[Federal Register Volume 61, Number 189 (Friday, September 27, 1996)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 50794-50796]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 96-24747]

[[Page 50794]]



National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 622

[Docket No. 960919266-6266-01; I.D. 082096D]
RIN 0648-AD91

Fisheries of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and South Atlantic; 
Queen Conch Resources of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands; 
Initial Regulations

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

ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments.


SUMMARY: NMFS issues this proposed rule to implement the Fishery 
Management Plan for Queen Conch Resources of Puerto Rico and the U.S. 
Virgin Islands (FMP). The FMP would restrict the taking of queen conch 
in or from the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around Puerto Rico and the 
U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) in order to restore overfished stocks.

DATES: Written comments must be received on or before November 12, 

ADDRESSES: Comments on the proposed rule must be sent to the Southeast 
Regional Office, NMFS, 9721 Executive Center Drive N., St. Petersburg, 
FL 33702.
    Requests for copies of the FMP, which includes a regulatory impact 
review (RIR)/initial regulatory flexibility analysis (IRFA) and a final 
environmental impact statement (FEIS), should be sent to the Caribbean 
Fishery Management Council, 268 Munoz Rivera Avenue, Suite 1108, San 
Juan, PR 00918-2577.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Georgia Cranmore, 813-570-5305.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The FMP was prepared by the Caribbean 
Fishery Management Council (Council) under the authority of the 
Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson Act).


    The FMP covers all conchs of the genus Strombus and other edible 
gastropods that have been recorded in landings from Puerto Rico and the 
USVI (U.S. Caribbean). Most of the FMP's management measures concern 
only the queen conch, Strombus gigas, which appears to be declining in 
abundance throughout its range in the Atlantic and Caribbean. The 
status of other species included in the FMP is largely unknown. 
Accordingly, the restrictions proposed for these other species are 
limited to those necessary to ensure the effectiveness of management 
measures for queen conch.
    Queen conch are harvested for food. The shells may be sold whole or 
made into jewelry. Queen conch is a staple of Caribbean cuisine. 
Traditionally, conch are taken by free-diving in inshore waters; 
however, overexploitation nearshore has led to an increase in 
commercial harvests by scuba divers in deeper waters.
    Trends in queen conch landings since the early 1980s indicate 
decreased abundance throughout the U.S. Caribbean. In Puerto Rico, 
landings declined more than 400,000 lb (181,437 kg) in 1983 to 100,000 
lb (45,359 kg) in 1992. More than 90 percent of current landings are by 
scuba diving. On St. Croix, USVI, landings declined more than 50 
percent from 1982 to 1992. The conch fishery was closed in USVI waters 
off St. Thomas and St. John Islands from 1988-1992 due to overfishing.
    Recently, the USVI established conch regulations that are designed 
to rebuild declining stocks; Puerto Rico is in the process of 
developing similar regulations. USVI conch regulations are compatible 
with the FMP's management measures. The absence of compatible 
regulations in Puerto Rican waters, however, may provide an opportunity 
for fishermen to circumvent Federal conservation measures. Fishermen 
could claim that conch harvested in the EEZ came from state waters. If 
the FMP is approved, Puerto Rico will be asked to implement compatible 
regulations as soon as possible.

Management Measures

    The FMP would: (1) Require that a Caribbean conch resource be 
landed in its shell; (2) prohibit the possession or sale of queen conch 
less than 9 inches (22.9 cm) in total length and less than 3/8 inch 
(9.5 mm) in lip width at its widest point; (3) establish a recreational 
daily bag limit of 3 queen conch per person or, if more than 4 persons 
are aboard, 12 queen conch per boat; (4) establish a daily harvest 
limit of 150 queen conch per licensed commercial fisherman; (5) 
prohibit taking of queen conch from July 1 through September 30; and 
(6) prohibit the taking of queen conch by diving while using a device 
that provides a continuous air supply from the surface. The FMP is 
designed to rebuild the overfished queen conch resources by protecting 
the spawning stock and reducing fishing effort.

Landing Whole

    The FMP would require that a Caribbean conch resource be landed in 
the shell. This would allow enforcement personnel to identify the conch 
species and, thus, enforce the minimum size limit for queen conch. This 
provision is expected to reduce fishing effort by limiting the amount 
of queen conch that can be carried aboard a fishing vessel. Conch 
fishermen testified that they would prefer to land conch meat only; 
however, there is no readily available method of distinguishing between 
the meats of queen and other conch resources. In addition, there is no 
reliable correlation between the age of queen conch and the weight of 
queen conch meat.

Size Limits

    The length of the shell and the width (thickness) of the shell's 
flared ``lip'' are used to assess the age and sexual maturity of queen 
conch. Recent studies, based on western Puerto Rico queen conch 
populations, indicate that protecting queen conch less than 9 inches 
(22.9 cm) in length and less than \3/8\ inch (9.5 mm) in lip width is 
likely to increase the spawning stock biomass. Enforcement of the 
Council's proposed prohibition on sale of undersized queen conch would 
be facilitated by the fact that the Convention on International Trade 
in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora requires documentation to 
accompany most international trade in queen conch. See 50 CFR part 23. 
Thus, at least at the time of importation, it should be possible to 
distinguish between queen conch taken from the EEZ and adjoining state 
waters and queen conch harvested outside U.S. jurisdiction and imported 
into the U.S. Caribbean.

Harvest Limits

    The Council is proposing to adopt the following queen conch harvest 
limits: 3 per person per day for recreational fishermen, not to exceed 
12 per boat, and 150 per commercial fisherman per day. Although no 
statistics are available on the level of recreational fishing for queen 
conch in the U.S. Caribbean, the Council received anecdotal reports 
indicating that its proposed recreational bag limit would provide 
sufficient conch for traditional family needs. Current USVI regulations 
provide a less restrictive recreational limit. Puerto Rico is 
conducting a 1996 queen conch recreational fishing survey to provide 
more definitive estimates of recreational effort. The Council believes 
that the

[[Page 50795]]

limit of 150 queen conch per day will restrict commercial fishermen to 
approximately current levels of harvest. Commercial fishing licenses 
issued by Puerto Rico or the USVI, and available to all U.S. citizens, 
are required to exceed the recreational bag limit. The Council would 
reconsider this requirement for a commercial fishing license if the 
USVI or Puerto Rico significantly changes its licensing requirements.

Closed Season

    Peak queen conch spawning season in the U.S. Caribbean is July 
through September. Queen conch aggregate in shallow waters during this 
season, increasing chances of overharvest. The FMP would prohibit all 
harvest of queen conch during this season to complement an identical 
measure in effect in the USVI. Puerto Rico is also expected to 
establish a spawning season closure.

Gear Restrictions

    Overfishing of nearshore areas has led to an increased reliance on 
the harvest of queen conch in deeper waters by scuba and hookah diving. 
Increased access to deeper waters by these methods could result in the 
elimination of some of the last remaining sources of conch recruitment. 
Although the Council considered a prohibition on harvest of queen conch 
by scuba in the EEZ, adverse economic impacts of this alternative 
convinced the Council to recommend only a prohibition against devices 
that provide a continuous air supply from the surface, such as hookah; 
such devices are not often used in the U.S. Caribbean EEZ. By allowing 
extended time on the ocean floor, hookah diving significantly increases 
harvesting time compared to scuba and free-diving.

Additional Information

    Additional background and rationale on the Caribbean conch 
resources and the management measures in this rule are contained in the 
FMP, the availability of which was announced in the Federal Register on 
August 29, 1996 (61 FR 45395).


    Section 304(a)(1)(D) of the Magnuson Act requires NMFS to publish 
regulations proposed by a Council within 15 days of receipt of an FMP 
and regulations. At this time NMFS has not determined that the FMP is 
consistent with the national standards, other provisions of the 
Magnuson Act, and other applicable laws. NMFS, in making that 
determination, will take into account the data, views, and comments 
received during the comment period.
    This proposed rule has been determined to be not significant for 
purposes of E.O. 12866.
    The Council prepared an FEIS for this FMP that will be filed with 
the Environmental Protection Agency for public review and comment; a 
notice of its availability for public comment will be published in the 
Federal Register. According to the FEIS, the proposed management 
measures would benefit the natural environment for the queen conch 
fishery by limiting fishing effort. The dive fishery for queen conch is 
unlikely to impact habitat of conch or other organisms.
    The Council prepared an IRFA, as part of the RIR, which concluded 
that the proposed measures in the FMP would have a significant economic 
impact on a substantial number of small entities. The commercial queen 
conch fishery is composed entirely of small businesses; although the 
exact number of small businesses is unknown, the RIR's analyses 
indicate that at least 30 percent of all queen conch fishing trips will 
be affected by the proposed rule.
    There are no other Federal rules that would conflict with the 
proposed rule and no significant alternatives to the proposed 
management measures that would have accomplished the goals of the 
Magnuson Act.
    The IRFA identified the following impacts on small entities. The 
requirement to land queen conch in the shell, rather than discarding 
the shell at sea, can reduce the ex-vessel value of a day's catch 
because vessel capacity may be exceeded in certain small vessels 
traditionally used in this fishery. The proposed size limit would 
increase the cost of fishing and reduce the amount of conch taken on 
some trips, at least in the short term. However, the Council was unable 
to quantify these potential changes in net benefits.
    Assuming fishermen do not compensate for the proposed reduction in 
queen conch harvests through increased harvests of other species, 
estimated reductions in gross revenues per trip in Puerto Rico 
associated with the 150 commercial trip limit would average $12, a 
decline of about 7.5 percent. Average gross revenues per trip in the 
USVI would decline by $5, a decline of less than 2 percent. Assuming 
most U.S. Caribbean commercial queen conch fishermen reside in Puerto 
Rico, and based on NMFS' Regulatory Flexibility Act criterion 
specifying that economic effects are significant if at least 20 percent 
of affected small entities would experience a reduction in annual gross 
revenues by more than 5 percent, the RIR/IRFA concludes that this rule 
will probably have significant economic impacts on small business 
    Impacts on small entities of the proposed closed season, July-
September, are expected to be minimal because fishermen will shift 
effort to other fisheries, such as lobsters and snappers, during the 
summer season. Revenues for USVI queen conch fishermen did not decline 
significantly when a seasonal closure went into effect in USVI waters. 
Prohibiting diving gear that provides a continuous air supply from the 
surface, such as hookah, is likely to have only a very minor impact on 
small entities. Although no data exist to document the extent of the 
use of hookah to take queen conch, it is thought to be insignificant 
relative to scuba and free-diving.
    This action would not revise existing, or establish any new, 
reporting, recordkeeping, or other compliance requirements.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 622

    Fisheries, Fishing, Puerto Rico, Reporting and recordkeeping 
requirements, Virgin Islands.

    Dated: September 20, 1996.
N. Foster,
Deputy Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries 
    For the reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 622 is 
proposed to be amended as follows:


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

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

    2. In Sec. 622.1, table 1, an entry is added in alphabetical order 
to read as follows:

Sec. 622.1  Purpose and scope.

* * * * *

[[Page 50796]]

                                    Table 1.--FMPs Implemented Under Part 622                                   
                                         Responsible fishery management                                         
              FMP title                            council(s)                         Geographical area         
*                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                
FMP for Queen Conch Resources of      CFMC                                  Carribbean.                         
 Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin                                                                                
*                  *                  *                  *                  *                  *                

    3. In Sec. 622.2, the definition for ``Caribbean conch resource'' 
is added in alphabetical order to read as follows:

Sec. 622.2  Definitions and acronyms.

* * * * *
    Caribbean conch resource means one or more of the following 
species, or a part thereof:
    (1) Atlantic triton's trumpet, Charonia variegata.
    (2) Cameo helmet, Cassis madagascarensis.
    (3) Caribbean helmet, Cassis tuberosa.
    (4) Caribbean vase, Vasum muricatum.
    (5) Flame helmet, Cassis flammea.
    (6) Green star shell, Astrea tuber.
    (7) Hawkwing conch, Strombus raninus.
    (8) Milk conch, Strombus costatus.
    (9) Queen conch, Strombus gigus.
    (10) Roostertail conch, Strombus gallus.
    (11) True tulip, Fasciolaria tulipa.
    (12) West Indian fighting conch, Strombus pugilis.
    (13) Whelk (West Indian top shell), Cittarium pica.
* * * * *
    4. In Sec. 622.33, paragraph (c) is added to read as follows:

Sec. 622.33  Caribbean EEZ seasonal and/or area closures.

* * * * *
    (c) Queen conch closure. From July 1 through September 30, each 
year, no person may fish for queen conch in the Caribbean EEZ and no 
person may possess on board a fishing vessel a queen conch in or from 
the Caribbean EEZ.
    5. In Sec. 622.37, paragraph (g) is added to read as follows:

Sec. 622.37  Minimum sizes.

* * * * *
    (g) Caribbean queen conch--9 inches (22.9 cm) in length, that is, 
from the tip of the spire to the distal end of the shell, and \3/8\ 
inch (9.5 mm) in lip width at its widest point. A queen conch with a 
length of at least 9 inches (22.9 cm) or a lip width of at least \3/8\ 
inch (9.5 mm) is not undersized.
    6. In Sec. 622.38, paragraph (f) is added to read as follows:

Sec. 622.38  Landing fish intact.

* * * * *
    (f) A Caribbean conch resource in or from the Caribbean EEZ must be 
maintained with meat and shell intact.
    7. In Sec. 622.39, paragraph (e) is added to read as follows:

Sec. 622.39  Bag and possession limits.

* * * * *
    (e) Caribbean queen conch--(1) Applicability. Paragraph (a)(1) of 
this section notwithstanding, the bag limit of paragraph (e)(2) of this 
section does not apply to a fisherman who has a valid commercial 
fishing license issued by Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands. See 
Sec. 622.44 for the commercial daily trip limit.
    (2) Bag limit. The bag limit for queen conch in or from the 
Caribbean EEZ is 3 per person or, if more than 4 persons are aboard, 12 
per boat.
    8. In Sec. 622.41, paragraph (e) is added to read as follows:

Sec. 622.41  Species specific limitations.

* * * * *
    (e) Caribbean queen conch. In the Caribbean EEZ, no person may 
harvest queen conch by diving while using a device that provides a 
continuous air supply from the surface.
    9. In Sec. 622.44, paragraph (e) is added to read as follows:

Sec. 622.44  Commercial trip limits.

* * * * *
    (e) Caribbean queen conch. A person who fishes in the Caribbean EEZ 
and is not subject to the bag limit may not possess in or from the 
Caribbean EEZ more than 150 queen conch per day.

[FR Doc. 96-24747 Filed 9-26-96; 8:45 am]