Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; North Atlantic Swordfish Fishery

 
CONTENT
Federal Register, Volume 85 Issue 1 (Thursday, January 2, 2020)
[Federal Register Volume 85, Number 1 (Thursday, January 2, 2020)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 14-16]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2019-28289]
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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
50 CFR Part 635
[Docket No. 120627194-3657-02; RTID 0648-XT030]
Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; North Atlantic Swordfish
Fishery
AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.
ACTION: Temporary rule.
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SUMMARY: NMFS is adjusting the Swordfish General Commercial permit
retention limits for the Northwest Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and U.S.
Caribbean regions for January through June of the 2020 fishing year,
unless otherwise later noticed. The Swordfish General Commercial permit
retention limits in each of these regions are increased from the
regulatory default limits (either two or three fish) to six swordfish
per vessel per trip. The Swordfish General Commercial permit retention
limit in the Florida Swordfish Management Area will remain unchanged at
the default limit of zero swordfish per vessel per trip, as discussed
in more detail below. These adjustments apply to Swordfish General
Commercial permitted vessels and to Highly Migratory Species (HMS)
Charter/Headboat permitted vessels with a commercial endorsement when
on a non-for-hire trip. This action is based upon consideration of the
applicable inseason regional retention limit adjustment criteria.
DATES: The adjusted Swordfish General Commercial permit retention
limits in the Northwest Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and U.S. Caribbean
regions are effective from January 1, 2020, through June 30, 2020.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Rick Pearson, email:
[email protected] or phone 727-824-5399.
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Regulations implemented under the authority
of the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act (ATCA; 16 U.S.C. 971 et seq.) and
the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-
Stevens Act; 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.) governing the harvest of North
Atlantic swordfish by persons and vessels subject to U.S. jurisdiction
are found at 50 CFR part 635. Section 635.27 subdivides the U.S. North
Atlantic swordfish quota recommended by the International Commission
for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) and implemented by the
United States into two equal semi-annual directed fishery quotas; an
annual incidental catch quota for fishermen targeting other species or
catching swordfish recreationally, and a reserve category, according to
the allocations established in the 2006 Consolidated Atlantic Highly
Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan (2006 Consolidated Atlantic
HMS FMP) (71 FR 58058, October 2, 2006), as amended, and in accordance
with implementing regulations. NMFS is required under ATCA and the
Magnuson-Stevens Act to provide U.S. fishing vessels with a reasonable
opportunity to harvest the ICCAT-recommended quota.
    In 2017, ICCAT Recommendation 17-02 specified that the overall
North Atlantic swordfish total allowable catch (TAC) be set at 9,925
metric tons (mt) dressed weight (dw) (13,200 mt whole weight (ww))
through 2021. Consistent with scientific advice, this was a reduction
of 500 mt ww (375.9 mt dw) from previous ICCAT-recommended TACs.
However, the United States' baseline quota remained at 2,937.6 mt dw
(3,907 mt ww) per year. The Recommendation (17-02) also continued to
limit underharvest carryover to 15 percent of a contracting party's
baseline quota. Thus, the United States may carry over a maximum of
440.6 mt dw (586.0 mt ww) of underharvest. Absent adjustments, the
codified baseline quota is 2,937.6 mt dw for 2020. At this time, given
the extent of expected underharvest in 2019, NMFS anticipates carrying
over the maximum allowable 15 percent (440.6 mt dw), which would result
in a final adjusted North Atlantic swordfish quota for the 2020 fishing
year equal to 3,378.2 mt dw (2,937.6 + 440.6 = 3,378.2 mt dw). As in
past years we anticipate allocating 50 mt dw from the adjusted quota to
the Reserve category for inseason adjustments/research and allocating
300 mt dw to the Incidental category, which includes recreational
landings and landings by incidental swordfish permit holders,
consistent with Sec.  635.27(c)(1)(i)(D) and (B). This would result in
an adjusted quota of 3,028.2 mt dw for the directed fishery, which
would be split equally (1,514.1 mt dw) between the two semi-annual
periods in 2020 (January through June, and July through December).
Adjustment of Swordfish General Commercial Permit Vessel Retention
Limits
    The 2020 North Atlantic swordfish fishing year, which is managed on
a calendar-year basis and divided into two equal semi-annual quotas for
the directed fishery, will begin on January 1, 2020. Landings
attributable to the Swordfish General Commercial permit count against
the applicable semi-annual directed fishery quota. Regional default
retention limits for this permit have been established and are
automatically effective from January 1 through December 31 each year,
unless changed based on the inseason regional retention limit
adjustment criteria at Sec.  635.24(b)(4)(iv). The default retention
limits established for the Swordfish General Commercial permit are: (1)
Northwest Atlantic region--three swordfish per vessel per trip; (2)
Gulf of Mexico region--three swordfish per vessel per trip; (3) U.S.
Caribbean region--two swordfish per vessel per trip; and, (4) Florida
Swordfish
[[Page 15]]
Management Area--zero swordfish per vessel per trip. The default
retention limits apply to Swordfish General Commercial permitted
vessels and to HMS Charter/Headboat permitted vessels with a commercial
endorsement when fishing on non-for-hire trips. As a condition of these
permits, vessels may not possess, retain, or land any more swordfish
than is specified for the region in which the vessel is located.
    Under Sec.  635.24(b)(4)(iii), NMFS may increase or decrease the
Swordfish General Commercial permit vessel retention limit in any
region within a range from zero to a maximum of six swordfish per
vessel per trip. Any adjustments to the retention limits must be based
upon a consideration of the relevant criteria provided in Sec.
635.24(b)(4)(iv), which include: (A) The usefulness of information
obtained from biological sampling and monitoring of the North Atlantic
swordfish stock; (B) the estimated ability of vessels participating in
the fishery to land the amount of swordfish quota available before the
end of the fishing year; (C) the estimated amounts by which quotas for
other categories of the fishery might be exceeded; (D) effects of the
adjustment on accomplishing the objectives of the fishery management
plan and its amendments; (E) variations in seasonal distribution,
abundance, or migration patterns of swordfish; (F) effects of catch
rates in one region precluding vessels in another region from having a
reasonable opportunity to harvest a portion of the overall swordfish
quota; and, (G) review of dealer reports, landing trends, and the
availability of swordfish on the fishing grounds.
    NMFS has considered these criteria as discussed below and their
applicability to the Swordfish General Commercial permit retention
limit in all regions for January through June of the 2020 North
Atlantic swordfish fishing year. We have determined that the Swordfish
General Commercial permit retention limits in the Northwest Atlantic,
Gulf of Mexico, and U.S. Caribbean regions applicable to persons issued
a Swordfish General Commercial permit or HMS Charter/Headboat permit
with a commercial endorsement (when on a non-for-hire trip) should be
increased from the default levels that would otherwise automatically
become effective on January 1, 2020, to six swordfish per vessel per
trip from January 1 through June 30, 2020, unless otherwise later
noticed. These are the same limits that were implemented through an
inseason adjustment for the period July 1 through December 31, 2019 (84
FR 29088, June 21, 2019). Given the rebuilt status of the stock and the
availability of quota, increasing the Swordfish General Commercial
permit retention limits in three regions to six fish per vessel per
trip will increase the likelihood that directed swordfish landings will
approach, but not exceed, the available annual swordfish quota, and
increase the opportunity for catching swordfish during the 2020 fishing
year.
    In 2019, a six swordfish per vessel trip limit was in effect for
Swordfish General Commercial permit holders in the Northwest Atlantic,
Gulf of Mexico, and U.S. Caribbean regions for the entire fishing
season. As of November 30, 2019, this limit resulted in total annual
directed swordfish landings of approximately 875.9 mt dw, or 28.9
percent of the 3,028.2 mt dw annual adjusted directed quota for 2019,
which includes landings under the six fish trip limit.
    Among the regulatory criteria for inseason adjustments to retention
limits, and given the rebuilt status of the stock and availability of
quota, is the requirement that NMFS consider the ``effects of the
adjustment on accomplishing the objectives of the fishery management
plan and its amendments.'' See Sec.  635.24(b)(4)(iv)(D). A
consideration in deciding whether to increase the retention limit, in
this case, is the objective of providing opportunities to harvest the
full North Atlantic directed swordfish quota without exceeding it based
upon the 2006 Consolidated Atlantic HMS FMP goal to, consistent with
other objectives of this FMP, ``manage Atlantic HMS fisheries for
continuing optimum yield so as to provide the greatest overall benefit
to the Nation, particularly with respect to food production, providing
recreational opportunities, preserving traditional fisheries, and
taking into account the protection of marine ecosystems.'' This action
will help preserve a traditional swordfish handgear fishery (rod and
reel, handline, harpoon, bandit gear, and greenstick). Although this
action does not specifically provide recreational fishing
opportunities, it will have a minimal impact on the recreational sector
because recreational landings are counted against a separate incidental
swordfish quota.
    NMFS has examined dealer reports and landing trends and determined
that the information obtained from biological sampling and monitoring
of the North Atlantic swordfish stock is useful. See Sec.
635.24(b)(4)(iv)(A). Regarding the estimated ability of vessels
participating in the fishery to land the amount of swordfish quota
available before the end of the fishing year, Sec.
635.24(b)(4)(iv)(B), NMFS reviewed electronic dealer landings data,
which indicates that sufficient directed swordfish quota should be
available for the January through June 2020 semi-annual quota period if
recent swordfish landing trends continue. The directed swordfish quota
has not been harvested for several years and, based upon current
landing trends, is not likely to be harvested or exceeded in 2020.
Based upon recent landings rates from dealer reports, an increase in
the vessel retention limits to six fish for Swordfish General
Commercial permit holders and Charter/Headboat permit holders with a
commercial endorsement (when on a non-for-hire trip) in three regions
is not likely to cause quotas for other categories of the fishery to be
exceeded. See Sec.  635.24(b)(4)(iv)(C). Similarly, regarding the
criteria about the effects of catch rates in one region precluding
vessels in another region from having a reasonable opportunity to
harvest a portion of the overall swordfish quota, Sec.
635.24(b)(4)(iv)(F), we expect there to be sufficient swordfish quota
for the entirety of the 2020 fishing year. Thus, increased catch rates
in these three regions as a result of this action would not be expected
to preclude vessels in the other region (e.g., the buoy gear fishery in
the Florida Swordfish Management Area) from having a reasonable
opportunity to harvest a portion of the overall swordfish quota.
    In making adjustments to the retention limits NMFS must also
consider variations in seasonal distribution, abundance, or migration
patterns of swordfish, and the availability of swordfish on the fishing
grounds. See Sec.  635.24(b)(4)(iv)(G). With regard to swordfish
abundance, the 2018 report by ICCAT's Standing Committee on Research
and Statistics indicated that the North Atlantic swordfish stock is not
overfished (B2015/Bmsy = 1.04), and overfishing
is not occurring (F2015/Fmsy = 0.78). Increasing
retention limits for the General Commercial directed fishery is not
expected to affect the swordfish stock status determination because any
additional landings would be within the ICCAT-recommended U.S. North
Atlantic swordfish quota allocation, which is consistent with
conservation and management measures to prevent overfishing on the
stock. Increasing opportunities by increasing retention limits from the
default levels beginning on January 1, 2020, is also important because
of the migratory nature and seasonal distribution of swordfish. In a
particular geographic region, or waters accessible from a particular
port, the
[[Page 16]]
amount of fishing opportunity for swordfish may be constrained by the
short amount of time that the swordfish are present in the area as they
migrate.
    Finally, another consideration, consistent with the FMP and its
amendments, is to continue to provide protection to important swordfish
nursery areas and migratory corridors. Therefore, NMFS has determined
that the retention limit for the Swordfish General Commercial permit
will remain at zero swordfish per vessel per trip in the Florida
Swordfish Management Area at this time. As discussed above, NMFS
considered consistency with the 2006 HMS FMP and its amendments, and
the importance for NMFS to continue to provide protection to important
swordfish nursery areas and migratory corridors. As described in
Amendment 8 to the 2006 Consolidated Atlantic HMS FMP (78 FR 52011,
August 21, 2013), the area off the southeastern coast of Florida,
particularly the Florida Straits, contains oceanographic features that
make the area biologically unique. It provides important juvenile
swordfish habitat, and is essentially a narrow migratory corridor
containing high concentrations of swordfish located in close proximity
to high concentrations of people who may fish for them. Public comment
on Amendment 8, including from the Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission, indicated concern about the resultant high
potential for the improper rapid growth of a commercial fishery,
increased catches of undersized swordfish, the potential for larger
numbers of fishermen in the area, and the potential for crowding of
fishermen, which could lead to gear and user conflicts. These concerns
remain valid. NMFS will continue to collect information to evaluate the
appropriateness of the retention limit in the Florida Swordfish
Management Area and other regional retention limits. This action
therefore maintains a zero-fish retention limit in the Florida
Swordfish Management Area.
    The directed swordfish quota has not been harvested for several
years and, based upon current landing trends, is not likely to be
harvested or exceeded during 2020. This information indicates that
sufficient directed swordfish quota should be available from January 1
through June 30, 2020, at the higher retention levels, within the
limits of the scientifically-supported TAC and consistent with the
goals of the 2006 Consolidated Atlantic HMS FMP as amended, ATCA, and
the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and are not expected to negatively impact
stock health.
Monitoring and Reporting
    NMFS will continue to monitor the swordfish fishery closely during
2020 through mandatory landings and catch reports. Dealers are required
to submit landing reports and negative reports (if no swordfish were
purchased) on a weekly basis.
    Depending upon the level of fishing effort and catch rates of
swordfish, NMFS may determine that additional retention limit
adjustments or closures are necessary to ensure that the available
quota is not exceeded or to enhance fishing opportunities. Subsequent
actions, if any, will be published in the Federal Register. In
addition, fishermen may access https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/atlantic-highly-migratory-species/2019-atlantic-swordfish-landings-updates for
updates on quota monitoring.
Classification
    The Assistant Administrator for NMFS (AA) finds that it is
impracticable and contrary to the public interest to provide prior
notice of, and an opportunity for public comment on, this action for
the following reasons:
    The regulations implementing the 2006 Consolidated Atlantic HMS
FMP, as amended, provide for inseason retention limit adjustments to
respond to changes in swordfish landings, the availability of swordfish
on the fishing grounds, the migratory nature of this species, and
regional variations in the fishery. Based on available swordfish quota,
stock abundance, fishery performance in recent years, and the
availability of swordfish on the fishing grounds, among other
considerations, adjustment to the Swordfish General Commercial permit
retention limits from the default levels of two or three fish to six
swordfish per vessel per trip as discussed above is warranted, while
maintaining the default limit of zero-fish retention in the Florida
Swordfish Management Area. Analysis of available data shows that
adjustment to the swordfish retention limit from the default levels
would result in minimal risk of exceeding the ICCAT-allocated quota.
    NMFS provides notification of retention limit adjustments by
publishing the notice in the Federal Register, emailing individuals who
have subscribed to the Atlantic HMS News electronic newsletter, and
updating the information posted on the ``News and Announcements''
website at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/news-and-announcements
(filter by ``Atlantic Highly Migratory Species'' under ``Topic'').
Delays in temporarily increasing these retention limits caused by the
time required to publish a proposed rule and accept public comment
would adversely and unnecessarily affect those Swordfish General
Commercial permit holders and HMS Charter/Headboat permit holders with
a commercial endorsement (when on a non-for-hire trip) that would
otherwise have an opportunity to harvest more than the otherwise
applicable lower default retention limits of three swordfish per vessel
per trip in the Northwest Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico regions, and two
swordfish per vessel per trip in the U.S. Caribbean region. Limiting
opportunities to harvest available directed swordfish quota may have
negative social and economic impacts for U.S. fishermen. Adjustment of
the retention limits needs to be effective on January 1, 2020, to allow
Swordfish General Commercial permit holders and HMS Charter/Headboat
permit holders with a commercial endorsement (when on a non-for-hire
trip) to benefit from the adjustment during the relevant time period,
which could pass by for some fishermen who have access to the fishery
during a short time period because of seasonal fish migration, if the
action is delayed for notice and public comment. Furthermore, the
public was given an opportunity to comment on the underlying
rulemakings, including the adoption of the North Atlantic swordfish
U.S. quota, and the retention limit adjustments in this action would
not have any additional effects or impacts since the retention limit
does not affect the overall quota. Thus, there would be little
opportunity for meaningful input and review with public comment on this
action. Therefore, the AA finds good cause under 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(B) to
waive prior notice and the opportunity for public comment. For all of
the above reasons, there is also good cause under 5 U.S.C. 553(d) to
waive the 30-day delay in effectiveness.
    This action is being taken under 50 CFR 635.24(b)(4) and is exempt
from review under Executive Order 12866.
    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 971 et seq. and 1801 et seq.
    Dated: December 27, 2019.
Alan D. Risenhoover,
Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries
Service.
[FR Doc. 2019-28289 Filed 12-31-19; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P