Temporary Rule To Establish Management Measures for Red Grouper in the Gulf of Mexico, 22389-22392 [2019-10322]

Download as PDF jbell on DSK3GLQ082PROD with RULES Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 96 / Friday, May 17, 2019 / Rules and Regulations should be made to remove a hook if it has been swallowed and the insertion point is not clearly visible, or if it is determined that removal would result in further injury. (b) If the hook cannot be removed or if the sea turtle is only entangled, remove as much line as possible prior to its release using a long-handled line cutter specified in paragraph C.1. of this appendix. (c) If the hook can be removed, it must be removed using the appropriate long-handled dehooker specified in paragraph C.2. or C.3. of this appendix. Without causing further injury, as much gear as possible must be removed from the sea turtle prior to its release. (3) Any sea turtle taken incidentally while fishing, regardless of whether the sea turtle is alive or dead, or whether it is brought on board, must not be consumed, sold, landed, offloaded, transshipped, or kept below deck. E. Incorporation by reference. The standards required in paragraphs C. and D. of this appendix are incorporated by reference into this appendix with the approval of the Director of the Federal Register under 5 U.S.C. 552(a) and 1 CFR part 51. All approved material is available for inspection at the National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Regional Office, 263 13th Ave. South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701, phone: 727– 824–5301, website: https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/southeast/ endangered-species-conservation/sea-turtleand-smalltooth-sawfish-release-gearprotocols.html, and is available from the sources listed in paragraphs E.1. and E.2. of this appendix. It is also available for inspection at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). For information on the availability of this material at NARA, call 202–741–6030 or go to www.archives.gov/federal-register/cfr/ibrlocations.html. 1. U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Fisheries Science Center, 75 Virginia Beach Drive, Miami, FL 33149. (a) Careful Release Protocols for Sea Turtle Release with Minimal Injury, NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS–SEFSC–735, Stokes, L., and Bergmann, C. (Editors), 2019. (b) [Reserved] 2. U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Regional Office, 263 13th Ave. South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701. (a) Sea Turtle Handling/Release Guidelines: Quick Reference for Hook and Line Fisheries, English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Revised April 2019. (b) [Reserved] [FR Doc. 2019–10052 Filed 5–16–19; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:27 May 16, 2019 Jkt 247001 DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 622 [Docket No. 190213109–9385–02] RIN 0648–BI63 Temporary Rule To Establish Management Measures for Red Grouper in the Gulf of Mexico National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Final temporary rule; emergency action. AGENCY: NMFS issues an emergency rule as requested by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Council) to address concerns that the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf) red grouper stock may be in decline. This emergency rule reduces the commercial and recreational annual catch limits (ACLs) and annual catch targets (ACTs). This emergency rule is effective for 180 days, although NMFS may extend this emergency rule’s effectiveness for a maximum of an additional 186 days. The intended effect of this emergency rule is to provide a temporary reduction in Gulf red grouper harvest levels to protect the stock from overharvest while the Council develops a framework action to reduce the red grouper catch limits on a more longterm basis. DATES: This final temporary rule is effective on May 17, 2019, through November 13, 2019. ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of the documents in support of this emergency rule, which include an environmental assessment (EA), may be obtained from the Southeast Regional Office website at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Peter Hood, Southeast Regional Office, NMFS, telephone: 727–824–5305, email: peter.hood@noaa.gov. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NMFS and the Council manage Gulf reef fish, including red grouper, under the Fishery Management Plan for Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf (FMP). The Council prepared the FMP and NMFS implements the FMP through regulations at 50 CFR part 622 under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act). The Magnuson-Stevens Act provides the legal authority for the promulgation of emergency regulations under section 305(c) (16 U.S.C. 1855(c)). SUMMARY: PO 00000 Frm 00059 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 22389 On March 5, 2019, NMFS published a proposed temporary rule for emergency action in the Federal Register and requested public comment (84 FR 7864). The proposed emergency rule and the EA outline the rationale for the actions contained in this final emergency rule. A summary of the management measures described in the EA and implemented through this emergency rule is provided below. All weights in this emergency rule are in gutted weight. The current red grouper commercial and recreational ACLs and ACTs were implemented through a framework action to the FMP in 2016 (81 FR 70365, October 12, 2016). These values were based on a red grouper stock ACL equal to 10.70 million lb (4.85 million kg). The current sector allocation for red grouper is 76 percent commercial and 24 percent recreational, and the commercial and recreational ACTs reduce the sectorspecific ACLs by 95 percent and 92 percent, respectively. The current red grouper commercial ACL is 8,190,000 lb (3,714,922 kg) and the commercial ACT (commercial quota) is 7,780,000 lb (3,528,949 kg). The current red grouper recreational ACL is 2,580,000 lb (1,170,268 kg) and the recreational ACT is 2,370,000 lb (1,075,014 kg). Currently, the red grouper stock is not considered to be overfished or undergoing overfishing. However, recent information suggests the condition of the red grouper stock has declined. Information supporting this conclusion includes reduced commercial and recreational landings, an interim analysis of the stock, testimony from fishermen at Council meetings, and recent red tide events in the eastern Gulf. These factors caused the Council to request emergency action to reduce the red grouper ACLs and ACTs while it considers a longer-term reduction through a framework action to the FMP. The Council requested that NMFS reduce the Gulf red grouper stock ACL for the 2019 fishing year to 4.60 million lb (2.09 million kg), as recommended by the Council’s Scientific and Statiscal Committee (SSC), or the 2017 total red grouper landings, whichever is less. The 2017 combined red grouper commercial and recreational landings (approximately 4.16 million lb (1.89 million kg)) are less than the SSC’s recommendation. Therefore, NMFS implements this final emergency rule to reduce the red grouper commercial and recreational ACLs and ACTs consistent with a stock ACL of 4.16 million lb (1.89 million kg). This emergency rule is effective for 180 days, although NMFS may extend the emergency rule’s E:\FR\FM\17MYR1.SGM 17MYR1 22390 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 96 / Friday, May 17, 2019 / Rules and Regulations effectiveness for a maximum of an additional 186 days. This would allow for sufficient time for the Council and NMFS to develop and implement a new framework action to manage the red grouper stock for the 2020 fishing year and beyond. jbell on DSK3GLQ082PROD with RULES Measures Contained in This Final Emergency Rule For red grouper, this emergency rule revises the red grouper stock ACL to 4.16 million lb (1.89 million kg). Applying the commercial allocation of 76 percent to the stock ACL of 4.16 million lb (1.89 million kg) results in a commercial ACL of 3.16 million lb (1.43 million kg). The commercial ACT is set at 95 percent of the commercial ACL, or 3.00 million lb (1.36 million kg). Because commercial red grouper is managed under an individual fishing quota (IFQ) program, NMFS distributes IFQ allocation to the program shareholders on January 1 of each year. After NMFS distributes the applicable commercial quota to shareholders, it cannot be recalled. Therefore, in anticipation of this final emergency rule reducing the commercial quota, NMFS withheld distribution of 59.4 percent, equivalent to 4.78 million lb (2.17 million kg) of red grouper IFQ allocation through a temporary rule effective on January 1, 2019 (83 FR 64480, December 17, 2018). If the commercial quota reduction implemented through this final emergency rule is not effective by June 1, 2019, the withheld commercial quota will be redistributed to the shareholders. For the recreational sector, 24 percent of the 4.16 million lb (1.89 million kg) revised total stock ACL results in a recreational ACL of 1.00 million lb (0.45 million kg). The recreational ACT is set at 92 percent of the recreational ACL, or 0.92 million lb (0.42 million kg). Emergency Rule Criteria NMFS’ Policy Guidelines for the Use of Emergency Rules (62 FR 44421, August 21, 1997) list three criteria for determining whether an emergency exists, and this final emergency rule is promulgated under these criteria. Specifically, NMFS’ policy guidelines require that an emergency: (1) Result from recent, unforeseen events or recently discovered circumstances; and (2) Present serious conservation or management problems in the fishery; and (3) Can be addressed through emergency regulations for which the immediate benefits outweigh the value of advance notice, public comment, and deliberative consideration of the VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:27 May 16, 2019 Jkt 247001 impacts on participants to the same extent as would be expected under the normal rulemaking process. NMFS has determined that reducing the red grouper 2019 commercial and recreational ACLs and ACTs for 2019 meets the three criteria required for an emergency rule. The new red grouper interim analysis developed by the NMFS Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC) and subsequent SSC recommendation were presented to the Council at its October 2018 meeting and constitute recently discovered circumstances. In addition, public testimony at the October Council meeting expressed concern about the status of the red grouper stock, noting that red grouper appear to be scarcer in abundance than in previous years. The severe red tide event that occurred in summer and fall 2018 off the Florida west coast was also unforeseen and may have adversely affected the red grouper stock. Although the impacts of this recent red tide are unknown, the 2009 Southeast Data Assessment and Review (SEDAR) 12 update assessment and 2015 SEDAR 42 assessment indicated that a similar 2005 red tide event depressed the red grouper spawning stock biomass. The SEDAR 61 red grouper stock assessment is presently underway and NMFS expects to present the results to the Council’s SSC in July 2019. Without this emergency rule, the red grouper ACLs and ACTs could not be effectively reduced for the 2019 fishing year. This could present a serious conservation problem if the red grouper stock is in decline, as the reduction in landings, public comment, and interim analysis suggest. Based on the Council’s request for an interim or emergency rule, in its December 17, 2018, temporary rule, NMFS withheld the IFQ allocation equal to this emergency rule’s reduction in the commercial ACT (quota)(83 FR 64480). This final emergency rule meets the third criteria for an emergency because it would reduce the commercial quota to be effective prior to June 1, 2019. This would provide protection to the red grouper stock while the Council and NMFS develop and implement a framework action that will address the new information about the stock, including the SEDAR 61 assessment, for the 2020 fishing year and beyond. Comments and Responses NMFS received 17 comments on the proposed temporary rule for emergency action. The majority of the comments supported the action. Some comments supporting the action also contained suggestions for additional management PO 00000 Frm 00060 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 measures that are outside the scope of the Council’s request for interim or emergency action such as seasonal closures, reduced recreational bag limits, and state management of the red grouper recreational sector. No changes to this final rule were made as a result of public comment. Comments that were specific to the proposed temporary rule for emergency action are summarized and responded to below. Comment 1: The emergency action is not of a long enough duration to provide sufficient protection to the red grouper stock. Response: NMFS agrees that longterm measures may be needed to protect Gulf red grouper stock. The Council requested emergency action to address concerns regarding the Gulf red grouper stock and reduce the catch levels for 2019. The Council developed more long-term measures through a framework action that would continue the ACL and ACT reductions contained in this emergency rule in 2020 and beyond. The Council approved this framework action at its April 2019 meeting. NMFS will evaluate the framework action for consistency with the FMP, Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law, and will publish a proposed rule if appropriate. Comment 2: The red grouper stock is healthy and so neither the commercial nor recreational catch levels need to be reduced. Response: NMFS disagrees. Several factors support this emergency action. At their October 2018 meeting, the Council received a recommendation from its SSC to reduce the red grouper commercial and recreational ACLs and ACTs beginning in the 2019 fishing year. This recommendation was based on a NMFS SEFSC analysis that suggested the Gulf red snapper stock may be in decline. In addition, fishermen expressed concern about the condition of the red grouper stock because recent harvests have been well below the current catch levels. Finally, the Council noted the severe red tide conditions that occurred in the summer and fall of 2018 off the Florida west coast. The red grouper stock has been shown to be adversely affected by past red tide events similar to the event that occurred in 2018. Therefore, the Council concluded, and NMFS agrees, that this action should be taken to reduce the red grouper catch levels for 2019. Comment 3: NMFS should not reduce catch levels through this emergency rule. If the red grouper stock cannot support a two-fish daily recreational bag limit, then NMFS should close commercial fishing for red grouper. E:\FR\FM\17MYR1.SGM 17MYR1 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 96 / Friday, May 17, 2019 / Rules and Regulations jbell on DSK3GLQ082PROD with RULES Response: A complete closure of the commercial sector is beyond the scope of the action requested by the Council and implemented through this emergency rule. The commercial sector is managed under an IFQ program, which allows for the harvest of red grouper as long as IFQ participants have allocation available. However, NMFS notes that the catch levels established through this rule are equal to 2017 harvest levels and recreational red grouper fishing did not close in 2017. Therefore, NMFS expects the recreational season to remain open throughout 2019 under the current 2fish red grouper recreational bag limit. Classification This action is issued pursuant to section 305(c) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, 16 U.S.C. 1855(c). The Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, NOAA (AA), has determined that this emergency rule is necessary to provide increased protection for the Gulf red grouper stock and is consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and other applicable laws. This action is being taken pursuant to the emergency provision of MagnusonStevens Act and is exempt from review by the Office of Management and Budget. NMFS published the proposed temporary emergency rule on March 5, 2019 (84 FR 7864), and prepared an Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA) to accompany the proposed action. The IRFA concluded that the action would have a significant adverse impact on the average annual 330 small commercial fishing businesses and their combined 376 federally permitted fishing vessels that harvest red grouper from the Gulf. The comment period for the proposed rulemaking closed on March 20, 2019. A final regulatory flexibility analysis (FRFA) parallels the IRFA and must also include a summary of significant issues raised by public comments in response to the IRFA, any changes in the action in response to those comments or new information, a description of the steps the agency took to minimize the adverse economic impact on small entities, and why it selected the alternative adopted. No comments were received on the IRFA or on the economic impacts of the rule on small entities more generally. NMFS has not received any new information that would affect its previous determination. As a result, the estimates and conclusions of the IRFA have not changed. This rule will reduce the red grouper quota in 2019 to 3.00 million lb (1.36 million kg). NMFS considered two other VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:27 May 16, 2019 Jkt 247001 alternatives to the rule: either no change in the quota or a reduction to 3.32 million lb (1.51 million kg). The noaction alternative has no short-term impacts on small businesses, but was not selected because it allows for declining status of the stock. The second non-selected alternative has smaller short-term costs than the selected alternative, but it may not provide for sufficient protection of the stock. Section 212 of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996 states that, for each rule or group of related rules for which an agency is required to prepare a FRFA, the agency shall publish one or more guides to assist small entities in complying with the rule, and shall designate such publications as small entity compliance guides. As part of the rulemaking process, NMFS prepared a fishery bulletin, which also serves as a small entity compliance guide. The fishery bulletin will be sent to all interested parties. This final emergency rule responds to the best scientific information available. The AA finds that the need to immediately implement this action constitutes good cause to waive the 30day delay in this final emergency rule’s effectiveness, pursuant to the authority set forth in 5 U.S.C. 553(d)(3), as such procedure for this final emergency rule would be contrary to the public interest. Delaying the effectiveness of this emergency rule for 30 days would be contrary to the public interest because of the need to implement this action before June 1, 2019, in order to protect the red grouper stock. If the reduction in the ACL is not effective by June 1, additional allocation will be released to the current red grouper shareholders. Once released, the allocation cannot be recalled, and the reduction in the catch levels cannot be implemented for 2019. Accordingly, the 30-day delay in effectiveness of the measures contained in this emergency rule is waived. List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 622 Annual catch limits, Fisheries, Fishing, Gulf of Mexico, Red grouper, Quotas. Dated: May 14, 2019. Samuel D. Rauch III, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine Fisheries Service. For the reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 622 is amended as follows: PO 00000 Frm 00061 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 22391 PART 622—FISHERIES OF THE CARIBBEAN, GULF OF MEXICO, AND SOUTH ATLANTIC 1. The authority citation for part 622 continues to read as follows: ■ Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. 2. In § 622.39, suspend paragraph (a)(1)(iii)(C) and add paragraph (a)(1)(iii)(D) to read as follows: ■ § 622.39 Quotas. * * * * * (a) * * * (1) * * * (iii) * * * (D) Red grouper—3.00 million lb (1.36 million kg). * * * * * ■ 3. In § 622.41, suspend paragraph (e) and add paragraph (r) to read as follows: § 622.41 Annual catch limits (ACLs), annual catch targets (ACTs), and accountability measures (AMs). * * * * * (r) Red grouper—(1) Commercial sector. The IFQ program for groupers and tilefishes in the Gulf of Mexico serves as the accountability measure for commercial red grouper. The applicable commercial ACL for red grouper, in gutted weight, is 3.16 million lb (1.43 million kg). (2) Recreational sector. (i) Without regard to overfished status, if red grouper recreational landings, as estimated by the SRD, reach or are projected to reach the applicable ACL specified in paragraph (r)(2)(iv) of this section, the AA will file a notification with the Office of the Federal Register, to close the recreational sector for the remainder of the fishing year. On and after the effective date of such a notification, the bag and possession limit of red grouper in or from the Gulf EEZ is zero. This bag and possession limit applies in the Gulf on board a vessel for which a valid Federal charter vessel/headboat permit for Gulf reef fish has been issued, without regard to where such species were harvested, i.e., in state or Federal waters. (ii) Without regard to overfished status, and in addition to the measures specified in paragraph (r)(2)(i) of this section, if red grouper recreational landings, as estimated by the SRD, exceed the applicable ACL specified in paragraph (r)(2)(iv) of this section, the AA will file a notification with the Office of the Federal Register to maintain the red grouper ACT, specified in paragraph (r)(2)(iv) of this section, for that following fishing year at the level of the prior year’s ACT, unless the best scientific information available E:\FR\FM\17MYR1.SGM 17MYR1 22392 Federal Register / Vol. 84, No. 96 / Friday, May 17, 2019 / Rules and Regulations determines that maintaining the prior year’s ACT is unnecessary. In addition, the notification will reduce the length of the recreational red grouper fishing season the following fishing year by the amount necessary to ensure red grouper recreational landings do not exceed the recreational ACT in the following fishing year. (iii) If red grouper are overfished, based on the most recent Status of U.S. Fisheries Report to Congress, and red grouper recreational landings, as estimated by the SRD, exceed the applicable ACL specified in paragraph (r)(2)(iv) of this section, the following measures will apply. In addition to the measures specified in paragraphs (r)(2)(i) and (ii) of this section, the AA will file a notification with the Office of the Federal Register, at or near the beginning of the following fishing year to reduce the ACL for that following year by the amount of the ACL overage in the prior fishing year, and reduce the ACT, as determined in paragraph (r)(2)(ii) of this section, by the amount of the ACL overage in the prior fishing year, unless the best scientific information available determines that a greater, lesser, or no overage adjustment is necessary. (iv) The recreational ACL for red grouper, in gutted weight, is 1.00 million lb (0.45 million kg). The recreational ACT for red grouper, in gutted weight, is 0.92 million lb (0.42 million kg). [FR Doc. 2019–10322 Filed 5–16–19; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 648 [Docket No. 190312234–9412–01] RIN 0648–XG898 Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Fisheries; Revised 2019 Summer Flounder Specifications National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Interim final rule. jbell on DSK3GLQ082PROD with RULES AGENCY: NMFS issues revised specifications for the 2019 summer flounder fishery. Due to recently available information from a benchmark stock assessment, changes to the specifications are necessary to better SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:27 May 16, 2019 Jkt 247001 achieve optimum yield within the fishery while controlling overfishing, consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. This rule is also intended to inform the public of the changes to the specifications for the remainder of the 2019 fishing year. DATES: Effective May 17, 2019, through December 31, 2019. ADDRESSES: Copies of the revised specifications, including the Supplemental Information Report, and other supporting documents for the action, are available upon request from Dr. Christopher M. Moore, Executive Director, Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, Suite 201, 800 N State Street, Dover, DE 19901. These documents are also accessible via the internet at http://www.mafmc.org. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Cynthia Ferrio, Fishery Management Specialist, (978) 281–9180. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Background The summer flounder fishery is managed jointly by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission as a part of the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Fishery Management Plan (FMP). Summer flounder specifications must be implemented at the start of the fishing year on January 1, by the order of Judge Robert Doumar in North Carolina Fisheries Association v. Daley. The FMP does not have any year-to-year quota rollover or other provisions that would ensure that catch constraints would have been in place on January 1, 2019, should no action have been taken. The final peer review and assessment results of the November 2018 summer flounder benchmark stock assessment were not available to be incorporated into the 2019 specifications by this deadline, so on December 17, 2018, initial 2019 specifications were published for the summer flounder fishery (83 FR 64482) based on scientific information provided by a 2016 assessment update. In that rule, it was explained that those initial specifications should be considered interim measures and that mid-year changes would be developed and implemented to address the benchmark assessment results. This action implements revisions to the summer flounder catch and landings limits for the 2019 fishing year based on new information provided by the benchmark stock assessment. The stock assessment was developed and peer reviewed in the 66th Stock Assessment Workshop/Stock PO 00000 Frm 00062 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 Assessment Review Committee (SAW/ SARC 66). The final peer review and assessment results were made available in February 2019. This assessment included incorporation of revised Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP) estimates of recreational catch, which has an important impact on estimated spawning stock biomass for summer flounder. Incorporating the revised MRIP time series increased the total average fishery catch from 1982–2017 by about 30 percent. While the magnitude of fishing mortality was not strongly affected, the increased catch has resulted in increased estimates of historic and current stock size. Based on the results of this benchmark assessment, the summer flounder stock is not overfished, and overfishing is not occurring. Previously, the stock was considered to be subject to overfishing. The Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) and the Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Monitoring Committee (MC) met in late February to review the assessment results and make recommendations to the Council for revised catch and landings limits. The SSC applied the Council’s risk policy to derive recommended overfishing limits (OFL) and acceptable biological catch (ABC) values for fishing years 2019–2021. A different approach was used for deriving ABCs than in prior years. Rather than a varying ABC from year to year, a constant, averaged ABC value was derived for 2019–2021 to maintain more consistency in the fishery. This approach was determined to be preferable for industry, to have a similar biological outcome to the varied ABC approach, and is consistent with the Council’s risk policy. The MC, Council, and the Commission’s Summer Flounder, Scup, and Black Sea Bass Management Board all recommended using the 3-year averaged ABC approach as it provides additional stability in the fishery and reduces the expected number of year-to-year regulation changes over this time period. The Council and Board reviewed the new stock assessment information and SSC and MC recommendations at their joint meeting in March 2019, and took final action on their revised 2019 specification recommendations. In those recommendations, the Council and Board also proposed setting 2020–2021 catch and landings limits, but those specifications will be implemented in a separate action later this year. In addition, the 2019 recreational measures for summer flounder are being developed in a separate, concurrent E:\FR\FM\17MYR1.SGM 17MYR1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 84, Number 96 (Friday, May 17, 2019)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 22389-22392]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2019-10322]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 622

[Docket No. 190213109-9385-02]
RIN 0648-BI63


Temporary Rule To Establish Management Measures for Red Grouper 
in the Gulf of Mexico

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

ACTION: Final temporary rule; emergency action.

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SUMMARY: NMFS issues an emergency rule as requested by the Gulf of 
Mexico Fishery Management Council (Council) to address concerns that 
the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf) red grouper stock may be in decline. This 
emergency rule reduces the commercial and recreational annual catch 
limits (ACLs) and annual catch targets (ACTs). This emergency rule is 
effective for 180 days, although NMFS may extend this emergency rule's 
effectiveness for a maximum of an additional 186 days. The intended 
effect of this emergency rule is to provide a temporary reduction in 
Gulf red grouper harvest levels to protect the stock from overharvest 
while the Council develops a framework action to reduce the red grouper 
catch limits on a more long-term basis.

DATES: This final temporary rule is effective on May 17, 2019, through 
November 13, 2019.

ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of the documents in support of this 
emergency rule, which include an environmental assessment (EA), may be 
obtained from the Southeast Regional Office website at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov.

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

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NMFS and the Council manage Gulf reef fish, 
including red grouper, under the Fishery Management Plan for Reef Fish 
Resources of the Gulf (FMP). The Council prepared the FMP and NMFS 
implements the FMP through regulations at 50 CFR part 622 under the 
authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management 
Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act). The Magnuson-Stevens Act provides the legal 
authority for the promulgation of emergency regulations under section 
305(c) (16 U.S.C. 1855(c)).
    On March 5, 2019, NMFS published a proposed temporary rule for 
emergency action in the Federal Register and requested public comment 
(84 FR 7864). The proposed emergency rule and the EA outline the 
rationale for the actions contained in this final emergency rule. A 
summary of the management measures described in the EA and implemented 
through this emergency rule is provided below.
    All weights in this emergency rule are in gutted weight. The 
current red grouper commercial and recreational ACLs and ACTs were 
implemented through a framework action to the FMP in 2016 (81 FR 70365, 
October 12, 2016). These values were based on a red grouper stock ACL 
equal to 10.70 million lb (4.85 million kg). The current sector 
allocation for red grouper is 76 percent commercial and 24 percent 
recreational, and the commercial and recreational ACTs reduce the 
sector-specific ACLs by 95 percent and 92 percent, respectively. The 
current red grouper commercial ACL is 8,190,000 lb (3,714,922 kg) and 
the commercial ACT (commercial quota) is 7,780,000 lb (3,528,949 kg). 
The current red grouper recreational ACL is 2,580,000 lb (1,170,268 kg) 
and the recreational ACT is 2,370,000 lb (1,075,014 kg).
    Currently, the red grouper stock is not considered to be overfished 
or undergoing overfishing. However, recent information suggests the 
condition of the red grouper stock has declined. Information supporting 
this conclusion includes reduced commercial and recreational landings, 
an interim analysis of the stock, testimony from fishermen at Council 
meetings, and recent red tide events in the eastern Gulf. These factors 
caused the Council to request emergency action to reduce the red 
grouper ACLs and ACTs while it considers a longer-term reduction 
through a framework action to the FMP. The Council requested that NMFS 
reduce the Gulf red grouper stock ACL for the 2019 fishing year to 4.60 
million lb (2.09 million kg), as recommended by the Council's 
Scientific and Statiscal Committee (SSC), or the 2017 total red grouper 
landings, whichever is less.
    The 2017 combined red grouper commercial and recreational landings 
(approximately 4.16 million lb (1.89 million kg)) are less than the 
SSC's recommendation. Therefore, NMFS implements this final emergency 
rule to reduce the red grouper commercial and recreational ACLs and 
ACTs consistent with a stock ACL of 4.16 million lb (1.89 million kg). 
This emergency rule is effective for 180 days, although NMFS may extend 
the emergency rule's

[[Page 22390]]

effectiveness for a maximum of an additional 186 days. This would allow 
for sufficient time for the Council and NMFS to develop and implement a 
new framework action to manage the red grouper stock for the 2020 
fishing year and beyond.

Measures Contained in This Final Emergency Rule

    For red grouper, this emergency rule revises the red grouper stock 
ACL to 4.16 million lb (1.89 million kg). Applying the commercial 
allocation of 76 percent to the stock ACL of 4.16 million lb (1.89 
million kg) results in a commercial ACL of 3.16 million lb (1.43 
million kg). The commercial ACT is set at 95 percent of the commercial 
ACL, or 3.00 million lb (1.36 million kg).
    Because commercial red grouper is managed under an individual 
fishing quota (IFQ) program, NMFS distributes IFQ allocation to the 
program shareholders on January 1 of each year. After NMFS distributes 
the applicable commercial quota to shareholders, it cannot be recalled. 
Therefore, in anticipation of this final emergency rule reducing the 
commercial quota, NMFS withheld distribution of 59.4 percent, 
equivalent to 4.78 million lb (2.17 million kg) of red grouper IFQ 
allocation through a temporary rule effective on January 1, 2019 (83 FR 
64480, December 17, 2018). If the commercial quota reduction 
implemented through this final emergency rule is not effective by June 
1, 2019, the withheld commercial quota will be redistributed to the 
shareholders.
    For the recreational sector, 24 percent of the 4.16 million lb 
(1.89 million kg) revised total stock ACL results in a recreational ACL 
of 1.00 million lb (0.45 million kg). The recreational ACT is set at 92 
percent of the recreational ACL, or 0.92 million lb (0.42 million kg).

Emergency Rule Criteria

    NMFS' Policy Guidelines for the Use of Emergency Rules (62 FR 
44421, August 21, 1997) list three criteria for determining whether an 
emergency exists, and this final emergency rule is promulgated under 
these criteria. Specifically, NMFS' policy guidelines require that an 
emergency:
    (1) Result from recent, unforeseen events or recently discovered 
circumstances; and
    (2) Present serious conservation or management problems in the 
fishery; and
    (3) Can be addressed through emergency regulations for which the 
immediate benefits outweigh the value of advance notice, public 
comment, and deliberative consideration of the impacts on participants 
to the same extent as would be expected under the normal rulemaking 
process.
    NMFS has determined that reducing the red grouper 2019 commercial 
and recreational ACLs and ACTs for 2019 meets the three criteria 
required for an emergency rule. The new red grouper interim analysis 
developed by the NMFS Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC) and 
subsequent SSC recommendation were presented to the Council at its 
October 2018 meeting and constitute recently discovered circumstances. 
In addition, public testimony at the October Council meeting expressed 
concern about the status of the red grouper stock, noting that red 
grouper appear to be scarcer in abundance than in previous years. The 
severe red tide event that occurred in summer and fall 2018 off the 
Florida west coast was also unforeseen and may have adversely affected 
the red grouper stock. Although the impacts of this recent red tide are 
unknown, the 2009 Southeast Data Assessment and Review (SEDAR) 12 
update assessment and 2015 SEDAR 42 assessment indicated that a similar 
2005 red tide event depressed the red grouper spawning stock biomass. 
The SEDAR 61 red grouper stock assessment is presently underway and 
NMFS expects to present the results to the Council's SSC in July 2019.
    Without this emergency rule, the red grouper ACLs and ACTs could 
not be effectively reduced for the 2019 fishing year. This could 
present a serious conservation problem if the red grouper stock is in 
decline, as the reduction in landings, public comment, and interim 
analysis suggest.
    Based on the Council's request for an interim or emergency rule, in 
its December 17, 2018, temporary rule, NMFS withheld the IFQ allocation 
equal to this emergency rule's reduction in the commercial ACT 
(quota)(83 FR 64480). This final emergency rule meets the third 
criteria for an emergency because it would reduce the commercial quota 
to be effective prior to June 1, 2019. This would provide protection to 
the red grouper stock while the Council and NMFS develop and implement 
a framework action that will address the new information about the 
stock, including the SEDAR 61 assessment, for the 2020 fishing year and 
beyond.

Comments and Responses

    NMFS received 17 comments on the proposed temporary rule for 
emergency action. The majority of the comments supported the action. 
Some comments supporting the action also contained suggestions for 
additional management measures that are outside the scope of the 
Council's request for interim or emergency action such as seasonal 
closures, reduced recreational bag limits, and state management of the 
red grouper recreational sector. No changes to this final rule were 
made as a result of public comment. Comments that were specific to the 
proposed temporary rule for emergency action are summarized and 
responded to below.
    Comment 1: The emergency action is not of a long enough duration to 
provide sufficient protection to the red grouper stock.
    Response: NMFS agrees that long-term measures may be needed to 
protect Gulf red grouper stock. The Council requested emergency action 
to address concerns regarding the Gulf red grouper stock and reduce the 
catch levels for 2019. The Council developed more long-term measures 
through a framework action that would continue the ACL and ACT 
reductions contained in this emergency rule in 2020 and beyond. The 
Council approved this framework action at its April 2019 meeting. NMFS 
will evaluate the framework action for consistency with the FMP, 
Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law, and will publish a 
proposed rule if appropriate.
    Comment 2: The red grouper stock is healthy and so neither the 
commercial nor recreational catch levels need to be reduced.
    Response: NMFS disagrees. Several factors support this emergency 
action. At their October 2018 meeting, the Council received a 
recommendation from its SSC to reduce the red grouper commercial and 
recreational ACLs and ACTs beginning in the 2019 fishing year. This 
recommendation was based on a NMFS SEFSC analysis that suggested the 
Gulf red snapper stock may be in decline. In addition, fishermen 
expressed concern about the condition of the red grouper stock because 
recent harvests have been well below the current catch levels. Finally, 
the Council noted the severe red tide conditions that occurred in the 
summer and fall of 2018 off the Florida west coast. The red grouper 
stock has been shown to be adversely affected by past red tide events 
similar to the event that occurred in 2018. Therefore, the Council 
concluded, and NMFS agrees, that this action should be taken to reduce 
the red grouper catch levels for 2019.
    Comment 3: NMFS should not reduce catch levels through this 
emergency rule. If the red grouper stock cannot support a two-fish 
daily recreational bag limit, then NMFS should close commercial fishing 
for red grouper.

[[Page 22391]]

    Response: A complete closure of the commercial sector is beyond the 
scope of the action requested by the Council and implemented through 
this emergency rule. The commercial sector is managed under an IFQ 
program, which allows for the harvest of red grouper as long as IFQ 
participants have allocation available. However, NMFS notes that the 
catch levels established through this rule are equal to 2017 harvest 
levels and recreational red grouper fishing did not close in 2017. 
Therefore, NMFS expects the recreational season to remain open 
throughout 2019 under the current 2-fish red grouper recreational bag 
limit.

Classification

    This action is issued pursuant to section 305(c) of the Magnuson-
Stevens Act, 16 U.S.C. 1855(c). The Assistant Administrator for 
Fisheries, NOAA (AA), has determined that this emergency rule is 
necessary to provide increased protection for the Gulf red grouper 
stock and is consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and other 
applicable laws.
    This action is being taken pursuant to the emergency provision of 
Magnuson-Stevens Act and is exempt from review by the Office of 
Management and Budget.
    NMFS published the proposed temporary emergency rule on March 5, 
2019 (84 FR 7864), and prepared an Initial Regulatory Flexibility 
Analysis (IRFA) to accompany the proposed action. The IRFA concluded 
that the action would have a significant adverse impact on the average 
annual 330 small commercial fishing businesses and their combined 376 
federally permitted fishing vessels that harvest red grouper from the 
Gulf. The comment period for the proposed rulemaking closed on March 
20, 2019.
    A final regulatory flexibility analysis (FRFA) parallels the IRFA 
and must also include a summary of significant issues raised by public 
comments in response to the IRFA, any changes in the action in response 
to those comments or new information, a description of the steps the 
agency took to minimize the adverse economic impact on small entities, 
and why it selected the alternative adopted.
    No comments were received on the IRFA or on the economic impacts of 
the rule on small entities more generally. NMFS has not received any 
new information that would affect its previous determination. As a 
result, the estimates and conclusions of the IRFA have not changed.
    This rule will reduce the red grouper quota in 2019 to 3.00 million 
lb (1.36 million kg). NMFS considered two other alternatives to the 
rule: either no change in the quota or a reduction to 3.32 million lb 
(1.51 million kg). The no-action alternative has no short-term impacts 
on small businesses, but was not selected because it allows for 
declining status of the stock. The second non-selected alternative has 
smaller short-term costs than the selected alternative, but it may not 
provide for sufficient protection of the stock.
    Section 212 of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness 
Act of 1996 states that, for each rule or group of related rules for 
which an agency is required to prepare a FRFA, the agency shall publish 
one or more guides to assist small entities in complying with the rule, 
and shall designate such publications as small entity compliance 
guides. As part of the rulemaking process, NMFS prepared a fishery 
bulletin, which also serves as a small entity compliance guide. The 
fishery bulletin will be sent to all interested parties.
    This final emergency rule responds to the best scientific 
information available. The AA finds that the need to immediately 
implement this action constitutes good cause to waive the 30-day delay 
in this final emergency rule's effectiveness, pursuant to the authority 
set forth in 5 U.S.C. 553(d)(3), as such procedure for this final 
emergency rule would be contrary to the public interest.
    Delaying the effectiveness of this emergency rule for 30 days would 
be contrary to the public interest because of the need to implement 
this action before June 1, 2019, in order to protect the red grouper 
stock. If the reduction in the ACL is not effective by June 1, 
additional allocation will be released to the current red grouper 
shareholders. Once released, the allocation cannot be recalled, and the 
reduction in the catch levels cannot be implemented for 2019.
    Accordingly, the 30-day delay in effectiveness of the measures 
contained in this emergency rule is waived.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 622

    Annual catch limits, Fisheries, Fishing, Gulf of Mexico, Red 
grouper, Quotas.

    Dated: May 14, 2019.
Samuel D. Rauch III,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.

    For the reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 622 is amended 
as follows:

PART 622--FISHERIES OF THE CARIBBEAN, GULF OF MEXICO, AND SOUTH 
ATLANTIC

0
1. The authority citation for part 622 continues to read as follows:

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


0
2. In Sec.  622.39, suspend paragraph (a)(1)(iii)(C) and add paragraph 
(a)(1)(iii)(D) to read as follows:


Sec.  622.39  Quotas.

* * * * *
    (a) * * *
    (1) * * *
    (iii) * * *
    (D) Red grouper--3.00 million lb (1.36 million kg).
* * * * *

0
3. In Sec.  622.41, suspend paragraph (e) and add paragraph (r) to read 
as follows:


Sec.  622.41   Annual catch limits (ACLs), annual catch targets (ACTs), 
and accountability measures (AMs).

* * * * *
    (r) Red grouper--(1) Commercial sector. The IFQ program for 
groupers and tilefishes in the Gulf of Mexico serves as the 
accountability measure for commercial red grouper. The applicable 
commercial ACL for red grouper, in gutted weight, is 3.16 million lb 
(1.43 million kg).
    (2) Recreational sector. (i) Without regard to overfished status, 
if red grouper recreational landings, as estimated by the SRD, reach or 
are projected to reach the applicable ACL specified in paragraph 
(r)(2)(iv) of this section, the AA will file a notification with the 
Office of the Federal Register, to close the recreational sector for 
the remainder of the fishing year. On and after the effective date of 
such a notification, the bag and possession limit of red grouper in or 
from the Gulf EEZ is zero. This bag and possession limit applies in the 
Gulf on board a vessel for which a valid Federal charter vessel/
headboat permit for Gulf reef fish has been issued, without regard to 
where such species were harvested, i.e., in state or Federal waters.
    (ii) Without regard to overfished status, and in addition to the 
measures specified in paragraph (r)(2)(i) of this section, if red 
grouper recreational landings, as estimated by the SRD, exceed the 
applicable ACL specified in paragraph (r)(2)(iv) of this section, the 
AA will file a notification with the Office of the Federal Register to 
maintain the red grouper ACT, specified in paragraph (r)(2)(iv) of this 
section, for that following fishing year at the level of the prior 
year's ACT, unless the best scientific information available

[[Page 22392]]

determines that maintaining the prior year's ACT is unnecessary. In 
addition, the notification will reduce the length of the recreational 
red grouper fishing season the following fishing year by the amount 
necessary to ensure red grouper recreational landings do not exceed the 
recreational ACT in the following fishing year.
    (iii) If red grouper are overfished, based on the most recent 
Status of U.S. Fisheries Report to Congress, and red grouper 
recreational landings, as estimated by the SRD, exceed the applicable 
ACL specified in paragraph (r)(2)(iv) of this section, the following 
measures will apply. In addition to the measures specified in 
paragraphs (r)(2)(i) and (ii) of this section, the AA will file a 
notification with the Office of the Federal Register, at or near the 
beginning of the following fishing year to reduce the ACL for that 
following year by the amount of the ACL overage in the prior fishing 
year, and reduce the ACT, as determined in paragraph (r)(2)(ii) of this 
section, by the amount of the ACL overage in the prior fishing year, 
unless the best scientific information available determines that a 
greater, lesser, or no overage adjustment is necessary.
    (iv) The recreational ACL for red grouper, in gutted weight, is 
1.00 million lb (0.45 million kg). The recreational ACT for red 
grouper, in gutted weight, is 0.92 million lb (0.42 million kg).

[FR Doc. 2019-10322 Filed 5-16-19; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P