Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; Spatial Fisheries Management, 22112-22114 [2019-10193]

Download as PDF 22112 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 95 / Thursday, May 16, 2019 / Notices DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration RIN 0648–BI10 Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; Spatial Fisheries Management National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice of intent (NOI) to prepare a draft environmental impact analysis and hold scoping meetings; availability of issues and options paper; request for comments. AGENCY: NMFS announces its intent to prepare a draft environmental impact analysis for an action to consider options to perform research and collect data in areas closed to or restricting fishing and gear types for highly migratory species (HMS) in support of and to evaluate spatial fisheries management. Strategies to facilitate research and data collection in these areas could improve sustainable management of HMS. This action will consider ways to perform such research and data collection. To gather input from the public, NMFS also announces the availability of an Issues and Options Paper for Research and Data Collection in Support of Spatial Fisheries Management (Issues and Options Paper) that outlines possible strategies to perform research and collect data in areas that currently prohibit or restrict commercial and/or recreational fishing for HMS. Fishery-dependent data is vital in informing and supporting effective fisheries management, and areas that restrict fishing effort often have a commensurate decrease in fishery-dependent data collection. In addition, NMFS will hold scoping meetings to gather public comment on potential research and data collection options. Because constituents may be interested in several ongoing related rulemakings, these scoping meetings may be held in conjunction with scoping meetings for Amendment 13 (review of bluefin tuna measures including the Individual Bluefin Tuna Quota (IBQ) Program and quota allocations) and 14 (review of annual catch limits for sharks) to the 2006 Consolidated Atlantic HMS Fishery Management Plan. NMFS will announce the date and times for the scoping meetings in a separate Federal Register notice at a later date. NMFS requests comments on the approaches presented in the Issues and Options Paper as well as comments on or identification of khammond on DSKBBV9HB2PROD with NOTICES SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:22 May 15, 2019 Jkt 247001 other approaches that may warrant consideration. DATES: Written comments on this NOI and the Issues and Options Paper must be received on or before July 31, 2019. NMFS is holding scoping meetings during the public comment period and will announce the date and times for the scoping meetings in a separate Federal Register notice at a later date. ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of the Issues and Options Paper may also be obtained on the internet at: https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/action/ research-and-data-collection-supportspatial-fisheries-management. You may submit comments, identified by ‘‘NOAA–NMFS–2019–0035’’, by either of the following methods: • Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to www.regulations.gov/#!docket Detail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2019-0035, click the ‘‘Comment Now!’’ icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments. • Mail: Karyl Brewster-Geisz, Highly Migratory Species Management Division, Office of Sustainable Fisheries (F/SF1), NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910. Instructions: Comments sent by any other method, or to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered. All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted to http:// www.regulations.gov without change. All Personal Identifying Information (e.g., name, address), confidential business information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter ‘‘N/A’’ in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous). FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Karyl Brewster-Geisz by phone at (301) 427–8503 or Tobey Curtis by phone at (978) 281–9260, or online at https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/topic/atlantichighly-migratory-species. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Background The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) is the principal law governing marine fisheries in the U.S. and includes ten National Standards to guide fishery conservation and management. The MagnusonStevens Act requires that conservation and management measures prevent overfishing while achieving, on a PO 00000 Frm 00008 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 continuing basis, the optimum yield from each fishery (National Standard 1). It also requires that fishery ‘‘conservation and management measures shall be based upon the best scientific information available.’’ (National Standard 2). Other laws, such as the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), require NMFS to limit interactions with certain species affected by federal actions, such as permitted fishery operations. NMFS employs a variety of conservation and management measures to maintain appropriate levels of catch consistent with applicable science-based quotas or other management goals, to limit bycatch to the extent practicable, and to limit interactions with protected species as required. These measures include ‘‘spatial management techniques,’’ which refers to a suite of fisheries conservation and management measures that are based on geographic area, such as closed areas. Closed areas are typically discrete geographic areas where certain types of fishing are restricted or prohibited for limited periods or the entire year. Ideally, closed areas overlap in space and time with the species habitat and/or life stages in need of protection. Closed areas can be particularly effective for reducing fishing mortality by certain types of fishing to near zero within the designated areas, because species in need of protection are not in danger of catch or interaction with those fishing gears, even incidentally. Although an effective management tool for achieving certain objectives, closed areas also reduce access to valuable target species, and eliminate the ability to gather some fisherydependent data within the areas. Fishery-dependent data are information collected during normal fishing operations (e.g., catch composition, bycatch rates, fishing effort), and are a vital and cost-effective source of information for fisheries management. Such data have been critical in determining stock status, assessing bycatch levels, and in meeting other fishery management needs. In some instances, fishery-dependent data may be the only data from a fishery that are cost-effective and feasible when considering research and budgetary constraints. If normal fishing operations are curtailed or prohibited, as with closed areas, fishery-dependent data collection can be negatively affected and create data gaps that can have implications across multiple fisheries, such as a reduced understanding of species distribution and stock status. E:\FR\FM\16MYN1.SGM 16MYN1 khammond on DSKBBV9HB2PROD with NOTICES Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 95 / Thursday, May 16, 2019 / Notices Ideally, when a fishery closure is implemented, fishery-independent monitoring can continue to take place in the closed area in order to assess the closure’s success and continued appropriateness over time. Unfortunately, fishery-independent monitoring programs can be expensive, and resources to fund such research may not be readily available. In such cases, it may be appropriate to find ways to gather fishery-dependent data from active fisheries to make determinations about the effectiveness and appropriateness of a closed area, even though otherwise-applicable closed area restrictions may not allow such fishing. Nevertheless, prudent management requires that the benefits of closed areas be periodically reviewed to evaluate if a closed area’s objectives are still being met, considering changes in fishery conditions, such as changes in fishing effort, fleet composition, stock status, and environmental changes. The ocean is a highly dynamic environment and long-term shifts in fish and habitat distributions can potentially undermine conservation and management effectiveness in these closed areas if they remain static. NMFS has implemented a number of closed areas that curtail or prohibit fishing for Atlantic HMS (tunas, sharks, swordfish, and billfish). These include areas that restrict all gears targeting HMS such as the Edges 40-Fathom Contour, areas that restrict pelagic longline gear such as the Charleston Bump, areas that restrict bottom longline gear such as the Mid-Atlantic Closure, areas that restrict gillnet gear such as the Southeast U.S. Restricted Area, and areas that restrict some recreational HMS fishing such as Madison-Swanson and Steamboat Lumps Marine Protected Areas. Some goals of certain closed areas are still relevant, such as conserving protected resources under the ESA or MMPA or effectively managing and rebuilding overfished stocks under the MagnusonStevens Act. However, some goals may no longer be as relevant, such as reducing fishing pressure on nowrebuilt stocks (such as North Atlantic swordfish), or the introduction of other management measures that achieve the intended conservation goals may reduce the need for the closed areas. Furthermore, reductions in fishing effort in one area can displace fishing effort to other areas, with possible adverse impacts. HMS closed areas should be periodically evaluated for their utility in meeting management goals and legal obligations, including those under the ESA, MMPA, and the Magnuson- VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:22 May 15, 2019 Jkt 247001 Stevens Act. Such a review would include ensuring that closed areas are appropriately placed to achieve current conservation objectives and remain appropriate in light of other management measures. The Issues and Options Paper explores different approaches to conduct research and collect data in closed areas in support of HMS management. As described above, closed area data collection is needed for several reasons. First, in most cases, no fisheries data has been collected in the closed areas using affected HMS gears during times when the closures are in effect. This lack of data complicates, and may compromise, effective management of HMS. To maintain a sustainable fishery that maximizes access to fishery resources while achieving conservation goals, fishery managers need current and relevant catch data, along with protected resource interaction information. While closed areas can be effective at achieving management goals and objectives, such as curtailing or eliminating fishing mortality and bycatch interactions within the area, fishery managers need information to assess the continued effectiveness of the closed areas in meeting the objectives. These closures may need to be moved, reduced, or expanded to meet the original goals. However, without recent catch and interaction data, it is difficult to measure management success or shortcomings. Second, the original goals of the closure may no longer be relevant. For example, if a closure was implemented to reduce fishing mortality of an overfished stock, the closure may no longer be needed if that stock is rebuilt. Without data from the closed areas, fishery managers cannot assess whether the closed areas are still needed to provide ancillary benefits to other species or whether the areas need to be modified. Third, closed areas may be redundant or obsolete in the context of new management measures. If the original management goals of the closure are being met through more recent management measures, it is possible that the closure warrants reconsideration or modification. Data collection can help to determine whether closed area modifications are needed in light of more recent management measures. Fourth, assessing the impact of closed areas through data collection can help achieve other Agency goals. For example, it is NMFS’ goal to more fully utilize swordfish quota allocated by the International Commission for the PO 00000 Frm 00009 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 22113 Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). If some existing closed areas affect the U.S. fleet’s ability to harvest the resource without offering needed conservation benefits, due to one of the above reasons, those closed areas may warrant modification. The seafood trade imbalance is another Agency priority that could be impacted by inefficient closed areas. If closed areas reduce domestic catch without providing conservation benefits, and that reduced catch increases demand for foreign imports, the areas may warrant modification. While addressing goals such as full utilization of the swordfish quota or reducing the seafood trade imbalance, consideration must be given to possible adverse impacts, such as increased gear conflicts. Answering these questions depends on high-quality data collection in the relevant areas with the relevant gears during the relevant times. The Issues and Options Paper explores different approaches to collect data in areas closed to HMS fishing in support of HMS management. The first step in considering ways to collect data and perform research in closed areas is publication of the Issues and Options Paper, which summarizes current spatial management of HMS and presents possible strategies to collect data and perform research in closed areas that affect HMS fishing. NMFS requests comments on the presented approaches as well as other approaches that should be considered. NMFS has several ongoing actions affecting HMS management that are, or soon will be, available for public comment. While each of these actions are separate, they are related in some ways, and the comment periods may overlap. Depending on the outcomes, each action could have impacts on the other actions. To the extent any closed areas or other spatial management measures are affected or altered by these other actions, NMFS will take that into account and appropriately update the areas under consideration in this action. NMFS recently released its ‘‘Draft Three-Year Review of the Individual Bluefin Quota (IBQ) Program.’’ The IBQ Program, adopted in Amendment 7 to the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP (Amendment 7), is a catch share program that introduced individual vessel accountability for bluefin bycatch in the pelagic longline fishery. Formal reviews of such catch share programs are required to evaluate whether their objectives are met. In Amendment 7, NMFS proposed and finalized a plan to formally evaluate the success and performance of the IBQ Program after three years of operation and to provide E:\FR\FM\16MYN1.SGM 16MYN1 khammond on DSKBBV9HB2PROD with NOTICES 22114 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 95 / Thursday, May 16, 2019 / Notices the HMS Advisory Panel with a publicly-available written document with its findings. This is review is expected to be finalized in September 2019 after consideration by the HMS Advisory Panel. NMFS also recently released a document (Amendment 13 Issues and Options Paper) for use in 2019 for scoping, a public process during which NMFS will consider a range of issues and objectives, as well as possible options for bluefin tuna management. The options being presented in the Issues and Options Paper consider the preliminary results of the Draft ThreeYear Review and respond to recent changes in the bluefin fishery and input from the public and HMS Advisory Panel. The options include refining the IBQ Program; reassessing allocation of bluefin tuna quotas (including the potential elimination or phasing out of the Purse Seine category); and other regulatory provisions regarding bluefin directed fisheries and bycatch in the pelagic longline fishery, to determine if existing measures are the best means of achieving current management objectives for bluefin tuna management. During scoping, public feedback will be accepted via written comments or scoping meetings as described in separate Federal Register notices. NMFS also is currently in the process of developing a Proposed Rule Modifying Pelagic Longline Bluefin Tuna Area-Based and Weak Hook Management Measures. To analyze the potential environmental effects of a range of alternatives, NMFS recently released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). The DEIS evaluates whether current area-based and gear management measures remain necessary to reduce and/or maintain low numbers of bluefin tuna discards and interactions in the pelagic longline fishery, given more recent management measures, including the IBQ Program. The DEIS prefers alternatives that undertake a process to evaluate the need for the Northeastern United States Closed Area and the Gulf of Mexico Gear Restricted Area; removes the Cape Hatteras Gear Restricted Area; and adjusts the Gulf of Mexico weak hook effective period from year-round to seasonal (January–June). The comment period for the DEIS and proposed rule are open through July 31, 2019. NMFS is holding four public hearings across the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Coast. There will also be two webinars that will serve as public hearings for interested members of the public from all geographic locations. After consideration of public comment, NMFS expects to finalize the rule in the late Fall of 2019. The proposed rule VerDate Sep<11>2014 17:22 May 15, 2019 Jkt 247001 related to this DEIS is expected to be released shortly. Finally, NMFS has also recently published an Issues and Options Paper for Amendment 14, which will review annual catch limits and reference points for sharks. This action could result in a different process for establishing the annual catch limits for sharks, and therefore could affect all fishermen, commercial and recreational, that target or incidentally catch sharks. During scoping, public feedback will be accepted via written comments or at scoping meetings as described in separate Federal Register notices. Scoping Process NMFS encourages participation, by all persons affected or otherwise interested in recreational and commercial HMS fishing, in the process to determine the scope and significance of options to be analyzed and considered in a draft environmental impact analysis and regulatory action. All such persons are encouraged to submit written comments (see ADDRESSES), or comment at one of the scoping meetings or public webinar. Persons submitting comments are welcome to address the specific measures in the Issues and Options Paper. NMFS intends to hold scoping meetings in the geographic areas that may be affected by these measures, including locations on the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts. NMFS will announce the date and times for the scoping meetings in a separate Federal Register notice at a later date. After public comment has been gathered and analyzed, NMFS will determine if it is necessary to proceed with preparation of a draft environmental impact analysis and proposed rule, which would include additional opportunities for public comment. The scope of the draft environmental impact analysis (whether an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement) would depend on the scope and potential effects of the agency action being considered and would consist of the range of actions, alternatives, and impacts to be considered. This scoping process also will identify, and possibly eliminate from further detailed analysis, issues that may not meet the purpose and need of the action. The process of developing any resulting regulatory action is expected to take approximately two years. Until the draft environmental impact analysis and proposed rule are finalized or until other regulations are put into place, the current regulations remain in effect. Authority: 16 U.S.C. 971 et seq.; 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. PO 00000 Frm 00010 Fmt 4703 Sfmt 4703 Dated: May 13, 2019. Kelly L. Denit, Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2019–10193 Filed 5–15–19; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Submission for OMB Review; Comment Request The Department of Commerce will submit to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for clearance the following proposal for collection of information under the provisions of the Paperwork Reduction Act (44 U.S.C. Chapter 35). Agency: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Title: Comment Request; Greater Atlantic Region Logbook Family of Forms. OMB Control Number: 0648–0212. Form Number(s): None. Type of Request: Regular. Number of Respondents: 2,422. Average Hours per Response: VTR response time is 5 minutes; Shellfish log is 12.5 minutes; IVR burden for each tilefish call is 2 minutes, each herring call is 4 minutes, and each RSA or EFP call is 5 minutes; DAS IVRs are 5 minutes; and declarations of days out of gillnet fishery, along with the departure/ landing call ins are 2 minutes. Burden Hours: 10,429 Needs and Uses: The information collected using IVR and VTRs is used by several offices of the NOAA Fisheries Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Councils, and state fishery enforcement agencies under contract to the NOAA Fisheries Service in order to develop, implement, and monitor fishery management strategies. These data serve as inputs for a variety of uses, including biological analyses and stock assessments, regulatory impact analyses, quota allocation selections and monitoring, economic profitability profiles, trade and import tariff decisions, allocation of grant funds among states, and analysis of ecological interactions among species. NMFS would be unable to fulfill the majority of its scientific research and fishery management missions without these data. Affected Public: Business or other forprofit, Individuals or households. Frequency: On occasion, weekly, monthly Respondent’s Obligation: Mandatory E:\FR\FM\16MYN1.SGM 16MYN1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 84, Number 95 (Thursday, May 16, 2019)]
[Notices]
[Pages 22112-22114]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2019-10193]



[[Page 22112]]

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

DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

RIN 0648-BI10


Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; Spatial Fisheries Management

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

ACTION: Notice of intent (NOI) to prepare a draft environmental impact 
analysis and hold scoping meetings; availability of issues and options 
paper; request for comments.

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

SUMMARY: NMFS announces its intent to prepare a draft environmental 
impact analysis for an action to consider options to perform research 
and collect data in areas closed to or restricting fishing and gear 
types for highly migratory species (HMS) in support of and to evaluate 
spatial fisheries management. Strategies to facilitate research and 
data collection in these areas could improve sustainable management of 
HMS. This action will consider ways to perform such research and data 
collection. To gather input from the public, NMFS also announces the 
availability of an Issues and Options Paper for Research and Data 
Collection in Support of Spatial Fisheries Management (Issues and 
Options Paper) that outlines possible strategies to perform research 
and collect data in areas that currently prohibit or restrict 
commercial and/or recreational fishing for HMS. Fishery-dependent data 
is vital in informing and supporting effective fisheries management, 
and areas that restrict fishing effort often have a commensurate 
decrease in fishery-dependent data collection. In addition, NMFS will 
hold scoping meetings to gather public comment on potential research 
and data collection options. Because constituents may be interested in 
several ongoing related rulemakings, these scoping meetings may be held 
in conjunction with scoping meetings for Amendment 13 (review of 
bluefin tuna measures including the Individual Bluefin Tuna Quota (IBQ) 
Program and quota allocations) and 14 (review of annual catch limits 
for sharks) to the 2006 Consolidated Atlantic HMS Fishery Management 
Plan. NMFS will announce the date and times for the scoping meetings in 
a separate Federal Register notice at a later date. NMFS requests 
comments on the approaches presented in the Issues and Options Paper as 
well as comments on or identification of other approaches that may 
warrant consideration.

DATES: Written comments on this NOI and the Issues and Options Paper 
must be received on or before July 31, 2019. NMFS is holding scoping 
meetings during the public comment period and will announce the date 
and times for the scoping meetings in a separate Federal Register 
notice at a later date.

ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of the Issues and Options Paper may also 
be obtained on the internet at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/action/research-and-data-collection-support-spatial-fisheries-management. You 
may submit comments, identified by ``NOAA-NMFS-2019-0035'', by either 
of the following methods:
     Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to 
www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2019-0035, click the 
``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or 
attach your comments.
     Mail: Karyl Brewster-Geisz, Highly Migratory Species 
Management Division, Office of Sustainable Fisheries (F/SF1), NMFS, 
1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910.
    Instructions: Comments sent by any other method, or to any other 
address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, 
may not be considered. All comments received are a part of the public 
record and will generally be posted to http://www.regulations.gov 
without change. All Personal Identifying Information (e.g., name, 
address), confidential business information, or otherwise sensitive 
information submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly 
accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter ``N/A'' in the 
required fields if you wish to remain anonymous).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Karyl Brewster-Geisz by phone at (301) 
427-8503 or Tobey Curtis by phone at (978) 281-9260, or online at 
https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/topic/atlantic-highly-migratory-species.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act 
(Magnuson-Stevens Act) is the principal law governing marine fisheries 
in the U.S. and includes ten National Standards to guide fishery 
conservation and management. The Magnuson-Stevens Act requires that 
conservation and management measures prevent overfishing while 
achieving, on a continuing basis, the optimum yield from each fishery 
(National Standard 1). It also requires that fishery ``conservation and 
management measures shall be based upon the best scientific information 
available.'' (National Standard 2). Other laws, such as the Endangered 
Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), require 
NMFS to limit interactions with certain species affected by federal 
actions, such as permitted fishery operations. NMFS employs a variety 
of conservation and management measures to maintain appropriate levels 
of catch consistent with applicable science-based quotas or other 
management goals, to limit bycatch to the extent practicable, and to 
limit interactions with protected species as required. These measures 
include ``spatial management techniques,'' which refers to a suite of 
fisheries conservation and management measures that are based on 
geographic area, such as closed areas. Closed areas are typically 
discrete geographic areas where certain types of fishing are restricted 
or prohibited for limited periods or the entire year. Ideally, closed 
areas overlap in space and time with the species habitat and/or life 
stages in need of protection. Closed areas can be particularly 
effective for reducing fishing mortality by certain types of fishing to 
near zero within the designated areas, because species in need of 
protection are not in danger of catch or interaction with those fishing 
gears, even incidentally.
    Although an effective management tool for achieving certain 
objectives, closed areas also reduce access to valuable target species, 
and eliminate the ability to gather some fishery-dependent data within 
the areas. Fishery-dependent data are information collected during 
normal fishing operations (e.g., catch composition, bycatch rates, 
fishing effort), and are a vital and cost-effective source of 
information for fisheries management. Such data have been critical in 
determining stock status, assessing bycatch levels, and in meeting 
other fishery management needs. In some instances, fishery-dependent 
data may be the only data from a fishery that are cost-effective and 
feasible when considering research and budgetary constraints. If normal 
fishing operations are curtailed or prohibited, as with closed areas, 
fishery-dependent data collection can be negatively affected and create 
data gaps that can have implications across multiple fisheries, such as 
a reduced understanding of species distribution and stock status.

[[Page 22113]]

Ideally, when a fishery closure is implemented, fishery-independent 
monitoring can continue to take place in the closed area in order to 
assess the closure's success and continued appropriateness over time. 
Unfortunately, fishery-independent monitoring programs can be 
expensive, and resources to fund such research may not be readily 
available. In such cases, it may be appropriate to find ways to gather 
fishery-dependent data from active fisheries to make determinations 
about the effectiveness and appropriateness of a closed area, even 
though otherwise-applicable closed area restrictions may not allow such 
fishing. Nevertheless, prudent management requires that the benefits of 
closed areas be periodically reviewed to evaluate if a closed area's 
objectives are still being met, considering changes in fishery 
conditions, such as changes in fishing effort, fleet composition, stock 
status, and environmental changes. The ocean is a highly dynamic 
environment and long-term shifts in fish and habitat distributions can 
potentially undermine conservation and management effectiveness in 
these closed areas if they remain static.
    NMFS has implemented a number of closed areas that curtail or 
prohibit fishing for Atlantic HMS (tunas, sharks, swordfish, and 
billfish). These include areas that restrict all gears targeting HMS 
such as the Edges 40-Fathom Contour, areas that restrict pelagic 
longline gear such as the Charleston Bump, areas that restrict bottom 
longline gear such as the Mid-Atlantic Closure, areas that restrict 
gillnet gear such as the Southeast U.S. Restricted Area, and areas that 
restrict some recreational HMS fishing such as Madison-Swanson and 
Steamboat Lumps Marine Protected Areas. Some goals of certain closed 
areas are still relevant, such as conserving protected resources under 
the ESA or MMPA or effectively managing and rebuilding overfished 
stocks under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. However, some goals may no 
longer be as relevant, such as reducing fishing pressure on now-rebuilt 
stocks (such as North Atlantic swordfish), or the introduction of other 
management measures that achieve the intended conservation goals may 
reduce the need for the closed areas. Furthermore, reductions in 
fishing effort in one area can displace fishing effort to other areas, 
with possible adverse impacts. HMS closed areas should be periodically 
evaluated for their utility in meeting management goals and legal 
obligations, including those under the ESA, MMPA, and the Magnuson-
Stevens Act. Such a review would include ensuring that closed areas are 
appropriately placed to achieve current conservation objectives and 
remain appropriate in light of other management measures.
    The Issues and Options Paper explores different approaches to 
conduct research and collect data in closed areas in support of HMS 
management. As described above, closed area data collection is needed 
for several reasons. First, in most cases, no fisheries data has been 
collected in the closed areas using affected HMS gears during times 
when the closures are in effect. This lack of data complicates, and may 
compromise, effective management of HMS. To maintain a sustainable 
fishery that maximizes access to fishery resources while achieving 
conservation goals, fishery managers need current and relevant catch 
data, along with protected resource interaction information. While 
closed areas can be effective at achieving management goals and 
objectives, such as curtailing or eliminating fishing mortality and 
bycatch interactions within the area, fishery managers need information 
to assess the continued effectiveness of the closed areas in meeting 
the objectives. These closures may need to be moved, reduced, or 
expanded to meet the original goals. However, without recent catch and 
interaction data, it is difficult to measure management success or 
shortcomings.
    Second, the original goals of the closure may no longer be 
relevant. For example, if a closure was implemented to reduce fishing 
mortality of an overfished stock, the closure may no longer be needed 
if that stock is rebuilt. Without data from the closed areas, fishery 
managers cannot assess whether the closed areas are still needed to 
provide ancillary benefits to other species or whether the areas need 
to be modified.
    Third, closed areas may be redundant or obsolete in the context of 
new management measures. If the original management goals of the 
closure are being met through more recent management measures, it is 
possible that the closure warrants reconsideration or modification. 
Data collection can help to determine whether closed area modifications 
are needed in light of more recent management measures.
    Fourth, assessing the impact of closed areas through data 
collection can help achieve other Agency goals. For example, it is 
NMFS' goal to more fully utilize swordfish quota allocated by the 
International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas 
(ICCAT). If some existing closed areas affect the U.S. fleet's ability 
to harvest the resource without offering needed conservation benefits, 
due to one of the above reasons, those closed areas may warrant 
modification. The seafood trade imbalance is another Agency priority 
that could be impacted by inefficient closed areas. If closed areas 
reduce domestic catch without providing conservation benefits, and that 
reduced catch increases demand for foreign imports, the areas may 
warrant modification. While addressing goals such as full utilization 
of the swordfish quota or reducing the seafood trade imbalance, 
consideration must be given to possible adverse impacts, such as 
increased gear conflicts. Answering these questions depends on high-
quality data collection in the relevant areas with the relevant gears 
during the relevant times.
    The Issues and Options Paper explores different approaches to 
collect data in areas closed to HMS fishing in support of HMS 
management. The first step in considering ways to collect data and 
perform research in closed areas is publication of the Issues and 
Options Paper, which summarizes current spatial management of HMS and 
presents possible strategies to collect data and perform research in 
closed areas that affect HMS fishing. NMFS requests comments on the 
presented approaches as well as other approaches that should be 
considered.
    NMFS has several ongoing actions affecting HMS management that are, 
or soon will be, available for public comment. While each of these 
actions are separate, they are related in some ways, and the comment 
periods may overlap. Depending on the outcomes, each action could have 
impacts on the other actions. To the extent any closed areas or other 
spatial management measures are affected or altered by these other 
actions, NMFS will take that into account and appropriately update the 
areas under consideration in this action.
    NMFS recently released its ``Draft Three-Year Review of the 
Individual Bluefin Quota (IBQ) Program.'' The IBQ Program, adopted in 
Amendment 7 to the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP (Amendment 7), is a catch 
share program that introduced individual vessel accountability for 
bluefin bycatch in the pelagic longline fishery. Formal reviews of such 
catch share programs are required to evaluate whether their objectives 
are met. In Amendment 7, NMFS proposed and finalized a plan to formally 
evaluate the success and performance of the IBQ Program after three 
years of operation and to provide

[[Page 22114]]

the HMS Advisory Panel with a publicly-available written document with 
its findings. This is review is expected to be finalized in September 
2019 after consideration by the HMS Advisory Panel.
    NMFS also recently released a document (Amendment 13 Issues and 
Options Paper) for use in 2019 for scoping, a public process during 
which NMFS will consider a range of issues and objectives, as well as 
possible options for bluefin tuna management. The options being 
presented in the Issues and Options Paper consider the preliminary 
results of the Draft Three-Year Review and respond to recent changes in 
the bluefin fishery and input from the public and HMS Advisory Panel. 
The options include refining the IBQ Program; reassessing allocation of 
bluefin tuna quotas (including the potential elimination or phasing out 
of the Purse Seine category); and other regulatory provisions regarding 
bluefin directed fisheries and bycatch in the pelagic longline fishery, 
to determine if existing measures are the best means of achieving 
current management objectives for bluefin tuna management. During 
scoping, public feedback will be accepted via written comments or 
scoping meetings as described in separate Federal Register notices.
    NMFS also is currently in the process of developing a Proposed Rule 
Modifying Pelagic Longline Bluefin Tuna Area-Based and Weak Hook 
Management Measures. To analyze the potential environmental effects of 
a range of alternatives, NMFS recently released a Draft Environmental 
Impact Statement (DEIS). The DEIS evaluates whether current area-based 
and gear management measures remain necessary to reduce and/or maintain 
low numbers of bluefin tuna discards and interactions in the pelagic 
longline fishery, given more recent management measures, including the 
IBQ Program. The DEIS prefers alternatives that undertake a process to 
evaluate the need for the Northeastern United States Closed Area and 
the Gulf of Mexico Gear Restricted Area; removes the Cape Hatteras Gear 
Restricted Area; and adjusts the Gulf of Mexico weak hook effective 
period from year-round to seasonal (January-June). The comment period 
for the DEIS and proposed rule are open through July 31, 2019. NMFS is 
holding four public hearings across the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic 
Coast. There will also be two webinars that will serve as public 
hearings for interested members of the public from all geographic 
locations. After consideration of public comment, NMFS expects to 
finalize the rule in the late Fall of 2019. The proposed rule related 
to this DEIS is expected to be released shortly.
    Finally, NMFS has also recently published an Issues and Options 
Paper for Amendment 14, which will review annual catch limits and 
reference points for sharks. This action could result in a different 
process for establishing the annual catch limits for sharks, and 
therefore could affect all fishermen, commercial and recreational, that 
target or incidentally catch sharks. During scoping, public feedback 
will be accepted via written comments or at scoping meetings as 
described in separate Federal Register notices.

Scoping Process

    NMFS encourages participation, by all persons affected or otherwise 
interested in recreational and commercial HMS fishing, in the process 
to determine the scope and significance of options to be analyzed and 
considered in a draft environmental impact analysis and regulatory 
action. All such persons are encouraged to submit written comments (see 
ADDRESSES), or comment at one of the scoping meetings or public 
webinar. Persons submitting comments are welcome to address the 
specific measures in the Issues and Options Paper.
    NMFS intends to hold scoping meetings in the geographic areas that 
may be affected by these measures, including locations on the Atlantic 
and Gulf of Mexico coasts. NMFS will announce the date and times for 
the scoping meetings in a separate Federal Register notice at a later 
date. After public comment has been gathered and analyzed, NMFS will 
determine if it is necessary to proceed with preparation of a draft 
environmental impact analysis and proposed rule, which would include 
additional opportunities for public comment. The scope of the draft 
environmental impact analysis (whether an environmental assessment or 
environmental impact statement) would depend on the scope and potential 
effects of the agency action being considered and would consist of the 
range of actions, alternatives, and impacts to be considered. This 
scoping process also will identify, and possibly eliminate from further 
detailed analysis, issues that may not meet the purpose and need of the 
action.
    The process of developing any resulting regulatory action is 
expected to take approximately two years. Until the draft environmental 
impact analysis and proposed rule are finalized or until other 
regulations are put into place, the current regulations remain in 
effect.

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

    Dated: May 13, 2019.
Kelly L. Denit,
Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2019-10193 Filed 5-15-19; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P