Fishery of the Northeastern United States; Bluefish Fishery; 2016-2018 Bluefish Specifications, 18559-18563 [2016-07263]

Download as PDF Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 62 / Thursday, March 31, 2016 / Proposed Rules DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 648 [Docket No. 151130999–6225–01] RIN 0648–XE336 Fishery of the Northeastern United States; Bluefish Fishery; 2016–2018 Bluefish Specifications National Marine Fishery Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Proposed specifications; request for comments. AGENCY: We propose specifications for the 2016–2018 bluefish fishery. This action is necessary to comply with the implementing regulations for the Bluefish Fishery Management Plan that require us to publish specifications and provide an opportunity for public comment. The proposed specifications are necessary to constrain harvest for this species within scientifically sound recommendations to prevent overfishing. SUMMARY: Comments must be received on or before April 15, 2016. ADDRESSES: A draft environmental assessment (EA) was prepared for these specifications and describes the proposed action and other considered alternatives, and provides an analysis of their impacts. Copies of the draft Specifications Document, including the draft EA and the Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA), are available on request from Dr. Christopher M. Moore, Executive Director, Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, Suite 201, 800 North State Street, Dover, DE 19901. These documents are also accessible via the Internet at www.mafmc.org and www.regulations.gov. You may submit comments on this document, identified by NOAA–NMFS– 2015–1060, by either of the following methods: Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. 1. Go to www.regulations.gov/# !docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-20151060 2. Click the ‘‘Comment Now!’’ icon, complete the required fields 3. Enter or attach your comments. —OR— Mail: Submit written comments to John Bullard, Regional Administrator, National Marine Fishery Service, 55 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS DATES: VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:59 Mar 30, 2016 Jkt 238001 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01950. Mark the outside of the envelope, ‘‘Comments on the Proposed Rule for Bluefish Specifications.’’ 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 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, etc.), confidential business information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter ‘‘N/ A’’ in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous). FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Elizabeth Scheimer, Fishery Management Specialist, (978) 281–9236. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: General Specification Background The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (Commission) cooperatively manage the Atlantic bluefish (Pomatus saltatrix) fishery. Specifications in this fishery include various catch and landing subdivisions, such as annual catch limits (ACLs), commercial and recreational sector annual catch targets (ACTs), sectorspecific landing limits (i.e., the commercial fishery quota and recreational harvest limit), and measures used to manage the recreational fishery (e.g., minimum fish size, bag limits) for the upcoming fishing year. The Bluefish Fishery Management Plan (FMP) and its implementing regulations establish the Council’s process for establishing specifications. Regulations implementing the FMP appear at 50 CFR part 648, subparts A and J. The regulations requiring annual specifications are found at § 648.162. The management unit specified in the FMP is U.S. waters of the western Atlantic Ocean, from Florida northward to the U.S./Canada border. The FMP also stipulates how to divide the specification catch limits into commercial and recreational fishery allocations, when and how to adjust commercial and recreational limits by quota transfer between the two sectors, and how to allocate state-by-state quotas. The annual specifications process requires that the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) and the PO 00000 Frm 00016 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 18559 Bluefish Monitoring Committee review the best available scientific information and make recommendations to the Council. The SSC met July 21, 2015, to review a new 2015 benchmark stock assessment and recommend acceptable biological catches (ABCs) for 2016–2018 for this fishery. More details on the SSC’s discussions are provided in the proposed Specifications section below. The Council’s Bluefish Monitoring Committee met on July 27, 2015, to review the SSC’s ABC recommendations and to propose complementary management measures. The Council and the Commission’s Bluefish Management Board met jointly on August 10, 2015, to consider the recommendations of the SSC and the Bluefish Monitoring Committee, receive public comments, and formalize catch limit specifications and commercial and recreational management measures. More complete details on the SSC, Bluefish Monitoring Committee, and Council meeting deliberations can be found on the Council’s Web site (www.mafmc.org). While the Board action was finalized at the August meeting, the Council’s recommendations must be reviewed by NMFS to ensure that they comply with the FMP and all applicable law. NMFS must also conduct notice-and-comment rulemaking to propose and implement the final specifications. The Bluefish FMP defines ACL as equal to ABC. The Bluefish Monitoring Committee identifies the relevant sources of management uncertainty, which may be used to reduce the ACL before establishing the recreational and commercial ACTs. Because the bluefish fishery has not fully utilized available ACTs in recent years and management precision is timely, the Bluefish Monitoring Committee did not recommend applying a management uncertainty reduction before establishing sector-specific ACTs. The Bluefish Monitoring Committee recommended allocating 17 percent of the ACL to the commercial fishery and 83 of the ACL percent to the recreational fishery. Estimated discards are then subtracted from each sector ACT to calculate sector Total Allowable Landings (TALs). Using this method ensures that each sector is accountable for its respective discards, rather than simply apportioning the ABC by the allocation percentages to derive the sector TALs. Commercial discards are assumed to be negligible and recreational discards are projected using a 3-year moving average from Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) data. The Council may also specify a research set-aside (RSA) quota of up to 3 percent of the TAL, but the E:\FR\FM\31MRP1.SGM 31MRP1 18560 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 62 / Thursday, March 31, 2016 / Proposed Rules Council did not recommend RSA for 2016–2018. Additionally, the FMP specifies that if the recreational fishery is not projected to land its available harvest limit, then quota may be transferred from the recreational to the commercial sector, up to a commercial quota of 10.5 million lb (4,762 mt). The adjusted commercial quota is then allocated to the coastal states from Maine through Florida in specified shares as outlined in the FMP. A 2015 benchmark stock assessment used as the scientific basis for these specifications may be found on the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s Web site (www.nefsc.noaa.gov). The assessment indicates that bluefish are not overfished, and that overfishing is not occurring. The assessment updated the bluefish stock biological reference points. The previous assessment used Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) reference points for fishing mortality and total biomass. The stock recruitment relationship is poorly defined for bluefish, so the 2015 benchmark assessment used Spawning Stock Biomass (SSB) per recruit based reference points as proxies for MSY reference points. This lowered the SSB target level from 324 million lb (147,052 mt) to 245 million pounds (111,228 mt) and lowered the current SSB estimate (191 million pounds in 2014; or 86,534 mt) used to develop the ABCs. The SSC modified the overfishing limit (OFL) probability distribution derived from the stock assessment, and determined that a lower coefficient of variation, or CV, to estimate scientific uncertainty was acceptable instead of the previously used 100-percent CV. The SSC stated this was acceptable because the new stock assessment improved treatment of uncertainty. The SSC’s ABC recommendations are based on a 60-percent CV from the OFL and are, therefore, higher than they would have been under the previously used 100-percent CV. Proposed Specifications This rule proposes the Council’s ABC recommendation and the commercial and recreational catch limits associated with that ABC for fishing years 2016– 2018 as outlined in table 1. TABLE 1—PROPOSED 2016–2018 BLUEFISH SPECIFICATIONS AND CALCULATIONS Current Proposed 2015 million lb OFL .................................. ABC .................................. ACL .................................. Management Uncertainty Commercial ACT .............. Recreational ACT ............. Commercial Discards ....... Recreational Discards ...... Commercial TAL .............. Recreational TAL ............. Combined TAL ................. Projected Recreational Landings ....................... Transfer ............................ Commercial Quota ........... Recreational Harvest Limit (RHL) ............................ 2016 mt million lb 2017 mt million lb 2018 mt million lb mt 34.22 21.54 21.54 0 3.66 17.88 0 3.35 3.66 14.53 18.19 15,521 9,772 9,772 0 1,661 8,110 0 1,520 1,661 6,591 8,252 25.76 19.45 19.45 0 3.30 16.14 0 2.98 3.30 13.15 16.46 11,686 8,825 8,825 0 1,500 7,325 0 1,356 1,500 5,969 7,469 26.44 20.64 20.64 0 3.50 17.13 0 2.98 3.50 14.14 17.65 11,995 9,363 9,363 0 1,592 7,770 0 1,356 1,592 6,414 8,006 27.97 21.81 21.81 0 3.70 18.10 0 2.98 3.70 15.11 18.82 12,688 9,895 9,895 0 1,682 8,213 0 1,356 1,682 6,857 8,539 12.95 1.58 5.24 5,875 716 2,377 10.98 2.17 5.48 4,980 984 2,485 10.98 3.16 6.67 4,980 1,433 3,025 10.98 4.13 7.84 4,90 1,873 3,556 12.95 5,875 10.98 4,980 10.98 4,980 10.98 4,980 mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS Note: Recreational projections, transfer, and resulting commercial quota and RHL may be adjusted as more up-to-date recreational data become available. The Council recommended the ABC values proposed by the SSC for 2016– 2018. The Bluefish Monitoring Committee recommended using a 3-year average to project future recreational landings as was done in the previous specifications. The Council did not endorse this recommendation, requesting that the most recent available complete year’s landing data be used to project recreational landings. Under certain conditions, the FMP allows a TAL transfer from the recreational to the commercial fishery, if projections indicate the full recreational landing limit will not be fully harvested. Council analysis using preliminary 2015 landings data to project future landings indicates the recreational fishery is not expected to land its harvest limit in 2016, so quota can be transferred to the VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:59 Mar 30, 2016 Jkt 238001 commercial fishery. The amount of transfer was calculated so that the RHL equals expected recreational landings and the final commercial quota does not exceed 10.5 million lb, consistent with the FMP requirement outlining the transfer process. This option represents the preferred alternative recommended by the Council; however, the Council recognized that future updates to the recreational harvest projections may result in a different transfer amount from the recreational sector to the commercial sector. We will use updated 2015 MRIP recreational harvest data as they become available and adjust the 2016 recreational transfer limit, as needed, in the final rule. The Council recommended we re-evaluate the transfer each year, consistent with the FMP requirements, as additional PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 recreational fishery data become available. Each year in 2017 and 2018, an updated projection for recreational landings will be based on realized recreational landings from the preceding year, and that projection will be used to estimate potential transfers from the recreational fishery to the commercial fishery. Any adjustments to the transfer amount will be published each year in a rule. We propose the Councilrecommended status quo daily recreational possession limit of up to 15 fish per person. Fishing under these catch limits for 2016 through 2018 is not expected to compromise the bluefish stock, nor will fishing at this level present an unacceptably high likelihood of overfishing. The calculation process described above produced the E:\FR\FM\31MRP1.SGM 31MRP1 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 62 / Thursday, March 31, 2016 / Proposed Rules management measures shown in Table 1. Table 2 presents the proposed state allocations for 2016–2018 using the state commercial quota allocations in the FMP. There were no states that exceeded their quota in 2015; therefore, no accountability measures are necessary for the 2016 fishing year. In 2017 and 2018, any commercial quota adjustments necessary to account for 18561 overages will be published in the Federal Register prior to the start of the respective fishing year. TABLE 2—2016–2018 PROPOSED INITIAL BLUEFISH STATE COMMERCIAL QUOTAS 2016 Initial quota FMP Percent share State kg 2017 Initial quota lb kg 2018 Initial quota lb kg lb ME ................................ NH ................................ MA ................................ RI .................................. CT ................................ NY ................................ NJ ................................. DE ................................ MD ................................ VA ................................ NC ................................ SC ................................ GA ................................ FL ................................. 0.6685 0.4145 6.7167 6.8081 1.2663 10.3851 14.8162 1.8782 3.0018 11.8795 32.0608 0.0352 0.0095 10.0597 16,635 10,314 167,135 169,409 31,510 258,417 368,678 46,736 74,695 295,603 797,783 876 236 250,320 36,673 22,739 368,469 373,483 69,467 569,712 812,796 103,035 164,675 651,693 1,758,810 1,931 521 551,861 20,231 12,544 203,270 206,037 38,323 314,289 448,389 56,841 90,845 359,515 970,270 1,065 288 304,441 44,602 27,655 448,135 454,233 84,487 692,888 988,529 125,312 200,278 792,594 2,139,079 2,349 634 671,178 23,788 14,749 239,003 242,256 45,059 369,538 527,211 66,833 106,814 422,713 1,140,833 1,253 338 357,959 52,443 32,517 526,912 534,082 99,339 814,691 1,162,302 147,341 235,485 931,924 2,515,107 2,761 745 789,164 Total ...................... 100.0001 2,488,344 5,485,859 3,026,344 6,671,946 3,558,344 7,844,805 Classification mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the NMFS Assistant Administrator has determined that this proposed rule is consistent with the Bluefish FMP, other provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law, subject to further consideration after public comment. These proposed specifications are exempt from review under Executive Order 12866. An IRFA was prepared by the Council, as required by section 603 of the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA), to examine the impacts of these proposed specifications on small business entities, if adopted. A copy of the detailed RFA analysis, including the IRFA, is available from NMFS or the Council (see ADDRESSES). The Council’s analysis made use of quantitative approaches when possible. Where quantitative data on revenues or other business-related metrics that would provide insight to potential impacts were not available to inform the analyses, qualitative analyses were conducted. A summary of the 2016– 2018 specifications IRFA analysis follows. Description of the Reasons Why Action by the Agency Is Being Considered and a Statement of the Objectives of, and Legal Basis for, This Proposed Rule This action proposes management measures, including annual catch limits, for the bluefish fishery in order to prevent overfishing and achieve VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:59 Mar 30, 2016 Jkt 238001 optimum yield in the fishery. A complete description of the action, why it is being considered, and the legal basis for this action are contained in the draft Specifications Document, and elsewhere in the preamble to this proposed rule, and are not repeated here. Description and Estimate of the Number of Small Entities to Which the Proposed Rule Would Apply The Small Business Administration defines a small business as one that is independently owned and operated; not dominant in its field of operation; has annual receipts that do not exceed $20.5 million in the case of commercial finfish harvesting entities, $5.5 million in the case of commercial shellfish harvesting entities, $7.5 million in the case of forhire fishing entities; or has fewer than 750 employees in the case of fish processors or 100 employees in the case of fish dealers. This proposed rule affects commercial and recreational fish harvesting entities engaged in the bluefish fishery. Individually-permitted vessels may hold permits for several fisheries, harvesting species of fish that are regulated by several different FMPs, beyond those impacted by the proposed action. Furthermore, multiple-permitted vessels and/or permits may be owned by entities affiliated by stock ownership, common management, identity of interest, contractual relationships, or economic dependency. For the purposes of the IRFA analysis, the ownership PO 00000 Frm 00018 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 entities, not the individual vessels, are considered to be the regulated entities. Ownership entities are defined as those entities with common ownership personnel as listed on the permit application. Only permits with identical ownership personnel are categorized as an ownership entity. For example, if five permits have the same seven persons listed as co-owners on their permit applications, those seven persons would form one ownership entity that holds those five permits. If two of those seven owners also co-own additional vessels, that ownership arrangement would be considered a separate ownership entity for the purpose of this analysis. In preparation for this action, ownership entities are identified based on a list of all permits for the most recent complete calendar year. The current ownership data set used for this analysis is based on calendar year 2014 and contains average gross sales associated with those permits for calendar years 2012 through 2014. In addition to classifying a business (ownership entity) as small or large, a business can also be classified by its primary source of revenue. A business is defined as being primarily engaged in fishing for finfish if it obtains greater than 50 percent of its gross sales from sales of finfish. A description of the specific permits that are likely to be impacted by this action is provided below, along with a discussion of the impacted businesses, which can include multiple vessels and/or permit types. E:\FR\FM\31MRP1.SGM 31MRP1 18562 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 62 / Thursday, March 31, 2016 / Proposed Rules The ownership database shows that for the 2012–2014 period, 724 affiliate firms held a bluefish commercial permit only, 144 affiliate firms held a bluefish party/charter permit only, and 144 firms held both commercial and party/charter permits. However, not all of those affiliate firms are active participants in the fishery. According to the ownership database, 950 affiliate firms landed bluefish during the 2012–2014 period, with 942 of those business affiliates categorized as small business and 8 categorized as large business. Federal Rules Which May Duplicate, Overlap, or Conflict With This Proposed Rule Description of the Projected Reporting, Record-Keeping, and Other Compliance Requirements of This Proposed Rule The Council analyzed four sets of combined catch limit alternatives for each of the fishing years 2016–2018 for the bluefish fishery. The alternatives were as follows: • Alternative 1 is the Council’s preferred alternative that we are proposing as outlined in this rule’s preamble; There is no new reporting or recordkeeping requirements contained in any of the alternatives considered for this action. NMFS is not aware of any relevant Federal rules that may duplicate, overlap, or conflict with this proposed rule. Description of Significant Alternatives to the Proposed Action Which Accomplish the Stated Objectives of Applicable Statutes and Which Minimize Any Significant Economic Impact on Small Entities • Alternative 2 is the status quo and would maintain the current measures in effect; • Alternative 3 is an alternative provided for analytical purposes as the ‘‘most restrictive’’ set of commercial quotas, based on no transfer between the recreational and commercial sectors; and • Alternative 4 is the counter-point to Alternative 3, a maximum quota transfer of up to 10.5 million lb (4,762 mt) commercial quota. The preferred alternative represents an increase in commercial quota and a decrease in RHL for all three years 2016–2018 relative to the 2015 implemented limits. The discussion below is based on the conclusions of the IRFA analyses in the draft Specifications Document provided by the Council. Table 3 outlines the available commercial quota and recreational harvest limits for the four alternatives used in the IRFA. TABLE 3—SUMMARY OF LANDINGS LIMITS BY ALTERNATIVE Commercial quota Year million lb 2016 ..................................................................................... 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 2017 ..................................................................................... mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS 2018 ..................................................................................... Commercial Fishery Impacts To assess the impact of the alternatives on commercial fisheries, the Council conducted a threshold analysis and an analysis of potential changes in ex-vessel gross revenue that would result from each alternative, using Northeast dealer reports and South Atlantic Trip Ticket reports. Alternative 1 (the preferred alternative) and Alternative 4 represent increases in commercial quotas relative to 2015. It is expected that Alternatives 1 and 4 would have neutral socioeconomic impacts. In recent years, bluefish commercial landings have been substantially lower than the quotas due to market conditions. Unless market conditions change substantially, we expect that commercial landings will be close to 2014 landings despite an increase in fishing opportunity. There is no indication that the market VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:59 Mar 30, 2016 Recreational harvest limit Alternative Jkt 238001 5.48 5.24 3.31 10.5 6.67 5.24 3.51 10.5 7.84 5.24 3.71 10.5 environment for commercially caught bluefish will change considerably in 2016–2018. Under the Alternative 2 (status quo) measures, the 2016–2018 specifications would have no change in allowable commercial landings relative to the 2015 limits. As such, it is expected that no change in revenues or fishing opportunities would occur. Alternative 2 would likely result in quota constraints for vessels in New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and North Carolina; however, these quota constraints may not have an economic impact due to the ability to transfer quota from state to state. Under Alternative 3, the most commercially restrictive alternative considered, 72 out of 942 small firms in the Northeast region are projected to incur revenue losses of 5 percent or more in 2016 when compared to 2015. PO 00000 Frm 00019 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 mt million lb 2,485 2,376 1,501 4,760 3,025 2,376 1,592 4,760 3,556 2,376 1,682 4,762 10.98 12.95 13.15 5.96 10.98 12.95 14.14 7.15 10.98 12.95 15.11 8.32 mt 4,980 5,874 5,964 2,703 4,980 5,874 6,413 3,243 4,980 5,874 6,853 3,773 Of those firms, 43 percent had gross sales of $10,000 or less, likely indicating that their dependence on fishing is small. In 2017, 68 small firms likely would be faced with revenue reductions of 5 percent or more (60 percent with gross sales of $10,000 or less), and in 2018, 61 small firms likely would be faced with revenue reductions of 5 percent or more (61 percent with gross sales less than $10,000). For large firms that landed bluefish in the Northeast during 2012–2014, the potential overall revenue reduction is 0.01 percent for each year in 2016–2018. Assuming no change in prices, the average decrease in revenue distributed among all firms that landed bluefish in the Northeast would be $780 per firm in 2016, $649 in 2017, and $518 in 2018. The South Atlantic Trip Ticket Report data indicate that 757 vessels landed commercial bluefish quota in North E:\FR\FM\31MRP1.SGM 31MRP1 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 62 / Thursday, March 31, 2016 / Proposed Rules Carolina from 2012–2014. On average, these vessels generated 8.9 percent of their total ex-vessel revenue from bluefish landings. Landings are projected to decrease in North Carolina by 43 percent as a consequence of Alternative 3 quota in 2016 relative to 2014; however, this analysis may overestimate the negative impact to small businesses because quota may be transferred between states. Alternative 3 represents a 40-percent reduction in 2017 and 36-percent reduction in 2018 for North Carolina relative to 2014 landings. If commercial quota is transferred from a state or states that do not land their entire bluefish quotas, as was done frequently in previous years, the number of affected entities could change. Under this alternative, the amount of potential surplus quota available to be transferred is low for all years 2016–2018, but transfers could lessen the adverse economic impact on vessels landing in the state(s) receiving quota transfers. Such transfers cannot be predicted or projected, as each occurs on a case-by-case basis by agreement between states. mstockstill on DSK4VPTVN1PROD with PROPOSALS Recreational Fishery Impacts It is very difficult to calculate the economic value of recreational fisheries. No changes to the recreational fishing season, minimum fish size, or per-angler possession limit are being proposed. Because these measures are not changing, it is not expected that there will be any associated economic impact on the recreational fishery. The only potential variable that may have an economic on impact recreational fisheries and regulated small business VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:59 Mar 30, 2016 Jkt 238001 entities that participate in them are the various landing limits under consideration. Using the preliminary 2015 recreational landings data, Alternative 1 (preferred) proposes an RHL (10.98 million lb, 4,980 mt) that is approximately 15 percent lower than the 2015 limit; however, the proposed RHL is the same as 2015 landings. As such, the proposed RHL is not expected to be constraining, and, therefore, is not expected to impact recreational fisheries. Under the Alternative 2 (status quo), the RHL (12.95 million lb, 5,874 mt) is approximately 15 percent above the recreational landings for 2015 (10.98 million lb, 4,980 mt). The RHLs for Alternative 3 (13.15 million lb, 5,964 mt) and Alternative 4 (5.96 million lb, 2,703 mt) in 2016 are approximately 20 percent above and 46 percent below the recreational landings for 2015, respectively. Alternative 4, which we are not recommending, is the only alternative that could potentially have negative impacts on the recreational fishery by risking a closure. None of the analyses indicate that the proposed measures will have a negative impact on recreational fishing. The proposed RHLs each year are not anticipated to limit recreational catch or negatively impact recreational fishing revenue, because the RHLs will be based on realized landings from the preceding year. Summary The Council selected Alternative 1 (preferred) over Alternative 2 (status quo), Alternative 3 (no transfer), and Alternative 4 (maximum transfer), stating that the Alternative 1 measures were consistent with the advice PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 9990 18563 provided to the Council by its SSC and Bluefish Monitoring Committees. The Council analysis indicates the proposed measures would have less negative economic impacts than the most restrictive Alternative 3, while also benefitting from the potential for increased efficiency of flexible sector quota transfer. Alternative 2, the status quo alternative, is not feasible because it could result in combined landings that are higher than the ABC, which is inconsistent with the Council’s risk policy on overfishing and is in violation of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Alternative 4 is not preferred because it represents significant decreases in recreation limits below historical catch and it is not expected that the commercial sector would fully utilize the resulting quota. The proposed measures in Alternative 1 contain the second largest overall increase in commercial quota and the second lowest overall reduction in RHL of all the analyzed alternatives when compared to 2015 measures. As such, NMFS is proposing to implement the Council’s preferred ABCs, ACLs, ACTs, commercial quotas, and recreational harvest limits, as presented in Table 1 of this proposed rule preamble. Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. Dated: March 24, 2016. Eileen Sobeck, Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2016–07263 Filed 3–30–16; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P E:\FR\FM\31MRP1.SGM 31MRP1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 81, Number 62 (Thursday, March 31, 2016)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 18559-18563]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2016-07263]



[[Page 18559]]

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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 648

[Docket No. 151130999-6225-01]
RIN 0648-XE336


Fishery of the Northeastern United States; Bluefish Fishery; 
2016-2018 Bluefish Specifications

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

ACTION: Proposed specifications; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: We propose specifications for the 2016-2018 bluefish fishery. 
This action is necessary to comply with the implementing regulations 
for the Bluefish Fishery Management Plan that require us to publish 
specifications and provide an opportunity for public comment. The 
proposed specifications are necessary to constrain harvest for this 
species within scientifically sound recommendations to prevent 
overfishing.

DATES: Comments must be received on or before April 15, 2016.

ADDRESSES: A draft environmental assessment (EA) was prepared for these 
specifications and describes the proposed action and other considered 
alternatives, and provides an analysis of their impacts. Copies of the 
draft Specifications Document, including the draft EA and the Initial 
Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA), are available on request from 
Dr. Christopher M. Moore, Executive Director, Mid-Atlantic Fishery 
Management Council, Suite 201, 800 North State Street, Dover, DE 19901. 
These documents are also accessible via the Internet at www.mafmc.org 
and www.regulations.gov.
    You may submit comments on this document, identified by NOAA-NMFS-
2015-1060, by either of the following methods:
    Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public comments via 
the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal.
    1. Go to www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2015-1060
    2. Click the ``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields
    3. Enter or attach your comments.
    --OR--
    Mail: Submit written comments to John Bullard, Regional 
Administrator, National Marine Fishery Service, 55 Great Republic 
Drive, Gloucester, MA 01950. Mark the outside of the envelope, 
``Comments on the Proposed Rule for Bluefish Specifications.''
    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 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, etc.), confidential business 
information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily 
by the sender will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous 
comments (enter ``N/A'' in the required fields if you wish to remain 
anonymous).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Elizabeth Scheimer, Fishery Management 
Specialist, (978) 281-9236.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

General Specification Background

    The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) and the 
Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (Commission) cooperatively 
manage the Atlantic bluefish (Pomatus saltatrix) fishery. 
Specifications in this fishery include various catch and landing 
subdivisions, such as annual catch limits (ACLs), commercial and 
recreational sector annual catch targets (ACTs), sector-specific 
landing limits (i.e., the commercial fishery quota and recreational 
harvest limit), and measures used to manage the recreational fishery 
(e.g., minimum fish size, bag limits) for the upcoming fishing year.
    The Bluefish Fishery Management Plan (FMP) and its implementing 
regulations establish the Council's process for establishing 
specifications. Regulations implementing the FMP appear at 50 CFR part 
648, subparts A and J. The regulations requiring annual specifications 
are found at Sec.  648.162. The management unit specified in the FMP is 
U.S. waters of the western Atlantic Ocean, from Florida northward to 
the U.S./Canada border. The FMP also stipulates how to divide the 
specification catch limits into commercial and recreational fishery 
allocations, when and how to adjust commercial and recreational limits 
by quota transfer between the two sectors, and how to allocate state-
by-state quotas.
    The annual specifications process requires that the Council's 
Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) and the Bluefish Monitoring 
Committee review the best available scientific information and make 
recommendations to the Council. The SSC met July 21, 2015, to review a 
new 2015 benchmark stock assessment and recommend acceptable biological 
catches (ABCs) for 2016-2018 for this fishery. More details on the 
SSC's discussions are provided in the proposed Specifications section 
below. The Council's Bluefish Monitoring Committee met on July 27, 
2015, to review the SSC's ABC recommendations and to propose 
complementary management measures. The Council and the Commission's 
Bluefish Management Board met jointly on August 10, 2015, to consider 
the recommendations of the SSC and the Bluefish Monitoring Committee, 
receive public comments, and formalize catch limit specifications and 
commercial and recreational management measures. More complete details 
on the SSC, Bluefish Monitoring Committee, and Council meeting 
deliberations can be found on the Council's Web site (www.mafmc.org).
    While the Board action was finalized at the August meeting, the 
Council's recommendations must be reviewed by NMFS to ensure that they 
comply with the FMP and all applicable law. NMFS must also conduct 
notice-and-comment rulemaking to propose and implement the final 
specifications.
    The Bluefish FMP defines ACL as equal to ABC. The Bluefish 
Monitoring Committee identifies the relevant sources of management 
uncertainty, which may be used to reduce the ACL before establishing 
the recreational and commercial ACTs. Because the bluefish fishery has 
not fully utilized available ACTs in recent years and management 
precision is timely, the Bluefish Monitoring Committee did not 
recommend applying a management uncertainty reduction before 
establishing sector-specific ACTs. The Bluefish Monitoring Committee 
recommended allocating 17 percent of the ACL to the commercial fishery 
and 83 of the ACL percent to the recreational fishery. Estimated 
discards are then subtracted from each sector ACT to calculate sector 
Total Allowable Landings (TALs). Using this method ensures that each 
sector is accountable for its respective discards, rather than simply 
apportioning the ABC by the allocation percentages to derive the sector 
TALs. Commercial discards are assumed to be negligible and recreational 
discards are projected using a 3-year moving average from Marine 
Recreational Information Program (MRIP) data. The Council may also 
specify a research set-aside (RSA) quota of up to 3 percent of the TAL, 
but the

[[Page 18560]]

Council did not recommend RSA for 2016-2018. Additionally, the FMP 
specifies that if the recreational fishery is not projected to land its 
available harvest limit, then quota may be transferred from the 
recreational to the commercial sector, up to a commercial quota of 10.5 
million lb (4,762 mt). The adjusted commercial quota is then allocated 
to the coastal states from Maine through Florida in specified shares as 
outlined in the FMP.
    A 2015 benchmark stock assessment used as the scientific basis for 
these specifications may be found on the Northeast Fisheries Science 
Center's Web site (www.nefsc.noaa.gov). The assessment indicates that 
bluefish are not overfished, and that overfishing is not occurring. The 
assessment updated the bluefish stock biological reference points. The 
previous assessment used Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) reference 
points for fishing mortality and total biomass. The stock recruitment 
relationship is poorly defined for bluefish, so the 2015 benchmark 
assessment used Spawning Stock Biomass (SSB) per recruit based 
reference points as proxies for MSY reference points. This lowered the 
SSB target level from 324 million lb (147,052 mt) to 245 million pounds 
(111,228 mt) and lowered the current SSB estimate (191 million pounds 
in 2014; or 86,534 mt) used to develop the ABCs.
    The SSC modified the overfishing limit (OFL) probability 
distribution derived from the stock assessment, and determined that a 
lower coefficient of variation, or CV, to estimate scientific 
uncertainty was acceptable instead of the previously used 100-percent 
CV. The SSC stated this was acceptable because the new stock assessment 
improved treatment of uncertainty. The SSC's ABC recommendations are 
based on a 60-percent CV from the OFL and are, therefore, higher than 
they would have been under the previously used 100-percent CV.

Proposed Specifications

    This rule proposes the Council's ABC recommendation and the 
commercial and recreational catch limits associated with that ABC for 
fishing years 2016-2018 as outlined in table 1.

                                          Table 1--Proposed 2016-2018 Bluefish Specifications and Calculations
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                           Current                                            Proposed
                                                 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                            2015                      2016                      2017                      2018
                                                 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                   million lb       mt       million lb       mt       million lb       mt       million lb       mt
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
OFL.............................................        34.22       15,521        25.76       11,686        26.44       11,995        27.97       12,688
ABC.............................................        21.54        9,772        19.45        8,825        20.64        9,363        21.81        9,895
ACL.............................................        21.54        9,772        19.45        8,825        20.64        9,363        21.81        9,895
Management Uncertainty..........................         0               0         0               0         0               0         0               0
Commercial ACT..................................         3.66        1,661         3.30        1,500         3.50        1,592         3.70        1,682
Recreational ACT................................        17.88        8,110        16.14        7,325        17.13        7,770        18.10        8,213
Commercial Discards.............................         0               0         0               0         0               0         0               0
Recreational Discards...........................         3.35        1,520         2.98        1,356         2.98        1,356         2.98        1,356
Commercial TAL..................................         3.66        1,661         3.30        1,500         3.50        1,592         3.70        1,682
Recreational TAL................................        14.53        6,591        13.15        5,969        14.14        6,414        15.11        6,857
Combined TAL....................................        18.19        8,252        16.46        7,469        17.65        8,006        18.82        8,539
Projected Recreational Landings.................        12.95        5,875        10.98        4,980        10.98        4,980        10.98         4,90
Transfer........................................         1.58          716         2.17          984         3.16        1,433         4.13        1,873
Commercial Quota................................         5.24        2,377         5.48        2,485         6.67        3,025         7.84        3,556
Recreational Harvest Limit (RHL)................        12.95        5,875        10.98        4,980        10.98        4,980        10.98        4,980
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Note: Recreational projections, transfer, and resulting commercial quota and RHL may be adjusted as more up-to-date recreational data become available.

    The Council recommended the ABC values proposed by the SSC for 
2016-2018. The Bluefish Monitoring Committee recommended using a 3-year 
average to project future recreational landings as was done in the 
previous specifications. The Council did not endorse this 
recommendation, requesting that the most recent available complete 
year's landing data be used to project recreational landings.
    Under certain conditions, the FMP allows a TAL transfer from the 
recreational to the commercial fishery, if projections indicate the 
full recreational landing limit will not be fully harvested. Council 
analysis using preliminary 2015 landings data to project future 
landings indicates the recreational fishery is not expected to land its 
harvest limit in 2016, so quota can be transferred to the commercial 
fishery. The amount of transfer was calculated so that the RHL equals 
expected recreational landings and the final commercial quota does not 
exceed 10.5 million lb, consistent with the FMP requirement outlining 
the transfer process. This option represents the preferred alternative 
recommended by the Council; however, the Council recognized that future 
updates to the recreational harvest projections may result in a 
different transfer amount from the recreational sector to the 
commercial sector. We will use updated 2015 MRIP recreational harvest 
data as they become available and adjust the 2016 recreational transfer 
limit, as needed, in the final rule. The Council recommended we re-
evaluate the transfer each year, consistent with the FMP requirements, 
as additional recreational fishery data become available. Each year in 
2017 and 2018, an updated projection for recreational landings will be 
based on realized recreational landings from the preceding year, and 
that projection will be used to estimate potential transfers from the 
recreational fishery to the commercial fishery. Any adjustments to the 
transfer amount will be published each year in a rule.
    We propose the Council-recommended status quo daily recreational 
possession limit of up to 15 fish per person. Fishing under these catch 
limits for 2016 through 2018 is not expected to compromise the bluefish 
stock, nor will fishing at this level present an unacceptably high 
likelihood of overfishing. The calculation process described above 
produced the

[[Page 18561]]

management measures shown in Table 1. Table 2 presents the proposed 
state allocations for 2016-2018 using the state commercial quota 
allocations in the FMP. There were no states that exceeded their quota 
in 2015; therefore, no accountability measures are necessary for the 
2016 fishing year. In 2017 and 2018, any commercial quota adjustments 
necessary to account for overages will be published in the Federal 
Register prior to the start of the respective fishing year.

                                          Table 2--2016-2018 Proposed Initial Bluefish State Commercial Quotas
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                2016 Initial quota              2017 Initial quota              2018 Initial quota
                  State                     FMP Percent  -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                               share            kg              lb              kg              lb              kg              lb
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
ME.......................................         0.6685          16,635          36,673          20,231          44,602          23,788          52,443
NH.......................................         0.4145          10,314          22,739          12,544          27,655          14,749          32,517
MA.......................................         6.7167         167,135         368,469         203,270         448,135         239,003         526,912
RI.......................................         6.8081         169,409         373,483         206,037         454,233         242,256         534,082
CT.......................................         1.2663          31,510          69,467          38,323          84,487          45,059          99,339
NY.......................................        10.3851         258,417         569,712         314,289         692,888         369,538         814,691
NJ.......................................        14.8162         368,678         812,796         448,389         988,529         527,211       1,162,302
DE.......................................         1.8782          46,736         103,035          56,841         125,312          66,833         147,341
MD.......................................         3.0018          74,695         164,675          90,845         200,278         106,814         235,485
VA.......................................        11.8795         295,603         651,693         359,515         792,594         422,713         931,924
NC.......................................        32.0608         797,783       1,758,810         970,270       2,139,079       1,140,833       2,515,107
SC.......................................         0.0352             876           1,931           1,065           2,349           1,253           2,761
GA.......................................         0.0095             236             521             288             634             338             745
FL.......................................        10.0597         250,320         551,861         304,441         671,178         357,959         789,164
                                          --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Total................................       100.0001       2,488,344       5,485,859       3,026,344       6,671,946       3,558,344       7,844,805
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Classification

    Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the 
NMFS Assistant Administrator has determined that this proposed rule is 
consistent with the Bluefish FMP, other provisions of the Magnuson-
Stevens Act, and other applicable law, subject to further consideration 
after public comment.
    These proposed specifications are exempt from review under 
Executive Order 12866.
    An IRFA was prepared by the Council, as required by section 603 of 
the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA), to examine the impacts of these 
proposed specifications on small business entities, if adopted. A copy 
of the detailed RFA analysis, including the IRFA, is available from 
NMFS or the Council (see ADDRESSES). The Council's analysis made use of 
quantitative approaches when possible. Where quantitative data on 
revenues or other business-related metrics that would provide insight 
to potential impacts were not available to inform the analyses, 
qualitative analyses were conducted. A summary of the 2016-2018 
specifications IRFA analysis follows.

Description of the Reasons Why Action by the Agency Is Being Considered 
and a Statement of the Objectives of, and Legal Basis for, This 
Proposed Rule

    This action proposes management measures, including annual catch 
limits, for the bluefish fishery in order to prevent overfishing and 
achieve optimum yield in the fishery. A complete description of the 
action, why it is being considered, and the legal basis for this action 
are contained in the draft Specifications Document, and elsewhere in 
the preamble to this proposed rule, and are not repeated here.

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

    The Small Business Administration defines a small business as one 
that is independently owned and operated; not dominant in its field of 
operation; has annual receipts that do not exceed $20.5 million in the 
case of commercial finfish harvesting entities, $5.5 million in the 
case of commercial shellfish harvesting entities, $7.5 million in the 
case of for-hire fishing entities; or has fewer than 750 employees in 
the case of fish processors or 100 employees in the case of fish 
dealers.
    This proposed rule affects commercial and recreational fish 
harvesting entities engaged in the bluefish fishery. Individually-
permitted vessels may hold permits for several fisheries, harvesting 
species of fish that are regulated by several different FMPs, beyond 
those impacted by the proposed action. Furthermore, multiple-permitted 
vessels and/or permits may be owned by entities affiliated by stock 
ownership, common management, identity of interest, contractual 
relationships, or economic dependency. For the purposes of the IRFA 
analysis, the ownership entities, not the individual vessels, are 
considered to be the regulated entities.
    Ownership entities are defined as those entities with common 
ownership personnel as listed on the permit application. Only permits 
with identical ownership personnel are categorized as an ownership 
entity. For example, if five permits have the same seven persons listed 
as co-owners on their permit applications, those seven persons would 
form one ownership entity that holds those five permits. If two of 
those seven owners also co-own additional vessels, that ownership 
arrangement would be considered a separate ownership entity for the 
purpose of this analysis.
    In preparation for this action, ownership entities are identified 
based on a list of all permits for the most recent complete calendar 
year. The current ownership data set used for this analysis is based on 
calendar year 2014 and contains average gross sales associated with 
those permits for calendar years 2012 through 2014. In addition to 
classifying a business (ownership entity) as small or large, a business 
can also be classified by its primary source of revenue. A business is 
defined as being primarily engaged in fishing for finfish if it obtains 
greater than 50 percent of its gross sales from sales of finfish. A 
description of the specific permits that are likely to be impacted by 
this action is provided below, along with a discussion of the impacted 
businesses, which can include multiple vessels and/or permit types.

[[Page 18562]]

    The ownership database shows that for the 2012-2014 period, 724 
affiliate firms held a bluefish commercial permit only, 144 affiliate 
firms held a bluefish party/charter permit only, and 144 firms held 
both commercial and party/charter permits. However, not all of those 
affiliate firms are active participants in the fishery. According to 
the ownership database, 950 affiliate firms landed bluefish during the 
2012-2014 period, with 942 of those business affiliates categorized as 
small business and 8 categorized as large business.

Description of the Projected Reporting, Record-Keeping, and Other 
Compliance Requirements of This Proposed Rule

    There is no new reporting or recordkeeping requirements contained 
in any of the alternatives considered for this action.

Federal Rules Which May Duplicate, Overlap, or Conflict With This 
Proposed Rule

    NMFS is not aware of any relevant Federal rules that may duplicate, 
overlap, or conflict with this proposed rule.

Description of Significant Alternatives to the Proposed Action Which 
Accomplish the Stated Objectives of Applicable Statutes and Which 
Minimize Any Significant Economic Impact on Small Entities

    The Council analyzed four sets of combined catch limit alternatives 
for each of the fishing years 2016-2018 for the bluefish fishery. The 
alternatives were as follows:
     Alternative 1 is the Council's preferred alternative that 
we are proposing as outlined in this rule's preamble;
     Alternative 2 is the status quo and would maintain the 
current measures in effect;
     Alternative 3 is an alternative provided for analytical 
purposes as the ``most restrictive'' set of commercial quotas, based on 
no transfer between the recreational and commercial sectors; and
     Alternative 4 is the counter-point to Alternative 3, a 
maximum quota transfer of up to 10.5 million lb (4,762 mt) commercial 
quota.
    The preferred alternative represents an increase in commercial 
quota and a decrease in RHL for all three years 2016-2018 relative to 
the 2015 implemented limits. The discussion below is based on the 
conclusions of the IRFA analyses in the draft Specifications Document 
provided by the Council. Table 3 outlines the available commercial 
quota and recreational harvest limits for the four alternatives used in 
the IRFA.

                               Table 3--Summary of Landings Limits by Alternative
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                         Commercial quota           Recreational harvest limit
              Year                  Alternative  ---------------------------------------------------------------
                                                    million lb          mt          million lb          mt
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2016............................               1            5.48           2,485           10.98           4,980
                                               2            5.24           2,376           12.95           5,874
                                               3            3.31           1,501           13.15           5,964
                                               4            10.5           4,760            5.96           2,703
2017............................               1            6.67           3,025           10.98           4,980
                                               2            5.24           2,376           12.95           5,874
                                               3            3.51           1,592           14.14           6,413
                                               4            10.5           4,760            7.15           3,243
2018............................               1            7.84           3,556           10.98           4,980
                                               2            5.24           2,376           12.95           5,874
                                               3            3.71           1,682           15.11           6,853
                                               4            10.5           4,762            8.32           3,773
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Commercial Fishery Impacts

    To assess the impact of the alternatives on commercial fisheries, 
the Council conducted a threshold analysis and an analysis of potential 
changes in ex-vessel gross revenue that would result from each 
alternative, using Northeast dealer reports and South Atlantic Trip 
Ticket reports.
    Alternative 1 (the preferred alternative) and Alternative 4 
represent increases in commercial quotas relative to 2015. It is 
expected that Alternatives 1 and 4 would have neutral socio-economic 
impacts. In recent years, bluefish commercial landings have been 
substantially lower than the quotas due to market conditions. Unless 
market conditions change substantially, we expect that commercial 
landings will be close to 2014 landings despite an increase in fishing 
opportunity. There is no indication that the market environment for 
commercially caught bluefish will change considerably in 2016-2018.
    Under the Alternative 2 (status quo) measures, the 2016-2018 
specifications would have no change in allowable commercial landings 
relative to the 2015 limits. As such, it is expected that no change in 
revenues or fishing opportunities would occur. Alternative 2 would 
likely result in quota constraints for vessels in New York, 
Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and North Carolina; however, these quota 
constraints may not have an economic impact due to the ability to 
transfer quota from state to state.
    Under Alternative 3, the most commercially restrictive alternative 
considered, 72 out of 942 small firms in the Northeast region are 
projected to incur revenue losses of 5 percent or more in 2016 when 
compared to 2015. Of those firms, 43 percent had gross sales of $10,000 
or less, likely indicating that their dependence on fishing is small. 
In 2017, 68 small firms likely would be faced with revenue reductions 
of 5 percent or more (60 percent with gross sales of $10,000 or less), 
and in 2018, 61 small firms likely would be faced with revenue 
reductions of 5 percent or more (61 percent with gross sales less than 
$10,000). For large firms that landed bluefish in the Northeast during 
2012-2014, the potential overall revenue reduction is 0.01 percent for 
each year in 2016-2018. Assuming no change in prices, the average 
decrease in revenue distributed among all firms that landed bluefish in 
the Northeast would be $780 per firm in 2016, $649 in 2017, and $518 in 
2018.
    The South Atlantic Trip Ticket Report data indicate that 757 
vessels landed commercial bluefish quota in North

[[Page 18563]]

Carolina from 2012-2014. On average, these vessels generated 8.9 
percent of their total ex-vessel revenue from bluefish landings. 
Landings are projected to decrease in North Carolina by 43 percent as a 
consequence of Alternative 3 quota in 2016 relative to 2014; however, 
this analysis may overestimate the negative impact to small businesses 
because quota may be transferred between states. Alternative 3 
represents a 40-percent reduction in 2017 and 36-percent reduction in 
2018 for North Carolina relative to 2014 landings. If commercial quota 
is transferred from a state or states that do not land their entire 
bluefish quotas, as was done frequently in previous years, the number 
of affected entities could change. Under this alternative, the amount 
of potential surplus quota available to be transferred is low for all 
years 2016-2018, but transfers could lessen the adverse economic impact 
on vessels landing in the state(s) receiving quota transfers. Such 
transfers cannot be predicted or projected, as each occurs on a case-
by-case basis by agreement between states.

Recreational Fishery Impacts

    It is very difficult to calculate the economic value of 
recreational fisheries. No changes to the recreational fishing season, 
minimum fish size, or per-angler possession limit are being proposed. 
Because these measures are not changing, it is not expected that there 
will be any associated economic impact on the recreational fishery. The 
only potential variable that may have an economic on impact 
recreational fisheries and regulated small business entities that 
participate in them are the various landing limits under consideration. 
Using the preliminary 2015 recreational landings data, Alternative 1 
(preferred) proposes an RHL (10.98 million lb, 4,980 mt) that is 
approximately 15 percent lower than the 2015 limit; however, the 
proposed RHL is the same as 2015 landings. As such, the proposed RHL is 
not expected to be constraining, and, therefore, is not expected to 
impact recreational fisheries. Under the Alternative 2 (status quo), 
the RHL (12.95 million lb, 5,874 mt) is approximately 15 percent above 
the recreational landings for 2015 (10.98 million lb, 4,980 mt). The 
RHLs for Alternative 3 (13.15 million lb, 5,964 mt) and Alternative 4 
(5.96 million lb, 2,703 mt) in 2016 are approximately 20 percent above 
and 46 percent below the recreational landings for 2015, respectively. 
Alternative 4, which we are not recommending, is the only alternative 
that could potentially have negative impacts on the recreational 
fishery by risking a closure. None of the analyses indicate that the 
proposed measures will have a negative impact on recreational fishing. 
The proposed RHLs each year are not anticipated to limit recreational 
catch or negatively impact recreational fishing revenue, because the 
RHLs will be based on realized landings from the preceding year.

Summary

    The Council selected Alternative 1 (preferred) over Alternative 2 
(status quo), Alternative 3 (no transfer), and Alternative 4 (maximum 
transfer), stating that the Alternative 1 measures were consistent with 
the advice provided to the Council by its SSC and Bluefish Monitoring 
Committees. The Council analysis indicates the proposed measures would 
have less negative economic impacts than the most restrictive 
Alternative 3, while also benefitting from the potential for increased 
efficiency of flexible sector quota transfer. Alternative 2, the status 
quo alternative, is not feasible because it could result in combined 
landings that are higher than the ABC, which is inconsistent with the 
Council's risk policy on overfishing and is in violation of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Alternative 4 
is not preferred because it represents significant decreases in 
recreation limits below historical catch and it is not expected that 
the commercial sector would fully utilize the resulting quota. The 
proposed measures in Alternative 1 contain the second largest overall 
increase in commercial quota and the second lowest overall reduction in 
RHL of all the analyzed alternatives when compared to 2015 measures. As 
such, NMFS is proposing to implement the Council's preferred ABCs, 
ACLs, ACTs, commercial quotas, and recreational harvest limits, as 
presented in Table 1 of this proposed rule preamble.

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

    Dated: March 24, 2016.
Eileen Sobeck,
Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.
[FR Doc. 2016-07263 Filed 3-30-16; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P