Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; Exempted Fishing Permits, 4856-4858 [2017-00791]

Download as PDF 4856 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 10 / Tuesday, January 17, 2017 / Notices Written, telefaxed, or email comments must be received on or before February 16, 2017. ADDRESSES: The application and related documents are available for review by selecting ‘‘Records Open for Public Comment’’ from the ‘‘Features’’ box on the Applications and Permits for Protected Species (APPS) home page, https://apps.nmfs.noaa.gov, and then selecting File No. 19508 from the list of available applications. These documents are also available upon written request or by appointment in the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Room 13705, Silver Spring, MD 20910; phone (301) 427–8401; fax (301) 713–0376. Written comments on this application should be submitted to the Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, at the address listed above. Comments may also be submitted by facsimile to (301) 713–0376, or by email to NMFS.Pr1Comments@noaa.gov. Please include the File No. in the subject line of the email comment. Those individuals requesting a public hearing should submit a written request to the Chief, Permits and Conservation Division at the address listed above. The request should set forth the specific reasons why a hearing on this application would be appropriate. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Carrie Hubard or Amy Hapeman, (301) 427–8401. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The subject permit is requested under the authority of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (ESA; 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) and the regulations governing the taking, importing, and exporting of endangered and threatened species (50 CFR parts 222–226). The applicant requests a five-year permit to examine patterns and trends in the abundance, distribution, movements, foraging ecology, and population structure of sea turtles. Research would occur in three study areas: (1) Indian River Lagoon, Florida; (2) Trident Turning Basin, Cape Canaveral, Florida; and (3) Northern and Eastern Gulf of Mexico, which includes waters up to 120 miles offshore from Louisiana to Western Florida. Researchers would capture sea turtles by tangle net, dip net, or by hand; annual requested take numbers per species vary by year and project. Sea turtles would have the following procedures performed before release: Measure, flipper tag, passive integrated transponder tag, photograph/video, gastric lavage, and scute, blood, fecal, and tissue sampling. A subset of sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES DATES: VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:21 Jan 13, 2017 Jkt 241001 animals would receive an epoxyattached transmitter before release. Dated: January 10, 2017. Julia Harrison, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2017–00811 Filed 1–13–17; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XF163 North Pacific Fishery Management Council; Public Meeting National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice of public meeting. AGENCY: The North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s (Council) Scallop Plan Team will meet February 22, 2017. DATES: The meeting will be held on Wednesday, February 22, 2017, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ADDRESSES: The meeting will be held at Fishermen’s Hall, 403 Marine Way, Kodiak, AK 99615. Council address: North Pacific Fishery Management Council, 605 W. 4th Ave., Suite 306, Anchorage, AK 99501–2252; telephone: (907) 271–2809. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jim Armstrong, Council staff; telephone: (907) 271–2809. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: SUMMARY: Agenda Wednesday, February 22, 2017 The agenda includes updating the status of the Statewide Scallop Stocks and Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation (SAFE) compilation, update on monitoring ocean acidification and its potential effect on the scallop stocks, update on new scallop assessment programs and a review of research priorities. The Agenda is subject to change, and the latest version will be posted at http://www.npfmc.org/ Special Accommodations The meeting is physically accessible to people with disabilities. Requests for sign language interpretation or other auxiliary aids should be directed to Shannon Gleason at (907) 271–2809 at least 7 working days prior to the meeting date. PO 00000 Frm 00019 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Dated: January 11, 2017. Jeffrey N. Lonergan, Acting Deputy Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2017–00887 Filed 1–13–17; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XF086 Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; Exempted Fishing Permits National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice of receipt of an application for an exempted fishing permit; availability of a draft environmental assessment; request for comments. AGENCY: NMFS announces the receipt of an application for an exempted fishing permit (EFP) from Dr. David Kerstetter of Nova Southeastern University to evaluate pelagic longline (PLL) catch and bycatch rates from within two different sub-areas in the northern portion of the East Florida Coast Pelagic Longline (PLL) Closed Area (north and south of 29°50′ N. lat.) and compare those rates to rates obtained by authorized samplers from outside the EFC PLL Closed Area and the availability of a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) analyzing the impacts of granting the application to conduct the research using commercial PLL vessels, with certain terms and conditions. The overall purpose of the research project would be to evaluate PLL catches and catch rates of target and non-target species within a portion of the EFC PLL Closed Area to evaluate the effectiveness of existing area closures at meeting current conservation and management goals under current conditions using standardized PLL gear on a specified number of commercial vessels. SUMMARY: Written comments on the issuance of the EFP or on the draft EA will be considered by NMFS and must be received on or before February 16, 2017. DATES: Comments may be submitted by any of the following methods: • Email: nmfs.hms.pllefp@noaa.gov. Include in the subject line the following identifier: 0648–XF086. ADDRESSES: E:\FR\FM\17JAN1.SGM 17JAN1 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 10 / Tuesday, January 17, 2017 / Notices • Mail: Margo Schulze-Haugen, Highly Migratory Species Management Division (F/SF1), NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Craig Cockrell at (301) 427–8503 or Rick Pearson at (727) 824–5399. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NMFS published a notice of intent to issue EFPs, Scientific Research Permits, Letters of Acknowledgement, and Chartering Permits for Atlantic highly migratory species (HMS) in 2017 (81 FR 80646, November 16, 2016). Although that notice anticipated a variety of applications, it also stated that occasionally, NMFS receives applications for research activities that were not anticipated, or for research that is outside the scope of general scientific sampling and tagging of Atlantic HMS, or rarely, for research that is particularly controversial and that NMFS will provide additional opportunity for public comment, consistent with the regulations at 50 CFR 600.745 if that were to occur. As discussed in the November 2016 notice of intent to issue EFPs and related permits, issuance of EFPs and related permits are necessary because HMS regulations (e.g., fishing seasons, prohibited species, authorized gear, closed areas, and minimum sizes) may otherwise prohibit activities that could be undertaken for scientific data collection or other valuable purposes. Thus, pursuant to 50 CFR parts 600 and 635, a NMFS Regional Administrator or Director may issue permits to authorize, for limited testing, public display, data collection, exploratory fishing, compensation fishing, conservation engineering, health and safety surveys, environmental cleanup, and/or hazard removal purposes, the target or incidental harvest of species managed under an FMP or fishery regulations that would otherwise be prohibited. These permits exempt permit holders from the specific portions of the regulations (e.g., fishing seasons, prohibited species, authorized gear, closed areas, and minimum sizes) that may otherwise prohibit the collection of HMS for public education, public display, or scientific research. The terms and conditions of individual permits are unique. EFPs and related permits are issued under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) (16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.) and/or the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act (ATCA) (16 U.S.C. 971 et seq.). NMFS closed the EFC area to PLL gear year-round in early 2001 (65 FR 47213, VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:21 Jan 13, 2017 Jkt 241001 August 1, 2000). The closure was implemented to reduce bycatch and incidental catch of overfished and protected species by PLL fishermen who target HMS because there was a noticeable difference in the bycatch of some non-target species (mainly undersized swordfish) between the EFC area and open areas. At the time, Atlantic blue marlin, white marlin, sailfish, bluefin tuna, and swordfish were overfished, and bycatch reduction was a component of rebuilding efforts. In particular, the United States was implementing a 1999 swordfish rebuilding plan, and the closure helped reduce bycatch of undersized swordfish. Several other laws required that NMFS address bycatch in the HMS fisheries, including the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which required reductions in sea turtle bycatch in the PLL fishery. National Standard 9 of the MSA also requires that fishery management plans minimize bycatch and bycatch mortality to the extent practicable. The closure has been in place for more than 15 years and, since 2001, a number of changes in stock status and fishery management measures have occurred. Specifically, North Atlantic swordfish has been rebuilt since 2009, current international assessments of white marlin and Western Atlantic sailfish indicate that overfishing is likely not occurring, the PLL fishery has been required since 2004 to use circle hooks instead of J-hooks to reduce sea turtle bycatch, and individual bluefin tuna quota (IBQ) allocations were implemented in the PLL fishery through Amendment 7 to the 2006 Consolidated HMS Fishery Management Plan in 2014 (79 FR 71509, December 2, 2014). Allowing limited access to the EFC PLL Closed Area for research purposes via an EFP would provide important data from the closed area under these changed conditions. NMFS has not obtained scientific data related to catch and bycatch rates from this area since 2010, and that data suggested that more research was needed due to the small sample size and poor spatial distribution of PLL sets in the research conducted from 2008–2010. The data resulting from the research under this EFP would be used to assess current bycatch rates during typical commercial fishing operations and to evaluate the effectiveness of the closed area in continuing to reduce bycatch of nontarget species (e.g., billfish, undersized swordfish, prohibited species, and protected species). It would also provide more current data about the socioeconomic impact of reduced catches of target species (swordfish and tunas) as PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 4857 a result of the closure, assess changes in species availability and distribution over time, and contribute to future stock assessments or other fishery management measures. Among the purposes of EFPs in the regulations are the ‘‘conduct of scientific research, the acquisition of information and data . . ., [and] the investigation of bycatch, economic discard and regulatory discard,’’ and such an EFP would be in furtherance of those purposes (§ 635.32(a)(1)). NMFS received an application to conduct research within two portions of the EFC PLL Closed Area and one portion of the open area (for comparative purposes) and has made a preliminary determination that it warrants further consideration and an opportunity for public comment. The application is available for review on the HMS Management Division’s Web site at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/ hms/compliance/efp/index.html. The research conducted within the EFC PLL Closed Area and in the open areas would be carried out by no more than six PLL vessels at any one time. An additional seven ‘‘backup’’ vessels could be used to conduct research as replacements if any mechanical or technical issues arise on the other six vessels. The proposed research project would be authorized for 12 months and, pending annual review of any changed environmental conditions or impacts and of catches and catch rates of all species, as well as individual vessel performance, may be re-authorized for two additional 12-month periods. A maximum of 1,080 sets per year (12 months) would be authorized to occur between the six vessels, and sets would be distributed evenly between two subareas of the EFC PLL Closed Area and one open area. Each set would consist of a maximum of 750 16/0 or larger circle hooks. NMFS invites comment on certain terms and conditions that we believe would be appropriate for inclusion on this EFP, if issued. The commercial vessels that would be participating in this EFP project are otherwise authorized to fish and, absent this EFP, would be conducting normal PLL fishing operations in open areas consistent with their past practices. NMFS conducted an analysis that compared projected catches if vessels were to continue fishing only in open areas (i.e., all effort in open areas) versus projected catches from fishing operations under the EFP (i.e., 2⁄3 effort in closed area and 1⁄3 effort in open area). The analysis indicated that fishing operations under the EFP could result in comparatively higher interactions with E:\FR\FM\17JAN1.SGM 17JAN1 4858 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 10 / Tuesday, January 17, 2017 / Notices sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with NOTICES dusky, silky, and night sharks. Many of the proposed terms and conditions are structured to maximize the survival of these shark species and to increase the Agency’s understanding of these data poor stocks. The proposed terms and conditions include: • During the proposed research project, 33 percent of sets occurring in both portions of the EFC PLL Closed Area and in open areas would be observed by NMFS-trained NOVA Southeastern University students or NMFS-approved observers. • NMFS would review 100 percent of electronic monitoring data for sets occurring in both portions of the EFC PLL Closed Area and in open areas. • After three dusky sharks are discarded dead by a vessel participating in the EFP, that vessel would be required to reduce the soak time of the gear to no longer than 10 hours when conducting fishing operations under the EFP. If, after reducing the soak time to no longer than 10 hours, an additional three dusky sharks are discarded dead, then that vessel would no longer be authorized to fish in the EFC PLL Closed Area under this EFP, if issued, for the remainder of the 12-month project period, unless otherwise permitted by NMFS. • All live sharks caught but not being retained must be safely sampled (e.g., fin clip) and photographed without removing the shark from the water. All fin clips and photographs would be sent to the Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC) for identification purposes. • All sharks that are dead at haul back, including prohibited species, and all sharks being retained for sale must be biologically sampled (e.g., vertebra and reproductive organs removed) to facilitate species identification and collection of life history information. All biological samples would be sent to the SEFSC. • Sets inside and outside of the closed areas would be equipped with hook timers, in accordance with protocols established by NMFS, to determine when animals were captured and when mortality occurs. Availability of a Draft Environmental Assessment NMFS is also announcing the availability of a draft EA that analyzes the potential impacts to the human environment of granting this EFP application for experimental PLL fishing within northern portions of the EFC PLL Closed Area and one area outside the Closed Area, as the request is described above. Among other analyzed impacts, the draft EA projects the annual catches VerDate Sep<11>2014 18:21 Jan 13, 2017 Jkt 241001 of all HMS species, as well as some nonHMS species interactions, from the EFC PLL Closed Area and open areas that could be expected to occur if this EFP is approved. Additionally, the draft EA describes NMFS’ rationale for the preferred alternative and other alternatives under consideration for this research. The draft EA may be found on the HMS Management Division’s Web site at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/ hms/compliance/efp/index.html. Comments on the draft EA may be submitted via the methods outlined in the ADDRESSES section of this notice. Authority: 16 U.S.C. 971 et seq. and 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. Dated: January 10, 2017. Emily H. Menashes, Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2017–00791 Filed 1–13–17; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–XF153 Marine Mammals; File No. 20043 National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice; receipt of application. AGENCY: Notice is hereby given that Whitlow Au, Ph.D., University of Hawaii, P.O. Box 1346, Kaneohe, HI 96744, has applied in due form for a permit to conduct research on marine mammals in Hawaii. DATES: Written, telefaxed, or email comments must be received on or before February 16, 2017. ADDRESSES: The application and related documents are available for review by selecting ‘‘Records Open for Public Comment’’ from the ‘‘Features’’ box on the Applications and Permits for Protected Species (APPS) home page, https://apps.nmfs.noaa.gov, and then selecting File No. 20043 from the list of available applications. These documents are also available upon written request or by appointment in the Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Room 13705, Silver Spring, MD 20910; phone (301) 427–8401; fax (301) 713–0376. Written comments on this application should be submitted to the Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, at the address listed above. Comments may SUMMARY: PO 00000 Frm 00021 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 also be submitted by facsimile to (301) 713–0376, or by email to NMFS.Pr1Comments@noaa.gov. Please include the File No. in the subject line of the email comment. Those individuals requesting a public hearing should submit a written request to the Chief, Permits and Conservation Division at the address listed above. The request should set forth the specific reasons why a hearing on this application would be appropriate. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Sara Young or Carrie Hubard, (301) 427– 8401. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The subject permit is requested under the authority of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, as amended (MMPA; 16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.) and the regulations governing the taking and importing of marine mammals (50 CFR part 216), the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (ESA; 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), and the regulations governing the taking, importing, and exporting of endangered and threatened species (50 CFR 222–226). The applicant requests a five-year permit to investigate the population dynamics and behavior of cetaceans around Hawaii and the Pacific, to study: (1) The behavior and use of the acoustic environment by large whales, and (2) the effects of noise on behavior of cetaceans around Hawaii. The applicant proposes to use genetic sampling, suction-cup acoustic recording tags, high frequency pinger tags, biopsy sampling, darted satellite tags, acoustic recording, underwater video recording, behavioral observation, photoidentification, and acoustic playbacks. Target species would be: Blainville’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon densirostris), Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris), killer whale (Orcinus orca), humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), dwarf sperm whale (Kogia sima), pygmy sperm whale (K. breviceps), short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus), false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens), pygmy killer whale (Feresa attenuata), melon-headed whale (Peponocephala electra), short-beaked common dolphin (D. delphis), striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba), spinner dolphin (S. longirostris), pantropical spotted dolphin (S. attenuata), bottlenose dolphin (Turisiops truncatus), Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus), Pacific white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens), and rough-toothed dolphin (Steno bredanensis). In compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), an initial E:\FR\FM\17JAN1.SGM 17JAN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 82, Number 10 (Tuesday, January 17, 2017)]
[Notices]
[Pages 4856-4858]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2017-00791]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-XF086


Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; Exempted Fishing Permits

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

ACTION: Notice of receipt of an application for an exempted fishing 
permit; availability of a draft environmental assessment; request for 
comments.

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

SUMMARY: NMFS announces the receipt of an application for an exempted 
fishing permit (EFP) from Dr. David Kerstetter of Nova Southeastern 
University to evaluate pelagic longline (PLL) catch and bycatch rates 
from within two different sub-areas in the northern portion of the East 
Florida Coast Pelagic Longline (PLL) Closed Area (north and south of 
29[deg]50' N. lat.) and compare those rates to rates obtained by 
authorized samplers from outside the EFC PLL Closed Area and the 
availability of a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) analyzing the 
impacts of granting the application to conduct the research using 
commercial PLL vessels, with certain terms and conditions. The overall 
purpose of the research project would be to evaluate PLL catches and 
catch rates of target and non-target species within a portion of the 
EFC PLL Closed Area to evaluate the effectiveness of existing area 
closures at meeting current conservation and management goals under 
current conditions using standardized PLL gear on a specified number of 
commercial vessels.

DATES: Written comments on the issuance of the EFP or on the draft EA 
will be considered by NMFS and must be received on or before February 
16, 2017.

ADDRESSES: Comments may be submitted by any of the following methods:
     Email: nmfs.hms.pllefp@noaa.gov. Include in the subject 
line the following identifier: 0648-XF086.

[[Page 4857]]

     Mail: Margo Schulze-Haugen, Highly Migratory Species 
Management Division (F/SF1), NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver 
Spring, MD 20910.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Craig Cockrell at (301) 427-8503 or 
Rick Pearson at (727) 824-5399.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NMFS published a notice of intent to issue 
EFPs, Scientific Research Permits, Letters of Acknowledgement, and 
Chartering Permits for Atlantic highly migratory species (HMS) in 2017 
(81 FR 80646, November 16, 2016). Although that notice anticipated a 
variety of applications, it also stated that occasionally, NMFS 
receives applications for research activities that were not 
anticipated, or for research that is outside the scope of general 
scientific sampling and tagging of Atlantic HMS, or rarely, for 
research that is particularly controversial and that NMFS will provide 
additional opportunity for public comment, consistent with the 
regulations at 50 CFR 600.745 if that were to occur.
    As discussed in the November 2016 notice of intent to issue EFPs 
and related permits, issuance of EFPs and related permits are necessary 
because HMS regulations (e.g., fishing seasons, prohibited species, 
authorized gear, closed areas, and minimum sizes) may otherwise 
prohibit activities that could be undertaken for scientific data 
collection or other valuable purposes. Thus, pursuant to 50 CFR parts 
600 and 635, a NMFS Regional Administrator or Director may issue 
permits to authorize, for limited testing, public display, data 
collection, exploratory fishing, compensation fishing, conservation 
engineering, health and safety surveys, environmental cleanup, and/or 
hazard removal purposes, the target or incidental harvest of species 
managed under an FMP or fishery regulations that would otherwise be 
prohibited. These permits exempt permit holders from the specific 
portions of the regulations (e.g., fishing seasons, prohibited species, 
authorized gear, closed areas, and minimum sizes) that may otherwise 
prohibit the collection of HMS for public education, public display, or 
scientific research. The terms and conditions of individual permits are 
unique. EFPs and related permits are issued under the authority of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization 
Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) (16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.) and/or the Atlantic 
Tunas Convention Act (ATCA) (16 U.S.C. 971 et seq.).
    NMFS closed the EFC area to PLL gear year-round in early 2001 (65 
FR 47213, August 1, 2000). The closure was implemented to reduce 
bycatch and incidental catch of overfished and protected species by PLL 
fishermen who target HMS because there was a noticeable difference in 
the bycatch of some non-target species (mainly undersized swordfish) 
between the EFC area and open areas. At the time, Atlantic blue marlin, 
white marlin, sailfish, bluefin tuna, and swordfish were overfished, 
and bycatch reduction was a component of rebuilding efforts. In 
particular, the United States was implementing a 1999 swordfish 
rebuilding plan, and the closure helped reduce bycatch of undersized 
swordfish. Several other laws required that NMFS address bycatch in the 
HMS fisheries, including the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which 
required reductions in sea turtle bycatch in the PLL fishery. National 
Standard 9 of the MSA also requires that fishery management plans 
minimize bycatch and bycatch mortality to the extent practicable.
    The closure has been in place for more than 15 years and, since 
2001, a number of changes in stock status and fishery management 
measures have occurred. Specifically, North Atlantic swordfish has been 
rebuilt since 2009, current international assessments of white marlin 
and Western Atlantic sailfish indicate that overfishing is likely not 
occurring, the PLL fishery has been required since 2004 to use circle 
hooks instead of J-hooks to reduce sea turtle bycatch, and individual 
bluefin tuna quota (IBQ) allocations were implemented in the PLL 
fishery through Amendment 7 to the 2006 Consolidated HMS Fishery 
Management Plan in 2014 (79 FR 71509, December 2, 2014). Allowing 
limited access to the EFC PLL Closed Area for research purposes via an 
EFP would provide important data from the closed area under these 
changed conditions. NMFS has not obtained scientific data related to 
catch and bycatch rates from this area since 2010, and that data 
suggested that more research was needed due to the small sample size 
and poor spatial distribution of PLL sets in the research conducted 
from 2008-2010. The data resulting from the research under this EFP 
would be used to assess current bycatch rates during typical commercial 
fishing operations and to evaluate the effectiveness of the closed area 
in continuing to reduce bycatch of non-target species (e.g., billfish, 
undersized swordfish, prohibited species, and protected species). It 
would also provide more current data about the socio-economic impact of 
reduced catches of target species (swordfish and tunas) as a result of 
the closure, assess changes in species availability and distribution 
over time, and contribute to future stock assessments or other fishery 
management measures. Among the purposes of EFPs in the regulations are 
the ``conduct of scientific research, the acquisition of information 
and data . . ., [and] the investigation of bycatch, economic discard 
and regulatory discard,'' and such an EFP would be in furtherance of 
those purposes (Sec.  635.32(a)(1)).
    NMFS received an application to conduct research within two 
portions of the EFC PLL Closed Area and one portion of the open area 
(for comparative purposes) and has made a preliminary determination 
that it warrants further consideration and an opportunity for public 
comment. The application is available for review on the HMS Management 
Division's Web site at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/hms/compliance/efp/index.html. The research conducted within the EFC PLL Closed Area and 
in the open areas would be carried out by no more than six PLL vessels 
at any one time. An additional seven ``backup'' vessels could be used 
to conduct research as replacements if any mechanical or technical 
issues arise on the other six vessels. The proposed research project 
would be authorized for 12 months and, pending annual review of any 
changed environmental conditions or impacts and of catches and catch 
rates of all species, as well as individual vessel performance, may be 
re-authorized for two additional 12-month periods. A maximum of 1,080 
sets per year (12 months) would be authorized to occur between the six 
vessels, and sets would be distributed evenly between two sub-areas of 
the EFC PLL Closed Area and one open area. Each set would consist of a 
maximum of 750 16/0 or larger circle hooks.
    NMFS invites comment on certain terms and conditions that we 
believe would be appropriate for inclusion on this EFP, if issued. The 
commercial vessels that would be participating in this EFP project are 
otherwise authorized to fish and, absent this EFP, would be conducting 
normal PLL fishing operations in open areas consistent with their past 
practices. NMFS conducted an analysis that compared projected catches 
if vessels were to continue fishing only in open areas (i.e., all 
effort in open areas) versus projected catches from fishing operations 
under the EFP (i.e., \2/3\ effort in closed area and \1/3\ effort in 
open area). The analysis indicated that fishing operations under the 
EFP could result in comparatively higher interactions with

[[Page 4858]]

dusky, silky, and night sharks. Many of the proposed terms and 
conditions are structured to maximize the survival of these shark 
species and to increase the Agency's understanding of these data poor 
stocks. The proposed terms and conditions include:
     During the proposed research project, 33 percent of sets 
occurring in both portions of the EFC PLL Closed Area and in open areas 
would be observed by NMFS-trained NOVA Southeastern University students 
or NMFS-approved observers.
     NMFS would review 100 percent of electronic monitoring 
data for sets occurring in both portions of the EFC PLL Closed Area and 
in open areas.
     After three dusky sharks are discarded dead by a vessel 
participating in the EFP, that vessel would be required to reduce the 
soak time of the gear to no longer than 10 hours when conducting 
fishing operations under the EFP. If, after reducing the soak time to 
no longer than 10 hours, an additional three dusky sharks are discarded 
dead, then that vessel would no longer be authorized to fish in the EFC 
PLL Closed Area under this EFP, if issued, for the remainder of the 12-
month project period, unless otherwise permitted by NMFS.
     All live sharks caught but not being retained must be 
safely sampled (e.g., fin clip) and photographed without removing the 
shark from the water. All fin clips and photographs would be sent to 
the Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC) for identification 
purposes.
     All sharks that are dead at haul back, including 
prohibited species, and all sharks being retained for sale must be 
biologically sampled (e.g., vertebra and reproductive organs removed) 
to facilitate species identification and collection of life history 
information. All biological samples would be sent to the SEFSC.
     Sets inside and outside of the closed areas would be 
equipped with hook timers, in accordance with protocols established by 
NMFS, to determine when animals were captured and when mortality 
occurs.

Availability of a Draft Environmental Assessment

    NMFS is also announcing the availability of a draft EA that 
analyzes the potential impacts to the human environment of granting 
this EFP application for experimental PLL fishing within northern 
portions of the EFC PLL Closed Area and one area outside the Closed 
Area, as the request is described above. Among other analyzed impacts, 
the draft EA projects the annual catches of all HMS species, as well as 
some non-HMS species interactions, from the EFC PLL Closed Area and 
open areas that could be expected to occur if this EFP is approved. 
Additionally, the draft EA describes NMFS' rationale for the preferred 
alternative and other alternatives under consideration for this 
research. The draft EA may be found on the HMS Management Division's 
Web site at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/hms/compliance/efp/index.html. 
Comments on the draft EA may be submitted via the methods outlined in 
the ADDRESSES section of this notice.

    Authority:  16 U.S.C. 971 et seq. and 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.

    Dated: January 10, 2017.
Emily H. Menashes,
Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2017-00791 Filed 1-13-17; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P