Fisheries of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic; Comprehensive Fishery Management Plans for Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. John, and St. Croix, 38350-38355 [2020-13823]

Download as PDF 38350 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 124 / Friday, June 26, 2020 / Proposed Rules (30) Proceed northwesterly along the 4-wheel drive road to its intersection with the southern terminus of an unnamed road known locally as Carlisle Drive; then (31) Proceed southwesterly in a straight line to an unmarked 4,680-foot summit; then (32) Proceed north in a straight line to the 3,640-foot elevation contour; then (33) Proceed west in a straight line to the 3,600-foot elevation contour; then (34) Proceed west, then northwesterly along the 3,600-foot elevation contour to its intersection with an unnamed intermittent stream northwest of Jack Springs Road; then (35) Proceed northeast in a straight line, crossing onto the Bear Mountain map, and continuing to the intersection of the 4,800-foot elevation contour and an unnamed intermittent creek west of Rockspring Court; then (36) Proceed north along the 4,800foot elevation to a point due west of the intersection of the 4,800-foot point and an unnamed road known locally as Skyline Drive; then (37) Proceed east in a straight line to the beginning point. Signed: March 16, 2020. Mary G. Ryan, Acting Administrator. Approved: June 9, 2020. Timothy E. Skud, Deputy Assistant Secretary (Tax, Trade, and Tariff Policy). [FR Doc. 2020–13138 Filed 6–25–20; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 4810–31–P DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 50 CFR Part 622 RIN 0648–BD32 Fisheries of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic; Comprehensive Fishery Management Plans for Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. John, and St. Croix National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce. ACTION: Notice of availability (NOA); request for comments. jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with PROPOSALS AGENCY: The Caribbean Fishery Management Council (Council) has submitted three fishery management plans (FMPs) for review, approval, and implementation by NMFS. If approved by the Secretary of Commerce, the new SUMMARY: VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:53 Jun 25, 2020 Jkt 250001 FMPs (island-based FMPs) would replace the existing U.S. Caribbean-wide FMPs and transition the management of Federal fisheries in the U.S. Caribbean exclusive economic zone (EEZ) from a U.S. Caribbean-wide approach to an island-based approach. By developing island-based FMPs, NMFS and the Council would better account for differences among the U.S. Caribbean islands with respect to culture, markets, fishing gear used, seafood preferences, and ecological impacts. DATES: Written comments on the FMPs must be received by August 25, 2020. ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on the FMPs, identified by ‘‘NOAA– NMFS–2019–0155’’, by either of the following methods: • Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Go to www.regulations.gov/ #!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-20190155, click the ‘‘Comment Now!’’ icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments. • Mail: Submit all written comments to Sarah Stephenson, NMFS Southeast Regional Office, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701. Instructions: Comments sent by any other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period may not be considered by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address, etc.), confidential business information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter ‘‘N/ A’’ in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous). Electronic copies of the FMPs may be obtained from www.regulations.gov or the Southeast Regional Office website at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/ southeast/sustainable-fisheries/ sustainable-fisheries-caribbean. Each FMP includes an environmental assessment (EA), regulatory impact review, and fishery impact statement. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Marı´a del Mar Lo´pez, NMFS Southeast Regional Office, telephone: 727–824– 5305, or email: maria.lopez@noaa.gov. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) requires each regional fishery management council to submit any FMP or amendment to NMFS for review and approval, partial PO 00000 Frm 00013 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 approval, or disapproval. The Magnuson-Stevens Act also requires that NMFS, upon receiving an FMP or amendment, publish an announcement in the Federal Register notifying the public that the FMP or amendment is available for review and comment. The Council has submitted three FMPs for review, approval, and implementation by NMFS. The FMPs are the Comprehensive FMP for the Puerto Rico EEZ (Puerto Rico FMP), the Comprehensive FMP for the St. Thomas and St. John EEZ (St. Thomas and St. John FMP), and the Comprehensive FMP for the St. Croix EEZ (St. Croix FMP). If approved, the island-based FMPs would be implemented by NMFS through regulations at 50 CFR part 622 under the authority of the MagnusonStevens Act. Background Currently, the Council manages fisheries under its authority under four U.S. Caribbean-wide FMPs: the FMP for the Reef Fish Fishery of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) (Reef Fish FMP), the FMP for the Spiny Lobster Fishery of Puerto Rico and the USVI (Spiny Lobster FMP), the FMP for the Queen Conch Resources of Puerto Rico and the USVI (Queen Conch FMP), and the FMP for the Corals and Reef Associated Plants and Invertebrates of Puerto Rico and the USVI (Coral FMP) through regulations implemented by NMFS at 50 CFR part 622. NMFS implemented the Spiny Lobster FMP in 1984 (49 FR 50049, December 26, 1984), the Reef Fish FMP in 1985 (50 FR 34850, August 28, 1985), the Coral FMP in 1995 (60 FR 58221, November 27, 1995), and the Queen Conch FMP in 1996 (61 FR 65481, December 13, 1996). Each FMP has been amended on several occasions. Under these FMPs, the Council and NMFS manage fisheries across the entire U.S. Caribbean. However, the Council applies certain management measures separately within Federal waters of Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. John, and St. Croix based on the availability of island-specific data. For example, the final rule implementing Amendment 5 to the Reef Fish FMP and Amendment 2 to the Queen Conch FMP (2010 Caribbean Annual Catch Limit (ACL) Amendment) (76 FR 82404, December 30, 2011) defined the fishery management boundaries of the U.S. Caribbean EEZ for Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. John, and St. Croix, and established separate, island-specific ACLs and accountability measures (AM) for species addressed in those FMP amendments. E:\FR\FM\26JNP1.SGM 26JNP1 jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with PROPOSALS Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 124 / Friday, June 26, 2020 / Proposed Rules In 2012, the Council initiated public discussion of an island-based approach to the management of fisheries in the U.S. Caribbean EEZ to address requests from fishermen, fishing community representatives, and the governments of Puerto Rico and the USVI (St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix) that the Council consider the differences among the islands when addressing fisheries management in the U.S. Caribbean. These entities highlighted the unique characteristics of the fishery resources within each island or island group, and the communities that are dependent on those resources. For example, there are different species that are economically or ecologically important in Federal waters around each island or island groups, and the island-based approach provides a better mechanism to identify those species and to establish related management measures for those species (e.g., bag limits, trip limits, closed areas, and closed seasons). By developing island-based FMPs, NMFS and the Council would better account for differences among the U.S. Caribbean islands with respect to culture, markets, fishing gear used, seafood preferences, and the ecological impacts. The Council responded to these public requests by deciding to shift from a U.S. Caribbean-wide management approach to an island-based management approach and developing FMPs for Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. John, and St. Croix, respectively. The Council’s decision was supported by an EA completed in 2014, which analyzed transitioning from U.S. Caribbean-wide to island-based management. The EA evaluated the impact of incorporating the regulations in effect at that time under the U.S. Caribbean-wide FMPs into FMPs for different island management areas. For example, the Council evaluated subdividing the island management zones into a two, three, or four island-group approach. The EA provided the public with the expected and potential impacts of such a shift in Federal fisheries management in the U.S. Caribbean. Based on the 2014 EA, the Council decided to develop FMPs for three island areas, the Puerto Rico FMP, the St. Thomas and St. John FMP, and the St. Croix FMP, that are noticed here. Each island-based FMP is analyzed separately in an EA. If approved, the Puerto Rico FMP, the St. Thomas and St. John FMP, and the St. Croix FMP, in combination, would replace the existing U.S. Caribbean-wide FMPs. Each individual FMP would establish management measures for the EEZ around each island. The U.S. Caribbean EEZ, also referred to as Federal waters, begins 9 nautical miles VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:53 Jun 25, 2020 Jkt 250001 (nm) from shore off Puerto Rico and 3 nm from shore off the USVI, and the EEZ extends up to 200 nm from shore. Federal waters around Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. John, and St. Croix are defined as the respective island management areas under the islandbased FMPs. Each island-based FMP would retain most of the current management measures established under the U.S. Caribbean-wide FMPs that apply to the respective island management area, including seasonal and area closures, minimum size limits, and recreational bag limits. In addition, each island-based FMP would revise other management measures such as the species included for Federal management, and ACLs and AMs. Thus, Federal fisheries within each island management area would be managed by provisions within the respective islandbased FMP and fisheries management would be adapted to the individual characteristics of Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. John, and St. Croix. Actions Contained in Each FMP Each of the FMPs for Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. John, and St. Croix contain an EA that considers whether to make the transition from U.S. Caribbean-wide management to management at the particular island management area level. After deciding to make the transition, each EA considers alternatives for many of the management measures to be applied at the island management area level. The island-based FMPs would incorporate fishery management measures presently included in the current Spiny Lobster, Reef Fish, Queen Conch, and Coral FMPs that are applicable to the EEZ around each of the island management areas and would modify the specific management measures as needed. The island-based FMPs would revise the list of species to be managed and modify the stock or stock complexes under which those species are managed; revise status determination criteria (SDC), management reference points, and AMs; incorporate descriptions of essential fish habitat (EFH) for species new to Federal management; and update FMP framework procedures. Each EA associated with an islandbased FMP contains the same set of management actions, as described below. For each management action, information applicable to all three island management areas is described first, followed by island area-specific information where applicable. Island-Based Management For each island management area, the corresponding island-based FMP would PO 00000 Frm 00014 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 38351 replace the four U.S. Caribbean-wide FMPs currently in place as they apply to the particular island management area. Management measures within those U.S. Caribbean-wide FMPs would be reorganized at the level of each island management area. Each islandbased FMP would include only those management measures applicable to that island management area. For example, minimum size limits applicable to the harvest of certain parrotfish species in the St. Croix management area would only be included in the St. Croix FMP. Selection of Stocks To Be Managed The stocks currently managed in the U.S. Caribbean EEZ under the Reef Fish, Spiny Lobster, Queen Conch, and Coral FMPs are composed of 81 species of reef fish, 58 species of aquarium trade fish, spiny lobster, queen conch, 94 genera or species of corals, and 63 genera or species of aquarium trade invertebrates (see Table 1 to appendix A of 50 CFR part 622). For each island management area, the island-based FMPs would designate a unique list of species to be managed based on the specific characteristics of each island management area. The Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) and the District Advisory Panel from each island management area provided input and recommendations on the criteria used for the Council to select the species to be included in each respective FMP. As described in greater detail in the FMPs, the inclusion or exclusion of species for management was determined using five sequential principles applied to species for which landings are available, beginning with those in greatest need of conservation and management (e.g., overfished, prohibited harvest, etc.). Among the species considered for management are those retained from the four U.S. Caribbean-wide FMPs as well as nonmanaged species for which the Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC) had data indicating that the species had been landed in the particular island area. For all of these species considered for management, the Council used a stepwise application of the five criteria to determine if a species should be included for management in each island-based FMP. Table 2.2.6 in each island-based FMP lists the stocks proposed for Federal management. Puerto Rico Stocks for Management Following the stepwise species selection process, spiny lobster, queen conch, 63 species of fish, and all species of corals, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers that occur within the Puerto Rico management area are proposed for E:\FR\FM\26JNP1.SGM 26JNP1 38352 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 124 / Friday, June 26, 2020 / Proposed Rules management in the Puerto Rico FMP. Eighteen fish species would be new to Federal management under the Puerto Rico FMP. St. Thomas and St. John Stocks for Management Following the stepwise species selection process, spiny lobster, queen conch, 47 species of fish, and all species of corals, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers that occur within the St. Thomas and St. John management area are proposed for management in the St. Thomas and St. John FMP. Three fish species would be new to Federal management under the St. Thomas and St. John FMP. St. Croix Stocks for Management Following the stepwise species selection process, spiny lobster, queen conch, 43 species of fish, and all species of corals, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers that occur within the St. Croix management area are proposed for management in the St. Croix FMP. Two fish species would be new to Federal management under the St. Croix FMP. Stock Complex Organization and Selection of Indicator Stocks After establishing the list of species proposed for management under each island-based FMP, the Council determined whether those species would be managed as individual stocks or in stock complexes. For those managed in stock complexes, the Council determined if one or more indicator stocks should be assigned to the stock complex. This action would result in a new organization of stocks, and therefore a new number of stocks and stock complexes would be managed under each island-based FMP relative to the U.S. Caribbean-wide FMPs. Table 5.13.3 in each island-based FMP lists the proposed stocks complexes and indicator stocks. Puerto Rico Stock Organization Species proposed for management under the Puerto Rico FMP would be managed as 18 individual stocks and 19 stock complexes and would include 7 indicator stocks. jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with PROPOSALS St. Thomas and St. John Stock Organization Species proposed for management under the St. Thomas and St. John FMP would be managed as 12 individual stocks and 14 stock complexes and would include 9 indicator stocks. St. Croix Stock Organization Species proposed for management under the St. Croix FMP would be VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:53 Jun 25, 2020 Jkt 250001 managed as 13 individual stocks and 13 stock complexes and would include 6 indicator stocks. Management Reference Points and Status Determination Criteria The Magnuson-Stevens Act requires that FMPs specify a number of reference points for managed fish stocks, including maximum sustainable yield (MSY) or MSY proxy, ACL, as well as stock SDC including overfished and overfishing thresholds. These reference points and SDC, and other provisions from which they are derived, such as acceptable biological catch (ABC), are intended to provide the means to measure the status and performance of fisheries relative to established goals. The current SDC and management reference points for stocks managed under the four U.S. Caribbean-wide FMPs were established by the final rules for the Caribbean Sustainable Fisheries Act Amendment (70 FR 62073, October 28, 2005), and the ABC control rules included in the 2010 Caribbean ACL Amendment and the final rule implementing Amendment 6 to the Reef Fish FMP, Amendment 5 to the Spiny Lobster FMP, Amendment 3 to the Queen Conch FMP, and Amendment 3 to the Coral FMP (76 FR 82414, December 30, 2011) (2011 Caribbean ACL Amendment). The ABC control rules contained in each island-based FMP would replace the current ABC control rules included in the 2010 Caribbean ACL Amendment and 2011 Caribbean ACL Amendment, as applicable. The island-based FMPs would provide a complete revision of reference points and SDC for stocks and stock complexes included for management following a three-step process. Step 1 adopts and applies a newly devised, 4-tiered, ABC control rule to specify SDC and ABC recommendations depending on differing levels of data availability. Beginning with Tier 4 and moving up the tier levels (lower tier numbers), successful application of each tier requires an increasing amount of information. Tier 4 is applicable in situations where an accepted quantitative assessment is not available, which is the present case for all stocks proposed for management in the Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. John, and St. Croix FMPs. In Tier 4, the most datalimited of the options, an MSY proxy, maximum fishing mortality threshold, and MSST are defined with respect to assumptions about fishing mortality rate and biomass, but cannot be quantified due to data limitations. In addition, Tier 4 introduces a new reference point, the sustainable yield level (SYL). The SYL PO 00000 Frm 00015 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 is a level of landings that can be sustained over the long term. SYL is intended to be used when quantitative guidance with which to set MSY or an MSY proxy is not available. The SYL would serve as a proxy for the OFL and a minimum estimate of MSY where MSY is greater than or equal to SYL, and thus SYL also is an MSY proxy. Step 2 establishes a proxy to use when FMSY cannot be determined, as in Tier 4 of the ABC control rule. For all three island management areas, the Council established a proxy equal to 30 percent of the maximum spawning potential of a stock under conditions of no fishing mortality (F30%SPR). Step 3 applies a reduction factor, reflecting the Council’s estimate of management uncertainty, to the recommended ABC for each stock or stock complex to specify the ACL for the stock or stock complex. The OY would be set equal to the ACL for each stock or stock complex. All reference points are defined in terms of round weight in pounds. The tiered approached to the ABC control rule better positions the Council to take advantage of future improvements in data and analytical methodologies. Revising the reference points and SDC based on recent landings data ensures to the greatest extent practicable that an appropriate period of stable and sustainable landings is identified and used for setting management reference points and SDC. Puerto Rico Stock Evaluation For the Puerto Rico FMP, sectorspecific landings data for Councilmanaged fish (reef fish, pelagic fish, and rays) were available for the commercial and recreational fishing sectors operating in EEZ waters around Puerto Rico. These landings data were used to determine and establish reference points and SDC for fish stocks and stock complexes (Step 1 of the three-step process used to revise reference points and SDCs described above), and set ACLs by sector with available data (Step 3 of the process described above). For spiny lobster, only commercial landings data are collected as recreational data are not available. Because sectorspecific landings data are not available, reference points and SDC for spiny lobster derived in Steps 1 and 3 are based on commercial landings. The SSC determined that some species proposed for management under the Puerto Rico FMP were more vulnerable to overfishing and recommended that the ABC be set at zero (the corresponding ACL and OY would also equal zero). These included queen conch, Nassau E:\FR\FM\26JNP1.SGM 26JNP1 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 124 / Friday, June 26, 2020 / Proposed Rules jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with PROPOSALS grouper, goliath grouper, blue, midnight, and rainbow parrotfishes, giant manta ray, spotted eagle ray, southern stingray, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, and corals. The Council also determined an MSY proxy, MFMT, and MSST based on the fishing mortality rate in Step 2 of the three-step process used to revise reference points and SDCs stated earlier. To determine the ACL for those stocks and stock complexes for which harvest is not prohibited (i.e., for which the ABC is greater than zero), the Council proposed an uncertainty buffer of 0.85 for the angelfish, parrotfish, and surgeonfish stock complexes and an uncertainty buffer of 0.95 for all remaining stocks and stock complexes. The ABC for each of those stocks or stock complexes was multiplied by the buffer to determine the ACL for each stock and stock complex proposed for management. For fish stocks and stock complexes, OY would equal the total (commercial and recreational) ACL when data from both sectors are available. In the event that landings for one sector are not available for the averaging period, the sector would not be managed by a separate sector ACL. The ACL for the sector with available data would be the applicable ACL for the stock or stock complex. For spiny lobster, the OY would equal the commercial ACL, as the ACL is based on commercial landings. This ACL applies to all harvest of spiny lobster, whether commercial or recreational. St. Thomas and St. John Stock Evaluation For the St. Thomas and St. John FMP, recreational landings data were not available, thus management reference points and SDC (e.g., SYL, ABC, and ACL) for the stocks and stock complexes proposed for management were derived using commercial landings in Steps 1 and 3 of the three-step process used to revise reference points and SDC. The SSC determined that some species proposed for management under the St. Thomas and St. John FMP were more vulnerable to overfishing and recommended that the ABC be set at zero pounds (the corresponding ACL and OY would also equal zero). These included queen conch, Nassau grouper, goliath grouper, blue, midnight, and rainbow parrotfishes, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, and corals. The Council also determined an MSY proxy, MFMT, and MSST based on the fishing mortality rate in Step 2 of the three-step process used to revise reference points and SDCs. To determine the ACL for those stocks and stock complexes for which harvest is not prohibited (i.e., for which the ABC is greater than zero), in VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:53 Jun 25, 2020 Jkt 250001 Step 3, the Council proposed an uncertainty buffer of 0.85 for the angelfish, parrotfish, and surgeonfish stock complexes, and an uncertainty buffer of 0.95 for all remaining stocks and stock complexes. The ABC for each of those stocks or stock complexes was multiplied by the buffer to determine the ACL for each stock and stock complex proposed for management. For all stocks and stock complexes, OY would equal the ACL. St. Croix Stock Evaluation For the St. Croix FMP, recreational landings data were not available, thus management reference points and SDC (e.g., SYL, ABC, and ACL) for the stocks and stock complexes proposed for management were derived using commercial landings in Steps 1 and 3 of the three-step process used to revise reference points and SDC. The SSC determined that some species proposed for management under the St. Croix FMP were more vulnerable to overfishing and recommended that the ABC be set at zero (the corresponding ACL would also equal zero). These species would include Nassau grouper, goliath grouper, blue, midnight, and rainbow parrotfishes, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, and corals. The SSC also recommended an ABC of 50,000 lb (22,680 kg) for queen conch in the St. Croix EEZ. The Council also determined an MSY proxy, MFMT, and MSST based on the fishing mortality rate in Step 2 of the three-step process used to revise reference points and SDCs. To determine the ACL for each stock and stock complex proposed for management for the stocks and stock complexes in which the ABCs were not equal to zero, in Step 3, the Council proposed an uncertainty buffer of 0.85 for the angelfish, parrotfish, and surgeonfish stock complexes, an uncertainty buffer of 0.95 for spiny lobster and all other fish stocks and stock complexes, and no uncertainty buffer for queen conch, as management uncertainty was accounted for when setting the ABC, thus no additional reduction from the ABC to the ACL was necessary or appropriate. The ABC for each of those stocks or stock complexes was multiplied by the buffer to determine the ACL for each stock and stock complex proposed for management. For all stocks and stock complexes, OY would equal the ACL. Accountability Measures Under the current AMs, reef fish and spiny lobster landings data for each island management area are evaluated relative to the applicable ACL based on a moving multi-year average of landings, PO 00000 Frm 00016 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 38353 using the most recent, complete three years of landings data available. For reef fish species or species groups in the EEZ around Puerto Rico, ACLs are specific by sector and NMFS applies AMs on a sector-specific basis to the sector that exceeded its ACL if both the sectorspecific ACL and total ACL (commercial and recreational) is exceeded. For reef fish species or species groups in the EEZ around the USVI and for spiny lobster in all management areas, if NMFS determines that the applicable ACL for a particular stock or stock complex was exceeded because of enhanced data collection and monitoring efforts instead of an increase in catch, NMFS will not reduce the length of the applicable fishing season the following fishing year. For reef fish species or species groups in the EEZ around Puerto Rico, if either the sector ACL or the total ACL is exceeded because of enhanced data collection and monitoring efforts instead of an increase in catch, NMFS will not reduce the length of the applicable sector fishing season the following fishing year. However, if landings exceed the applicable ACL for a species or species group and this exception does not apply, NMFS will reduce the length of the fishing season by the amount necessary to ensure that landings do not exceed the applicable ACL in the following fishing year for that species or species group. Additionally, any fishing season reduction is applied starting from September 30 and earlier toward the beginning of the fishing year. If the length of the required fishing season reduction exceeds the time period of January 1 through September 30, any additional fishing season reduction will be applied in the same fishing year from October 1 and later toward the end of the fishing year. For most stocks and stock complexes in each island-based FMP, the AMs proposed would be triggered if landings of a stock or stock complex exceed the respective ACL. The proposed AMs were selected to ensure that, if an ACL for a particular stock or stock complex is exceeded, it will not be exceeded in the year following the ACL overage determination, or for pelagic stocks, that landings can be controlled at or below the ACL. For each reef fish stock and stock complex where harvest is allowed, and for spiny lobster in the respective island management areas, each island-based FMP proposes to specify an AM that would be triggered if the ACL for the stock or stock complex has been exceeded based on a moving multi-year average of landings as described in the FMP. If the ACL is exceeded, the length E:\FR\FM\26JNP1.SGM 26JNP1 38354 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 124 / Friday, June 26, 2020 / Proposed Rules jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with PROPOSALS of the fishing season for the affected stock or stock complex in the fishing year following an ACL overage determination would be reduced by the amount needed to prevent such an overage from occurring again. If the NMFS SEFSC determines that the overage occurred because of improved data collection and monitoring rather than because catches actually increased, then the AMs would not be applied. Additionally, the Regional Administrator in consultation with the Council may deviate from the specific time sequences of landings based on data availability. Any fishing season reduction would be applied from September 30 and earlier toward the beginning of the fishing year. If the length of the required fishing season reduction exceeds the time period of January 1 through September 30, any additional fishing season reduction would be applied from October 1 forward, toward the end of the fishing year. For the pelagic stocks and stock complexes, all of which would be new to Federal management within each island-based FMP, an annual catch target (ACT) would be specified as a percentage of the ACL (ACT equals 90 percent of ACL) that would serve as the AM trigger. An AM would be triggered if the landings for a stock or stock complex exceed its ACT based on a moving multi-year average of landings as described in the FMP. The Regional Administrator in consultation with the Council may deviate from the specific time sequences of landings based on data availability. If an AM was triggered, the Council in consultation with the SEFSC would determine whether corrective action is needed. For stocks with harvest prohibitions in each island management area, those prohibitions would serve as the AMs. No additional or unique AMs are proposed for St. Thomas and St. John. Puerto Rico Stock AMs For reef fish stocks and stock complexes in the Puerto Rico management area, the default process discussed for AMs above would be modified by the Puerto Rico FMP to reflect sector-specific management. Where sector-specific ACLs were determined, landings would be evaluated relative to the applicable commercial or recreational ACL, depending on data availability. An AM would be triggered if a sector’s landings exceeded the respective sector ACL and the total landings (commercial plus recreational) exceeded the total ACL (commercial plus recreational) for a specific stock or stock complex. The AM VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:53 Jun 25, 2020 Jkt 250001 would be applied only for the particular sector that exceeded its ACL. NMFS would not apply an AM if the NMFS SEFSC determines that either ACL overage (sector-specific or total ACL) occurred because data collection or monitoring improved rather than because catch increased. However, as described above, if landings for one sector are not available for the averaging period, then that sector would not be managed by a separate sector ACL. The ACL for the sector with available data would be the ACL for that stock or stock complex and would apply to the application of AMs. Landings would be evaluated relative to the ACL. The AM would operate to reduce the length of the fishing season for all sectors by the amount necessary to ensure to the greatest practicable extent that landings do not again exceed the ACL in the year of application. For spiny lobster, only commercial harvest data are collected as recreational landings are not available. However, the ACL and AM for spiny lobster would apply to commercial and recreational harvest. For all stock and stock complexes, any fishing season reduction resulting from an AM application would be applied during the fishing year after the overage is detected in the same manner as stated earlier, i.e., from September 30 and earlier in the fishing year. St. Croix Stock AMs For St. Croix, the general process described above applies, with modifications for queen conch. The St. Croix FMP would continue to allow queen conch harvest from the EEZ east of 64°34′ W longitude during the open fishing season. The rest of the U.S. Caribbean EEZ would continue to be closed to the harvest of queen conch. The proposed AM for queen conch would be applied if, based on in-season monitoring, NMFS determines its ACL is reached or is projected to be reached prior to the end of the fishing season. If the AM is applied, the Regional Administrator would close the St. Croix management area to the harvest and possession of queen conch. During any such closure, no person would be allowed to fish for or possess a Caribbean queen conch in or from Federal waters. Essential Fish Habitat The EFH designations for species and species groups that are currently managed under the U.S. Caribbean-wide FMPs and are proposed for management under the Puerto Rico FMP, St. Thomas and St. John FMP, and St. Croix FMP would remain as currently described in the Sustainable Fisheries Act PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 Amendment (70 FR 62073, October 28, 2005). For species new to Federal management, each island-based FMP proposes to describe and identify EFH according to functional relationships between life history stages of the species and marine and estuarine habitats, based on best scientific information available from the literature, landings data, fishery-independent surveys, and expert opinion. Framework Procedures The current framework procedures for the Reef Fish, Spiny Lobster, Queen Conch, and Coral FMPs provide the Council and NMFS the flexibility to more expeditiously adjust management options to respond to changing fishery conditions or new scientific information. Each island-based FMP proposes to update the framework procedures to expand or modify the range of existing management measures that can be implemented by the Council without going through a full FMP amendment process. The proposed framework procedures for each islandbased FMP are identical and future proposed actions could be implemented either by an open abbreviated framework, an open standard framework, or through a closed framework procedure. Some of the management measures proposed to be adjusted through framework procedures include re-specification of management reference points and SDCs, and modification of seasonal, year-round, or area closures, commercial trip limits, recreational bag and possession limits, size limits, and fishing gear modifications. Proposed Rule for the Island-based FMPs A proposed rule that would implement the island-based FMPs is being drafted. In accordance with the Magnuson-Stevens Act, NMFS is evaluating the proposed rule to determine whether it is consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and other applicable laws. If that determination is affirmative, NMFS will publish the proposed rule in the Federal Register for public review and comment. Consideration of Public Comments The Council has submitted the Puerto Rico FMP, St. Thomas and St. John FMP, and St. Croix FMP for Secretarial review, approval, and implementation. Comments on any of the FMPs must be received by August 25, 2020. Comments received during the respective comment periods, whether specifically directed to any or all of the FMPs or to the proposed rule, will be considered by E:\FR\FM\26JNP1.SGM 26JNP1 Federal Register / Vol. 85, No. 124 / Friday, June 26, 2020 / Proposed Rules NMFS in the decision to approve, disapprove, or partially approve the island-based FMPs. Comments received after the comment period will not be considered by NMFS in this decision. All comments received by NMFS on an island-based FMP or the proposed rule during the comment period will be addressed in the final rule. Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. Dated: June 23, 2020. Jennifer M. Wallace, Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries Service. [FR Doc. 2020–13823 Filed 6–25–20; 8:45 am] jbell on DSKJLSW7X2PROD with PROPOSALS BILLING CODE 3510–22–P VerDate Sep<11>2014 16:53 Jun 25, 2020 Jkt 250001 PO 00000 Frm 00018 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 9990 38355 E:\FR\FM\26JNP1.SGM 26JNP1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 85, Number 124 (Friday, June 26, 2020)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 38350-38355]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2020-13823]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 622

RIN 0648-BD32


Fisheries of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic; 
Comprehensive Fishery Management Plans for Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and 
St. John, and St. Croix

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

ACTION: Notice of availability (NOA); request for comments.

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SUMMARY: The Caribbean Fishery Management Council (Council) has 
submitted three fishery management plans (FMPs) for review, approval, 
and implementation by NMFS. If approved by the Secretary of Commerce, 
the new FMPs (island-based FMPs) would replace the existing U.S. 
Caribbean-wide FMPs and transition the management of Federal fisheries 
in the U.S. Caribbean exclusive economic zone (EEZ) from a U.S. 
Caribbean-wide approach to an island-based approach. By developing 
island-based FMPs, NMFS and the Council would better account for 
differences among the U.S. Caribbean islands with respect to culture, 
markets, fishing gear used, seafood preferences, and ecological 
impacts.

DATES: Written comments on the FMPs must be received by August 25, 
2020.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on the FMPs, identified by ``NOAA-
NMFS-2019-0155'', by either of the following methods:
     Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic comments via 
the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2019-0155, click the ``Comment Now!'' icon, 
complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.
     Mail: Submit all written comments to Sarah Stephenson, 
NMFS Southeast Regional Office, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, 
FL 33701.
    Instructions: Comments sent by any other method, to any other 
address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period 
may not be considered by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the 
public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on 
www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying 
information (e.g., name, address, etc.), confidential business 
information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily 
by the sender will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous 
comments (enter ``N/A'' in the required fields if you wish to remain 
anonymous).
    Electronic copies of the FMPs may be obtained from 
www.regulations.gov or the Southeast Regional Office website at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/southeast/sustainable-fisheries/sustainable-fisheries-caribbean. Each FMP includes an environmental assessment 
(EA), regulatory impact review, and fishery impact statement.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mar[iacute]a del Mar L[oacute]pez, 
NMFS Southeast Regional Office, telephone: 727-824-5305, or email: 
[email protected].

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation 
and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) requires each regional 
fishery management council to submit any FMP or amendment to NMFS for 
review and approval, partial approval, or disapproval. The Magnuson-
Stevens Act also requires that NMFS, upon receiving an FMP or 
amendment, publish an announcement in the Federal Register notifying 
the public that the FMP or amendment is available for review and 
comment.
    The Council has submitted three FMPs for review, approval, and 
implementation by NMFS. The FMPs are the Comprehensive FMP for the 
Puerto Rico EEZ (Puerto Rico FMP), the Comprehensive FMP for the St. 
Thomas and St. John EEZ (St. Thomas and St. John FMP), and the 
Comprehensive FMP for the St. Croix EEZ (St. Croix FMP). If approved, 
the island-based FMPs would be implemented by NMFS through regulations 
at 50 CFR part 622 under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Background

    Currently, the Council manages fisheries under its authority under 
four U.S. Caribbean-wide FMPs: the FMP for the Reef Fish Fishery of 
Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) (Reef Fish FMP), the FMP 
for the Spiny Lobster Fishery of Puerto Rico and the USVI (Spiny 
Lobster FMP), the FMP for the Queen Conch Resources of Puerto Rico and 
the USVI (Queen Conch FMP), and the FMP for the Corals and Reef 
Associated Plants and Invertebrates of Puerto Rico and the USVI (Coral 
FMP) through regulations implemented by NMFS at 50 CFR part 622.
    NMFS implemented the Spiny Lobster FMP in 1984 (49 FR 50049, 
December 26, 1984), the Reef Fish FMP in 1985 (50 FR 34850, August 28, 
1985), the Coral FMP in 1995 (60 FR 58221, November 27, 1995), and the 
Queen Conch FMP in 1996 (61 FR 65481, December 13, 1996). Each FMP has 
been amended on several occasions. Under these FMPs, the Council and 
NMFS manage fisheries across the entire U.S. Caribbean. However, the 
Council applies certain management measures separately within Federal 
waters of Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. John, and St. Croix based on 
the availability of island-specific data. For example, the final rule 
implementing Amendment 5 to the Reef Fish FMP and Amendment 2 to the 
Queen Conch FMP (2010 Caribbean Annual Catch Limit (ACL) Amendment) (76 
FR 82404, December 30, 2011) defined the fishery management boundaries 
of the U.S. Caribbean EEZ for Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. John, and 
St. Croix, and established separate, island-specific ACLs and 
accountability measures (AM) for species addressed in those FMP 
amendments.

[[Page 38351]]

    In 2012, the Council initiated public discussion of an island-based 
approach to the management of fisheries in the U.S. Caribbean EEZ to 
address requests from fishermen, fishing community representatives, and 
the governments of Puerto Rico and the USVI (St. Thomas, St. John, and 
St. Croix) that the Council consider the differences among the islands 
when addressing fisheries management in the U.S. Caribbean. These 
entities highlighted the unique characteristics of the fishery 
resources within each island or island group, and the communities that 
are dependent on those resources. For example, there are different 
species that are economically or ecologically important in Federal 
waters around each island or island groups, and the island-based 
approach provides a better mechanism to identify those species and to 
establish related management measures for those species (e.g., bag 
limits, trip limits, closed areas, and closed seasons). By developing 
island-based FMPs, NMFS and the Council would better account for 
differences among the U.S. Caribbean islands with respect to culture, 
markets, fishing gear used, seafood preferences, and the ecological 
impacts.
    The Council responded to these public requests by deciding to shift 
from a U.S. Caribbean-wide management approach to an island-based 
management approach and developing FMPs for Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and 
St. John, and St. Croix, respectively. The Council's decision was 
supported by an EA completed in 2014, which analyzed transitioning from 
U.S. Caribbean-wide to island-based management. The EA evaluated the 
impact of incorporating the regulations in effect at that time under 
the U.S. Caribbean-wide FMPs into FMPs for different island management 
areas. For example, the Council evaluated subdividing the island 
management zones into a two, three, or four island-group approach. The 
EA provided the public with the expected and potential impacts of such 
a shift in Federal fisheries management in the U.S. Caribbean. Based on 
the 2014 EA, the Council decided to develop FMPs for three island 
areas, the Puerto Rico FMP, the St. Thomas and St. John FMP, and the 
St. Croix FMP, that are noticed here. Each island-based FMP is analyzed 
separately in an EA.
    If approved, the Puerto Rico FMP, the St. Thomas and St. John FMP, 
and the St. Croix FMP, in combination, would replace the existing U.S. 
Caribbean-wide FMPs. Each individual FMP would establish management 
measures for the EEZ around each island. The U.S. Caribbean EEZ, also 
referred to as Federal waters, begins 9 nautical miles (nm) from shore 
off Puerto Rico and 3 nm from shore off the USVI, and the EEZ extends 
up to 200 nm from shore. Federal waters around Puerto Rico, St. Thomas 
and St. John, and St. Croix are defined as the respective island 
management areas under the island-based FMPs. Each island-based FMP 
would retain most of the current management measures established under 
the U.S. Caribbean-wide FMPs that apply to the respective island 
management area, including seasonal and area closures, minimum size 
limits, and recreational bag limits. In addition, each island-based FMP 
would revise other management measures such as the species included for 
Federal management, and ACLs and AMs. Thus, Federal fisheries within 
each island management area would be managed by provisions within the 
respective island-based FMP and fisheries management would be adapted 
to the individual characteristics of Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. 
John, and St. Croix.

Actions Contained in Each FMP

    Each of the FMPs for Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. John, and St. 
Croix contain an EA that considers whether to make the transition from 
U.S. Caribbean-wide management to management at the particular island 
management area level. After deciding to make the transition, each EA 
considers alternatives for many of the management measures to be 
applied at the island management area level. The island-based FMPs 
would incorporate fishery management measures presently included in the 
current Spiny Lobster, Reef Fish, Queen Conch, and Coral FMPs that are 
applicable to the EEZ around each of the island management areas and 
would modify the specific management measures as needed. The island-
based FMPs would revise the list of species to be managed and modify 
the stock or stock complexes under which those species are managed; 
revise status determination criteria (SDC), management reference 
points, and AMs; incorporate descriptions of essential fish habitat 
(EFH) for species new to Federal management; and update FMP framework 
procedures.
    Each EA associated with an island-based FMP contains the same set 
of management actions, as described below. For each management action, 
information applicable to all three island management areas is 
described first, followed by island area-specific information where 
applicable.

Island-Based Management

    For each island management area, the corresponding island-based FMP 
would replace the four U.S. Caribbean-wide FMPs currently in place as 
they apply to the particular island management area. Management 
measures within those U.S. Caribbean-wide FMPs would be reorganized at 
the level of each island management area. Each island-based FMP would 
include only those management measures applicable to that island 
management area. For example, minimum size limits applicable to the 
harvest of certain parrotfish species in the St. Croix management area 
would only be included in the St. Croix FMP.

Selection of Stocks To Be Managed

    The stocks currently managed in the U.S. Caribbean EEZ under the 
Reef Fish, Spiny Lobster, Queen Conch, and Coral FMPs are composed of 
81 species of reef fish, 58 species of aquarium trade fish, spiny 
lobster, queen conch, 94 genera or species of corals, and 63 genera or 
species of aquarium trade invertebrates (see Table 1 to appendix A of 
50 CFR part 622). For each island management area, the island-based 
FMPs would designate a unique list of species to be managed based on 
the specific characteristics of each island management area. The 
Council's Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) and the District 
Advisory Panel from each island management area provided input and 
recommendations on the criteria used for the Council to select the 
species to be included in each respective FMP. As described in greater 
detail in the FMPs, the inclusion or exclusion of species for 
management was determined using five sequential principles applied to 
species for which landings are available, beginning with those in 
greatest need of conservation and management (e.g., overfished, 
prohibited harvest, etc.). Among the species considered for management 
are those retained from the four U.S. Caribbean-wide FMPs as well as 
non-managed species for which the Southeast Fisheries Science Center 
(SEFSC) had data indicating that the species had been landed in the 
particular island area. For all of these species considered for 
management, the Council used a stepwise application of the five 
criteria to determine if a species should be included for management in 
each island-based FMP. Table 2.2.6 in each island-based FMP lists the 
stocks proposed for Federal management.

Puerto Rico Stocks for Management

    Following the stepwise species selection process, spiny lobster, 
queen conch, 63 species of fish, and all species of corals, sea 
urchins, and sea cucumbers that occur within the Puerto Rico management 
area are proposed for

[[Page 38352]]

management in the Puerto Rico FMP. Eighteen fish species would be new 
to Federal management under the Puerto Rico FMP.

St. Thomas and St. John Stocks for Management

    Following the stepwise species selection process, spiny lobster, 
queen conch, 47 species of fish, and all species of corals, sea 
urchins, and sea cucumbers that occur within the St. Thomas and St. 
John management area are proposed for management in the St. Thomas and 
St. John FMP. Three fish species would be new to Federal management 
under the St. Thomas and St. John FMP.

St. Croix Stocks for Management

    Following the stepwise species selection process, spiny lobster, 
queen conch, 43 species of fish, and all species of corals, sea 
urchins, and sea cucumbers that occur within the St. Croix management 
area are proposed for management in the St. Croix FMP. Two fish species 
would be new to Federal management under the St. Croix FMP.

Stock Complex Organization and Selection of Indicator Stocks

    After establishing the list of species proposed for management 
under each island-based FMP, the Council determined whether those 
species would be managed as individual stocks or in stock complexes. 
For those managed in stock complexes, the Council determined if one or 
more indicator stocks should be assigned to the stock complex. This 
action would result in a new organization of stocks, and therefore a 
new number of stocks and stock complexes would be managed under each 
island-based FMP relative to the U.S. Caribbean-wide FMPs. Table 5.13.3 
in each island-based FMP lists the proposed stocks complexes and 
indicator stocks.

Puerto Rico Stock Organization

    Species proposed for management under the Puerto Rico FMP would be 
managed as 18 individual stocks and 19 stock complexes and would 
include 7 indicator stocks.

St. Thomas and St. John Stock Organization

    Species proposed for management under the St. Thomas and St. John 
FMP would be managed as 12 individual stocks and 14 stock complexes and 
would include 9 indicator stocks.

St. Croix Stock Organization

    Species proposed for management under the St. Croix FMP would be 
managed as 13 individual stocks and 13 stock complexes and would 
include 6 indicator stocks.

Management Reference Points and Status Determination Criteria

    The Magnuson-Stevens Act requires that FMPs specify a number of 
reference points for managed fish stocks, including maximum sustainable 
yield (MSY) or MSY proxy, ACL, as well as stock SDC including 
overfished and overfishing thresholds. These reference points and SDC, 
and other provisions from which they are derived, such as acceptable 
biological catch (ABC), are intended to provide the means to measure 
the status and performance of fisheries relative to established goals.
    The current SDC and management reference points for stocks managed 
under the four U.S. Caribbean-wide FMPs were established by the final 
rules for the Caribbean Sustainable Fisheries Act Amendment (70 FR 
62073, October 28, 2005), and the ABC control rules included in the 
2010 Caribbean ACL Amendment and the final rule implementing Amendment 
6 to the Reef Fish FMP, Amendment 5 to the Spiny Lobster FMP, Amendment 
3 to the Queen Conch FMP, and Amendment 3 to the Coral FMP (76 FR 
82414, December 30, 2011) (2011 Caribbean ACL Amendment).
    The ABC control rules contained in each island-based FMP would 
replace the current ABC control rules included in the 2010 Caribbean 
ACL Amendment and 2011 Caribbean ACL Amendment, as applicable. The 
island-based FMPs would provide a complete revision of reference points 
and SDC for stocks and stock complexes included for management 
following a three-step process.
    Step 1 adopts and applies a newly devised, 4-tiered, ABC control 
rule to specify SDC and ABC recommendations depending on differing 
levels of data availability. Beginning with Tier 4 and moving up the 
tier levels (lower tier numbers), successful application of each tier 
requires an increasing amount of information. Tier 4 is applicable in 
situations where an accepted quantitative assessment is not available, 
which is the present case for all stocks proposed for management in the 
Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. John, and St. Croix FMPs. In Tier 4, 
the most data-limited of the options, an MSY proxy, maximum fishing 
mortality threshold, and MSST are defined with respect to assumptions 
about fishing mortality rate and biomass, but cannot be quantified due 
to data limitations. In addition, Tier 4 introduces a new reference 
point, the sustainable yield level (SYL). The SYL is a level of 
landings that can be sustained over the long term. SYL is intended to 
be used when quantitative guidance with which to set MSY or an MSY 
proxy is not available. The SYL would serve as a proxy for the OFL and 
a minimum estimate of MSY where MSY is greater than or equal to SYL, 
and thus SYL also is an MSY proxy.
    Step 2 establishes a proxy to use when FMSY cannot be 
determined, as in Tier 4 of the ABC control rule. For all three island 
management areas, the Council established a proxy equal to 30 percent 
of the maximum spawning potential of a stock under conditions of no 
fishing mortality (F30SPR).
    Step 3 applies a reduction factor, reflecting the Council's 
estimate of management uncertainty, to the recommended ABC for each 
stock or stock complex to specify the ACL for the stock or stock 
complex. The OY would be set equal to the ACL for each stock or stock 
complex. All reference points are defined in terms of round weight in 
pounds.
    The tiered approached to the ABC control rule better positions the 
Council to take advantage of future improvements in data and analytical 
methodologies. Revising the reference points and SDC based on recent 
landings data ensures to the greatest extent practicable that an 
appropriate period of stable and sustainable landings is identified and 
used for setting management reference points and SDC.

Puerto Rico Stock Evaluation

    For the Puerto Rico FMP, sector-specific landings data for Council-
managed fish (reef fish, pelagic fish, and rays) were available for the 
commercial and recreational fishing sectors operating in EEZ waters 
around Puerto Rico. These landings data were used to determine and 
establish reference points and SDC for fish stocks and stock complexes 
(Step 1 of the three-step process used to revise reference points and 
SDCs described above), and set ACLs by sector with available data (Step 
3 of the process described above). For spiny lobster, only commercial 
landings data are collected as recreational data are not available. 
Because sector-specific landings data are not available, reference 
points and SDC for spiny lobster derived in Steps 1 and 3 are based on 
commercial landings. The SSC determined that some species proposed for 
management under the Puerto Rico FMP were more vulnerable to 
overfishing and recommended that the ABC be set at zero (the 
corresponding ACL and OY would also equal zero). These included queen 
conch, Nassau

[[Page 38353]]

grouper, goliath grouper, blue, midnight, and rainbow parrotfishes, 
giant manta ray, spotted eagle ray, southern stingray, sea cucumbers, 
sea urchins, and corals. The Council also determined an MSY proxy, 
MFMT, and MSST based on the fishing mortality rate in Step 2 of the 
three-step process used to revise reference points and SDCs stated 
earlier. To determine the ACL for those stocks and stock complexes for 
which harvest is not prohibited (i.e., for which the ABC is greater 
than zero), the Council proposed an uncertainty buffer of 0.85 for the 
angelfish, parrotfish, and surgeonfish stock complexes and an 
uncertainty buffer of 0.95 for all remaining stocks and stock 
complexes. The ABC for each of those stocks or stock complexes was 
multiplied by the buffer to determine the ACL for each stock and stock 
complex proposed for management. For fish stocks and stock complexes, 
OY would equal the total (commercial and recreational) ACL when data 
from both sectors are available. In the event that landings for one 
sector are not available for the averaging period, the sector would not 
be managed by a separate sector ACL. The ACL for the sector with 
available data would be the applicable ACL for the stock or stock 
complex. For spiny lobster, the OY would equal the commercial ACL, as 
the ACL is based on commercial landings. This ACL applies to all 
harvest of spiny lobster, whether commercial or recreational.

St. Thomas and St. John Stock Evaluation

    For the St. Thomas and St. John FMP, recreational landings data 
were not available, thus management reference points and SDC (e.g., 
SYL, ABC, and ACL) for the stocks and stock complexes proposed for 
management were derived using commercial landings in Steps 1 and 3 of 
the three-step process used to revise reference points and SDC. The SSC 
determined that some species proposed for management under the St. 
Thomas and St. John FMP were more vulnerable to overfishing and 
recommended that the ABC be set at zero pounds (the corresponding ACL 
and OY would also equal zero). These included queen conch, Nassau 
grouper, goliath grouper, blue, midnight, and rainbow parrotfishes, sea 
cucumbers, sea urchins, and corals. The Council also determined an MSY 
proxy, MFMT, and MSST based on the fishing mortality rate in Step 2 of 
the three-step process used to revise reference points and SDCs. To 
determine the ACL for those stocks and stock complexes for which 
harvest is not prohibited (i.e., for which the ABC is greater than 
zero), in Step 3, the Council proposed an uncertainty buffer of 0.85 
for the angelfish, parrotfish, and surgeonfish stock complexes, and an 
uncertainty buffer of 0.95 for all remaining stocks and stock 
complexes. The ABC for each of those stocks or stock complexes was 
multiplied by the buffer to determine the ACL for each stock and stock 
complex proposed for management. For all stocks and stock complexes, OY 
would equal the ACL.

St. Croix Stock Evaluation

    For the St. Croix FMP, recreational landings data were not 
available, thus management reference points and SDC (e.g., SYL, ABC, 
and ACL) for the stocks and stock complexes proposed for management 
were derived using commercial landings in Steps 1 and 3 of the three-
step process used to revise reference points and SDC. The SSC 
determined that some species proposed for management under the St. 
Croix FMP were more vulnerable to overfishing and recommended that the 
ABC be set at zero (the corresponding ACL would also equal zero). These 
species would include Nassau grouper, goliath grouper, blue, midnight, 
and rainbow parrotfishes, sea cucumbers, sea urchins, and corals. The 
SSC also recommended an ABC of 50,000 lb (22,680 kg) for queen conch in 
the St. Croix EEZ. The Council also determined an MSY proxy, MFMT, and 
MSST based on the fishing mortality rate in Step 2 of the three-step 
process used to revise reference points and SDCs. To determine the ACL 
for each stock and stock complex proposed for management for the stocks 
and stock complexes in which the ABCs were not equal to zero, in Step 
3, the Council proposed an uncertainty buffer of 0.85 for the 
angelfish, parrotfish, and surgeonfish stock complexes, an uncertainty 
buffer of 0.95 for spiny lobster and all other fish stocks and stock 
complexes, and no uncertainty buffer for queen conch, as management 
uncertainty was accounted for when setting the ABC, thus no additional 
reduction from the ABC to the ACL was necessary or appropriate. The ABC 
for each of those stocks or stock complexes was multiplied by the 
buffer to determine the ACL for each stock and stock complex proposed 
for management. For all stocks and stock complexes, OY would equal the 
ACL.

Accountability Measures

    Under the current AMs, reef fish and spiny lobster landings data 
for each island management area are evaluated relative to the 
applicable ACL based on a moving multi-year average of landings, using 
the most recent, complete three years of landings data available. For 
reef fish species or species groups in the EEZ around Puerto Rico, ACLs 
are specific by sector and NMFS applies AMs on a sector-specific basis 
to the sector that exceeded its ACL if both the sector-specific ACL and 
total ACL (commercial and recreational) is exceeded. For reef fish 
species or species groups in the EEZ around the USVI and for spiny 
lobster in all management areas, if NMFS determines that the applicable 
ACL for a particular stock or stock complex was exceeded because of 
enhanced data collection and monitoring efforts instead of an increase 
in catch, NMFS will not reduce the length of the applicable fishing 
season the following fishing year. For reef fish species or species 
groups in the EEZ around Puerto Rico, if either the sector ACL or the 
total ACL is exceeded because of enhanced data collection and 
monitoring efforts instead of an increase in catch, NMFS will not 
reduce the length of the applicable sector fishing season the following 
fishing year. However, if landings exceed the applicable ACL for a 
species or species group and this exception does not apply, NMFS will 
reduce the length of the fishing season by the amount necessary to 
ensure that landings do not exceed the applicable ACL in the following 
fishing year for that species or species group. Additionally, any 
fishing season reduction is applied starting from September 30 and 
earlier toward the beginning of the fishing year. If the length of the 
required fishing season reduction exceeds the time period of January 1 
through September 30, any additional fishing season reduction will be 
applied in the same fishing year from October 1 and later toward the 
end of the fishing year.
    For most stocks and stock complexes in each island-based FMP, the 
AMs proposed would be triggered if landings of a stock or stock complex 
exceed the respective ACL. The proposed AMs were selected to ensure 
that, if an ACL for a particular stock or stock complex is exceeded, it 
will not be exceeded in the year following the ACL overage 
determination, or for pelagic stocks, that landings can be controlled 
at or below the ACL.
    For each reef fish stock and stock complex where harvest is 
allowed, and for spiny lobster in the respective island management 
areas, each island-based FMP proposes to specify an AM that would be 
triggered if the ACL for the stock or stock complex has been exceeded 
based on a moving multi-year average of landings as described in the 
FMP. If the ACL is exceeded, the length

[[Page 38354]]

of the fishing season for the affected stock or stock complex in the 
fishing year following an ACL overage determination would be reduced by 
the amount needed to prevent such an overage from occurring again. If 
the NMFS SEFSC determines that the overage occurred because of improved 
data collection and monitoring rather than because catches actually 
increased, then the AMs would not be applied. Additionally, the 
Regional Administrator in consultation with the Council may deviate 
from the specific time sequences of landings based on data 
availability. Any fishing season reduction would be applied from 
September 30 and earlier toward the beginning of the fishing year. If 
the length of the required fishing season reduction exceeds the time 
period of January 1 through September 30, any additional fishing season 
reduction would be applied from October 1 forward, toward the end of 
the fishing year.
    For the pelagic stocks and stock complexes, all of which would be 
new to Federal management within each island-based FMP, an annual catch 
target (ACT) would be specified as a percentage of the ACL (ACT equals 
90 percent of ACL) that would serve as the AM trigger. An AM would be 
triggered if the landings for a stock or stock complex exceed its ACT 
based on a moving multi-year average of landings as described in the 
FMP. The Regional Administrator in consultation with the Council may 
deviate from the specific time sequences of landings based on data 
availability. If an AM was triggered, the Council in consultation with 
the SEFSC would determine whether corrective action is needed.
    For stocks with harvest prohibitions in each island management 
area, those prohibitions would serve as the AMs. No additional or 
unique AMs are proposed for St. Thomas and St. John.

Puerto Rico Stock AMs

    For reef fish stocks and stock complexes in the Puerto Rico 
management area, the default process discussed for AMs above would be 
modified by the Puerto Rico FMP to reflect sector-specific management. 
Where sector-specific ACLs were determined, landings would be evaluated 
relative to the applicable commercial or recreational ACL, depending on 
data availability. An AM would be triggered if a sector's landings 
exceeded the respective sector ACL and the total landings (commercial 
plus recreational) exceeded the total ACL (commercial plus 
recreational) for a specific stock or stock complex. The AM would be 
applied only for the particular sector that exceeded its ACL. NMFS 
would not apply an AM if the NMFS SEFSC determines that either ACL 
overage (sector-specific or total ACL) occurred because data collection 
or monitoring improved rather than because catch increased. However, as 
described above, if landings for one sector are not available for the 
averaging period, then that sector would not be managed by a separate 
sector ACL. The ACL for the sector with available data would be the ACL 
for that stock or stock complex and would apply to the application of 
AMs. Landings would be evaluated relative to the ACL. The AM would 
operate to reduce the length of the fishing season for all sectors by 
the amount necessary to ensure to the greatest practicable extent that 
landings do not again exceed the ACL in the year of application. For 
spiny lobster, only commercial harvest data are collected as 
recreational landings are not available. However, the ACL and AM for 
spiny lobster would apply to commercial and recreational harvest. For 
all stock and stock complexes, any fishing season reduction resulting 
from an AM application would be applied during the fishing year after 
the overage is detected in the same manner as stated earlier, i.e., 
from September 30 and earlier in the fishing year.

St. Croix Stock AMs

    For St. Croix, the general process described above applies, with 
modifications for queen conch. The St. Croix FMP would continue to 
allow queen conch harvest from the EEZ east of 64[deg]34' W longitude 
during the open fishing season. The rest of the U.S. Caribbean EEZ 
would continue to be closed to the harvest of queen conch. The proposed 
AM for queen conch would be applied if, based on in-season monitoring, 
NMFS determines its ACL is reached or is projected to be reached prior 
to the end of the fishing season. If the AM is applied, the Regional 
Administrator would close the St. Croix management area to the harvest 
and possession of queen conch. During any such closure, no person would 
be allowed to fish for or possess a Caribbean queen conch in or from 
Federal waters.

Essential Fish Habitat

    The EFH designations for species and species groups that are 
currently managed under the U.S. Caribbean-wide FMPs and are proposed 
for management under the Puerto Rico FMP, St. Thomas and St. John FMP, 
and St. Croix FMP would remain as currently described in the 
Sustainable Fisheries Act Amendment (70 FR 62073, October 28, 2005). 
For species new to Federal management, each island-based FMP proposes 
to describe and identify EFH according to functional relationships 
between life history stages of the species and marine and estuarine 
habitats, based on best scientific information available from the 
literature, landings data, fishery-independent surveys, and expert 
opinion.

Framework Procedures

    The current framework procedures for the Reef Fish, Spiny Lobster, 
Queen Conch, and Coral FMPs provide the Council and NMFS the 
flexibility to more expeditiously adjust management options to respond 
to changing fishery conditions or new scientific information. Each 
island-based FMP proposes to update the framework procedures to expand 
or modify the range of existing management measures that can be 
implemented by the Council without going through a full FMP amendment 
process. The proposed framework procedures for each island-based FMP 
are identical and future proposed actions could be implemented either 
by an open abbreviated framework, an open standard framework, or 
through a closed framework procedure. Some of the management measures 
proposed to be adjusted through framework procedures include re-
specification of management reference points and SDCs, and modification 
of seasonal, year-round, or area closures, commercial trip limits, 
recreational bag and possession limits, size limits, and fishing gear 
modifications.

Proposed Rule for the Island-based FMPs

    A proposed rule that would implement the island-based FMPs is being 
drafted. In accordance with the Magnuson-Stevens Act, NMFS is 
evaluating the proposed rule to determine whether it is consistent with 
the Magnuson-Stevens Act and other applicable laws. If that 
determination is affirmative, NMFS will publish the proposed rule in 
the Federal Register for public review and comment.

Consideration of Public Comments

    The Council has submitted the Puerto Rico FMP, St. Thomas and St. 
John FMP, and St. Croix FMP for Secretarial review, approval, and 
implementation. Comments on any of the FMPs must be received by August 
25, 2020. Comments received during the respective comment periods, 
whether specifically directed to any or all of the FMPs or to the 
proposed rule, will be considered by

[[Page 38355]]

NMFS in the decision to approve, disapprove, or partially approve the 
island-based FMPs. Comments received after the comment period will not 
be considered by NMFS in this decision. All comments received by NMFS 
on an island-based FMP or the proposed rule during the comment period 
will be addressed in the final rule.

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

    Dated: June 23, 2020.
Jennifer M. Wallace,
Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2020-13823 Filed 6-25-20; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P