Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; 2019 Atlantic Shark Commercial Fishing Year

 
CONTENT

Federal Register, Volume 83 Issue 228 (Tuesday, November 27, 2018)

Federal Register Volume 83, Number 228 (Tuesday, November 27, 2018)

Rules and Regulations

Pages 60777-60784

From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov

FR Doc No: 2018-25744

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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 635

Docket No. 180517486-8999-02

RIN 0648-XG263

Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; 2019 Atlantic Shark Commercial Fishing Year

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

ACTION: Final rule; fishing season notification.

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SUMMARY: This final rule establishes the 2019 opening date for all Atlantic shark fisheries, including the fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean. This final rule also establishes the quotas for the 2019 fishing year based on harvest levels during 2018, and the large coastal shark (LCS) retention limits for directed shark limited access permit holders. NMFS may increase or decrease these retention limits for directed shark limited access permit holders during the year, in accordance with existing regulations, to provide, to the extent practicable, equitable fishing opportunities for commercial shark fishermen in all regions and areas. These actions could affect fishing opportunities for commercial shark fishermen in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean, including the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea.

DATES: This rule is effective on January 1, 2019. The 2019 Atlantic commercial shark fishing year opening dates and quotas are provided in Table 1 under SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION.

ADDRESSES: Atlantic Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Management Division, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Lauren Latchford, Chanteacute Davis, or Karyl Brewster-Geisz at 301-427-8503.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

The Atlantic commercial shark fisheries are managed under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act). The 2006 Consolidated HMS Fishery Management Plan (FMP) and its amendments are implemented by regulations at 50 CFR part 635. For the Atlantic commercial shark fisheries, the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP and its amendments established, among other things, commercial shark retention limits, commercial quotas for species and management groups, and accounting measures for under- and overharvests for the shark fisheries. The FMP also established adaptive management measures such as flexible opening dates for the fishing season and inseason adjustments to shark trip limits, which provide management flexibility in furtherance of equitable fishing opportunities, to the extent practicable, for commercial shark fishermen in all regions and areas.

On September 11, 2018 (83 FR 45866), NMFS published a proposed rule that

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proposed opening all Atlantic commercial shark management groups on January 1, 2019. NMFS proposed to start the 2019 commercial shark fishing year in the eastern and western Gulf of Mexico sub-regions with a retention limit of 36 LCS other than sandbar sharks per vessel per trip. In the Atlantic region, NMFS proposed to start the fishing year with a retention limit of 25 LCS other than sandbar sharks per vessel per trip and adjust the commercial shark retention limit between zero and 55 LCS other than sandbar sharks per vessel per trip to ensure equitable access to the fishery throughout the year. In addition, NMFS proposed quota adjustments to account for underharvest of the Gulf of Mexico blacktip shark management group, Gulf of Mexico smoothhound shark management group, and Atlantic smoothhound shark management group quotas. The proposed rule contains details about the action that are not repeated here. The comment period on the proposed rule closed on October 11, 2018.

NMFS received eight written and oral comments regarding the proposed opening dates, retention limits, and potential inseason retention limit adjustments as it applied to LCS in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic regions. Those comments, along with the Agency's responses, are summarized below. After considering all the comments, NMFS is opening the fishing year for all shark management groups on January 1, 2019, as proposed. NMFS is changing the retention limit for directed shark limited access permit holders in the blacktip, aggregated LCS, and hammerhead management groups for the entire Gulf of Mexico region to 45 LCS other than sandbar sharks per vessel per trip in this final rule. The proposed rule would have set the retention limit at 36 LCS other than sandbar sharks per vessel per trip. The aggregated LCS and hammerhead shark management groups in the Atlantic region will start the fishing year with a retention limit of 25 LCS other than sandbar sharks per vessel per trip for directed shark limited access permit holders, as proposed. The retention limit for incidental shark limited access permit holders for all regions has not changed from the proposed rule and remains at 3 LCS other than sandbar sharks per trip and a combined total of 16 small coastal sharks (SCS) and pelagic sharks, combined per trip consistent with Sec. 635.24(a)(3) and (4). Additionally, the retention limit for blacknose sharks for all permit holders in the Atlantic region south of 34\0\00' N.lat. has not changed from the proposed rule and remains at an eight blacknose sharks per trip consistent with Sec. 635.24 (a)(4).

This final rule serves as notification of the 2019 opening date for the Atlantic commercial shark fisheries and 2019 retention limits and quotas, based on shark landings data updated as of October 15, 2018 and criteria set in existing regulations at 50 CFR, Part 635. In setting the opening date, NMFS considered the ``opening commercial fishing season'' criteria at Sec. 635.27(b)(3). This criteria includes the following factors: Available annual quotas for the current fishing season; estimated season length and average weekly catch rates from previous years; length of the season and fishermen participation in past years; impacts to accomplishing objectives of the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP and its amendments; temporal variation in behavior or biology of target species (e.g., seasonal distribution or abundance); impact of catch rates in one region on another; and effects of delayed season openings.

While this action adjusts certain quotas as allowable, this action does not establish or change the annual baseline commercial quotas established under the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP and its amendments for any shark management group. The baselines quotas were established under previous actions, and any changes to those baseline quotas would be performed through a separate action. Rather, this action adjusts the annual commercial quotas for 2019 based on over- and/or underharvests that occurred in 2018, consistent with existing regulations, and establishes the opening dates for the fisheries. Based on updated landings information as of October 15, 2018, only the adjusted blacktip quota in the Gulf of Mexico region has changed from the proposed rule. All other quotas remain the same as proposed.

Response to Comments

NMFS received eight written and oral comments on the proposed rule from fishermen, dealers, and other interested parties. All written comments can be found at http://www.regulations.gov/ by searching for RIN 0648-XG263. All of the comments received are summarized below.

Comment 1: NMFS received several comments regarding the proposed decrease in the commercial retention limit for the aggregated LCS, hammerhead, and blacktip management groups in the eastern and western Gulf of Mexico sub-regions. Of those comments, all were opposed to the proposed retention limit of 36 aggregated LCS other than sandbar sharks per vessel per trip, and noted that NMFS should maintain the retention limit at 45 aggregated LCS other than sandbar sharks per vessel per trip. The State of Louisiana along with commercial fishermen from the western Gulf of Mexico sub-region noted that they preferred keeping the retention limit at the default limit of 45 sharks per vessel per trip. Commenters prefer to maximize shark landings per trip, regardless of the length or timing of the season. NMFS also received comments from commercial fishermen in the eastern Gulf of Mexico sub-region that stated they also preferred a retention limit of 45 aggregated LCS per vessel per trip. Specifically, the fishermen in the eastern Gulf of Mexico sub-region noted that because of the consistent regulations over the past few years, the market for shark meat has expanded in their area. NMFS did not receive any comments in support of the reduction.

Response: After considering these comments, NMFS has determined that the default retention limit of 45 LCS other than sandbar sharks per vessel per trip is appropriate and will ensure equitable fishing opportunities in both Gulf of Mexico sub-regions, to the extent practicable. NMFS originally proposed a lower retention limit in the western Gulf of Mexico sub-region with the goal of preserving quota for the fishery through April 1, which is when the State of Louisiana closes shark fishing in state waters. However, comments from the western Gulf of Mexico sub-region, including comments from the State of Louisiana, did not support the lower proposed retention and preferred a higher retention limit per trip. The State of Louisiana has a default limit of 45 LCS including blacktips and hammerheads per trip per vessel per day and prefers that the federal limit match the state limit. Regarding the eastern Gulf of Mexico sub-region, NMFS proposed the lower retention limit to reduce any confusion caused by having two separate retention limits in the Gulf of Mexico region. Given public comment from both sub-regions, and supporting information from eastern Gulf of Mexico fishermen regarding the expanding market for shark meat, NMFS will also maintain the default retention limit in the eastern Gulf of Mexico sub-region.

Comment 2: Several commenters supported the proposed opening date of January 1, 2019 for the Gulf of Mexico region.

Response: Given the support for this opening date, NMFS will open the Gulf of Mexico blacktip, aggregated LCS, and hammerhead shark management groups

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on January 1, 2019, as proposed. NMFS will also open all the other shark management groups, including those in the Atlantic region, on January 1, 2019, as proposed.

Comment 3: One commenter expressed concern about adequate enforcement of the quotas and retention limits, noting that they feel shark populations are being decimated, and requested a closure of all shark fisheries.

Response: NMFS is responsible for managing quotas for the Atlantic shark fisheries consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and other applicable laws. Based on various stock assessments and best available science, NMFS established baseline quotas for various Atlantic shark management groups in the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP and its amendments. These baseline quotas were established to prevent overfishing and ensure overfished stocks would rebuild within a specified timeframe. NMFS adjusts these baseline quotas, as needed, on an annual basis as a result of over- or underharvests in previous years. When establishing the shark commercial baseline quota, NMFS uses the total allowable catch calculated during the stock assessment then subtracts all other sources of mortality, including recreational landings, commercial discards, post-release mortality, and research set-aside mortality. NMFS also takes into account the effects of fishing on essential fish habitat, protected resources, and the environment to fulfill requirements for the associated FMP amendment along with socioeconomic value of these shark species to various groups. The quota is then monitored using dealer reports on a weekly basis throughout the year. NMFS closes the commercial fishery for any shark management group if the landings have reached, or are projected to reach, 80 percent of the available overall, regional, and/or sub-regional quota if the fishery's landings are not projected to reach 100 percent of the applicable quota before the end of the season, or when the quota-linked management group is closed. Once the quota is reached, these fishery closures prevent overfishing of the relevant stock(s). Since these quotas are based on the best scientific information available, NMFS is confident that allowing commercial shark fishing in 2019 will not cause shark populations to be decimated.

Regarding the comment about adequate enforcement, NMFS takes enforcement of these regulations seriously. If suspected illegal activities are observed in any fishery and/or region, specific information regarding such incidents can be reported to NOAA Office of Law Enforcement through the national enforcement hotline at 1-800-853-

1964. All commercial shark landings and quotas are monitored with the HMS electronic dealer reporting system, which has been in use since 2013. This system monitors data on a weekly basis, and provides information on each dealer transaction, including all shark landings to the species level, and ensures that quotas are not exceeded. In addition, NMFS can verify and detect falsified reporting by dealers and fishermen by cross-checking dealer reports to fishermen's logbooks.

Comment 4: NMFS received comments regarding the Gulf of Mexico blacktip shark stock. Specifically, commenters asked for a new Gulf of Mexico blacktip shark stock assessment and an increase in the blacktip shark quota. Commenters also requested that NMFS combine the Gulf of Mexico blacktip shark management group with the aggregated LCS management group.

Response: These comments are outside the scope of this rulemaking. The purpose of this rulemaking is to adjust quotas for the 2019 shark year based on over- and underharvests from the previous years and set opening dates and initial retention limits for the 2019 shark year. Issues regarding new baseline quotas, new management units, and the timing of stock assessments are not addressed by this rulemaking. NMFS did complete an update to the Gulf of Mexico blacktip stock assessment in October 2018 (http://sedarweb.org/sedar-29u), and is reviewing the results to determine if any changes, such as modifying the various management units or changes to the quotas, are needed. Additionally, NMFS will be assessing the Atlantic blacktip stock via the SouthEast Data, Assessment, and Review process in 2019, and will consider appropriate management measures for that stock once the assessment is complete.

Comment 5: NMFS received a comment requesting the division between eastern and western Gulf of Mexico sub-regions be moved from 88 to 89 degrees west longitude.

Response: This comment is outside the scope of this rulemaking because the purpose of this rulemaking is to adjust quotas for the 2019 shark year based on over- and underharvests from the previous years and set opening dates and initial retention limits for the 2019 shark year. In Amendment 6 to the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP, NMFS analyzed, among other things, the impacts and justification for a regional management boundary to apportion the Gulf of Mexico regional commercial quotas for aggregated LCS, and blacktip shark management groups. Based on public comments and additional analyses, and after consulting with the HMS Advisory Panel, NMFS established a division of the Gulf of Mexico at 88deg W. longitude. The issue of subdividing the Gulf of Mexico regional quota is not being re-addressed in this rulemaking.

Changes From the Proposed Rule

As described above, and as a result of public comment and additional analyses, NMFS made changes from the proposed rule. Specifically, NMFS changed the retention limit for directed shark limited access permit holders at the start of the commercial shark fishing year for the blacktip, aggregated LCS, and hammerhead shark management groups in the eastern and western Gulf of Mexico sub-regions from 36 LCS other than sandbar sharks per vessel per trip to 45 LCS other than sandbar sharks per vessel per trip. NMFS changed the retention limit after considering public comment and the 2018 landings data. NMFS noted in the proposed rule that retention limits might change in response to public comment. The default retention limit is within the allowable range and consistent with the limits established in recent years. NMFS expects that a retention limit of 45 LCS other than sandbar sharks per vessel per trip will provide equitable fishing opportunities throughout the sub regions, to the extent practicable, and retains its discretion to make inseason adjustments to retention limits, in accordance with existing regulations and in furtherance of the goals and objectives of the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP and its amendments.

Additionally, based on updated landings information, NMFS changed the final blacktip shark quota in both Gulf of Mexico sub-regions. As NMFS explained in the proposed rule (83 FR 45866; Sept 11, 2018), shark management group quotas in this final rule are based on dealer reports received as of mid-October. Specifically, the final adjustments are based on updated landings through October 15, 2018. Updated landing reports indicate an additional 11.5 metric tons (mt) of blacktip shark was landed in the Gulf of Mexico in 2018. Accordingly, the regional underharvest for the Gulf of Mexico region is now only 26.9 mt dressed weight (dw) (59,355 pounds (lb) dw). Since more blacktip sharks were landed, the final adjustment is lower than the proposed adjustment of 38.4 mt dw (84,702 lb dw).

Therefore, the sub-regional quota adjustments are also lower than the adjustments in the proposed rule. The underharvest is divided between the

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two sub-regions, based on the percentages that are allocated to each sub-region, which are set forth at Sec. 635.27(b)(1)(ii)(C). The western Gulf of Mexico sub-regional baseline quota is being increased by 24.3 mt dw (53,538 lb dw), which is a reduction of 10.3 mt dw from the proposed rule. Similarly, the eastern Gulf of Mexico sub-regional baseline quota is being increased by 2.6 mt dw (5,817 lb dw), which is a reduction of 1.1 mt dw from the proposed rule.

2019 Annual Quotas

This final rule adjusts the 2019 commercial quotas due to overharvests and/or underharvests in 2018 and previous fishing years, based on landings data through October 15, 2018. The 2018 annual quotas by species and management group are summarized in Table 1. Any dealer reports that are received by NMFS after October 15, 2018 will be used to adjust the 2020 quotas, if necessary. A description of the quota calculations is provided in the proposed rule and is not repeated here. Any changes are described in the ``Changes from the Proposed Rule'' section.

Table 1--2019 Final Adjusted Quotas for the Atlantic Shark Fisheries

All quotas and landings are dressed weight (dw), in metric tons (mt), unless specified otherwise. 1 mt dw = 2,204.6 lb dw.

.................. (A)............... (B)............... (C)............... (D)............... (D + C)

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Western Gulf of Mexico.......... Blacktip Sharks... 347.2 mt dw 330.4 mt dw 24.3 mt dw (53,538 231.5 mt dw 255.8 mt dw

(765,392 lb dw). (728,314 lb dw). lb dw) \3\. (510,261 lb dw). (563,799 lb dw).

Aggregated Large 72.0 mt dw 92.4 mt dw .................. 72.0 mt dw 72.0 mt dw

Coastal Sharks. (158,724 lb dw). (203,656 lb dw). (158,724 lb dw). (158,724 lb dw).

Hammerhead Sharks. 11.9 mt dw (26,301 11.0 mt dw (24,292 .................. 11.9 mt dw (26,301 11.9 mt dw (26,301

lb dw). lb dw). lb dw). lb dw).

Eastern Gulf of Mexico.......... Blacktip Sharks... 37.7mt dw (83,158 27.6 mt dw (60,881 2.6 mt dw (5,817 25.1 mt dw (55,439 27.7 mt dw (61,256

lb dw). lb dw). lb dw) \3\. lb dw). lb dw).

Aggregated Large 85.5 mt dw 49.7 mt dw .................. 85.5 mt dw 85.5 mt dw

Coastal Sharks. (188,593 lb dw). (109,653 lb dw). (188,593 lb dw). (188,593 lb dw).

Hammerhead Sharks. 13.4 mt dw (29,421 8.4 mt dw (18,555 .................. 13.4 mt dw (29,421 13.4 mt dw (29,421

lb dw). lb dw). lb dw). lb dw).

Gulf of Mexico.................. Non-Blacknose 112.6 mt dw 54.0 mt dw .................. 112.6 mt dw 112.6 mt dw

Small Coastal (248,215 lb dw). (118,968 lb dw). (248,215 lb dw). (248,215 lb dw).

Sharks.

Smoothhound Sharks 504.6 mt dw 0 mt dw (0 lb dw). 168.2 mt dw 336.4 mt dw 504.6 mt dw

(1,112,441 lb dw). (370,814 lb dw). (741,627). (1,112,441 lb

dw).

Atlantic........................ Aggregated Large 168.9 mt dw 65.2 mt dw .................. 168.9 mt dw 168.9 mt dw

Coastal Sharks. (372,552 lb dw). (143,809 lb dw). (372,552 lb dw). (372,552 lb dw).

Hammerhead Sharks. 27.1 mt dw (59,736 8.3 mt dw (18,328 .................. 27.1 mt dw (59,736 27.1 mt dw (59,736

lb dw). lb dw). lb dw). lb dw).

Non-Blacknose 264.1 mt dw 82.2 mt dw .................. 264.1 mt dw 264.1 mt dw

Small Coastal (582,333 lb dw). (181,149 lb dw). (582,333 lb dw). (582,333 lb dw).

Sharks.

Blacknose Sharks 17.2 mt dw (37,921 4.6 mt dw (10,213 .................. 17.2 mt dw (37,921 17.2 mt dw (37,921

(South of 34deg lb dw). lb dw). lb dw). lb dw).

N lat. only).

Smoothhound Sharks 1,802.6 mt dw 370.4 mt dw 600.9 mt dw 1,201.7 mt dw 1,802.6 mt dw

(3,973,902 lb dw). (816,572 lb dw). (1,324,634 lb dw). (2,649,268 lb dw). (3,973,902 lb

dw).

No regional quotas.............. Non-Sandbar LCS 50.0 mt dw 12.3 mt dw (27,123 .................. 50.0 mt dw 50.0 mt dw

Research. (110,230 lb dw). lb dw). (110,230 lb dw). (110,230 lb dw).

Sandbar Shark 90.7 mt dw 42.8 mt dw (94,123 .................. 90.7 mt dw 90.7 mt dw

Research. (199,943 lb dw). lb dw). (199,943 lb dw). (199,943 lb dw).

Blue Sharks....... 273.0 mt dw