Fisheries of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic; Reef Fish Fishery of the Gulf of Mexico; Amendment 44, 61487-61489 [2017-28058]

Download as PDF Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 248 / Thursday, December 28, 2017 / Rules and Regulations NMFS expects the Council to review a draft of this framework action at its January 2018 meeting. Comment 4: The greater amberjack stock is healthy and therefore not in need of rebuilding efforts. Response: NMFS disagrees. The most recent Gulf greater amberjack population assessment, completed in 2016, indicated greater amberjack are experiencing overfishing and are overfished. The current rebuilding plan time period ends in 2019, but new scientific information indicates the stock will not be rebuilt by that time. Therefore, consistent with the framework action approved by the Council, this final rule establishes a new rebuilding time period ending in 2027 and revises the harvest limits as necessary to end overfishing and rebuild the stock. Actions Contained in the Framework Action Not Codified Through This Final Rule In addition to the measures in this final rule, the framework action revises the greater amberjack ABC and overfishing limits (OFLs) based upon the results of the SEDAR 33 Update and the Council’s SSC recommendations. The current greater amberjack ABC is 1,720,000 lb (780,179 kg), and the OFL is 3,420,000 lb (1,551,286 kg), which were established in the final rule implementing the 2015 framework action (80 FR 75432; December 2, 2015). This framework action revises the ABC and OFL for 3 years, beginning in 2018. The ABC, which is equal to the stock ACL, is set at 1,182,000 lb (536,146 kg) for 2018, 1,489,000 lb (675,399 kg) for 2019, and 1,794,000 lb (813,744 kg) for 2020 and subsequent years. The OFL is set at 1,500,000 lb (680,388 kg) for 2018, 1,836,000 lb (832,795 kg) for 2019, and 2,167,000 lb (982,934 kg) for 2020 and subsequent years. sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with RULES Classification The Regional Administrator for the NMFS Southeast Region has determined that this final rule is consistent with the framework action, the FMP, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law. This final rule has been determined to be not significant for purposes of Executive Order 12866. The Magnuson-Stevens Act provides the statutory basis for this final rule. No duplicative, overlapping, or conflicting Federal rules have been identified. In addition, no new reporting, recordkeeping, or other compliance requirements are introduced by this final rule. VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:07 Dec 27, 2017 Jkt 244001 The Chief Counsel for Regulation of the Department of Commerce certified to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business Administration (SBA) during the proposed rule stage that this rule, if adopted, would not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. The factual basis for this determination was published in the proposed rule and is not repeated here. No comments from the public or the SBA’s Chief Counsel for Advocacy were received regarding the certification, and NMFS has not received any new information that would affect its determination. As a result, a final regulatory flexibility analysis is not required and none has been prepared. List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 622 Commercial, Fisheries, Fishing, Greater amberjack, Gulf, Recreational, Reef fish. Dated: December 22, 2017. Samuel D. Rauch III, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine Fisheries Service. For the reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 622 is amended as follows: PART 622—FISHERIES OF THE CARIBBEAN, GULF OF MEXICO, AND SOUTH ATLANTIC 61487 (C) For fishing year 2020 and subsequent years—421,411 lb (191,149 kg), round weight. * * * * * (2) * * * (ii) Recreational quota for greater amberjack. The recreational quota for greater amberjack, in round weight, is 716,173 lb (324,851 kg), for 2018, 902,185 lb (409,224 kg), for 2019, 1,086,985 lb (493,048 kg), for 2020 and subsequent fishing years. * * * * * ■ 4. In § 622.41, revise paragraphs (a)(1)(iii) and (a)(2)(iii) to read as follows: § 622.41 Annual catch limits (ACLs), annual catch targets (ACTs), and accountability measures (AMs). (a) * * * (1) * * * (iii) The commercial ACL for greater amberjack, in round weight, is 319,140 lb (144,759 kg), for 2018, 402,030 lb (182,358 kg), for 2019, and 484,380 lb (219,711 kg), for 2020 and subsequent fishing years. (2) * * * (iii) The recreational ACL for greater amberjack, in round weight, is 862,860 lb (391,387 kg), for 2018, 1,086,970 lb (493,041 kg), for 2019, and 1,309,620 (594,034 kg), for 2020 and subsequent fishing years. * * * * * [FR Doc. 2017–28047 Filed 12–27–17; 8:45 am] 1. The authority citation for part 622 continues to read as follows: ■ Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. 2. In § 622.34, revise paragraph (c) to read as follows: ■ § 622.34 Seasonal and area closures designed to protect Gulf reef fish. * * * * * (c) Seasonal closure of the recreational sector for greater amberjack. The recreational sector for greater amberjack in or from the Gulf EEZ is closed from January 1 through June 30, each year. During the closure, the bag and possession limits for greater amberjack in or from the Gulf EEZ are zero. * * * * * ■ 3. In § 622.39, revise paragraphs (a)(1)(v) and (a)(2)(ii) to read as follows: § 622.39 Quotas. * * * * * (a) * * * (1) * * * (v) Greater amberjack—(A) For fishing year 2018—277,651 lb (125,940.38 kg), round weight. (B) For fishing year 2019—349,766 lb (158,651 kg), round weight. PO 00000 Frm 00045 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 622 RIN 0648–XF539 Fisheries of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic; Reef Fish Fishery of the Gulf of Mexico; Amendment 44 National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notification of Agency decision. AGENCY: NMFS announces the approval of Amendment 44 to the Fishery Management Plan for the Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico (FMP) as submitted by the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf) Fishery Management Council (Council). Amendment 44 revises minimum stock size thresholds (MSST) for seven stocks in the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf) reef fish fishery SUMMARY: E:\FR\FM\28DER1.SGM 28DER1 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with RULES 61488 Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 248 / Thursday, December 28, 2017 / Rules and Regulations management unit. The MSST is revised for the gag, red grouper, red snapper, vermilion snapper, gray triggerfish, greater amberjack, and hogfish stocks. The need for Amendment 44 is to provide a sufficient buffer between spawning stock biomass at maximum sustainable yield (BMSY) and MSST to reduce the likelihood that stock status changes frequently between overfished and not overfished as a result of scientific uncertainty or natural fluctuations in biomass levels. DATES: The amendment was approved December 21, 2017. ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of Amendment 44 may be obtained from www.regulations.gov or the Southeast Regional Office website at http:// sero.nmfs.noaa.gov. Amendment 44 includes an environmental assessment and a fishery impact statement. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Peter Hood, NMFS Southeast Regional Office, telephone: 727–824–5305, or email: peter.hood@noaa.gov. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NMFS and the Council manage the Gulf reef fish fishery, which includes gray triggerfish, under the FMP. The Council prepared the FMP and NMFS implements the FMP through regulations at 50 CFR part 622 under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) (16 U.S.C 1801 et seq.). Amendment 44 was prepared by the Council and will be incorporated into the management of Gulf reef fish through the FMP. On September 25, 2017, NMFS published a notice of availability (NOA) for Amendment 44 and requested public comment (82 FR 44582). In 1999, the Council submitted the Generic Sustainable Fisheries Act Amendment to comply with status determination criteria (SDC) requirements of the Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996. NMFS approved most of the fishing mortality threshold (MFMT) criteria, but disapproved all of the definitions for maximum sustainable yield (MSY), optimum yield (OY), and MSST. The Council subsequently began establishing these reference points and SDC on a species-specific basis as stock assessments were later conducted, and is currently preparing a plan amendment to address all of the unassessed reef fish stocks. Amendment 44 focuses on those assessed stocks with MSSTs, which are gag, red grouper, red snapper, vermilion snapper, gray triggerfish, greater amberjack, and hogfish. Red snapper, gray triggerfish, and greater amberjack are currently considered overfished because their VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:07 Dec 27, 2017 Jkt 244001 stock size is below MSST and are under rebuilding plans. The other four stocks are not considered overfished (gag, red grouper, vermilion snapper, and hogfish) because their stock size is above MSST. For most of the assessed federally managed reef fish stocks in the Gulf with defined MSSTs, the overfished status, when applied, has been evaluated using the formula: (1–M) * BMSY (M is the natural mortality rate and B is a measure of stock biomass). For some stocks that have a very low natural mortality rate, the formula (1–M) * BMSY results in an MSST that is very close to the BMSY. For example, red snapper is a moderately long-lived fish that has a natural mortality rate of about 0.1. The above formula results in an MSST of 90 percent of BMSY. In such situations it can be difficult to determine if a stock is actually less than MSST due to the imprecision and accuracy of the data used in stock assessments. In addition, natural fluctuations in stock biomass levels around the BMSY level may temporarily reduce the stock biomass to be less than MSST. Setting a greater buffer between BMSY and MSST can reduce the risk of mistakenly declaring a stock overfished. In Amendment 44, the Council evaluated MSSTs ranging from 0.85 * BMSY (or proxy) to 0.50 * BMSY (or proxy), and selected 0.50 * BMSY (or proxy) as its preferred alternative. This is consistent with the National Standard 1 (NS1) guidelines and reduces the likelihood of a stock being declared overfished as a result of scientific uncertainty or natural fluctuations in biomass levels. Setting the MSST at this level could result in a very restrictive rebuilding plan if the biomass level of a stock drops below the MSST and NMFS declares that the stock is overfished. However, the Council determined that the requirements for overfishing limits (OFLs), annual catch limits (ACLs), and accountability measures (AMs), reduce the probability that sustained overfishing would occur and cause a stock to fall below the MSST. NMFS expects that with the approval of Amendment 44, the Gulf red snapper and gray triggerfish stocks will be reclassified as not overfished, but rebuilding, because the biomass for these two stocks is currently estimated to be greater than 50 percent of BMSY. The greater amberjack stock will remain classified as overfished. Procedural Aspects of Amendment 44 Because none of the measures included in the amendment involve regulatory changes, no proposed or final PO 00000 Frm 00046 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 rule was prepared. The provisions of Amendment 44 are not specified in regulations but are considered an amendment to the FMP. Comments and Responses NMFS received 23 comments on the NOA. Twelve comments were in favor of approving the amendment and four were in opposition. Other comments received were not relevant to Amendment 44, expressing frustration with fishing regulations and their implementation in general. Comments specific to the action in Amendment 44 and NMFS’ responses to those comments are summarized below. Comment 1: NMFS should disapprove Amendment 44 for several reasons. First, the current MSST definitions appear to be working well and are not likely to cause stocks from being unnecessarily declared overfished due to natural variability in fish populations. Second, reducing the MSST to 0.5 * BMSY will allow these stocks to be further depleted before they are declared overfished, which will increase the economic severity of rebuilding and put the stocks at a greater risk of collapse. Third, there is too much uncertainty in the stock assessments to lower the MSST and continue to ensure the protection of these stocks. Response: NMFS disagrees that Amendment 44 should be disapproved. Amendment 44 revises the MSST for seven stocks from either 0.75 * BMSY (hogfish) or (1–M) * BMSY (the other six species) to 0.5 * BMSY. The National Standard 1 Guidelines allow the Council to consider a variety of factors is determining the appropriate MSST (50 CFR 622.310(e)(2)(ii)(B)). In Amendment 44, the Council considered natural variability in fish populations, the time it would take a stock to recover from various MSST levels, and the risk of stock biomass declining below the MSST due to overfishing. The Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC) evaluated the likelihood of stock biomass falling below the MSST due to natural fluctuations. This evaluation, which is included in Appendix C of Amendment 44, found that when recruitment and natural mortality estimates are varied, stock biomass levels declining below MSST at the (1–M) * B BMSY level for reasons other than overfishing ranged from 5 to 30 percent depending on a species’ life history characteristics. This likelihood of a stock declining below MSST increases as the as natural mortality rate decreases. Therefore, the Council determined, and NMFS agrees, that there is concern that some stocks with E:\FR\FM\28DER1.SGM 28DER1 sradovich on DSK3GMQ082PROD with RULES Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 248 / Thursday, December 28, 2017 / Rules and Regulations low natural mortality rates could be determined to be overfished because of natural variations in the population and the small buffers between MSST and BMSY. The SEFSC also analyzed how long it would take stocks with various life history characteristics to recover from various MSST levels. This analysis is included in Appendix D of Amendment 44 and found that for all species analyzed (including red snapper and gray triggerfish), recovery would occur in the absence of fishing mortality in 10 years or less under any of the MSST levels, including the MSST of 0.5 * BMSY. The Council understood that specifying an MSST of 0.5 * BMSY could result in the need for a restrictive rebuilding plan if a stock was determined to be overfished. However, the Council determined, and NMFS agrees, that the risk of sustained overfishing causing a stock to become overfished is minimal given the requirement to prevent overfishing and use of OFLs, ACLs, and AMs, to achieve this objective. With respect to stock assessments, there is a level of uncertainty in the data used. However, consistent with National Standard 2, these assessments use the best scientific information available to provide information on stock status. In addition, for the reasons stated above, the Council determined that the revised MSSTs, when used in combination with OFLs, ACLs, and AMs, will continue to provide the appropriate level of protection for these stocks. Thus, it is not appropriate to disapprove Amendment 44 based on uncertainty in the stock assessments. Comment 2: This action to revise the MSST will result in a decrease in the allowable catch for these stocks. Response: Revising the MSST will not directly affect catch levels for the seven stocks in Amendment 44. The MSST is the threshold used to determine whether a stock is overfished. If the stock biomass falls below MSST, the stock is considered to be overfished and a rebuilding plan is required. Therefore, the MSST may indirectly affect catch levels for a stock if harvest needs to be restricted for some period of time so the stock can recover. However, of the seven stocks included in Amendment 44, four are not overfished (gag, red grouper, vermilion snapper, and hogfish) and that determination will not change with the revision to the MSSTs for these stocks. The remaining three stocks (red snapper, gray triggerfish, and greater amberjack) are currently classified as overfished but, with the approval of Amendment 44, NMFS expects that red snapper and gray triggerfish stocks will VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:07 Dec 27, 2017 Jkt 244001 be reclassified as not overfished. However, they will still be subject to their respective rebuilding plans until BMSY is reached. The greater amberjack stock would continue to be classified as overfished until that stock’s biomass exceeds the MSST of 0.5 * BMSY. Comment 3: NMFS must revisit the previous rulemaking that implemented the quota overage adjustment (payback) for the red snapper recreational sector to correct an error in the regulations that links the recreational payback to ‘‘overfished’’ status as opposed to ‘‘rebuilding status.’’ Response: NMFS disagrees that it is necessary to revisit the rulemaking that implemented the red snapper recreational AMs (80 FR 14328, March 19, 2015). The reference to overfished status in the red snapper recreational AM in 50 CFR 622.41(q)(2)(ii) was not an error. This provision was added to the regulations through a framework action in 2015. Although the framework action referred to ‘‘rebuilding,’’ the codified text for the framework that was reviewed and deemed necessary by the Council linked the quota payback provision to overfished status, which was consistent with the other payback provisions for Gulf-managed species that were already in effect prior to that time, such as those for gray triggerfish (50 CFR 622.41(b)(2)(ii)), gag (50 CFR 622.41(d)(2)(iii)), and red grouper (50 CFR 622.41(e)(2)(iii)). Although the approval of Amendment 44 may result in the red snapper stock no longer being classified as overfished because the biomass for this stock is currently estimated to be greater than 50 percent of BMSY, the stock continues to be subject to the rebuilding plan established in Amendment 27 to the FMP (73 FR 5117, January 29, 2008). NMFS is required to review the rebuilding progress at routine intervals and notify the Council if there has been inadequate progress toward rebuilding. If notified, the Council would be required to take action consistent with the rebuilding plan requirements in section 305(e) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. In addition, NMFS and the Council have reduced the likelihood of the red snapper recreational ACL being exceeded by the use of recreational annual catch targets (ACTs) to set the Federal charter vessel/headboat (forhire) and the private angling component recreational season lengths. However, if an overage of the recreational ACL does occur more than once in the last 4 years, the National Standard 1 Guidelines advise the Council to reevaluate the system of ACLs and AMs, and if necessary, modify the system to PO 00000 Frm 00047 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 61489 improve its performance and effectiveness (50 CFR 600.310(e)(7)). If the ACL is exceeded to such an extent that overfishing occurs, the Guidelines state that the Secretary of Commerce will immediately notify the Council and the Council should evaluate the cause of overfishing, address the issue that caused overfishing, and reevaluate the ACLs and AMs to make sure they are adequate (50 CFR 600.310(j)). All of these safeguards will help ensure that the ACLs and AMs continue to function effectively to prevent overfishing and rebuild the stock consistent with the established rebuilding plan. Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. Dated: December 21, 2017. Samuel D. Rauch, III, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2017–28058 Filed 12–27–17; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 635 [Docket No. 170823804–7999–02] RIN 0648–BH17 Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; Individual Bluefin Quota Program; Accountability for Bluefin Tuna Catch National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Final rule. AGENCY: NMFS modifies the Atlantic highly migratory species (HMS) regulations to require vessels in the pelagic longline fishery to account for bycatch of bluefin tuna (bluefin) using Individual Bluefin Quota (IBQ) on a quarterly basis instead of on a trip-level basis. Previously, vessel owners had to account for quota debt or IBQ balances less than the minimum required before commencing any fishing trip with pelagic longline gear. With this rulemaking, vessels may fish during a given calendar quarter if they have an IBQ balance below the minimum amount required to depart on a fishing trip or with quota debt incurred by exceeding their IBQ balance; however, vessels are required to reconcile quota debt and satisfy the minimum IBQ requirement prior to departing on their first pelagic longline fishing trip in each calendar quarter. The action optimizes SUMMARY: E:\FR\FM\28DER1.SGM 28DER1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 82, Number 248 (Thursday, December 28, 2017)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 61487-61489]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2017-28058]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 622

RIN 0648-XF539


Fisheries of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic; 
Reef Fish Fishery of the Gulf of Mexico; Amendment 44

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

ACTION: Notification of Agency decision.

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

SUMMARY: NMFS announces the approval of Amendment 44 to the Fishery 
Management Plan for the Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico (FMP) 
as submitted by the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf) Fishery Management Council 
(Council). Amendment 44 revises minimum stock size thresholds (MSST) 
for seven stocks in the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf) reef fish fishery

[[Page 61488]]

management unit. The MSST is revised for the gag, red grouper, red 
snapper, vermilion snapper, gray triggerfish, greater amberjack, and 
hogfish stocks. The need for Amendment 44 is to provide a sufficient 
buffer between spawning stock biomass at maximum sustainable yield 
(BMSY) and MSST to reduce the likelihood that stock status 
changes frequently between overfished and not overfished as a result of 
scientific uncertainty or natural fluctuations in biomass levels.

DATES: The amendment was approved December 21, 2017.

ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of Amendment 44 may be obtained from 
www.regulations.gov or the Southeast Regional Office website at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov. Amendment 44 includes an environmental assessment 
and a fishery impact statement.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Peter Hood, NMFS Southeast Regional 
Office, telephone: 727-824-5305, or email: [email protected].

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NMFS and the Council manage the Gulf reef 
fish fishery, which includes gray triggerfish, under the FMP. The 
Council prepared the FMP and NMFS implements the FMP through 
regulations at 50 CFR part 622 under the authority of the Magnuson-
Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) 
(16 U.S.C 1801 et seq.). Amendment 44 was prepared by the Council and 
will be incorporated into the management of Gulf reef fish through the 
FMP.
    On September 25, 2017, NMFS published a notice of availability 
(NOA) for Amendment 44 and requested public comment (82 FR 44582).
    In 1999, the Council submitted the Generic Sustainable Fisheries 
Act Amendment to comply with status determination criteria (SDC) 
requirements of the Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996. NMFS approved 
most of the fishing mortality threshold (MFMT) criteria, but 
disapproved all of the definitions for maximum sustainable yield (MSY), 
optimum yield (OY), and MSST. The Council subsequently began 
establishing these reference points and SDC on a species-specific basis 
as stock assessments were later conducted, and is currently preparing a 
plan amendment to address all of the unassessed reef fish stocks. 
Amendment 44 focuses on those assessed stocks with MSSTs, which are 
gag, red grouper, red snapper, vermilion snapper, gray triggerfish, 
greater amberjack, and hogfish. Red snapper, gray triggerfish, and 
greater amberjack are currently considered overfished because their 
stock size is below MSST and are under rebuilding plans. The other four 
stocks are not considered overfished (gag, red grouper, vermilion 
snapper, and hogfish) because their stock size is above MSST.
    For most of the assessed federally managed reef fish stocks in the 
Gulf with defined MSSTs, the overfished status, when applied, has been 
evaluated using the formula: (1-M) * BMSY (M is the natural 
mortality rate and B is a measure of stock biomass). For some stocks 
that have a very low natural mortality rate, the formula (1-M) * 
BMSY results in an MSST that is very close to the 
BMSY. For example, red snapper is a moderately long-lived 
fish that has a natural mortality rate of about 0.1. The above formula 
results in an MSST of 90 percent of BMSY. In such situations 
it can be difficult to determine if a stock is actually less than MSST 
due to the imprecision and accuracy of the data used in stock 
assessments. In addition, natural fluctuations in stock biomass levels 
around the BMSY level may temporarily reduce the stock 
biomass to be less than MSST. Setting a greater buffer between 
BMSY and MSST can reduce the risk of mistakenly declaring a 
stock overfished.
    In Amendment 44, the Council evaluated MSSTs ranging from 0.85 * 
BMSY (or proxy) to 0.50 * BMSY (or proxy), and 
selected 0.50 * BMSY (or proxy) as its preferred 
alternative. This is consistent with the National Standard 1 (NS1) 
guidelines and reduces the likelihood of a stock being declared 
overfished as a result of scientific uncertainty or natural 
fluctuations in biomass levels. Setting the MSST at this level could 
result in a very restrictive rebuilding plan if the biomass level of a 
stock drops below the MSST and NMFS declares that the stock is 
overfished. However, the Council determined that the requirements for 
overfishing limits (OFLs), annual catch limits (ACLs), and 
accountability measures (AMs), reduce the probability that sustained 
overfishing would occur and cause a stock to fall below the MSST.
    NMFS expects that with the approval of Amendment 44, the Gulf red 
snapper and gray triggerfish stocks will be reclassified as not 
overfished, but rebuilding, because the biomass for these two stocks is 
currently estimated to be greater than 50 percent of BMSY. 
The greater amberjack stock will remain classified as overfished.

Procedural Aspects of Amendment 44

    Because none of the measures included in the amendment involve 
regulatory changes, no proposed or final rule was prepared. The 
provisions of Amendment 44 are not specified in regulations but are 
considered an amendment to the FMP.

Comments and Responses

    NMFS received 23 comments on the NOA. Twelve comments were in favor 
of approving the amendment and four were in opposition. Other comments 
received were not relevant to Amendment 44, expressing frustration with 
fishing regulations and their implementation in general. Comments 
specific to the action in Amendment 44 and NMFS' responses to those 
comments are summarized below.
    Comment 1: NMFS should disapprove Amendment 44 for several reasons. 
First, the current MSST definitions appear to be working well and are 
not likely to cause stocks from being unnecessarily declared overfished 
due to natural variability in fish populations. Second, reducing the 
MSST to 0.5 * BMSY will allow these stocks to be further 
depleted before they are declared overfished, which will increase the 
economic severity of rebuilding and put the stocks at a greater risk of 
collapse. Third, there is too much uncertainty in the stock assessments 
to lower the MSST and continue to ensure the protection of these 
stocks.
    Response: NMFS disagrees that Amendment 44 should be disapproved. 
Amendment 44 revises the MSST for seven stocks from either 0.75 * 
BMSY (hogfish) or (1-M) * BMSY (the other six 
species) to 0.5 * BMSY. The National Standard 1 Guidelines 
allow the Council to consider a variety of factors is determining the 
appropriate MSST (50 CFR 622.310(e)(2)(ii)(B)). In Amendment 44, the 
Council considered natural variability in fish populations, the time it 
would take a stock to recover from various MSST levels, and the risk of 
stock biomass declining below the MSST due to overfishing. The 
Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC) evaluated the likelihood of 
stock biomass falling below the MSST due to natural fluctuations. This 
evaluation, which is included in Appendix C of Amendment 44, found that 
when recruitment and natural mortality estimates are varied, stock 
biomass levels declining below MSST at the (1-M) * B BMSY 
level for reasons other than overfishing ranged from 5 to 30 percent 
depending on a species' life history characteristics. This likelihood 
of a stock declining below MSST increases as the as natural mortality 
rate decreases. Therefore, the Council determined, and NMFS agrees, 
that there is concern that some stocks with

[[Page 61489]]

low natural mortality rates could be determined to be overfished 
because of natural variations in the population and the small buffers 
between MSST and BMSY.
    The SEFSC also analyzed how long it would take stocks with various 
life history characteristics to recover from various MSST levels. This 
analysis is included in Appendix D of Amendment 44 and found that for 
all species analyzed (including red snapper and gray triggerfish), 
recovery would occur in the absence of fishing mortality in 10 years or 
less under any of the MSST levels, including the MSST of 0.5 * 
BMSY. The Council understood that specifying an MSST of 0.5 
* BMSY could result in the need for a restrictive rebuilding 
plan if a stock was determined to be overfished. However, the Council 
determined, and NMFS agrees, that the risk of sustained overfishing 
causing a stock to become overfished is minimal given the requirement 
to prevent overfishing and use of OFLs, ACLs, and AMs, to achieve this 
objective.
    With respect to stock assessments, there is a level of uncertainty 
in the data used. However, consistent with National Standard 2, these 
assessments use the best scientific information available to provide 
information on stock status. In addition, for the reasons stated above, 
the Council determined that the revised MSSTs, when used in combination 
with OFLs, ACLs, and AMs, will continue to provide the appropriate 
level of protection for these stocks. Thus, it is not appropriate to 
disapprove Amendment 44 based on uncertainty in the stock assessments.
    Comment 2: This action to revise the MSST will result in a decrease 
in the allowable catch for these stocks.
    Response: Revising the MSST will not directly affect catch levels 
for the seven stocks in Amendment 44. The MSST is the threshold used to 
determine whether a stock is overfished. If the stock biomass falls 
below MSST, the stock is considered to be overfished and a rebuilding 
plan is required. Therefore, the MSST may indirectly affect catch 
levels for a stock if harvest needs to be restricted for some period of 
time so the stock can recover. However, of the seven stocks included in 
Amendment 44, four are not overfished (gag, red grouper, vermilion 
snapper, and hogfish) and that determination will not change with the 
revision to the MSSTs for these stocks. The remaining three stocks (red 
snapper, gray triggerfish, and greater amberjack) are currently 
classified as overfished but, with the approval of Amendment 44, NMFS 
expects that red snapper and gray triggerfish stocks will be 
reclassified as not overfished. However, they will still be subject to 
their respective rebuilding plans until BMSY is reached. The 
greater amberjack stock would continue to be classified as overfished 
until that stock's biomass exceeds the MSST of 0.5 * BMSY.
    Comment 3: NMFS must revisit the previous rulemaking that 
implemented the quota overage adjustment (payback) for the red snapper 
recreational sector to correct an error in the regulations that links 
the recreational payback to ``overfished'' status as opposed to 
``rebuilding status.''
    Response: NMFS disagrees that it is necessary to revisit the 
rulemaking that implemented the red snapper recreational AMs (80 FR 
14328, March 19, 2015). The reference to overfished status in the red 
snapper recreational AM in 50 CFR 622.41(q)(2)(ii) was not an error. 
This provision was added to the regulations through a framework action 
in 2015. Although the framework action referred to ``rebuilding,'' the 
codified text for the framework that was reviewed and deemed necessary 
by the Council linked the quota payback provision to overfished status, 
which was consistent with the other payback provisions for Gulf-managed 
species that were already in effect prior to that time, such as those 
for gray triggerfish (50 CFR 622.41(b)(2)(ii)), gag (50 CFR 
622.41(d)(2)(iii)), and red grouper (50 CFR 622.41(e)(2)(iii)).
    Although the approval of Amendment 44 may result in the red snapper 
stock no longer being classified as overfished because the biomass for 
this stock is currently estimated to be greater than 50 percent of 
BMSY, the stock continues to be subject to the rebuilding 
plan established in Amendment 27 to the FMP (73 FR 5117, January 29, 
2008). NMFS is required to review the rebuilding progress at routine 
intervals and notify the Council if there has been inadequate progress 
toward rebuilding. If notified, the Council would be required to take 
action consistent with the rebuilding plan requirements in section 
305(e) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
    In addition, NMFS and the Council have reduced the likelihood of 
the red snapper recreational ACL being exceeded by the use of 
recreational annual catch targets (ACTs) to set the Federal charter 
vessel/headboat (for-hire) and the private angling component 
recreational season lengths. However, if an overage of the recreational 
ACL does occur more than once in the last 4 years, the National 
Standard 1 Guidelines advise the Council to reevaluate the system of 
ACLs and AMs, and if necessary, modify the system to improve its 
performance and effectiveness (50 CFR 600.310(e)(7)). If the ACL is 
exceeded to such an extent that overfishing occurs, the Guidelines 
state that the Secretary of Commerce will immediately notify the 
Council and the Council should evaluate the cause of overfishing, 
address the issue that caused overfishing, and reevaluate the ACLs and 
AMs to make sure they are adequate (50 CFR 600.310(j)). All of these 
safeguards will help ensure that the ACLs and AMs continue to function 
effectively to prevent overfishing and rebuild the stock consistent 
with the established rebuilding plan.

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

    Dated: December 21, 2017.
Samuel D. Rauch, III,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2017-28058 Filed 12-27-17; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P