[Federal Register Volume 61, Number 180 (Monday, September 16, 1996)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 48661-48662]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 96-23585]



National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Parts 285 and 630

[I.D. 082996A]

Atlantic Tuna Fisheries and Atlantic Swordfish Fishery; Offshore 
Resource Management Corporation Petition

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

ACTION: Denial of petition for rulemaking.


SUMMARY: NMFS hereby announces denial of the petition for rulemaking 
submitted by the Offshore Resource Management Corporation (ORMC). ORMC 
petitioned NMFS to amend the tuna regulations to make pair trawling an 
authorized gear type for non-bluefin tunas and amend the swordfish 
regulations to increase the swordfish bycatch limit for the pair trawl 

ADDRESSES: Copies of the ORMC petition for rulemaking are available 
upon request from William Hogarth, Highly Migratory Species Management 
Division, Office of Sustainable Fisheries (F/SF), NMFS, 1315 East-West 
Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910-3282.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: William Hogarth, 301-713-2347.



    Regulations implemented under the authority of the Atlantic Tunas 
Convention Act (ATCA) (16 U.S.C. 971 et seq.) governing the harvest of 
Atlantic tunas by persons and vessels subject to U.S. jurisdiction are 
found at 50 CFR part 285. The Atlantic swordfish fishery is managed 
under the Fisheries Management Plan for Atlantic Swordfish (FMP) and 
its implementing regulations at 50 CFR part 630 issued under the 
authority of the Magnuson Fisheries Conservation and Management Act (16 
U.S.C. 1801 et seq.) and ATCA. Regulations issued under the authority 
of ATCA carry out the recommendations of the International Commission 
for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).
    On March 1, 1996, ORMC submitted a petition to NMFS to undertake 
rulemaking to permanently authorize pair trawling in the non-bluefin 
Atlantic tuna fisheries and increase the swordfish bycatch limit for 
the pair trawl fishery. In the preamble to the 1996 proposed rule for 
Atlantic tunas (61 FR 18366, April 25, 1996), NMFS requested comments 
on the petition as part of the rulemaking process.

NMFS Response to the ORMC Petition

    NMFS has evaluated all relevant information, including comments 
from the public, and has determined that authorizing the use of pair 
trawls for catching Atlantic tunas is not consistent with the current 
agency approach to resolving the longterm issue of overcapacity and 
effort in the Atlantic tunas fishery. The reason for this position is 
that these stocks are all either fully- or over-exploited, and to 
increase capacity in these fisheries is inconsistent with NMFS' ongoing 
efforts to deal comprehensively with total fishing capacity. After 
initiation of the experimental fishery, ICCAT, at its November 1993 
meeting, recommended that member countries limit ``the effective 
fishing effort exerted on Atlantic yellowfin tuna to 1992 levels.'' The 
recommendation, as well as earlier concern about the tunas stocks, 
prompted NMFS to begin its comprehensive review. Action to date 
includes publication of a control date for tunas, permitting 
requirements for tunas, sharks, and swordfish, and data collection. In 
November 1995, NMFS initiated a series of public Limited Access 
Workshops. Additional scoping meetings for addressing capacity in the 
tunas fisheries will be held after the fall ICCAT meeting, at which 
NMFS will obtain further information on the status of the tuna stocks.
    The Division of Highly Migratory Species Management has already 
issued for preliminary review a proposal to implement limited access in 
the shark and swordfish fisheries. In addition, the bycatch of 
swordfish is of great concern to NMFS, particularly in view of the 
overfished status of the swordfish stock. The agency's limited access 
proposal begins to address these concerns.
    Further, as stated in the 1995 Environmental Assessment for the 
experimental fishery, NMFS' intent at the completion of the experiment 
and analysis of data was to release the data on the fishery and ask for 
public comment relative to the long-term status of this fishery. 
Following this strategy, in conjunction with the comprehensive review, 
is preferable to accepting this petition. All data will be released to 
the public.
    Data from the experimental pair trawl fishery show considerable 
incidental take of marine mammals. Allowing this additional gear into 
the open-access yellowfin tuna fishery, which already interacts with 
marine mammals, could result in increased marine mammal mortality. 
Authorizing such a new gear type in these circumstances would be 
inimical to the overarching purpose of the MMPA amendments that 
commercial fisheries reduce incidental mortality to insignificant 
levels approaching a zero mortality and serious injury rate.

Public Comments

    Numerous comments were received via letter, telephone, and at the 
public hearings held on the proposed rule. Those commenters who 
supported ORMC's petition stated that the pair trawl fishery is highly 
selective in terms of species and size, and results in very few 
interactions with marine mammals. Supporters felt that NMFS should 
reward the efforts and investments of pair trawl fishermen, who seek to 
improve harvest methods and reduce damage to fisheries resources. Some 
stated that pair trawling is an efficient means of harvesting albacore, 
bigeye, and yellowfin tuna and has no detrimental effect on traditional 
fisheries. Others noted that pair trawlers supply quality non-bluefin 
tuna to the Japanese market.
    Commenters who opposed ORMC's petition wrote that authorization of 
pair trawling would allow increased effort in an already fully- or 
over-exploited fishery. Some felt that the increased fishing effort 
could be construed as a withdrawal of the U.S. commitment to 
conservation as espoused through ICCAT agreements. NMFS also received 
comments expressing concern about gear conflicts and the hazards of 
pair trawl practices to other vessels and crew. A few individuals 
commented that any negative economic impact on local communities, 
resulting from pair trawl authorization, would far outweigh the 
benefits to a small number of commercial fishermen. Others expressed 
concern that the operation of pair trawls is hazardous to other vessels 
and vessel operators.


    In summary, the petition requests that NMFS allow a new and non-
traditional gear type to enter the Atlantic tuna fisheries. NMFS has 
determined that the Atlantic tuna fisheries are fully exploited or 
overexploited and ongoing

[[Page 48662]]

comprehensive capacity controls measures must be completed. Thus, NMFS, 
as stated above, has determined that proceeding with rulemaking to 
authorize pair trawl gear is not appropriate and the petition should be 

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

    Dated: September 10, 1996.
Charles Karnella,
Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 96-23585 Filed 9-11-96; 10:49 am]