[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 180 (Tuesday, September 17, 2013)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 57106-57126]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-22362]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 679

[Docket No. 120723270-3765-01]
RIN 0648-BC39


Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Groundfish 
of the Gulf of Alaska; Amendment 95 to the Fishery Management Plan for 
Groundfish

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

ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments.

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SUMMARY: NMFS proposes regulations to implement Amendment 95 to the 
Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Gulf of Alaska (FMP). 
This proposed action would modify halibut prohibited species catch 
(PSC) management in the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) to establish halibut PSC 
limits for the GOA in Federal regulation; reduce the GOA halibut PSC 
limits for trawl and hook-and-line gear; proportionately reduce a 
subset of trawl halibut PSC limits (also called ``sideboards'') for 
American Fisheries Act, Amendment 80, and Central GOA Rockfish Program 
vessels; and adjust the accounting methods for halibut PSC sideboard 
limits for Amendment 80 vessels, as well as halibut PSC used by trawl 
vessels from May 15 through June 30. This action is necessary to reduce 
halibut bycatch in the GOA, and is intended to promote the goals and 
objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management 
Act, the FMP, and other applicable law.

DATES: Comments must be received no later than October 17, 2013.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by FDMS 
Docket Number NOAA-NMFS-2012-0151, by any of the following methods:
     Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal e Rulemaking Portal. Go to 
www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2012-0151, click the 
``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or 
attach your comments.
     Mail: Submit written comments to Glenn Merrill, Assistant 
Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region 
NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian. Mail comments to P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, 
AK 99802-1668.
     Fax: Address written comments to Glenn Merrill, Assistant 
Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region 
NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian. Fax comments to 907-586-7557.
    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), 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). 
Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word, 
Excel, or Adobe PDF file formats only.
    Electronic copies of Amendment 95 to the FMP, and the Environmental 
Assessment (EA), the Regulatory Impact Review (RIR), and the Initial 
Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA) (collectively, Analysis) 
prepared for this action are available from http://www.regulations.gov 
or from the NMFS Alaska Region Web site at http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov.
    Written comments regarding the burden-hour estimates or other 
aspects of the collection-of-information requirements contained in this 
proposed rule may be submitted to NMFS at the above address and by 
email to [email protected] or fax to 202-395-7285.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Rachel Baker or Obren Davis, 907-586-
7228.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NMFS manages the groundfish fisheries in the 
exclusive economic zone of the GOA under the FMP. The North Pacific 
Fishery Management Council (Council) prepared this FMP under the 
authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management 
Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq. Regulations 
implementing the FMP appear at 50 CFR part 679. General regulations 
governing U.S. fisheries also appear at 50 CFR part 600.
    The Council has submitted Amendment 95 for review by the Secretary 
of Commerce, and a Notice of Availability of this amendment was 
published in the Federal Register on August 29, 2013 (78 FR 53419) with 
comments invited through October 28, 2013. All relevant written 
comments received by the end of the applicable comment period, whether 
specifically directed to the FMP amendment, this proposed rule, or 
both, will be considered in the approval/disapproval decision for 
Amendment 95 and addressed in the response to comments in the final 
decision.

Background

    Pacific halibut (Hippoglossus stenolepis) is fully utilized in the 
directed sport, subsistence, and commercial fisheries off Alaska and is 
of significant social, cultural, and economic importance to communities 
throughout the geographical range of the resource. The International 
Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) and NMFS manage fishing for Pacific 
halibut through regulations established under authority of the Northern 
Pacific Halibut

[[Page 57107]]

Act of 1982 (Halibut Act). The Halibut Act, at section 773c(c), also 
provides the Council with authority to develop regulations that are in 
addition to, and not in conflict with, approved IPHC regulations. The 
Council has exercised this authority in the development of Federal 
regulations for halibut such as (1) subsistence halibut fishery 
management measures, codified at Sec.  300.65; (2) the limited access 
program for charter vessels in the guided sport fishery, codified at 
Sec.  300.67; and (3) the Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) Program for 
the commercial halibut and sablefish fisheries, codified at 50 CFR part 
679, under the authority of section 773 of the Halibut Act and section 
303(b) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. NMFS manages halibut PSC in 
groundfish fisheries under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. 
The FMP and implementing regulations currently authorize the Council to 
recommend, and NMFS to approve, annual halibut PSC limits as a 
component of the proposed and final groundfish harvest specifications.
    Consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act's National Standard 1 and 
National Standard 9, NMFS uses halibut PSC limits to minimize halibut 
bycatch in the groundfish fisheries to the extent practicable, while 
achieving, on a continuing basis, the optimum yield from the groundfish 
fisheries. The use of halibut PSC limits in the groundfish fisheries 
reduces halibut bycatch and promotes conservation of the halibut 
resource. This provides the maximum benefit to fishermen and 
communities that depend on both halibut and groundfish resources, as 
well as U.S. consumers.

Current Management of Halibut PSC in the GOA Groundfish Fisheries

    Prohibited species catch in the GOA is catch that may not be 
retained unless required under section 3.6 of the FMP. A PSC limit is 
an apportioned, non-retainable amount of fish provided to a groundfish 
fishery to limit the bycatch of that prohibited species (i.e., halibut) 
in a fishery. The Magnuson-Stevens Act defines bycatch as ``fish which 
are harvested in a fishery, but which are not sold or kept for personal 
use, and includes economic discards and regulatory discards. The term 
does not include fish released alive under a recreational catch and 
release fishery management program.'' 16 U.S.C 1802 3(2). NMFS 
establishes halibut PSC limits to constrain the amount of halibut 
bycatch in the groundfish fishery. As described in section 3.6 of the 
FMP, when a halibut PSC limit is reached in an area, further fishing 
with specific types of gear or modes of operation is prohibited by 
those who take their halibut PSC limit in that area. In other words, 
halibut PSC limits impose an upper-limit on bycatch.
    Although halibut bycatch is incurred by vessels using trawl, hook-
and-line, pot, and jig gear, halibut bycatch primarily occurs in the 
trawl and hook-and-line groundfish fisheries. Halibut bycatch in the 
groundfish fisheries may affect commercial, sport, and subsistence 
halibut fishing opportunities by decreasing the amount of halibut 
available for those fisheries.
    NMFS manages halibut bycatch in the GOA by (1) establishing annual 
halibut PSC limits, and (2) apportioning those limits to fishery 
categories and seasons to accommodate halibut PSC needs in specific 
groundfish fisheries.

GOA Annual Halibut PSC Limits, Fishery Categories, and Seasonal 
Apportionments

    The Council recommends groundfish harvest specifications in October 
each year for the subsequent 2-year period. A 2-year harvest 
specification cycle allows harvest limits to be specified for a 
sufficient duration to ensure that catch limits are in place at the 
start of the second year. This allows fisheries to begin on January 1, 
pending the final publication of the subsequent set of harvest 
specifications. The proposed harvest specifications are published in 
the Federal Register for a 30-day comment period and final harvest 
specifications are published between mid-February and March of each 
year. The total annual halibut PSC limit in the GOA was set at 2,273 mt 
in the final 2013 and 2014 harvest specifications for the GOA (78 FR 
13162, February 26, 2013). Of this amount, 1,973 mt is apportioned to 
trawl gear and 300 mt is apportioned to hook-and-line gear.
    The FMP authorizes the Council to exempt specific gear types from 
the halibut PSC limits that are established through the annual harvest 
specifications process. In past annual consultations with the Council, 
NMFS has exempted pot gear, jig gear, and the sablefish IFQ hook-and-
line gear fishery categories from the non-trawl halibut PSC limit. The 
rationale for exempting these gear types from halibut PSC limits is 
contained in the final 2013 and 2014 harvest specifications (78 FR 
13162, February 26, 2013). NMFS proposes to continue annual 
consultations with the Council to determine whether the pot gear, jig 
gear, and the sablefish IFQ hook-and-line gear fisheries will be exempt 
from the non-trawl halibut PSC limit. Therefore, this rule does not 
propose changes to current regulations authorizing NMFS to establish 
PSC limits for these fisheries through the harvest specifications 
process.
    From 1989 through 2012, the annual harvest specifications process 
established a 2,000 mt trawl halibut PSC limit. Beginning in 2013, the 
annual harvest specifications established a 1,973 mt trawl halibut PSC 
limit. This reduction of 27 mt from the 2,000 mt annual halibut PSC 
limit was made in conjunction with the implementation of the Central 
GOA Rockfish Program in 2011 (76 FR 81248, December 27, 2011). Under 
the Central GOA Rockfish Program, a portion of the trawl halibut PSC 
limit was specifically reserved and not assigned for use by any person, 
effectively conserving that halibut biomass for future stock abundance 
(see Table 28d to part 679). NMFS has accommodated this regulatory 
provision by decreasing the annual trawl halibut PSC limit as part of 
the annual harvest specifications (78 FR 13162, February 26, 2013). 
Additional detail on the Central GOA Rockfish Program is provided in 
this preamble under the heading ``Allocations of Halibut PSC to the 
Central GOA Rockfish Program''.
    Section 679.21(d)(5) authorizes NMFS to seasonally apportion the 
annual trawl and hook-and-line halibut PSC limits after consultation 
with the Council. The FMP and these regulations require that the 
Council and NMFS consider the following information in seasonally 
apportioning halibut PSC limits: (1) seasonal distribution of halibut; 
(2) seasonal distribution of target groundfish species relative to 
halibut distribution; (3) expected halibut bycatch needs on a seasonal 
basis relative to changes in halibut biomass and expected catch of 
target groundfish species; (4) expected bycatch rates on a seasonal 
basis; (5) expected changes in directed groundfish fishing seasons; (6) 
expected actual start of fishing effort; and (7) economic effects of 
establishing seasonal halibut allocations on segments of the target 
groundfish industry. Under the final 2013 and 2014 harvest 
specifications for the GOA (78 FR 13162, February 26, 2013), the 
halibut PSC limits have been seasonally apportioned into five seasons 
for trawl gear and three seasons for the other hook-and-line fishery. 
During the annual harvest specifications process the specific amount of 
halibut PSC limit is assigned to each of these seasons. The halibut PSC 
limit established for the demersal shelf rockfish (DSR) fishery is not 
subject to seasonal apportionment.
    Section 679.21(d)(3) and (4) establishes the annual halibut PSC 
limit apportionments to trawl and hook-and-line gear in the GOA through 
the annual

[[Page 57108]]

groundfish harvest specification process. The apportionment of halibut 
PSC limits by gear, fishery category, and seasons under the annual 
harvest specifications process provides the opportunity for groundfish 
harvests in specific fisheries. This apportionment process ensures that 
halibut PSC limit is available for use in groundfish fisheries earlier 
in the year (e.g., the trawl deep-water fisheries in the first season), 
but limits that use so that halibut PSC limit remains to support other 
groundfish fisheries that occur later in the year (e.g., the trawl 
shallow-water fisheries in the fourth season). The limits assigned to 
each season reflect halibut PSC likely to be taken during specific 
seasons by specific fisheries. For example, a larger seasonal 
apportionment is provided for the first season trawl shallow-water 
fisheries than deep-water fisheries to provide halibut PSC limit to 
support Pacific cod and pollock fisheries that occur at the start of 
the year. Any underages or overages of a seasonal apportionment of a 
halibut PSC limit are added to, or deducted from, the next respective 
seasonal apportionment within the fishing year. Additional detail on 
the annual apportionment of halibut PSC limit by season and fishery is 
provided in the final 2013 and 2014 harvest specifications for the GOA 
(78 FR 13162, February 26, 2013).
    Reaching an annual trawl or hook-and-line halibut PSC limit results 
in closure of groundfish directed fisheries using that gear in the GOA 
for the remainder of the year, even if some of the groundfish TAC 
assigned to that gear for that fishery remains unharvested. If a 
seasonal halibut PSC limit is reached for a fishery category in that 
season, then groundfish directed fishing is closed for the remainder of 
that season for that fishery category (e.g., if the second season deep-
water fishery halibut PSC limit is reached during the second season, 
then trawl vessels may not directed fish for species in the deep-water 
fishery until the third season deep-water fishery halibut PSC limit 
becomes available). Some target fisheries close before the attainment 
of the TAC, and other target fisheries do not fully utilize the halibut 
PSC limits. Since 2000, NMFS has routinely closed directed fisheries 
for hook-and-line and trawl gear because a seasonal or annual halibut 
PSC limit was reached.
    Regulations at Sec.  679.21(d) further apportion the annual trawl 
PSC limit to deep-water and shallow-water species fishery categories 
that are made available seasonally throughout the year. The deep-water 
species fishery (deep-water fishery) includes sablefish, rockfish, 
deep-water flatfish, rex sole, and arrowtooth flounder. The shallow-
water species fishery (shallow-water fishery) includes pollock, Pacific 
cod, shallow-water flatfish, flathead sole, Atka mackerel, skates, and 
``other species'' (see Sec.  679.21(d)(3)(iii)). The regulations define 
halibut PSC apportionment for these two categories because these two 
groups of fisheries have differing halibut PSC rates. Apportioning 
specific limits to these fisheries allows NMFS to establish specific 
limits in one fishery (e.g., the deep-water fishery) that would not 
result in closures in the other fishery (e.g., the shallow-water 
fishery) if the halibut PSC limit for one category is reached.
    Of the 300 mt of halibut PSC limit currently assigned to hook-and-
line gear, this amount is further apportioned between the DSR fishery 
in the Southeast Outside District, and all other hook-and-line 
groundfish fisheries in the GOA (i.e., the non-DSR hook-and-line 
fisheries). Existing regulations at Sec.  679.21(d)(4)(iii) use the 
term ``other hook-and-line fishery'' to describe the non-DSR hook-and-
line fishery, and the term ``other hook-and-line fishery'' will be used 
in this preamble for consistency. The final 2013 and 2014 annual 
harvest specifications for the GOA apportion 290 mt of the halibut PSC 
limit to the other hook-and-line fishery and 10 mt of the halibut PSC 
limit to the DSR hook-and-line fishery (78 FR 13162, February 26, 
2013).
    Regulations at Sec.  679.21(d)(4)(iii)(B) further apportion the 
annual halibut PSC limit for the other hook-and-line fishery between 
catcher/processors and catcher vessels. The method for apportioning 
halibut PSC limits between catcher/processors and catcher vessels was 
established in regulations implementing Amendment 83 to the FMP (76 FR 
74670, December 1, 2011). Amendment 83 established gear and sector 
apportionments for the GOA Pacific cod fisheries. It also implemented 
formulas to annually divide the other hook-and-line halibut PSC limit 
between catcher/processors and catcher vessels based on their 
respective Pacific cod allocations and the annual Pacific cod TACs in 
the Western GOA and Central GOA. A comprehensive description and 
example of the calculations necessary to apportion the other hook-and-
line halibut PSC limit between catcher/processors and catcher vessels 
were included in the proposed rule to implement Amendment 83 (76 FR 
44700, July 26, 2011) and are not repeated here.
    The DSR fishery is defined at Sec.  679.21(d)(4)(iii)(A). The DSR 
species group is comprised of seven species of nearshore bottom 
dwelling rockfishes. The DSR fishery has been apportioned 10 mt in 
recognition of its small-scale of harvests and expected low rates of 
halibut PSC use. NMFS estimates low halibut PSC bycatch in the DSR 
fishery because (1) the duration of the DSR fisheries and the gear soak 
times are short; (2) the DSR fishery occurs in the winter when less 
overlap occurs in the distribution of DSR and halibut; and (3) the 
commercial DSR directed fishery has a low total allowable catch (TAC).
    Table 1 lists the 2013 and 2014 Pacific halibut PSC limits and 
apportionments published in the final 2013 and 2014 harvest 
specifications for the GOA (78 FR 13162, February 26, 2013). Table 2 
lists the current seasonal apportionment between the trawl deep-water 
and shallow-water fisheries. As noted in Table 2, under the current 
harvest specifications, there is not a specific apportionment of 
halibut PSC to the fourth season deep-water fishery; instead, vessels 
are limited to any halibut PSC that may remain after the end of the 
third season deep-water fishery. The fifth season halibut PSC 
apportionment to trawl gear is available for use by vessels fishing in 
either the deep-water or shallow-water fisheries.

             Table 1--Final 2013 and 2014 Pacific Halibut PSC Limits, Allowances, and Apportionments
                                           [Values are in metric tons]
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                   Trawl gear                                           Hook-and-line gear
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                             Other than DSR                       DSR
           Season              Percent   Amount  ---------------------------------------------------------------
                                                       Season       Percent   Amount        Season       Amount
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
January 20-April 1..........      27.5       543  January 1-June         86       250  January 1-             10
                                                   10.                                  December 31.
April 1-July 1..............        20       395  June 10-                2         5  ...............  ........
                                                   September 1.

[[Page 57109]]

 
July 1-September 1..........        30       592  September 1-           12        35  ...............  ........
                                                   December 31.
September 1-October 1.......       7.5       148  ...............  ........  ........  ...............  ........
October 1-December 31.......        15       296  ...............  ........  ........  ...............  ........
                             -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Total...................  ........     1,973  ...............  ........       290  ...............        10
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Table 2--Final 2013 and 2014 Apportionment of Pacific Halibut PSC Trawl Limits Between the Trawl Gear Deep-Water
                        Species Fishery and the Shallow-Water Species Fishery Categories
                                           [Values are in metric tons]
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
             Season               Shallow-water fishery         Deep-water fishery                Total
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
January 20-April 1.............                      444  99...........................                      543
April 1-July 1.................                       99  296..........................                      395
July 1-September 1.............                      197  395..........................                      592
September 1-October 1..........                      148  Any remainder................                      148
Subtotal January 20-October 1..                      888  789..........................                    1,677
October 1-December 31..........  .......................  .............................                      296
                                --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Total......................  .......................  .............................                    1,973
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Allocations of Halibut PSC Limit to the Central GOA Rockfish Program

    The Central GOA Rockfish Program (76 FR 81248, December 27, 2011) 
requires NMFS to assign 191.4 mt of the deep-water fishery's halibut 
PSC limit apportionment to participants in the Central GOA Rockfish 
Program. This fixed amount is used to support fishing for specific 
allocations of groundfish species under that program. Of that, 117.3 mt 
of the annual trawl halibut PSC limit is assigned to the catcher vessel 
sector, and 74.1 mt is allocated to the catcher/processor sector (see 
Table 28d to part 679). Under the Central GOA Rockfish Program, 27.4 mt 
of the halibut PSC limit that could have been assigned to the deep-
water fishery was instead reserved and is no longer annually 
apportioned for use by any fisheries in the GOA. Under the annual 
harvest specifications process, halibut PSC limit assigned to the 
Central GOA Rockfish Program has been debited from the third season 
deep-water trawl PSC limit apportionment because halibut PSC used in 
the Central GOA rockfish fisheries has historically occurred in the 
third season.
    Regulations implementing the Central GOA Rockfish Program allow 
NMFS to reapportion some of the halibut PSC limit assigned to that 
program to the general, non-Rockfish Program GOA trawl fisheries if it 
has not been used to fish for groundfish species allocated under the 
Central GOA Rockfish Program (see Sec.  679.21(d)(5)(iii)(B)). In 
recent years, not all of the halibut PSC limit assigned for exclusive 
use in the Central GOA Rockfish Program has been used to fully harvest 
the program's groundfish allocations. Therefore, reapportioning the 
unused halibut PSC limit from the Central GOA Rockfish Program allows 
for additional harvest opportunities in other trawl fisheries. No more 
than 55 percent of the unused annual halibut PSC limit apportioned to 
Central GOA Rockfish can be reapportioned for use by other non-Rockfish 
Program trawl fisheries during the last season (i.e., the fifth season) 
of the year (see Sec.  679.21(d)(5)(iii)(B)). The remaining 45 percent 
of the unused Central GOA Rockfish Program halibut PSC limit is 
unavailable for use by vessels directed fishing with any gear for the 
remainder of the fishing year, effectively conserving that halibut 
biomass for future stock abundance.

Halibut PSC Sideboard Limits

    Over time, a variety of halibut PSC use limits, commonly known as 
sideboard limits, have been implemented to limit the amount of halibut 
PSC available to specific participants in GOA groundfish fisheries. 
Sideboard limits serve as fishery-specific limits that require 
participants subject to the sideboard limit to stop fishing for 
specific groundfish once that sideboard limit is reached. Sideboard 
limits were adopted as part of the AFA, Amendment 80, and Central GOA 
Rockfish catch share programs to prevent program participants from 
using the flexibility provided by catch share allocations to increase 
their harvests in fisheries not subject to exclusive allocations. 
Additional detail on the rationale and calculation for specific 
sideboard limits in these catch share programs is available in the 
final rules implementing these catch share programs and is not repeated 
here (for the AFA see 67 FR 79692, December 30, 2002; for the Amendment 
80 Program see 72 FR 52668, September 14, 2007; and for the Central GOA 
Rockfish Program, see 76 FR 81248, December 27, 2011).
    In the GOA, AFA catcher vessels are split into two categories: 
those subject to halibut PSC sideboard limits and those exempt from 
halibut PSC sideboard limits. Sideboard limits for AFA catcher vessels 
subject to sideboard limits (non-exempt AFA catcher vessels) are 
calculated based on the catch histories of the non-exempt AFA catcher 
vessels (see Sec.  679.64(b)(4)). Halibut PSC sideboard limits for non-
exempt AFA catcher vessels are established as a percentage of each 
seasonal apportionment assigned to trawl gear deep-water and shallow-
water fisheries, rather than as a percentage of the annual trawl PSC 
limit. There is no seasonal apportionment for trawl gear deep-water 
fishery in the fourth season, so there is no AFA halibut PSC sideboard 
limit.

[[Page 57110]]

Instead, non-exempt AFA catcher vessels are limited in the fourth 
season to any AFA halibut PSC sideboard limit that may remain after the 
end of the third season deep-water fishery. Additionally, the deep-
water and shallow-water fisheries are combined for trawl gear in the 
fifth season; therefore, there is a combined halibut PSC sideboard 
limit for deep-water and shallow-water fisheries for non-exempt AFA 
catcher vessels. If AFA halibut PSC sideboard limits in one season are 
not fully used then the remaining amount of that sideboard limit may be 
added to the next seasonal sideboard limit. Conversely, if a seasonal 
AFA halibut PSC sideboard limit is exceeded then the overage amount is 
deducted from the next season's AFA halibut PSC sideboard limit. AFA 
catcher/processors are not assigned a halibut PSC sideboard limit 
because they are prohibited from fishing any species of groundfish in 
the GOA (see Sec.  679.7(k)(1)(ii)).
    Halibut PSC sideboard limits are established for vessels fishing 
under the Amendment 80 Program, which includes only trawl catcher/
processor vessels (see the definition of ``Amendment 80 vessels'' at 
Sec.  679.2). Halibut PSC sideboard limits for the Amendment 80 Program 
are based on a percentage of the annual halibut PSC limit for trawl 
gear. This halibut PSC sideboard limit is further apportioned by deep-
water and shallow-water fishery, and among the five trawl seasons (see 
Table 31 to part 679). Unlike the AFA halibut PSC sideboard limits, 
there are specific sideboard limits established for the deep-water and 
shallow-water fisheries in the fourth and fifth seasons. Any remaining 
amount of an Amendment 80 halibut PSC sideboard limit is not added to 
the next seasonal sideboard limit.
    Catcher/processors participating in the Central GOA Rockfish 
Program are also subject to halibut PSC sideboard limitations. Catcher/
processors are subject to halibut PSC sideboard limits for the trawl 
deep-water and shallow-water fisheries from July 1 through July 31 (see 
Sec.  679.84(e)(5)). These halibut PSC sideboard limits only apply when 
a catcher/processor is not fishing under the authority of a Central GOA 
Rockfish Program cooperative quota permit in the Central GOA (see Sec.  
679.84(e)). Halibut PSC sideboard limits for the Central GOA Rockfish 
Program are established as a percentage of the annual trawl halibut PSC 
limit. Halibut PSC sideboard limits are not established for catcher 
vessels in the Central GOA Rockfish Program because those vessels are 
prohibited in July from fishing for specific flatfish species that 
typically have higher rates of halibut PSC use (see Sec.  679.84(d)).
    Table 3 summarizes the halibut PSC sideboard limits assigned to the 
AFA, Amendment 80, and Central GOA Rockfish Programs. Table 3 lists the 
percentage of the trawl halibut PSC limit assigned as Amendment 80 and 
Central GOA Rockfish Program sideboard limits, the percentage of the 
seasonal trawl apportionment assigned as an AFA halibut PSC sideboard 
limit, and the specific amount of the limit. The amount of the halibut 
PSC sideboard limit assigned to each of these fisheries is calculated 
using an annual trawl halibut PSC limit of 1,973 mt as specified in the 
final 2013 and 2014 harvest specifications for the GOA (78 FR 13162, 
February 26, 2013).

                                                                Table 3--Final 2013 and 2014 Pacific Halibut PSC Sideboard Limits
                                                                                   [Values are in metric tons]
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                          AFA (Non-exempt catcher vessels only)            Amendment 80 program  (cather/processors only)      Central GOA rockfish program  (catcher/processors
                                 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------                        only)
                                                                                                                                             ---------------------------------------------------
                                     Deep-water  fishery       Shallow-water fishery       Deep-water  fishery       Shallow-water fishery       Deep-water  fishery      Shallow-water fishery
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
January 20-April 1..............  34.0%                      7.0%                       1.15%                      0.48%                                             N/A.
                                  of 444 mt                  of 99 mt                   (23 mt)                    (9 mt)
                                  (151 mt)                   (7 mt)
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
April 1-July 1..................  34.0%                      7.0%                       10.72%                     1.89%                                             N/A.
                                  of 99 mt                   of 296 mt                  (212 mt)                   (37 mt)
                                  (34 mt)                    (21 mt)
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
July 1-July 30 (Central GOA                                N/A
 Rockfish Program only).
                                                           N/A                          2.5%                       0.1%
                                                                                        (49 mt)                    (2 mt).
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
July 1-September 1..............  34.0%                      7.0%                       5.21%                      1.46%                                             N/A.
                                  of 197 mt                  of 395 mt                  (103 mt)                   (29 mt)
                                  (67 mt)                    (28 mt)
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
September 1-October 1...........  34.0%                      7.0%                       0.14%                      0.74%                                             N/A.
                                  of 0 mt                    of 148 mt                  (3 mt)                     (15 mt)
                                  (0 mt)                     (21 mt)
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
October 1-December 31...........                 20.5% of 296 mt (61 mt)                3.71%                      2.27%                                             N/A.
                                                                                        (73 mt)                    (45 mt)
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Objectives of and Rationale for Amendment 95 and This Proposed Rule

    The following objective was adopted by the Council with respect to 
this proposed action:

    The Council has long been cognizant of, and continues to 
recognize the extreme importance of halibut to all resource user 
groups. The Council also acknowledges that, for a wide variety of 
reasons, the dynamics of the directed and non-directed halibut 
fisheries have changed significantly since halibut PSC limits were 
first established. Given concerns with the current halibut PSC 
limits in the GOA, and the effect this PSC has on both directed 
fishing opportunities and productivity of the stock, there is a need 
to evaluate existing halibut PSC limits and the way in which these 
limits are established.

[[Page 57111]]

    The objective of the proposed action is to reduce halibut PSC 
limits for the GOA groundfish fisheries. In years of low halibut PSC 
use, the PSC limit reduction may not be a constraint. In those years 
the groundfish sectors would not be affected by the proposed 
changes. Reductions in the halibut PSC limit will generate halibut 
savings in years of relatively high halibut PSC. In years that 
halibut PSC savings occur, they will benefit the halibut resource 
and the halibut directed fisheries dependent on the GOA halibut 
resource. Conversely, groundfish harvesters will have their harvest 
constrained in those years. The reductions in groundfish harvest 
will impact revenue generated from the fisheries. The magnitude of 
the revenue change will depend on the quantity of groundfish harvest 
foregone and the price flexibility of those groundfish species.

    The proposed halibut PSC limit reductions are necessary to minimize 
halibut bycatch to the extent practicable in the GOA groundfish 
fishery, while at the same time achieving optimum yield from the 
groundfish fishery. The Council considered a range of alternatives to 
assess the impacts of minimizing halibut bycatch to the extent 
practicable while preserving the potential for the full harvest of the 
TACs assigned to the trawl and hook-an- line sectors. The Council 
considered changes in groundfish and halibut management programs and 
fishing patterns, environmental conditions, fishing technology, and 
knowledge of halibut and groundfish stocks. The Council considered the 
potential trade-offs between the halibut saved and the forgone 
groundfish catch. The Council believes, and NMFS agrees, that the 
proposed PSC limit reductions minimize halibut bycatch to the extent 
practicable given the management measures currently available to the 
fleet, the derby-style prosecution of some components of the groundfish 
fishery, the uncertainty about the extent to which halibut bycatch in 
the groundfish fishery has adverse effects on the halibut resource, and 
the need to ensure that catch in the trawl and hook and line fisheries 
contributes to the achievement of optimum yield in the groundfish 
fisheries.
    The Council considered changes to the halibut resource, and the 
needs of the directed halibut fishery user groups, including the 
commercial, charter, subsistence, personal use, and unguided sport 
sectors. The halibut resource is fully allocated. Recent declines in 
halibut exploitable biomass, particularly in the GOA, underscore the 
need to minimize bycatch of halibut in the groundfish fisheries to the 
extent practicable. Since the existing GOA halibut PSC limits were 
established, the total biomass and abundance of halibut has varied, and 
in recent years the stock is experiencing an ongoing decline in size-
at-age for all ages in all areas. Although the cause of this decline in 
size-at-age is not fully understood, the commercial halibut sector has 
experienced decreased catch limits as a result. The IPHC accounts for 
incidental halibut catches in the groundfish fisheries, recreational 
and subsistence catches, and other sources of halibut mortality before 
setting commercial halibut catch limits each year. From 2002 to 2011 
the commercial catch limit for halibut in the GOA in combined IFQ 
Regulatory Areas 2C (Southeast Alaska), 3A (South central Alaska), and 
3B (Southwest Alaska) declined by almost 50 percent. In addition, the 
guideline harvest level, which establishes a benchmark for harvests in 
the charter halibut fishery, has been reduced, particularly in IPHC 
Regulatory Area 2C. Further, the charter halibut sector has experienced 
increased catch restrictions in the GOA in recent years. Additional 
detail on the status of halibut stocks, commercial catch limits, and 
the guideline harvest level, is provided in the final rule establishing 
IPHC annual management measures for the Pacific halibut fishery in 2013 
(see 78 FR 16423, March 15, 2013 and 78 FR 18323, March 26, 2013).
    Although catch limits for the commercial and charter halibut 
fisheries have declined in recent years, GOA halibut PSC limits have 
remained relatively constant. The proposed action would require trawl 
and hook-and-line sectors to minimize halibut bycatch during the 
prosecution of their respective groundfish fisheries. The Council 
balanced a number of competing objectives for fishery conservation and 
management in its selection of its Preferred Alternative. These include 
(1) achieving the optimum yield from each groundfish fishery without 
overfishing the stocks, (2) considering the importance of fishery 
resources to fishing communities and minimizing adverse economic 
impacts on such communities, and (3) minimizing bycatch to the extent 
practicable. As discussed in section 4.6.4 of the Analysis, the Council 
considered the ability of trawl and hook-and-line groundfish fisheries 
to reduce halibut PSC use, how much of the halibut PSC limit had been 
left unused by each sector in the past, and the potential effects of 
reduced PSC limits on GOA groundfish catch and revenue.
    The Analysis included a retrospective evaluation of the impacts of 
PSC limit reductions on GOA ground fish catches from 2003 through 2010. 
This evaluation provided estimates of groundfish catch and revenue that 
would have been foregone in the GOA groundfish fisheries if halibut PSC 
limits had been reduced from current levels from 2003-2010. However, 
while historical catch and halibut PSC information can be used to 
assess whether and when fisheries would close if reduced PSC limits had 
been in place in previous years, the Council and NMFS believe 
groundfish trawl and hook-and-line fishery participants can modify 
their behavior to avoid a closure. The Analysis reviewed potential 
measures that could be adopted by participants to reduce halibut PSC 
use and factors that are likely to affect the willingness of 
participants to adopt those measures. Although the proposed halibut PSC 
limit reductions may result in earlier season closures and an attendant 
reduction in target groundfish catches when the lower seasonal PSC 
limit is reached, the frequency and extent of early season closures and 
effects of such closures will vary across gear types and segments of 
the fleets to the extent that fleets are willing to change fishing 
behavior in response to lower PSC limits. If sector participants are 
successful in taking action to control halibut PSC use to avoid a 
closure, additional gross revenues may be gained.
    Notwithstanding measures that the trawl and hook-and-line sectors 
can take to avoid halibut PSC use and potential fishery closures, the 
Council and NMFS recognize that reducing halibut PSC limits will likely 
come at a cost to individual participants and to the hook-and-line and 
trawl sectors as a whole. The proposed action could potentially impact 
revenue generated from the groundfish fisheries and some groundfish 
fisheries may not harvest their full TAC. The Analysis considered not 
only changes in gross revenues, but also changes in costs resulting 
from the fleets' altered fishing behavior to minimize halibut bycatch. 
The Council and NMFS balanced these potential financial effects of 
reduced groundfish harvests and increased costs to groundfish fleets 
with the benefits of maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem for 
fishermen and communities that depend on the halibut resources. The 
proposed reduction in halibut PSC limits could benefit participants in 
the directed halibut fisheries, such as the commercial and charter 
sport fisheries, if it results in increased levels of harvestable 
halibut and increased catch limits for directed halibut fisheries. 
Halibut processors might also benefit from this proposed action, along 
with

[[Page 57112]]

halibut charter clients, and consumers of halibut harvested in the 
directed fisheries. As described later in the preamble, the proposed 
action minimizes adverse economic impacts to the extent practicable for 
groundfish sectors that will experience the greatest halibut PSC 
reductions through measures such as phasing-in reductions over three 
years, allowing for roll-overs of halibut PSC sideboard limits from one 
season to the subsequent season, and allowing for the aggregation of 
halibut PSC limits during the second season deep-water and shallow-
water fisheries.
    During public testimony, some members of the public recommended 
greater reductions of halibut PSC limits. However, halibut bycatch 
cannot be avoided completely, and the Council and NMFS believe that 
even more stringent PSC limit reductions would severely limit the 
groundfish fleet. Currently, most of the groundfish fleet in the GOA is 
involved in competitive fisheries and does not have available tools, 
such as catch share programs or fishery cooperatives, that have been 
demonstrated to successfully reduce halibut PSC and still maintain 
current harvest levels of groundfish (for an example see the discussion 
of the Central GOA Rockfish Program in section 4.5.5 of the Analysis). 
As noted above, the Council and NMFS anticipate that participants in 
the GOA trawl and hook-and-line groundfish fisheries will need to 
modify their fishing behavior in response to lower PSC limits. Based on 
public testimony received from industry participants on the extent to 
which individual vessels are able to change their fishing behavior to 
reduce PSC use, the Council and NMFS believe that the proposed halibut 
PSC reductions minimize halibut bycatch to the extent practicable.

The Proposed Action

    This proposed action would: (1) Establish GOA halibut PSC limits in 
Federal regulation; (2) reduce the GOA halibut PSC limits for vessels 
using trawl and hook-and-line gear; (3) proportionately reduce trawl 
halibut PSC sideboard limits for American Fisheries Act (AFA), 
Amendment 80, and Central GOA Rockfish Program vessels; and (4) modify 
the accounting for halibut PSC sideboard limits for Amendment 80 
vessels, and halibut PSC used by trawl vessels from May 15 through June 
30 to maintain groundfish harvest while achieving the halibut PSC limit 
reductions intended by this action. This action would reduce halibut 
PSC limits to the extent practicable consistent with National Standard 
9, while at the same time achieving, on a continual basis, the optimum 
yield from the groundfish fishery. The preceding four actions are 
discussed in detail in the following sections of this preamble.

Action 1: Establishing the GOA Halibut PSC Limits in Federal Regulation

    This proposed action would modify the process by which the GOA 
halibut PSC limits are set. As previously discussed, the GOA halibut 
PSC limits currently are established through the annual GOA groundfish 
harvest specifications process. This action proposes including the 
overall annual GOA halibut PSC limits for the trawl and hook-and-line 
sectors in Federal regulations, a process that would mirror the current 
process for the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands halibut PSC limits. 
Once the GOA halibut PSC limits are published as Federal regulations, 
those limits could then be modified only by amending those regulations. 
The Council acknowledged, and NMFS agrees, that publishing the annual 
halibut PSC limits in Federal regulation will streamline the harvest 
specifications process and provide greater certainty about what annual 
PSC limits would be for those sectors subject to such limits. The 
groundfish harvest specifications process is complex and time-
sensitive, as the final harvest specifications have to be in place as 
soon as possible each year. Addressing potential changes to GOA halibut 
PSC limits during the harvest specifications process carries the risk 
of delaying the harvest specification of annual groundfish harvest 
limits, which is the primary objective of the harvest specifications 
process.
    Publishing the annual halibut PSC limits in Federal regulation is 
expected to:
     Resolve implementation and timing issues inherent in the 
current two-year harvest specification schedule. The first season to 
which NMFS applies halibut PSC limits on the trawl groundfish fishery 
occurs from January 20 to April 1, and the first season to which NMFS 
applies halibut PSC limit on the hook-and-line halibut PSC limit occurs 
from January 1 to June 10 of each year. Currently, GOA halibut PSC 
limits are set for two consecutive years (as are groundfish catch 
limits), so that groundfish fishing begins on January 1 based on 
groundfish TACs and PSC limits that were approved by the Council over a 
year earlier. Once the next 2-year set of harvest specifications are 
finalized in February or March, the initial annual groundfish TACs are 
superseded by new catch limits. For example, the final 2013 and 2014 
harvest specifications for the GOA published on February 26, 2013, well 
after the opening of the hook-and-line groundfish fishery season on 
January 1, 2013. Establishing the GOA halibut PSC limits for trawl and 
hook-and-line gear sectors in Federal regulation would ensure the 
halibut PSC limits are in place at the start of the fishing year. This 
would eliminate the potential that NMFS would have to modify a halibut 
PSC limit once fishing has already begun for a year should there be 
changes to that limit during the development of the annual harvest 
specifications.
     Facilitate potential development of long term PSC 
management tools for the groundfish fisheries. Such development would 
benefit from a stable regulatory environment, rather than annual 
halibut PSC limits that could be subject to change during the annual 
harvest specification process. Should it become apparent that further 
halibut bycatch reductions are practicable, regulations could be 
amended to further revise halibut PSC limits.
    NMFS notes that once the annual halibut PSC limits are established 
in Federal regulation as proposed by this action, the Council and NMFS 
will continue to use the harvest specification process to apportion 
annual halibut PSC limits between fisheries and gear categories. The 
Council will consider the best available information when recommending 
these apportionments of halibut PSC limits consistent with existing 
regulations at Sec.  679.21(d)(5).

Action 2: Reducing the GOA Halibut PSC Limits for Trawl and Hook-and-
Line Sectors

    This proposed action would reduce the GOA halibut PSC limits for 
vessels harvesting groundfish in the GOA. The proposed GOA halibut PSC 
limit for each gear and fishery category would be reduced from the 
current annual halibut PSC limits specified in the final 2013 and 2014 
harvest specifications in the GOA (78 FR 13162, February 26, 2013) and 
established in regulation as follows:
     Hook-and-line catcher/processor: 7 percent reduction.
     Hook-and-line catcher vessel: 15-percent reduction, phased 
in over 3 years with a 7 percent reduction the first year, an 
additional 5 percent reduction the second year, and a final 3 percent 
reduction in the third year.
     Hook-and-line demersal shelf rockfish Southeast Outside 
District: 1 metric ton reduction.
     Trawl: 15-percent reduction, phased-in over 3 years with a 
7 percent reduction the first year, an additional 5 percent reduction 
the second year, and

[[Page 57113]]

a final 3 percent reduction in the third year.
    The following sections describe the proposed halibut PSC limit 
reductions for the trawl and hook-and-line gears.

Phase-in Schedule for the Proposed Halibut PSC Limit Reductions for the 
Trawl and Hook-and-Line Sectors

    The Council recognized that giving the groundfish fleets additional 
time to individually and collectively adapt to the newly reduced 
halibut PSC limits under this proposed action would minimize some of 
the adverse consequences for sectors with the largest halibut PSC limit 
reductions. This phased-in approach would mitigate the impact the 
halibut PSC limit reductions have on groundfish fishery revenue and, as 
a result, mitigate the loss to communities reliant on groundfish 
resources. For this reason, the Council recommended phasing-in the 
reductions of halibut PSC limits for the trawl and catcher vessel hook-
and-line sectors because these sectors will experience the largest 
halibut PSC limit reductions. The phased-in implementation would allow 
additional time for these sectors to develop management tools and 
modify their fishing practices. As described below, NMFS intends that 
the phased-in approach to halibut PSC limit reductions would provide 
the groundfish sectors subject to the largest halibut PSC limit 
reductions with continued participation in the groundfish fisheries as 
they adapt to the lower halibut PSC limits, and would, to the extent 
practicable, minimize adverse economic impacts of the halibut PSC limit 
reductions.
    The specific annual amounts of the phased-in reductions are 
intended to reduce halibut PSC while also taking account of the needs 
of affected groundfish fisheries to efficiently adapt to the 
reductions. The Council considered a broad range of potential 
reductions to halibut PSC limits, including no reduction relative to 
the current halibut PSC limits and a 15-percent reduction for all trawl 
and hook-and-line fisheries in the first year of implementation. The 
phase-in approach and timeline proposed under this rule would result in 
the largest percentage reduction in the first year, a slightly smaller 
percentage reduction in the second year, and the smallest percentage 
reduction in the third year, to provide meaningful reductions in 
halibut PSC limits as quickly as possible. This approach would allow 
groundfish fisheries to adapt to the proposed changes by, for example, 
improving on-the-ground communication of halibut PSC rates to reduce 
groundfish harvests in areas of high halibut PSC, developing and using 
halibut excluder devices, or developing other measures that could 
reduce halibut bycatch in the GOA groundfish fisheries.
    The Council intended for the initial halibut PSC limit reductions 
to be in effect for the 2014 fishing year. This preamble assumes that 
2014 will be the first year the proposed reductions would be effective 
for purposes of the examples provided. Table 4 portrays the proposed 
halibut PSC limit reductions for the trawl gear sector and the hook-
and-line gear catcher vessel sector. NMFS would implement the 7-percent 
reduction in the first year of implementation of this proposed action, 
and then take the second and third phase of reductions relative to the 
2013 annual halibut PSC limits. NMFS would not take the additional 
percentages of the second and third year off of the already reduced PSC 
limits from the first year. Examples of the amounts associated with 
each percentage reduction are depicted in subsequent tables.
    Table 4 also shows that the 7-percent proposed halibut PSC limit 
reduction for the hook-and-line catcher/processor sector and the 1 mt 
reduction for the hook-and-line DSR fishery would be effective in the 
2014 fishing year, or the first year of implementation of a final rule 
for this action. The Council elected to reduce the halibut PSC limit 
for the DSR fishery by 1 mt instead of a percentage that would increase 
over time. The rationale for this fixed reduction in the halibut PSC 
limit for the DSR fishery is described in the following section of this 
preamble.

                                              Table 4--Proposed Phase-in Schedule of Halibut PSC Reductions
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                    Total proposed  reduction                                     Reduction second year     Reduction  third year  (2016
        Sector or fishery               relative to 2013         Reduction first year (2014)             (2015)               and each year thereafter)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hook-and-line demersal shelf      1 mt                          1 mt                          *                             *
 rockfish Southeast Outside
 District.
Hook-and-line catcher/processor   7 percent                     7 percent                     *                             *
 sector.
Hook-and-line catcher vessel      15 percent                    7 percent                     5 percent                     3 percent
 sector.
Trawl sector....................  15 percent                    7 percent                     5 percent                     3 percent
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Hook-and-Line DSR Fishery Proposed Reduction

    This action would reduce the halibut PSC limit for the hook-and-
line DSR fishery in the Southeast Outside District by 1 mt, from 10 mt 
in 2013, to 9 mt in 2014 and each year thereafter. The 1 mt reduction 
in the halibut PSC limit for the DSR fishery would accommodate the 
purpose of this action, i.e., reduce halibut PSC limits in the 
commercial groundfish fisheries to the extent practicable. The Council 
believed that it was necessary to apply the halibut PSC limit 
reductions to all components of the hook-and-line fisheries, including 
the commercial DSR fishery. A 1 mt reduction in the halibut PSC limit 
apportioned to the DSR fishery should not have an adverse impact on the 
directed fishery for DSR, given the decreasing participation in this 
fishery in recent years. In consideration of the small amount of 
halibut PSC limit assigned to the DSR fishery, and the relatively low 
estimated amount of halibut PSC use in the DSR fishery, the Council did 
not recommend phasing-in reductions over a period of time, or 
establishing a percentage of a reduction. Reducing halibut PSC limits 
beyond 1 mt for the directed DSR fishery could potentially curtail 
harvest of the annual DSR TAC. Given the estimated low amount of 
halibut PSC use in the DSR fishery, the Council and NMFS believe that 
the benefits of further halibut PSC reductions in the DSR fishery would 
not justify the potential costs of greater reductions for this fishery.
    The State of Alaska and NMFS jointly manage DSR. DSR is also caught 
incidentally in other commercial fisheries, such as the IFQ halibut 
fishery, and in sport fisheries. Since 2004, the majority of annual DSR 
landings were taken as incidental catch in other fisheries. For 
example, of the

[[Page 57114]]

293 mt TAC for DSR in 2012, 128 mt were available for the DSR 
commercial directed fishery, of which 105 mt were harvested. Because 
harvesters may use much of the available DSR as incidental catch in the 
halibut IFQ fishery, reducing the DSR directed fishery's halibut PSC 
limit should not result in changes in the management of the DSR 
directed fishery.

Other Hook-and-Line Fisheries Proposed Reductions

    This action proposes to reduce the other hook-and-line catcher/
processor and catcher vessel sectors' current overall halibut PSC 
limits, but by different percentage amounts. As depicted in Table 4, 
the other hook-and-line catcher/processor sector would be subject to a 
total halibut PSC limit reduction of 7 percent, with the reduction 
fully implemented in 2014. The other hook-and-line catcher vessel 
sector would be subject to a phased-in halibut PSC limit reduction of 
15 percent, beginning with a 7 percent reduction in 2014. These 
percentage reductions would be specified in regulations at Sec.  
679.21. The reductions would be made in conjunction with the existing 
method used to annually apportion the other hook-and-line PSC limit 
between the hook-and-line catcher vessel and catcher/processor sectors.

A. Other Hook-and-Line Annual PSC Limit Apportionments to the Catcher 
Vessel and Catcher/Processor Sectors

    Section 679.21(d)(4)(iii) contains formulas that NMFS uses to 
apportion the annual other hook-and-line halibut PSC limit between the 
catcher vessel and catcher/processor sectors. This approach was 
designed to integrate annual differences in how the combined Western 
and Central Pacific cod biomass is apportioned between the Western GOA 
and Central GOA, based on the findings of the annual Pacific cod stock 
assessment. This stock assessment calculates, among various other 
biological factors, how the overall Pacific cod biomass is distributed 
between these two management areas. The formulas set forth in 
regulation provide a means to annually adjust the apportionment of the 
other hook-and-line halibut PSC limit based on annual Pacific cod 
distribution. The hook-and-line catcher/processor sector receives a 
larger annual share of the total Pacific cod TAC in the Western GOA 
than the hook-and-line catcher vessel sector. Conversely, the hook-and-
line catcher vessel sector receives a larger annual share of the total 
Pacific cod TAC in the Central GOA.
    The Council recommended, and NMFS agrees, that NMFS should continue 
to use this methodology to apportion the Pacific cod TAC between the 
other hook-and-line catcher vessel and catcher/processor sectors before 
the proposed halibut PSC limit reductions are calculated under the 
proposed action. The formulaic distribution of the other hook-and-line 
halibut PSC limit would allow the reduced other hook-and-line PSC limit 
to be apportioned differently each year to better match the potential 
halibut PSC use by each sector. This change is intended to align the 
annual allocations of Pacific cod between the two hook-and-line sectors 
with their respective allotments of the other hook-and-line halibut PSC 
limit, which is consistent with National Standard 1 to achieve optimum 
yield from the GOA groundfish fisheries. For example, if the annual 
stock assessment determines that there is a greater proportion of 
Pacific cod in the Central GOA than the Western GOA (based on the 
average biomass distribution estimated in the stock assessment), then 
the hook-and-line catcher vessel sector would receive more of the other 
hook-and-line halibut PSC limit than the hook-and-line catcher/
processor sector. This methodology is described in the final rule 
implementing Amendment 83 to the FMP, which established Pacific cod 
sector splits in the GOA (76 FR 74670, December 1, 2011).
    To implement this component of the action, NMFS proposes to place 
in regulation the existing other hook-and-line halibut PSC limit of 290 
mt. This amount would be integrated into the formulas that apportion 
this limit between the hook-and-line catcher vessel and catcher/
processor sectors, consistent with the intent of Amendment 83 to the 
FMP and its implementing regulations. This formula would then be used 
to annually apportion the other hook-and-line halibut PSC limit between 
sectors prior to making the actual percentage reductions also proposed 
in this action. Applying the proposed other hook-and-line halibut PSC 
limit reductions to the current 290 mt halibut PSC limit prior to 
apportioning it between the other hook-and-line sectors is not possible 
because (1) the division of this limit varies according the annual 
apportionment of the Western GOA and Central GOA Pacific cod TACs, and 
(2) the catcher vessel and catcher/processor sectors would operate 
under different PSC limit percentage reductions after the first year of 
the reduction phase-in. This methodology is also described in detail in 
Section 4.6.3.2 of the Analysis.
    Once the other hook-and-line halibut PSC limit is divided between 
the hook-and-line catcher vessels and catcher/processors, the halibut 
PSC limit percentage reductions proposed in this action would then be 
applied to each individual sector's halibut PSC limit. These reduced 
limits would then be annually specified as halibut PSC limit 
apportionments by fishery category and season in the annual harvest 
specifications.

B. Applying the Proposed Halibut PSC Limit Reductions to the Other 
Hook-and-Line Catcher/Processor Sector

    This action proposes to reduce the halibut PSC limit for the hook-
and-line catcher/processor sector by 7 percent the first year of 
implementation under this proposed action, and retain that level 
thereafter. For example, using the 2013 Pacific cod apportionment in 
conjunction with the other hook-and-line halibut PSC limit 
apportionment formulas in Sec.  679.21(d), the proposed hook-and-line 
catcher/processor halibut PSC limit would be reduced to 115 mt in 2014 
from 124 mt in 2013.
    The Council recommended different percentage reductions for other 
hook-and-line catcher/processors (7 percent) versus other hook-and-line 
catcher vessels (15 percent) because the catcher/processor sector 
already received a halibut PSC limit reduction under regulations 
implementing Amendment 83 to the FMP (76 FR 74670, December 1, 2011), 
and has collectively taken measures to reduce its halibut PSC usage in 
recent years. The hook-and-line catcher/processor sector has been able 
to reduce its PSC use with management tools not available to the trawl 
gear sector or hook-and-line catcher vessel sector. Specifically, the 
hook-and-line catcher/processor sector decreased its halibut PSC use by 
forming a voluntary cooperative in 2010. The voluntary hook-and-line 
catcher/processor cooperative members agreed to divide the available 
halibut PSC limit, and to a variety of other measures (e.g., avoid 
fishing in areas with known concentrations of halibut and at times of 
relatively high halibut PSC rates). These measures are intended to 
reduce the chance that this sector's halibut PSC would result in a 
fishery closure.
    The Council recommended reducing the hook-and-line catcher/
processor sector by 7 percent for this proposed action to acknowledge 
the PSC limit reductions implemented under Amendment 83, and the 
voluntary steps already taken to decrease the sector's halibut PSC use 
in recent years. A reduction greater than 7 percent could further 
reduce halibut bycatch by the

[[Page 57115]]

hook-and-line catcher/processor sector, but at increased potential for 
adverse economic impacts on this sector, either through foregone 
groundfish catch or increased operating costs as this fleet attempts to 
avoid halibut bycatch. As discussed in section 4.6 of the Analysis, the 
informal hook-and-line catcher/processor sector cooperative in the GOA 
have undertaken measures to reduce halibut PSC use in that sector since 
2010. Additional measures to further reduce halibut bycatch could 
result in increased operating cost for this sector and forgone 
groundfish catch. The Council and NMFS believe that a 7 percent 
reduction from current halibut PSC limits in addition to this sector's 
previous halibut bycatch use reductions will minimize halibut bycatch 
in the hook-and-line-sector to the extent practicable.

C. Applying the Proposed Halibut PSC Limit Reductions to the Other 
Hook-and-Line Catcher Vessel Sector

    The proposed halibut PSC limit reduction for the other hook-and-
line catcher vessel sector would be phased-in over 3 years at 7 percent 
in 2014, or the first year of implementation of this action, an 
additional 5 percent in 2015, or the second year, and an additional 3 
percent in 2016, or the third year, for a total reduction of 15 percent 
from the 2013 levels effective beginning 2016 and remaining effective 
thereafter. Table 5 shows how the other hook-and-line PSC limit would 
be apportioned between the catcher vessel and catcher/processor 
sectors, as well as by season. Using the 2013 Pacific cod 
apportionments as an example, the proposed hook-and-line catcher vessel 
halibut PSC limits would decrease from 166 mt in 2013, to 154 mt in 
2014, to 146 mt in 2015, and to 141 mt in 2016 and each year thereafter 
under this action. The 15 percent reduction of the halibut PSC limit 
apportioned to the other hook-and-line catcher vessel sector would 
achieve this action's objective of minimizing halibut bycatch in the 
GOA groundfish fisheries to the extent practicable. The Council and 
NMFS determined that the proposed PSC limit reduction would provide the 
hook-and-line catcher vessel sector with incentives to reduce PSC use 
by modifying fishing behavior to avoid groundfish fishery closures. As 
discussed in section 4.6.4 of the Analysis, some catcher vessels 
currently undertake efforts to avoid halibut through informal 
arrangements, in which vessels share on-the-grounds information 
concerning halibut encounter rates, helping vessels to avoid areas with 
relatively high halibut PSC. The Council and NMFS expect participants 
in the hook-and-line catcher vessel sector to modify fishing behavior 
and increase coordination to expand their use of these types of bycatch 
avoidance tools to reduce halibut PSC use.
    Table 5 provides an example of the 2013 apportionment of Pacific 
cod TACs in the Western and Central GOA to demonstrate how the proposed 
other hook-and-line halibut PSC limit reduction would be applied to the 
hook-and-line catcher vessel and catcher/processor sectors. The amount 
of halibut PSC that could be used by the other hook-and-line fishery 
after implementation of this action is also shown in Table 5. 
Effectively, the amount of halibut PSC that could be used would 
decrease under this action to 269 mt in 2014, to 261 mt in 2015, and 
finally to 256 mt in 2016. These amounts are based on the premise that 
there is no change in the apportionment of the Pacific cod biomass 
between the Western and Central GOA during those years.

  Table 5--Example of the Other Hook-and-Line Halibut PSC Limits (in mt) Under This Proposed Action Based on the 2013 Apportionment of the Western and
                      Central GOA Pacific Cod TACs and Associated Distribution of the Annual Other Hook-and-Line Halibut PSC Limit
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                                                           3rd season
                                                                    Proposed       Total allowance     1st season     2nd season  June   September 1 to
                 Year                          Sectors              reduction            \1\          January 1 to    10 to  September     December 31
                                                                    (percent)                        June 10  (86%)        1  (2%)            (12%)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2013.................................  Total Allowance........  ................               290               249                 6                35
                                       Catcher vessel.........               N/A               166               143                 3                20
                                       Catcher/processor......               N/A               124               106                 2                15
2014.................................  Total Allowance........  ................               269               232                 5                32
                                       Catcher vessel.........                 7               154               133                 3                19
                                       Catcher/processor......                 7               115                99                 2                14
2015.................................  Total Allowance........  ................               261               225                 5                32
                                       Catcher vessel.........                12               146               126                 3                18
                                       Catcher/processor......                 7               115                99                 2                14
2016 and each year thereafter........  Total Allowance........  ................               256               220                 5                31
                                       Catcher vessel.........                15               141               121                 3                17
                                       Catcher/processor......                 7               115                99                 2                14
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ The total allowance reflects the sum of the amount available to each sector. After 2013, the 290 mt limit would remain in regulation at Sec.
  679.21(d) as part of the formulas that provide the basis for apportioning the annual halibut PSC limit between the hook-and-line catcher/processor and
  catcher vessel sectors. The actual annual PSC limit would decrease (in this example) to 256 mt in 2016.

Trawl Sector Proposed Reduction

    The amount of the proposed trawl halibut PSC limit reduction would 
be based on reductions from the current trawl halibut PSC limit of 
1,973 mt as established in the final 2013 and 2014 harvest 
specifications for the GOA (78 FR 13162, February 26, 2013). This base 
amount includes a reduction of 27.4 mt from the trawl halibut PSC limit 
implemented under the Central GOA Rockfish Program (76 FR 81248, 
December 27, 2011). Similar to the other hook-and-line catcher vessel 
sector, the proposed halibut PSC limit reduction for the trawl sector 
would be 15 percent and phased-in over 3 years. The halibut PSC limit 
would be reduced by 7 percent in 2014, or the first year of 
implementation, an additional 5 percent in 2015, or the second year, 
and a final 3 percent in 2016, or the third year, for a total reduction 
of 15 percent from the status quo. This new PSC limit in 2016 would 
remain in effect each year thereafter. In selecting trawl halibut PSC 
limit reduction, the Council balanced the broad goal of minimizing 
halibut bycatch to the extent practicable with trawl fishery 
participants' need for a

[[Page 57116]]

sufficient amount of halibut PSC to harvest available GOA groundfish 
TACs, and thereby support the achievement of optimum yield from the GOA 
groundfish fishery.

A. Rockfish Program Halibut PSC Apportionment

    The trawl halibut PSC limit of 191.4 mt apportioned to the Central 
GOA Rockfish Program would not be reduced by this action. The Rockfish 
Program was exempted from the proposed halibut PSC limit reductions 
because participants in the Rockfish Program already had their 
apportionment of halibut PSC limit reduced relative to historic use of 
halibut PSC in the Central GOA rockfish fisheries when the Council 
adopted the program. NMFS implemented the Rockfish Program on December 
27, 2011 (76 FR 81248) and reduced the halibut PSC limit apportionment 
by 12.5 percent of the fishery's historical annual use (during the 2000 
through 2006 qualifying period). The 12.5-percent reduction resulted in 
27.4 mt of halibut PSC limit that is not allocated for use annually, 
leaving 191.4 mt to support the Central GOA Rockfish Program.
    In addition, the Central GOA Rockfish Program limits the maximum 
amount of any unused halibut PSC limit from Central GOA Rockfish 
Program participants that may be made available to the non-Rockfish 
Program trawl fisheries. This reallocation of unused halibut PSC limit 
is commonly known as a reapportionment. The annual reapportionment of 
any unused portion of the 191.4 mt Rockfish Program halibut PSC limit 
is reduced by 45 percent, and as a result only 55 percent of the 
annual, unused halibut PSC limit may be available for reapportionment 
to non-Central GOA Rockfish Program fisheries during the fifth season.
    The halibut PSC reductions already implemented through the Rockfish 
Program minimize halibut bycatch in the rockfish fishery to the extent 
practicable. These reductions limit halibut mortality both by limiting 
the amount of halibut PSC that is initially allocated as halibut PSC CQ 
and by limiting the amount of halibut PSC that may be reassigned. In 
developing the Rockfish Program, the Council sought to balance the need 
to provide adequate halibut PSC for use by rockfish cooperatives, 
recognize patterns of reduced halibut PSC use once exclusive harvest 
privileges were established, and meet broader goals to reduce halibut 
mortality. The Analysis supporting the current proposed action projects 
that the 45-percent reduction of unused halibut PSC limit would be 
equal to, or greater than, the 15-percent reduction applied to the 
general trawl halibut PSC limit under this action based on a review of 
the amount of unused halibut PSC limit in the Central GOA Rockfish 
Program (see Section 4.5.5 of the Analysis for additional detail). 
Additional details on the specific rationale and methods for halibut 
PSC limit allocations and reapportionments in the Central GOA Rockfish 
Program are provided in the final rule implementing that program and 
are not repeated here (see 76 FR 81248, December 27, 2011).

B. Applying the Proposed Halibut PSC Limit Reductions to the Trawl 
Sector

    The proposed reductions to the annual trawl halibut PSC limits do 
not include a reduction to the current amount of trawl halibut PSC 
apportioned to the Rockfish Program. NMFS proposes to subtract 191.4 mt 
of the halibut PSC limit that is apportioned to the Rockfish Program 
from the overall trawl halibut PSC limit before calculating the 
percentage reduction to the trawl halibut PSC limit. The 191.4 mt 
amount would be added back to the trawl halibut PSC limit after 
calculating the 7, 12, and 15 percent annual reduction during the 
phased-in implementation of the trawl halibut PSC limit reductions. 
This would prevent the percentage reductions being proposed for overall 
annual GOA trawl halibut PSC limit from being applied to the halibut 
PSC limit apportioned to the Central GOA Rockfish Program.
    The total trawl halibut PSC limit would be calculated using the 
following formula:

    Trawl Halibut PSC Limit = ((1,973 mt - 191.4 mt) * X) + 191.4 mt

    In this formula, X is the percentage of the original allocation the 
trawl gear sector would receive of the phased-in percentage PSC limit 
reductions (7 percent the first year, 12 percent the second year, and 
15 percent the third and each year thereafter). In the first year of 
implementation of this action, the trawl gear sector would receive 
1,848 mt, or 93 percent (0.93) of the 2013 trawl PSC limit of 1,973 mt. 
In the second year, the trawl gear sector would receive 1,759 mt, or 88 
percent (0.88) of the 2013 trawl PSC limit of 1,973 mt. Finally, in the 
third and each year thereafter, the trawl gear sector would receive 
1,706 mt, or 85 percent (0.85) of the 2013 trawl PSC limit of 1,973 mt. 
The annual halibut PSC limits for the deep-water fishery, shallow-water 
fishery, and each of those fisheries respective seasonal apportionments 
would continue to be recommended by the Council and published in the 
annual harvest specifications, rather than in Federal regulations. The 
proposed halibut PSC limit reductions also would result in changes to 
the trawl sector's seasonal apportionments of halibut PSC limits. Those 
changes are discussed below. Table 6 shows the proposed halibut PSC 
limits for the trawl sector each year for the implementation of this 
action, if this proposed action is implemented in 2014.

                            Table 6--Proposed Halibut PSC Limits for the Trawl Sector
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                 Annual trawl gear PSC
                        Effective dates                               limit (mt) *          Percent reduction
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2013 (status quo).............................................                    1,973                      N/A
2014..........................................................                    1,848                        7
2015..........................................................                    1,759                       12
2016 and each year thereafter.................................                    1,706                       15
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* This amount retains the existing 191.4 mt annual halibut PSC limit allocated to the Rockfish Program without
  any reduction to this allocation.

C. Changes in Trawl Seasonal Apportionments

    As discussed earlier in this preamble in the ``Background'' section 
under ``GOA Annual Halibut PSC Limits, Fishery Categories, and Seasonal 
Apportionments,'' section 679.21(d)(5) authorizes NMFS to seasonally 
apportion the annual trawl halibut PSC limits after consulting with the 
Council. During the annual harvest specifications process the Council 
recommends and NMFS assigns the specific amount of halibut PSC limit to 
each of these seasons. Section 679.21(d)(3) and (4) establishes the 
annual halibut PSC limit apportionments to trawl gear in the

[[Page 57117]]

GOA through the annual groundfish harvest specification process.
    Table 7 portrays the proposed reduction of annual halibut PSC limit 
to the trawl sector and the resulting changes to apportionments to the 
deep-water fishery and shallow-water fishery in each season. Table 7 
assumes that the apportionments to the deep-water and shallow-water 
fishery categories and seasons specified in the final 2013 and 2014 
harvest specifications for the GOA (78 FR 13162, February 26, 2013) 
would be retained in future annual harvest specifications. As shown in 
Table 7, halibut PSC limit reductions for the trawl sector would result 
in the deep-water species fishery allowance decreasing from 789 mt in 
2013, to 682 mt in 2016 and each year thereafter under this action. The 
shallow-water species fishery allowance would be reduced from 888 mt in 
2013, to 767 mt in 2016 and each year thereafter under this action. The 
undesignated fifth season allowance would be reduced from 296 mt in 
2013, to 256 mt in 2016 and each year thereafter under this action.

 Table 7--Trawl Fishery and Seasonal Halibut PSC Limits Based on 2013 Apportionments of the Overall Halibut PSC
                                                     Limits
                         [All values are metric tons, except where noted as percentages]
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                     5th season
   Total Trawl Halibut PSC                   1st season    2nd season    3rd season    4th season     October 1
            limit                            January 20    April 1 to     July 1 to    September 1     through
                                             to April 1      July 1      September 1  to October 1   December 31
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
       Annual limit, all categories                      Seasonal share
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                27.5%          20%           30%          7.5%           15%
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2013 (status quo)...........         1,973           543           395           592           148           296
2014 (7% reduction).........         1,848           508           370           554           139           277
2015 (12% reduction)........         1,759           484           352           528           132           264
2016 and each year                   1,706           469           341           512           128           256
 thereafter (15% reduction).
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Deep-water species fishery                       Seasonal share
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                12.5%         37.5%         50%*           0%
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2013 (status quo)...........           789            99           296           395  ............  ............
2014 (7% reduction).........           739            92           277     178 [370]  ............  ............
2015 (12% reduction)........           704            88           264     160 [352]  ............  ............
2016 and each year                     682            85           256     150 [341]  ............  ............
 thereafter (15% reduction).
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
       Shallow-water species fishery                     Seasonal share
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                 50%          11.1%         22.2%         16.7%     ............
-----------------------------
2014 (7% reduction).........           832           416            92           185           139  ............
2015 (12% reduction)........           791           396            88           176           132  ............
2016 and each year                     767           384            85           170           128  ............
 thereafter (15% reduction).
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
  Undesignated by deep-water or shallow-
           water species fishery                         Seasonal share
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                            100%
2013 (status quo)...........           296  ............  ............  ............  ............           296
2014 (7% reduction).........           277  ............  ............  ............  ............           277
2015 (12% reduction)........           264  ............  ............  ............  ............           264
2016 and each year                     256  ............  ............  ............  ............           256
 thereafter (15% reduction).
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* Number in bracket includes the 191.4 mt Rockfish Program halibut PSC limit.

    The Council noted that between 2006 and 2011 (the most recent years 
available for the Analysis), the deep-water fishery used, on average, 
about 85 percent of its available halibut PSC limit over the first 
through fourth seasons. The shallow-water fishery used about 89 percent 
of its available halibut PSC limit over the same time period. For all 
five seasons, the entire trawl sector used about 93 percent of its 
available halibut PSC limit. Although the proposed reductions would 
likely constrain the trawl sector in the second and third year after 
implementation, NMFS believes the trawl fisheries could potentially 
operate longer and produce larger volumes of fish if this sector 
changes its fishing practices. Historical records and NMFS' management 
experience in the trawl fisheries indicates that the amount of halibut 
PSC in the GOA groundfish fisheries can be reduced by increased 
communication among industry participants and coordination of fishing 
activities and effort (see section 4.6.4 of the Analysis for additional 
detail).

Action 3: Reducing Halibut PSC Sideboard Limits for AFA, Amendment 80, 
and Rockfish Program Vessels

    As described above in the section titled ``Halibut PSC Sideboard 
Limits,'' a variety of halibut PSC use limits (commonly known as 
sideboard limits) have been implemented to restrict the amount of 
halibut PSC available to specific participants in GOA groundfish 
fisheries. This proposed rule would not revise the current regulations 
that establish the methodology for calculating the specific percentage 
of the annual trawl halibut PSC limit

[[Page 57118]]

apportioned to the AFA Program, Amendment 80 sector, or Central GOA 
Rockfish Program as halibut PSC sideboard limits. Rather, the AFA 
Program, Amendment 80 sector, and Rockfish Program halibut PSC 
sideboard limits would continue to be calculated during the annual 
harvest specifications process as percentages of the GOA halibut PSC 
limit. However, because the annual trawl PSC limit would be reduced 
under this proposed action, the amount (in metric tons) of each of 
these management program's halibut PSC sideboard limit would also be 
reduced. Regulations that establish halibut PSC sideboard limits are at 
Sec.  679.64(b)(4) for non-exempt AFA catcher vessels subject to GOA 
halibut PSC sideboard limits, Sec.  679.92(b)(2) for the Amendment 80 
sector, and Sec.  679.82(e) for catcher/processors that opt-out of a 
Rockfish Program cooperative and are subject to GOA halibut PSC 
sideboard limits.
    The Council considered but rejected an option to specify the 
sideboard limits in Federal regulation as a fixed limit in metric tons, 
rather than as percentages of the GOA trawl halibut PSC limit. The 
Council recommended that applying the sideboard limits as a percentage 
in Federal regulations would allow the proposed reductions to the 
annual trawl halibut PSC limit to carry through to those respective 
sideboard limits. Applying the current methodology prescribed in 
regulation for establishing halibut PSC sideboard limits against a 
lower trawl halibut PSC limit proportionately reduces the sideboard 
limits available to the AFA Program, Amendment 80 sector, and Rockfish 
Program. The Council and NMFS therefore determined that the proposed 
halibut PSC sideboard limit reductions minimize halibut bycatch to the 
extent practicable. Participants in the AFA Program, Amendment 80 
sector, and the Rockfish Program have the ability to reduce halibut PSC 
use through halibut avoidance methods similar to those described above 
for other participants in the GOA trawl sector, including increased 
communication among industry participants, coordinated fishing 
activities and effort, and improved fishing technology (see section 
4.6.4 of the Analysis for additional detail).
    The following sections explain how the proposed halibut PSC 
sideboard limit reductions in this action would be applied to the AFA, 
Amendment 80, and Rockfish Programs. Additional detail on the potential 
impacts of the halibut PSC sideboard limits is available in section 
4.3.2 of the Analysis. The examples provided in the following sections 
assume that the apportionments to the deep-water and shallow-water 
fishery categories and seasons specified in the final 2013 and 2014 
harvest specifications for the GOA (78 FR 13162, February 26, 2013) are 
retained in future annual harvest specifications. If the Council 
recommends a different range of apportionments for those fishery 
categories, the actual amounts in the following examples would likewise 
change.
    NMFS determined that these apportionments are appropriate for 
purposes of this action because they are consistent with the objective 
to apportion halibut PSC to ensure that it is available for use in 
groundfish fisheries earlier in the year (e.g., the trawl deep-water 
fisheries in the first season), but limits that use so that the halibut 
PSC limit remains to support other groundfish fisheries that occur 
later in the year (e.g., the trawl shallow-water fisheries in the 
fourth season). The limits assigned to each season reflect that halibut 
PSC likely to be taken during specific seasons by specific fisheries. 
This approach is consistent with the FMP and regulations at Sec.  
679.21(d)(5), which require that the Council and NMFS consider a number 
of factors in seasonally apportioning halibut PSC limits (see ``GOA 
Annual Halibut PSC Limits, Fishery Categories, and Seasonal 
Apportionments'' section above). Any future changes to apportionments 
during the harvest specifications process would be evaluated consistent 
with Sec.  679.21(d)(5). The following sections use 2014 as the first 
year of implementation of halibut PSC sideboard limit reductions.

A. Amendment 80 Halibut PSC Sideboard Limit

    Table 8 provides estimates of the proposed annual, fishery 
category, and seasonal halibut PSC sideboard limit reductions for the 
Amendment 80 sector. The phased-in 15-percent reduction in the deep-
water fishery would result in a 61 mt annual reduction in the halibut 
PSC sideboard limit, from 418 mt in 2013, to 357 mt in 2016 and each 
year thereafter. The same reduction in the shallow-water fishery 
sideboard limits would result in a 20 mt annual reduction in the 
halibut PSC sideboard limit, from 137 mt in 2013, to 117 mt in 2016 and 
each year thereafter.

                                       Table 8--Proposed Halibut PSC Sideboard Limits for the Amendment 80 Sector
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                                                           5th season
                                               Total sideboard     1st season     2nd season April   3rd season July     4th season         October 1
        Amendment 80 sideboard limits               limit         January 20 to      1 to July 1    1 to September 1   September 1 to        through
                                                                     April 1                                              October 1        December 31
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Deep-water species fishery:
    2013 (Status Quo).......................               418                23               214               104                 3                74
    2014 (7% Reduction).....................               387                21               198                96                 3                69
    2015 (12% Reduction)....................               368                20               189                92                 2                65
    2016 and each year thereafter...........               357                20               183                89                 2                63
    (15% Reduction).........................
Shallow-water species fishery:
    2013 (Status Quo).......................               137                10                38                29                15                45
    2014 (7% Reduction).....................               127                 9                35                27                14                42
    2015 (12% Reduction)....................               120                 8                33                26                13                40
    2016 and each year thereafter (15%                     117                 8                32                25                13                39
     Reduction).............................
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


[[Page 57119]]

    Amendment 80 vessels subject to the halibut PSC sideboard limits 
are most active in the deep-water fishery, where they primarily fish 
for arrowtooth flounder, rex sole, and rockfish. The third season has 
the largest number of participating Amendment 80 vessels, because that 
is the season most vessels fish in the rockfish fishery. Participation 
in the shallow-water fisheries by Amendment 80 vessels is much smaller, 
with only one to three vessels targeting these fisheries. Historical 
data indicates that only during the third season of the 2008 deep-water 
species fishery did halibut PSC sideboard limit use exceed 89 mt, 
which, according to Table 8, is the amount available under the 15-
percent proposed reduction of the halibut PSC limit. That year was the 
first year of the Amendment 80 Program and the most active year for 
Amendment 80 vessels in the GOA. The Amendment 80 sector is expected to 
have a sufficient deep-water fishery halibut PSC limit to harvest 
rockfish in the third season. Under this proposed action, the decision 
of when to fish for groundfish under the halibut PSC limit remains with 
the Amendment 80 sector as it continues to monitor its halibut PSC 
under its existing cooperative agreements.

B. Rockfish Program Catcher/Processor Opt-Out Sideboard Limits

    Table 9 shows the proposed July Rockfish Program catcher/processor 
halibut PSC sideboard limit reductions for those catcher/processors 
that choose to opt-out of participating in a Rockfish Program 
cooperative. These sideboard limits are separate and distinct from the 
Rockfish Program halibut PSC limit apportionment of 191.4 mt. The 
proposed phased-in 15-percent reduction would result in a 7 mt 
reduction for the deep-water fishery Rockfish Program catcher/processor 
opt-out halibut PSC sideboard limit, from 50 mt in 2013, to 43 mt in 
2016 and each year thereafter. The shallow-water fishery Rockfish 
Program catcher/processor opt-out halibut PSC sideboard limit would 
remain at 2 mt during the 3 years of phased-in reductions. The reason 
that the shallow-water fishery PSC sideboard limit would not change is 
due to the fact that regulations establish the sideboard limit as 0.1 
percent of the annual trawl halibut PSC limit (see regulations at Sec.  
679.84(e)). Once a 15-percent reduction is applied the resulting amount 
does not change due to rounding to the nearest metric ton.

           Table 9--Proposed Rockfish Program Catcher/Processor Halibut PSC Sideboard Limits for July
                                           [Values are in metric tons]
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                              July sideboard limits
                                                               -------------------------------------------------
                   Rockfish sideboard limits                       Deep-water species     Shallow-water species
                                                                        fishery                  fishery
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2013 (Status Quo).............................................                       50                        2
2014 (7% Reduction)...........................................                       46                        2
2015 (12% Reduction)..........................................                       44                        2
2016 and each year thereafter (15% Reduction).................                       43                        2
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The Council and NMFS believe that these halibut PSC limit 
reductions minimize halibut bycatch to the extent practicable taken by 
catcher/processors choosing to opt-out of participating in a Rockfish 
Program cooperative. Any reduction from the current 50 mt sideboard 
limit for the Rockfish Program catcher/processor opt-out halibut PSC 
sideboard limit in the deep-water fishery will likely constrain the 
catcher/processors subject to the sideboard limit. During 2007, 2008, 
and 2009, halibut PSC by the catcher/processors in the Central GOA 
Rockfish Program would have exceeded the 50 mt halibut PSC sideboard 
limit. Given that the halibut PSC for the deep-water fishery exceeded 
the status quo halibut PSC sideboard limit in those three years, there 
is a high likelihood that the deep-water fishery would be constrained 
by the reduced halibut PSC sideboard limit during July, particularly as 
the halibut PSC sideboard limit is reduced. However, in more recent 
years the Rockfish Program halibut PSC sideboard limits have not been 
exceeded, as catcher/processors that have opted-out of joining a 
Rockfish Program cooperative have either changed their fishing 
practices or decreased their participation in the fisheries subject to 
these halibut PSC sideboard limits. The fleet's altered fishing 
practices and improved communications about halibut bycatch among 
vessels and managing companies have resulted in decreases in halibut 
bycatch.

C. Non-Exempt AFA Catcher Vessel Halibut PSC Sideboard Limits

    The proposed 15-percent reduction to the trawl halibut PSC limit 
would proportionately reduce the halibut PSC sideboard limits 
established for non-exempt AFA catcher vessels during the annual 
harvest specifications process. Table 10 shows the proposed non-exempt 
AFA catcher vessel halibut PSC sideboard limit reductions. The total 
reduction, once applied to the deep-water fishery, would result in an 8 
mt AFA halibut PSC sideboard limit reduction, from 56 mt in 2013, to 48 
mt in 2016 and each year thereafter. The same 15-percent halibut PSC 
limit reduction applied to the shallow-water fishery would result in a 
45 mt AFA halibut PSC sideboard limit reduction, from 306 mt in 2013, 
to 261 mt in 2016 and each year thereafter. The 15-percent halibut PSC 
limit reduction applied to the fifth season (undesignated by species 
fishery) would decrease 10 mt, from 62 mt in 2013, to 52 mt in 2016 and 
each year thereafter.

[[Page 57120]]



                                          Table 10--Non-exempt AFA Catcher Vessel Halibut PSC Sideboard Limits
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                                                           5th season
   Non-exempt AFA catcher vessel sideboard                         1st season     2nd season April   3rd season July     4th season         October 1
                   limits                      Total sideboard    January 20 to      1 to July 1    1 to September 1   September 1 to        through
                                                                     April 1                                              October 1        December 31
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Deep-water species fishery:
    2013 (Status Quo).......................                56                 7                21                28                 0  ................
    2014 (7% Reduction).....................                50                 6                19                25                 0  ................
    2015 (12% Reduction)....................                49                 6                18                25                 0  ................
    2016 and each year thereafter (15%                      48                 6                18                24                 0  ................
     Reduction).............................
Shallow-water species fishery:
    2013 (Status quo).......................               306               153                34                68                51  ................
    2014 (7% Reduction).....................               282               141                31                63                47  ................
    2015 (12% Reduction)....................               270               135                30                60                45  ................
    2016 and each year thereafter (15%                     261               130                29                58                44  ................
     Reduction).............................
Undesignated by species fishery:
    2013 (Status quo).......................                62  ................  ................  ................  ................                62
    2014 (7% Reduction).....................                57  ................  ................  ................  ................                57
    2015 (12% Reduction)....................                54  ................  ................  ................  ................                54
    2016 and each year thereafter (15%                      52  ................  ................  ................  ................                52
     Reduction).............................
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    In recent years, non-exempt AFA catcher vessels have been the most 
active in the shallow-water fishery, with up to 10 vessels 
participating, particularly in the first, third, and fourth seasons. 
Participation in the deep-water fishery is more limited, with only two 
vessels targeting these fisheries in recent years. Only the deep-water 
fishery exceeded a current seasonal sideboard limit; this happened 
three times from 2003 through April 2012. For this reason, the proposed 
halibut PSC sideboard limit reductions are expected to minimally 
constrain the non-exempt AFA catcher vessels if current fishing 
practices continue. The reductions would still allow the vessels 
subject to these halibut PSC sideboard limits to continue to fish, 
rather than be subject to fishery closures due to reaching the 
decreased halibut PSC limits proposed by this action. Most of the 
participation in the shallow-water fishery occurs in the pollock and 
Pacific cod fisheries. The pollock fishery has relatively low halibut 
PSC use compared to other shallow-water fisheries. A large amount of 
the halibut PSC limit is apportioned to seasons when Pacific cod target 
fishery apportionments are issued, which attempts to match potential 
halibut bycatch needs with the amount of Pacific cod available. In 
addition, given that NMFS is authorized to roll over unused halibut PSC 
sideboard limits for the non-exempt AFA catcher vessel from season to 
season, the proposed reductions appear to pose little constraint for 
these deep-water or shallow-water fisheries. Thus, even with the 
application of the maximum percent reduction considered as part of this 
action (15 percent), the corresponding reductions to the non-exempt AFA 
halibut PSC sideboard limits would still allow the vessels subject to 
these sideboard limits to operate in the deep-water and shallow-water 
fisheries.

Action 4: Adjusting the Accounting for Halibut PSC Sideboard Limits for 
Amendment 80 Vessels, and Halibut PSC Apportionments Used by Trawl 
Vessels From May 15 Through June 30

    This proposed action also includes two management measures that are 
intended to provide relief to trawl sectors that are constrained by 
current regulatory restrictions associated with halibut PSC sideboard 
limits and the segregation of trawl halibut PSC apportionments between 
the deep-water and shallow-water fisheries. These measures would (1) 
allow the Amendment 80 sector to roll over unused halibut PSC sideboard 
limits from one season to the next season, and (2) allow available 
trawl halibut PSC limit apportionments in the second season deep-water 
and shallow-water fisheries to be combined and made available for use 
in either fishery from May 15 through June 30. These management 
measures are meant to help maintain groundfish harvest while minimizing 
halibut bycatch by these sectors to the extent practicable. They also 
are meant to provide additional flexibility as an incentive to 
participate in fisheries at times of the year that may have lower 
halibut PSC rates relative to other times of the year. Both proposed 
measures are described in detail below.

A. Allow the Amendment 80 Sector To Roll Over Unused Halibut PSC 
Sideboard Limits From One Season to the Next Season

    This management measure would allow the Amendment 80 sector to roll 
over unused halibut PSC sideboard limits from one season to the next 
season so that the Amendment 80 sector could maximize their groundfish 
catch by using their reduced halibut PSC sideboard limits more 
efficiently. Non-exempt AFA catcher vessels, Central GOA Rockfish 
Program vessels, and vessels not operating under sideboard limits 
already have this flexibility. Currently, NMFS monitors halibut PSC by 
species fishery and seasons. Regulations at Sec.  679.92(b)(2) prevent 
Amendment 80 vessels from using more

[[Page 57121]]

halibut PSC sideboard limit than is available in each deep-water or 
shallow-water fishery and season. If the Amendment 80 deep-water or 
shallow-water seasonal halibut PSC sideboard limit is reached, then all 
directed fishing for all species in that fishery close in the GOA for 
that season. If an Amendment 80 seasonal halibut PSC sideboard limit is 
exceeded then the amount over the limit is deducted from the next 
season's halibut PSC sideboard limit. NMFS reopens a species fishery in 
the following season with the halibut PSC sideboard limit applicable 
for that season.
    Allowing the Amendment 80 sector to roll over unused halibut PSC 
sideboard limits from one season to the next season may allow for an 
increased availability of halibut PSC sideboard limits in some seasons. 
Any unused seasonal deep-water or shallow-water fishery halibut PSC 
sideboard limit available to roll over to the next season would remain 
in the same fishery category to which the limit was originally assigned 
during the harvest specifications process. This would preclude such 
roll overs from affecting the overall halibut PSC limit seasonal 
apportionments that are established for the GOA trawl sector as whole.
    Table 11 uses data that was presented in the Analysis from the 2009 
through 2010 fishing years to provide an example of how this measure 
would have been applied to the Amendment 80 sector fisheries in those 
years. Table 11 indicates that 132 mt of deep-water fishery and 86 mt 
of shallow-water fishery halibut PSC sideboard limits would have been 
available to roll over during the 2010 fishing year under this proposed 
option. However, the amount of the sideboard limit available to roll 
over from season to season in future years would be reduced under this 
proposed rule with the proposed phase-in of halibut PSC limit 
reductions. Under the 15-percent halibut PSC limit reduction proposed 
in this action, the amount of halibut PSC sideboard limits established 
for the Amendment 80 sector that would have been available for roll 
over in 2010 decreases from 132 mt to 112 mt for the deep-water 
fishery.

Table 11--Amendment 80 Halibut PSC Sideboard Limit (mt) That Would Have Been Available To Roll Over to the Next Season Under This Proposed Action During
                                                             the 2009 and 2010 Fishing Years
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                                                                           5th season
                                               Total sideboard     1st season     2nd season April  3rd season* July     4th season         October 1
                                                available to      January 20 to      1 to July 1    1 to September 1   September 1 to        through
                                                  roll over          April 1                                              October 1        December 31
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
             Deep-water fishery                                                                  2010
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Status Quo..................................               132                13                52                64                 3               N/A
7% Reduction................................               123                12                48                60                 3               N/A
12% Reduction...............................               116                11                46                57                 3               N/A
15% Reduction...............................               112                11                44                55                 3               N/A
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
            Shallow-water fishery                                                                2010
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Status Quo..................................                86                 9                33                29                15               N/A
7% Reduction................................                80                 8                30                27                14               N/A
12% Reduction...............................                75                 8                29                26                13               N/A
15% Reduction...............................                73                 8                28                25                13               N/A
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
             Deep-water fishery                                                                  2009
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Status Quo..................................               135                23                73                36                 3               N/A
7% Reduction................................               126                21                68                34                 3               N/A
12% Reduction...............................               119                20                65                32                 2               N/A
15% Reduction...............................               115                20                62                31                 2               N/A
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
            Shallow-water fishery                                                                2009
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Status Quo..................................                64                 0                20                29                14               N/A
7% Reduction................................                59                 0                19                27                13               N/A
12% Reduction...............................                56                 0                18                25                13               N/A
15% Reduction...............................                54                 0                17                24                12               N/A
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
* Excludes Rockfish Program halibut PSC limit.

    The ability to roll over unused halibut PSC limits from one season 
to the next season would likely benefit the Amendment 80 sector. This 
management measure offers the Amendment 80 sector the ability to more 
efficiently use its halibut PSC sideboard limit. The inability to roll 
over halibut PSC limits from one season to the next season currently 
may create an incentive for the Amendment 80 sector to incur more 
halibut PSC during a given season, absent the flexibility to roll over 
unused limits of the sector's halibut PSC sideboard limit 
apportionments to the next season. The Amendment 80 sector 
traditionally fishes early in the season until the entire halibut PSC 
limit is reached because all trawl sectors are competing with each 
other for groundfish while the halibut PSC limit is available, and 
other sectors' catch could cause the deep-water (primarily) or shallow-
water halibut limit to be reached before the Amendment 80 sector 
reaches its halibut PSC sideboard limit. The Amendment 80 sector's 
current inability to roll over unused halibut PSC, and the race to 
catch as much of their groundfish halibut PSC sideboard limit and non-
sideboarded flatfish species as possible may create economic incentives 
that do not allow the best use of their halibut PSC sideboards. A 
rollover provision may help provide positive incentives to maximize 
Amendment 80 sector groundfish harvests with available halibut PSC. The 
Council included this management measure to the flexibility of proposed 
Measure 1 to provide the Amendment

[[Page 57122]]

80 sector with the ability to respond more efficiently to the proposed 
halibut PSC limit reductions in this proposed rule and other recent 
changes in GOA groundfish management. These changes include the 
regulations implementing Amendment 83 to establish GOA Pacific cod 
sector allocations, and the Central GOA Rockfish Program. The ability 
to roll over seasonal halibut PSC would provide the Amendment 80 sector 
with the opportunity to take advantage of available halibut PSC 
sideboard limits later in the year if halibut PSC is avoided in 
previous seasons. The Amendment 80 sector could develop methods to 
avoid halibut PSC or modify its fishing patterns, which could result in 
more target groundfish catch.
    However, the flexibility to roll over halibut PSC sideboard limits 
to subsequent seasons does not guarantee the halibut PSC limit will be 
available to the Amendment 80 sector for future seasons. Under this 
management measure, all sectors would continue to compete for 
groundfish while the overall trawl halibut PSC limit is available. Use 
of halibut PSC by other non-Amendment 80 trawl vessels could cause the 
deep-water or shallow-water fisheries halibut PSC limit to be reached. 
This would result in a closure for all trawl gear before the Amendment 
80 sector reaches its halibut PSC sideboard limit. Also, it is possible 
that the Amendment 80 sector could reach its halibut PSC sideboard 
limit early in the year, which would reduce the amount of the halibut 
PSC sideboard limit available to roll over to the next season.

B. Combine Management of the Deep-Water and Shallow-Water Halibut PSC 
Limits From May 15 to June 30 To Allow Available Trawl Halibut PSC 
Limit in the Second Season Deep-Water and Shallow-Water Fisheries To Be 
Made Available for Use in Either Fishery Category

    This management measure would allow all GOA trawl participants to 
access remaining halibut PSC limits in either the deep-water fishery or 
shallow-water fishery during the second season from May 15 through June 
30. Currently, NMFS manages the deep-water and shallow-water fishery 
complexes separately in the second season by closing directed fishing 
for the deep-water and shallow-water fishery complexes when the 
respective second season fishery halibut PSC limit is reached. Once a 
particular fishery complex is closed, vessels may not directed fish for 
species in their respective deep-water or shallow-water fishery complex 
until the third season deep-water fishery halibut PSC limit becomes 
available on July 1.
    Historically, the deep-water trawl fishery reached its second 
season halibut PSC limit in April. The shallow-water trawl fishery 
halibut PSC limit has remained untouched in the second season because 
members of the trawl sector have not targeted shallow-water complex 
species due to the low economic value of these species. Combining 
management of the deep-water and shallow-water halibut PSC limits from 
May 15 to June 30 would allow the trawl sector to use remaining second 
season halibut PSC limits in either fishery complex and would provide 
the trawl sector with greater opportunity to fully harvest TAC for more 
economically valuable species.
    Under combined management of halibut PSC limits from May 15 through 
June 30, GOA trawl gear vessels could use halibut PSC limits that 
remain in the deep-water complex or shallow-water complex in either the 
deep-water or shallow-water fisheries. The second season would remain 
open under combined management as long as halibut PSC is available. 
Once the total second season halibut PSC limit is reached, NMFS would 
close all directed fishing for groundfish using trawl gear in the GOA 
until the third season deep-water fishery halibut PSC limit becomes 
available on July 1 (except Rockfish Program cooperative quota and 
vessels directed fishing for pollock using pelagic trawl gear, which 
are exempt from halibut PSC limit closure notices under existing 
regulations at Sec.  679.21(d)(7)(i)). Closure notices would not be 
separately issued to deep-water or shallow-water fisheries, since they 
would be managed as a combined trawl halibut PSC limit from May 15 
through June 30.
    Halibut PSC sideboard limits for the Amendment 80 and AFA vessels 
would continue to be defined for deep-water and shallow-water fisheries 
in the second season. Since shallow-water flatfish is primarily 
targeted by catcher vessels, much of the benefit derived from this 
management measure would result if catcher vessels minimize their use 
of halibut PSC while fishing in the shallow-water fishery. For the 
trawl fleets to benefit from this measure it would be necessary for 
some amount of the shallow-water halibut PSC limit to remain in the 
second season. As currently allowed for other trawl sectors, if the 
Amendment 80 sector were allowed to roll over unused deep-water halibut 
PSC sideboard limit from the first season, as proposed above, then it 
also may benefit from this proposed change.
    After the second season is complete, NMFS would re-specify halibut 
PSC limits for the third season, and would resume separate management 
of halibut PSC limits in the deep-water and shallow-water fishery 
complexes. NMFS would reduce the halibut PSC limit in the third season 
to account for any overage of the original apportionment of deep-water 
or shallow-water halibut PSC limits in the second season. An overage of 
the second season halibut PSC limit would decrease the halibut PSC 
limit available for the third season fisheries.
    For example, the deep-water fishery could close in mid-April 
because it reached that fishery's second season halibut PSC 
apportionment. The shallow-water fishery may have 100 mt of halibut PSC 
limit remaining, which would be available for use by either the deep-
water or shallow-water fishery beginning on May 15 under this 
management measure. In this case, the trawl sector could start fishing 
for deep-water species on May 15 and use the halibut PSC limit of 100 
mt that was available from the shallow-water fishery's seasonal halibut 
PSC apportionment instead of waiting until July 1 for the third season 
deep-water fishery halibut PSC limit to become available. However, if 
the deep-water fishery used this extra amount, NMFS would issue an 
inseason action to reduce the third season deep-water fishery halibut 
PSC limit available on July 1 from 181 mt to 81 mt to account for the 
100 mt used by that fishery during May 15 through June 30. This 
methodology would also apply to the shallow-water fishery's seasonal 
halibut PSC limit. This measure is not expected to result in closure of 
the third season deep-water or shallow-water fisheries based on the 
current halibut PSC seasonal apportionments. If there is unused second 
season halibut PSC limit available after June 30, then it would be 
rolled over to the same species fishery from which it was initially 
assigned (e.g., if 50 mt of halibut PSC derived from the shallow-water 
fishery remained after June 30, that 50 mt would be added to the amount 
available at the start of the third season shallow-water fishery 
halibut PSC limit).
    The Council selected May 15 as the date to remove the deep-water 
and shallow-water restrictions in order to allow for a period without 
potential fishing effort. Historically, the second season deep-water 
fishery has closed during the third week in April. Delaying the re-
opening of the deep-water fishery, even if some amount of the shallow-
water halibut PSC limit was available for the deep-water fishery, may 
provide

[[Page 57123]]

two benefits. First, the groundfish species in the deep-water fishery 
could re-aggregate if they had dispersed during the beginning of the 
second season deep-water fishery. Second, Pacific halibut migrate to 
shallower waters during the spring and summer months. Thus, opening the 
deep-water fishery on May 15 may allow for greater groundfish catch per 
unit of fishing effort (i.e., increased fishing efficiency for target 
species), as well as potentially decreasing halibut bycatch (since 
there has been additional time for halibut to move into shallower 
waters).
    The flexibility created from this management measure could 
potentially provide sectors with the ability to reduce halibut PSC 
rates by fishing at times of the year when halibut PSC rates are lower 
and the halibut PSC limit has not typically been available. Allowing 
fishing during times of lower halibut PSC rates would provide the trawl 
sector with greater opportunity to access groundfish TACs despite the 
reduction in halibut PSC limits. Also, allowing shallow-water fishery 
halibut PSC limits to be used in the deep-water fishery after May 15 
each year during the second season should extend the deep-water fishery 
during that season. Increasing the overall amount of deep-water fishery 
halibut PSC limit available may extend fishing for arrowtooth flounder 
and rex sole for both catcher vessels and catcher/processors.
    The Council considered but rejected an option to account for 
halibut PSC from May 15 through June 30 by deducting the halibut PSC 
from the fishery category where it was initially available. The Council 
rejected this option because NMFS would have been required to revise 
its catch accounting system, and those revisions could have resulted in 
substantial costs to NMFS. Measure 2 as recommended by the Council, and 
proposed in this rule, would not require substantial revisions to NMFS' 
catch accounting system to re-specify halibut PSC limits.

Summary of Regulatory Changes

    This action proposes the following changes to the existing 
regulatory text at 50 CFR part 679:
     Revise Sec.  679.21, prohibited species bycatch 
management, to incorporate explicit annual GOA halibut PSC limits for 
the trawl and hook-and-line fisheries, add the incremental reduction of 
the annual PSC limit over a 3-year period, and provide NMFS the ability 
to re-specify halibut PSC limits in the second season deep-water and 
shallow-water species fishery categories to aggregate available halibut 
PSC limits for use in either fishery.
     Revise Sec.  679.92, Amendment 80 Program halibut PSC use 
caps and sideboard limits, to remove restrictions on the roll over of 
seasonal halibut PSC sideboard limits from one season to the next 
season.
     Revise Table 38 to 50 CFR part 679 to incorporate in this 
table the seasonal halibut PSC sideboard limit roll over provisions 
made in Sec.  679.92.

Classification

    Pursuant to section 304(b) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the NMFS 
Assistant Administrator has determined that this proposed rule is 
consistent with the FMP, other provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, 
and other applicable law, subject to further consideration after public 
comment.
    This proposed rule has been determined to be not significant for 
the purposes of Executive Order (E.O.) 12866.

Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis

    An Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (IRFA) was prepared for 
this action, as required by section 603 of the Regulatory Flexibility 
Act. The IRFA describes the economic impact this proposed rule, if 
adopted, would have on small entities. The IRFA describes the reasons 
why this action is being proposed; the objectives and legal basis for 
the proposed rule; the number of small entities to which the proposed 
rule would apply; any projected reporting, recordkeeping, or other 
compliance requirements of the proposed rule; any overlapping, 
duplicative, or conflicting Federal rules; impacts of the action on 
small entities; and any significant alternatives to the proposed rule 
that would accomplish the stated objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens 
Act, and any other applicable statutes, and would minimize any 
significant adverse impacts of the proposed rule on small entities. 
Descriptions of the proposed action, its purpose, and the legal basis 
are contained earlier in this preamble and are not repeated here. A 
summary of the IRFA follows. A copy of the IRFA is available from NMFS 
(see ADDRESSES).
    On June 20, 2013, the Small Business Administration (SBA) issued a 
final rule revising the small business size standards for several 
industries effective July 22, 2013. 78 FR 37398 (June 20, 2013). The 
rule increased the size standard for Finfish Fishing from $4.0 to 19.0 
million, Shellfish Fishing from $4.0 to 5.0 million, and Other Marine 
Fishing from $4.0 to 7.0 million. Id. at 37400 (Table 1). The new size 
standards were used to prepare the IRFA for this action.

Number and Description of Small Entities Directly Regulated by the 
Proposed Action

    The entities directly regulated by this proposed action are those 
entities that participate in harvesting groundfish from the Federal or 
parallel groundfish fisheries of the GOA with trawl gear or hook-and-
line gear (excluding sablefish). These directly regulated entities 
include the groundfish catcher vessels and groundfish catcher/processor 
vessels active in the GOA. Also considered directly regulated are those 
entities with halibut PSC sideboard limits, which include non-exempt 
AFA catcher vessels that operate in AFA inshore cooperatives, catcher/
processors operating in Amendment 80 cooperatives, and catcher/
processors operating in Central GOA Rockfish Program cooperatives. 
Fishing vessels are considered small entities if their total annual 
gross receipts, from all their activities combined, are less than $19.0 
million. The IRFA estimates the number of harvesting vessels that are 
considered small entities, but these estimates may overstate the number 
of small entities because (1) some vessels may also be active as tender 
vessels in the salmon fishery, fish in areas other than Alaska and the 
West Coast, or generate revenue from other non-fishing sources; and (2) 
all affiliations are not taken into account, especially if the vessel 
has affiliations not tracked in available data (i.e., ownership of 
multiple vessel or affiliation with processors) and may be 
misclassified as a small entity. The Analysis for this proposed action 
identified an estimated 486 total vessels considered directly regulated 
small entities in 2012, the most recent year of available data on the 
size of regulated entities.
    There are 65 Western Alaska communities that work through six non-
profit Community Development Quota (CDQ) groups that are considered 
small entities for Regulatory Flexibility Act purposes. The CDQ groups' 
ownership of harvesting vessels that operate in the GOA means that some 
of the CDQ groups' activities could be directly regulated in the same 
manner as other small entities that own vessels harvesting groundfish 
in the GOA.
    The AFA, Amendment 80, and Central GOA Rockfish fisheries 
cooperatives receive sideboard limits of halibut PSC and are therefore, 
directly regulated. These cooperative entities are structured to 
increase the joint profits to their members. In 2012, there were seven 
inshore AFA cooperatives, two Amendment 80 cooperatives, and two 
Central GOA Rockfish cooperatives that

[[Page 57124]]

are considered large entities for this proposed action.

Impacts of the Action on Small Entities

    This proposed rule is meant to reduce halibut PSC mortality by 
decreasing halibut PSC limits available for use in the GOA groundfish 
fisheries. Publishing the halibut PSC limits in Federal regulation 
would reduce regulatory uncertainty as to what the final halibut PSC 
limit would be each year and may benefit small entities as they plan 
their annual fishing strategy. Any reductions in harvest by groundfish 
harvesters would impact revenue generated from the GOA groundfish 
fisheries. The small entities regulated under this proposed action may 
or may not be constrained by the halibut PSC limit and generate less 
revenue than under the status quo alternative, depending on the halibut 
PSC used in the groundfish fisheries each year. The GOA trawl and hook-
and-line vessels regulated by this action would need to use their 
halibut PSC limits more efficiently to mitigate the impacts of this 
proposed action. The extent to which the regulated fleets are 
successful in limiting halibut PSC use in the near and longer terms 
will determine the constraints this proposed action has on small 
entities. Given variations in the amount of available groundfish 
resources on an annual basis, and the amount of halibut PSC that may be 
used harvesting these resources, the impacts of the alternatives are 
assessed relative to historic rates of halibut PSC use.

Description of Significant Alternatives Considered

    The Council considered an extensive series of alternatives, 
options, and suboptions to reduce halibut PSC limits in the GOA, 
including the ``no action'' alternative. The RIR presents the complete 
set of alternatives (see ADDRESSES). Alternative 1 is Status Quo/No 
Action alternative, which would retain the process of changing GOA 
halibut PSC limits through the annual groundfish harvest specification 
process. Alternative 2 would amend the FMP to remove setting GOA 
halibut PSC limits from the annual harvest specification process and 
instead establish the limits in Federal regulation. Alternative 2 
includes two options. Option 1, Status Quo/No Action would retain the 
existing 1,973 mt trawl and 300 mt hook-and-line gear halibut PSC 
limits provided in the final 2013 and 2014 annual harvest 
specifications for the GOA and place them in Federal regulation. Option 
2 would revise the current GOA halibut PSC limits and write the new 
limits into Federal regulation. Alternative 2, Option 2, contained a 
number of suboptions for the amount of halibut PSC limit reduction by 
trawl and the hook-and-line fisheries, and additional measures. Other 
significant alternatives to the proposed rule that were considered are 
discussed in Section 2.1.4 of the Analysis. The preferred alternative 
includes a suite of options and suboptions that considered a range of 
different halibut PSC limit reductions and modifications to halibut PSC 
sideboard limit management (Alternative 3).
    All of the alternatives and options that were considered, other 
than the Status Quo, including the Council's preferred alternative, 
would implement the halibut PSC limits through Federal regulation to 
reduce uncertainty about the final annual halibut PSC limit, which may 
benefit small entities. Based on the best available scientific data and 
information, none of the alternatives to the preferred alternative 
appear to have the potential to accomplish the stated objectives of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act and other applicable statutes (as reflected in the 
proposed action), while minimizing any significant adverse economic 
impact on small entities beyond those achieved under the proposed 
action. The proposed action would minimize bycatch to the extent 
practicable while providing mechanisms to reduce the impacts on small 
entities in the GOA groundfish fisheries by phasing-in reductions to 
these halibut PSC limit reduction measures over several years and 
establishing other measures described in this proposed rule to ensure 
more efficient use of the available halibut PSC limits.

Recordkeeping and Recording Requirements

    This action does not modify recordkeeping or reporting 
requirements. Federal Rules that may Duplicate, Overlap, or Conflict 
with the Proposed Action.
    The Analysis did not reveal any Federal rules that duplicate, 
overlap, or conflict with the proposed action.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 679

    Alaska, Fisheries, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements.

    Dated: September 9, 2013.
Alan D. Risenhoover,
Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, performing the functions and 
duties of the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, 
National Marine Fisheries Service.

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

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

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

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

0
2. In Sec.  679.21,
0
a. Remove paragraph (d)(2);
0
b. Redesignate paragraphs according to the following table;

------------------------------------------------------------------------
       Redesignate  paragraph                    As paragraph
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                  (d)(4)                               (d)(2)
                  (d)(5)                               (d)(4)
                  (d)(6)                               (d)(5)
                  (d)(7)                               (d)(6)
                  (d)(8)                               (d)(7)
------------------------------------------------------------------------

0
c. Revise newly redesignated paragraphs (d)(2) (d)(4)(iii)(C) and 
(d)(6)(ii);
0
d. Revise paragraphs (d)(1), (d)(3) heading, (d)(3)(i), (d)(3)(ii); and
0
e. Add paragraph (d)(4)(iii)(D) to read as follows:


Sec.  679.21  Prohibited species bycatch management.

* * * * *
    (d) * * *
    (1) Notification and public comment--(i) Proposed and final 
apportionments. NMFS will publish in the Federal Register proposed and 
final apportionments of the halibut PSC limits in paragraphs (d)(2) and 
(3) of this section in the notification required under Sec.  679.20.
    (ii) Modification of apportionments. NMFS, by notification in the 
Federal Register, may change the halibut PSC apportionments during the 
year for which they were specified, based on new information of the 
types set forth in this paragraph (d).
    (iii) Public comment. NMFS will accept public comment on the 
proposed halibut PSC apportionments for a period specified in the 
notice of proposed halibut PSC apportionments published in the Federal 
Register. NMFS will consider comments received on proposed halibut PSC 
apportionments and, after consultation with the Council, will publish 
notification in the Federal

[[Page 57125]]

Register specifying the final halibut PSC apportionments.
    (2) Hook-and-line gear and pot gear annual halibut PSC limit. (i) 
The annual total PSC limit of halibut caught while conducting any hook-
and-line gear fishery for groundfish in the GOA is an amount of halibut 
equivalent to the amount of halibut mortality established for each of 
the fishery categories in paragraphs (d)(2)(i)(A) and (B) of this 
section. The notification at paragraph (d)(1) of this section also may 
specify a halibut PSC limit for the pot gear fisheries.
    (A) Demersal shelf rockfish, Southeast Outside (SEO) District. The 
halibut PSC limit in the demersal shelf rockfish fishery in the SEO 
District is 9 mt.
    (B) Other hook-and-line fishery. The halibut PSC limit in the other 
hook-and-line gear fishery is established according to the provisions 
of paragraphs (d)(2)(iii) and (d)(2)(iv) of this section.
    (ii) Hook-and-line fishery categories. For purposes of apportioning 
the hook-and-line halibut PSC limit among fisheries, the following 
fishery categories are specified and defined in terms of round-weight 
equivalents of those GOA groundfish species for which a TAC has been 
specified under Sec.  679.20.
    (A) Demersal shelf rockfish, SEO District. Fishing with hook-and-
line gear in the SEO District of the Eastern GOA regulatory area during 
any weekly reporting period that results in a retained catch of 
demersal shelf rockfish that is greater than the retained amount of any 
other fishery category defined under this paragraph (d)(2)(ii).
    (B) Other hook-and-line fishery. Fishing with hook-and-line gear 
during any weekly reporting period that results in a retained catch of 
groundfish and is not a demersal shelf rockfish fishery defined under 
paragraph (d)(2)(ii)(A) of this section.
    (iii) Apportionment of the GOA halibut PSC limit among other hook-
and-line catcher vessels and catcher/processors.
    (A) Catcher vessels using hook-and-line gear in the other hook-and-
line fishery will be apportioned part of the GOA halibut PSC limit in 
proportion to the total Western and Central GOA Pacific cod 
allocations, where X is equal to annual TAC, as follows:
[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP17SE13.000

    (B) Catcher/processors using hook-and-line gear in the other hook-
and-line fishery will be apportioned part of the GOA halibut PSC limit 
in proportion to the total Western and Central GOA Pacific cod 
allocations, where X is equal to annual TAC, as follows:
[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP17SE13.001

    (C) No later than November 1, any halibut PSC limit allocated under 
paragraph (d)(2)(ii)(B) of this section not projected by the Regional 
Administrator to be used by one of the hook-and-line sectors during the 
remainder of the fishing year will be made available to the other 
sector.
    (iv) Other hook-and-line fishery annual PSC limit reductions. The 
annual halibut PSC limits established for the other hook-and-line 
fishery under paragraph (d)(2)(iii) of this section are reduced, as 
follows:

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                  Annual PSC limit
                                               percent reduction from
                                               the annual halibut PSC
               Vessel category                limit established under               Effective years
                                                paragraph (d)(2)(iii)
                                                  of this section
                                                     (percent)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
(A) Catcher vessel..........................                        7  2014.
                                                                   12  2015.
                                                                   15  2016 and each year thereafter.
(B) Catcher/processor.......................                        7  2014 and each year thereafter.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    (3) Trawl gear annual halibut PSC limit. (i) The annual total PSC 
limit of halibut caught while conducting any trawl gear fishery for 
groundfish in the GOA is an amount of halibut equivalent to 1,973 mt of 
halibut mortality. This amount is reduced as follows:

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                               Annual trawl gear PSC
       Percent reduction from 1,973 mt             limit (mt) \1\                   Effective years
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
7...........................................                    1,848  2014.
12..........................................                    1,759  2015.

[[Page 57126]]

 
15..........................................                    1,705  2016 and each year thereafter.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ This amount maintains the 191 mt annual allocation to the Rockfish Program (see Table 28d to this part) from
  the 1,973 mt halibut PSC limit, while reducing the remainder of the annual trawl gear halibut PSC limit by the
  percentage listed in the first column.

    (ii) PSC allowance. The halibut PSC limit specified for vessels 
using trawl gear may be further apportioned as PSC allowances to the 
fishery categories listed in paragraph (d)(3)(iii) of this section, 
based on each category's proportional share of the anticipated halibut 
PSC mortality during a fishing year and the need to optimize the amount 
of total groundfish harvest under the halibut PSC limit. The sum of all 
PSC allowances will equal the halibut PSC limit established under 
paragraph (d)(3)(i) of this section.
* * * * *
    (4) * * *
    (iii) * * *
    (C) The amount of unused halibut PSC not reapportioned under the 
provisions described in Sec.  679.21(d)(4)(iii)(B) will not be 
available for use as halibut PSC by any person for the remainder of 
that calendar year.
    (D) Combined management of trawl halibut PSC limits from May 15 
through June 30. NMFS will combine management of available trawl 
halibut PSC limits in the second season deep-water and shallow-water 
species fishery categories for use in either fishery from May 15 
through June 30 during the current fishery year. Halibut PSC sideboard 
limits for the Amendment 80 and AFA sectors will continue to be defined 
as deep-water and shallow-water species fisheries from May 15 through 
June 30. NMFS will re-apportion the halibut PSC limit between the deep-
water and shallow-water species fisheries after June 30 to account for 
actual halibut PSC use by each fishery category during May 15 through 
June 30. The Regional Administrator will issue a Federal Register 
notice to reapportion the amounts of trawl halibut PSC to each species 
fishery category.
* * * * *
    (6) * * *
    (ii) Hook-and-line fisheries. If, during the fishing year, the 
Regional Administrator determines that U.S. fishing vessels 
participating in any of the three hook-and-line gear and operational 
type fishery categories listed under paragraph (d)(2) of this section 
will catch the halibut PSC allowance, or apportionments thereof, 
specified for that fishery category under paragraph (d)(1) of this 
section, NMFS will publish notification in the Federal Register closing 
the entire GOA or the applicable regulatory area, district, or 
operation type to directed fishing with hook-and-line gear for each 
species and/or species group that composes that fishing category.
* * * * *
0
3. In Sec.  679.92, revise paragraph (b)(2) to read as follows:


Sec.  679.92  Amendment 80 Program use caps and sideboard limits.

* * * * *
    (b) * * *
    (2) GOA halibut PSC sideboard limits. All Amendment 80 vessels, 
other than the fishing vessel GOLDEN FLEECE as specified in paragraph 
(d) of this section, may not use halibut PSC in the fishery categories 
and management areas, greater than the amounts specified in Table 38 to 
this part during January 1 through December 31 of each year. Any 
residual amount of a seasonal sideboard halibut PSC limit may carry 
forward to the next season limit. This restriction on halibut PSC usage 
does not apply to the following two exceptions:
* * * * *
0
4. Revise Table 38 to 50 CFR part 679 to read as follows:

       Table 38 to Part 679--GOA Amendment 80 Sideboard Limit for Halibut PSC for the Amendment 80 Sector
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                  The maximum percentage of the total GOA halibut PSC limit that
                                                   may be used by all Amendment 80 qualified vessels subject to
                                                     the halibut PSC sideboard limit as those seasons \1\ are
                  In the . . .                      established in the annual harvest specifications is . . .
                                                ----------------------------------------------------------------
                                                   Season 1     Season 2     Season 3     Season 4     Season 5
                                                  (percent)    (percent)    (percent)    (percent)    (percent)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Shallow-water species fishery as defined in             0.48         1.89         1.46         0.74         2.27
 Sec.   679.21(d)(3)(iii)(A) in the GOA or
 adjacent waters open by the State of Alaska
 for which it adopts a Federal fishing season..
Deep-water species fishery as defined in Sec.           1.15        10.72         5.21         0.14         3.71
 679.21(d)(3)(iii)(B) in the GOA or adjacent
 waters open by the State of Alaska for which
 it adopts a Federal fishing season............
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Any residual amount of a seasonal sideboard halibut PSC limit may carry forward to the next season limit
  (see Sec.   679.92(b)(2)).

[FR Doc. 2013-22362 Filed 9-16-13; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P