[Federal Register Volume 83, Number 202 (Thursday, October 18, 2018)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 52760-52767]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2018-22687]



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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE



National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration



15 CFR Part 902



50 CFR Parts 300 and 679



[Docket No. 170626590-8785-02]

RIN 0648-BG94




Fisheries of the Exclusive Economic Zone off Alaska; Pacific 

Halibut and Sablefish Individual Fishing Quota Program; Community 

Development Quota Program; Modifications to Recordkeeping and Reporting 

Requirements



AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and 

Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.



ACTION: Final rule.



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SUMMARY: NMFS issues a final rule that modifies regulations governing 

the Halibut and Sablefish Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) Program. This 

rule includes three actions. The first action allows Western Alaska 

Community Development Quota (CDQ) groups to lease (to receive by 

transfer) halibut IFQ in IFQ regulatory areas 4B, 4C, and 4D in years 

of extremely low halibut commercial catch limits. This action is 

necessary to provide additional harvest opportunities to CDQ groups and 

community residents, and provide IFQ holders with the opportunity to 

receive value for their IFQ when the halibut commercial catch limits 

may not be large enough to provide for an economically viable fishery 

for IFQ holders. The second action removes an obsolete reference in the 

IFQ Program regulations. The third action clarifies IFQ vessel use cap 

regulations. This final rule is intended to promote the goals and 

objectives of the Northern Pacific Halibut Act of 1982 (Halibut Act), 

the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-

Stevens Act), the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Groundfish of the 

Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) Management Area, and other 

applicable laws.



DATES: This rule is effective on November 19, 2018.



ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of the Regulatory Impact Review (Analysis) 

prepared for this action are available from http://www.regulations.gov 

or from the NMFS Alaska Region website at http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov.

    Written comments regarding the burden-hour estimates or other 

aspects of the collection-of-information requirements contained in this 

final rule may be submitted by mail to NMFS, Alaska Region, P.O. Box 

21668, Juneau, AK 99082-1668, Attn: Ellen Sebastian, Records Officer; 

in person at NMFS, Alaska Region, 709 West 9th Street, Room 420A, 

Juneau, AK; and by email to OIRA_Submission@omb.eop.gov or by fax to 

(202) 395-5806.



FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Stephanie Warpinski, (907) 586-7228.



SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:



Authority for Action



    The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) and NMFS manage 

fishing for Pacific halibut through regulations established under the 

authority of the Halibut Act. The IPHC promulgates regulations 

governing the halibut fishery under the Convention between the United 

States and Canada for the Preservation of the Halibut Fishery of the 

Northern Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea (Convention). The IPHC's 

regulations are subject to approval by the Secretary of State with the 

concurrence of the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary). NMFS publishes 

the IPHC's regulations as annual management measures pursuant to 50 CFR 

300.62.

    The Halibut Act, at sections 773c(a) and (b), provides the 

Secretary with general responsibility to carry out the Convention and 

the Halibut Act. The Halibut Act, at section 773c(c), also provides the 

North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) with authority to 

develop regulations, including limited access regulations, that are in 

addition to, and not in



[[Page 52761]]



conflict with, approved IPHC regulations. Regulations developed by the 

Council may be implemented by NMFS only after approval by the 

Secretary.

    The Council developed the IFQ Program for the commercial halibut 

and sablefish fisheries. The IFQ Program for the halibut fishery is 

implemented by Federal regulations at 50 CFR part 679 under the 

authority of section 773 of the Halibut Act. The IFQ Program for the 

sablefish fishery is implemented by the BSAI FMP and Federal 

regulations at 50 CFR part 679 under the authority of section 303(b) of 

the Magnuson-Stevens Act.



Background



    On February 23, 2018, NMFS published a proposed rule (83 FR 8028) 

and invited public comment. The following summarizes the IFQ Program, 

the CDQ Program, the need for this final rule, and the anticipated 

effects of the final rule. Additional detail about the action is 

provided in the preamble of the proposed rule and in the Analysis.



The IFQ Program



    The IFQ Program for the management of the fixed gear (hook-and-line 

and pot gear) halibut and sablefish fisheries off Alaska was 

implemented by NMFS in 1995 (58 FR 59375, November 9, 1993). A central 

objective of the IFQ Program is to support the social and economic 

character of the fisheries and the coastal fishing communities where 

many of these fisheries are based. A detailed description of the IFQ 

Program can be found in the proposed rule for this action (83 FR 8028, 

February 23, 2018) and the Analysis.

    Under the IFQ Program, access to the fixed gear sablefish and 

halibut fisheries is limited to those persons holding quota share (QS). 

QS is an exclusive, revocable privilege that allows the holder to 

harvest a specific percentage of either the total allowable catch (TAC) 

in the sablefish fishery or the annual commercial catch limit in the 

halibut fishery. QS is designated for specific geographic areas of 

harvest, a specific vessel operation type (catcher vessel or catcher/

processor), and for a specific range of vessel sizes that may be used 

to harvest the sablefish or halibut (vessel category).

    This final rule uses the term ``Area'' to refer to a specific IFQ 

regulatory area. The IFQ Program designates four vessel categories of 

halibut QS: Category A shares designated for catcher/processors, 

vessels that process their catch at sea, and do not have a vessel 

length restriction; Category B shares designated for catcher vessels 

greater than 60 feet length overall (LOA); Category C shares designated 

for catcher vessels greater than 35 feet but less than or equal to 60 

feet LOA; and Category D shares designated for catcher vessels less 

than or equal to 35 feet LOA.

    NMFS annually issues IFQ permits to each QS holder. An annual IFQ 

permit authorizes the permit holder to harvest a specified amount of 

the IFQ species in a regulatory area from a specific operation type and 

vessel category. The Council and the public frequently use the terms 

``IFQ lease'' or ``lease'' to refer to the transfer of IFQ without a 

transfer of the underlying quota shares (QS). However, NMFS does not 

generally use the term ``lease'' in its IFQ Program regulations 

governing the transfer of IFQ. Therefore, for consistency with the 

terminology used in the existing regulations and for clarity, this rule 

uses the term ``transfer of IFQ.''

    NMFS issues halibut IFQ consistent with the IPHC's regulatory 

areas. NMFS' IFQ regulatory areas (Areas) are defined in 50 CFR part 

679 and described in Figure 15 to part 679 and Section 1.3 of the 

Analysis. The first action in this rule pertains to Areas 4B, 4C, 4D, 

and 4E. Area 4B includes waters in the Central and Western Aleutian 

Islands. Areas 4C, 4D, and 4E include waters north of the Aleutian 

Islands, in the Bering Sea, and around the Pribilof Islands. The IPHC 

considers Areas 4C, 4D, and 4E a single stock unit for assessment and 

management purposes, and the combined Areas are referred to as Area 

4CDE in this final rule.

    The commercial catch limits for Areas 4B and 4CDE are allocated 

between two distinct management programs, the CDQ Program and the IFQ 

Program. Throughout the duration of the IFQ Program, the Area 4E 

commercial catch limit has been exclusively allocated to the CDQ 

Program; therefore, no Area 4E QS or IFQ is allocated.

    Overall, the halibut IFQ commercial catch limits in Areas 4B and 

4CDE have trended downward over the past 15 years (see Section 3.6.1 of 

the Analysis). The Area 4B commercial catch limit has dropped 

substantially from 2001 to 2015. In 2015, the Area 4B commercial catch 

limit for IFQ was less than a quarter of what it was in 2001. The 

combined commercial catch limit for IFQ in Areas 4C and 4D has seen 

more fluctuation during this period, but has still experienced an 

overall downward trend since 2007. In 2007, the combined commercial 

catch limit for IFQ in Areas 4C and 4D was about 2.2 million pounds; in 

2015, it was about 0.7 million pounds.



The CDQ Program



    The CDQ Program was implemented in 1992, and in 1996, the Magnuson-

Stevens Act was amended to include provisions specific to the CDQ 

Program. The purposes of the CDQ Program are (1) to provide eligible 

western Alaska villages with the opportunity to participate and invest 

in fisheries in the BSAI management area; (2) to support economic 

development in western Alaska; (3) to alleviate poverty and provide 

economic and social benefits for residents of western Alaska; and (4) 

to achieve sustainable and diversified local economies in western 

Alaska (16 U.S.C. 1855(i)(1)(A)).

    The CDQ Program consists of six different non-profit managing 

organizations (CDQ groups) representing different geographical regions 

in Alaska. The CDQ Program receives annual allocations of TAC for a 

variety of commercially valuable species in the BSAI groundfish, crab, 

and halibut fisheries, which are in turn allocated among the CDQ 

groups. Among the species CDQ groups are allocated for commercial 

fishing, Pacific halibut is an important species for community resident 

employment and income. NMFS allocates halibut to CDQ groups for 

commercial fisheries in four Areas: 4B, 4C, 4D, and 4E (see Section 

3.5.1 of the Analysis). See Section 3.5.2 of the Analysis for 

additional detail on the history of the halibut CDQ fishery.

    The resident halibut CDQ fleets and criteria for participation in 

CDQ fisheries vary among the CDQ groups. The resident halibut CDQ 

fleets are impacted by internal economic decisions made by the CDQ 

groups and in the ways the CDQ groups choose to promote economic 

development in their communities. Many of the small boat fishermen in 

CDQ communities are dependent on the halibut fishery (Section 3.5.3 of 

the Analysis).



Need for Action



    The downward trend of halibut commercial catch limits in Areas 4B 

and 4CDE over the past 15 years has been dramatic, with current limits 

significantly lower than those of the recent past years. The recent 

years of low halibut abundance and the resulting low commercial catch 

limits in Areas 4B and 4CDE have made it increasingly difficult for 

most CDQ groups to create a viable commercial halibut fishing 

opportunity for their community residents.

    Under current regulations, CDQ groups cannot receive by transfer 

any IFQ derived from catcher vessel QS. Current regulations also 

prohibit halibut



[[Page 52762]]



QS holders from transferring their IFQ separately from the underlying 

QS except in very narrow, specific situations (see Section 3.7 of the 

Analysis for more information).

    To address these problems, this final rule creates a voluntary 

option for IFQ holders in Areas 4B, 4C, or 4D to temporarily transfer 

their halibut IFQ to a CDQ group in years of extremely low halibut 

abundance. This flexibility allows CDQ groups to expand the fishing 

opportunities for the small boat fleets operating out of the CDQ 

group's communities and provides IFQ holders with the opportunity to 

receive value for their IFQ when extremely low halibut commercial catch 

limits may not be large enough to provide for an economically viable 

fishery for IFQ holders.



This Final Rule and the Anticipated Effects



    This final rule includes three actions. The primary action, Action 

1, creates a voluntary option for an IFQ holder to temporarily transfer 

his or her halibut IFQ to a CDQ group in years of extremely low halibut 

abundance. Actions 2 and 3 make minor regulatory adjustments to remove 

an obsolete reference in the IFQ Program regulations and to clarify IFQ 

vessel use cap regulations, respectively. The following paragraphs 

provide additional detail on the actions.



Action 1



    This final rule (1) defines the halibut commercial catch limits 

under which CDQ groups may receive IFQ by transfer, (2) establishes 

limits on the types and amounts of IFQ that can be transferred, and (3) 

establishes reporting requirements for CDQ groups receiving IFQ by 

transfer. This final rule does not convert transferred IFQ to CDQ. 

Allocations of halibut CDQ will not change under this final rule.

    Under this final rule, CDQ groups may receive transfers of halibut 

catcher vessel IFQ (Categories B, C, and D IFQ) in Areas 4C and 4D when 

the halibut annual commercial catch limit is less than 1.5 million 

pounds in Area 4CDE. CDQ groups may receive transfers of halibut 

catcher vessel IFQ (Categories B, C, and D IFQ) in Area 4B when the 

annual halibut commercial catch limit is less than 1 million pounds in 

Area 4B. IFQ holders may transfer both blocked and unblocked IFQ to CDQ 

groups. This final rule does not revise current regulations that 

authorize an IFQ holder in Areas 4B, 4C and 4D to transfer his or her 

Category A halibut IFQ to any qualified person, including a CDQ group. 

However, as explained later, this rule provides additional harvesting 

flexibility for Category A halibut IFQ transferred to a CDQ group in 

years of extremely low halibut abundance.

    The Council recommended and NMFS is implementing these thresholds 

based on an analysis of commercial catch limits between 2008 and 2017, 

a period of time representing a range of different halibut commercial 

catch limits and decreasing opportunities for CDQ community fishermen. 

The Council considered a range of different commercial catch limit 

thresholds for both Areas 4B and 4CDE before selecting these 

thresholds. The preamble to the proposed rule provides additional 

information on the factors considered by the Council and NMFS (83 FR 

8028, March 26, 2018).

    These thresholds are intended to balance the goal of providing 

additional halibut fishing opportunities for CDQ residents when the 

halibut CDQ allocation alone may not be large enough to sustain small 

vessel resident fisheries, with the need to avoid potential adverse 

distributional impacts on other halibut IFQ users that could result if 

IFQ transfers were permitted without restrictions. These thresholds 

provide the flexibility to transfer halibut IFQ in Areas 4B, 4C, and 4D 

only during worst case scenarios for halibut commercial catch limits in 

these areas (Section 2.3 of the Analysis). For Area 4CDE, the Council 

determined and NMFS agrees that a halibut commercial catch limit below 

1.5 million pounds reflects a worst case scenario for Area 4CDE as it 

represents an extremely low commercial catch limit for these areas. For 

Area 4B, the Council determined and NMFS agrees that a halibut 

commercial catch limit below 1 million pounds, which has not been 

experienced during the last 10 years, reflects a worst case scenario 

for Area 4B as it represents an extremely low commercial catch limit 

for this area.

    This final rule establishes several limits on the catcher vessel 

IFQ that can be transferred while providing some flexibility with 

transferred catcher vessel and catcher/processor IFQ. The rationale for 

the limits can be found in Section 2.2 of the Analysis and in the 

preamble to the proposed rule (83 FR 8028, March 26, 2018). The limits 

are: (1) A CDQ group will be able to receive catcher vessel IFQ by 

transfer only for an area in which it also holds halibut CDQ; (2) no 

vessel greater than 51 feet length overall (LOA) may be used to harvest 

catcher vessel IFQ transferred to a CDQ group; (3) catcher vessel IFQ 

resulting from QS acquired after December 14, 2015, may not be 

transferred to a CDQ group until 3 years after the QS was acquired 

(i.e., a cooling off period); (4) an IFQ holder will not be allowed to 

transfer catcher vessel halibut IFQ to a CDQ group for more than 2 

consecutive years; and (5) in Area 4B, only those QS holders who hold 

fewer than 76,355 QS units specified for Area 4B will be allowed to 

transfer their catcher vessel IFQ to CDQ groups.

    The first limit prevents a CDQ group from receiving catcher vessel 

halibut IFQ by transfer for an area in which that CDQ group does not 

hold halibut CDQ. The Council recommended and NMFS is implementing this 

limit so that any catcher vessel IFQ transferred to a CDQ group is 

available for use in conjunction with halibut CDQ that is issued to a 

CDQ group.

    Additionally, under this final rule at Sec.  679.42(a)(1)(iii), a 

CDQ group that is eligible to receive a transfer of Area 4D catcher 

vessel IFQ will be able to harvest that IFQ, and any Category A IFQ it 

holds, in Area 4E (Section 3.5.2 of the Analysis). This flexibility is 

consistent with section 12(8) of the IPHC annual management measures 

(83 FR 10390, March 9, 2018), which allows Area 4D halibut CDQ to be 

harvested in Area 4E.

    The second limit prohibits the use of vessels greater than 51 feet 

LOA to harvest catcher vessel IFQ that is transferred to a CDQ group. 

The Council recommended and NMFS is implementing this vessel size limit 

because this is the largest size vessel owned by CDQ community 

residents that has landed halibut CDQ during the past 10 years, 2008 

through 2017 (Section 3.5.3 of the Analysis). Current regulations 

provide sufficient flexibility to allow IFQ that could be transferred 

to a CDQ group under this final rule to be fished on a vessel of any 

length up to 51 feet LOA (see Section 2.4 of the Analysis).

    This final rule clarifies that any Area 4D Category A IFQ that is 

held by a CDQ group or transferred to a CDQ group may be fished in Area 

4E by vessels less than or equal to 51 feet LOA when the commercial 

catch limit threshold in Area 4CDE is triggered. This final rule does 

not revise current regulations that authorize Category A IFQ for Areas 

4B, 4C, or 4D to be fished in the corresponding area on a vessel of any 

length.

    Under the third limit, IFQ resulting from QS acquired after 

December 14, 2015, may not be transferred to a CDQ group until 3 years 

after the QS was acquired (i.e., the date NMFS approved the transfer). 

This provision effectively creates a ``cooling off'' period. The 

Council recommended and NMFS is



[[Page 52763]]



implementing this cooling off period to reduce the incentive for 

individuals to acquire QS with the intention of transferring the 

resulting IFQ to CDQ groups rather than fishing the IFQ.

    The fourth limit prohibits an IFQ holder from transferring catcher 

vessel halibut IFQ for a specific IFQ regulatory area to a CDQ group 

for more than two consecutive years. This two-year limit applies to 

calendar years and only to years in which the commercial catch limit is 

below the threshold. Additionally, this limit applies to the transfer 

of any halibut IFQ for a specific area. If an IFQ holder chooses to 

transfer some but not all of his or her IFQ for a particular area 

during a year when the annual commercial catch limit for that area is 

set below the threshold, that transfer will count towards the two-year 

limit. Transfers of IFQ for one area will not affect the ability to 

transfer IFQ for another area. This final rule limits the potential for 

an IFQ holder to continuously transfer IFQ to CDQ groups rather than 

fishing that IFQ or transferring the underlying QS to other new 

entrants in the fishery.

    Under the fifth limit, only catcher vessel QS holders that hold 

fewer than 76,355 QS units specified for Area 4B may transfer their 

catcher vessel IFQ to CDQ groups. NMFS will consider all categories of 

Area 4B QS holdings regardless of blocked or unblocked status. This 

limit ensures that persons holding larger amounts of QS units continue 

to be active fishermen in the Area 4B halibut fishery while providing 

an opportunity for persons holding smaller amounts of QS units to 

transfer catcher vessel IFQ to CDQ groups if the 1 million pound 

commercial catch limit threshold to allow IFQ transfers is met. As 

described in the proposed rule (83 FR 8028, March 26, 2018), this 

limitation applies only for Area 4B to accommodate the specific nature 

of IFQ operations in the remote Aleutian Island communities in Area 4B.

    This final rule establishes a reporting requirement for CDQ groups 

that receive IFQ by transfer. The report is required only for those 

years in which CDQ groups received IFQ by transfer. CDQ groups that 

receive IFQ by transfer will be required to report the annual amount 

and vessel category of Area 4 halibut IFQ transferred to the CDQ group, 

the criteria used to select IFQ holders to transfer Area 4 halibut IFQ 

to the CDQ group, and the criteria used to determine the person(s) 

eligible to fish Area 4 halibut IFQ received by transfer. This report 

will allow the Council, NMFS, and the public to monitor the use of IFQ 

transferred to CDQ groups and provide the Council with information to 

determine whether the use of transferred IFQ is consistent with its 

intent for the action. This final rule requires the report to be 

submitted to NMFS and the Council no later than January 31 of the year 

after the IFQ was transferred to the CDQ group. This deadline is 

consistent with other reports required under the IFQ Program and 

ensures that NMFS and the Council have received the report prior to the 

issuance of IFQ, which typically occurs in mid-February. If a CDQ group 

is required to submit a report and does not do so by the deadline, the 

CDQ group will be ineligible to receive transfers of catcher vessel IFQ 

until the report is submitted.

    Under this final rule, a CDQ group that wants to receive halibut 

IFQ by transfer will make an arrangement with an IFQ holder to transfer 

his or her IFQ. The CDQ group must complete an Application for 

Temporary Transfer of Halibut and Sablefish IFQ and submit the 

application to NMFS for approval. Once approved, NMFS will issue the 

CDQ group an IFQ permit with the pounds of halibut IFQ that will be 

available to be fished. After determining who will fish the halibut 

IFQ, the CDQ group with the IFQ permit must apply to NMFS for a hired 

master permit for the vessel operator designated to fish the halibut 

IFQ. Current regulations authorize a vessel operator to harvest halibut 

IFQ and CDQ on the same fishing trip. A vessel operator harvesting both 

halibut CDQ and IFQ transferred to a CDQ group is required to carry (1) 

a halibut CDQ permit, (2) a CDQ hired master permit, (3) a copy of the 

IFQ permit of the CDQ group, and (4) an IFQ hired master permit. 

Additionally, any vessels fishing halibut IFQ transferred to a CDQ 

group will be subject to the current IFQ vessel use caps under Sec.  

679.42(h)(1). If a vessel harvests both halibut IFQ and CDQ, only the 

halibut IFQ accrues towards, and is subject to, the vessel use cap.

    Halibut that is landed by a vessel operator harvesting CDQ and IFQ 

will be debited off two separate catch limits. Therefore, for purposes 

of catch accounting, participants are required to track what amount of 

halibut harvest is associated with the group's CDQ and what amount is 

associated with the IFQ permit held by the CDQ group. This distinction 

must be recorded on the fish ticket (Section 3.8.11.3 of the Analysis). 

NMFS updated the database that monitors transfers of IFQ between permit 

holders and that is used to issue hired master permits to allow for 

this new type of transfer (see Section 3.8.11.4 of the Analysis).

    Under this final rule, CDQ groups are responsible for cost recovery 

fees based on the amount of IFQ pounds held on the IFQ permit. Section 

304(d)(2)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act obligates NMFS to recover the 

actual costs of management, data collection, and enforcement (direct 

program cost) of the IFQ fisheries. Therefore, NMFS implemented a cost 

recovery fee program for the IFQ fisheries in 2000 (65 FR 14919, March 

20, 2000). While costs specific to the CDQ Program for halibut are 

recoverable through a separate cost recovery program (81 FR 150, 

January 5, 2016), this final rule requires regulatory changes to the 

IFQ transfer and hired master use provisions and therefore constitutes 

a change in management of the IFQ Program. CDQ group participants 

receiving IFQ transfers will be required to pay an IFQ cost recovery 

fee as a portion of the ex-vessel value of their landed halibut.

    Section 8(2) of the IPHC annual management measures (83 FR 10390, 

March 9, 2018) authorizes a vessel operator harvesting halibut CDQ in 

Areas 4D or 4E to retain halibut that are less than the size limit 

established by the IPHC for personal use. Under the status quo, a 

vessel operator harvesting halibut IFQ held by a CDQ group along with 

halibut CDQ may retain halibut less than legal size for personal use. 

Vessel operators harvesting both halibut CDQ and halibut IFQ 

transferred to a CDQ group in Areas 4D or 4E may retain halibut smaller 

in length than the size limit established by the IPHC for personal use 

as specified in section 8 of the IPHC annual management measures. The 

personal use allotment applies to all halibut IFQ transferred to a CDQ 

group under this exemption. Section 8(3) of the IPHC annual management 

measures requires a CDQ group to report on all retained halibut for 

personal use that are smaller than legal size and harvested on behalf 

of a CDQ group.

    This final rule modifies the definition of ``annual commercial 

catch limit'' at 50 CFR 300.61 to include definitions for Areas 3B and 

4A, and for Areas 4B, 4C, 4D, and 4E.

    This final rule modifies Sec.  679.41 to allow transfer of halibut 

IFQ in Areas 4B, 4C, and 4D in years of low halibut commercial catch 

limits in Areas 4B and 4CDE to CDQ groups along with the specific 

conditions under which this transfer activity may occur.

    This final rule adds a reporting requirement under Sec.  

679.5(l)(10) to require a CDQ group to submit a report to NMFS and the 

Council on the criteria it used to select IFQ holders from whom IFQ 

transfers were received, the criteria it used to determine the persons 

who



[[Page 52764]]



could harvest transferred IFQ, and the amount and type of IFQ 

transferred.

    This final rule adds a provision under Sec.  679.42 to allow Area 

4D IFQ that is transferred to a CDQ group to be harvested in Area 4E.



Anticipated Effects of Action 1



    The preamble to the proposed rule describes the anticipated effects 

of Action 1 on CDQ groups, CDQ residents, IFQ holders, and halibut QS 

holders (83 FR 8028, March 26, 2018).

    Overall, this final rule provides IFQ holders and CDQ groups with 

an opportunity to alleviate the adverse economic, social, and cultural 

impacts of extremely low levels of commercial halibut catch limits on 

Western Alaskan communities. This final rule could also provide 

distributional benefits to some processing plants, secondary service 

providers, and communities as a whole. This final rule could benefit 

halibut QS holders in Areas 4B, 4C, and 4D by permitting them to 

transfer their Area 4B, 4C, and 4D halibut IFQ in years of extremely 

low commercial catch limits. This final rule could also result in some 

consolidation of the number of IFQ trips, and could affect the 

decisions of QS holders to transfer their QS if they have the ability 

to transfer their IFQ to CDQ groups. The preamble of the proposed rule 

(83 FR 8028, March 26, 2018) and Section 3.8 of the Analysis have 

additional details on the anticipated effects of Action 1.



Action 2



    This final rule removes an obsolete reference in Sec.  

679.42(a)(2)(i). Currently, this regulation provides an exception to a 

prohibition at Sec.  679.42(a)(2). However, the exception refers to 

Sec.  679.42(k), which was modified in 2008 by the final rule to revise 

regulations governing the use of commercial halibut QS and the 

processing of non-IFQ species when processed halibut is on board a 

vessel (73 FR 8822; February 15, 2008). That final rule removed 

paragraph (k) and re-designated Sec.  679.42(l) as paragraph (k). NMFS 

inadvertently neglected to remove the cross-reference to paragraph (k) 

in Sec.  679.42(a)(2)(i). Therefore, with this final rule, NMFS removes 

the cross-reference to paragraph (k) to clarify that persons possessing 

unused Category B, C, or D halibut QS may be on board a catcher/

processor vessel when that vessel is harvesting and processing Category 

A halibut or sablefish IFQ, or is harvesting and processing non-IFQ 

species. The effects of this action are expected to be minor and 

beneficial by improving the clarity of the regulations.



Action 3



    This final rule clarifies existing regulations pertaining to the 

IFQ vessel limitations, also referred to as the vessel use caps. NMFS 

adds language to Sec.  679.42(h)(1) and (h)(2) to clarify that the 

vessel use caps apply to halibut and sablefish IFQ and not to halibut 

and sablefish CDQ. This action improves the clarity of the regulations 

and helps IFQ and CDQ participants understand the regulations to which 

they are subject. The effects of this action are expected to be minor 

and beneficial by improving the clarity of the regulations.



Comments and Responses



    NMFS received 4 comment letters on the proposed rule. One of the 

comment letters was outside the scope of this action. NMFS has 

summarized and responded to the six unique comments in the remaining 

three comment letters.

    Comment 1: There should not be a transfer of halibut IFQ during 

years of low abundance unless they give back to others during years of 

high abundance. They harvest so much that they caused the low 

abundance.

    Response: NMFS disagrees. Based on the best available scientific 

information from the IPHC, halibut is not considered to be subject to 

overfishing as that term is defined by the IPHC (Section 3.6.1 of 

Analysis). As described in Section 3.6.1 of the Analysis, annual catch 

limits are set in a precautionary manner to achieve optimum yield on a 

continuing basis. As described in the proposed rule and Section 3.6.1 

of the Analysis, this final rule does not increase the overall amount 

of halibut in Areas 4B or 4CDE that is authorized to be harvested on an 

annual basis. The final rule establishes a voluntary program that 

provides participants with an opportunity to utilize available catch to 

mutual benefit during times of low abundance and does not require QS 

holders to transfer IFQ to CDQ groups during times of low abundance or 

require CDQ groups to transfer IFQ back to QS holders during times of 

high abundance.

    Comment 2: This rule allows leasing quota when the fish populations 

are low and it would increase the chance of overfishing the halibut 

stock.

    Response: Annual halibut commercial catch limits are adjusted 

downward with decreasing abundance to protect the stock and prevent 

overfishing. This final rule does not change the process of allocating 

halibut among Areas or the process of establishing halibut commercial 

catch limits, nor will this final rule change specific management 

measures that govern the harvest of halibut in Areas 4B and 4CDE, such 

as fishing location, timing, effort, or authorized gear types. Section 

3.6.1 of the Analysis describes the current status of the halibut stock 

which is not overfished or subject to overfishing. This final rule 

creates an exception to allow CDQ groups to receive IFQ by transfer, 

within the established annual catch limits, in years of low abundance. 

Therefore, this final rule will not increase the chance of overfishing 

of the halibut stock.

    Comment 3: It is worth pausing to remember how bad the old days 

were, prior to implementation of the IFQ program. In order to catch as 

much of the TAC as possible, the industry did not pay attention to the 

environmental impact of its operations, worker safety, and excessive 

bycatch. NOAA is right to continue to refine this outstanding program. 

The proposed rule to allow transfers of IFQ to CDQ groups is well-

written and prevents abuse of the program by ``mailbox-fishermen'' and 

favors the coastal communities.

    Response: NMFS acknowledges this comment.

    Comment 4: If the halibut stock is low enough to trigger this 

flexibility, expanding flexibility will further aggravate the problem 

of an overfished stock. When the stock is low, then everyone should 

suffer, both CDQ fishermen and IFQ fishermen, in order for the stock to 

regenerate.

    Response: NMFS disagrees. Annual halibut commercial catch limits 

are set with precaution and adjusted downward in times of low abundance 

to avoid overfishing. The flexibility provided by this final rule will 

not create an overfished condition or contribute to overfishing. This 

final rule does not modify the methods for apportioning halibut catch 

limits between the CDQ and IFQ Programs. As halibut catch limits 

increase or decrease based on halibut abundance, participants in the 

CDQ and IFQ Programs are not affected any differently under this final 

rule than under current regulations. If the catch limit threshold is 

low enough to trigger the ability for QS holders to transfer their IFQ 

to CDQ groups, then QS holders and CDQ groups benefit from a voluntary 

market transaction. Disapproving this rule would not increase halibut 

abundance. Section 3.8 of the Analysis provides additional detail on 

the anticipated effects of this final rule.

    Comment 5: NMFS should consider setting lease terms for this 

exception because if the cost of the lease is too high, the benefits of 

the proposed rule would be blunted.

    Response: The Council and NMFS did not want to be involved in 

setting lease



[[Page 52765]]



terms, similar to other transfer exceptions in the IFQ Program. The IFQ 

Program relies on market-based values and NMFS anticipates that IFQ and 

CDQ participants would come to a private agreement in this voluntary 

exception. In Section 3.8.7 of the Analysis, NMFS describes the impact 

that the transfer of IFQ (i.e., leasing) could have on QS markets. As 

described in the preamble of this final rule, there are several 

limitations on the transfer of IFQ. These limitations are intended, in 

part, to maintain current fishing business practices and to limit 

potential adverse impacts on a range of participants in the CDQ and IFQ 

Programs. This final rule does not establish additional requirements on 

the specific agreements between QS holders and CDQ groups when 

transferring IFQ because the limitations established by this final rule 

sufficiently constrain the amount of IFQ, the vessel category of IFQ, 

and the specific halibut catch limits conditions in Areas 4B and 4CDE 

IFQ that may be transferred.

    Comment 6: NMFS should terminate the policy to allow unused quota 

to carry over to the next season and instead allow unused quota to 

carry over to the next season only for the purposes of leasing it to 

CDQ groups.

    Response: This final rule does not modify existing regulations that 

allow a QS holder's annual IFQ allocation to be adjusted to cover 

under- or over-harvest from the previous year (see regulations at Sec.  

679.40(d) and (e)). The Council focused on alternatives that would 

allow transfer of IFQ to CDQ groups within the year of low halibut 

commercial catch limits, rather than adjusting over/under harvest rules 

that would apply to the following year when the halibut commercial 

catch limits may not be under the thresholds, as a more direct method 

of addressing the issue.



OMB Revisions to PRA References in 15 CFR 902.1(b)



    Section 3507(c)(B)(i) of the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) requires 

that agencies inventory and display a current control number assigned 

by the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), for each 

agency's information collection. Section 902.1(b) identifies the 

location of NOAA regulations for which OMB approval numbers have been 

issued. Because this final rule adds a new collection-of-information 

for recordkeeping and reporting requirements, 15 CFR 902.1(b) is 

revised to reference correctly the section resulting from this final 

rule.



Changes From the Proposed Rule



    NMFS makes two minor changes to the proposed regulatory text in 

this final rule. First, Sec.  679.5(l)(10) is changed to include the 

words ``and the Council.'' New regulations at Sec.  679.5(w) require a 

CDQ group to submit a report to both NMFS and the Council. Adding this 

language to Sec.  679.5(l)(10) creates consistency between these 

sections. Second, NMFS changes ``halibut IFQ'' to ``IFQ halibut'' in 

Sec.  679.42(h)(1) and ``sablefish IFQ'' to ``IFQ sablefish'' in Sec.  

679.42(h)(2). The proposed changes were intended to refer to the type 

of fish (IFQ halibut and IFQ sablefish defined at Sec.  679.2) that 

will count towards the vessel limits prescribed by these paragraphs 

rather than the type of fishing rights (halibut IFQ and sablefish IFQ).



Classification



    The NMFS Alaska Region Administrator determined that this final 

rule is necessary for the conservation and management of the IFQ 

halibut fishery off Alaska and that it is consistent with the Magnuson-

Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the Halibut Act, and 

other applicable laws.

    Regulations governing the U.S. fisheries for Pacific halibut are 

developed by the IPHC, the Pacific Fishery Management Council, the 

Council, and the Secretary of Commerce. Section 5 of the Northern 

Pacific Halibut Act of 1982 (Halibut Act, 16 U.S.C. 773c) allows the 

Regional Council having authority for a particular geographical area to 

develop regulations governing the allocation and catch of halibut in 

U.S. Convention waters as long as those regulations are in addition to, 

and not in conflict with, IPHC regulations. This final rule is 

consistent with the Council's authority to allocate halibut catches 

among fishery participants in the waters in and off Alaska.

    This final rule has been determined to be not significant for the 

purposes of Executive Order 12866.

    The Chief Counsel for Regulation of the Department of Commerce 

certified to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business 

Administration during the proposed rule stage that this action would 

not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small 

entities. The factual basis for the certification was published in the 

proposed rule and is not repeated here. No comments were received 

regarding this certification or on the economic impacts of the rule 

more generally. As a result, a regulatory flexibility analysis was not 

required, and none was prepared, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 605.



Collection-of-Information Requirements



    This final rule contains collection-of-information requirements 

subject to the PRA, which have been approved by OMB under OMB control 

number 0648-0764. After this final rule's effective date, OMB Control 

Number 0648-0764 will be merged with OMB Control Numbers 0648-0272 and 

0648-0711.

    Public reporting burden is estimated to average per response: 2 

hours for Application for Temporary Transfer of Halibut and Sablefish 

IFQ, 40 hours for the annual report, and 1 minute for electronic 

submission of cost recovery fees or 30 minutes for non-electronic fee 

submission. These estimates include the time for reviewing 

instructions, searching existing data sources, gathering and 

maintaining the data needed, and completing and reviewing the 

collection of information.

    Send comments regarding these burden estimates or any other aspect 

of this data collection, including suggestions for reducing the burden, 

to NMFS (see ADDRESSES), and by email to OIRA_Submission@omb.eop.gov, 

or fax to (202) 395-5806.

    Notwithstanding any other provision of the law, no person is 

required to respond to, nor shall any person be subject to penalty for 

failure to comply with, a collection of information subject to the 

requirement of the PRA, unless that collection of information displays 

a currently valid OMB control number. All currently approved NOAA 

collections of information may be viewed at: http://www.cio.noaa.gov/services_programs/prasubs.html.



List of Subjects



15 CFR Part 902



    Reporting and recordkeeping requirements.



50 CFR Part 300



    Administrative practice and procedure, Fisheries, Fishing, 

Reporting and recordkeeping requirements.



50 CFR Part 679



    Alaska, Fisheries, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements.



    Dated: October 12, 2018.

Samuel D. Rauch III,

Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National Marine 

Fisheries Service.



    For the reasons set out in the preamble, NMFS amends 15 CFR part 

902 and 50 CFR parts 300 and 679 as follows:



[[Page 52766]]



Title 15--Commerce and Foreign Trade



PART 902--NOAA INFORMATION COLLECTION REQUIREMENTS UNDER THE 

PAPERWORK REDUCTION ACT: OMB CONTROL NUMBERS



0

1. The authority citation for part 902 continues to read as follows:



    Authority: 44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq.





0

2. In Sec.  [thinsp]902.1, in the table in paragraph (b), under the 

entry ``50 CFR'', add an entry in alphanumeric order for ``679.5(w)'' 

to read as follows:





Sec.  [thinsp]902.1  OMB control numbers assigned pursuant to the 

Paperwork Reduction Act.



* * * * *

    (b) * * *



------------------------------------------------------------------------

                                                 Current OMB control No.

   CFR part or section where the information     (all numbers begin with

       collection requirement is located                  0648-)

------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

                                * * * * *

50 CFR:

 

                                * * * * *

  679.5(w).....................................                    -0272

 

                                * * * * *

------------------------------------------------------------------------



* * * * *



Title 50--Wildlife and Fisheries



PART 300--INTERNATIONAL FISHERIES REGULATIONS



0

3. The authority for 50 CFR part 300, subpart E, continues to read as 

follows:



    Authority:  16 U.S.C. 773-773k.





0

4. In Sec.  300.61, revise the definition of ``Annual commercial catch 

limit'' to read as follows:





Sec.  300.61  Definitions.



* * * * *

    Annual commercial catch limit, for purposes of commercial fishing 

in:

    (1) Commission regulatory areas 2C and 3A, means the annual 

commercial allocation minus an area-specific estimate of commercial 

halibut wastage.

    (2) Commission regulatory areas 3B and 4A, means the annual total 

allowable halibut removals by persons fishing IFQ.

    (3) Commission regulatory areas 4B, 4C, 4D, and 4E, means the 

annual total allowable halibut removals by persons fishing IFQ and CDQ.

* * * * *



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



0

5. The authority citation for 50 CFR part 679 continues to read as 

follows:



    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 773 et seq.; 1801 et seq.; 3631 et seq.; 

Pub. L. 108-447; Pub. L. 111-281.



0

6. In Sec.  679.5, add paragraphs (l)(10) and (w) to read as follows:





Sec.  679.5   Recordkeeping and reporting.



* * * * *

    (l) * * *

    (10) A report on annual IFQ regulatory areas 4B, 4C, and 4D Halibut 

IFQ transfer activities must be submitted to NMFS and the Council by a 

CDQ group as required at Sec.  679.5(w).

* * * * *

    (w) Report on Area 4 halibut IFQ transfers to CDQ groups--(1) 

Applicability. A CDQ group that receives IFQ regulatory area 4 halibut 

IFQ by transfer must submit a timely and complete report on the CDQ 

group's annual halibut IFQ transfer activities for each calendar year 

that it receives IFQ regulatory area 4 halibut IFQ by transfer. A CDQ 

group is not required to submit a report for any calendar year in which 

it did not receive any IFQ regulatory area 4 halibut IFQ by transfer.

    (2) Time limits and submittal. A CDQ group must submit a complete 

report by January 31 of the year following a fishing year during which 

the CDQ group receives IFQ regulatory area 4B, 4C, or 4D halibut IFQ by 

transfer. The complete report must be submitted to the North Pacific 

Fishery Management Council, 605 West 4th Ave., Suite 306, Anchorage, AK 

99501-2252, and to NMFS-Alaska Regional Administrator, P.O. Box 21668, 

Juneau, AK, 99802-1668.

    (3) Complete report. A complete report contains all report 

requirements described in paragraphs (w)(4)(i) through (w)(4)(iii) of 

this section.

    (4) Report requirements. A CDQ group must report the following 

information:

    (i) The annual amount, IFQ regulatory area, and vessel category of 

IFQ regulatory area 4B, 4C, and 4D halibut IFQ transferred to the CDQ 

group;

    (ii) The criteria used to select IFQ holders to transfer IFQ 

regulatory area 4B, 4C, and 4D halibut IFQ to the CDQ group; and

    (iii) The criteria used to determine the person(s) eligible to 

harvest IFQ regulatory area 4B, 4C, and 4D halibut IFQ received by 

transfer.



0

7. In Sec.  679.41,

0

a. Add paragraph (c)(13);

0

b. Revise paragraphs (d)(1), (g)(1), and (h)(2); and

0

c. Add paragraph (o).

    The additions and revisions read as follows:





Sec.  679.41   Transfer of quota shares and IFQ.



* * * * *

    (c) * * *

    (13) If the person applying to receive halibut IFQ assigned to 

vessel categories B, C, or D in IFQ regulatory areas 4B, 4C, or 4D is a 

CDQ group, the following determinations are required:

    (i) The CDQ group applying to receive halibut IFQ for an IFQ 

regulatory area receives an annual allocation of halibut CDQ for that 

IFQ regulatory area pursuant to Sec.  679.31(b)(1);

    (ii) The QS holder applying to transfer halibut IFQ to a CDQ group 

has not transferred any halibut IFQ assigned to vessel categories B, C, 

or D for that IFQ regulatory area to a CDQ group during the last two 

consecutive fishing years;

    (iii) If the IFQ to be transferred to a CDQ group results from QS 

that was transferred to the QS holder after December 14, 2015, the QS 

holder applying to transfer halibut IFQ to a CDQ group has held the 

underlying QS for that IFQ for a minimum of 3 years from the date NMFS 

approved the transfer;

    (iv) If the IFQ to be transferred to a CDQ group is assigned to 

vessel categories B, C, or D in IFQ regulatory area 4B, the QS holder 

applying to transfer that halibut IFQ to a CDQ group holds fewer than 

76,355 halibut QS units in IFQ regulatory area 4B; and

    (v) The CDQ group applying to receive halibut IFQ has submitted a 

complete report if required to do so by Sec.  679.5(w).

    (d) * * *

    (1) Application for Eligibility. All persons, except as provided in 

paragraphs (d)(1)(i) and (d)(1)(ii) of this section, applying to 

receive QS or IFQ must submit an Application for Eligibility to Receive 

QS/IFQ (Application for Eligibility) containing accurate information to 

the Regional Administrator. The Regional Administrator will not approve 

a transfer of IFQ or QS to a person until the Application for 

Eligibility for that person is approved by the Regional Administrator. 

The Regional Administrator shall provide an Application for Eligibility 

form to any person on request.

    (i) An Application for Eligibility is not required for a CQE if a 

complete application to become a CQE, as described in paragraph (l)(3) 

of this section, has been approved by the Regional Administrator on 

behalf of an eligible community.



[[Page 52767]]



    (ii) An Application for Eligibility is not required for a CDQ 

group.

* * * * *

    (g) * * *

    (1) Except as provided in paragraph (f), paragraph (g)(2), 

paragraph (l), paragraph (n) or paragraph (o) of this section, only 

persons who are IFQ crew members, or who were initially issued QS 

assigned to vessel categories B, C, or D, and meet the eligibility 

requirements in this section, may receive by transfer QS assigned to 

vessel categories B, C, or D, or the IFQ resulting from it.

* * * * *

    (h) * * *

    (2) IFQ resulting from categories B, C, or D QS may not be 

transferred separately from its originating QS, except as provided in 

paragraph (d), paragraph (f), paragraph (k), paragraph (l), paragraph 

(m), or paragraph (o) of this section.

* * * * *

    (o) Transfer of IFQ to CDQ groups. (1) A QS holder who holds fewer 

than 76,355 units of halibut QS in IFQ regulatory area 4B may transfer 

halibut IFQ assigned to vessel categories B, C, or D in IFQ regulatory 

area 4B to a CDQ group that receives an allocation of IFQ regulatory 

area 4B halibut CDQ if the annual commercial halibut catch limit, as 

defined in Sec.  300.61 of this title, for Area 4B is less than 1 

million pounds in that calendar year.

    (2) A QS holder in IFQ regulatory areas 4C or 4D may transfer 

halibut IFQ assigned to vessel categories B, C, or D in IFQ regulatory 

areas 4C or 4D to a CDQ group that receives an allocation of halibut 

CDQ in that IFQ regulatory area if the annual commercial halibut catch 

limit, as defined in Sec.  300.61 of this title, for Area 4CDE is less 

than 1.5 million pounds in that calendar year.

    (3) A QS holder must meet the requirements in paragraph (c)(13) of 

this section to transfer halibut IFQ assigned to vessel categories B, 

C, or D in IFQ regulatory areas 4B, 4C, or 4D to a CDQ group.

    (4) A CDQ group that receives halibut IFQ by transfer may not 

transfer that halibut IFQ to any other person.



0

8. In Sec.  679.42,

0

a. Revise paragraph (a)(1);

0

b. Remove paragraph (a)(2)(i);

0

c. Redesignate paragraphs (a)(2)(ii) through (iv) as paragraphs 

(a)(2)(i) through (iii);

0

d. Add new paragraph (a)(2)(iv); and

0

e. Revise paragraphs (h)(1) introductory text and (h)(2) introductory 

text.

    The revisions and additions read as follows:





Sec.  679.42   Limitations on use of QS and IFQ.



    (a) * * *

    (1) The QS or IFQ specified for one IFQ regulatory area must not be 

used in a different IFQ regulatory area, except for the following:

    (i) All or part of the QS and IFQ specified for regulatory area 4C 

may be harvested in either Area 4C or Area 4D.

    (ii) All or part of the halibut CDQ specified for regulatory area 

4D may be harvested in either Area 4D or Area 4E.

    (iii) If a CDQ group is authorized to receive a transfer of halibut 

IFQ assigned to vessel categories B, C, or D in IFQ regulatory area 4D 

as specified in Sec.  679.41(o) of this part, all or part of the 

halibut IFQ specified for regulatory area 4D that is held by or 

transferred to a CDQ group may be harvested in either Area 4D or Area 

4E.

    (2) * * *

* * * * *

    (iv) Halibut IFQ assigned to vessel category B, C, or D held by a 

CDQ group may not be used on a vessel over 51 feet LOA, irrespective of 

the vessel category assigned to the IFQ.

* * * * *

    (h) * * *

    (1) Halibut. No vessel may be used, during any fishing year, to 

harvest more IFQ halibut than one-half percent of the combined total 

catch limits of halibut for IFQ regulatory areas 2C, 3A, 3B, 4A, 4B, 

4C, 4D, and 4E, except that:

* * * * *

    (2) Sablefish. No vessel may be used, during any fishing year, to 

harvest more IFQ sablefish than one percent of the combined fixed gear 

TAC of sablefish for the GOA and BSAI IFQ regulatory areas, except 

that:

* * * * *

[FR Doc. 2018-22687 Filed 10-17-18; 8:45 am]

 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P