Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act Provisions; Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Essential Fish Habitat, 46749-46752 [2017-21560]

Download as PDF asabaliauskas on DSKBBXCHB2PROD with PROPOSALS Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 193 / Friday, October 6, 2017 / Proposed Rules proposal had a 60-day comment period, ending December 5, 2016. We also solicited and received independent scientific review of the information contained in the proposed rule from peer reviewers with expertise in the Louisiana pinesnake or similar species, in accordance with our July 1, 1994, peer review policy (59 FR 34270). For a description of previous Federal actions concerning the Louisiana pinesnake, please refer to the proposed listing rule. Section 4(b)(6) of the Act and its implementing regulations at 50 CFR 424.17(a) require that we take one of three actions within 1 year of a proposed listing and concurrent proposed designation of critical habitat: (1) Finalize the proposed rule; (2) withdraw the proposed rule; or (3) extend the final determination by not more than 6 months, if there is substantial disagreement regarding the sufficiency or accuracy of the available data relevant to the determination. Since the publication of the October 6, 2016, proposed listing rule (81 FR 69454), there has been substantial disagreement regarding available information related to the interpretation of the available survey data used to determine the Louisiana pinesnake’s status and trends. Specifically, during the public comment period, we received multiple comments on the proposed listing and the sufficiency or accuracy of the available data used to support it. In particular, the comments reflected significant disagreement, including from one of the peer reviewers, regarding the interpretation of the available data used to determine the Louisiana pinesnake’s status and trends, including the current conservation status of the Louisiana pinesnake in Louisiana and, particularly, in Texas. Therefore, in consideration of these disagreements, we have determined that a 6-month extension of the final determination for this rulemaking is necessary, and we are hereby extending the final determination for 6 months in order to solicit and consider additional information that will help to clarify these issues and to fully analyze data that are relevant to our final listing determination. With this 6-month extension, we will make a final determination on the proposed rule no later than April 6, 2018. Information Requested We will accept written comments and information during this reopened comment period on our proposed listing rule. We will consider information and recommendations from all interested parties. We intend that any final action resulting from the proposal be as VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:27 Oct 05, 2017 Jkt 244001 accurate as possible and based on the best available scientific and commercial data. We are particularly interested in new information and comments regarding: (1) The interpretation of scientific literature in the proposed rulemaking, and whether we overlooked any scientific literature in our analysis. In particular, some commenters expressed concern that there is insufficient scientific information (survey data in particular) to adequately assess the conservation status of the species, while others expressed concern that the available scientific information supports an endangered determination. (2) Additional survey information, including maps, throughout the Louisiana pinesnake’s range, especially for Texas. (3) Trapping results to determine the Louisiana pinesnake’s estimated occupied habitat areas (EOHAs). During the peer review period, peer reviewers were critical of methods used to determine EOHAs and questioned the interpretation that resulted from our analysis. If you previously submitted comments or information on the October 6, 2016, proposed rule (81 FR 69454), please do not resubmit them. We have incorporated previously submitted comments into the public record, and we will fully consider them in the preparation of our final determination. Our final determination concerning the proposed listing will take into consideration all written comments and any additional information we receive. You may submit your comments and materials concerning the proposed rule by one of the methods listed in ADDRESSES, above. We request that you send comments only by the methods described in ADDRESSES. If you submit information via http:// www.regulations.gov, your entire submission—including any personal identifying information—will be posted on the Web site. If your submission is made via a hardcopy that includes personal identifying information, you may request at the top of your document that we withhold this information from public review. However, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so. We will post all hardcopy submissions on http://www.regulations.gov. Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting documentation we used in preparing the proposed rule, will be available for public inspection on http://www.regulations.gov, or by appointment, during normal business hours, at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Louisiana Ecological Services PO 00000 Frm 00034 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 46749 Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Authority: The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). Dated: August 30, 2017. James W. Kurth, Acting Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. [FR Doc. 2017–21591 Filed 10–5–17; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 4333–15–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 648 RIN 0648–BF82 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act Provisions; Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Essential Fish Habitat National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice of availability of fishery management plan amendment; request for comments. AGENCY: The New England Fishery Management Council has submitted the Omnibus Essential Fish Habitat Amendment 2, incorporating an Environmental Impact Statement, for review by the Secretary of Commerce. NMFS is requesting comments from the public on the Omnibus Amendment, which was developed by the Council to revise the essential fish habitat designations for each Council-managed species, designate Habitat Areas of Particular Concern, revise the system of essential fish habitat management areas, address seasonal groundfish spawning spatial management, establish Dedicated Habitat Research Areas, and identify actions that can be modified by framework and other administrative concerns relating to the Amendment. The intended effect of this action is to ensure the Council’s fishery management plans comply with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act’s requirements to routinely review and update essential fish habitat designations and to continue to minimize to the extent practicable the adverse effects of fishing on such designated habitat. DATES: Public comments must be received on or before December 5, 2017. SUMMARY: E:\FR\FM\06OCP1.SGM 06OCP1 46750 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 193 / Friday, October 6, 2017 / Proposed Rules You may submit comments on this document, identified by NOAA– NMFS–2017–0123, 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-2017-0123 click the ‘‘Comment Now!’’ icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments. • Mail: Submit written comments to John K. Bullard, Regional Administrator, NMFS, Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930. Mark the outside of the envelope: ‘‘Comments on Omnibus EFH Amendment.’’ 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, etc.), confidential business information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily by the commenter may be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter ‘‘N/ A’’ in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous). Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word, Excel, or Adobe PDF file formats only. Copies of the Omnibus Amendment, including its Environmental Impact Statement, preliminary Regulatory Impact Review, and Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (EIS/RIR/IRFA), are available from the New England Fishery Management Council, 50 Water Street, Newburyport, MA 01950. The EIS/RIR/ IRFA is also accessible via the Internet at: www.greater atlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov. ADDRESSES: FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Moira Kelly, Senior Fishery Program Specialist, (978) 281–9218; fax: (978) 281–9135, Moira.Kelly@noaa.gov. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: asabaliauskas on DSKBBXCHB2PROD with PROPOSALS Background The Omnibus Essential Fish Habitat Amendment 2 (Omnibus EFH Amendment) was initiated to review and update the essential fish habitat (EFH) designations, the habitat area of particular concern (HAPC) designations, and the habitat-related spatial management program for the New England Fishery Management Council’s suite of fishery management plans VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:27 Oct 05, 2017 Jkt 244001 (FMP). Omnibus EFH Amendment was developed over several years, with the first half dedicated to updating the EFH designations and consideration of HAPCs. The remainder of the development was focused on revising the system of year-round closed areas, which restrict some types of fishing gear in order to protect vulnerable habitat and establish a system of Dedicated Habitat Research Areas (DHRAs). Prior to consideration of management area changes, the Council determined it was important to consider revisions to the year-round groundfish closures together because of the substantial overlap with the habitat management closures. The Council established 10 goals and 14 objectives to guide the development of this action. Goals 1–8 were established in 2004, at the onset of the Amendment’s development, and focus on identification of EFH, fishing and non-fishing activities that may adversely affect EFH, and the development of measures and management programs to conserve, protect, and enhance EFH and to minimize to the extent practicable the adverse effects of fishing on EFH. The additional goals (9 and 10) were developed after the Council voted to incorporate revision of the groundfish closures in the Amendment. These goals are focused on enhancing groundfish productivity and maximizing the societal net benefits from groundfish. The 14 objectives map to 1 or more of the Amendment’s goals and provide more specific guidance on how to achieve that goal. For example, the objectives include identifying new data sources upon which to base the EFH designations (Objective A), developing analytical tools for EFH designation, minimization of adverse impacts, and monitoring the effectiveness of measures (Objective D; Goals 1, 3, and 5). Other objectives include modifying fishing methods to reduce impacts (Objective E; Goal 4), supporting the restoration of degraded habitat (Objective F; Goal 4), improved groundfish spawning protection, including protection of localized spawning contingents, and improved protection of critical groundfish habitats (Goals 9 and 10). Please see Volume 1, Section 3 of the in the EIS for more details on the goals and objectives of this Amendment. Proposed Measures 1. Essential Fish Habitat Designations The Council proposes to update the EFH designations for all species and all life stages for which more recent information is available. EFH is defined as those waters and substrate necessary PO 00000 Frm 00035 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity. EFH designations consist of two complementary elements, the text descriptions, and the map representations. Any specific area is only considered EFH if it is displayed in the EFH map and meets the conditions defined in the text description. Thus, the two components of EFH must be used in conjunction with one another when applying EFH designations to fishery management, EFH consultation, or other questions. A full description of the updated designations, including maps of the designations, can be found in Volume 2 of the EIS. In addition, a thorough discussion of the methods and approaches used to assemble the designations is provided in the EIS. The quality and quantity of information varied by species, so a single approach for all Council-managed species and lifestage is not possible. The Council relied upon the best available scientific information for each species. 2. Habitat Areas of Particular Concern Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (HAPC) are intended to highlight specific areas of EFH that require additional consideration. HAPC designations should be based on one or more of the following criteria: (1) The importance of the ecological function provided by the habitat, including both the historical and current ecological function; (2) the extent to which the habitat is sensitive to human-induced environmental degradation; (3) whether, and to what extent, development activities are, or will be, stressing the habitat type; and (4) the rarity of the habitat type (50 CFR 600.815(a)(8)). The Council considered proposals from the public using additional criteria in designating HAPCs, including whether the designation would improve fisheries management in the exclusive economic zone, include EFH for more than one Council-managed species, include juvenile cod EFH, and meet more than one of the regulatory HAPC criteria listed above. Discussion of the areas considered and the eight criteria listed above can be found in Volume 2 of the EIS. The Council is recommending that the current Atlantic Salmon HAPC and the Northern Edge Juvenile Cod HAPC remain as designated because they continue to meet the criteria listed above. In addition, the Council is recommending the following areas as new HAPCs: Inshore Juvenile Cod HAPC; Great South Channel Juvenile Cod HAPC; Cashes Ledge HAPC; Jeffreys Ledge/Stellwagen Bank HAPC; Bear and Retriever Seamounts; and E:\FR\FM\06OCP1.SGM 06OCP1 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 193 / Friday, October 6, 2017 / Proposed Rules asabaliauskas on DSKBBXCHB2PROD with PROPOSALS eleven canyon/canyon complexes (Heezen; Lydonia, Gilbert, and Oceanographers; Hydrographer; Veatch; Alvin, and Atlantis; Hudson; Toms, Middle Toms, and Hendrickson; Wilmington; Baltimore; Washington; and Norfolk). Maps and coordinates for the HAPC designations can be found in Volume 2 of the EIS. 3. Spatial Management for Adverse Effects Minimization The Magnuson-Stevens Act requires that fishery management plans evaluate and minimize, to the extent practicable, the adverse effects of fishing on designated EFH. The evaluation should consider the effects of each fishing activity on each type of habitat found with EFH. Councils must prevent, mitigate, or minimize any adverse effects from fishing on EFH, to the extent practicable, if there is evidence that a fishing activity adversely affects EFH in a manner that is more than minimal and not temporary in nature. To that end, the Council is recommending the following habitat management areas (HMA) and restrictions. Full descriptions, including maps and coordinates of the Council’s recommendations, can be found in Volume 3 of the EIS. In the Eastern Gulf of Maine, the Council recommends establishing the Small Eastern Maine HMA, closed to all mobile bottom-tending gears. In the Central Gulf of Maine, the Council recommends maintaining the existing Cashes Ledge Groundfish Closure Area, with its current fishing restrictions and exemptions; modifying the existing Jeffreys Bank and Cashes Ledge Habitat Closure Areas, with their current fishing restrictions and exemptions; establishing the Fippennies Ledge HMA, closed to mobile bottomtending gear; and establishing the Ammen Rock HMA, closed to all fishing except lobster traps. In the Western Gulf of Maine, the Council recommends maintaining the existing Western Gulf of Maine Habitat Closure Area, closed to mobile bottomtending gears, and modifying the eastern boundary of the Western Gulf of Maine Closure Area to align with the habitat closure area, while maintaining the current fishing restrictions and requirements for both areas. The Council also recommends creating an exemption area within the northwest corner of those closures for shrimp trawls and designating the existing Roller Gear Restricted Area requirements as a habitat protection measure. On Georges Bank, the Council recommends removing the year-round VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:27 Oct 05, 2017 Jkt 244001 and habitat closures of Closed Areas I and II and replacing them with three new areas: (1) The Georges Shoal 2 HMA, closed to mobile bottom-tending gear, with a one-year delay in closure to hydraulic clam dredges; (2) the Northern Edge Reduced Impact HMA, closed to mobile bottom-tending gear, with two exceptions described below; and (3) the Northern Edge Mobile Bottom-Tending Gear HMA, closed to mobile bottom-tending gear without any exceptions. Exemptions to the Reduced Impact HMA are scallop dredge fishing in accordance with the scallop rotational area program, and trawl fishing to the west of the existing western boundary of Closed Area II (67°20′ W. long.), in what is now the Eastern Georges Bank Special Access Program. In addition, any portions of the Closed Area II groundfish closed area north of 41°30′ N. lat. would be closed to scallop fishing between June 15 and October 31 of each year. The remainder of the existing Closed Area I Habitat and Groundfish Closure Areas and Closed Area II Groundfish Closure Area would be opened, except for seasonal spawning protection as described below. In the Great South Channel, the Council recommends establishing the Great South Channel HMA, closed to mobile bottom-tending gear. Closure to hydraulic clam dredges would be delayed for one year, outside of the northeast corner of the area. The Council also recommends establishing two HMAs on Cox Ledge, closed to hydraulic clam dredges, and requiring no ground cables on trawls fishing in the areas. The Nantucket Lightship Habitat Closure Area and the Nantucket Lightship Closed Area would be removed. 4. Groundfish Spawning Protections In the Gulf of Maine, the Council recommends establishing the Massachusetts Bay Cod Spawning Protection Area from November through January of each year and closing statistical block 125 for the first half of April each year (the ‘‘Spring Massachusetts Bay Spawning Protection Area.’’) The Massachusetts Bay Spawning Protection Area would be closed to all vessels, except those that do not have a Federal Northeast multispecies permit and are fishing exclusively in state waters; that are fishing with exempted gears (Pelagic hook and line, pelagic longline, spears, rakes, diving gear, cast nets, tongs, harpoons, weirs, dipnets, stop nets, pound nets, pelagic gillnets, pots and traps, shrimp trawls (with a properly configured grate), and surfclam and PO 00000 Frm 00036 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 46751 ocean quahog dredges); charter/party or recreational fishing vessels, provided that pelagic hook and line gear is used, and there is no retention of regulated species or ocean pout; and vessels that are transiting. The Spring Massachusetts Bay Spawning Protection Area would be closed to all vessels, except vessels that do not have a Federal Northeast multispecies permit and are fishing exclusively in state waters; vessels fishing with exempted gears (Pelagic hook and line, pelagic longline, spears, rakes, diving gear, cast nets, tongs, harpoons, weirs, dipnets, stop nets, pound nets, pelagic gillnets, pots and traps, shrimp trawls (with a properly configured grate), and surfclam and ocean quahog dredges); vessels participating in the mid-water trawl exempted fishery; vessels participating in the purse seine exempted fishery, sea scallop dredge gear when under a scallop day-at-sea; vessels lawfully in a scallop dredge exemption area; vessels that are transiting; charter and party vessels; and recreational vessels. On Georges Bank, the Council recommends converting the existing groundfish closure area, Closed Area II, and the existing habitat area, Closed Area I North, into seasonal closures. Both areas would be closed from February 1 through April 15 of each year to all commercial and recreational gears that catch groundfish, except scallop dredges, vessels fishing with exempted gears, vessels participating in the mid-water trawl fishery, and vessels that are transiting. 5. Dedicated Habitat Research Areas Dedicated Habitat Research Areas (DHRAs) are intended to facilitate more focused research on fishing gear impacts on habitat or other issues related to habitat and fisheries productivity. The Council is recommending two DHRAs in this amendment. The Stellwagen DHRA would be implemented with the same restrictions as the Western Gulf of Maine closed areas described above. The Georges Bank DHRA, which is the same footprint as the current Closed Area I South Habitat Closure Area, would be closed to mobile bottomtending gear. The Council is recommending these DHRAs in combination with a threeyear sunset provision. If approved, three years after implementation, the Regional Administrator would initiate a review of the DHRAs and the research activity being conducted within them. If no research has been conducted or initiated to further the Council’s habitat-related questions, the Regional Administrator may, after consultation with the Council, remove the DHRA designation. E:\FR\FM\06OCP1.SGM 06OCP1 46752 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 193 / Friday, October 6, 2017 / Proposed Rules 6. Framework and Administrative Actions asabaliauskas on DSKBBXCHB2PROD with PROPOSALS The Council is recommending three administrative actions as part of the Omnibus EFH Amendment. First, additional spatial management measures, including designation or removal of HMAs and changes to fishing restrictions within HMAs, would be added to the list of frameworkable items for all fisheries. Second, a strategic process would be established to routinely evaluate the boundaries, scope, characteristics, and timing of the habitat and spawning protection areas, including a technical review that evaluates the performance of these areas at 10-year intervals following implementation. A list of questions to guide this review are provided in Volume 3 of the EIS. Third, building on VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:27 Oct 05, 2017 Jkt 244001 what the Council learned during the review of the performance of existing closed areas and the development of new EFH management in this amendment, the Council would identify and periodically revise research priorities to improve habitat and spawning area monitoring. Public Comment Instructions Public comments on the Omnibus EFH Amendment and its incorporated documents may be submitted through the end of the comment period stated in this notice of availability. A proposed rule to implement the Amendment, including draft regulatory text, will be published in the Federal Register for public comment. Public comments on the proposed rule received by the end of the comment period provided in this notice of availability will be considered PO 00000 Frm 00037 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 9990 in the approval/disapproval decision on the amendment. All comments received by December 5, 2017, whether specifically directed to the Omnibus EFH Amendment or the proposed rule for this amendment, will be considered in the approval/disapproval decision on the Omnibus EFH Amendment. Comments received after that date will not be considered in the decision to approve or disapprove the Amendment. To be considered, comments must be received by close of business on the last day of the comment period. Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. Dated: October 3, 2017. Alan D. Risenhoover, Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2017–21560 Filed 10–5–17; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P E:\FR\FM\06OCP1.SGM 06OCP1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 82, Number 193 (Friday, October 6, 2017)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 46749-46752]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2017-21560]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 648

RIN 0648-BF82


Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act 
Provisions; Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Essential Fish 
Habitat

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

ACTION: Notice of availability of fishery management plan amendment; 
request for comments.

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

SUMMARY: The New England Fishery Management Council has submitted the 
Omnibus Essential Fish Habitat Amendment 2, incorporating an 
Environmental Impact Statement, for review by the Secretary of 
Commerce. NMFS is requesting comments from the public on the Omnibus 
Amendment, which was developed by the Council to revise the essential 
fish habitat designations for each Council-managed species, designate 
Habitat Areas of Particular Concern, revise the system of essential 
fish habitat management areas, address seasonal groundfish spawning 
spatial management, establish Dedicated Habitat Research Areas, and 
identify actions that can be modified by framework and other 
administrative concerns relating to the Amendment. The intended effect 
of this action is to ensure the Council's fishery management plans 
comply with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management 
Act's requirements to routinely review and update essential fish 
habitat designations and to continue to minimize to the extent 
practicable the adverse effects of fishing on such designated habitat.

DATES: Public comments must be received on or before December 5, 2017.

[[Page 46750]]


ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by 
NOAA-NMFS-2017-0123, 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-2017-0123 click the 
``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or 
attach your comments.
     Mail: Submit written comments to John K. Bullard, Regional 
Administrator, NMFS, Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office, 55 
Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930. Mark the outside of the 
envelope: ``Comments on Omnibus EFH Amendment.''
    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, etc.), confidential business 
information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily 
by the commenter may be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous 
comments (enter ``N/A'' in the required fields if you wish to remain 
anonymous). Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in 
Microsoft Word, Excel, or Adobe PDF file formats only.
    Copies of the Omnibus Amendment, including its Environmental Impact 
Statement, preliminary Regulatory Impact Review, and Initial Regulatory 
Flexibility Analysis (EIS/RIR/IRFA), are available from the New England 
Fishery Management Council, 50 Water Street, Newburyport, MA 01950. The 
EIS/RIR/IRFA is also accessible via the Internet at: 
www.greateratlantic.fisheries.noaa.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Moira Kelly, Senior Fishery Program 
Specialist, (978) 281-9218; fax: (978) 281-9135, Moira.Kelly@noaa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Background

    The Omnibus Essential Fish Habitat Amendment 2 (Omnibus EFH 
Amendment) was initiated to review and update the essential fish 
habitat (EFH) designations, the habitat area of particular concern 
(HAPC) designations, and the habitat-related spatial management program 
for the New England Fishery Management Council's suite of fishery 
management plans (FMP). Omnibus EFH Amendment was developed over 
several years, with the first half dedicated to updating the EFH 
designations and consideration of HAPCs. The remainder of the 
development was focused on revising the system of year-round closed 
areas, which restrict some types of fishing gear in order to protect 
vulnerable habitat and establish a system of Dedicated Habitat Research 
Areas (DHRAs). Prior to consideration of management area changes, the 
Council determined it was important to consider revisions to the year-
round groundfish closures together because of the substantial overlap 
with the habitat management closures.
    The Council established 10 goals and 14 objectives to guide the 
development of this action. Goals 1-8 were established in 2004, at the 
onset of the Amendment's development, and focus on identification of 
EFH, fishing and non-fishing activities that may adversely affect EFH, 
and the development of measures and management programs to conserve, 
protect, and enhance EFH and to minimize to the extent practicable the 
adverse effects of fishing on EFH. The additional goals (9 and 10) were 
developed after the Council voted to incorporate revision of the 
groundfish closures in the Amendment. These goals are focused on 
enhancing groundfish productivity and maximizing the societal net 
benefits from groundfish.
    The 14 objectives map to 1 or more of the Amendment's goals and 
provide more specific guidance on how to achieve that goal. For 
example, the objectives include identifying new data sources upon which 
to base the EFH designations (Objective A), developing analytical tools 
for EFH designation, minimization of adverse impacts, and monitoring 
the effectiveness of measures (Objective D; Goals 1, 3, and 5). Other 
objectives include modifying fishing methods to reduce impacts 
(Objective E; Goal 4), supporting the restoration of degraded habitat 
(Objective F; Goal 4), improved groundfish spawning protection, 
including protection of localized spawning contingents, and improved 
protection of critical groundfish habitats (Goals 9 and 10). Please see 
Volume 1, Section 3 of the in the EIS for more details on the goals and 
objectives of this Amendment.

Proposed Measures

1. Essential Fish Habitat Designations

    The Council proposes to update the EFH designations for all species 
and all life stages for which more recent information is available. EFH 
is defined as those waters and substrate necessary to fish for 
spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity. EFH designations 
consist of two complementary elements, the text descriptions, and the 
map representations. Any specific area is only considered EFH if it is 
displayed in the EFH map and meets the conditions defined in the text 
description. Thus, the two components of EFH must be used in 
conjunction with one another when applying EFH designations to fishery 
management, EFH consultation, or other questions.
    A full description of the updated designations, including maps of 
the designations, can be found in Volume 2 of the EIS. In addition, a 
thorough discussion of the methods and approaches used to assemble the 
designations is provided in the EIS. The quality and quantity of 
information varied by species, so a single approach for all Council-
managed species and lifestage is not possible. The Council relied upon 
the best available scientific information for each species.

2. Habitat Areas of Particular Concern

    Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (HAPC) are intended to 
highlight specific areas of EFH that require additional consideration. 
HAPC designations should be based on one or more of the following 
criteria: (1) The importance of the ecological function provided by the 
habitat, including both the historical and current ecological function; 
(2) the extent to which the habitat is sensitive to human-induced 
environmental degradation; (3) whether, and to what extent, development 
activities are, or will be, stressing the habitat type; and (4) the 
rarity of the habitat type (50 CFR 600.815(a)(8)). The Council 
considered proposals from the public using additional criteria in 
designating HAPCs, including whether the designation would improve 
fisheries management in the exclusive economic zone, include EFH for 
more than one Council-managed species, include juvenile cod EFH, and 
meet more than one of the regulatory HAPC criteria listed above. 
Discussion of the areas considered and the eight criteria listed above 
can be found in Volume 2 of the EIS.
    The Council is recommending that the current Atlantic Salmon HAPC 
and the Northern Edge Juvenile Cod HAPC remain as designated because 
they continue to meet the criteria listed above. In addition, the 
Council is recommending the following areas as new HAPCs: Inshore 
Juvenile Cod HAPC; Great South Channel Juvenile Cod HAPC; Cashes Ledge 
HAPC; Jeffreys Ledge/Stellwagen Bank HAPC; Bear and Retriever 
Seamounts; and

[[Page 46751]]

eleven canyon/canyon complexes (Heezen; Lydonia, Gilbert, and 
Oceanographers; Hydrographer; Veatch; Alvin, and Atlantis; Hudson; 
Toms, Middle Toms, and Hendrickson; Wilmington; Baltimore; Washington; 
and Norfolk). Maps and coordinates for the HAPC designations can be 
found in Volume 2 of the EIS.

3. Spatial Management for Adverse Effects Minimization

    The Magnuson-Stevens Act requires that fishery management plans 
evaluate and minimize, to the extent practicable, the adverse effects 
of fishing on designated EFH. The evaluation should consider the 
effects of each fishing activity on each type of habitat found with 
EFH. Councils must prevent, mitigate, or minimize any adverse effects 
from fishing on EFH, to the extent practicable, if there is evidence 
that a fishing activity adversely affects EFH in a manner that is more 
than minimal and not temporary in nature. To that end, the Council is 
recommending the following habitat management areas (HMA) and 
restrictions. Full descriptions, including maps and coordinates of the 
Council's recommendations, can be found in Volume 3 of the EIS.
    In the Eastern Gulf of Maine, the Council recommends establishing 
the Small Eastern Maine HMA, closed to all mobile bottom-tending gears.
    In the Central Gulf of Maine, the Council recommends maintaining 
the existing Cashes Ledge Groundfish Closure Area, with its current 
fishing restrictions and exemptions; modifying the existing Jeffreys 
Bank and Cashes Ledge Habitat Closure Areas, with their current fishing 
restrictions and exemptions; establishing the Fippennies Ledge HMA, 
closed to mobile bottom-tending gear; and establishing the Ammen Rock 
HMA, closed to all fishing except lobster traps.
    In the Western Gulf of Maine, the Council recommends maintaining 
the existing Western Gulf of Maine Habitat Closure Area, closed to 
mobile bottom-tending gears, and modifying the eastern boundary of the 
Western Gulf of Maine Closure Area to align with the habitat closure 
area, while maintaining the current fishing restrictions and 
requirements for both areas. The Council also recommends creating an 
exemption area within the northwest corner of those closures for shrimp 
trawls and designating the existing Roller Gear Restricted Area 
requirements as a habitat protection measure.
    On Georges Bank, the Council recommends removing the year-round and 
habitat closures of Closed Areas I and II and replacing them with three 
new areas: (1) The Georges Shoal 2 HMA, closed to mobile bottom-tending 
gear, with a one-year delay in closure to hydraulic clam dredges; (2) 
the Northern Edge Reduced Impact HMA, closed to mobile bottom-tending 
gear, with two exceptions described below; and (3) the Northern Edge 
Mobile Bottom-Tending Gear HMA, closed to mobile bottom-tending gear 
without any exceptions. Exemptions to the Reduced Impact HMA are 
scallop dredge fishing in accordance with the scallop rotational area 
program, and trawl fishing to the west of the existing western boundary 
of Closed Area II (67[deg]20' W. long.), in what is now the Eastern 
Georges Bank Special Access Program. In addition, any portions of the 
Closed Area II groundfish closed area north of 41[deg]30' N. lat. would 
be closed to scallop fishing between June 15 and October 31 of each 
year. The remainder of the existing Closed Area I Habitat and 
Groundfish Closure Areas and Closed Area II Groundfish Closure Area 
would be opened, except for seasonal spawning protection as described 
below.
    In the Great South Channel, the Council recommends establishing the 
Great South Channel HMA, closed to mobile bottom-tending gear. Closure 
to hydraulic clam dredges would be delayed for one year, outside of the 
northeast corner of the area. The Council also recommends establishing 
two HMAs on Cox Ledge, closed to hydraulic clam dredges, and requiring 
no ground cables on trawls fishing in the areas. The Nantucket 
Lightship Habitat Closure Area and the Nantucket Lightship Closed Area 
would be removed.

4. Groundfish Spawning Protections

    In the Gulf of Maine, the Council recommends establishing the 
Massachusetts Bay Cod Spawning Protection Area from November through 
January of each year and closing statistical block 125 for the first 
half of April each year (the ``Spring Massachusetts Bay Spawning 
Protection Area.'') The Massachusetts Bay Spawning Protection Area 
would be closed to all vessels, except those that do not have a Federal 
Northeast multispecies permit and are fishing exclusively in state 
waters; that are fishing with exempted gears (Pelagic hook and line, 
pelagic longline, spears, rakes, diving gear, cast nets, tongs, 
harpoons, weirs, dipnets, stop nets, pound nets, pelagic gillnets, pots 
and traps, shrimp trawls (with a properly configured grate), and 
surfclam and ocean quahog dredges); charter/party or recreational 
fishing vessels, provided that pelagic hook and line gear is used, and 
there is no retention of regulated species or ocean pout; and vessels 
that are transiting. The Spring Massachusetts Bay Spawning Protection 
Area would be closed to all vessels, except vessels that do not have a 
Federal Northeast multispecies permit and are fishing exclusively in 
state waters; vessels fishing with exempted gears (Pelagic hook and 
line, pelagic longline, spears, rakes, diving gear, cast nets, tongs, 
harpoons, weirs, dipnets, stop nets, pound nets, pelagic gillnets, pots 
and traps, shrimp trawls (with a properly configured grate), and 
surfclam and ocean quahog dredges); vessels participating in the mid-
water trawl exempted fishery; vessels participating in the purse seine 
exempted fishery, sea scallop dredge gear when under a scallop day-at-
sea; vessels lawfully in a scallop dredge exemption area; vessels that 
are transiting; charter and party vessels; and recreational vessels.
    On Georges Bank, the Council recommends converting the existing 
groundfish closure area, Closed Area II, and the existing habitat area, 
Closed Area I North, into seasonal closures. Both areas would be closed 
from February 1 through April 15 of each year to all commercial and 
recreational gears that catch groundfish, except scallop dredges, 
vessels fishing with exempted gears, vessels participating in the mid-
water trawl fishery, and vessels that are transiting.

5. Dedicated Habitat Research Areas

    Dedicated Habitat Research Areas (DHRAs) are intended to facilitate 
more focused research on fishing gear impacts on habitat or other 
issues related to habitat and fisheries productivity. The Council is 
recommending two DHRAs in this amendment. The Stellwagen DHRA would be 
implemented with the same restrictions as the Western Gulf of Maine 
closed areas described above. The Georges Bank DHRA, which is the same 
footprint as the current Closed Area I South Habitat Closure Area, 
would be closed to mobile bottom-tending gear.
    The Council is recommending these DHRAs in combination with a 
three-year sunset provision. If approved, three years after 
implementation, the Regional Administrator would initiate a review of 
the DHRAs and the research activity being conducted within them. If no 
research has been conducted or initiated to further the Council's 
habitat-related questions, the Regional Administrator may, after 
consultation with the Council, remove the DHRA designation.

[[Page 46752]]

6. Framework and Administrative Actions

    The Council is recommending three administrative actions as part of 
the Omnibus EFH Amendment. First, additional spatial management 
measures, including designation or removal of HMAs and changes to 
fishing restrictions within HMAs, would be added to the list of 
frameworkable items for all fisheries. Second, a strategic process 
would be established to routinely evaluate the boundaries, scope, 
characteristics, and timing of the habitat and spawning protection 
areas, including a technical review that evaluates the performance of 
these areas at 10-year intervals following implementation. A list of 
questions to guide this review are provided in Volume 3 of the EIS. 
Third, building on what the Council learned during the review of the 
performance of existing closed areas and the development of new EFH 
management in this amendment, the Council would identify and 
periodically revise research priorities to improve habitat and spawning 
area monitoring.

Public Comment Instructions

    Public comments on the Omnibus EFH Amendment and its incorporated 
documents may be submitted through the end of the comment period stated 
in this notice of availability. A proposed rule to implement the 
Amendment, including draft regulatory text, will be published in the 
Federal Register for public comment. Public comments on the proposed 
rule received by the end of the comment period provided in this notice 
of availability will be considered in the approval/disapproval decision 
on the amendment. All comments received by December 5, 2017, whether 
specifically directed to the Omnibus EFH Amendment or the proposed rule 
for this amendment, will be considered in the approval/disapproval 
decision on the Omnibus EFH Amendment. Comments received after that 
date will not be considered in the decision to approve or disapprove 
the Amendment. To be considered, comments must be received by close of 
business on the last day of the comment period.

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

    Dated: October 3, 2017.
Alan D. Risenhoover,
Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries 
Service.
[FR Doc. 2017-21560 Filed 10-5-17; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P