI PSC limits for crab, salmon, herring--
* * * * *
    (3) * * *
    (ii) Red king crab, C. bairdi, and C. opilio--(A) General. For 
vessels engaged in directed fishing for groundfish in the BSAI, other 
than vessels fishing under a CQ permit assigned to an Amendment 80 
cooperative, the PSC limits for red king crab, C. bairdi, and C. opilio 
will be apportioned to the trawl fishery categories defined in 
paragraphs (e)(3)(iv)(B) through (F) of this section.
* * * * *
    (C) Incidental catch in midwater pollock fishery. Any amount of red 
king crab, C. bairdi, or C. opilio that is incidentally taken in the 
midwater pollock fishery as defined in paragraph (e)(3)(iv)(A) of this 
section will be counted against the bycatch allowances specified for 
the pollock/Atka mackerel/``other species'' category defined in 
paragraph (e)(3)(iv)(F) of this section.
* * * * *
    (iv) Trawl fishery categories. For purposes of apportioning trawl 
PSC limits for crab and herring among fisheries, other than crab PSC CQ 
assigned to an Amendment 80 cooperative, the following fishery 
categories are specified and defined in terms of round-weight 
equivalents of those groundfish species or species groups for which a 
TAC has been specified under Sec.  679.20.
    (B) * * *
    (2) Rock sole/flathead sole/Alaska plaice/``other flatfish'' 
fishery. * * *
* * * * *
    (v) AFA prohibited species catch limitations. Crab PSC limits for 
the AFA catcher/processor sector and the AFA trawl catcher vessel 
sector will be

[[Page 71674]]

established according to the procedures and formulas set out in Sec.  
679.64(a) and (b) and managed through directed fishing closures for the 
AFA catcher/processor sector and the AFA trawl catcher vessel sector in 
the groundfish fisheries for which the PSC limit applies.
    (vi) * * *
    (A) Crab PSC limits for the Amendment 80 sector in the BSAI will be 
established according to the procedure and formulae set out in Sec.  
679.91(d) through (f); and
    (B) Crab PSC assigned to the Amendment 80 limited access fishery 
will be managed through directed fishing closures for Amendment 80 
vessels to which the crab bycatch limits apply.
* * * * *
    (6) * * *
    (i) General. NMFS will publish in the Federal Register, for up to 
two fishing years, the annual red king crab PSC limit, and, if 
applicable, the amount of this PSC limit specified for the RKCSS, the 
annual C. bairdi PSC limit, the annual C. opilio PSC limit, the 
proposed and final PSQ reserve amounts, the proposed and final bycatch 
allowances, and the seasonal apportionments thereof, as required by 
paragraph (e) of this section.
    (ii) Public comment. Public comment will be accepted by NMFS on the 
proposed annual red king crab PSC limit and, if applicable, the amount 
of this PSC limit specified for the RKCSS, the annual C. bairdi PSC 
limit, the annual C. opilio PSC limit, the proposed and final bycatch 
allowances, seasonal apportionments thereof, and the manner in which 
seasonal apportionments of non-trawl fishery bycatch allowances will be 
managed, for a period specified in the notice of proposed 
specifications published in the Federal Register.
    (7) * * *
    (i) Exception. When a bycatch allowance, or seasonal apportionment 
thereof, specified for the pollock/Atka mackerel/``other species'' 
fishery category is reached, only directed fishing for pollock is 
closed to trawl vessels using nonpelagic trawl gear.
* * * * *
0
5. In Sec.  679.31, revise paragraph (a)(4) to read as follows:


Sec.  679.31  CDQ and PSQ reserves, allocations, and transfers.

    (a) * * *
    (4) PSQ reserve. (See Sec. Sec.  679.21(e)(3)(i)(A) and 
679.21(b)(1)(iv))
* * * * *
0
6. In Sec.  679.64, revise paragraph (a)(3) to read as follows:


Sec.  679.64  Harvesting sideboard limits in other fisheries.

    (a) * * *
    (3) How will AFA catcher/processor sideboard limits be managed? The 
Regional Administrator will manage groundfish harvest limits and PSC 
bycatch limits for AFA catcher/processors through directed fishing 
closures in fisheries established under paragraph (a)(1) of this 
section in accordance with the procedures set out in Sec. Sec.  
679.20(d)(1)(iv) and 679.21(b)(4)(iii).
* * * * *
0
7. In Sec.  679.91, revise paragraphs (d)(1) and (3) to read as 
follows:


Sec.  679.91  Amendment 80 Program annual harvester privileges.

* * * * *
    (d) * * *
    (1) Amount of Amendment 80 halibut PSC for the Amendment 80 sector. 
The amount of halibut PSC limit for the Amendment 80 sector for each 
calendar year is specified in Table 35 to this part. That halibut PSC 
is then assigned to Amendment 80 cooperatives and the Amendment 80 
limited access fishery pursuant to paragraphs (d)(2) and (3) of this 
section. If one or more Amendment 80 vessels participate in the 
Amendment 80 limited access fishery, the halibut PSC limit assigned to 
the Amendment 80 sector will be reduced pursuant to paragraph (d)(3) of 
this section.
* * * * *
    (3) Amount of Amendment 80 halibut PSC assigned to the Amendment 80 
limited access fishery. The amount of Amendment 80 halibut PSC assigned 
to the Amendment 80 limited access fishery is equal to the amount of 
halibut PSC assigned to the Amendment 80 sector, as specified in Table 
35 to this part, subtracting the amount of Amendment 80 halibut PSC 
assigned as CQ to all Amendment 80 cooperatives as determined in 
paragraph (d)(2)(iv) of this section, multiplied by 80 percent.
* * * * *


Sec. Sec.  679.20, 679.23, 679.24, and 679.26  [Amended]

0
8. At each of the locations shown in the ``Location'' column, remove 
the phrase indicated in the ``Remove'' column and replace it with the 
phrase indicated in the ``Add'' column for the number of times 
indicated in the ``Frequency'' column.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                            Location                                  Remove            Add          Frequency
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Sec.   679.20(d)(2).............................................            Sec.            Sec.               1
                                                                       679.21(b)       679.21(a)
Sec.   679.23(f)................................................            Sec.            Sec.               1
                                                                       679.21(b)       679.21(a)
Sec.   679.23(g)(3).............................................            Sec.            Sec.               1
                                                                       679.21(b)       679.21(a)
Sec.   679.24(c)(2)(ii)(A)......................................            Sec.            Sec.               1
                                                                       679.21(b)       679.21(a)
Sec.   679.24(c)(2)(ii)(B)......................................            Sec.            Sec.               1
                                                                       679.21(b)       679.21(a)
Sec.   679.24(c)(3).............................................            Sec.            Sec.               1
                                                                       679.21(b)       679.21(a)
Sec.   679.24(c)(4).............................................            Sec.            Sec.               1
                                                                       679.21(b)       679.21(a)
Sec.   679.25(a)(2)(ii)(A)......................................            Sec.            Sec.               1
                                                                       679.21(b)       679.21(a)
Sec.   679.26(d)(2).............................................            Sec.            Sec.               1
                                                                       679.21(b)       679.21(a)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

0
9. Revise table 35 to part 679 to read as follows:

[[Page 71675]]



 Table 35 to Part 679--Apportionment of Crab PSC and Halibut PSC Between the Amendment 80 and BSAI Trawl Limited
                                                 Access Sectors
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                     Zone 1 C.       Zone 2 C.
                                   Halibut PSC      Zone 1 Red    C. opilio crab    bairdi crab     bairdi crab
            Fishery               limit in the     king crab PSC     PSC limit     PSC limit . .   PSC limit . .
                                      BSAI          limit . . .    (COBLZ) . . .         .               .
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                      as a percentage of the total BSAI trawl PSC limit after
                                                                         allocation as PSQ
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Amendment 80 sector...........  1,745mt.........           49.98           49.15           42.11           23.67
BSAI trawl limited access.....  745 mt..........           30.58           32.14           46.99           46.81
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

0
10. Revise table 40 to part 679 to read as follows:

Table 40 to Part 679--BSAI Halibut PSC Sideboard Limits for AFA Catcher/
                   Processors and AFA Catcher Vessels
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              The AFA
                                             catcher/         The AFA
                                             processor    catcher vessel
     In the following target species        halibut PSC     halibut PSC
      categories as defined in Sec.          sideboard       sideboard
 679.21(b)(1)(iii) and (e)(3)(iv) . . .      limit in        limit in
                                          metric tons is  metric tons is
                                               . . .           . . .
------------------------------------------------------------------------
All target species categories...........             286             N/A
Pacific cod trawl.......................             N/A             887
Pacific cod hook-and-line or pot........             N/A               2
Yellowfin sole..........................             N/A             101
Rock sole/flathead sole/``other                      N/A             228
 flatfish'' \1\.........................
Turbot/Arrowtooth/Sablefish.............             N/A               0
Rockfish \2\............................             N/A               2
Pollock/Atka mackerel/``other species''.             N/A               5
------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ ``Other flatfish'' for PSC monitoring includes all flatfish species,
  except for halibut (a prohibited species), Greenland turbot, rock
  sole, flathead sole, yellowfin sole, and arrowtooth flounder.
\2\ Applicable from July 1 through December 31.

[FR Doc. 2015-28889 Filed 11-13-15; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P