Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone off Alaska; Application for an Exempted Fishing Permit, 84556-84558 [2016-28274]

Download as PDF 84556 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 226 / Wednesday, November 23, 2016 / Notices DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE International Trade Administration Environmental Technologies Trade Advisory Committee (ETTAC) Public Meeting International Trade Administration, Commerce. ACTION: Notice of Federal Advisory Committee meeting. AGENCY: This notice sets forth the schedule and proposed agenda of a meeting of the Environmental Technologies Trade Advisory Committee (ETTAC). DATES: The teleconference meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, December 7, 2016, at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST). Please register by 5:00 p.m. EST on Friday, December 2, 2016 to listen in on the teleconference meeting. ADDRESSES: The meeting will take place via teleconference. For logistical reasons, all participants are required to register in advance by the date specified above. Please contact Ms. Maureen Hinman at the contact information below to register and obtain call-in information. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The meeting will take place from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST). This meeting is open to the public. Written comments concerning ETTAC affairs are welcome any time before or after the meeting. Minutes will be available within 30 days of this meeting. Topic to be considered: The agenda for the December 7, 2016 meeting includes providing the newly chartered committee with an overview of committee operations and a briefing on Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) requirements. The committee will also deliberate on composition of subcommittees. Background: The ETTAC is mandated by Section 2313(c) of the Export Enhancement Act of 1988, as amended, 15 U.S.C. 4728(c), to advise the Environmental Trade Working Group of the Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee, through the Secretary of Commerce, on the development and administration of programs to expand U.S. exports of environmental technologies, goods, services, and products. The ETTAC was originally chartered in May of 1994. It was most recently re-chartered until August 2016. The teleconference will be accessible to people with disabilities. Please specify any requests for reasonable accommodation when registering to participate in the teleconference. Last mstockstill on DSK3G9T082PROD with NOTICES SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:04 Nov 22, 2016 Jkt 241001 minute requests will be accepted, but may be impossible to fulfill. No time will be available for oral comments from members of the public during this meeting. As noted above, any member of the public may submit pertinent written comments concerning the Committee’s affairs at any time before or after the meeting. Comments may be submitted to Ms. Maureen Hinman at the contact information indicated above. To be considered during the meeting, comments must be received no later than 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Friday, December 2, 2016, to ensure transmission to the Committee prior to the meeting. Comments received after that date will be distributed to the members but may not be considered at the meeting. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ms. Maureen Hinman, Office of Energy & Environmental Industries (OEEI), International Trade Administration, Room 4053, 1401 Constitution Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20230. (Phone: 202–482–0627; Fax: 202–482–5665; email: maureen.hinman@trade.gov). Dated: November 17, 2016. Man Cho, Deputy Director, Office of Energy and Environmental Industries. [FR Doc. 2016–28205 Filed 11–22–16; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–DR–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XF013 Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone off Alaska; Application for an Exempted Fishing Permit National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; receipt of application for exempted fishing permit. AGENCY: This notice announces receipt of an exempted fishing permit (EFP) application from the Alaska Seafood Cooperative (AKSC). If granted, this permit would allow up to ten vessels to participate in the EFP—up to five AKSC-member Amendment 80 vessels would be allowed to conduct experimental fishing in two subareas of the Bering Sea that are closed to fishing with trawl gear, and five additional AKSC-member Amendment 80 vessels would conduct experimental fishing adjacent to the closed areas. Under the permit, experimental fishing with non- SUMMARY: PO 00000 Frm 00010 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 pelagic trawl gear would be authorized in Reporting Area 516 of Zone 1 that is otherwise closed to all trawl gear and the Red King Crab Savings Area (RKCSA) that is otherwise closed to non-pelagic trawl gear. The AKSC would collect data on crab prohibited species catch (PSC) rates during commercial groundfish fishing operations inside the Area 516 seasonal closure, the RKCSA, and adjacent areas that are currently open to non-pelagic trawling. The objective of the EFP is to evaluate PSC rates and overall catch of target species in the above-mentioned closed areas compared with the areas currently open to fishing with trawl gear. This experiment has the potential to promote the objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. DATES: Submit comments on this EFP application on or before December 15, 2016. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) will consider the EFP application at its meeting to be held December 6, 2016, through December 14, 2016, in Anchorage, Alaska. ADDRESSES: The Council meeting will be held at the Anchorage Hilton Hotel, 500 W. 3rd Avenue, Anchorage, AK, 99501. The agenda for the Council meeting is available at http:// legistar2.granicus.com/npfmc/meetings/ 2016/12/950_A_North_Pacific_Council_ 16-12-06_Meeting_Agenda.pdf. You may submit comments on this document, identified by NOAA–NMFS– 2016–0142, by any of the following methods: • Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to www.regulations.gov/ #!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-20160142 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 99802–1668. Instructions: Comments sent by any other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address), confidential business information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily by the sender will E:\FR\FM\23NON1.SGM 23NON1 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 226 / Wednesday, November 23, 2016 / Notices be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter ‘‘N/ A’’ in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous). Electronic copies of the EFP application and the categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act are available from the Alaska Region, NMFS Web site at http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Brandee Gerke, 907–586–7228. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NMFS manages the domestic groundfish fisheries in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands management area (BSAI) under the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Management Area (FMP), which the Council prepared under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Regulations governing the BSAI groundfish fisheries appear at 50 CFR parts 600 and 679. The FMP and the implementing regulations, § 600.745(b) and § 679.6, allow the NMFS Regional Administrator to authorize, for limited experimental purposes, fishing that would otherwise be prohibited. Procedures for issuing EFPs are contained in the implementing regulations. mstockstill on DSK3G9T082PROD with NOTICES Background BSAI groundfish harvests are subject to annual limits on groundfish and PSC. Pacific halibut, Pacific herring, Pacific salmon and steelhead, king crab (including red king crab), and Tanner crab are prohibited species under the FMP. Participants in the BSAI nonpelagic trawl fisheries catch PSC incidentally—primarily crab and halibut. The directed red king crab pot fishery is one of the most important shellfish fisheries in the Bering Sea. Current regulations for harvesting red king crab in the crab pot fishery may be found in 50 CFR part 680. Red king crab is also caught incidentally as PSC in Bering Sea groundfish non-pelagic trawl fisheries. PSC (including red king crab) in the non-pelagic trawl fisheries must be minimized to the extent practicable and if caught, immediately returned to the ocean with a minimum of injury. The Council and NMFS have implemented FMP amendments, dating back to the 1980s and 1990s, to reduce the amount of red king crab PSC in trawl fisheries, including the BSAI nonpelagic trawl fishery. For example, the Area 516 red king crab seasonal closure for all trawl gear (FMP Amendment 10) was implemented in 1987 (52 FR 8592, March 19, 1987). FMP Amendment 37, VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:04 Nov 22, 2016 Jkt 241001 (61 FR 65985, December 16, 1996) was implemented in 1997 to create the RKCSA along with other measures to conserve concentrations of Bristol Bay red king crab. The management and structure of the non-pelagic trawl fisheries in the Bering Sea have changed since these red king crab closure areas were implemented. In 2008, NMFS implemented Amendment 80 to the FMP (72 FR 52668, September 14, 2007). Amendment 80 established a catch share program to allocate specific non-pelagic groundfish species among specific defined participants (the Amendment 80 sector) and facilitate the formation of Amendment 80 cooperatives among those participants. Nineteen vessels were active in the Amendment 80 sector in 2016—this sector is the largest component of the non-pelagic trawl fishery. With the implementation of Amendment 80 to the FMP in 2008, vessels operating in Amendment 80 cooperatives were able to develop tools to reduce incidental catch of crab PSC. Participants in Amendment 80 cooperatives have reduced the amount of red king crab PSC through improved fishing practices that are possible now that participants in the Amendment 80 cooperative receive an allocation of specific groundfish species. These exclusive allocations provide opportunities for Amendment 80 cooperative participants to slow down or otherwise change their fishing operations to avoid red king crab. These modified fishing practices are not practicable when vessels are not provided an exclusive harvest allocation, participate in derby-style fisheries, and are competing with other vessels to harvest their groundfish as soon as possible. Although Amendment 80 cooperatives have undoubtedly helped to reduce red king crab bycatch in the sector’s target fisheries, a combination of closed areas and PSC limits currently regulate red king crab PSC in trawl fisheries, including the Amendment 80 sector. For example, Area 516 of Zone 1 in the Bering Sea subarea closes annually to all trawl gear, including Amendment 80 vessels, from March 15 through June 15, § 679.22(a)(2). Regulations for groundfish fishing in the RKCSA, found at § 679.22(a)(3), close directed fishing for non-pelagic trawl gear in a portion of the Bering Sea subarea defined in Figure 11 to 50 CFR part 679. Non-pelagic trawl gear is used by all Amendment 80 vessels in the Bering Sea. PSC limits for red king crab, found at § 679.21(e)(1)(i), specify the annual PSC allowance of red king crab for all trawl PO 00000 Frm 00011 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 84557 vessels while engaged in directed fishing for groundfish in Zone 1. Approximately 50 percent of the Zone 1 red king crab PSC limit is apportioned to the Amendment 80 sector, and distributed as an allowance of crab to each Amendment 80 cooperative. In 2016, the Zone 1 PSC allowance for the AKSC is 30,834 red king crab. The Zone 1 red king crab PSC allowance, allowed the Amendment 80 cooperatives to assign voluntary, vessellevel apportionments of PSC to vessels fishing in Zone 1. With these voluntary apportionments, vessel owners and operators in the sector began to share information about individual vessel PSC rates and avoid areas with high PSC rates for red king crab. The primary result of the improved crab avoidance and management tools is that AKSC and the remaining Amendment 80 sector participants have consistently stayed well under the Zone 1 red king crab PSC allowance. While the potential exists for crab PSC allowances and closure areas to constrain allocated catch in some Amendment 80 target fisheries, the Amendment 80 sector continues to actively explore how to further reduce crab PSC while preserving target fishery harvest opportunities. Exempted Fishing Permit Application On August 25, 2016, the AKSC, an Amendment 80 cooperative, submitted an application for an EFP. We note that the AKSC submitted an application for similar EFP on October 2, 2015 (80 FR 72049, November 18, 2015). That EFP application was subsequently withdrawn by the applicant to provide additional time for the applicants to address comments received on the experimental design during review at the December 2015 Council meeting. The application submitted by the AFSC on August 25, 2016, includes the additional information requested at the December 2015 Council meeting and a few modifications to the experimental design relative to the October 2, 2015, application. The EFP would allow up to five AKSC-member Amendment 80 vessels to conduct field tests in two subareas of the Bering Sea that are closed to trawl directed fisheries. Those two subareas are Reporting Area 516 of Zone 1, which is closed to all trawl gear under § 679.22(a)(2), and the RKCSA, which is closed to non-pelagic trawl gear under § 679.22(a)(3). The EFP would also allow up to five additional AKSCmember Amendment 80 vessels to conduct simultaneous, paired field tests adjacent to the two closed subareas. If granted, this EFP would allow AKSC to E:\FR\FM\23NON1.SGM 23NON1 mstockstill on DSK3G9T082PROD with NOTICES 84558 Federal Register / Vol. 81, No. 226 / Wednesday, November 23, 2016 / Notices collect data on crab bycatch rates during commercial fishing operations on ten groundfish fishing vessels (targeting mostly flatfish) inside the Area 516 seasonal closure, the RKCSA, and adjacent areas that are currently open to non-pelagic trawl gear. The principle objective of the EFP is to compare red king crab bycatch rates and target flatfish catch rates inside and outside of the closed areas. Data collected under this EFP would inform whether a systematic survey of crab abundance in the closed area is warranted. AKSC proposes to conduct EFP fishing from January 20, 2017, through the end of April 2017. EFP fishing would begin again in late January 2018 and end by April 30, 2018. Conducting EFP fishing over two winter/spring seasons would increase the chance that data are collected over a wider range of environmental conditions that are expected to affect crab and flatfish abundance and location. To ensure data are available for valid comparisons of catch rates inside and outside the closed areas, participating vessels would fish both inside the closed areas and in adjacent areas outside the closed areas (as proportionally as possible) over the course of their Zone 1 rock sole and yellowfin sole fishing each year of the EFP. The adjacent areas outside of the closed areas would be selected based on similarities in general depth and substrate type with areas fished in the RKCSA and Area 516 closed areas. To help ensure differences in bycatch rates reflect differences in relative abundance rather than the attributes of trawl gear used, the vessels participating in the EFP would keep their ground gear configuration (e.g., size of trawl net and width of footropes) as consistent as possible inside and outside of the closed areas. Under the EFP, sea samplers would be required for monitoring and data collection. Sea samplers are NMFScertified observers that conduct activities under an EFP rather than normal observer activities on an Amendment 80 vessel. The sea samplers would conduct a census of all crab for all EFP tows inside the red king crab closed areas and in adjacent areas outside the red king crab closed areas. The census data would include a record of size and sex of each individual. Temperature and depth data will be collected by sea samplers for each tow. Sea samplers will also collect fishing operational information such as tow speed and tow length. AKSC will compare catch rates on different EFP vessels when fishing in similar areas to VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:04 Nov 22, 2016 Jkt 241001 evaluate the degree to which individual vessels are impacting catch rates. To ensure observer sampling duties are undisturbed, expanded crab data collection under the census would be conducted in a manner that is completely separate from current observer sampling protocols. To accomplish this, the crab census would occur after all the catch passes over the vessel’s flow scale and the observer has completed all sampling of unsorted catch for all Bering Sea EFP hauls. The ten vessels authorized to participate in this EFP would be required to comply with all the aggregate target species allocations that apply to the rest of the Amendment 80 sector, and would operate under the Amendment 80 crab and halibut PSC allowances available through membership in the AKSC. These allowances would apply to all EFP and non-EFP fishing during the year. Under the EFP, the AKSC and the member EFP vessels would be limited to the amount of aggregate groundfish allocations currently in regulation at 50 CFR part 679. Further, the amount of red king crab PSC accrued by the AKSC and under the EFP would not exceed the AKSC’s 2017 or 2018 red king crab allowance. All other crab limits and halibut mortality limits will continue to apply to the EFP activities, and are subject to review and approval by NMFS. At the end of EFP fishing in 2017, AKSC would be required to submit to NMFS a preliminary report of the EFP results on PSC use inside and outside of the closed areas and by target fishery. At the end of EFP fishing in 2018, a final, comprehensive EFP report would be submitted. The proposed action would exempt participating AKSC vessels from selected 50 CFR part 679 closed areas and PSC handling requirements. Should the Regional Administrator issue a permit based on this EFP application, the conditions of the permit would be designed to minimize PSC, and any potential for EFP participants to bias estimates of groundfish or PSC. Vessels participating in EFP fishing would be exempt from, at minimum, the following regulations: 1. Closure to directed fishing by trawl gear in Reporting Area 516 of Zone 1 in the Bering Sea subarea from March 15 through June 15, at § 679.22(a)(2). 2. Closure to directed fishing by nonpelagic trawl gear in the RKCSA, at § 679.22(a)(3). 3. The operator of each vessel, after allowing for sampling by an observer, return all prohibited species, or parts thereof, to the sea immediately, with a PO 00000 Frm 00012 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 9990 minimum of injury, regardless of its condition, at § 679.21(a)(2)(ii). The EFP would be valid upon issuance in 2017 until either the end of designated EFP fishing in 2018 or until the AKSC Zone 1 red king crab PSC allowance is reached in areas of the BSAI open to directed fishing by the Amendment 80 cooperatives. EFPauthorized fishing activities would not be expected to change the nature or duration of the groundfish fishery, gear used, or the amount or species of fish caught by the Amendment 80 cooperatives. The fieldwork that would be conducted under this EFP is not expected to have a significant impact on the human environment as detailed in the categorical exclusion prepared for this action (see ADDRESSES). In accordance with § 679.6, NMFS has determined that the application warrants further consideration and has forwarded the application to the Council to initiate consultation. The Council is scheduled to consider the EFP application during its December 2016 meeting, which will be held at the Anchorage Hilton Hotel, Anchorage, AK. The EFP application will also be provided to the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee for review at the December Council meeting. The applicant has been invited to appear in support of the application. Public Comments Interested persons may comment on the EFP application at the December 2016 Council meeting during public testimony. Information regarding the meeting is available at the Council’s Web site at http:// alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/npfmc/ council.htm. Comments also may be submitted directly to NMFS (see ADDRESSES) by the end of the comment period (see DATES). Copies of the application and categorical exclusion are available for review from NMFS (see ADDRESSES). Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. Dated: November 18, 2016. Emily H. Menashes, Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2016–28274 Filed 11–22–16; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P E:\FR\FM\23NON1.SGM 23NON1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 81, Number 226 (Wednesday, November 23, 2016)]
[Notices]
[Pages 84556-84558]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2016-28274]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XF013


Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone off Alaska; Application 
for an Exempted Fishing Permit

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

ACTION: Notice; receipt of application for exempted fishing permit.

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

SUMMARY: This notice announces receipt of an exempted fishing permit 
(EFP) application from the Alaska Seafood Cooperative (AKSC). If 
granted, this permit would allow up to ten vessels to participate in 
the EFP--up to five AKSC-member Amendment 80 vessels would be allowed 
to conduct experimental fishing in two subareas of the Bering Sea that 
are closed to fishing with trawl gear, and five additional AKSC-member 
Amendment 80 vessels would conduct experimental fishing adjacent to the 
closed areas. Under the permit, experimental fishing with non-pelagic 
trawl gear would be authorized in Reporting Area 516 of Zone 1 that is 
otherwise closed to all trawl gear and the Red King Crab Savings Area 
(RKCSA) that is otherwise closed to non-pelagic trawl gear. The AKSC 
would collect data on crab prohibited species catch (PSC) rates during 
commercial groundfish fishing operations inside the Area 516 seasonal 
closure, the RKCSA, and adjacent areas that are currently open to non-
pelagic trawling. The objective of the EFP is to evaluate PSC rates and 
overall catch of target species in the above-mentioned closed areas 
compared with the areas currently open to fishing with trawl gear. This 
experiment has the potential to promote the objectives of the Magnuson-
Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

DATES: Submit comments on this EFP application on or before December 
15, 2016. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) will 
consider the EFP application at its meeting to be held December 6, 
2016, through December 14, 2016, in Anchorage, Alaska.

ADDRESSES: The Council meeting will be held at the Anchorage Hilton 
Hotel, 500 W. 3rd Avenue, Anchorage, AK, 99501. The agenda for the 
Council meeting is available at http://legistar2.granicus.com/npfmc/meetings/2016/12/950_A_North_Pacific_Council_16-12-06_Meeting_Agenda.pdf.
    You may submit comments on this document, identified by NOAA-NMFS-
2016-0142, by any of the following methods:
     Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to 
www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2016-0142 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 99802-1668.
    Instructions: Comments sent by any other method, to any other 
address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, 
may not be considered by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the 
public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on 
www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying 
information (e.g., name, address), confidential business information, 
or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily by the sender 
will

[[Page 84557]]

be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter ``N/
A'' in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous).
    Electronic copies of the EFP application and the categorical 
exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act are available 
from the Alaska Region, NMFS Web site at http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Brandee Gerke, 907-586-7228.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NMFS manages the domestic groundfish 
fisheries in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands management area (BSAI) 
under the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Bering Sea and 
Aleutian Islands Management Area (FMP), which the Council prepared 
under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. 
Regulations governing the BSAI groundfish fisheries appear at 50 CFR 
parts 600 and 679. The FMP and the implementing regulations, Sec.  
600.745(b) and Sec.  679.6, allow the NMFS Regional Administrator to 
authorize, for limited experimental purposes, fishing that would 
otherwise be prohibited. Procedures for issuing EFPs are contained in 
the implementing regulations.

Background

    BSAI groundfish harvests are subject to annual limits on groundfish 
and PSC. Pacific halibut, Pacific herring, Pacific salmon and 
steelhead, king crab (including red king crab), and Tanner crab are 
prohibited species under the FMP. Participants in the BSAI non-pelagic 
trawl fisheries catch PSC incidentally--primarily crab and halibut.
    The directed red king crab pot fishery is one of the most important 
shellfish fisheries in the Bering Sea. Current regulations for 
harvesting red king crab in the crab pot fishery may be found in 50 CFR 
part 680. Red king crab is also caught incidentally as PSC in Bering 
Sea groundfish non-pelagic trawl fisheries. PSC (including red king 
crab) in the non-pelagic trawl fisheries must be minimized to the 
extent practicable and if caught, immediately returned to the ocean 
with a minimum of injury.
    The Council and NMFS have implemented FMP amendments, dating back 
to the 1980s and 1990s, to reduce the amount of red king crab PSC in 
trawl fisheries, including the BSAI non-pelagic trawl fishery. For 
example, the Area 516 red king crab seasonal closure for all trawl gear 
(FMP Amendment 10) was implemented in 1987 (52 FR 8592, March 19, 
1987). FMP Amendment 37, (61 FR 65985, December 16, 1996) was 
implemented in 1997 to create the RKCSA along with other measures to 
conserve concentrations of Bristol Bay red king crab.
    The management and structure of the non-pelagic trawl fisheries in 
the Bering Sea have changed since these red king crab closure areas 
were implemented. In 2008, NMFS implemented Amendment 80 to the FMP (72 
FR 52668, September 14, 2007). Amendment 80 established a catch share 
program to allocate specific non-pelagic groundfish species among 
specific defined participants (the Amendment 80 sector) and facilitate 
the formation of Amendment 80 cooperatives among those participants. 
Nineteen vessels were active in the Amendment 80 sector in 2016--this 
sector is the largest component of the non-pelagic trawl fishery. With 
the implementation of Amendment 80 to the FMP in 2008, vessels 
operating in Amendment 80 cooperatives were able to develop tools to 
reduce incidental catch of crab PSC.
    Participants in Amendment 80 cooperatives have reduced the amount 
of red king crab PSC through improved fishing practices that are 
possible now that participants in the Amendment 80 cooperative receive 
an allocation of specific groundfish species. These exclusive 
allocations provide opportunities for Amendment 80 cooperative 
participants to slow down or otherwise change their fishing operations 
to avoid red king crab. These modified fishing practices are not 
practicable when vessels are not provided an exclusive harvest 
allocation, participate in derby-style fisheries, and are competing 
with other vessels to harvest their groundfish as soon as possible.
    Although Amendment 80 cooperatives have undoubtedly helped to 
reduce red king crab bycatch in the sector's target fisheries, a 
combination of closed areas and PSC limits currently regulate red king 
crab PSC in trawl fisheries, including the Amendment 80 sector. For 
example, Area 516 of Zone 1 in the Bering Sea subarea closes annually 
to all trawl gear, including Amendment 80 vessels, from March 15 
through June 15, Sec.  679.22(a)(2).
    Regulations for groundfish fishing in the RKCSA, found at Sec.  
679.22(a)(3), close directed fishing for non-pelagic trawl gear in a 
portion of the Bering Sea subarea defined in Figure 11 to 50 CFR part 
679. Non-pelagic trawl gear is used by all Amendment 80 vessels in the 
Bering Sea.
    PSC limits for red king crab, found at Sec.  679.21(e)(1)(i), 
specify the annual PSC allowance of red king crab for all trawl vessels 
while engaged in directed fishing for groundfish in Zone 1. 
Approximately 50 percent of the Zone 1 red king crab PSC limit is 
apportioned to the Amendment 80 sector, and distributed as an allowance 
of crab to each Amendment 80 cooperative. In 2016, the Zone 1 PSC 
allowance for the AKSC is 30,834 red king crab.
    The Zone 1 red king crab PSC allowance, allowed the Amendment 80 
cooperatives to assign voluntary, vessel-level apportionments of PSC to 
vessels fishing in Zone 1. With these voluntary apportionments, vessel 
owners and operators in the sector began to share information about 
individual vessel PSC rates and avoid areas with high PSC rates for red 
king crab.
    The primary result of the improved crab avoidance and management 
tools is that AKSC and the remaining Amendment 80 sector participants 
have consistently stayed well under the Zone 1 red king crab PSC 
allowance. While the potential exists for crab PSC allowances and 
closure areas to constrain allocated catch in some Amendment 80 target 
fisheries, the Amendment 80 sector continues to actively explore how to 
further reduce crab PSC while preserving target fishery harvest 
opportunities.

Exempted Fishing Permit Application

    On August 25, 2016, the AKSC, an Amendment 80 cooperative, 
submitted an application for an EFP. We note that the AKSC submitted an 
application for similar EFP on October 2, 2015 (80 FR 72049, November 
18, 2015). That EFP application was subsequently withdrawn by the 
applicant to provide additional time for the applicants to address 
comments received on the experimental design during review at the 
December 2015 Council meeting. The application submitted by the AFSC on 
August 25, 2016, includes the additional information requested at the 
December 2015 Council meeting and a few modifications to the 
experimental design relative to the October 2, 2015, application.
    The EFP would allow up to five AKSC-member Amendment 80 vessels to 
conduct field tests in two subareas of the Bering Sea that are closed 
to trawl directed fisheries. Those two subareas are Reporting Area 516 
of Zone 1, which is closed to all trawl gear under Sec.  679.22(a)(2), 
and the RKCSA, which is closed to non-pelagic trawl gear under Sec.  
679.22(a)(3). The EFP would also allow up to five additional AKSC-
member Amendment 80 vessels to conduct simultaneous, paired field tests 
adjacent to the two closed subareas. If granted, this EFP would allow 
AKSC to

[[Page 84558]]

collect data on crab bycatch rates during commercial fishing operations 
on ten groundfish fishing vessels (targeting mostly flatfish) inside 
the Area 516 seasonal closure, the RKCSA, and adjacent areas that are 
currently open to non-pelagic trawl gear. The principle objective of 
the EFP is to compare red king crab bycatch rates and target flatfish 
catch rates inside and outside of the closed areas. Data collected 
under this EFP would inform whether a systematic survey of crab 
abundance in the closed area is warranted.
    AKSC proposes to conduct EFP fishing from January 20, 2017, through 
the end of April 2017. EFP fishing would begin again in late January 
2018 and end by April 30, 2018. Conducting EFP fishing over two winter/
spring seasons would increase the chance that data are collected over a 
wider range of environmental conditions that are expected to affect 
crab and flatfish abundance and location.
    To ensure data are available for valid comparisons of catch rates 
inside and outside the closed areas, participating vessels would fish 
both inside the closed areas and in adjacent areas outside the closed 
areas (as proportionally as possible) over the course of their Zone 1 
rock sole and yellowfin sole fishing each year of the EFP. The adjacent 
areas outside of the closed areas would be selected based on 
similarities in general depth and substrate type with areas fished in 
the RKCSA and Area 516 closed areas. To help ensure differences in 
bycatch rates reflect differences in relative abundance rather than the 
attributes of trawl gear used, the vessels participating in the EFP 
would keep their ground gear configuration (e.g., size of trawl net and 
width of footropes) as consistent as possible inside and outside of the 
closed areas.
    Under the EFP, sea samplers would be required for monitoring and 
data collection. Sea samplers are NMFS-certified observers that conduct 
activities under an EFP rather than normal observer activities on an 
Amendment 80 vessel.
    The sea samplers would conduct a census of all crab for all EFP 
tows inside the red king crab closed areas and in adjacent areas 
outside the red king crab closed areas. The census data would include a 
record of size and sex of each individual. Temperature and depth data 
will be collected by sea samplers for each tow. Sea samplers will also 
collect fishing operational information such as tow speed and tow 
length. AKSC will compare catch rates on different EFP vessels when 
fishing in similar areas to evaluate the degree to which individual 
vessels are impacting catch rates.
    To ensure observer sampling duties are undisturbed, expanded crab 
data collection under the census would be conducted in a manner that is 
completely separate from current observer sampling protocols. To 
accomplish this, the crab census would occur after all the catch passes 
over the vessel's flow scale and the observer has completed all 
sampling of unsorted catch for all Bering Sea EFP hauls.
    The ten vessels authorized to participate in this EFP would be 
required to comply with all the aggregate target species allocations 
that apply to the rest of the Amendment 80 sector, and would operate 
under the Amendment 80 crab and halibut PSC allowances available 
through membership in the AKSC. These allowances would apply to all EFP 
and non-EFP fishing during the year.
    Under the EFP, the AKSC and the member EFP vessels would be limited 
to the amount of aggregate groundfish allocations currently in 
regulation at 50 CFR part 679. Further, the amount of red king crab PSC 
accrued by the AKSC and under the EFP would not exceed the AKSC's 2017 
or 2018 red king crab allowance. All other crab limits and halibut 
mortality limits will continue to apply to the EFP activities, and are 
subject to review and approval by NMFS.
    At the end of EFP fishing in 2017, AKSC would be required to submit 
to NMFS a preliminary report of the EFP results on PSC use inside and 
outside of the closed areas and by target fishery. At the end of EFP 
fishing in 2018, a final, comprehensive EFP report would be submitted.
    The proposed action would exempt participating AKSC vessels from 
selected 50 CFR part 679 closed areas and PSC handling requirements. 
Should the Regional Administrator issue a permit based on this EFP 
application, the conditions of the permit would be designed to minimize 
PSC, and any potential for EFP participants to bias estimates of 
groundfish or PSC. Vessels participating in EFP fishing would be exempt 
from, at minimum, the following regulations:
    1. Closure to directed fishing by trawl gear in Reporting Area 516 
of Zone 1 in the Bering Sea subarea from March 15 through June 15, at 
Sec.  679.22(a)(2).
    2. Closure to directed fishing by non-pelagic trawl gear in the 
RKCSA, at Sec.  679.22(a)(3).
    3. The operator of each vessel, after allowing for sampling by an 
observer, return all prohibited species, or parts thereof, to the sea 
immediately, with a minimum of injury, regardless of its condition, at 
Sec.  679.21(a)(2)(ii).
    The EFP would be valid upon issuance in 2017 until either the end 
of designated EFP fishing in 2018 or until the AKSC Zone 1 red king 
crab PSC allowance is reached in areas of the BSAI open to directed 
fishing by the Amendment 80 cooperatives. EFP-authorized fishing 
activities would not be expected to change the nature or duration of 
the groundfish fishery, gear used, or the amount or species of fish 
caught by the Amendment 80 cooperatives.
    The fieldwork that would be conducted under this EFP is not 
expected to have a significant impact on the human environment as 
detailed in the categorical exclusion prepared for this action (see 
ADDRESSES).
    In accordance with Sec.  679.6, NMFS has determined that the 
application warrants further consideration and has forwarded the 
application to the Council to initiate consultation. The Council is 
scheduled to consider the EFP application during its December 2016 
meeting, which will be held at the Anchorage Hilton Hotel, Anchorage, 
AK. The EFP application will also be provided to the Council's 
Scientific and Statistical Committee for review at the December Council 
meeting. The applicant has been invited to appear in support of the 
application.

Public Comments

    Interested persons may comment on the EFP application at the 
December 2016 Council meeting during public testimony. Information 
regarding the meeting is available at the Council's Web site at http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/npfmc/council.htm. Comments also may be 
submitted directly to NMFS (see ADDRESSES) by the end of the comment 
period (see DATES). Copies of the application and categorical exclusion 
are available for review from NMFS (see ADDRESSES).

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

    Dated: November 18, 2016.
Emily H. Menashes,
Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2016-28274 Filed 11-22-16; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P