Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Modifying Seasonal Allocations of Pollock and Pacific Cod for Trawl Catcher Vessels in the Central and Western Gulf of Alaska, 38093-38100 [2020-12453]

Download as PDF Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 123 / Thursday, June 25, 2020 / Rules and Regulations jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES that make the area biologically unique. It provides important juvenile swordfish habitat, and is essentially a narrow migratory corridor containing high concentrations of swordfish located in close proximity to high concentrations of people who may fish for them. Public comment on Amendment 8, including from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, indicated concern about the resultant high potential for the improper rapid growth of a commercial fishery, increased catches of undersized swordfish, the potential for larger numbers of fishermen in the area, and the potential for crowding of fishermen, which could lead to gear and user conflicts. These concerns remain valid. NMFS will continue to collect information to evaluate the appropriateness of the retention limit in the Florida Swordfish Management Area and other regional retention limits. This action therefore maintains a zero-fish retention limit in the Florida Swordfish Management Area. The directed swordfish quota has not been harvested for several years and, based upon current landing trends, is not likely to be harvested or exceeded during 2020. This information indicates that sufficient directed swordfish quota should be available from July 1 through December 31, 2020, at the higher retention levels, within the limits of the scientifically-supported TAC and consistent with the goals of the 2006 Consolidated Atlantic HMS FMP as amended, ATCA, and the MagnusonStevens Act, and are not expected to negatively impact stock health. Monitoring and Reporting NMFS will continue to monitor the swordfish fishery closely during 2020 through mandatory landings and catch reports. Dealers are required to submit landing reports and negative reports (if no swordfish were purchased) on a weekly basis. Depending upon the level of fishing effort and catch rates of swordfish, NMFS may determine that additional retention limit adjustments or closures are necessary to ensure that the available quota is not exceeded or to enhance fishing opportunities. Subsequent actions, if any, will be published in the Federal Register. In addition, fishermen may access https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/atlantic-highlymigratory-species/2020-atlanticswordfish-landings-updates for updates on quota monitoring. and contrary to the public interest to provide prior notice of, and an opportunity for public comment on, this action for the following reasons: Based on recent data for the first semiannual quota period, NMFS has determined that landings have been very low through April 30, 2020 (21.9 percent of 1,318.8 mt dw quota). Adjustment of the retention limits needs to be effective on July 1, 2020; otherwise lower, default retention limits will apply. Delaying this action for prior notice and public comment would unnecessarily limit opportunities to harvest available directed swordfish quota, which may have negative social and economic impacts for U.S. fishermen. If this action is delayed, some fishermen may not benefit from the adjustment at all, given a short period of access to the fishery due to seasonal fish migration. This action does not raise conservation and management concerns. Adjusting retention limits does not affect the overall, North Atlantic swordfish U.S. quota, and available data show the adjustment would have a minimal risk of exceeding the ICCAT-allocated quota. NMFS notes that the public had an opportunity to comment on the underlying rulemakings that established the U.S. swordfish quota and retention limit adjustment criteria. Therefore, the AA finds good cause under 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(B) to waive prior notice and the opportunity for public comment. For all of the above reasons, there is also good cause under 5 U.S.C. 553(d) to waive the 30-day delay in effectiveness. This action is being taken under 50 CFR 635.24(b)(4) and is exempt from review under Executive Order 12866. Authority: 16 U.S.C. 971 et seq. and 1801 et seq. Dated: June 19, 2020. He´le`ne M.N. Scalliet, Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2020–13704 Filed 6–24–20; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 3510–22–P 16:57 Jun 24, 2020 Jkt 250001 PO 00000 DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 679 [Docket No. 200604–0152] RIN 0648–BJ35 Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Modifying Seasonal Allocations of Pollock and Pacific Cod for Trawl Catcher Vessels in the Central and Western Gulf of Alaska National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Final rule. AGENCY: NMFS issues a final rule to implement Amendment 109 to the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Gulf of Alaska (GOA FMP) and a regulatory amendment to the regulations governing pollock fishing in the Gulf of Alaska. This final rule reduces operational and management inefficiencies in the Central Gulf of Alaska and Western Gulf of Alaska trawl catcher vessel pollock and Pacific cod fisheries by reducing regulatory time gaps between the pollock seasons, and changing Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod seasonal apportionments to allow greater harvest opportunities earlier in the year. This action is intended to promote the goals and objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), the GOA FMP, and other applicable laws. DATES: This rule is effective on January 1, 2021. ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of the Environmental Assessment and the Regulatory Impact Review (collectively referred to as the ‘‘Analysis’’) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Finding of No Significant Impact prepared for this final rule may be obtained from http:// www.regulations.gov. SUMMARY: FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Joseph Krieger, 907–586–7228 or joseph.krieger@noaa.gov. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: I. Authority for Action NMFS manages the U.S. groundfish fisheries of the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) under the GOA FMP. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) prepared, and the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary) approved, the GOA FMP under the authority of the Classification The Assistant Administrator for NMFS (AA) finds that it is impracticable VerDate Sep<11>2014 38093 Frm 00063 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 E:\FR\FM\25JNR1.SGM 25JNR1 jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES 38094 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 123 / Thursday, June 25, 2020 / Rules and Regulations Magnuson-Stevens Act, 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. Regulations governing U.S. fisheries and implementing the GOA FMP appear at 50 CFR parts 600 and 679. The Council is authorized to prepare and recommend a fishery management plan (FMP) amendment for the conservation and management of a fishery managed under the FMP. NMFS conducts rulemaking to implement FMP amendments and regulatory amendments. FMP amendments and regulations developed by the Council may be implemented by NMFS only after approval by the Secretary. The Council recommended Amendment 109 to the GOA FMP (Amendment 109) and a regulatory amendment for pollock fisheries in the GOA. This final rule implements Amendment 109 by changing Central Gulf of Alaska (CGOA) and Western Gulf of Alaska (WGOA) Pacific cod seasonal apportionments to increase the trawl catcher vessel (CV) sector’s A season total allowable catch (TAC) while proportionally decreasing the sector’s B season TAC. This final rule also implements the Council’s regulatory amendment by combining the CGOA and WGOA trawl CV pollock fishery A and B seasons into a single season (redesignated as the A season), and the C and D seasons into a single season (redesignated as the B season), and by changing the annual start date of the redesignated pollock B season from August 25 to September 1. These changes for pollock and Pacific cod are only applicable to the CGOA and the WGOA, which are comprised of NMFS statistical areas 610 (WGOA) and 620 and 630 (CGOA) (see Figure 3 to part 679). This preamble uses the term ‘‘management area’’ to refer to ‘‘statistical area’’ to avoid confusion with State of Alaska ‘‘statistical areas.’’ Also, the term ‘‘management area’’ is commonly used by harvesters and processors to refer to NMFS statistical areas. NMFS published the Notice of Availability for Amendment 109 in the Federal Register on February 6, 2020 (85 FR 6890), with public comments invited through April 6, 2020. NMFS published the proposed rule to implement Amendment 109 in the Federal Register on February 28, 2020 (85 FR 11939), with public comments invited through March 30, 2020. NMFS received 35 comment letters which contain a total of 13 unique comments during the comment periods. A summary of these comments and the responses by NMFS are provided under the heading ‘‘Response to Comments’’ below. VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:57 Jun 24, 2020 Jkt 250001 II. Background This final rule modifies the seasonal apportionment of pollock and Pacific cod TAC in the CGOA and WGOA. The purpose of this action is to reduce operational and management inefficiencies in the CGOA and WGOA trawl CV pollock and Pacific cod fisheries by (1) reducing regulatory time gaps between the pollock fishery A and B seasons and the C and D seasons, and (2) changing seasonal Pacific cod apportionments in the GOA to allow greater harvest opportunities earlier in the year. Modifying the seasonal allocations of pollock and Pacific cod could allow the fisheries to more fully harvest the TAC of GOA pollock and Pacific cod, increase management flexibility, and potentially decrease prohibited species catch (PSC) while not redistributing fishing opportunities between management areas or harvest sectors. III. The Affected Fisheries Participants and Current Seasonal Allocations A. Affected Fisheries Participants The trawl groundfish fisheries in the GOA include fisheries for pollock, sablefish, several rockfish species, numerous flatfish species, Pacific cod, and other groundfish. Trawl gear captures groundfish by towing a net above or along the ocean floor. This final rule affects the trawl fisheries for pollock and Pacific cod in two specific areas of the GOA: (1) The CGOA regulatory area (comprised of management areas 620 and 630), and (2) the WGOA regulatory area (comprised of management area 610). These specific areas are defined at 50 CFR 679.2. This action applies only to the federally permitted CVs using trawl gear to harvest pollock or Pacific cod in management areas 610, 620, and 630 of the GOA. This action does not apply to the Eastern GOA West Yakutat District (management area 640). Regulations at 50 CFR 679.4(k) require trawl vessels participating in the GOA pollock and Pacific cod fisheries to possess a License Limitation Program license (LLP). Overall, 124 CV LLPs are endorsed for GOA trawl fishing. Ninetyseven CV LLPs are endorsed for CGOA trawl fishing and 78 CV LLPs are endorsed for WGOA trawl fishing. Fiftyone LLPs are trawl-endorsed for both areas. PO 00000 Frm 00064 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 B. Current Seasonal Allocations of Pollock and Pacific Cod in the CGOA and WGOA GOA Pollock The four pollock seasons for the CGOA and WGOA (management areas 610, 620, and 630) are currently defined in regulations at § 679.23(d)(2) as follows: A season—From 1200 hours, A.l.t., January 20 to 1200 hours, A.l.t., March 10 B season—From 1200 hours, A.l.t., March 10 to 1200 hours, A.l.t., May 31 C season—From 1200 hours, A.l.t., August 25 to 1200 hours, A.l.t., October 1 D season—From 1200 hours, A.l.t., October 1 to 1200 hours, A.l.t., November 1 Through the annual harvest specifications process, NMFS establishes pollock TACs for management areas 610, 620, and 630 within the CGOA and the WGOA. These TACs are established in proportion to the distribution of the pollock biomass in those areas as determined by the most recent NMFS surveys. In addition, the regulations at 50 CFR 679.20(a)(5)(iv)(B) state that 25 percent of the combined pollock TAC for the CGOA and WGOA is allocated to each of the four seasons. The seasonal apportionments are then further apportioned across management areas (i.e., management area 610, 620, and 630) based on estimated biomass distribution throughout the year. The most recent example of these allocations is found in the 2020–2021 annual harvest specifications for the GOA (85 FR 13802, March 10, 2020). Over the last 15 years, the seasonal pollock biomass distribution has shifted substantially, resulting in relatively smaller seasonal apportionments in management area 610—most notably in the A and B seasons—while substantially increasing seasonal apportionments and annual TACs in management area 620 and, to a lesser degree, management area 630. The seasonal biomass distribution aspect of annual harvest specifications is designed so that the pollock fleet is able to harvest fish where they are occurring, and not to allocate harvest opportunities to one area relative to another. NMFS inseason managers monitor the catch of pollock and close the directed pollock fishery in each management area when they determine the seasonal apportionment will be taken. Because this process is based on many variable factors, sometimes catch exceeds the seasonal apportionment and sometimes catch is less than the seasonal apportionment. E:\FR\FM\25JNR1.SGM 25JNR1 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 123 / Thursday, June 25, 2020 / Rules and Regulations jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES NMFS’ objective is to allow for optimal harvest while avoiding an overage of the seasonal apportionment or the annual TAC. TAC that is not harvested in one area or season that cannot be reallocated to a subsequent season is not made available for later harvest. TAC that remains at the end of the D season is not rolled over to the following calendar year. After each management area’s overages or underages are accounted for, NMFS has the ability to reallocate, or ‘‘rollover,’’ pollock that is not harvested in one season to the subsequent season in the same or other management area(s). Rollovers are made according to a prescribed series of steps that are predicated on the area TAC levels and seasonal apportionments established in the annual harvest specifications and are described in detail in Section 2.1.1 in the Analysis. Regulations at § 679.20(a)(5)(iv)(B) state that unharvested pollock may be added to a subsequent seasonal allocation provided that the revised seasonal apportionment does not exceed 20 percent of the subsequent season’s pollock apportionment for the management area. This provision also states that any rollover of unharvested pollock is applied first to the subsequent season in the same management area, and only then may any remaining pollock be further reallocated to other GOA management areas. The purpose of the rollover is to help fishery participants harvest as much of the TAC as possible. However, the rollover regulations are designed to mitigate incentives for the fleet to underharvest or overharvest the seasonal pollock apportionment in a management area in order to influence the amount of pollock available in the subsequent season. GOA Pacific Cod NMFS establishes annual Pacific cod TACs for the WGOA and CGOA and apportions these TACs across two seasons. NMFS apportions 60 percent of the annual WGOA and CGOA Pacific cod TACs to the A season, and apportions 40 percent of the annual WGOA and CGOA Pacific cod TACs to the B season. For vessels deploying trawl gear, the A season occurs from January 20 through June 10, and the B season occurs from September 1 through November 1. Since the implementation of Amendment 83 to the GOA FMP in 2012 (76 FR 74670, December 1, 2011), NMFS, after subtracting a set-aside for the jig gear sector, also allocates the annual WGOA and CGOA Pacific cod TACs among five sectors in the WGOA VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:57 Jun 24, 2020 Jkt 250001 and six sectors in the CGOA. Each sector’s allocation is apportioned between the A and B seasons in each area, and the ratio for each sector’s seasonal apportionment is not required to be a 60:40 percent ratio. However, for all gear (trawl and non-trawl) and operational-type (CVs and catcher/ processors (C/Ps)) sectors, the total of A season sector apportionments in each area equals 60 percent of the annual Pacific cod TAC, and the total of B season sector apportionments in each area equals 40 percent of the annual Pacific cod TAC. Regulations at 50 CFR 679.20(a)(12)(i) and Tables 2–2 and 2–3 in the Analysis show the seasonal percentage allocations for each sector. These tables illustrate that no sector, in isolation, experiences a 60:40 percent seasonal TAC split. The WGOA trawl CVs receive a relatively greater proportion of their annual Pacific cod TAC allocation in the A season, as they do not target Pacific cod in the fall (B season). The sectors that receive a small percentage of the annual TAC tend to be those that encounter Pacific cod as incidental catch that must be retained (as an Improved Retention/Improved Utilization Program (IR/IU) species) but do not conduct directed fishing for Pacific cod. Regulations at § 679.20(a)(12)(ii) describe the reallocation of sector allocations. NMFS publishes these reallocations as inseason actions in the Federal Register and posts them on the NMFS Alaska Region website as Information Bulletins. Regulations at § 679.20(a)(12)(ii) also state that NMFS should take into account ‘‘the capability of a sector [. . .] to harvest the remaining Pacific cod TAC.’’ There are no set dates upon which reallocations should occur; NMFS relies on its management expertise, as well as communication with the fleets about their expected levels of activity or encounter rates of Pacific cod. In practice, NMFS reallocates Pacific cod that it projects will go unharvested by a sector. The regulations provide a hierarchy that guides preference in reallocations if there are competing needs for additional TAC. The regulations at § 679.20(a)(12)(ii)(B) state that NMFS should consider reallocation to CV sectors first, then reallocation to the combined CV and C/P pot sector, and then to any of the other C/P sectors (trawl and hook-and-line). NMFS provides a record of inseason Pacific cod TAC reallocations on its website. Since 2012, almost all inseason reallocations of Pacific cod have occurred during the B season, and most reallocations flowed from the trawl CV PO 00000 Frm 00065 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 38095 sector; no reallocations have been made to the trawl CV sector. IV. Need for This Action This final rule addresses concerns that arose from a series of discussion papers that were presented to the Council in 2017, 2018, and 2019. The discussion papers examined the amount of uncaught Pacific cod TAC in all gear sectors during the WGOA and CGOA B season, options for changing WGOA and CGOA pollock and Pacific cod seasonal allocations with the goal of improving efficiency in fishery management, and whether delaying the start of the WGOA and CGOA pollock C season from August 25 to September 1 might provide operational benefits to vessels and processors that also engage in salmon fisheries or groundfish fisheries outside of the GOA. For the pollock fishery, status quo management can result in time gaps between the A and B seasons and between the C and D seasons. The time gaps vary in length depending on the pace of fishing and TAC utilization during the A and C seasons. Table 4–8 in Section 4.5.1.2 of the Analysis shows instances where fisheries were closed for up to 80 percent of a season when the pollock TAC was taken quickly. In other cases, NMFS has closed directed fishing for pollock toward the very end of one season, and before another season has started, resulting in closures that lasted as little as one day. The Council and NMFS acknowledge that these time gaps between seasons create operational inefficiencies and increase costs compared to a continuous fishery. For harvesters, operational inefficiencies could include fuel costs to transit back and forth to fishing grounds, lost labor productivity (i.e., more days to earn the same income), missed windows of good weather, inability to fish during periods of high catch per unit effort (CPUE), or inability to fish during periods of high pollock roe content (and higher value product) that can occur between the A and B seasons. Processors also experience reduced productivity if labor and equipment are idled. A long time gap between seasons could also erode the real-time knowledge of the fishing grounds that skippers develop over the course of a continuous season. That knowledge is often key to achieving higher CPUE and minimizing bycatch of non-target species and PSC. Section 4.6.1.1.1 of the Analysis describes these inefficiencies in greater detail. Harvesters acknowledge that ‘‘pulse’’ fishing can limit the ability of the fleet to avoid fishing during periods of higher bycatch of species such as Chinook E:\FR\FM\25JNR1.SGM 25JNR1 jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES 38096 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 123 / Thursday, June 25, 2020 / Rules and Regulations salmon and halibut and can limit the ability of the fleet to fish during periods of lower bycatch. In contrast, combining seasons and reducing time gaps could give the fleet more flexibility to avoid fishing in times of expected high Chinook salmon PSC rates by providing a lower risk of running out of time to fully harvest a seasonal TAC. Section 3.3 of the Analysis describes bycatch rates in the pollock and Pacific cod fisheries and the factors that can result in higher, or lower, bycatch of various species. In recommending regulatory changes for the WGOA and CGOA pollock fishery, the Council also sought to address a concern about the amount of pollock TAC that may go unharvested in a season because of existing restrictions on TAC rollover (see regulations at § 679.20(a)(5)(iv)(B)). Ultimately, the Council recommended the current rollover cap of 20 percent remain the same. The Council’s recommendation to maintain the status quo 20 percent rollover cap was responsive to public testimony that underharvest in one season might continue into the following season, especially if the underharvest is due to poor fishing conditions in the underharvested area. As such, a higher rollover cap might increase the possibility of leaving fish stranded because TAC cannot be rolled over to other areas. This is further explained in Section 4.6.3 of the Analysis. In addition, this final rule delays the start of the redesignated pollock B season from August 25 to September 1 to provide operational benefits to vessels and processors that also engage in salmon fisheries or groundfish fisheries outside of the GOA. A later pollock start date will minimize the potential for the redesignated pollock B season to overlap the end of salmon harvest and reduce the operational challenges that can occur with harvesters and processors that participate in both of these fisheries. Section 4.6.2.1 of the Analysis describes the operational inefficiencies and costs for harvesters and processors that can occur when processors cannot process peak capacities of pollock and salmon at the same time, resulting in limited deliveries of one species or the other. To address concerns related to management inefficiencies in the GOA pollock fishery, this final rule implements regulations to (1) combine the A and B seasons into a single season (redesignated as the A season), combine the C and D seasons into a single season (redesignated as the B season), and allocate pollock among the redesignated A season and redesignated B season at VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:57 Jun 24, 2020 Jkt 250001 50 percent to the A season and 50 percent to the B season, applicable to management areas 610, 620, and 630; and (2) change the start date of the redesignated B pollock season in the GOA from August 25 to September 1, resulting in a redesignated B season that runs from September 1 to November 1. In recent years, trawl CVs in the GOA Pacific cod fishery have only conducted directed fishing for B season Pacific cod in the CGOA. The WGOA trawl CV sector receives 10.7 percent of the total annual WGOA Pacific cod TAC in the B season (see Table 2–2 in the Analysis), but it goes largely unharvested by trawl vessels except as incidental catch during the C and D seasons in the pollock trawl fishery. In the CGOA, where the trawl CV fishery is prosecuted, harvest of Pacific cod in the B season lags A season harvest by a significant margin in percentage terms. Table 3–4 in the Analysis shows that harvest of CGOA B season Pacific cod TAC was typically below 50 percent and began to fall precipitously in the years leading up to the 2018 reduction in ABC. While industry participants have reported that fish size and flesh quality can be better in the fall B season than in the late-winter A season due to the length of time removed from spawning activity, GOA Pacific cod do not tend to aggregate in the fall in a manner that lends itself to efficient harvest with trawl gear. As a result, a significant portion of the GOA Pacific cod B season TAC is left unharvested by trawl CVs, while the A season TAC is more fully prosecuted by trawl CVs. The Council acknowledged the changes that have occurred in the B season Pacific cod fishery, resulting in unharvested Pacific TAC. To address this concern, the Council recommended Amendment 109 for Pacific cod trawl CV fisheries in the GOA. This final rule implementing Amendment 109 increases trawl CV allocations of Pacific cod TAC in the CGOA and WGOA during the A season while proportionally decreasing trawl CV allocations of Pacific cod TAC in the CGOA and WGOA during the B season. Specifically, 25.29364 percent of the annual CGOA Pacific cod TAC will be allocated to the trawl CV sector during the A season and 16.29047 percent will be allocated to the B season. Additionally, 31.54 percent of the annual WGOA Pacific cod TAC will be allocated to the trawl CV sector during the A season and 6.86 percent will be allocated to the B season. A description of the alternatives considered by the Council in regard to Amendment 109 and the regulatory amendment but not selected is provided PO 00000 Frm 00066 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 in the proposed rule preamble and in Section 2.5 of the Analysis. In adopting its preferred alternatives, the Council considered effects of this action on Steller sea lions. For the CGOA and WGOA pollock trawl fishery, Section 4.6.2 of the Analysis explains that various factors affect pollock harvest patterns, including, but not limited to, fish aggregation and quality (roe content), market availability, encounter rates with PSC-limited species, high and low TAC years for pollock, economic opportunities in—or trade-offs with—other fisheries, and other individual vessel business decisions. These factors can be difficult to predict with accuracy, with respect to this action, at this time. Additionally, many constraints that dictate the timing and pace of the pollock fishery would remain, even if seasons were combined and the fleet had more available TAC at any given moment with which to optimize its fishing. Those constraints would be expected to prevent harvest patterns from changing in a significantly different manner under this rule than seen in the past. Finally, changing the start of the combined C/D season from August 25 to September 1 does not change anticipated effects to the pollock stock (as noted in Section 3.2.3 of the Analysis), and therefore does not change anticipated impacts to prey availability for Steller sea lions. For the Pacific cod fishery in the CGOA and WGOA, the overall change in seasonal allocation across all sectors combined is 4 percent from the B season to the A season. This modest shift in seasonal allocation is not expected to result in an increase in vessel participation, nor a change in the spatial distribution of the fishing vessels (as noted in Section 4.6.4. of the Analysis). For the reasons outlined above, the Council and NFMS do not expect the implementation of Amendment 109 and the regulatory amendment to result in discernable spatial harvest concentrations or decreases in temporal dispersion of harvest which would significantly affect prey availability for Steller sea lions. In recommending Amendment 109 and the regulatory amendment, the Council has chosen a portion of each action alternative for each of the GOA CV pollock and Pacific cod fisheries. This blended action provides the greatest improvements to operational and management efficiency of all the alternatives while not re-distributing allocations of pollock or Pacific cod between management areas or among participants, which is a stated objective in the purpose and need for this action. E:\FR\FM\25JNR1.SGM 25JNR1 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 123 / Thursday, June 25, 2020 / Rules and Regulations V. This Final Rule CGOA and WGOA Pollock Fishery This final rule revises § 679.20(a)(5)(iv)(B) to combine the pollock A and B seasons into a single season (redesignated as the A season) in the GOA Western and Central regulatory areas and combine C and D seasons into a single season (redesignated as the B season). This final rule also apportions 50 percent of the CGOA and WGOA pollock TAC to the redesignated A season and 50 percent to the redesignated B season. These changes will not affect the relative amount of CGOA and WGOA pollock TAC apportioned to each season because current regulations specify that the TAC be evenly apportioned among each GOA pollock season. This final rule revises § 679.23(d)(2) to change the dates of the redesignated A season as January 20 through May 31 and the dates of the redesignated B season as September 1 through November 1. This revision effectively leaves the duration of the redesignated A season unchanged from the duration of the current A and B seasons, but shortens the duration of the redesignated B season (September 1 to November 1) from the duration of the current C and D seasons (August 25 to November 1). jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES CGOA and WGOA Pacific Cod Fishery This final rule revises § 679.20(a)(12)(i) to specify the new seasonal apportionments of Pacific cod TAC for the CV trawl sectors in the CGOA and the WGOA. Although the overall ratio of A and B seasonal apportionments of Pacific cod for the trawl CV sector is changing, this final rule does not affect the seasonal apportionments of Pacific cod to any of the other sectors. The seasonal apportionment of Pacific cod remains unchanged for all other sectors in the CGOA and the WGOA. This final rule also revises the tables at § 679.20(a)(12)(i)(A) and (B) to change the seasonal allowance of Pacific cod for trawl CVs in the WGOA and the CGOA. For both the CGOA and the WGOA, the A season allowance increases by approximately 4 percent while the B season allowance decreases by approximately 4 percent. VI. Response to Comments NMFS received 35 comment letters on the proposed rule and the NOA which contain 13 unique comments. Two of these comments were not relevant to the content of this rule and were not addressed. NMFS has summarized and responded to the remaining 11 unique VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:57 Jun 24, 2020 Jkt 250001 comments below. The comments were from individuals and industry representatives representing trawl fishermen from the CGOA and WGOA. Comment 1: Amendment 109 will benefit the community, processors, and the trawl fishermen. Combining the pollock A and B seasons will increase economic value by extending the period of time fishermen have access to the valuable pollock roe fishery. Combining the A, B, C, and D seasons into two seasons will increase fish processing efficiency and reduce processing costs. Response: NMFS agrees. The final rule and Section 4.6.1.1.1 of the Analysis describe inefficiencies with status quo management which can result in time gaps between the A and B seasons and between the C and D seasons. The Council and NMFS acknowledge that these time gaps between seasons create operational inefficiencies and increase costs compared to a continuous fishery. This final rule combines the A and B seasons and the C and D season, thereby reducing the occurrence of time gaps in the fishery. Comment 2: Several commenters expressed support for the implementation of the regulatory amendment to combine the pollock A, B, C, and D seasons in the WGOA. They believe that this action will help provide increased benefits in pollock roe harvest, reduce mandatory stand downs between season closures, and reduce catch of Chinook salmon PSC. Response: NMFS agrees. In recommending this action, the Council noted their intent in modifying the seasons or seasonal allocations of pollock and cod was to increase fishery yield, particularly for roe quality and quantity of pollock, increase management flexibility, and potentially decrease PSC. The Council’s rationale for this recommendation is described in Section 2.6 of the Analysis. Comment 3: One commenter expressed support for the proposed changes to the pollock fishery for several reasons. First, the proposed changes will improve efficiency and reduce operating costs for processors and fishing vessels since there will be less stop and go due to end of season stand downs. Second, combining the seasons gives fishermen the opportunity to manage the fisheries better and for maximum value from pollock (increased roe fishery). The commenter notes that in the WGOA, fishermen have often successfully negotiated voluntary stand downs within seasons to maximize harvest. However, these voluntary stand downs are never guaranteed because everyone needs to agree in order for PO 00000 Frm 00067 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 38097 them to work. Combining the seasons would remove two instances each year when these stand downs would have to be arranged (since there will only be two seasons). Third, the proposed changes will reduce bycatch of Chinook salmon in the WGOA C/D seasons. Fourth, starting the new B season on September 1 gives processors and fishermen a better transition time between salmon and pollock. Six less days for the combined C/D season should not have significant impact on the bottom line. Response: NMFS acknowledges this comment. This final rule implements the Council’s intent to increase fishery yield, particularly for roe quality and quantity of pollock, increase management flexibility, and potentially decrease PSC. The Council’s rationale for this action is described in Section 2.6 of the Analysis. Comment 4: Several commenters expressed support for the increase in apportionment of the A season Pacific cod trawl sector. They feel this will reduce bycatch and leave less fish unharvested in the B season, particularly in the WGOA. Response: NMFS acknowledges this comment. In recommending Amendment 109, the Council noted that more Pacific cod TAC for the trawl CV sector in the A season could provide additional opportunity for harvest of Pacific cod when fish are aggregated and when the fleet and processors are more heavily engaged in the fishery. This is described further in Section 4.6.4 of the Analysis. In recommending Amendment 109, the Council also considered impacts on bycatch and noted that this action could reduce interactions with PSC in the Pacific cod fishery. The Council’s rationale for this action is described in Section 2.6 of the Analysis. Comment 5: Combining CGOA pollock A and B seasons would result in substantial increases in Chinook salmon bycatch. Current bycatch avoidance strategies, such as voluntary stand downs from fishing, are contentious at best. It is a distinct and real possibility that the Chinook salmon PSC cap could be completely exhausted within a combined A and B season, leaving pollock stranded in the water during the fall months. Response: The Analysis prepared for this action did not indicate that it would increase Chinook salmon bycatch. Chinook salmon PSC in the GOA pollock fishery is discussed in detail in Section 3.3.1.3 of the Analysis and again in Section 4.6.2 of the Analysis. Combining the CGOA and WGOA pollock A/B and C/D seasons is E:\FR\FM\25JNR1.SGM 25JNR1 jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES 38098 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 123 / Thursday, June 25, 2020 / Rules and Regulations intended to provide the fleet and processors with flexibility to prosecute the pollock fishery in a manner that maximizes yield and profitability within other constraints on the timing and intensity of fishing that would not be removed by combining the seasons. By providing for increased flexibility, vessels could mitigate high Chinook salmon PSC rates by standing down during times of seasonally high Chinook salmon bycatch. A vessel is less likely to voluntarily stand down when a smaller seasonal TAC is nearing completion or if a regulated season enddate is approaching. This action will increase the size of seasonal TACs and reduce the number of season end dates from four to two. Aside from reducing the cost of PSC stand downs, combining the seasons could also allow vessels to reallocate their effort toward parts of the season that are historically correlated with lower Chinook PSC rates. Figure 3–7 in Section 3.3.1.3 of the Analysis suggests that the ‘‘A’’ part of the A/B season and the ‘‘D’’ part of the C/D season carry higher intrinsic PSC rates. The commenter alluded to this as well. Taken at face value, vessels might expect lower PSC rates if they focused effort away from those times. Section 4.6.2 of the analysis notes that it is not clear that seasonality alone drives Chinook PSC. Rates might be higher at the beginning of the fishing year (A season) because skippers are learning the conditions on the grounds. Rates could also be higher at that time because vessels are in competition for valuable roe pollock and the fleet is fishing with more effort and exposing itself to extrapolation of observed PSC events over a larger number of unobserved vessels. As described in Section 3.3.1.1 of the Analysis, flexibility introduced by season redefinitions implemented in this final rule could shift pollock harvest toward the ‘‘B’’ portion of the A/ B season and the ‘‘C’’ part of the C/D season, either of which would reduce the expected incidence of Chinook salmon PSC. With regard to D season effort, it is expected that a combination of more pollock availability earlier in the fall, relatively milder at-sea conditions, and lower expected Chinook salmon PSC encounter rates will generally attract CV trawl effort to September (the ‘‘C’’ part of the C/D season). Such an outcome could reduce pollock trawl fishery impacts on Chinook salmon by reducing Chinook salmon mortality relative to the status quo, as noted in Section 4.6.2 of the Analysis. These factors could similarly drive shifts in fishery effort toward the VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:57 Jun 24, 2020 Jkt 250001 latter part of the consolidated A/B season but the result may be less profound given the attraction of the valuable roe season that occurs earlier in the year. Section 4.6.2 of the Analysis describes existing constraints that would help to dictate the timing and pace of the pollock fishery even if seasons were lengthened and the fleet had more available TAC at any given moment. These include limited vessel capacities, the 300,000 lb trip limit, and limits to processing capacity. Information on Chinook salmon incidental catch in the GOA pollock fishery shows that, on average, Chinook salmon PSC is generally greater in the D season than in the A season, often times substantially so (https:// www.fisheries.noaa.gov/sites/default/ files/akro/goasalmonmort2020.html; accessed April 2, 2020). As described above, this action has the potential to decrease fishing effort in the ‘‘D’’ season by shifting fishing effort to earlier in the fall, resulting in less Chinook salmon PSC being taken at the end of the year. Chinook salmon PSC that is no longer needed for ‘‘D’’ season fishing could serve as a PSC buffer by enabling more Chinook salmon PSC to be taken during the A season if Chinook salmon PSC rates increase during the A season in years of unusually high Chinook salmon bycatch. As such, NFMS does not expect this action to directly result in significantly increased annual Chinook salmon bycatch nor does NMFS believe this action will directly jeopardize the fleet’s ability to fully prosecute the GOA pollock fishery TAC. Comment 6: Changing the start date for the pollock C/D season is solely a measure to delay the fishery until the canneries are done processing salmon. In years when salmon harvest is down this is not needed. In years when pollock quotas are large, the fishery needs as much fishing time as possible. Shortening the season could result in available pollock harvest being left in the water. Response: The Council’s purpose in recommending a change in the start date of the combined C/D season was to enhance the operational and management efficiency of the GOA pollock trawl fishery. Under the status quo season dates, the C season can overlap the end of the salmon harvest in some years, causing congestion that plays out differently at individual processing facilities depending on throughput capacity and the characteristics of their delivering fleet. A later start date could eliminate the need for participants to negotiate voluntary stand-downs in high salmon harvest years. Regulatory uniformity PO 00000 Frm 00068 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 around a start date also mitigates timing conflicts that intermittently affect a subset of participants. This rationale is addressed in Section 4.6.2.1 of the Analysis. NMFS acknowledges that fishery participants may be differentially impacted by this action depending on factors such as the fisheries they participate in, annual variation in GOA pollock TAC, and annual variability in the level of salmon harvest. The Council considered these items fully during its June 2019 meeting when final action was taken. Ultimately, the Council determined that the overall benefits gained by enhanced operational and management efficiency outweigh what might be lost by delaying the start of the redesignated pollock B season by 7 days. NMFS agrees with the Council’s recommendation to start the redesignated pollock B season on September 1. Comment 7: For smaller vessels, weather patterns and fish aggregations make it more difficult to safely fish during the A season. The B season gives pollock time to aggregate closer to Kodiak and for immature pollock to separate out from mature pollock. Combining the A and B seasons could put smaller vessels at a disadvantage because it is harder for them to access the resource earlier in the year. Combining the seasons will also lead to high discard rates of immature pollock upon delivery to Kodiak’s processors which are not equipped to process small, immature fish. Response: As discussed in the response to Comment 5, there are other constraining factors, both in regulation and in the fishery, which should limit the degree of changes in fishing effort and behavior as a result of combining the A and B seasons. Section 4.6.2 of the Analysis notes that various factors affect harvest patterns in this fishery, including, but not limited to, fish aggregation and quality (roe content), market availability, encounter rates with PSClimited species, high and low TAC years for pollock, economic opportunities in—or trade-offs with—other fisheries, and other individual vessel business decisions. Many constraints that dictate the timing and pace of the pollock fishery would remain, even under a combined A/B season. Given the multiple constraints that dictate the timing and pace of the fishery and interannual variability in harvest patterns, it would be difficult to accurately determine whether any shift in effort was a direct result from merging the A/ B seasons and C/D seasons under this action. As such, NFMS does not expect E:\FR\FM\25JNR1.SGM 25JNR1 jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 123 / Thursday, June 25, 2020 / Rules and Regulations this action to result in substantial shifts in harvest opportunities for fishery participants, or in harvest composition of immature versus mature pollock. Comment 8: Combining the A and B seasons would result in increased participation from American Fisheries Act (AFA) vessels that are capable of coming into the GOA to fish pollock but are also capable of fishing in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands management area. This in turn reduces the available quota that is left to participants that are only able to fish within the GOA. Response: The Council’s recommendation of combining the A and B and the C and D seasons was driven by the potential for increased flexibility for the GOA pollock fleet and processors. As discussed in the responses to Comment 5 and Comment 7 and in Section 4.6.2 of the Analysis, many constraints that dictate the timing and pace of the GOA pollock fishery would remain even if the season were lengthened and the fleet had more available TAC at any given moment with which to optimize its fishing. During its December 2018 and June 2019 meetings, the Council deliberated over stakeholders’ concerns about season modifications allowing AFAexempt and non-exempt vessels to increase participation in the GOA. In light of existing constraints on the pace and timing of the fishery, the Council does not anticipate that the increased TAC available at the beginning of the season will result in additional vessels entering the GOA fishery to an impactful degree. During its deliberation, the Council noted that AFA non-exempt vessels did not enter the GOA pollock fishery during the recent, historically high years of GOA pollock TACs (see Section 4.5.1.1 of the Analysis). However, the Council recognized that it is difficult to predict what the impacts of this action will be, and that there is diversity among the GOA trawl business operations that could be affected by this action. The Council noted that further action could be taken at a later date if a significant increase in participation by the AFAaffiliated vessels is observed in the GOA. NFMS agrees with the Council’s recommendation. Comment 9: Trawling is very destructive. It destroys the bottom of the ocean and should not be operated at all. Trawl bycatch should not be measured in metric tons; it is extremely wasteful and harms the environment. All quotas need to be drastically reduced by 75 percent at a minimum. Response: This final rule modifies the pollock and Pacific cod seasons and seasonal allocation in the WGOA and VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:57 Jun 24, 2020 Jkt 250001 CGOA. This final rule does not change the overall allocation of GOA pollock quota, the methods for measuring the amount of bycatch, or management measures currently in place to protect marine benthic habitat in the GOA. Harvest quotas are set each year by NMFS and the Council through the annual harvest specification process. The public is invited to comment on the harvest specifications during the October and December Council meetings and when the harvest specification proposed rule is published in the Federal Register annually in the fall. Comment 10: The best way to determine if this rule will actually lower or increase rates of bycatch and help with fixing management gaps is to implement 100 percent observer or electronic monitoring (EM) coverage on trawl vessels. Response: This final rule modifies the pollock and Pacific cod seasons and seasonal allocation in the WGOA and CGOA. Section 2.6 of the Analysis describes the rationale for this action. The Analysis does not indicate that implementing 100 percent observer or EM coverage is necessary to accomplish the purpose of and need for this action. Further, NMFS has determined that the existing level of observer coverage provides the necessary level of information needed to manage bycatch and PSC limits. Therefore, this final rule does not change observer or EM coverage rates. Comment 11: When debating these changes in regulation, please use bycatch reduction as the primary metric for determining which path to take. In the GOA trawl fishery as a whole, there is concern that the value of bycatch is exceeding the value of target species catch. Response: NMFS acknowledges this comment. The Council and NMFS considered the effects of this action on bycatch. Section 3.3.1.3 of the Analysis and the response to Comment 5 above describe some ways that a reduction in bycatch could be achieved from this action. Section 4.5.1.3 of the Analysis describes the economic value of the GOA pollock and Pacific cod trawl fisheries. This action does not apply to all GOA trawl fisheries, and the Analysis does not compare the value of all GOA trawl fisheries to the bycatch in all GOA trawl fisheries. 38099 VIII. Classification The NMFS Assistant Administrator has determined that Amendment 109 is necessary for the conservation and management of the GOA Pacific cod fishery and that it is consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law. Furthermore, the NMFS Assistant Administrator has determined that this final rule is consistent with the Council’s regulatory amendment for GOA pollock, Amendment 109 to the GOA FMP, other provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law. This final rule has been determined to be not significant for the purposes of Executive Order 12866. This final rule is not an Executive Order 13771 regulatory action because this rule is not significant under Executive Order 12866. Regulatory Impact Review (RIR) An RIR was prepared to assess the costs and benefits of available regulatory alternatives. A copy of this analysis is available from NMFS (see ADDRESSES). NMFS is recommending Amendment 109 and the regulatory revisions in this final rule based on those measures that maximized net benefits to the Nation. Certification Under the Regulatory Flexibility Act The Chief Counsel for Regulation of the Department of Commerce certified to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business Administration during the proposed rule stage that this action would not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities. The factual basis for the certification was published in the proposed rule and is not repeated here. No comments were received regarding this certification. As a result, a regulatory flexibility analysis was not required and none was prepared. List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 679 Alaska, Fisheries, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements. Dated: June 4, 2020. Samuel D. Rauch III, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine Fisheries Service. For reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 679 is amended as follows: VII. Changes From Proposed to Final Rule PART 679—FISHERIES OF THE EXCLUSIVE ECONOMIC ZONE OFF ALASKA There were no changes to the regulatory text from the proposed rule to the final rule. ■ PO 00000 Frm 00069 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 1. The authority citation for 50 CFR part 679 continues to read as follows: E:\FR\FM\25JNR1.SGM 25JNR1 38100 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 123 / Thursday, June 25, 2020 / Rules and Regulations Authority: 16 U.S.C. 773 et seq.; 1801 et seq.; 3631 et seq.; Pub. L. 108–447; Pub. L. 111–281. 2. In § 679.20, revise paragraphs (a)(5)(iv)(B), (a)(12)(i) introductory text, (a)(12)(i)(A)(3), and (a)(12)(i)(B)(4) to read as follows: ■ § 679.20 General Limitations. * * * * * (a) * * * (5) * * * (iv) * * * (B) GOA Western and Central Regulatory Areas seasonal apportionments. Each apportionment established under paragraph (a)(5)(iv)(A) of this section will be divided into two seasonal apportionments corresponding to the two fishing seasons specified in § 679.23(d)(2) as follows: A Season, 50 percent; and B Season, 50 percent. Within any fishing year, underharvest or overharvest of a seasonal apportionment may be added to or subtracted from remaining seasonal apportionments in a manner to be determined by the Regional Administrator, provided that any revised seasonal apportionment does not exceed 20 percent of the seasonal TAC apportionment for the statistical area. The reapportionment of underharvest will be applied to the subsequent season within the same statistical area up to the 20 percent limit specified in this paragraph. Any underharvest remaining beyond the 20 percent limit may be further apportioned to the subsequent season in the other statistical areas, in proportion to estimated biomass and in an amount no more than 20 percent of the seasonal TAC apportionment for the statistical area. * * * * * (12) * * * (i) Seasonal allowances by sector. The Western and Central GOA Pacific cod TACs will be seasonally apportioned to each sector such that 63.84 percent of the Western GOA TAC is apportioned to the A season and 36.16 percent of the Western GOA TAC is apportioned to the B season, and 64.16 percent of the Central GOA TAC is apportioned to the A season and 35.84 percent of the Central GOA TAC is apportioned to the B season, as specified in § 679.23(d)(3). (A) * * * Seasonal allowances Sector Gear type Operation type * (3) ..................... * * Trawl .............................................................. * * Catcher vessel .............................................. * * * * A season (in percent) * * B season (in percent) * 31.54 * 6.86 * (B) * * * Seasonal allowances Sector Gear type Operation type Length overall in feet * (4) ..................... * Trawl .................................... * * Catcher vessel ..................... * Any ....................................... * * * * * * * * National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Seasons. * * * * (d) * * * (2) Directed fishing for pollock. Subject to other provisions of this part, directed fishing for pollock in the Western and Central Regulatory Areas is authorized only during the following two seasons: (i) A season. From 1200 hours, A.l.t., January 20 through 1200 hours, A.l.t., May 31; and (ii) B season. From 1200 hours, A.l.t., September 1 through 1200 hours, A.l.t., November 1. * * * * * 50 CFR Part 679 [FR Doc. 2020–12453 Filed 6–24–20; 8:45 am] SUMMARY: * jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with RULES * DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE 3. In § 679.23, revise paragraph (d)(2) to read as follows: ■ § 679.23 * BILLING CODE 3510–22–P VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:57 Jun 24, 2020 Jkt 250001 [Docket No.: 200610–0157] RIN 0648–BJ88 Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; IFQ Program; Modify Temporary Transfer Provisions National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Temporary final rule; emergency action; request for comments. AGENCY: NMFS issues an emergency rule to modify the temporary transfer PO 00000 Frm 00070 Fmt 4700 Sfmt 4700 A season (in percent) * B season (in percent) * 25.29364 * 16.29047 * provision of the Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) Program for the fixed-gear commercial Pacific halibut and sablefish fisheries for the 2020 IFQ fishing year. This emergency rule is intended to provide flexibility to quota share (QS) holders in 2020 while preserving the long-standing objective of maintaining an owner-operated IFQ fishery in future years. This emergency rule would not modify other provisions of the IFQ Program. This emergency rule is intended to promote the goals and objectives of the IFQ Program, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the Northern Pacific Halibut Act of 1982, and other applicable laws. DATES: Effective June 25, 2020 through December 22, 2020. ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of the Regulatory Impact Review (referred to as the ‘‘Analysis’’) and the Categorical E:\FR\FM\25JNR1.SGM 25JNR1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 85, Number 123 (Thursday, June 25, 2020)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 38093-38100]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2020-12453]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 679

[Docket No. 200604-0152]
RIN 0648-BJ35


Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Modifying 
Seasonal Allocations of Pollock and Pacific Cod for Trawl Catcher 
Vessels in the Central and Western Gulf of Alaska

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

ACTION: Final rule.

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SUMMARY: NMFS issues a final rule to implement Amendment 109 to the 
Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Gulf of Alaska (GOA FMP) 
and a regulatory amendment to the regulations governing pollock fishing 
in the Gulf of Alaska. This final rule reduces operational and 
management inefficiencies in the Central Gulf of Alaska and Western 
Gulf of Alaska trawl catcher vessel pollock and Pacific cod fisheries 
by reducing regulatory time gaps between the pollock seasons, and 
changing Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod seasonal apportionments to allow 
greater harvest opportunities earlier in the year. This action is 
intended to promote the goals and objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens 
Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), the GOA 
FMP, and other applicable laws.

DATES: This rule is effective on January 1, 2021.

ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of the Environmental Assessment and the 
Regulatory Impact Review (collectively referred to as the ``Analysis'') 
and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Finding of No 
Significant Impact prepared for this final rule may be obtained from 
http://www.regulations.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Joseph Krieger, 907-586-7228 or 
[email protected].

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

I. Authority for Action

    NMFS manages the U.S. groundfish fisheries of the Gulf of Alaska 
(GOA) under the GOA FMP. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council 
(Council) prepared, and the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary) approved, 
the GOA FMP under the authority of the

[[Page 38094]]

Magnuson-Stevens Act, 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. Regulations governing U.S. 
fisheries and implementing the GOA FMP appear at 50 CFR parts 600 and 
679. The Council is authorized to prepare and recommend a fishery 
management plan (FMP) amendment for the conservation and management of 
a fishery managed under the FMP. NMFS conducts rulemaking to implement 
FMP amendments and regulatory amendments. FMP amendments and 
regulations developed by the Council may be implemented by NMFS only 
after approval by the Secretary.
    The Council recommended Amendment 109 to the GOA FMP (Amendment 
109) and a regulatory amendment for pollock fisheries in the GOA. This 
final rule implements Amendment 109 by changing Central Gulf of Alaska 
(CGOA) and Western Gulf of Alaska (WGOA) Pacific cod seasonal 
apportionments to increase the trawl catcher vessel (CV) sector's A 
season total allowable catch (TAC) while proportionally decreasing the 
sector's B season TAC. This final rule also implements the Council's 
regulatory amendment by combining the CGOA and WGOA trawl CV pollock 
fishery A and B seasons into a single season (redesignated as the A 
season), and the C and D seasons into a single season (redesignated as 
the B season), and by changing the annual start date of the 
redesignated pollock B season from August 25 to September 1. These 
changes for pollock and Pacific cod are only applicable to the CGOA and 
the WGOA, which are comprised of NMFS statistical areas 610 (WGOA) and 
620 and 630 (CGOA) (see Figure 3 to part 679). This preamble uses the 
term ``management area'' to refer to ``statistical area'' to avoid 
confusion with State of Alaska ``statistical areas.'' Also, the term 
``management area'' is commonly used by harvesters and processors to 
refer to NMFS statistical areas.
    NMFS published the Notice of Availability for Amendment 109 in the 
Federal Register on February 6, 2020 (85 FR 6890), with public comments 
invited through April 6, 2020. NMFS published the proposed rule to 
implement Amendment 109 in the Federal Register on February 28, 2020 
(85 FR 11939), with public comments invited through March 30, 2020.
    NMFS received 35 comment letters which contain a total of 13 unique 
comments during the comment periods. A summary of these comments and 
the responses by NMFS are provided under the heading ``Response to 
Comments'' below.

II. Background

    This final rule modifies the seasonal apportionment of pollock and 
Pacific cod TAC in the CGOA and WGOA. The purpose of this action is to 
reduce operational and management inefficiencies in the CGOA and WGOA 
trawl CV pollock and Pacific cod fisheries by (1) reducing regulatory 
time gaps between the pollock fishery A and B seasons and the C and D 
seasons, and (2) changing seasonal Pacific cod apportionments in the 
GOA to allow greater harvest opportunities earlier in the year. 
Modifying the seasonal allocations of pollock and Pacific cod could 
allow the fisheries to more fully harvest the TAC of GOA pollock and 
Pacific cod, increase management flexibility, and potentially decrease 
prohibited species catch (PSC) while not redistributing fishing 
opportunities between management areas or harvest sectors.

III. The Affected Fisheries Participants and Current Seasonal 
Allocations

A. Affected Fisheries Participants

    The trawl groundfish fisheries in the GOA include fisheries for 
pollock, sablefish, several rockfish species, numerous flatfish 
species, Pacific cod, and other groundfish. Trawl gear captures 
groundfish by towing a net above or along the ocean floor. This final 
rule affects the trawl fisheries for pollock and Pacific cod in two 
specific areas of the GOA: (1) The CGOA regulatory area (comprised of 
management areas 620 and 630), and (2) the WGOA regulatory area 
(comprised of management area 610). These specific areas are defined at 
50 CFR 679.2. This action applies only to the federally permitted CVs 
using trawl gear to harvest pollock or Pacific cod in management areas 
610, 620, and 630 of the GOA. This action does not apply to the Eastern 
GOA West Yakutat District (management area 640).
    Regulations at 50 CFR 679.4(k) require trawl vessels participating 
in the GOA pollock and Pacific cod fisheries to possess a License 
Limitation Program license (LLP). Overall, 124 CV LLPs are endorsed for 
GOA trawl fishing. Ninety-seven CV LLPs are endorsed for CGOA trawl 
fishing and 78 CV LLPs are endorsed for WGOA trawl fishing. Fifty-one 
LLPs are trawl-endorsed for both areas.

B. Current Seasonal Allocations of Pollock and Pacific Cod in the CGOA 
and WGOA

GOA Pollock
    The four pollock seasons for the CGOA and WGOA (management areas 
610, 620, and 630) are currently defined in regulations at Sec.  
679.23(d)(2) as follows:

A season--From 1200 hours, A.l.t., January 20 to 1200 hours, A.l.t., 
March 10
B season--From 1200 hours, A.l.t., March 10 to 1200 hours, A.l.t., May 
31
C season--From 1200 hours, A.l.t., August 25 to 1200 hours, A.l.t., 
October 1
D season--From 1200 hours, A.l.t., October 1 to 1200 hours, A.l.t., 
November 1

    Through the annual harvest specifications process, NMFS establishes 
pollock TACs for management areas 610, 620, and 630 within the CGOA and 
the WGOA. These TACs are established in proportion to the distribution 
of the pollock biomass in those areas as determined by the most recent 
NMFS surveys. In addition, the regulations at 50 CFR 
679.20(a)(5)(iv)(B) state that 25 percent of the combined pollock TAC 
for the CGOA and WGOA is allocated to each of the four seasons. The 
seasonal apportionments are then further apportioned across management 
areas (i.e., management area 610, 620, and 630) based on estimated 
biomass distribution throughout the year. The most recent example of 
these allocations is found in the 2020-2021 annual harvest 
specifications for the GOA (85 FR 13802, March 10, 2020).
    Over the last 15 years, the seasonal pollock biomass distribution 
has shifted substantially, resulting in relatively smaller seasonal 
apportionments in management area 610--most notably in the A and B 
seasons--while substantially increasing seasonal apportionments and 
annual TACs in management area 620 and, to a lesser degree, management 
area 630. The seasonal biomass distribution aspect of annual harvest 
specifications is designed so that the pollock fleet is able to harvest 
fish where they are occurring, and not to allocate harvest 
opportunities to one area relative to another.
    NMFS inseason managers monitor the catch of pollock and close the 
directed pollock fishery in each management area when they determine 
the seasonal apportionment will be taken. Because this process is based 
on many variable factors, sometimes catch exceeds the seasonal 
apportionment and sometimes catch is less than the seasonal 
apportionment.

[[Page 38095]]

    NMFS' objective is to allow for optimal harvest while avoiding an 
overage of the seasonal apportionment or the annual TAC. TAC that is 
not harvested in one area or season that cannot be reallocated to a 
subsequent season is not made available for later harvest. TAC that 
remains at the end of the D season is not rolled over to the following 
calendar year.
    After each management area's overages or underages are accounted 
for, NMFS has the ability to reallocate, or ``rollover,'' pollock that 
is not harvested in one season to the subsequent season in the same or 
other management area(s). Rollovers are made according to a prescribed 
series of steps that are predicated on the area TAC levels and seasonal 
apportionments established in the annual harvest specifications and are 
described in detail in Section 2.1.1 in the Analysis.
    Regulations at Sec.  679.20(a)(5)(iv)(B) state that unharvested 
pollock may be added to a subsequent seasonal allocation provided that 
the revised seasonal apportionment does not exceed 20 percent of the 
subsequent season's pollock apportionment for the management area. This 
provision also states that any rollover of unharvested pollock is 
applied first to the subsequent season in the same management area, and 
only then may any remaining pollock be further reallocated to other GOA 
management areas. The purpose of the rollover is to help fishery 
participants harvest as much of the TAC as possible. However, the 
rollover regulations are designed to mitigate incentives for the fleet 
to underharvest or overharvest the seasonal pollock apportionment in a 
management area in order to influence the amount of pollock available 
in the subsequent season.
GOA Pacific Cod
    NMFS establishes annual Pacific cod TACs for the WGOA and CGOA and 
apportions these TACs across two seasons. NMFS apportions 60 percent of 
the annual WGOA and CGOA Pacific cod TACs to the A season, and 
apportions 40 percent of the annual WGOA and CGOA Pacific cod TACs to 
the B season. For vessels deploying trawl gear, the A season occurs 
from January 20 through June 10, and the B season occurs from September 
1 through November 1.
    Since the implementation of Amendment 83 to the GOA FMP in 2012 (76 
FR 74670, December 1, 2011), NMFS, after subtracting a set-aside for 
the jig gear sector, also allocates the annual WGOA and CGOA Pacific 
cod TACs among five sectors in the WGOA and six sectors in the CGOA. 
Each sector's allocation is apportioned between the A and B seasons in 
each area, and the ratio for each sector's seasonal apportionment is 
not required to be a 60:40 percent ratio. However, for all gear (trawl 
and non-trawl) and operational-type (CVs and catcher/processors (C/Ps)) 
sectors, the total of A season sector apportionments in each area 
equals 60 percent of the annual Pacific cod TAC, and the total of B 
season sector apportionments in each area equals 40 percent of the 
annual Pacific cod TAC.
    Regulations at 50 CFR 679.20(a)(12)(i) and Tables 2-2 and 2-3 in 
the Analysis show the seasonal percentage allocations for each sector. 
These tables illustrate that no sector, in isolation, experiences a 
60:40 percent seasonal TAC split. The WGOA trawl CVs receive a 
relatively greater proportion of their annual Pacific cod TAC 
allocation in the A season, as they do not target Pacific cod in the 
fall (B season). The sectors that receive a small percentage of the 
annual TAC tend to be those that encounter Pacific cod as incidental 
catch that must be retained (as an Improved Retention/Improved 
Utilization Program (IR/IU) species) but do not conduct directed 
fishing for Pacific cod.
    Regulations at Sec.  679.20(a)(12)(ii) describe the reallocation of 
sector allocations. NMFS publishes these reallocations as inseason 
actions in the Federal Register and posts them on the NMFS Alaska 
Region website as Information Bulletins. Regulations at Sec.  
679.20(a)(12)(ii) also state that NMFS should take into account ``the 
capability of a sector [. . .] to harvest the remaining Pacific cod 
TAC.'' There are no set dates upon which reallocations should occur; 
NMFS relies on its management expertise, as well as communication with 
the fleets about their expected levels of activity or encounter rates 
of Pacific cod. In practice, NMFS reallocates Pacific cod that it 
projects will go unharvested by a sector. The regulations provide a 
hierarchy that guides preference in reallocations if there are 
competing needs for additional TAC. The regulations at Sec.  
679.20(a)(12)(ii)(B) state that NMFS should consider reallocation to CV 
sectors first, then reallocation to the combined CV and C/P pot sector, 
and then to any of the other C/P sectors (trawl and hook-and-line). 
NMFS provides a record of inseason Pacific cod TAC reallocations on its 
website. Since 2012, almost all inseason reallocations of Pacific cod 
have occurred during the B season, and most reallocations flowed from 
the trawl CV sector; no reallocations have been made to the trawl CV 
sector.

IV. Need for This Action

    This final rule addresses concerns that arose from a series of 
discussion papers that were presented to the Council in 2017, 2018, and 
2019. The discussion papers examined the amount of uncaught Pacific cod 
TAC in all gear sectors during the WGOA and CGOA B season, options for 
changing WGOA and CGOA pollock and Pacific cod seasonal allocations 
with the goal of improving efficiency in fishery management, and 
whether delaying the start of the WGOA and CGOA pollock C season from 
August 25 to September 1 might provide operational benefits to vessels 
and processors that also engage in salmon fisheries or groundfish 
fisheries outside of the GOA.
    For the pollock fishery, status quo management can result in time 
gaps between the A and B seasons and between the C and D seasons. The 
time gaps vary in length depending on the pace of fishing and TAC 
utilization during the A and C seasons. Table 4-8 in Section 4.5.1.2 of 
the Analysis shows instances where fisheries were closed for up to 80 
percent of a season when the pollock TAC was taken quickly. In other 
cases, NMFS has closed directed fishing for pollock toward the very end 
of one season, and before another season has started, resulting in 
closures that lasted as little as one day.
    The Council and NMFS acknowledge that these time gaps between 
seasons create operational inefficiencies and increase costs compared 
to a continuous fishery. For harvesters, operational inefficiencies 
could include fuel costs to transit back and forth to fishing grounds, 
lost labor productivity (i.e., more days to earn the same income), 
missed windows of good weather, inability to fish during periods of 
high catch per unit effort (CPUE), or inability to fish during periods 
of high pollock roe content (and higher value product) that can occur 
between the A and B seasons. Processors also experience reduced 
productivity if labor and equipment are idled. A long time gap between 
seasons could also erode the real-time knowledge of the fishing grounds 
that skippers develop over the course of a continuous season. That 
knowledge is often key to achieving higher CPUE and minimizing bycatch 
of non-target species and PSC. Section 4.6.1.1.1 of the Analysis 
describes these inefficiencies in greater detail. Harvesters 
acknowledge that ``pulse'' fishing can limit the ability of the fleet 
to avoid fishing during periods of higher bycatch of species such as 
Chinook

[[Page 38096]]

salmon and halibut and can limit the ability of the fleet to fish 
during periods of lower bycatch. In contrast, combining seasons and 
reducing time gaps could give the fleet more flexibility to avoid 
fishing in times of expected high Chinook salmon PSC rates by providing 
a lower risk of running out of time to fully harvest a seasonal TAC. 
Section 3.3 of the Analysis describes bycatch rates in the pollock and 
Pacific cod fisheries and the factors that can result in higher, or 
lower, bycatch of various species.
    In recommending regulatory changes for the WGOA and CGOA pollock 
fishery, the Council also sought to address a concern about the amount 
of pollock TAC that may go unharvested in a season because of existing 
restrictions on TAC rollover (see regulations at Sec.  
679.20(a)(5)(iv)(B)). Ultimately, the Council recommended the current 
rollover cap of 20 percent remain the same. The Council's 
recommendation to maintain the status quo 20 percent rollover cap was 
responsive to public testimony that underharvest in one season might 
continue into the following season, especially if the underharvest is 
due to poor fishing conditions in the underharvested area. As such, a 
higher rollover cap might increase the possibility of leaving fish 
stranded because TAC cannot be rolled over to other areas. This is 
further explained in Section 4.6.3 of the Analysis.
    In addition, this final rule delays the start of the redesignated 
pollock B season from August 25 to September 1 to provide operational 
benefits to vessels and processors that also engage in salmon fisheries 
or groundfish fisheries outside of the GOA. A later pollock start date 
will minimize the potential for the redesignated pollock B season to 
overlap the end of salmon harvest and reduce the operational challenges 
that can occur with harvesters and processors that participate in both 
of these fisheries. Section 4.6.2.1 of the Analysis describes the 
operational inefficiencies and costs for harvesters and processors that 
can occur when processors cannot process peak capacities of pollock and 
salmon at the same time, resulting in limited deliveries of one species 
or the other.
    To address concerns related to management inefficiencies in the GOA 
pollock fishery, this final rule implements regulations to (1) combine 
the A and B seasons into a single season (redesignated as the A 
season), combine the C and D seasons into a single season (redesignated 
as the B season), and allocate pollock among the redesignated A season 
and redesignated B season at 50 percent to the A season and 50 percent 
to the B season, applicable to management areas 610, 620, and 630; and 
(2) change the start date of the redesignated B pollock season in the 
GOA from August 25 to September 1, resulting in a redesignated B season 
that runs from September 1 to November 1.
    In recent years, trawl CVs in the GOA Pacific cod fishery have only 
conducted directed fishing for B season Pacific cod in the CGOA. The 
WGOA trawl CV sector receives 10.7 percent of the total annual WGOA 
Pacific cod TAC in the B season (see Table 2-2 in the Analysis), but it 
goes largely unharvested by trawl vessels except as incidental catch 
during the C and D seasons in the pollock trawl fishery. In the CGOA, 
where the trawl CV fishery is prosecuted, harvest of Pacific cod in the 
B season lags A season harvest by a significant margin in percentage 
terms. Table 3-4 in the Analysis shows that harvest of CGOA B season 
Pacific cod TAC was typically below 50 percent and began to fall 
precipitously in the years leading up to the 2018 reduction in ABC. 
While industry participants have reported that fish size and flesh 
quality can be better in the fall B season than in the late-winter A 
season due to the length of time removed from spawning activity, GOA 
Pacific cod do not tend to aggregate in the fall in a manner that lends 
itself to efficient harvest with trawl gear. As a result, a significant 
portion of the GOA Pacific cod B season TAC is left unharvested by 
trawl CVs, while the A season TAC is more fully prosecuted by trawl 
CVs.
    The Council acknowledged the changes that have occurred in the B 
season Pacific cod fishery, resulting in unharvested Pacific TAC. To 
address this concern, the Council recommended Amendment 109 for Pacific 
cod trawl CV fisheries in the GOA. This final rule implementing 
Amendment 109 increases trawl CV allocations of Pacific cod TAC in the 
CGOA and WGOA during the A season while proportionally decreasing trawl 
CV allocations of Pacific cod TAC in the CGOA and WGOA during the B 
season. Specifically, 25.29364 percent of the annual CGOA Pacific cod 
TAC will be allocated to the trawl CV sector during the A season and 
16.29047 percent will be allocated to the B season. Additionally, 31.54 
percent of the annual WGOA Pacific cod TAC will be allocated to the 
trawl CV sector during the A season and 6.86 percent will be allocated 
to the B season.
    A description of the alternatives considered by the Council in 
regard to Amendment 109 and the regulatory amendment but not selected 
is provided in the proposed rule preamble and in Section 2.5 of the 
Analysis.
    In adopting its preferred alternatives, the Council considered 
effects of this action on Steller sea lions. For the CGOA and WGOA 
pollock trawl fishery, Section 4.6.2 of the Analysis explains that 
various factors affect pollock harvest patterns, including, but not 
limited to, fish aggregation and quality (roe content), market 
availability, encounter rates with PSC-limited species, high and low 
TAC years for pollock, economic opportunities in--or trade-offs with--
other fisheries, and other individual vessel business decisions. These 
factors can be difficult to predict with accuracy, with respect to this 
action, at this time. Additionally, many constraints that dictate the 
timing and pace of the pollock fishery would remain, even if seasons 
were combined and the fleet had more available TAC at any given moment 
with which to optimize its fishing. Those constraints would be expected 
to prevent harvest patterns from changing in a significantly different 
manner under this rule than seen in the past.
    Finally, changing the start of the combined C/D season from August 
25 to September 1 does not change anticipated effects to the pollock 
stock (as noted in Section 3.2.3 of the Analysis), and therefore does 
not change anticipated impacts to prey availability for Steller sea 
lions.
    For the Pacific cod fishery in the CGOA and WGOA, the overall 
change in seasonal allocation across all sectors combined is 4 percent 
from the B season to the A season. This modest shift in seasonal 
allocation is not expected to result in an increase in vessel 
participation, nor a change in the spatial distribution of the fishing 
vessels (as noted in Section 4.6.4. of the Analysis).
    For the reasons outlined above, the Council and NFMS do not expect 
the implementation of Amendment 109 and the regulatory amendment to 
result in discernable spatial harvest concentrations or decreases in 
temporal dispersion of harvest which would significantly affect prey 
availability for Steller sea lions.
    In recommending Amendment 109 and the regulatory amendment, the 
Council has chosen a portion of each action alternative for each of the 
GOA CV pollock and Pacific cod fisheries. This blended action provides 
the greatest improvements to operational and management efficiency of 
all the alternatives while not re-distributing allocations of pollock 
or Pacific cod between management areas or among participants, which is 
a stated objective in the purpose and need for this action.

[[Page 38097]]

V. This Final Rule

CGOA and WGOA Pollock Fishery

    This final rule revises Sec.  679.20(a)(5)(iv)(B) to combine the 
pollock A and B seasons into a single season (redesignated as the A 
season) in the GOA Western and Central regulatory areas and combine C 
and D seasons into a single season (redesignated as the B season). This 
final rule also apportions 50 percent of the CGOA and WGOA pollock TAC 
to the redesignated A season and 50 percent to the redesignated B 
season. These changes will not affect the relative amount of CGOA and 
WGOA pollock TAC apportioned to each season because current regulations 
specify that the TAC be evenly apportioned among each GOA pollock 
season.
    This final rule revises Sec.  679.23(d)(2) to change the dates of 
the redesignated A season as January 20 through May 31 and the dates of 
the redesignated B season as September 1 through November 1. This 
revision effectively leaves the duration of the redesignated A season 
unchanged from the duration of the current A and B seasons, but 
shortens the duration of the redesignated B season (September 1 to 
November 1) from the duration of the current C and D seasons (August 25 
to November 1).

CGOA and WGOA Pacific Cod Fishery

    This final rule revises Sec.  679.20(a)(12)(i) to specify the new 
seasonal apportionments of Pacific cod TAC for the CV trawl sectors in 
the CGOA and the WGOA. Although the overall ratio of A and B seasonal 
apportionments of Pacific cod for the trawl CV sector is changing, this 
final rule does not affect the seasonal apportionments of Pacific cod 
to any of the other sectors. The seasonal apportionment of Pacific cod 
remains unchanged for all other sectors in the CGOA and the WGOA.
    This final rule also revises the tables at Sec.  
679.20(a)(12)(i)(A) and (B) to change the seasonal allowance of Pacific 
cod for trawl CVs in the WGOA and the CGOA. For both the CGOA and the 
WGOA, the A season allowance increases by approximately 4 percent while 
the B season allowance decreases by approximately 4 percent.

VI. Response to Comments

    NMFS received 35 comment letters on the proposed rule and the NOA 
which contain 13 unique comments. Two of these comments were not 
relevant to the content of this rule and were not addressed. NMFS has 
summarized and responded to the remaining 11 unique comments below. The 
comments were from individuals and industry representatives 
representing trawl fishermen from the CGOA and WGOA.
    Comment 1: Amendment 109 will benefit the community, processors, 
and the trawl fishermen. Combining the pollock A and B seasons will 
increase economic value by extending the period of time fishermen have 
access to the valuable pollock roe fishery. Combining the A, B, C, and 
D seasons into two seasons will increase fish processing efficiency and 
reduce processing costs.
    Response: NMFS agrees. The final rule and Section 4.6.1.1.1 of the 
Analysis describe inefficiencies with status quo management which can 
result in time gaps between the A and B seasons and between the C and D 
seasons. The Council and NMFS acknowledge that these time gaps between 
seasons create operational inefficiencies and increase costs compared 
to a continuous fishery. This final rule combines the A and B seasons 
and the C and D season, thereby reducing the occurrence of time gaps in 
the fishery.
    Comment 2: Several commenters expressed support for the 
implementation of the regulatory amendment to combine the pollock A, B, 
C, and D seasons in the WGOA. They believe that this action will help 
provide increased benefits in pollock roe harvest, reduce mandatory 
stand downs between season closures, and reduce catch of Chinook salmon 
PSC.
    Response: NMFS agrees. In recommending this action, the Council 
noted their intent in modifying the seasons or seasonal allocations of 
pollock and cod was to increase fishery yield, particularly for roe 
quality and quantity of pollock, increase management flexibility, and 
potentially decrease PSC. The Council's rationale for this 
recommendation is described in Section 2.6 of the Analysis.
    Comment 3: One commenter expressed support for the proposed changes 
to the pollock fishery for several reasons. First, the proposed changes 
will improve efficiency and reduce operating costs for processors and 
fishing vessels since there will be less stop and go due to end of 
season stand downs. Second, combining the seasons gives fishermen the 
opportunity to manage the fisheries better and for maximum value from 
pollock (increased roe fishery). The commenter notes that in the WGOA, 
fishermen have often successfully negotiated voluntary stand downs 
within seasons to maximize harvest. However, these voluntary stand 
downs are never guaranteed because everyone needs to agree in order for 
them to work. Combining the seasons would remove two instances each 
year when these stand downs would have to be arranged (since there will 
only be two seasons). Third, the proposed changes will reduce bycatch 
of Chinook salmon in the WGOA C/D seasons. Fourth, starting the new B 
season on September 1 gives processors and fishermen a better 
transition time between salmon and pollock. Six less days for the 
combined C/D season should not have significant impact on the bottom 
line.
    Response: NMFS acknowledges this comment. This final rule 
implements the Council's intent to increase fishery yield, particularly 
for roe quality and quantity of pollock, increase management 
flexibility, and potentially decrease PSC. The Council's rationale for 
this action is described in Section 2.6 of the Analysis.
    Comment 4: Several commenters expressed support for the increase in 
apportionment of the A season Pacific cod trawl sector. They feel this 
will reduce bycatch and leave less fish unharvested in the B season, 
particularly in the WGOA.
    Response: NMFS acknowledges this comment. In recommending Amendment 
109, the Council noted that more Pacific cod TAC for the trawl CV 
sector in the A season could provide additional opportunity for harvest 
of Pacific cod when fish are aggregated and when the fleet and 
processors are more heavily engaged in the fishery. This is described 
further in Section 4.6.4 of the Analysis.
    In recommending Amendment 109, the Council also considered impacts 
on bycatch and noted that this action could reduce interactions with 
PSC in the Pacific cod fishery. The Council's rationale for this action 
is described in Section 2.6 of the Analysis.
    Comment 5: Combining CGOA pollock A and B seasons would result in 
substantial increases in Chinook salmon bycatch. Current bycatch 
avoidance strategies, such as voluntary stand downs from fishing, are 
contentious at best. It is a distinct and real possibility that the 
Chinook salmon PSC cap could be completely exhausted within a combined 
A and B season, leaving pollock stranded in the water during the fall 
months.
    Response: The Analysis prepared for this action did not indicate 
that it would increase Chinook salmon bycatch. Chinook salmon PSC in 
the GOA pollock fishery is discussed in detail in Section 3.3.1.3 of 
the Analysis and again in Section 4.6.2 of the Analysis. Combining the 
CGOA and WGOA pollock A/B and C/D seasons is

[[Page 38098]]

intended to provide the fleet and processors with flexibility to 
prosecute the pollock fishery in a manner that maximizes yield and 
profitability within other constraints on the timing and intensity of 
fishing that would not be removed by combining the seasons. By 
providing for increased flexibility, vessels could mitigate high 
Chinook salmon PSC rates by standing down during times of seasonally 
high Chinook salmon bycatch. A vessel is less likely to voluntarily 
stand down when a smaller seasonal TAC is nearing completion or if a 
regulated season end-date is approaching. This action will increase the 
size of seasonal TACs and reduce the number of season end dates from 
four to two.
    Aside from reducing the cost of PSC stand downs, combining the 
seasons could also allow vessels to reallocate their effort toward 
parts of the season that are historically correlated with lower Chinook 
PSC rates. Figure 3-7 in Section 3.3.1.3 of the Analysis suggests that 
the ``A'' part of the A/B season and the ``D'' part of the C/D season 
carry higher intrinsic PSC rates. The commenter alluded to this as 
well. Taken at face value, vessels might expect lower PSC rates if they 
focused effort away from those times. Section 4.6.2 of the analysis 
notes that it is not clear that seasonality alone drives Chinook PSC. 
Rates might be higher at the beginning of the fishing year (A season) 
because skippers are learning the conditions on the grounds. Rates 
could also be higher at that time because vessels are in competition 
for valuable roe pollock and the fleet is fishing with more effort and 
exposing itself to extrapolation of observed PSC events over a larger 
number of unobserved vessels.
    As described in Section 3.3.1.1 of the Analysis, flexibility 
introduced by season redefinitions implemented in this final rule could 
shift pollock harvest toward the ``B'' portion of the A/B season and 
the ``C'' part of the C/D season, either of which would reduce the 
expected incidence of Chinook salmon PSC. With regard to D season 
effort, it is expected that a combination of more pollock availability 
earlier in the fall, relatively milder at-sea conditions, and lower 
expected Chinook salmon PSC encounter rates will generally attract CV 
trawl effort to September (the ``C'' part of the C/D season). Such an 
outcome could reduce pollock trawl fishery impacts on Chinook salmon by 
reducing Chinook salmon mortality relative to the status quo, as noted 
in Section 4.6.2 of the Analysis. These factors could similarly drive 
shifts in fishery effort toward the latter part of the consolidated A/B 
season but the result may be less profound given the attraction of the 
valuable roe season that occurs earlier in the year. Section 4.6.2 of 
the Analysis describes existing constraints that would help to dictate 
the timing and pace of the pollock fishery even if seasons were 
lengthened and the fleet had more available TAC at any given moment. 
These include limited vessel capacities, the 300,000 lb trip limit, and 
limits to processing capacity.
    Information on Chinook salmon incidental catch in the GOA pollock 
fishery shows that, on average, Chinook salmon PSC is generally greater 
in the D season than in the A season, often times substantially so 
(https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/sites/default/files/akro/goasalmonmort2020.html; accessed April 2, 2020). As described above, 
this action has the potential to decrease fishing effort in the ``D'' 
season by shifting fishing effort to earlier in the fall, resulting in 
less Chinook salmon PSC being taken at the end of the year. Chinook 
salmon PSC that is no longer needed for ``D'' season fishing could 
serve as a PSC buffer by enabling more Chinook salmon PSC to be taken 
during the A season if Chinook salmon PSC rates increase during the A 
season in years of unusually high Chinook salmon bycatch. As such, NFMS 
does not expect this action to directly result in significantly 
increased annual Chinook salmon bycatch nor does NMFS believe this 
action will directly jeopardize the fleet's ability to fully prosecute 
the GOA pollock fishery TAC.
    Comment 6: Changing the start date for the pollock C/D season is 
solely a measure to delay the fishery until the canneries are done 
processing salmon. In years when salmon harvest is down this is not 
needed. In years when pollock quotas are large, the fishery needs as 
much fishing time as possible. Shortening the season could result in 
available pollock harvest being left in the water.
    Response: The Council's purpose in recommending a change in the 
start date of the combined C/D season was to enhance the operational 
and management efficiency of the GOA pollock trawl fishery. Under the 
status quo season dates, the C season can overlap the end of the salmon 
harvest in some years, causing congestion that plays out differently at 
individual processing facilities depending on throughput capacity and 
the characteristics of their delivering fleet. A later start date could 
eliminate the need for participants to negotiate voluntary stand-downs 
in high salmon harvest years. Regulatory uniformity around a start date 
also mitigates timing conflicts that intermittently affect a subset of 
participants. This rationale is addressed in Section 4.6.2.1 of the 
Analysis.
    NMFS acknowledges that fishery participants may be differentially 
impacted by this action depending on factors such as the fisheries they 
participate in, annual variation in GOA pollock TAC, and annual 
variability in the level of salmon harvest. The Council considered 
these items fully during its June 2019 meeting when final action was 
taken. Ultimately, the Council determined that the overall benefits 
gained by enhanced operational and management efficiency outweigh what 
might be lost by delaying the start of the redesignated pollock B 
season by 7 days. NMFS agrees with the Council's recommendation to 
start the redesignated pollock B season on September 1.
    Comment 7: For smaller vessels, weather patterns and fish 
aggregations make it more difficult to safely fish during the A season. 
The B season gives pollock time to aggregate closer to Kodiak and for 
immature pollock to separate out from mature pollock. Combining the A 
and B seasons could put smaller vessels at a disadvantage because it is 
harder for them to access the resource earlier in the year. Combining 
the seasons will also lead to high discard rates of immature pollock 
upon delivery to Kodiak's processors which are not equipped to process 
small, immature fish.
    Response: As discussed in the response to Comment 5, there are 
other constraining factors, both in regulation and in the fishery, 
which should limit the degree of changes in fishing effort and behavior 
as a result of combining the A and B seasons.
    Section 4.6.2 of the Analysis notes that various factors affect 
harvest patterns in this fishery, including, but not limited to, fish 
aggregation and quality (roe content), market availability, encounter 
rates with PSC-limited species, high and low TAC years for pollock, 
economic opportunities in--or trade-offs with--other fisheries, and 
other individual vessel business decisions. Many constraints that 
dictate the timing and pace of the pollock fishery would remain, even 
under a combined A/B season. Given the multiple constraints that 
dictate the timing and pace of the fishery and inter-annual variability 
in harvest patterns, it would be difficult to accurately determine 
whether any shift in effort was a direct result from merging the A/B 
seasons and C/D seasons under this action. As such, NFMS does not 
expect

[[Page 38099]]

this action to result in substantial shifts in harvest opportunities 
for fishery participants, or in harvest composition of immature versus 
mature pollock.
    Comment 8: Combining the A and B seasons would result in increased 
participation from American Fisheries Act (AFA) vessels that are 
capable of coming into the GOA to fish pollock but are also capable of 
fishing in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands management area. This in 
turn reduces the available quota that is left to participants that are 
only able to fish within the GOA.
    Response: The Council's recommendation of combining the A and B and 
the C and D seasons was driven by the potential for increased 
flexibility for the GOA pollock fleet and processors. As discussed in 
the responses to Comment 5 and Comment 7 and in Section 4.6.2 of the 
Analysis, many constraints that dictate the timing and pace of the GOA 
pollock fishery would remain even if the season were lengthened and the 
fleet had more available TAC at any given moment with which to optimize 
its fishing.
    During its December 2018 and June 2019 meetings, the Council 
deliberated over stakeholders' concerns about season modifications 
allowing AFA-exempt and non-exempt vessels to increase participation in 
the GOA. In light of existing constraints on the pace and timing of the 
fishery, the Council does not anticipate that the increased TAC 
available at the beginning of the season will result in additional 
vessels entering the GOA fishery to an impactful degree. During its 
deliberation, the Council noted that AFA non-exempt vessels did not 
enter the GOA pollock fishery during the recent, historically high 
years of GOA pollock TACs (see Section 4.5.1.1 of the Analysis). 
However, the Council recognized that it is difficult to predict what 
the impacts of this action will be, and that there is diversity among 
the GOA trawl business operations that could be affected by this 
action. The Council noted that further action could be taken at a later 
date if a significant increase in participation by the AFA-affiliated 
vessels is observed in the GOA. NFMS agrees with the Council's 
recommendation.
    Comment 9: Trawling is very destructive. It destroys the bottom of 
the ocean and should not be operated at all. Trawl bycatch should not 
be measured in metric tons; it is extremely wasteful and harms the 
environment. All quotas need to be drastically reduced by 75 percent at 
a minimum.
    Response: This final rule modifies the pollock and Pacific cod 
seasons and seasonal allocation in the WGOA and CGOA. This final rule 
does not change the overall allocation of GOA pollock quota, the 
methods for measuring the amount of bycatch, or management measures 
currently in place to protect marine benthic habitat in the GOA. 
Harvest quotas are set each year by NMFS and the Council through the 
annual harvest specification process. The public is invited to comment 
on the harvest specifications during the October and December Council 
meetings and when the harvest specification proposed rule is published 
in the Federal Register annually in the fall.
    Comment 10: The best way to determine if this rule will actually 
lower or increase rates of bycatch and help with fixing management gaps 
is to implement 100 percent observer or electronic monitoring (EM) 
coverage on trawl vessels.
    Response: This final rule modifies the pollock and Pacific cod 
seasons and seasonal allocation in the WGOA and CGOA. Section 2.6 of 
the Analysis describes the rationale for this action. The Analysis does 
not indicate that implementing 100 percent observer or EM coverage is 
necessary to accomplish the purpose of and need for this action. 
Further, NMFS has determined that the existing level of observer 
coverage provides the necessary level of information needed to manage 
bycatch and PSC limits. Therefore, this final rule does not change 
observer or EM coverage rates.
    Comment 11: When debating these changes in regulation, please use 
bycatch reduction as the primary metric for determining which path to 
take. In the GOA trawl fishery as a whole, there is concern that the 
value of bycatch is exceeding the value of target species catch.
    Response: NMFS acknowledges this comment. The Council and NMFS 
considered the effects of this action on bycatch. Section 3.3.1.3 of 
the Analysis and the response to Comment 5 above describe some ways 
that a reduction in bycatch could be achieved from this action. Section 
4.5.1.3 of the Analysis describes the economic value of the GOA pollock 
and Pacific cod trawl fisheries. This action does not apply to all GOA 
trawl fisheries, and the Analysis does not compare the value of all GOA 
trawl fisheries to the bycatch in all GOA trawl fisheries.

VII. Changes From Proposed to Final Rule

    There were no changes to the regulatory text from the proposed rule 
to the final rule.

VIII. Classification

    The NMFS Assistant Administrator has determined that Amendment 109 
is necessary for the conservation and management of the GOA Pacific cod 
fishery and that it is consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and 
other applicable law. Furthermore, the NMFS Assistant Administrator has 
determined that this final rule is consistent with the Council's 
regulatory amendment for GOA pollock, Amendment 109 to the GOA FMP, 
other provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law.
    This final rule has been determined to be not significant for the 
purposes of Executive Order 12866.
    This final rule is not an Executive Order 13771 regulatory action 
because this rule is not significant under Executive Order 12866.

Regulatory Impact Review (RIR)

    An RIR was prepared to assess the costs and benefits of available 
regulatory alternatives. A copy of this analysis is available from NMFS 
(see ADDRESSES). NMFS is recommending Amendment 109 and the regulatory 
revisions in this final rule based on those measures that maximized net 
benefits to the Nation.

Certification Under the Regulatory Flexibility Act

    The Chief Counsel for Regulation of the Department of Commerce 
certified to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business 
Administration during the proposed rule stage that this action would 
not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small 
entities. The factual basis for the certification was published in the 
proposed rule and is not repeated here. No comments were received 
regarding this certification. As a result, a regulatory flexibility 
analysis was not required and none was prepared.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 679

    Alaska, Fisheries, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements.

    Dated: June 4, 2020.
Samuel D. Rauch III,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.

    For reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 679 is amended as 
follows:

PART 679--FISHERIES OF THE EXCLUSIVE ECONOMIC ZONE OFF ALASKA

0
1. The authority citation for 50 CFR part 679 continues to read as 
follows:


[[Page 38100]]


    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 773 et seq.; 1801 et seq.; 3631 et seq.; 
Pub. L. 108-447; Pub. L. 111-281.


0
2. In Sec.  679.20, revise paragraphs (a)(5)(iv)(B), (a)(12)(i) 
introductory text, (a)(12)(i)(A)(3), and (a)(12)(i)(B)(4) to read as 
follows:


Sec.  679.20  General Limitations.

* * * * *
    (a) * * *
    (5) * * *
    (iv) * * *
    (B) GOA Western and Central Regulatory Areas seasonal 
apportionments. Each apportionment established under paragraph 
(a)(5)(iv)(A) of this section will be divided into two seasonal 
apportionments corresponding to the two fishing seasons specified in 
Sec.  679.23(d)(2) as follows: A Season, 50 percent; and B Season, 50 
percent. Within any fishing year, underharvest or overharvest of a 
seasonal apportionment may be added to or subtracted from remaining 
seasonal apportionments in a manner to be determined by the Regional 
Administrator, provided that any revised seasonal apportionment does 
not exceed 20 percent of the seasonal TAC apportionment for the 
statistical area. The reapportionment of underharvest will be applied 
to the subsequent season within the same statistical area up to the 20 
percent limit specified in this paragraph. Any underharvest remaining 
beyond the 20 percent limit may be further apportioned to the 
subsequent season in the other statistical areas, in proportion to 
estimated biomass and in an amount no more than 20 percent of the 
seasonal TAC apportionment for the statistical area.
* * * * *
    (12) * * *
    (i) Seasonal allowances by sector. The Western and Central GOA 
Pacific cod TACs will be seasonally apportioned to each sector such 
that 63.84 percent of the Western GOA TAC is apportioned to the A 
season and 36.16 percent of the Western GOA TAC is apportioned to the B 
season, and 64.16 percent of the Central GOA TAC is apportioned to the 
A season and 35.84 percent of the Central GOA TAC is apportioned to the 
B season, as specified in Sec.  679.23(d)(3).
    (A) * * *

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                        Seasonal allowances
                                                                                 -------------------------------
            Sector                     Gear type              Operation type       A season (in    B season (in
                                                                                     percent)        percent)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
(3)..........................  Trawl...................  Catcher vessel.........           31.54            6.86
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    (B) * * *

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                        Seasonal allowances
                                                               Length overall in -------------------------------
         Sector              Gear type        Operation type          feet         A season (in    B season (in
                                                                                     percent)        percent)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
(4)....................  Trawl............  Catcher vessel...  Any..............        25.29364        16.29047
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

* * * * *

0
3. In Sec.  679.23, revise paragraph (d)(2) to read as follows:


Sec.  679.23  Seasons.

* * * * *
    (d) * * *
    (2) Directed fishing for pollock. Subject to other provisions of 
this part, directed fishing for pollock in the Western and Central 
Regulatory Areas is authorized only during the following two seasons:
    (i) A season. From 1200 hours, A.l.t., January 20 through 1200 
hours, A.l.t., May 31; and
    (ii) B season. From 1200 hours, A.l.t., September 1 through 1200 
hours, A.l.t., November 1.
* * * * *
[FR Doc. 2020-12453 Filed 6-24-20; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P