[Federal Register Volume 87, Number 138 (Wednesday, July 20, 2022)]
[Pages 43246-43247]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2022-15512]



National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

[RTID 0648-XC183]

Request for Information on Research in Dedicated Habitat Research 
Areas; Fisheries of the Northeastern United States; Essential Fish 

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

ACTION: Notice; request for information.


SUMMARY: NMFS is requesting information about ongoing and proposed 
research in the Stellwagen and Georges Bank Dedicated Habitat Research 
Areas, which were established in 2018. The regulations require the NMFS 
Regional Administrator to initiate a review, consult with the New 
England Fishery Management Council about, and evaluate the use of the 
Dedicated Habitat Research Areas 3 years after their establishment. 
This action is intended to collect information to support the review of 
the Dedicated Habitat Research Areas and to determine whether they 
should be maintained. Response to this request for information is 

DATES: Interested persons are invited to submit comments on or before 
August 19, 2022.

ADDRESSES: You may submit written comments by the following method:
     Email: [email protected]. Include in the subject line 
``DHRA Research.''

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Laura Deighan, Fishery Management 
Specialist, [email protected], (978) 281-9184.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: In Omnibus Essential Fish Habitat Amendment 
2 (OHA2), the New England Fishery Management Council adopted the 
Stellwagen and Georges Bank Dedicated Habitat Research Areas (DHRA) to 
better understand how habitat management measures influence stock 
productivity and to allow for the design of more effective conservation 
measures in future actions (83 FR 15240; April 9, 2018). The 
regulations at 50 CFR 648.371 codify the Stellwagen DHRA, which 
prohibits fishing with bottom-tending mobile gear, sink gillnet gear, 
or demersal longline gear, unless otherwise exempted, and the Georges 
Bank DHRA, which prohibits bottom-tending mobile gear, unless otherwise 
    The regulations require the NMFS Regional Administrator to initiate 
a review, consult with the New England Fishery Management Council 
about, and evaluate the use of the DRHAs beginning 3 years after their 
establishment to determine if they should be maintained. Criteria used 
to evaluate whether the DHRAs may continue include documented active 
and ongoing research in the form of data records, cruise reports, or 
inventory of samples, approved research proposals, or funding requests 
for pending research. The review is intended to evaluate whether 
appropriate research activities are ongoing or imminent, or if these 
designated areas are unused for their intended purpose of improving 
habitat science. Specific questions NMFS will consider in the 
evaluation include:
     Is there active research being conducted in the DHRA?
     Is it anticipated that it will continue beyond this 
fishing year?
     Is there potential research currently in the permitting 
process at the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office or other 
entities, e.g., Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary?
     Is there potential research currently in the funding 

[[Page 43247]]

     Is there a high likelihood that the project will be 
     Are the fishing restrictions associated with the DHRA 
designation an explicit part of the design of the project?
     Is there potential research [at some other critical stage 
in the idea--funding process]?
    Following the review and evaluation of the DHRAs, including 
information provided through this notice and request, and in 
consultation with the Council, the Regional Administrator will 
determine whether the DHRAs should be maintained or removed. Removal of 
the DHRAs, if warranted, would be completed consistent with the 
Administrative Procedure Act. Additional information and a flowchart 
outlining how these questions should be used in the evaluation process 
can be found on pages 116 and 117 of Volume III of OHA2 (https://www.nefmc.org/library/omnibus-habitat-amendment-2).
    The DHRAs are intended to allow coordinated research and to build 
on past studies and baselines by restricting certain types of fishing 
to create appropriate reference conditions in the research area and 
facilitate scientific study. The DHRAs are set up as general closures 
where project scientists determine study sites and treatments and 
arrange research fishing activity. The DHRAs are intended to provide 
opportunities for addressing the following research topics and 

1. Gear Impacts

    a. How do different types of bottom tending fishing gear (e.g., 
trawl nets, dredges, hook and line, traps, gillnets, longlines) affect 
the susceptibility and recovery of physical and biological 
characteristics of seabed habitat, and how do these impacts 
collectively influence key elements of habitat including spatial 
complexity, functional groups, community state, and recovery rates and 
    b. Are our estimates of gear contact with the bottom accurate? Can 
we develop trawl gear that minimizes contact on the bottom, thereby 
reducing the potential for gear impacts?

2. Habitat Recovery

    a. What recovery models (e.g., successional vs. multiple-stable 
states) are operant in the region and how resilient are seafloor 
habitats to disturbance? In other words, how do seafloor habitats 
recover, and are there thresholds after which habitats have achieved an 
alternate state and are no longer capable of recovering to their 
previous, undisturbed condition?
    b. Do ``small'' fishing-caused disturbances surrounded by 
unimpacted habitat recover more quickly and exhibit greater resilience 
in contrast to ``large'' fishing-caused disturbances embedded with 
small un-impacted patches?
    c. When a particular area is fished for the first time vs. 
subsequent efforts, are these impacts equal per unit effort? Or, is the 
first pass over an area much more detrimental? Conversely, is there a 
tipping point beyond which the habitat is no longer capable of 

3. Natural Disturbance

    a. In the absence of fishing, what are the dynamics of natural 
disturbance (e.g., major storm events) on seafloor habitat (especially 
biological components) across five major grain size classes (mud, sand, 
coarse sand-granule, pebble-cobble, boulder) and across oceanographic 
regimes? In areas where natural disturbance is high, are signals of the 
impacts of fishing masked?

4. Productivity

    a. How does the productivity of managed species (and prey species) 
vary across habitat types nested within the range of oceanographic and 
regional settings? How does this productivity change when habitats are 
impacted by fishing gear? Do durable mobile bottom-tending gear 
closures increase fish production? Why are highly productive areas so 
    NMFS requests information about active and planned research in the 
DHRAs, the stage of the research, the role of the DHRA in the research, 
and the relationship of the research to the above DHRA research agenda, 
if any. Response to this request is voluntary. You may submit written 
comments via email to [email protected] with ``DHRA Research'' in 
the subject line within 30 days of this notice.
    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.

    Dated: July 15, 2022.
Jennifer M. Wallace,
Acting Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine 
Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2022-15512 Filed 7-19-22; 8:45 am]