[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 189 (Monday, September 30, 2013)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 59908-59910]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-23770]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 679

RIN 0648-BC73


Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone Off Alaska; Bering Sea 
and Aleutian Islands Management Area; Amendment 99

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

ACTION: Notice of availability of fishery management plan amendment; 
request for comments.

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SUMMARY: The North Pacific Fishery Management Council submitted 
Amendment 99 to the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the 
Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Management Area (BSAI FMP) to NMFS for 
review. If approved, Amendment 99 would enable the holders of license 
limitation program (LLP) licenses authorizing a designated vessel to 
catch and process Pacific cod in the BSAI hook-and-line fisheries to 
use newly built or existing vessels that are not eligible under current 
vessel length and capacity restrictions. This action is necessary to 
promote safety-at-sea by encouraging the replacement of older vessels 
with newer and more efficient vessels that are able to meet modern 
vessel safety standards. This action is intended to facilitate the 
increased retention and utilization of groundfish by allowing sector 
participants to use larger vessels with increased processing and hold 
capabilities. This action is intended to promote the goals and 
objectives of the FMP, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and 
Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), and other applicable laws.

DATES: Comments on the amendment must be received on or before November 
29, 2013.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2012-0220, 
by any of the following methods:
     Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public 
comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Go to www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2012-0220, click the ``Comment Now!'' icon, 
complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments
     Mail: Address 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, etc.), confidential business 
information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily 
by the sender will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous 
comments (enter ``N/A'' in the required fields if you wish to remain 
anonymous). Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in 
Microsoft Word, Excel, or Adobe PDF file formats only.
    Electronic copies of the Regulatory Impact Review (RIR) and the 
Categorical Exclusion prepared for this proposed action may be obtained 
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 Alaska Region and by email to 
[email protected] or fax to (202) 395-7285.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Seanbob Kelly, 907-586-7228.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation 
and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) requires that each regional 
fishery management council submit any fishery management plan amendment 
it prepares to NMFS for review and approval, disapproval, or partial 
approval by the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary). The Magnuson-Stevens 
Act also requires that NMFS, upon receiving a fishery management plan 
amendment, immediately publish a notice in the Federal Register 
announcing that the amendment is available for public review and 
comment. This notice announces that proposed Amendment 99 to the FMP is 
available for public review and comment.
    NMFS manages the U.S. groundfish fisheries of the Exclusive 
Economic Zone (EEZ) off Alaska under the Fishery Management Plan for 
Groundfish of the Gulf of Alaska (GOA FMP) and the BSAI FMP. The North 
Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) prepared the GOA FMP and 
BSAI FMP pursuant to the Magnuson-Stevens Act and other applicable 
laws.
    Amendment 99 would make three substantive changes to the FMP to: 
(1) Increase the maximum length overall (MLOA) to 220 feet (67 m) on 
LLP licenses authorizing vessels to catch and process Pacific cod with 
hook-and-line gear in the BSAI; (2) allow holders of LLP licenses 
authorized to catch and process Pacific cod with hook-and-line and pot 
gear in the BSAI to increase the MLOA on the LLP license to 220 feet 
(67 m) only if the pot gear endorsement is surrendered within a 
specific time frame; and (3) allow vessels that catch and process 
Pacific cod with hook-and-line in the BSAI to exceed length, tonnage, 
and power limits established under the American Fisheries Act (AFA).

The LLP and BSAI Longline Catcher Processor Subsector

    Under the LLP, which was implemented by NMFS on January 1, 2000 (63 
FR 52642, October 1, 1998), an LLP license is required for all vessels 
directed fishing for groundfish in the BSAI and GOA, with limited 
exemptions for smaller vessels and vessels using a limited amount of 
jig gear. Directed fishing is defined in regulations at Sec.  679.2. 
For a vessel designated on an LLP license, the LLP license authorizes 
the type of fishing gear that may be used by the vessel, the maximum 
size of the vessel, and whether the vessel may catch and process fish 
at sea or if it is limited to delivering catch without at-sea 
processing. LLP licenses specify the MLOA of the vessel to which that 
LLP license may be assigned. Participants in LLP groundfish fisheries 
are prohibited from using a vessel to fish for LLP

[[Page 59909]]

groundfish that has a length overall (LOA) that is greater than the 
MLOA specified on the LLP license.
    The LLP also includes a species endorsement for Pacific cod in the 
BSAI (67 FR 18129, April 15, 2002) and GOA (76 FR 15826, March 22, 
2011). A vessel subject to the LLP requirements can directed fish for 
Pacific cod in the BSAI or GOA only if the vessel is designated on an 
LLP license that has this specific endorsement. The LLP Pacific cod 
endorsement requirement has, in effect, limited the number of vessels 
that are eligible to fish for Pacific cod in the BSAI and GOA. For 
example, under existing LLP regulations, the vessels currently used to 
directed fish for Pacific cod in the BSAI using hook-and-line gear and 
process that catch at sea must be assigned an LLP license with a BSAI 
Pacific cod hook-and-line C/P endorsement. Public Law 108-447, 118 
Stat. 2887, Dec. 8, 2004, at section 219(a)(6), defines the term 
``longline catcher processor subsector'' as ``the holders of an LLP 
license that is noninterim and transferable, or that is interim and 
subsequently becomes noninterim and transferable, and that is endorsed 
for Bering Sea or Aleutian Islands catcher processor fishing activity, 
C/P, Pcod [Pacific cod], hook and line gear.'' There are 36 LLP 
licenses that meet the eligibility criteria for the BSAI longline C/P 
subsector as defined in section 219(a)(6).
    The vessels used in the BSAI longline C/P subsector fisheries range 
in length from 107 feet (32.6 m) to 180 feet (54.8 m) length overall 
(LOA). The average age of the vessels in this fleet is approximately 40 
years, and 30 percent were built before 1946. Production capacity and 
efficiency for BSAI longline C/P subsector vessels are directly related 
to vessel length and overall vessel design. For example, larger vessels 
in the fleet can accommodate larger freezer holds that allow vessels to 
stay at sea for longer periods. Larger C/Ps also can facilitate 
increased retention and utilization of target species by enabling 
vessel owners to use additional processing lines for ancillary 
products.
    Vessels eligible to participate in the BSAI longline C/P subsector 
primarily target Pacific cod in the BSAI, but many also participate in 
Greenland turbot and sablefish fisheries in the BSAI, as well as 
Pacific cod fisheries in the GOA. In addition, vessels using longline 
gear retain incidentally caught species such as skates, rockfish, 
arrowtooth flounder, and pollock.
    Three of the 36 LLP licenses that authorize participation in the 
BSAI longline C/P subsector also authorize participation in the BSAI 
Pacific cod fisheries with a C/P using pot gear; of these three 
licenses, only one is also endorsed to authorize participation in the 
Western GOA Pacific cod fishery with a C/P using pot gear. Vessels 
named on these three LLP licenses may elect to participate in either 
the longline or pot C/P sector in the BSAI Pacific cod fishery, or the 
vessel may participate in both sectors.
    The Council and NMFS annually establish total allowable catch (TAC) 
limits for Pacific cod and other groundfish targeted by C/Ps using 
hook-and-line gear in the BSAI and the GOA. In 2007, Amendment 85 to 
the BSAI FMP modified the allocations of the annual BSAI Pacific cod 
TAC among various harvest sectors as seasonal apportionments (72 FR 
50788, September 4, 2007). The BSAI longline C/P subsector receives an 
allocation of the annual Pacific cod TAC. Amendment 85 also limited the 
amount of halibut to be used as prohibited species catch (PSC) in the 
Pacific cod fishery. Halibut is incidentally caught by vessels using 
hook-and-line gear. The halibut PSC limit ensures that total incidental 
mortality of halibut does not exceed a specified limit while at the 
same time allowing participants to conduct their target fisheries. Once 
this halibut PSC limit is reached, NMFS closes directed fishing for 
groundfish that take halibut. This halibut PSC limit constrains the 
BSAI longline C/P subsector in the Pacific cod and other groundfish 
fisheries.
    Amendment 83 to the GOA FMP established specific allocations of 
Pacific cod in the GOA similar to those in the BSAI (76 FR 74670, 
December 1, 2011). Under Amendment 83, the hook-and-line C/P sector 
receives an allocation of the annual Pacific cod TAC in the Western and 
Central GOA. The hook-and-line C/P sector is also allocated a limited 
amount of halibut for use as PSC in the Western and Central GOA Pacific 
cod fisheries.
    In addition to the constraints on Pacific cod allocations and 
halibut PSC limits implemented under regulations for Amendment 85 to 
the BSAI FMP and Amendment 83 to the GOA FMP, the BSAI longline C/P 
subsector has developed private contractual arrangements to limit 
Pacific cod and halibut PSC use in the BSAI, effectively establishing a 
de facto limited access program. Congress' definition of the BSAI 
longline C/P subsector and the allocation of BSAI Pacific cod and 
halibut PSC specifically to the BSAI longline C/P subsector encouraged 
holders of eligible LLP licenses to form a voluntary cooperative and 
divide the Pacific cod and halibut PSC allocations among its members. 
Cooperatives allow multiple quota recipients to aggregate their annual 
quota amounts, coordinate their collective fishing operations, and 
benefit from the resulting efficiencies.

Amendment 99 to the FMP

    The Council and NMFS recognize that the existing regulatory and 
statutory vessel capacity restrictions provide a disincentive for 
owners to rebuild or replace their vessels with larger, more efficient 
and safer vessels. The Council recommended Amendment 99 in October 
2012. Amendment 99 is intended to promote the sustainable harvest of 
groundfish, especially Pacific cod in the BSAI and GOA, by removing 
disincentives for owners of vessels to rebuild or replace their vessels 
with larger vessels. To the extent that the vessel owners exercise the 
vessel replacement opportunity provided in this proposed action, it 
would promote efficient utilization of the Pacific cod resource in the 
BSAI and GOA. The proposed action would also promote safety-at-sea by 
allowing vessel owners to replace existing vessels with newer vessels 
that can accommodate improved safety features and minimize the risks 
faced by crew members.
    Amendment 99 would increase the MLOA to 220 feet (67 m) on LLP 
licenses authorizing vessels to catch and process Pacific cod with 
hook-and-line gear in the BSAI for all LLP licenses not also endorsed 
for pot gear. The Council determined that establishing a uniform 220-
foot (67 m) MLOA for all eligible LLP licenses would encourage LLP 
license holders in the BSAI longline C/P subsector to replace aging 
vessels with newer, safer, and more efficient vessels. The Council 
considered several size limits, including no size limit, and other 
variable rate and fixed-length increases to vessel size prior to 
recommending Amendment 99. The Council received public testimony that a 
220-foot (67 m) MLOA would provide adequate incentives to meet the 
Council's objectives for this action and would likely allow vessel 
owners to replace vessels with new vessels that could accommodate 
improved efficiency and safety design. This testimony is supported by 
the RIR prepared for this action, which describes that processing 
capacity constraints likely limit the size of vessels used in the BSAI 
longline C/P subsector to 220 feet (67 m) or less.
    Amendment 99 would allow LLP license holders holding a license 
authorized to catch and process Pacific cod with hook-and-line and pot 
gear in the BSAI to increase the MLOA on the

[[Page 59910]]

LLP license to 220 feet (67 m) only if any Pacific cod pot gear 
endorsements are surrendered within a specific time frame. In 
recommending Amendment 99, the Council recognized that allowing holders 
of LLP licenses with Pacific cod pot gear C/P endorsements to designate 
larger vessels on those LLP licenses could increase vessel capacity in 
the pot gear C/P fisheries and allow these participants to harvest a 
greater proportion of the GOA Pacific cod sector allocation relative to 
their historical catch. This increased capacity could negatively impact 
historical participants in the Pacific cod pot fisheries. Under 
proposed Amendment 99, holders of the BSAI longline C/P subsector LLP 
licenses with Pacific cod pot gear C/P endorsements for the BSAI, GOA, 
or both could either surrender the Pacific cod pot gear C/P 
endorsements and a be assigned a 220-foot (67 m) MLOA on the LLP 
license or retain the Pacific cod pot gear C/P endorsements and the 
current MLOA on the LLP license would continue to apply. LLP license 
holders would have 36 months after the effective date of a final rule 
to implement Amendment 99, if approved, to surrender all Pacific cod 
pot gear endorsements by requesting that NMFS permanently remove and 
extinguish all Pacific cod pot gear C/P endorsements specified on the 
LLP license. If the LLP holder submits a timely written request to 
remove and extinguish all Pacific cod pot gear C/P endorsements 
specified on the LLP license, NMFS will assign a 220-foot (67 m) MLOA 
on that license. If an LLP holder does not notify NMFS of their 
election to surrender the Pacific cod pot gear C/P endorsement within 
the 36-month time frame, the current MLOA and Pacific cod hook-and-line 
and pot gear C/P endorsements would be retained on the LLP license.
    Amendment 99, if approved, is also intended to demonstrate to the 
United States Maritime Administration (MARAD) that the Council 
recommended and NMFS approved conservation and management measures 
allowing vessels that exceed the limits set forth in 46 U.S.C. 12113 to 
participate in certain North Pacific fisheries under the Council's 
jurisdiction and therefore are eligible to receive a certificate of 
documentation. If the Secretary approves Amendment 99 and issues a 
final rule to implement Amendment 99, NMFS will notify MARAD that any 
vessel named on an LLP license endorsed for participation in the BSAI 
longline C/P subsector, which is greater than 165 feet in registered 
length, of more than 750 gross registered tons, or that has an engine 
or engines capable of producing a total of more than 3,000 shaft 
horsepower, is authorized for use in the EEZ under the jurisdiction of 
the Council, and is eligible to receive a certificate of documentation 
consistent with 46 U.S.C. 12113(d) and MARAD regulations at 46 CFR 
356.47.
    NMFS does not expect Amendment 99 to increase the fishing 
operations of C/Ps using hook-and-line gear in the BSAI or GOA. 
Management constraints such as Pacific cod species endorsements on LLP 
licenses, sector allocations for Pacific cod in the BSAI and GOA, and 
halibut PSC limits in the BSAI and GOA limit the ability of vessels on 
which these LLP licenses are used to expand their overall fishing 
operations in groundfish fisheries. These management measures in the 
BSAI and GOA provide an overall limit to the Pacific cod catch by 
vessels in this subsector, thereby limiting the potential for the BSAI 
longline C/P subsector to compete with other fishery participants.
    This action would not change how groundfish stocks are assessed or 
modify the harvest specifications process currently used to establish 
harvest limits and PSC limits. Instead, Amendment 99 would promote the 
achievement of optimum yield by providing the BSAI longline C/P 
subsector with the ability to increase retention and utilization of 
harvested fish by replacing their aging vessels with newer vessels that 
are capable of incorporating additional processing lines and processing 
equipment, which are designed to increase overall daily throughput and 
retention rates.
    Public comments are solicited on proposed Amendment 99 to the FMP 
through the end of the comment period (see DATES). NMFS intends to 
publish in the Federal Register and seek public comment on a proposed 
rule that would implement Amendment 99, following NMFS' evaluation of 
the proposed rule under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Public comments on 
the proposed rule must be received by the end of the comment period on 
Amendment 99 to be considered in the approval/disapproval decision on 
Amendment 99. All comments received by the end of the comment period on 
Amendment 99, whether specifically directed to the FMP amendment or the 
proposed rule, will be considered in the FMP amendment approval/
disapproval decision. Comments received after that date will not be 
considered in the approval/disapproval decision on the amendment. To be 
considered, comments must be received, not just postmarked or otherwise 
transmitted, by the last day of the comment period.

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

    Dated: September 25, 2013.
Kelly Denit,
Acting Deputy Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National 
Marine Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2013-23770 Filed 9-27-13; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P