Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Fisheries; 2019 Specifications, 64482-64487 [2018-27213]

Download as PDF 64482 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 241 / Monday, December 17, 2018 / Rules and Regulations Dated: December 11, 2018. Jennifer M. Wallace, Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2018–27200 Filed 12–14–18; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 648 [Docket No. 180906820–8999–02] RIN 0648–BI48 Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Fisheries; 2019 Specifications National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Final rule. AGENCY: NMFS implements 2019 specifications for the summer flounder and black sea bass fisheries and maintains previously-established 2019 specifications for the scup fishery. Additionally, this action reopens the February 2018 black sea bass recreational fishery and adjusts the current commercial incidental possession limit for scup. The implementing regulations for the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan require us to publish specifications for the upcoming fishing year for each of these species. The intent of this action is to inform the public of the specifications and management measures for the start of the 2019 fishing year for these three species. These specifications may be revised mid-year based on the results of ongoing stock assessments. DATES: Effective January 1, 2019. ADDRESSES: An environmental assessment (EA) was prepared for this action that describes these measures and other considered alternatives, and SUMMARY: provides an analysis of the impacts of the measures and alternatives. Copies of the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass 2019 Specifications, including the EA, are available on request from Dr. Christopher M. Moore, Executive Director, Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, Suite 201, 800 North State Street, Dover, DE 19901. These documents are also accessible via the internet at http://www.mafmc.org/s/ SFSBSB_2019_specs_EA.pdf. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Emily Gilbert, Fishery Policy Analyst, (978) 281–9244. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: General Background The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission cooperatively manage the summer flounder, scup, and black sea bass fisheries. The Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan (FMP) and its implementing regulations outline the Council’s process for establishing specifications. Specifications in these fisheries include various catch and landing subdivisions, such as the commercial and recreational sector annual catch limits (ACL), annual catch targets (ACT), and sector-specific landing limits (i.e., the commercial fishery quota and recreational harvest limit), as well as management measures, as needed, that are designed to ensure these catch limits will not be exceeded. Annual specifications may be established for three-year periods, and, in interim years, specifications are reviewed by the Council to ensure previously established multi-year specifications remain appropriate. The FMP also contains formulas to divide the specification catch limits into commercial and recreational fishery allocations, state-by-state quotas, and quota periods, depending on the species in question. Rulemaking for measures used to manage the recreational fisheries (minimum fish sizes, open seasons, and bag limits) for these three species occurs separately, and typically takes place in the spring of each year. This action sets 2019 specifications for summer flounder and black sea bass. The previously-approved 2019 scup specifications (82 FR 60682; December 22, 2017) remain unchanged from the current two-year specifications and are maintained through this action. An ongoing summer flounder benchmark assessment incorporating updated Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) data is scheduled to be available in early 2019. Operational assessments for black sea bass and scup will also be completed in April 2019 to incorporate revised MRIP data. Because new information for all three species is likely in the next few months, the Council and Commission’s Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Board only recommended interim specifications for 2019, and the Council and Board may develop mid-year changes to the summer flounder specifications, and possibly black sea bass specifications, to address the forthcoming updated assessment information. The proposed rule for this action published in the Federal Register on November 15, 2018 (83 FR 57389), and comments were accepted through November 30, 2018. We received 11 comments. 2019 Summer Flounder Specifications At their August 2018 meeting, the Council and Board recommended interim summer flounder specifications for the start of the 2019 fishing year (Table 1). Compared to 2018, the interim 2019 commercial quota and recreational harvest limit are a 16-percent increase. The Council and Board intend to consider revising these interim summer flounder specifications at a joint meeting in February 2019 to address the results of the benchmark stock assessment. If a change in catch limits is recommended by the Council and Board, we anticipate updated catch limits could be in place this spring and would announce any adjustments through a future rule. TABLE 1—CURRENT 2018 AND FINAL 2019 SUMMER FLOUNDER SPECIFICATIONS 2018 (current) amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with RULES million lb Overfishing Limits (OFL) ...................................................... ABC ...................................................................................... Commercial ACL .................................................................. Commercial ACT .................................................................. Projected Commercial Discards .......................................... Commercial Quota ............................................................... Recreational ACL ................................................................. Recreational ACT ................................................................. VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:18 Dec 14, 2018 Jkt 247001 PO 00000 Frm 00050 mt 18.69 13.23 7.70 7.70 1.07 6.63 5.53 5.53 Fmt 4700 2019 Sfmt 4700 million lb 8,476 5,999 3,491 3,491 485 3,006 2,508 2,508 E:\FR\FM\17DER1.SGM 20.60 15.41 9.18 * 8.14 1.47 * 6.67 6.22 6.22 17DER1 Difference (%) mt 9,344 6,990 4,164 3,692 667 3,030 2,821 2,821 10 16 19 19 2 16 12 12 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 241 / Monday, December 17, 2018 / Rules and Regulations 64483 TABLE 1—CURRENT 2018 AND FINAL 2019 SUMMER FLOUNDER SPECIFICATIONS—Continued 2018 (current) million lb Projected Recreational Discards ......................................... Recreational Harvest Limit ................................................... 2019 mt 1.11 4.42 million lb 504 2,004 Difference (%) mt 1.08 5.15 ¥3 16 490 2,336 * As further explained below, a required accountability measure reduces the commercial ACT from 9.18 million pounds (4,164 mt) to 8.14 million pounds (3,692 mt) and reduces the commercial quota from 7.72 million pounds (3,502 mt) to 6.67 million pounds (3,030 mt). The Council and Board recommended no adjustment to the commercial minimum fish size (14-inch (35.6 cm) total length), gear requirements, and possession limits. The Council and Board will develop recreational management measures (i.e., minimum fish sizes, open seasons, and bag limits) for summer flounder this fall and NMFS rulemaking will occur in early spring of 2019. 2019 Summer Flounder Commercial Non-Landing Accountability Measure Our final catch accounting shows that the 2017 commercial fishery exceeded its ACL by 21 percent and the ABC was exceeded by 7 percent, due to higher than expected discards in the commercial fishery. The newly-revised accountability measures (AM) regulations (83 FR 53825, October 25, 2018) require a scaled payback against the commercial fishery’s ACT, based on the amount of the overage and the status of the summer flounder stock, using the most recent biological reference points. Based on our AMs, a scaled payback is required because the most recent assessment update (2016) indicated that the stock is experiencing overfishing and is not overfished. The scaled payback based on the 2016 assessment status is 1.04 million lb (472 mt). This overage, when applied to the 2019 commercial ACT of 9.18 million lb (3,502 mt), results in a commercial quota of 6.67 million lb (3,030 mt), after subtracting the 2019 projected estimated discards. The resulting quota is less than one percent higher than the 2018 quota. The timing of this final rule did not allow for the results of the 2018 benchmark assessment to be incorporated into the AM evaluation. Final results of that assessment are anticipated to be available in early 2019. If the assessment results in changes to the current stock determination criteria, any adjustments to the summer flounder specifications can incorporate a reevaluation of this AM. 2019 Commercial State Quota Shares Table 2 summarizes the commercial summer flounder quotas for each state, incorporating the revised 2019 commercial ACT. This rule announces commercial state quota overage reductions necessary for fishing year 2019. Table 2 includes percent shares as outlined in § 648.102(c)(1)(i), the resultant 2019 commercial quotas, quota overages (as needed), and the final adjusted 2019 commercial quotas. The 2018 quota overage is determined by comparing landings for January through October 2018, plus any 2017 landings overage that was not previously addressed in establishing the 2018 summer flounder specifications, for each state. For Delaware, this includes continued repayment of overharvest from previous years. TABLE 2—FINAL STATE-BY-STATE COMMERCIAL SUMMER FLOUNDER QUOTAS FOR 2019 State 2019 Initial quota FMP percent share lb 2019 Adjusted quota (ACL overage) kg lb kg Overages through October 31, 2018 lb kg Final adjusted 2019 Quota, less overages lb kg Maine ......................................... New Hampshire ......................... Massachusetts .......................... Rhode Island ............................. Connecticut ............................... New York ................................... New Jersey ............................... Delaware ................................... Maryland .................................... Virginia ...................................... North Carolina ........................... 0.04756 0.00046 6.82046 15.68298 2.25708 7.64699 16.72499 0.01779 2.0391 21.31676 27.44584 3,672 36 526,540 1,210,726 174,247 590,348 1,291,169 1,373 157,419 1,645,654 2,118,819 1,665 16 235,406 549,176 79,037 267,777 585,665 ¥24,346 71,404 746,456 961,080 3,172 31 454,925 1,046,055 150,547 510,054 1,115,557 1,187 136,008 1,421,828 1,830,638 1,439 14 202,922 474,482 68,287 231,357 506,008 ¥24,431 61,692 644,930 830,363 0 0 ¥7,559 0 0 0 0 ¥55,047 0 0 0 0 0 ¥3,429 0 0 0 0 ¥24,969 0 0 0 3,172 31 447,366 1,046,055 150,547 510,054 1,115,557 ¥53,860 136,008 1,421,828 1,830,638 1,439 14 202,922 474,482 68,287 231,357 506,008 ¥24,431 61,692 644,930 830,363 Total ................................... 100 7,720,000 3,497,682 6,670,000 3,021,494 0 .................... 6,661,255 3,021,494 Notes: Kilograms are as converted from pounds and may not necessarily add due to rounding. Total quota is the sum for all states with an allocation. A state with a negative number has a 2019 allocation of zero (0). Total adjusted 2019 quota, less overages, does not include negative allocations (i.e., Delaware’s overage). amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with RULES Delaware Summer Flounder Closure Table 2 shows the amount of overharvest from previous years for Delaware is greater than the amount of commercial quota allocated to Delaware for 2019. As a result, there is no quota available for 2019 in Delaware. The regulations at § 648.4(b) provide that Federal permit holders, as a condition of their permit, must not land summer flounder in any state that the NMFS VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:18 Dec 14, 2018 Jkt 247001 Greater Atlantic Region Administrator has determined no longer has commercial quota available for harvest. Therefore, landings of summer flounder in Delaware by vessels holding commercial Federal summer flounder permits are prohibited for the 2019 calendar year, unless additional quota becomes available through a quota transfer and is announced in the Federal Register. Federally permitted dealers are advised that they may not PO 00000 Frm 00051 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 purchase summer flounder from federally permitted vessels that land in Delaware for the 2019 calendar year, unless additional quota becomes available through a transfer, as mentioned above. 2019 Black Sea Bass Specifications At the August meeting, the Council and Board made recommendations for the 2019 black sea bass specifications, but for reasons outlined below, we are E:\FR\FM\17DER1.SGM 17DER1 64484 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 241 / Monday, December 17, 2018 / Rules and Regulations maintaining status quo measures currently in place for 2018. In June 2018, the Center provided the Council with a black sea bass data update, including updated catch, landings, and survey indices through 2017. Black sea bass biomass continues to be high and the 2015 year class appears to be above average in both the northern and southern surveys. Updated stock status information and biomass projections incorporating data on the 2015 year class were not available as part of the Center-provided data update, but will be once the operational assessment is completed in April 2019. The Council’s Scienctific and Statistical Committee (SSC) recommended a 2019 ABC of 7.97 million lb (3,615 mt), which was based on biomass projections from the 2016 benchmark stock assessment. This would have been an 11-percent reduction compared to the 2018 ABC. This decline in the ABC reflects the population responding to fishing at maximum sustainable yield and the decrease of the large 2011 year class, but does not incorporate the information on the 2015 year class. Based on this ABC recommendation, the Council and Board recommended the 2019 specifications that were 11 percent lower than those in place for 2018. Following the Council and Board meeting, we requested that the Center perform a sensitivity analysis of the 2019 projection derived from the 2016 benchmark stock assessment. As previously described, that projection did not include the 2015 year class because those fish were too small to be widely captured in the surveys at the time of the 2016 assessment. This sensitivity analysis used various recruitment scenarios applied to the original projection and compared them to the most recent survey indices. The objective of this analysis was to see if that projection would have supported different specifications for 2019 had we been able to incorporate what we know now about the strength of the 2015 year class. The results suggest that the 2015 year class would have to be about 50 percent above average to allow for 2019 There are currently no MRIP survey estimates collected for Wave 1 except for occasional estimates in North Carolina, but catch from this time period must be accounted for, and count against the recreational harvest limit. Similar to last year, to account for the harvest during this 28-day season, the Council and Board recommended a coastwide catch estimate of 100,000 lb (45.3 mt). The Board has further divided TABLE 3—2019 BLACK SEA BASS this coastwide catch estimate across the SPECIFICATIONS states. States that decide to participate million lb mt in the Wave 1 fishery must account for this catch when developing their OFL ........................... 10.29 4,667 management measures for the remainder ABC .......................... 8.94 4,055 of the fishing year. Only two states Commercial ACL ...... 4.35 1,974 participated in the 2018 February Commercial ACT ...... 4.35 1,974 recreational fishery. The estimated catch Projected Commercial Discards .......... 0.83 377 was nominal. Measures for the rest of Commercial Quota .... 3.52 1,596 the 2019 recreational fishery will be Recreational ACL ..... 4.59 2,083 developed through the winter for Recreational ACT ..... 4.59 2,083 implementation in spring 2019. catch limits to be the same as what they were in 2018. Based on a comparison between the Center’s 2018 spring survey results and average recruitment from 2003–2018, the 2015 year class appears to be more than 50 percent above average. Based on this information, we are maintaining status quo black sea bass specifications for 2019 (Table 3). Projected Recreational Discards Recreational Harvest Limit ....................... 0.93 422 3.66 1,661 Maintaining status quo allows for stability in the black sea bass commercial and recreational fisheries while we wait for the results of the MRIP operational assessment to be completed in April 2019. Once that information is available, the Council and Board may recommend adjusting black sea bass measures mid-year. No adjustments are made to the commercial minimum fish size (11-inch (27.9 cm) total length), gear requirements, and possession limits. Recreational Black Sea Bass Wave 1 Fishery This action also reopens the black sea bass recreational fishery for the month of February (during MRIP Wave 1). The current Federal black sea bass recreational management measures (i.e., a 12.5-inch (31.8-cm) minimum size and a possession limit of 15 fish) will apply to the fishery for this limited winter season. The intent of this action is to allow for some recreational fishing access during a portion of Wave 1 in 2019. 2019 Scup Specifications The scup fishery is currently operating under multi-year specifications projected through 2019. This action reaffirms the Council’s and Board’s previous recommendation for scup 2019 specifications. Those specifications result in the same commercial quota and recreational harvest limit as implemented in 2018 (Table 4). TABLE 4—SCUP SPECIFICATIONS FOR 2019 million lb OFL ........................... ABC .......................... Commercial ACL ...... Commercial ACT ...... Commercial Discards Commercial Quota .... Recreational ACL ..... Recreational ACT ..... Recreational Discards Recreational Harvest Limit ....................... mt 41.03 36.43 28.42 28.42 4.43 23.98 8.01 8.01 0.65 18,612 16,525 12,890 12,890 2,011 10,879 3,636 3,636 293 7.37 3,342 The 2019 scup commercial quota is divided into three commercial fishery quota periods, as outlined in Table 5. TABLE 5—COMMERCIAL SCUP QUOTA ALLOCATIONS FOR 2019 BY QUOTA PERIOD 2019 Initial quota Quota period Percent share amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with RULES lb mt Winter I ........................................................................................................................................ Summer ....................................................................................................................................... Winter II ....................................................................................................................................... 45.11 38.95 15.94 10,820,000 9,340,986 3,822,816 4,908 4,237 1,734 Total ...................................................................................................................................... 100.0 23,983,802 10,879 Note: Metric tons are as converted from lb and may not necessarily total due to rounding. VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:18 Dec 14, 2018 Jkt 247001 PO 00000 Frm 00052 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 E:\FR\FM\17DER1.SGM 17DER1 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 241 / Monday, December 17, 2018 / Rules and Regulations The current quota period possession limits are not changed by this action, and are outlined in Table 6. The Winter I possession limit will drop to 1,000 lb (454 kg) upon attainment of 80 percent of that period’s allocation. If the Winter I quota is not fully harvested, the remaining quota is transferred to Winter II. The Winter II possession limit may be adjusted (in association with a transfer of unused Winter I quota to the Winter II period) via notice in the Federal 64485 Register. The regulations specify that the Winter II possession limit increases consistent with the increase in the quota, as described in Table 7. TABLE 6—COMMERCIAL SCUP POSSESSION LIMITS BY QUOTA PERIOD Quota period Percent share Federal possession limits (per trip) lb kg Winter I ........................................................................................................................................ Summer ....................................................................................................................................... Winter II ....................................................................................................................................... 45.11 38.95 15.94 50,000 N/A 12,000 22,680 N/A 5,443 Total ...................................................................................................................................... 100.0 N/A N/A TABLE 7—POTENTIAL INCREASE IN WINTER II POSSESSION LIMITS BASED ON THE AMOUNT OF UNUSED SCUP ROLLED OVER FROM WINTER I TO WINTER II Initial Winter II possession limit lb 12,000 12,000 12,000 12,000 12,000 Rollover from Winter I to Winter II lb kg ..... ..... ..... ..... ..... 5,443 5,443 5,443 5,443 5,443 Increase in initial Winter II possession limit kg 0–499,999 ................ 500,000–999,999 ..... 1,000,000–1,499,999 1,500,000–1,999,999 * 2,000,000– 2,500,000. lb 0–226,796 ................ 226,796–453,592 ..... 453,592–680,388 ..... 680,389–907,184 ..... 907,185–1,133,981 .. kg 0 1,500 3,000 4,500 6,000 Final Winter II possession limit after rollover from Winter I to Winter II lb 0 680 1,361 2,041 2,722 12,000 13,500 15,000 16,500 18,000 kg 5,443 6,123 6,804 7,484 8,165 Adjustment to the Commercial Scup Gear-Based Possession Limit Thresholds amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with RULES This action adjusts the gear-based incidental possession limit for the commercial fishery. The incidental possession limit applies to vessels with commercial moratorium scup permits No adjustments are made to the current commercial minimum fish size (9-inch (22.9-cm) total length) and winter quota period directed-fishery possession limits. Comments and Responses On November 15, 2018, NMFS published the proposed specifications for public notice and comment. NMFS received six comments from VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:18 Dec 14, 2018 Jkt 247001 fishing with nets with diamond mesh smaller than 5 inches (12.7 cm) in diameter. The incidental possession limit is currently 1,000 lb (454 kg) during October 1–April 30 and 200 lb (91 kg) during May 1-September 30. The action adds another threshold period from April 15–June 15 to allow for higher retention in the small-mesh squid fishery that operates during that time and occasionally catches larger amounts of scup than the current limits allow to be landed (Table 8). During that time, vessels with scup moratorium permits using small mesh can land up to 2,000 lb (907 kg) of scup. individuals, and comments from the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA), the New York Recreational & For-Hire Fishing Alliance, the State of New York and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. No changes to the proposed specifications were made as a result of these comments. Comment 1: Two members of the public, a representative of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, and the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries offered their support of the proposed specifications, particularly the decision to maintain status quo specifications for black sea bass. Response: NMFS agrees and is implementing the proposed PO 00000 Frm 00053 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 E:\FR\FM\17DER1.SGM 17DER1 ER17DE18.054</GPH> * This process of increasing the possession limit in 1,500 lb (680 kg) increments would continue past 2,500,000 lb (1,122,981 kg), but we end here for the purpose of this example. amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with RULES 64486 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 241 / Monday, December 17, 2018 / Rules and Regulations specifications for the reasons outlined in the preamble to this rule. Comment 2: One individual commented that specifications for all three species should be reduced by 50 percent, but offered no rationale as to why. Response: The reasons for implementing these specifications, which are outlined in the preamble to this rule, are based on the best scientific information available. This information does not suggest that 50-percent reductions in catch and harvest limits are appropriate. Comment 3: Two commenters mentioned that they have noticed a decline in abundance of summer flounder and that the stock is being subject to overfishing. Response: The most recent stock assessment update (2016) indicates that the summer flounder stock is not overfished, but is experiencing overfishing. The 2019 catch limits for summer flounder consider this information on stock status. We are waiting for the results of a new benchmark assessment and can respond to any adjustments that may be necessary based on new information as it becomes available. Comment 4: One commenter representing the New York Recreational & For-Hire Fishing Alliance was supportve of the summer flounder and scup specifications, but wanted higher black sea bass specifications, noting that the stock is healthy. This commenter also requested that the black sea bass Wave 1 fishery be open in January and February, and if that was not an option, then January would be preferable due to the better weather conditions. Response: We agree that the black sea bass stock is healthy, which is why we are maintaining status quo measures, rather than reducing catch limits. The MRIP operational assessment will provide more updated information on the status of the black sea bass stock and will inform future management. The Council and Board may consider adjustments to the Wave 1 fishery next year, but for 2019 decided to recommend the same measures that were in place for 2018 (i.e., opening in February). A longer season in a future year would require a larger payback later in the year for states that choose to participate. Comment 5: Although supportive of the scup and black sea bass specifications, the RFA stated that the revised MRIP information released this summer should be used to automatically adjust the current commercial and recreational allocations. As a result, RFA suggests that the recreational VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:18 Dec 14, 2018 Jkt 247001 allocation should be increased and the recreational harvest limit for 2019 should be higher. Response: NMFS disagrees that the updated MRIP information automatically adjusts the current commercial and recreational allocations. Adjustments to these allocations must occur through an amendment to the FMP. As mentioned throughout the preamble to this rule, we expect the final results from the new summer flounder assessment to be available early in 2019. Once that information is available, the Council and Board intend to review the results and determine if these 2019 specifications should be adjusted. The Council and Board also intend to consider adjustments to the summer flounder recreational fishery, including consideration of the current 60/40 commercial and recreational allocation split, in a future amendment. Comment 6: The State of New York and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation submitted a letter stating that the commercial summer flounder state quotas date back to 1993 and have not been updated. The letter claims those allocations are based on unreliable data from 1993 and suggests NMFS implement a coastwide quota for the commercial fishery. Response: The current regulations governing the FMP require that quota allocations be distributed based on the percentages outlined in Table 2. Adjustments to these quota allocations must be developed through an amendment to the FMP. The Council and Board are taking final action on an amendment considering such adjustments at their December 2019 meeting and will forward their recommendations to NMFS for approval. Adjustments to these state quota allocations are outside the scope of this action. If the Council and Board recommend commercial fishery allocation changes at the joint December meeting, NMFS expects to conduct rulemaking on those recommendations in 2019. Comment 7: One commenter mentioned frustration over summer flounder recreational measures in state waters. Response: This topic is outside of the scope of this action. The Council and NMFS will determine summer flounder recreational measures in Federal waters later next year, but do not make determinations about individual state measures. Changes From the Proposed Rule There are no changes to the measures from the proposed rule. PO 00000 Frm 00054 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 Classification The Administrator, Greater Atlantic Region, NMFS, determined that these specifications are necessary for the conservation and management of the summer flounder, scup, and black sea bass fisheries and that they are consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and other applicable laws. This rule has been determined to be not significant for purposes of Executive Order 12866. The Chief Counsel for Regulation of the Department of Commerce certified to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business Administration during the proposed rule stage that this action would not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. The factual basis for the certification was published in the proposed rule and is not repeated here. No comments were received regarding this certification, and the initial certification remains unchanged. As a result, a final regulatory flexibility analysis is not required and none has been prepared. The Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, NOAA, finds good cause under 5 U.S.C. 553(d)(3) to waive the 30-day delay of effectiveness period for this rule, to ensure that the final specifications are in place on January 1, 2019. This action establishes the final specifications (i.e., annual catch limits) for the scup, summer flounder, and black sea bass fisheries for the 2019 fishing year, which begins on January 1, 2019. This rule is being issued at the earliest possible date. Preparation of the proposed rule was dependent on the submission of the EA in support of the specifications that is developed by the Council. An initial draft was received by NMFS in mid-October, with a complete document submitted in early December 2018. Documentation in support of the Council’s recommended specifications is required for NMFS to provide the public with information from the environmental and economic analyses, as required in rulemaking, and to evaluate the consistency of the Council’s recommendation with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and other applicable law. The proposed rule published on November 15, 2018, with a 15-day comment period ending November 30, 2018. Publication of the summer flounder quotas at the start of the fishing year that begins January 1 of each fishing year is required by the order of Judge Robert Doumar in North Carolina Fisheries Association v. Daley. If the 30-day delay in effectiveness were not waived, the lack of effective E:\FR\FM\17DER1.SGM 17DER1 Federal Register / Vol. 83, No. 241 / Monday, December 17, 2018 / Rules and Regulations quota specifications on January 1, 2019, for summer flounder and black sea bass, would present significant confusion to the complex cooperative management regime governing these fisheries. The summer flounder and black sea bass fisheries are all expected, based on historic participation and harvest patterns, to be very active at the start of the fishing season in 2019. Individual states would be unable to set commercial possession and/or trip limits, which apportion the catch over the entirety of the calendar year. NMFS would be unable to control harvest in any way, as there would be no quotas in place for these two species until the regulations are effective. NMFS would be unable to control harvest or close the fishery, should landings exceed the quotas. All of these factors would result in a race for fish wherein uncontrolled landings could occur. Disproportionately large harvest occurring within the first weeks of 2019 could have distributional effects on other quota periods, and would disadvantage some gear sectors or owners and operators of smaller vessels that typically fish later in the fishing season. List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 648 amozie on DSK3GDR082PROD with RULES Fisheries, Fishing, Recordkeeping and reporting requirements. VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:18 Dec 14, 2018 Jkt 247001 Dated: December 11, 2018. Alan D. Risenhoover, Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine Fisheries Service. For the reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 648 is amended as follows: PART 648—FISHERIES OF THE NORTHEASTERN UNITED STATES 1. The authority citation for part 648 continues to read as follows: ■ Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. 2. In § 648.125, paragraphs (a)(1) and (5) are revised to read as follows: ■ § 648.125 Scup gear restrictions. (a) * * * (1) Minimum mesh size. No owner or operator of an otter trawl vessel that is issued a scup moratorium permit may possess more than 1,000 lb (454 kg) of scup from October 1 through April 14, more than 2,000 lb (907 kg) from April 15 through June 15, or more than 200 lb (91 kg) of scup from June 16 through September 30, unless fishing with nets that have a minimum mesh size of 5.0inch (12.7-cm) diamond mesh, applied throughout the codend for at least 75 continuous meshes forward of the terminus of the net, and all other nets are stowed and not available for immediate use as defined in § 648.2. * * * * * (5) Stowage of nets. The owner or operator of an otter trawl vessel PO 00000 Frm 00055 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 9990 64487 retaining 1,000 lb (454 kg) or more of scup from October 1 through April 14, 2,000 lb (907 kg) or more of scup from April 15 through June 15, or 200 lb (90.7 kg) or more of scup from June 16 through September 30, and subject to the minimum mesh requirements in paragraph (a)(1) of this section, and the owner or operator of a midwater trawl or other trawl vessel subject to the minimum size requirement in § 648.126, may not have available for immediate use any net, or any piece of net, not meeting the minimum mesh size requirement, or mesh that is rigged in a manner that is inconsistent with the minimum mesh size. A net that is stowed and not available for immediate use as defined in § 648.2, and that can be shown not to have been in recent use, is considered to be not available for immediate use. * * * * * ■ 3. Section 648.146 is revised to read as follows: § 648.146 Black sea bass recreational fishing season. Vessels that are not eligible for a moratorium permit under § 648.4(a)(7), and fishermen subject to the possession limit specified in § 648.145(a), may only possess black sea bass from February 1 through February 28, May 15 through December 31, unless this time period is adjusted pursuant to the procedures in § 648.142. [FR Doc. 2018–27213 Filed 12–14–18; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P E:\FR\FM\17DER1.SGM 17DER1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 83, Number 241 (Monday, December 17, 2018)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 64482-64487]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2018-27213]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 648

[Docket No. 180906820-8999-02]
RIN 0648-BI48


Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Summer Flounder, 
Scup, and Black Sea Bass Fisheries; 2019 Specifications

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

ACTION: Final rule.

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SUMMARY: NMFS implements 2019 specifications for the summer flounder 
and black sea bass fisheries and maintains previously-established 2019 
specifications for the scup fishery. Additionally, this action reopens 
the February 2018 black sea bass recreational fishery and adjusts the 
current commercial incidental possession limit for scup. The 
implementing regulations for the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea 
Bass Fishery Management Plan require us to publish specifications for 
the upcoming fishing year for each of these species. The intent of this 
action is to inform the public of the specifications and management 
measures for the start of the 2019 fishing year for these three 
species. These specifications may be revised mid-year based on the 
results of ongoing stock assessments.

DATES: Effective January 1, 2019.

ADDRESSES: An environmental assessment (EA) was prepared for this 
action that describes these measures and other considered alternatives, 
and provides an analysis of the impacts of the measures and 
alternatives. Copies of the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass 
2019 Specifications, including the EA, are available on request from 
Dr. Christopher M. Moore, Executive Director, Mid-Atlantic Fishery 
Management Council, Suite 201, 800 North State Street, Dover, DE 19901. 
These documents are also accessible via the internet at http://www.mafmc.org/s/SFSBSB_2019_specs_EA.pdf.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Emily Gilbert, Fishery Policy Analyst, 
(978) 281-9244.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

General Background

    The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the Atlantic States 
Marine Fisheries Commission cooperatively manage the summer flounder, 
scup, and black sea bass fisheries. The Summer Flounder, Scup, and 
Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan (FMP) and its implementing 
regulations outline the Council's process for establishing 
specifications. Specifications in these fisheries include various catch 
and landing subdivisions, such as the commercial and recreational 
sector annual catch limits (ACL), annual catch targets (ACT), and 
sector-specific landing limits (i.e., the commercial fishery quota and 
recreational harvest limit), as well as management measures, as needed, 
that are designed to ensure these catch limits will not be exceeded. 
Annual specifications may be established for three-year periods, and, 
in interim years, specifications are reviewed by the Council to ensure 
previously established multi-year specifications remain appropriate. 
The FMP also contains formulas to divide the specification catch limits 
into commercial and recreational fishery allocations, state-by-state 
quotas, and quota periods, depending on the species in question. 
Rulemaking for measures used to manage the recreational fisheries 
(minimum fish sizes, open seasons, and bag limits) for these three 
species occurs separately, and typically takes place in the spring of 
each year.
    This action sets 2019 specifications for summer flounder and black 
sea bass. The previously-approved 2019 scup specifications (82 FR 
60682; December 22, 2017) remain unchanged from the current two-year 
specifications and are maintained through this action.
    An ongoing summer flounder benchmark assessment incorporating 
updated Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) data is 
scheduled to be available in early 2019. Operational assessments for 
black sea bass and scup will also be completed in April 2019 to 
incorporate revised MRIP data. Because new information for all three 
species is likely in the next few months, the Council and Commission's 
Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Board only recommended 
interim specifications for 2019, and the Council and Board may develop 
mid-year changes to the summer flounder specifications, and possibly 
black sea bass specifications, to address the forthcoming updated 
assessment information.
    The proposed rule for this action published in the Federal Register 
on November 15, 2018 (83 FR 57389), and comments were accepted through 
November 30, 2018. We received 11 comments.

2019 Summer Flounder Specifications

    At their August 2018 meeting, the Council and Board recommended 
interim summer flounder specifications for the start of the 2019 
fishing year (Table 1). Compared to 2018, the interim 2019 commercial 
quota and recreational harvest limit are a 16-percent increase. The 
Council and Board intend to consider revising these interim summer 
flounder specifications at a joint meeting in February 2019 to address 
the results of the benchmark stock assessment. If a change in catch 
limits is recommended by the Council and Board, we anticipate updated 
catch limits could be in place this spring and would announce any 
adjustments through a future rule.

                       Table 1--Current 2018 and Final 2019 Summer Flounder Specifications
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                          2018 (current)                       2019
                                 ---------------------------------------------------------------- Difference (%)
                                    million lb          mt          million lb          mt
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Overfishing Limits (OFL)........           18.69           8,476           20.60           9,344              10
ABC.............................           13.23           5,999           15.41           6,990              16
Commercial ACL..................            7.70           3,491            9.18           4,164              19
Commercial ACT..................            7.70           3,491          * 8.14           3,692              19
Projected Commercial Discards...            1.07             485            1.47             667               2
Commercial Quota................            6.63           3,006          * 6.67           3,030              16
Recreational ACL................            5.53           2,508            6.22           2,821              12
Recreational ACT................            5.53           2,508            6.22           2,821              12

[[Page 64483]]

 
Projected Recreational Discards.            1.11             504            1.08             490              -3
Recreational Harvest Limit......            4.42           2,004            5.15           2,336              16
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* As further explained below, a required accountability measure reduces the commercial ACT from 9.18 million
  pounds (4,164 mt) to 8.14 million pounds (3,692 mt) and reduces the commercial quota from 7.72 million pounds
  (3,502 mt) to 6.67 million pounds (3,030 mt).

    The Council and Board recommended no adjustment to the commercial 
minimum fish size (14-inch (35.6 cm) total length), gear requirements, 
and possession limits. The Council and Board will develop recreational 
management measures (i.e., minimum fish sizes, open seasons, and bag 
limits) for summer flounder this fall and NMFS rulemaking will occur in 
early spring of 2019.

2019 Summer Flounder Commercial Non-Landing Accountability Measure

    Our final catch accounting shows that the 2017 commercial fishery 
exceeded its ACL by 21 percent and the ABC was exceeded by 7 percent, 
due to higher than expected discards in the commercial fishery. The 
newly-revised accountability measures (AM) regulations (83 FR 53825, 
October 25, 2018) require a scaled payback against the commercial 
fishery's ACT, based on the amount of the overage and the status of the 
summer flounder stock, using the most recent biological reference 
points. Based on our AMs, a scaled payback is required because the most 
recent assessment update (2016) indicated that the stock is 
experiencing overfishing and is not overfished.
    The scaled payback based on the 2016 assessment status is 1.04 
million lb (472 mt). This overage, when applied to the 2019 commercial 
ACT of 9.18 million lb (3,502 mt), results in a commercial quota of 
6.67 million lb (3,030 mt), after subtracting the 2019 projected 
estimated discards. The resulting quota is less than one percent higher 
than the 2018 quota. The timing of this final rule did not allow for 
the results of the 2018 benchmark assessment to be incorporated into 
the AM evaluation. Final results of that assessment are anticipated to 
be available in early 2019. If the assessment results in changes to the 
current stock determination criteria, any adjustments to the summer 
flounder specifications can incorporate a re-evaluation of this AM.

2019 Commercial State Quota Shares

    Table 2 summarizes the commercial summer flounder quotas for each 
state, incorporating the revised 2019 commercial ACT. This rule 
announces commercial state quota overage reductions necessary for 
fishing year 2019. Table 2 includes percent shares as outlined in Sec.  
648.102(c)(1)(i), the resultant 2019 commercial quotas, quota overages 
(as needed), and the final adjusted 2019 commercial quotas. The 2018 
quota overage is determined by comparing landings for January through 
October 2018, plus any 2017 landings overage that was not previously 
addressed in establishing the 2018 summer flounder specifications, for 
each state. For Delaware, this includes continued repayment of 
overharvest from previous years.

                                        Table 2--Final State-by-State Commercial Summer Flounder Quotas for 2019
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                     2019 Initial quota     2019 Adjusted quota (ACL  Overages through October     Final adjusted 2019
                                     FMP percent --------------------------         overage)                  31, 2018            Quota, less overages
               State                    share                              -----------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                       lb           kg           lb           kg           lb           kg           lb           kg
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Maine..............................      0.04756        3,672        1,665        3,172        1,439            0            0        3,172        1,439
New Hampshire......................      0.00046           36           16           31           14            0            0           31           14
Massachusetts......................      6.82046      526,540      235,406      454,925      202,922       -7,559       -3,429      447,366      202,922
Rhode Island.......................     15.68298    1,210,726      549,176    1,046,055      474,482            0            0    1,046,055      474,482
Connecticut........................      2.25708      174,247       79,037      150,547       68,287            0            0      150,547       68,287
New York...........................      7.64699      590,348      267,777      510,054      231,357            0            0      510,054      231,357
New Jersey.........................     16.72499    1,291,169      585,665    1,115,557      506,008            0            0    1,115,557      506,008
Delaware...........................      0.01779        1,373      -24,346        1,187      -24,431      -55,047      -24,969      -53,860      -24,431
Maryland...........................       2.0391      157,419       71,404      136,008       61,692            0            0      136,008       61,692
Virginia...........................     21.31676    1,645,654      746,456    1,421,828      644,930            0            0    1,421,828      644,930
North Carolina.....................     27.44584    2,118,819      961,080    1,830,638      830,363            0            0    1,830,638      830,363
                                    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Total..........................          100    7,720,000    3,497,682    6,670,000    3,021,494            0  ...........    6,661,255    3,021,494
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Notes: Kilograms are as converted from pounds and may not necessarily add due to rounding. Total quota is the sum for all states with an allocation. A
  state with a negative number has a 2019 allocation of zero (0). Total adjusted 2019 quota, less overages, does not include negative allocations (i.e.,
  Delaware's overage).

Delaware Summer Flounder Closure

    Table 2 shows the amount of overharvest from previous years for 
Delaware is greater than the amount of commercial quota allocated to 
Delaware for 2019. As a result, there is no quota available for 2019 in 
Delaware. The regulations at Sec.  648.4(b) provide that Federal permit 
holders, as a condition of their permit, must not land summer flounder 
in any state that the NMFS Greater Atlantic Region Administrator has 
determined no longer has commercial quota available for harvest. 
Therefore, landings of summer flounder in Delaware by vessels holding 
commercial Federal summer flounder permits are prohibited for the 2019 
calendar year, unless additional quota becomes available through a 
quota transfer and is announced in the Federal Register. Federally 
permitted dealers are advised that they may not purchase summer 
flounder from federally permitted vessels that land in Delaware for the 
2019 calendar year, unless additional quota becomes available through a 
transfer, as mentioned above.

2019 Black Sea Bass Specifications

    At the August meeting, the Council and Board made recommendations 
for the 2019 black sea bass specifications, but for reasons outlined 
below, we are

[[Page 64484]]

maintaining status quo measures currently in place for 2018.
    In June 2018, the Center provided the Council with a black sea bass 
data update, including updated catch, landings, and survey indices 
through 2017. Black sea bass biomass continues to be high and the 2015 
year class appears to be above average in both the northern and 
southern surveys. Updated stock status information and biomass 
projections incorporating data on the 2015 year class were not 
available as part of the Center-provided data update, but will be once 
the operational assessment is completed in April 2019.
    The Council's Scienctific and Statistical Committee (SSC) 
recommended a 2019 ABC of 7.97 million lb (3,615 mt), which was based 
on biomass projections from the 2016 benchmark stock assessment. This 
would have been an 11-percent reduction compared to the 2018 ABC. This 
decline in the ABC reflects the population responding to fishing at 
maximum sustainable yield and the decrease of the large 2011 year 
class, but does not incorporate the information on the 2015 year class. 
Based on this ABC recommendation, the Council and Board recommended the 
2019 specifications that were 11 percent lower than those in place for 
2018.
    Following the Council and Board meeting, we requested that the 
Center perform a sensitivity analysis of the 2019 projection derived 
from the 2016 benchmark stock assessment. As previously described, that 
projection did not include the 2015 year class because those fish were 
too small to be widely captured in the surveys at the time of the 2016 
assessment. This sensitivity analysis used various recruitment 
scenarios applied to the original projection and compared them to the 
most recent survey indices. The objective of this analysis was to see 
if that projection would have supported different specifications for 
2019 had we been able to incorporate what we know now about the 
strength of the 2015 year class. The results suggest that the 2015 year 
class would have to be about 50 percent above average to allow for 2019 
catch limits to be the same as what they were in 2018. Based on a 
comparison between the Center's 2018 spring survey results and average 
recruitment from 2003-2018, the 2015 year class appears to be more than 
50 percent above average. Based on this information, we are maintaining 
status quo black sea bass specifications for 2019 (Table 3).

               Table 3--2019 Black Sea Bass Specifications
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                     million
                                                        lb         mt
------------------------------------------------------------------------
OFL...............................................      10.29      4,667
ABC...............................................       8.94      4,055
Commercial ACL....................................       4.35      1,974
Commercial ACT....................................       4.35      1,974
Projected Commercial Discards.....................       0.83        377
Commercial Quota..................................       3.52      1,596
Recreational ACL..................................       4.59      2,083
Recreational ACT..................................       4.59      2,083
Projected Recreational Discards...................       0.93        422
Recreational Harvest Limit........................       3.66      1,661
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Maintaining status quo allows for stability in the black sea bass 
commercial and recreational fisheries while we wait for the results of 
the MRIP operational assessment to be completed in April 2019. Once 
that information is available, the Council and Board may recommend 
adjusting black sea bass measures mid-year.
    No adjustments are made to the commercial minimum fish size (11-
inch (27.9 cm) total length), gear requirements, and possession limits.

Recreational Black Sea Bass Wave 1 Fishery

    This action also reopens the black sea bass recreational fishery 
for the month of February (during MRIP Wave 1). The current Federal 
black sea bass recreational management measures (i.e., a 12.5-inch 
(31.8-cm) minimum size and a possession limit of 15 fish) will apply to 
the fishery for this limited winter season. The intent of this action 
is to allow for some recreational fishing access during a portion of 
Wave 1 in 2019.
    There are currently no MRIP survey estimates collected for Wave 1 
except for occasional estimates in North Carolina, but catch from this 
time period must be accounted for, and count against the recreational 
harvest limit. Similar to last year, to account for the harvest during 
this 28-day season, the Council and Board recommended a coastwide catch 
estimate of 100,000 lb (45.3 mt). The Board has further divided this 
coastwide catch estimate across the states. States that decide to 
participate in the Wave 1 fishery must account for this catch when 
developing their management measures for the remainder of the fishing 
year. Only two states participated in the 2018 February recreational 
fishery. The estimated catch was nominal. Measures for the rest of the 
2019 recreational fishery will be developed through the winter for 
implementation in spring 2019.

2019 Scup Specifications

    The scup fishery is currently operating under multi-year 
specifications projected through 2019. This action reaffirms the 
Council's and Board's previous recommendation for scup 2019 
specifications. Those specifications result in the same commercial 
quota and recreational harvest limit as implemented in 2018 (Table 4).

                  Table 4--Scup Specifications for 2019
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                     million
                                                        lb         mt
------------------------------------------------------------------------
OFL...............................................      41.03     18,612
ABC...............................................      36.43     16,525
Commercial ACL....................................      28.42     12,890
Commercial ACT....................................      28.42     12,890
Commercial Discards...............................       4.43      2,011
Commercial Quota..................................      23.98     10,879
Recreational ACL..................................       8.01      3,636
Recreational ACT..................................       8.01      3,636
Recreational Discards.............................       0.65        293
Recreational Harvest Limit........................       7.37      3,342
------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The 2019 scup commercial quota is divided into three commercial 
fishery quota periods, as outlined in Table 5.

                       Table 5--Commercial Scup Quota Allocations for 2019 by Quota Period
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                        2019 Initial quota
                          Quota period                             Percent share -------------------------------
                                                                                        lb              mt
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Winter I........................................................           45.11      10,820,000           4,908
Summer..........................................................           38.95       9,340,986           4,237
Winter II.......................................................           15.94       3,822,816           1,734
                                                                 -----------------------------------------------
    Total.......................................................           100.0      23,983,802          10,879
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Note: Metric tons are as converted from lb and may not necessarily total due to rounding.


[[Page 64485]]

    The current quota period possession limits are not changed by this 
action, and are outlined in Table 6. The Winter I possession limit will 
drop to 1,000 lb (454 kg) upon attainment of 80 percent of that 
period's allocation. If the Winter I quota is not fully harvested, the 
remaining quota is transferred to Winter II. The Winter II possession 
limit may be adjusted (in association with a transfer of unused Winter 
I quota to the Winter II period) via notice in the Federal Register. 
The regulations specify that the Winter II possession limit increases 
consistent with the increase in the quota, as described in Table 7.

                           Table 6--Commercial Scup Possession Limits by Quota Period
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                     Federal possession limits
                                                                                            (per trip)
                          Quota period                             Percent share -------------------------------
                                                                                        lb              kg
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Winter I........................................................           45.11          50,000          22,680
Summer..........................................................           38.95             N/A             N/A
Winter II.......................................................           15.94          12,000           5,443
                                                                 -----------------------------------------------
    Total.......................................................           100.0             N/A             N/A
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


          Table 7--Potential Increase in Winter II Possession Limits Based on the Amount of Unused Scup Rolled Over From Winter I to Winter II
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
       Initial Winter II  possession limit          Rollover from Winter I to Winter II    Increase in initial Winter II    Final Winter II possession
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------        possession limit            limit after rollover from
                                                                                         --------------------------------      Winter I to Winter II
               lb                       kg                lb                  kg                                         -------------------------------
                                                                                                lb              kg              lb              kg
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
12,000..........................           5,443  0-499,999.........  0-226,796.........               0               0          12,000           5,443
12,000..........................           5,443  500,000-999,999...  226,796-453,592...           1,500             680          13,500           6,123
12,000..........................           5,443  1,000,000-1,499,99  453,592-680,388...           3,000           1,361          15,000           6,804
                                                   9.
12,000..........................           5,443  1,500,000-1,999,99  680,389-907,184...           4,500           2,041          16,500           7,484
                                                   9.
12,000..........................           5,443  * 2,000,000-        907,185-1,133,981.           6,000           2,722          18,000           8,165
                                                   2,500,000.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* This process of increasing the possession limit in 1,500 lb (680 kg) increments would continue past 2,500,000 lb (1,122,981 kg), but we end here for
  the purpose of this example.

Adjustment to the Commercial Scup Gear-Based Possession Limit 
Thresholds

    This action adjusts the gear-based incidental possession limit for 
the commercial fishery. The incidental possession limit applies to 
vessels with commercial moratorium scup permits fishing with nets with 
diamond mesh smaller than 5 inches (12.7 cm) in diameter. The 
incidental possession limit is currently 1,000 lb (454 kg) during 
October 1-April 30 and 200 lb (91 kg) during May 1-September 30. The 
action adds another threshold period from April 15-June 15 to allow for 
higher retention in the small-mesh squid fishery that operates during 
that time and occasionally catches larger amounts of scup than the 
current limits allow to be landed (Table 8). During that time, vessels 
with scup moratorium permits using small mesh can land up to 2,000 lb 
(907 kg) of scup.
[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TR17DE18.054

    No adjustments are made to the current commercial minimum fish size 
(9-inch (22.9-cm) total length) and winter quota period directed-
fishery possession limits.

Comments and Responses

    On November 15, 2018, NMFS published the proposed specifications 
for public notice and comment. NMFS received six comments from 
individuals, and comments from the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, 
the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA), the New York Recreational & 
For-Hire Fishing Alliance, the State of New York and the New York State 
Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Massachusetts 
Division of Marine Fisheries. No changes to the proposed specifications 
were made as a result of these comments.
    Comment 1: Two members of the public, a representative of the 
Jersey Coast Anglers Association, and the Massachusetts Division of 
Marine Fisheries offered their support of the proposed specifications, 
particularly the decision to maintain status quo specifications for 
black sea bass.
    Response: NMFS agrees and is implementing the proposed

[[Page 64486]]

specifications for the reasons outlined in the preamble to this rule.
    Comment 2: One individual commented that specifications for all 
three species should be reduced by 50 percent, but offered no rationale 
as to why.
    Response: The reasons for implementing these specifications, which 
are outlined in the preamble to this rule, are based on the best 
scientific information available. This information does not suggest 
that 50-percent reductions in catch and harvest limits are appropriate.
    Comment 3: Two commenters mentioned that they have noticed a 
decline in abundance of summer flounder and that the stock is being 
subject to overfishing.
    Response: The most recent stock assessment update (2016) indicates 
that the summer flounder stock is not overfished, but is experiencing 
overfishing. The 2019 catch limits for summer flounder consider this 
information on stock status. We are waiting for the results of a new 
benchmark assessment and can respond to any adjustments that may be 
necessary based on new information as it becomes available.
    Comment 4: One commenter representing the New York Recreational & 
For-Hire Fishing Alliance was supportve of the summer flounder and scup 
specifications, but wanted higher black sea bass specifications, noting 
that the stock is healthy. This commenter also requested that the black 
sea bass Wave 1 fishery be open in January and February, and if that 
was not an option, then January would be preferable due to the better 
weather conditions.
    Response: We agree that the black sea bass stock is healthy, which 
is why we are maintaining status quo measures, rather than reducing 
catch limits. The MRIP operational assessment will provide more updated 
information on the status of the black sea bass stock and will inform 
future management. The Council and Board may consider adjustments to 
the Wave 1 fishery next year, but for 2019 decided to recommend the 
same measures that were in place for 2018 (i.e., opening in February). 
A longer season in a future year would require a larger payback later 
in the year for states that choose to participate.
    Comment 5: Although supportive of the scup and black sea bass 
specifications, the RFA stated that the revised MRIP information 
released this summer should be used to automatically adjust the current 
commercial and recreational allocations. As a result, RFA suggests that 
the recreational allocation should be increased and the recreational 
harvest limit for 2019 should be higher.
    Response: NMFS disagrees that the updated MRIP information 
automatically adjusts the current commercial and recreational 
allocations. Adjustments to these allocations must occur through an 
amendment to the FMP. As mentioned throughout the preamble to this 
rule, we expect the final results from the new summer flounder 
assessment to be available early in 2019. Once that information is 
available, the Council and Board intend to review the results and 
determine if these 2019 specifications should be adjusted. The Council 
and Board also intend to consider adjustments to the summer flounder 
recreational fishery, including consideration of the current 60/40 
commercial and recreational allocation split, in a future amendment.
    Comment 6: The State of New York and the New York State Department 
of Environmental Conservation submitted a letter stating that the 
commercial summer flounder state quotas date back to 1993 and have not 
been updated. The letter claims those allocations are based on 
unreliable data from 1993 and suggests NMFS implement a coastwide quota 
for the commercial fishery.
    Response: The current regulations governing the FMP require that 
quota allocations be distributed based on the percentages outlined in 
Table 2. Adjustments to these quota allocations must be developed 
through an amendment to the FMP. The Council and Board are taking final 
action on an amendment considering such adjustments at their December 
2019 meeting and will forward their recommendations to NMFS for 
approval. Adjustments to these state quota allocations are outside the 
scope of this action. If the Council and Board recommend commercial 
fishery allocation changes at the joint December meeting, NMFS expects 
to conduct rulemaking on those recommendations in 2019.
    Comment 7: One commenter mentioned frustration over summer flounder 
recreational measures in state waters.
    Response: This topic is outside of the scope of this action. The 
Council and NMFS will determine summer flounder recreational measures 
in Federal waters later next year, but do not make determinations about 
individual state measures.

Changes From the Proposed Rule

    There are no changes to the measures from the proposed rule.

Classification

    The Administrator, Greater Atlantic Region, NMFS, determined that 
these specifications are necessary for the conservation and management 
of the summer flounder, scup, and black sea bass fisheries and that 
they are consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and other applicable 
laws.
    This rule has been determined to be not significant for purposes of 
Executive Order 12866.
    The Chief Counsel for Regulation of the Department of Commerce 
certified to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business 
Administration during the proposed rule stage that this action would 
not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small 
entities. The factual basis for the certification was published in the 
proposed rule and is not repeated here. No comments were received 
regarding this certification, and the initial certification remains 
unchanged. As a result, a final regulatory flexibility analysis is not 
required and none has been prepared.
    The Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, NOAA, finds good cause 
under 5 U.S.C. 553(d)(3) to waive the 30-day delay of effectiveness 
period for this rule, to ensure that the final specifications are in 
place on January 1, 2019. This action establishes the final 
specifications (i.e., annual catch limits) for the scup, summer 
flounder, and black sea bass fisheries for the 2019 fishing year, which 
begins on January 1, 2019.
    This rule is being issued at the earliest possible date. 
Preparation of the proposed rule was dependent on the submission of the 
EA in support of the specifications that is developed by the Council. 
An initial draft was received by NMFS in mid-October, with a complete 
document submitted in early December 2018. Documentation in support of 
the Council's recommended specifications is required for NMFS to 
provide the public with information from the environmental and economic 
analyses, as required in rulemaking, and to evaluate the consistency of 
the Council's recommendation with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and other 
applicable law. The proposed rule published on November 15, 2018, with 
a 15-day comment period ending November 30, 2018. Publication of the 
summer flounder quotas at the start of the fishing year that begins 
January 1 of each fishing year is required by the order of Judge Robert 
Doumar in North Carolina Fisheries Association v. Daley.
    If the 30-day delay in effectiveness were not waived, the lack of 
effective

[[Page 64487]]

quota specifications on January 1, 2019, for summer flounder and black 
sea bass, would present significant confusion to the complex 
cooperative management regime governing these fisheries. The summer 
flounder and black sea bass fisheries are all expected, based on 
historic participation and harvest patterns, to be very active at the 
start of the fishing season in 2019. Individual states would be unable 
to set commercial possession and/or trip limits, which apportion the 
catch over the entirety of the calendar year. NMFS would be unable to 
control harvest in any way, as there would be no quotas in place for 
these two species until the regulations are effective. NMFS would be 
unable to control harvest or close the fishery, should landings exceed 
the quotas. All of these factors would result in a race for fish 
wherein uncontrolled landings could occur. Disproportionately large 
harvest occurring within the first weeks of 2019 could have 
distributional effects on other quota periods, and would disadvantage 
some gear sectors or owners and operators of smaller vessels that 
typically fish later in the fishing season.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 648

    Fisheries, Fishing, Recordkeeping and reporting requirements.

    Dated: December 11, 2018.
Alan D. Risenhoover,
Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National 
Marine Fisheries Service.
    For the reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 648 is amended 
as follows:

PART 648--FISHERIES OF THE NORTHEASTERN UNITED STATES

0
1. The authority citation for part 648 continues to read as follows:

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


0
2. In Sec.  648.125, paragraphs (a)(1) and (5) are revised to read as 
follows:


Sec.  648.125  Scup gear restrictions.

    (a) * * *
    (1) Minimum mesh size. No owner or operator of an otter trawl 
vessel that is issued a scup moratorium permit may possess more than 
1,000 lb (454 kg) of scup from October 1 through April 14, more than 
2,000 lb (907 kg) from April 15 through June 15, or more than 200 lb 
(91 kg) of scup from June 16 through September 30, unless fishing with 
nets that have a minimum mesh size of 5.0-inch (12.7-cm) diamond mesh, 
applied throughout the codend for at least 75 continuous meshes forward 
of the terminus of the net, and all other nets are stowed and not 
available for immediate use as defined in Sec.  648.2.
* * * * *
    (5) Stowage of nets. The owner or operator of an otter trawl vessel 
retaining 1,000 lb (454 kg) or more of scup from October 1 through 
April 14, 2,000 lb (907 kg) or more of scup from April 15 through June 
15, or 200 lb (90.7 kg) or more of scup from June 16 through September 
30, and subject to the minimum mesh requirements in paragraph (a)(1) of 
this section, and the owner or operator of a midwater trawl or other 
trawl vessel subject to the minimum size requirement in Sec.  648.126, 
may not have available for immediate use any net, or any piece of net, 
not meeting the minimum mesh size requirement, or mesh that is rigged 
in a manner that is inconsistent with the minimum mesh size. A net that 
is stowed and not available for immediate use as defined in Sec.  
648.2, and that can be shown not to have been in recent use, is 
considered to be not available for immediate use.
* * * * *

0
3. Section 648.146 is revised to read as follows:


Sec.  648.146  Black sea bass recreational fishing season.

    Vessels that are not eligible for a moratorium permit under Sec.  
648.4(a)(7), and fishermen subject to the possession limit specified in 
Sec.  648.145(a), may only possess black sea bass from February 1 
through February 28, May 15 through December 31, unless this time 
period is adjusted pursuant to the procedures in Sec.  648.142.

[FR Doc. 2018-27213 Filed 12-14-18; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P