Amendment to HMS Plan to Account for Shark Assessments

NMFS is amending the 2006 Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan based on several shark stock assessments that were completed from 2009 to 2012. The assessments for Atlantic blacknose, dusky, and scalloped hammerhead sharks indicated that these species are overfished and experiencing overfishing. The assessment for sandbar sharks indicated that this species is overfished, but not experiencing overfishing. The assessment for Gulf of Mexico blacktip sharks, adopted in this rulemaking, indicated that the stock is not overfished and not experiencing overfishing. The assessment for Gulf of Mexico blacknose sharks was not accepted; therefore, the overfished and overfishing statuses have been determined to be unknown.

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act requires the Agency to implement management measures that prevent overfishing and rebuild overfished stocks, as necessary. Based on the new stock assessments, and after considering public comments received during scoping and on a predraft document, we are proposing measures that would reduce fishing mortality and effort in order to rebuild overfished Atlantic shark species while ensuring that a limited sustainable shark fishery can be maintained consistent with our legal obligations. The proposed measures include changes to commercial quotas and species groups, the creation of several time/area closures, a change to an existing time/area closure, an increase in the recreational minimum size restrictions, and the establishment of recreational reporting for certain species of sharks. The proposed measures could affect U.S. commercial or recreational fishermen who harvest sharks within the Atlantic Ocean, including the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea.

Written comments will be accepted until February 12, 2013. NMFS will announce the dates and locations of public hearings in a future Federal Register notice.

ADDRESSES: NMFS will announce the dates and locations of public hearings in a future Federal Register notice.
    You may submit comments on this document, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2012-0161, by any of the following methods:
     Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal www.regulations.gov. To submit comments via the e-Rulemaking Portal, first click the ``submit a comment'' icon, then enter NOAA-NMFS-2012-0161 in the keyword search.
Locate the document you wish to comment on from the resulting list and click on the ``Submit a Comment'' icon on the right of that line.
     Mail: Submit written comments to Peter Cooper, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910.
     Fax: 301-713-1917; Attn: Peter Cooper

Instructions: Comments must be submitted by one of the above methods to ensure that the comments are received, documented, and considered by NMFS. Comments sent by any other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered. All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address, etc.) submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly accessible. Do not submit confidential business information, or otherwise sensitive or protected information. NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter ``N/A'' in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous). Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word or Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats only.

Written comments regarding the burden-hour estimates or other aspects of the collection-of-information requirements contained in this proposed rule may be submitted to the Highly Migratory Species Management Division of the Office of Sustainable Fisheries and by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or fax to (202) 395-7285.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Peter Cooper, Gu[yacute] DuBeck, Michael Clark, or Karyl Brewster-Geisz at  301-427-8503.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Atlantic tunas and swordfish are managed
under the dual authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation
and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) and the Atlantic Tuna
Conventions Act (ATCA), which authorizes the Secretary of Commerce
(Secretary) to promulgate regulations as may be necessary and
appropriate to implement recommendations of the International
Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). Federal
Atlantic shark fisheries are managed under the authority of the
Magnuson-Stevens Act. The authority to issue regulations under the
Magnuson-Stevens Act and ATCA has been delegated from the Secretary to
the Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, NOAA (AA). On May 28, 1999,
NMFS published in the Federal Register (64 FR 29090) final regulations,
effective July 1, 1999, implementing the Fishery Management Plan (FMP)
for Atlantic Tunas, Swordfish, and Sharks (1999 FMP). On October 2,
2006, NMFS published in the Federal Register (71 FR 58058) final
regulations, effective November 1, 2006, implementing the 2006
Consolidated Highly Migratory Species (HMS) FMP, which details the
management measures for Atlantic HMS fisheries, including the Atlantic
shark fisheries.

Background

    A brief summary of the background of this proposed action is
provided below. Additional information regarding Atlantic HMS
management can be found in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for
Amendment 5, the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP and its amendments, the
annual HMS Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation Reports, and online
at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/hms/.
    On April 28, 2011, we made the determination that scalloped
hammerhead sharks were overfished and experiencing overfishing (76 FR
23794). On October 7, 2011, we published a notice announcing our intent
to prepare a proposal for Amendment 5 to the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP
with an Environmental Impact Statement in accordance with the
requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (76 FR 62331)
based on several assessments and determinations. In that notice, we
made stock status determinations based on the results of the Southeast
Data, Assessment, and Review 21 process. Determinations in the October
2011

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notice included that sandbar sharks are still overfished, but no longer
experiencing overfishing, and that dusky sharks are still overfished
and still experiencing overfishing (i.e., their stock status has not
changed). The October 2011 notice also acknowledged recent available
scientific information indicating that there are two stocks of
blacknose sharks, the Atlantic blacknose shark and the Gulf of Mexico
blacknose shark, and that the Atlantic blacknose shark stock is
overfished and experiencing overfishing, and the Gulf of Mexico
blacknose shark stock status is unknown.
    In that notice, as part of a scoping process for Amendment 5, we
asked for comments on existing commercial and recreational shark
management measures that would assist us in determining options for
conservation and management of scalloped hammerhead, sandbar, dusky,
and blacknose sharks consistent with relevant Federal statutes. We held
six scoping meetings from October through December 2011 and released a
scoping presentation in conjunction with the Federal Register notice.
In the presentation and at the scoping meetings, we described results
of stock assessments and potential options for management of scalloped
hammerhead, sandbar, dusky, and blacknose sharks to reach rebuilding
goals.
    We released a predraft of Amendment 5 to the 2006 Consolidated HMS
FMP, which summarized and incorporated comments received during
scoping, to the HMS Advisory Panel on March 14, 2012, and made it
available to the public on the Internet for broader public comment. The
predraft included, among other things, the outcome of stock assessments
for sandbar, dusky, scalloped hammerhead, Atlantic blacknose, and Gulf
of Mexico blacknose sharks as well as potential management measures for
these species/stocks. We requested that the HMS Advisory Panel and
Consulting Parties (Atlantic, Gulf, and Caribbean Fishery Management
Councils, Marine Fisheries Commissions, U.S. Coast Guard, and other
State and Federal Agency representatives) submit comments on the
predraft by April 13, 2012. The predraft was published online and
public comments were collected.
    We published a Federal Register notice on May 29, 2012 (77 FR
31562) notifying the public that we were considering the addition of
Gulf of Mexico blacktip sharks to Amendment 5. This addition was
proposed because Gulf of Mexico blacktip sharks were undergoing a stock
assessment as part of the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review 29
process, and that process would be completed before this amendment was
finalized. Therefore, we believed that the addition of Gulf of Mexico
blacktip sharks to this amendment would facilitate administrative
efficiency by optimizing our resources, and would allow us to address
new scientific information in the timeliest manner. We also expected
that this addition would provide better clarity to and understanding by
the public regarding any possible impacts of the rulemaking on shark
fisheries by combining potential management measures resulting from
recent shark stock assessments into one rulemaking. Public comments on
this addition to Amendment 5 were accepted until June 21, 2012. We
received two comments on the notice, one supporting the addition of
blacktip sharks, the other opposing the addition. The commenter who
opposed the addition felt that more time was needed in the predraft
scoping period to provide comment on any particular proposals regarding
blacktip shark management. While it is preferable to have a pre-draft,
it is not a legal requirement and we believe that ample opportunity
will be presented through the rulemaking process for public input and
comment. The commenter who supported the addition felt that this was
the most responsive and timely way to address the stock assessment.
    The Final Stock Assessment Report for Gulf of Mexico Blacktip
Sharks was completed in June 2012, and the peer review was completed in
July 2012. The assessment was conducted through the Southeast Data,
Assessment, and Review process and the peer review was conducted by two
scientists under the Center for Independent Experts. Both peer
reviewers raised questions about the assessment. One reviewer accepted
the model and its results. The other peer reviewer supported the
assessment's conclusion that the Gulf of Mexico blacktip shark stock is
not overfished, but concluded that the status regarding overfishing is
uncertain. The Southeast Fisheries Science Center addressed the
questions from the peer reviewers in a post peer-review ``updates and
projections'' document written by stock assessment scientists, who were
the lead scientists during the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review
29 process. The scientists concluded that the reviewer's conclusion on
the overfishing status was based on the reviewer's interpretation that
the model configuration was not appropriate for the stock.
Specifically, the peer reviewer did not think that reasonable variation
in recruitment was incorporated into the model and was not confident
about the conclusion of ``no overfishing'' reached in the assessment
because three of the indices had declined in the last five years and
because maximum sustainable yield fishing mortality (FMSY)
was low. The peer reviewer stated that a model with reasonable
variation in recruitment could indicate a current fishing mortality
more similar to FMSY and thus show the stock approaching an
overfishing condition. The stock assessment scientists showed in the
post-review updates and projections document that process error in
recruitment was fully considered and that recruitment in the model was
reasonable. They also showed that the low value of FMSY is
consistent with what is expected from the biology of sharks, and that
of the three indices mentioned by the reviewer that showed a decline,
two show an increase in the terminal year of 2010. Therefore, the stock
assessment scientists concluded that the stock assessment result of no
overfishing is warranted. As such, in this proposed rule, we accept the
results of the stock assessment as final and declare the Gulf of Mexico
blacktip shark stock to be not overfished with no overfishing
occurring.
    Results of the stock assessment show that Gulf of Mexico blacktip
sharks are not overfished (SSF2009/SSFMSY = 2.50-
2.78) and are not experiencing overfishing (F2009/
FMSY = 0.03-0.106). Because the stock is healthy,
projections and the calculations needed to determine the acceptable
biological catch were not considered part of the statement of work for
the stock assessment and therefore were not conducted during the stock
assessment itself (for an overfished stock, these calculations would
have been done before completion of the stock assessment). Rather, the
Southeast Fisheries Science Center calculated the projections after the
stock assessment as a whole was peer reviewed. The stock assessment
noted that current removal rates are sustainable, and the subsequent
projections, which were completed outside the Southeast Data,
Assessment, and Review process, indicate that current removals are
unlikely to lead to an overfished fish stock by 2040. The projections
also indicate that higher levels of removal (those associated with an
FTARGET scenario) are unlikely to result in an overfished
stock; however, the methodology for estimating FTARGET is
currently in development for sharks and has yet to be introduced and
reviewed within the Southeast Data, Assessment,

[[Page 70554]]

and Review process for this species. Therefore, we analyze a range of
alternatives to calculate the total allowable catch and define a draft
preferred alternative. Once this rule and Amendment is finalized in
2013, we will establish the total allowable catch described in the
final preferred alternative to be the annual catch limit for the stock.
As described above and in the Alternative Suites, we split the total
allowable catch into recreational harvest, dead discards, and
commercial landings to calculate the different sector annual catch
limits. These sector annual catch limits are currently in draft and
their calculation depends on the amount calculated for the total
allowable catch. Thus, we analyze a range of sector annual catch limits
dependent on the total allowable catch.
    Based on comments received during scoping, on the predraft, and on
our notice considering the addition of Gulf of Mexico blacktip shark,
we determined the scope of significant issues of concern that would be
addressed in this draft amendment. The objectives in the draft
amendment and this proposed rule are driven by statutory mandates under
the Magnuson-Stevens Act, such as rebuilding overfished sandbar, dusky,
scalloped hammerhead, and Atlantic blacknose shark stocks, and ending
overfishing of dusky, scalloped hammerhead, and Atlantic blacknose
sharks. The specific goals and objectives of the draft amendment and
proposed rule are: (1) To end overfishing and achieve optimum yield for
dusky, scalloped hammerhead, and Atlantic blacknose sharks; (2) to
implement a rebuilding plan for scalloped hammerhead and Atlantic
blacknose sharks to ensure that fishing mortality levels for both
species are maintained at or below levels that would result in a 70-
percent probability of rebuilding in the timeframe recommended by the
assessments; (3) to modify the current rebuilding plan for dusky sharks
to ensure that fishing mortality levels for dusky sharks are maintained
at or below levels that would result in a 70-percent probability of
rebuilding in the timeframe recommended by the assessment; (4) to
maintain the rebuilding plan for sandbar sharks to ensure a 70-percent
probability of rebuilding in the timeframe recommended by the
assessment; and (5) to achieve optimum yield and provide an opportunity
for the sustainable harvest of Gulf of Mexico blacknose, Gulf of Mexico
blacktip sharks, and other sharks, as appropriate.
    To meet these objectives, we consider a range of alternatives for
several different issues including establishing total allowable
catches, quota limits, time/area closures and bycatch caps, as well as
establishing rebuilding plans for overfished stocks, and recreational
measures. Because many of the species-specific total allowable catch,
commercial quota, and recreational measures are interlinked, these
alternatives are arranged and analyzed in groups of Alternative Suites.
In addition to the Alternative Suites, which focus on quotas and
recreational measures, we developed potential stand-alone alternatives
for pelagic and bottom longline effort modifications or controls. These
alternatives contain independent measures to modify and/or establish
time/area closures, bycatch caps, and restrictions within the shark
research fishery. Many of these effort modification alternatives are
designed to reduce fishing mortality of dusky sharks, a species that
has been prohibited from commercial and recreational retention since
2000, but was still determined to be overfished and experiencing
overfishing. For details regarding all the alternatives considered and
their potential impacts, please see draft Amendment 5. A summary of the
alternatives and their expected impact is found below. The proposed
measures in this rule are the preferred alternatives in draft Amendment
5.
    It is important to note that while the alternatives could affect
all shark fishing, this proposed rule and the draft Amendment 5 do not
propose changes to the current total allowable catch or commercial
quota for sandbar sharks. According to the 2010/2011 stock assessment,
current management measures implemented in Amendment 2 to the 2006
Consolidated HMS FMP in 2008 appear to have stopped overfishing on
sandbar sharks. Additionally, according to the most recent stock
assessment, the sandbar shark stock status is improving, and the
current rebuilding timeframe, with the 2008 total allowable catch of
220 metric tons (mt) whole weight (ww) (158.3 mt dressed weight (dw)),
provides a greater than 70-percent probability of rebuilding by 2070.
Having a 70-percent probability of rebuilding is the level of success
for rebuilding of sharks that was established in the 1999 FMP for
Atlantic Tunas, Swordfish, and Sharks and carried over in the 2006
Consolidated HMS FMP. The recent stock assessment also indicates that
reducing the total allowable catch from the current 220 to 178 mt ww
(128 mt dw) would provide a 70-percent chance of rebuilding the stock
by the year 2066, a reduction of 4 years from the current rebuilding
timeframe. Because the current total allowable catch already provides a
greater than 70-percent probability of rebuilding, and because
overfishing is not occurring and the stock status is improving, we
believe that maintaining the current total allowable catch and
rebuilding plan is fully consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act
requirements and the National Standard Guidelines. Additionally, a
change in the rebuilding plan that would result in a reduction in total
allowable catch of sandbar sharks from 220 to 178 mt ww could have
significant economic impacts to fishermen participating in the shark
research fishery. If fishermen feel the economic impacts are
sufficiently negative, they are less likely to participate in the shark
research fishery which, in turn, would likely reduce the ability of the
Agency to both collect biological and other data for stock assessments
from the research fishery and monitor the status of sandbar and other
sharks. Furthermore, we anticipate that the other measures proposed,
such as modifications to the recreational minimum size and new or
expanded time/area closures, would likely further reduce fishing
mortality of sandbar sharks beyond the reductions considered in the
assessment, and that these reductions will likely provide assurances of
meeting or reducing the current rebuilding timeframe. After considering
this information, we are maintaining the current sandbar shark total
allowable catch of 220 mt ww and the current sandbar shark rebuilding
plan including regulations prohibiting possession of sandbar sharks in
commercial and recreational shark fisheries and allowing retention only
in a shark research fishery.
    In addition to the management measures considered in this proposed
action and below, we are also proposing several minor changes in the
regulations for corrective or clarification purposes. The proposed
changes are not expected to have any ecological or economic impacts and
do not impose any new requirements on the regulated community or
require fishermen to change their actions to comply with the
regulations. These administrative changes are: (1) The addition of a
definition for ``fork length''; (2) an update to the permit Web page
and name of the reporting system at Sec.  635.5(c)(1); (3) the deletion
of incorrect text referring to swordfish permits in a sentence
regarding tunas at Sec.  635.20(a); (4) a correction changing the term
``NED closed area'' to ``NED restricted area'' at Sec. 
635.21(c)(5)(iii)(C);

[[Page 70555]]

(5) the removal of smoothhound shark language at Sec.  635.24(a)(7)
that incorrectly remained after the final rule (November 10, 2011, 76
FR 70064) delaying the effectiveness of the smoothhound measures
indefinitely; (6) the removal of language at Sec.  635.27(b)(1)(iv)(C)
that required landings reported by dealers located in certain areas to
be counted against the regional quota where the dealer is located.
Measures recently put in place in the electronic dealer reporting rule
(August 8, 2012, 77 FR 47303) allow dealers to report and to count
landed fish against the appropriate quota of the region where the fish
was caught; and (7) in Table 1 of Appendix A, a correction to the
scientific name of Atlantic angel sharks along with a removal of the
headings ``ridgeback'' and ``non-ridgeback sharks'' since, with the
proposed changes in this rule, those terms are no longer used.
Additionally, to accommodate the changes being proposed and to more
clearly organize the regulations Sec.  635.27(b) has been reorganized.
Changes to the operative text are minimal and include: removing
language and sentences that refer to text that will be expired before
this rule is finalized and removing terms such as ``non-sandbar LCS''
that would no longer be operable based on the proposed changes in this
rule.

Summary of the Alternatives Considered Regarding Total Allowable
Catches, Commercial Quotas, and Recreational Measures

    As described above, because many of the species-specific total
allowable catch, commercial quota, and recreational measures are
interlinked, these alternatives are arranged in groups of Alternative
Suites. We considered five Alternative Suites that were chosen to meet
the objectives of the rulemaking consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens
Act, the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP and its amendments, and other
requirements. Each Alternative Suite analyzes certain management
actions under seven different topics including: Scalloped hammerhead
measures, large coastal shark (LCS) measures, blacktip measures,
blacknose measures, non-blacknose small coastal shark (SCS) measures,
quota linkage measures, and recreational measures.

A. Analyses of the Proposed Alternative Suite

    We are proposing the management measures in Preferred Alternative
Suite A2, the Preferred Alternative Suite in the draft Amendment 5.
Preferred Alternative Suite A2 would establish species-specific total
allowable catches for scalloped hammerhead, Atlantic blacknose, Gulf of
Mexico blacknose, and Gulf of Mexico blacktip sharks. It also would
also create regional commercial quotas for all hammerheads combined,
blacknose, non-blacknose SCS, and ``aggregated LCS,'' and species-
specific commercial quotas for blacknose and Gulf of Mexico blacktip
sharks. Furthermore, certain quota would be linked to prevent
overfishing, and there are multiple recreational measures that would be
implemented, including increasing the minimum size and requiring non-
tournament reporting of hammerhead sharks. The details and impacts of
each of these measures are described below, starting with impacts of
the alternative as a whole followed by the impacts of the alternative
on each of the seven topics in the Alternative Suite.
    Overall, Preferred Alternative Suite A2 is expected to have direct,
moderate, beneficial ecological impacts in the short- and long-term as
these measures in the Atlantic shark fisheries would end overfishing
and rebuild the stocks. These impacts would mostly affect scalloped
hammerhead and blacknose sharks, because the quotas for those species
would be reduced slightly. The quota linkages between species and
species groups would ensure that overfishing ends because shark species
that are undergoing rebuilding would not be caught as bycatch in other
shark fisheries once the directed quota category has been closed. These
management measures would cause neutral indirect impacts in the short-
and long-term since fishermen would not be expected to redirect fishing
pressure on other species. The cumulative direct and indirect impacts
on essential fish habitat, predator/prey relationships, and protected
resources would be neutral for the short- and long-term because
commercial quotas would be similar to or reduced slightly compared to
current levels and fishing pressure is not expected to change.
    Overall, Preferred Alternative Suite A2 would likely have direct
short- and long-term minor adverse socioeconomic impacts. These impacts
would mostly affect fishermen targeting scalloped hammerhead and
blacknose sharks, because those quotas for those species would be
reduced. Fishermen are likely to adapt to the new regulations by
fishing in other fisheries, or changing their fishing habitats.
Recreational management measures would increase the size limit and
would require fishermen to catch and release sharks (rather than land
them), although tournament participants should not be impacted because
tournament participants typically target larger sharks and the sharks
many tournaments target, such as shortfin mako, blue, and thresher,
grow to larger than 96 inches FL. Neutral socioeconomic impacts are
expected for fishermen targeting the newly configured ``aggregated
LCS'' and non-blacknose SCS groups since the new proposed quotas are
based on the average landings for each species. Quota linkages would
affect the socioeconomic impacts based on the fishing rate of each
linked shark quota. For example, the Preferred Alternative Suite A2
proposes to link regional hammerhead shark and aggregated LCS quotas so
that the two quotas will open and close together. If fishermen fill
both quotas at about the same rate, there will be little or no
unutilized quota. If, however, one or the other is filled at a much
faster rate than the other and both quotas close, there could be quota
available that otherwise could have been harvested and sold by
fishermen. When we compare the socioeconomic impacts of Preferred
Alternative Suite A2 to the other Alternative Suites, this Alternative
Suite would cause fewer impacts overall to fishermen. For this reason
and the ecological reasons stated above, we prefer this Alternative
Suite at this time.
1. Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks
    Under Preferred Alternative Suite A2, scalloped, smooth, and great
hammerhead sharks (hammerhead sharks) would be removed from what is now
the ``non-sandbar LCS'' complex, and separate Atlantic and Gulf of
Mexico hammerhead shark quotas would be established. To calculate the
Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico hammerhead shark quotas, we would estimate
the maximum sustainable level of scalloped hammerhead shark commercial
landings by using the total allowable catch calculated in the 2009
stock assessment and all sources of scalloped hammerhead mortality
(including recreational landings, commercial discards, and research
mortality). We would then split this maximum sustainable level of
scalloped hammerhead shark commercial landings between each region, and
make it applicable to scalloped, smooth, and great hammerhead sharks.
As a result, we are proposing that the total Atlantic and Gulf of
Mexico commercial hammerhead shark quota would be 52.2 mt dw (115,076
lb dw). This quota would be split between the two regions using the
average percentage of hammerhead sharks landed in each region from 2008
to 2011, or 54.2 percent for the Atlantic region and 45.8 percent for
the Gulf of Mexico region.

[[Page 70556]]

    This action would have short- and long-term direct, moderate,
beneficial ecological impacts for the following reasons. A separate
hammerhead shark quota in each region would allow us to more precisely
monitor commercial landings of the species to keep mortality within the
recommended total allowable catch in the stock assessment and to
rebuild within the parameters set by the rebuilding plan. Additionally,
including all three large hammerhead species (scalloped, great, and
smooth hammerhead sharks) under the same quota would prevent fishing in
excess of the quota that could occur as a result of species
identification problems. The three large hammerhead species can be
difficult to differentiate, particularly when dressed with the head
removed. Including all three species under one quota is proposed,
because, otherwise, scalloped hammerhead sharks that are mistakenly
identified as one of the other large hammerhead species could
improperly be reported under the LCS quota. Including all three species
in one quota will therefore enable us to more effectively monitor
commercial landings of hammerhead sharks and will provide additional
ecological benefits for the species by better tracking the populations
and more carefully enforcing the quota limits. Preferred Alternative
Suite A2 would cause neutral direct and indirect impacts on essential
fish habitat, predator/prey relationships, and protected resources in
the short- and long-term because the changed hammerhead shark complex
and quota should not increase fishing pressure.
    This action would have short- and long-term direct minor adverse
socioeconomic impacts due to the reduction in hammerhead shark quotas.
From 2008 through 2011, the data indicate that fishermen caught and
sold an annual average 63,404 lb dw of hammerhead sharks in the
Atlantic and 53,613 lb dw in the Gulf of Mexico. Under Preferred
Alternative Suite A2, harvest of hammerhead sharks would be limited to
62,371 lb dw in the Atlantic and 52,705 lb dw in the Gulf of Mexico.
Using the ex-vessel prices described in the DEIS under Alternative
Suite A1 and assuming a fin-to-carcass ratio of 5 percent, this would
result in the hammerhead fishery having an average annual ex-vessel
value of $50,721 in the Atlantic (63,404 lb of meat, 3,170 lb of fins)
and $53,618 in the Gulf of Mexico (53,613 lb of meat, 2,681 lb of
fins). Under the quotas proposed under Preferred Alternative Suite A2,
ex-vessel hammerhead shark revenue would be reduced by $809 to $49,912
in the Atlantic (62,390 lb of meat, 3,120 lb of fins) and reduced by
$928 to $52,690 in the Gulf of Mexico (52,690 lb of meat, 2,634 lb of
fins), assuming the same ex-vessel values and fin-to-carcass ratio.
These reductions in revenue would negatively impact fishermen in the
directed and incidental hammerhead shark fishery but not to a great
extent. Additionally, hammerhead sharks species rarely make up a
significant portion of the catch. Therefore, short- and long-term
direct minor adverse socioeconomic impacts are expected.
2. Large Coastal Shark Complex
    Under Preferred Alternative Suite A2, species formerly grouped in
Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico non-sandbar LCS complexes would be re-
grouped. Some species now would be addressed individually while others
would continue to be managed within a newly-configured and re-named
complex. In the Atlantic, all three hammerhead sharks (scalloped,
smooth, and great hammerhead sharks) would be removed from the Atlantic
non-sandbar LCS quota and a separate Atlantic hammerhead shark quota
would be established. The methodology for establishing the Atlantic
hammerhead shark quota is outlined above. After removing hammerhead
sharks, the sharks remaining from the Atlantic non-sandbar LCS quota
would be renamed the ``Atlantic Aggregated LCS quota'' and would
include blacktip, bull, lemon, nurse, silky, spinner, and tiger sharks.
Using the methodology outlined in draft Amendment 5, under Preferred
Alternative Suite A2, the Atlantic Aggregated LCS commercial quota
would be 168.2 mt dw. For the Gulf of Mexico region, blacktip sharks as
well as all three hammerhead sharks (scalloped, smooth, and great
hammerhead sharks) would be removed from the current Gulf of Mexico
non-sandbar LCS complex, and the complex, composed of the remaining
species, would be renamed the ``Gulf of Mexico aggregated LCS.'' In
addition, a separate quota would be established for both blacktip
sharks and hammerhead sharks. The Gulf of Mexico Aggregated LCS would
include bull, lemon, nurse, silky, spinner, and tiger sharks. Using the
methodology described in the draft Amendment 5, under Preferred
Alternative Suite A2, the Gulf of Mexico aggregated LCS commercial
quota would be 157.9 mt dw.
    The aggregated LCS quota would be based on average annual landings
of the remaining species. Therefore, those species comprising the
aggregated LCS management groups would not experience a change in
fishing pressure, and landings would be capped at recent levels. For
these reasons, short- and long-term direct ecological impacts resulting
from this portion of Preferred Alternative Suite A2 are expected to be
neutral. Similarly, the short- and long-term direct socioeconomic
impacts resulting from this portion of Preferred Alternative Suite A2
are expected to be neutral. We do not expect any additional ecological
or socioeconomic impacts to occur as the result of the measures in this
Alternative Suite.
3. Blacktip Sharks
    Under Preferred Alternative Suite A2, blacktip sharks would be
removed from the non-sandbar LCS quota complex in the Gulf of Mexico
and a separate blacktip quota would be established along with a new
``aggregated LCS'' commercial quota. The assessment of Gulf of Mexico
blacktip sharks was recently completed and we adopt its results as
final in this proposed rule. The assessment and the projections
completed by the Southeast Fisheries Science Center indicate that the
Gulf of Mexico blacktip shark stock is not overfished and overfishing
is not occurring, that current removal rates are sustainable and are
unlikely to lead to an overfished stock by 2040, and that higher levels
of removal are unlikely to result in an overfished stock. Based on this
information, we would establish a total allowable catch based on
current sustainable levels of catch. This total allowable catch would
be 413.4 mt dw and would be calculated by summing all of the sources of
mortality (recreational landings, commercial discards, and research
set-aside mortality) and the commercial quota. The commercial quota
would be calculated by taking the proportion of current Gulf of Mexico
blacktip shark landings that make up the Gulf of Mexico non-sandbar LCS
quota multiplied by the Gulf of Mexico non-sandbar LCS quota that will
be in effect in 2013. This would result in a commercial quota of 256.7
mt dw (565,921 lb dw).
    Neutral short- and long-term direct impacts would be expected under
Alternative Suite A2, the preferred alternative, as overfishing is not
occurring and commercial landings would be capped at current fishing
levels. Based on the stock assessment, this alternative would cause
neutral direct and indirect impacts on EFH, predator/prey
relationships, and protected resources in the short- and long-term
because fishing pressure would be similar to current levels and is not
anticipated to change.
    This alternative suite's proposed blacktip shark measure is likely
to result

[[Page 70557]]

in short- and long-term direct socioeconomic neutral impacts. The quota
of 256.7 mt dw (565,921 lb dw) of blacktip sharks is representative of
the current blacktip shark landings percentage applied to the 2013 Gulf
of Mexico non-sandbar LCS quota (see draft Amendment 5 for further
details). Based on current average annual landings, the Gulf of Mexico
blacktip shark fishery has average annual revenues of $650,809 across
the whole fishery (2008-2011 median ex-vessel values of $0.40 for meat
and $15for fins, based on a 5 percent fin-to-carcass ratio). Given the
current stock status, fishermen would likely continue to realize this
revenue, fishery-wide. Therefore, short- and long-term direct
socioeconomic impacts are expected to be neutral.
4. Blacknose Sharks
    In 2010, Amendment 3 to the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP (Amendment 3)
removed blacknose sharks from the SCS complex and established a
separate quota for blacknose sharks that covered both the Atlantic and
Gulf of Mexico regions. Preferred Alternative Suite A2 would create
separate commercial quotas for Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico blacknose
sharks based on the recent blacknose assessments conducted under the
Southeast, Data, Assessment and Review 21 process, which determined
that two separate stocks exist (Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico). The
Atlantic commercial quota would be derived from the total allowable
catch of 7,300 blacknose sharks, or 21.2 mt dw, that was specified in
the stock assessment. Within the total allowable catch of 21.2 mt dw,
all of the sources of mortality (recreational landings, commercial
discards, and research set-aside mortality) would be summed and
subtracted from the total allowable catch to calculate the commercial
quota of 18 mt dw (39,749 lb dw).
    The Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review 21 Review Panel did not
accept the Gulf of Mexico stock assessment for blacknose sharks, and
therefore, we did not receive a total allowable catch recommendation.
Therefore, we determined that the stock status for the Gulf of Mexico
blacknose shark stock is unknown (76 FR 62331; October 7, 2011). As
such, we explored how to calculate a Gulf of Mexico blacknose shark
total allowable catch that would include all commercial and
recreational landings and any dead discards in all fisheries that
interact with Gulf of Mexico blacknose sharks. A total allowable catch
of 34.9 mt dw for blacknose sharks was calculated by summing mortality
from the 2011 commercial fishery and average recreational and discard
mortality since the implementation of blacknose shark measures from
Amendment 3 to the 2006 Consolidated HMS Fishery FMP in 2010. Amendment
3 removed blacknose sharks from the SCS quota and created a blacknose
shark-specific quota of 19.9 mt dw (43,872 lb dw) for both regions.
Also, the blacknose shark and non-blacknose SCS quotas were linked, so
if either the blacknose shark quota or non-blacknose SCS quota (488,540
lb dw; 221.6 mt dw) reaches 80 percent, both fisheries close for the
rest of the season. The reduced quotas and quota linkage changed the
fishery as fishermen began avoiding blacknose sharks to ensure that the
larger non-blacknose SCS quota remained open. The 2011 commercial
mortality was used to calculate the total allowable catch instead of
average commercial mortality since Amendment 3 was implemented because
of a shortened 2010 fishing season due to the implementation of
Amendment 3 (season opened on June 1, 2010) and fishing restrictions
due to the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill. On May 11, 2010, we issued
an emergency rule to close portions of the Gulf of Mexico Exclusive
Economic Zone to all fishing, in order to respond to the evolving
nature of the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (75
FR 27217). Thus, a large portion of the fishing grounds for blacknose
and non-blacknose SCS in the Gulf of Mexico, whose commercial fishing
season opened on June 1, 2010, were closed for most of the 2010
commercial fishing season. Using 2011 commercial landings of blacknose
sharks in the Gulf of Mexico, the new Gulf of Mexico blacknose shark
commercial quota would be 2.0 mt dw (4,513 lb dw). Establishing this
total allowable catch would account for the blacknose shark mortality
that occurs as bycatch in the shrimp trawl and reef fish fisheries in
the Gulf of Mexico region. Since the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management
Council manages the shrimp trawl and reef fish fisheries, we would
continue to work with the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to
establish bycatch reduction methods, as appropriate, to reduce
mortality in the shrimp trawl and reef fish fisheries.
    Preferred Alternative Suite A2 is anticipated to have minor,
beneficial ecological impacts for blacknose sharks as it would separate
blacknose sharks into two separate regions (Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of
Mexico) as recommended in the Southeast Data, Assessment and Review 21
stock assessment and reduce fishing mortality based on the total
allowable catch. The Atlantic blacknose shark stock is overfished with
overfishing occurring, while the Gulf of Mexico stock status is
unknown. Projections of the base model indicated that the Atlantic
stock could rebuild by 2043 with a total allowable catch of 7,300
blacknose sharks. For the Gulf of Mexico blacknose shark stock, we
would use a total allowable catch of 17,802 blacknose sharks, which was
determined by using the average mortality of blacknose sharks since
Amendment 3 as well as commercial landings from 2011. Preferred
Alternative Suite A2 would cause neutral direct and indirect impacts on
essential fish habitat, predator/prey relationships, and protected
resources in the short- and long-term because the fishery would not
change.
    This alternative would decrease the blacknose shark quotas overall
in each region. In the Atlantic region, blacknose shark landings would
be reduced by 61 percent to allow for a total allowable catch of 7,300
blacknose sharks consistent with the assessment. The new commercial
quota for the Atlantic blacknose sharks would be 18.0 mt dw (39,749 lb
dw) under Preferred Alternative Suite A2. Average annual gross revenues
for the blacknose shark landings for the Atlantic region would decrease
by $3,268 from $58,122 under the No Action alternative to $54,854 under
Preferred Alternative Suite A2. We anticipate these directed and
incidental shark permit holders would experience minor direct adverse
socioeconomic impacts in the short- and long-term as blacknose sharks
are not the targeted shark species for SCS fishermen.
    For the Gulf of Mexico, we would implement a blacknose shark quota
that is equal to the 2011 commercial landings. The new quota would be
2.0 mt dw (4,513 lb dw) under this alternative. This would cause a
minor increase to the average annual gross revenues for the blacknose
shark landings for the Gulf of Mexico region from $3,273 under the No
Action alternative to $5,650 under Preferred Alternative Suite A2. We
anticipate these directed and incidental shark permit holders would
experience neutral direct socioeconomic impacts in the short- and long-
term since the new Gulf of Mexico blacknose shark quota would be
consistent with current landings.
    Under Preferred Alternative Suite A2, we anticipate that there
would be direct moderate adverse socioeconomic impacts in the short-
term from the proposed quotas under this Alternative Suite. In the
short-term, lost revenues would be moderate for the 22 directed

[[Page 70558]]

shark permit and 3 incidental shark permit holders that land blacknose
sharks in the Atlantic region, and the 8 directed shark and the 2
incidental shark permits that land blacknose sharks in the Gulf of
Mexico. Over the long-term, the socioeconomic impact would be minor, as
the fishermen are likely to adapt to the new regulations by fishing in
other fisheries, or change their fishing habitats. The indirect
socioeconomic impacts from Preferred Alternative Suite A2 would be
adverse, but minor in the short-term, as the anticipated reduction in
blacknose landings would result in a corresponding loss of revenue for
a small number of businesses as blacknose shark product does not make
up a large part of the market. In the long-term, these indirect impacts
would be neutral as businesses would be expected to find other sources
of revenue to augment the losses from the reduced quotas.
5. Non-Blacknose Small Coastal Sharks
    Preferred Alternative Suite A2 would separate the non-blacknose SCS
quota into two separate regions (Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico)
based on the percentage of regional landings since implementation of
the Amendment 3 blacknose shark quotas. As described above, blacknose
sharks were removed from the SCS complex and a non-blacknose shark-
specific quota of 221.6 mt dw (488,540 lb dw) was created for both
regions. Blacknose shark and non-blacknose SCS quotas were also linked
so that if either the non-blacknose SCS quota or blacknose shark quota
reaches 80 percent, both fisheries close for the rest of the fishing
year. The reduced quotas and quota linkage changed how the SCS fishery
operated as fishermen began to specifically avoid blacknose sharks to
ensure that the larger non-blacknose SCS quota would remain open.
According to 2010 and 2011 dealer data, an average of 89.3 percent of
non-blacknose landings occurred in the Atlantic region (94.2 and 85.2
percent for 2010 and 2011, respectively). The 2010 and 2011 Gulf of
Mexico non-blacknose SCS landings were 5.8 and 14.8 percent,
respectively, for an average of 10.7 percent for total Gulf of Mexico
non-blacknose SCS landings. Based on these averages, the new non-
blacknose SCS quota in the Atlantic would be 197.9 mt dw (436,290 lb
dw), while the Gulf of Mexico quota would be 23.7 mt dw (52,249 lb dw).
    This alternative is anticipated to have direct, minor beneficial
ecological impacts for Atlantic sharpnose, bonnethead, and finetooth
sharks in the short- and long-term as it would create regional quotas
and restrict fishing mortality below the total allowable catch
established for SCS in the last stock assessment for those species.
Currently, there is one quota for non-blacknose SCS in both the
Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, and, according to landings reports from
2008 through 2011, fishing pressure for non-blacknose SCS is higher in
the Atlantic region. Over time, this could cause unsustainable fishing
pressure on non-blacknose SCS in the Atlantic region. However, regional
quotas would cap fishing pressure at levels since Amendment 3 was
implemented and prevent overfishing. Since fishing pressure would be
similar to current levels, the impacts on essential fish habitat,
predator/prey relationships, and protected resources would be neutral.
    Based on the landings data, the non-blacknose SCS quota in the
Atlantic would be 197.9 mt dw (436,243 lb dw) and the Gulf of Mexico
quota would be 23.7 mt dw (52,296 lb dw). In the Atlantic, an average
of approximately 33 vessels with directed shark permits landed
blacknose sharks, while approximately 10 vessels with incidental shark
permits landed non-blacknose SCS. The average annual gross revenues
from Atlantic non-blacknose SCS meat were $314,095 and average annual
gross revenues for Atlantic non-blacknose SCS fins were $261,746,
making total average annual gross revenues for blacknose shark landings
for the entire fishery $575,841.
    In the Gulf of Mexico, an average of approximately nine vessels
with directed shark permits landed blacknose sharks, while
approximately three vessels with incidental shark permits landed non-
blacknose SCS since Amendment 3. The average annual gross revenues from
Gulf of Mexico non-blacknose SCS meat were $31,378 and average annual
gross revenues for Atlantic non-blacknose SCS fins were $39,222, making
total average annual gross revenues for blacknose shark landings for
the entire fishery $70,600.
    Under the Preferred Alternative Suite A2, there would be neutral
direct and indirect socioeconomic impacts to directed and incidental
shark permit holders as the average annual gross revenues from non-
blacknose SCS landings would be the same as the status quo in the
short- and long-term. Fishermen and shark dealers would be expected to
operate in the same manner as the status quo in the short- term.
However, this Alternative Suite could have minor negative direct and
indirect socioeconomic impacts on fishermen and shark dealers and
associated shark businesses that deal with non-blacknose SCS product if
fishing effort increases for non-blacknose SCS. Currently, the fishery
never reaches the allowable quota, but that could change with a smaller
regional quota and if fishermen are displaced from other fisheries.
6. Quota Linkages
    Under Preferred Alternative Suite A2, several quota linkages would
be implemented to prevent exceeding the newly established quotas.
Generally, two or more shark species with separate quotas are caught
together on the same set or trip. If the quota for one of these species
has been filled and closed, that species could still be caught in other
directed shark fisheries as bycatch, possibly resulting in mortality
and negating some of the conservation benefit of quota closures.
Preferred Alternative Suite A2 would link several quotas to ensure that
the quota for shark species that are caught together open and close at
the same time. In the Atlantic, the hammerhead shark and aggregated LCS
quotas would be linked. These two quotas would open at the same time
and both quotas would close when landings of either hammerhead sharks
or aggregated LCS reach, or are expected to reach, 80 percent of the
quota. Opening and closing these two quotas concurrently would
strengthen the conservation benefits of either group's quota closure.
Similarly, in the Gulf of Mexico, hammerhead sharks, blacktip sharks,
and the aggregated LCS quota would open at the same time and all three
quotas would close when landings of any one of the three quotas reach,
or are expected to reach, 80 percent. Also, linkage of the blacknose
and non-blacknose SCS regional quotas would be implemented under this
alternative. The Atlantic blacknose shark quota would be linked to the
Atlantic non-blacknose SCS quota, and the Gulf of Mexico blacknose
shark quota would be linked to the Gulf of Mexico non-blacknose SCS
quota.
    We would also establish a mechanism to allow inseason and annual
regional quota transfers between species or species groups where the
quota was split regionally for management purposes and not as a result
of a stock assessment. At this time, only the Atlantic and Gulf of
Mexico non-blacknose SCS and the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico hammerhead
regional quotas meet this criterion. Monitoring total mortality for
these quotas, not regional-specific mortality, is necessary for
conservation purposes. Providing this regional quota transfer
flexibility would facilitate overall quota management while having no
negative conservation impacts on stocks where

[[Page 70559]]

regional mortality is not a concern for stock conservation. Before
making any inseason quota transfer, we would consider certain criteria
and other relevant factors described in Sec.  635.27(b)(2)(iii)(A)
through (b)(2)(iii)(H).
    The quota linkages proposed under this Alternative Suite would be
expected to have short- and long-term direct moderate beneficial
ecological impacts. Linking quotas of species that are often caught
together on the same set or trip can prevent incidental catch of sharks
caught in other directed shark fisheries as bycatch, possibly resulting
in mortality and negating some of the conservation benefit of quota
closures. For quotas that are linked, the fisheries would open and
close together. In the Atlantic, the hammerhead shark and aggregated
LCS quotas would be linked as would the non-blacknose SCS and blacknose
shark quotas. If, for example, the Atlantic the hammerhead quota closes
based on landings information, the Atlantic aggregated LCS quota would
close as well, preventing additional incidental hammerhead mortality
from occurring in the directed aggregated LCS fishery. Similarly, if
the aggregated LCS quota closes, a hammerhead quota closure would
prevent incidental aggregated LCS landings in the directed hammerhead
fishery, to the extent that a directed hammerhead fishery occurs. In
the Gulf of Mexico, the blacktip, hammerhead, and aggregated LCS quota
would be linked as would the non-blacknose SCS and blacknose shark
quotas. In addition, we would allow inseason regional quota transfers
between regions for species or management groups where the species are
the same between regions and the quota is split between regions for
management purposes and not as a result of a stock assessment. At this
time, only the hammerhead sharks and the regional non-blacknose SCS
meet this description; and therefore, we are proposing that only the
hammerhead shark and non-blacknose SCS regional quotas can be
transferred on an inseason basis between regions. Before making any
inseason quota transfer, we would consider certain criteria and other
relevant factors described in Sec.  635.27(b)(2)(iii)(A-H). This would
help ensure that the hammerhead shark and non-blacknose SCS fisheries
are not limited by the smaller regional quotas. All quota transfers
would be announced in a Federal Register notice. These measures would
have direct, minor beneficial ecological impacts because they provide
additional protection against exceeding the scientifically-determined
total allowable catch for each species and complex.
    The quota linkages proposed under this Alternative Suite could have
short- and long-term direct moderate adverse socioeconomic impacts.
Quota linkages are explicitly designed to concurrently close multiple
shark quotas, regardless of whether all the linked quotas are filled.
This provides protection against incidental capture for species for
which the quota has been reached, but it can also preclude fishermen
from harvesting the entirety of each of the linked quotas. A
quantitative analysis of the economic impact is not possible without
comparing the rates of hammerhead shark, blacktip shark, and aggregated
LCS catch, and without knowing the extent to which fishermen can avoid
hammerhead sharks. However, a qualitative analysis can provide insight
on possible adverse socioeconomic impacts. Under Preferred Alternative
Suite A2, both the hammerhead shark and aggregated LCS quotas would
close when landings of either reaches or is expected to reach 80
percent of the quota. If hammerhead shark landings reach 80 percent of
the hammerhead shark quota, the aggregated LCS fishery would close,
regardless of what portion of the aggregated LCS quota has been filled.
If the entire Aggregate LCS quota has not been harvested, the fishery
would not realize the full level of revenues possible under the
established quota. A similar situation could occur in the Gulf of
Mexico under Preferred Alternative Suite A2 where both the hammerhead
shark and blacktip shark quotas would be linked to the aggregated LCS
quota.
    The blacknose shark and non-blacknose SCS socioeconomic impacts
would be the same as the aggregated LCS since there would be similar
scenarios with the quota linkage by species and region. In addition, we
would allow inseason quota transfer between non-blacknose SCS regions.
This would have minor beneficial socioeconomic impacts for this fishery
as the non-blacknose SCS quota would not be the limiting factor.
Consequently, the quota linkages proposed under this Alternative Suite
could have short- and long-term direct moderate adverse socioeconomic
impacts.
7. Recreational Measures
    Under Preferred Alternative Suite A2, the minimum recreational size
limit for sharks would increase from 54 to 96 inches fork length (FL)
(8 ft or 244 cm). Currently, the recreational size limit for authorized
shark species (except for Atlantic sharpnose and bonnethead sharks) is
54-inches FL. This minimum size was established based on the size at
maturity of sandbar sharks. This new size limit is based on the best
available scientific information, which reported female dusky shark
size-at-maturity to be 235 cm fork length (approximately 93 inches).
Since 93 inches does not equate to a round number of feet (93 inches =
7.75 feet), we are proposing to round up the minimum size to the whole
foot, resulting in a proposed minimum size of 96 inches FL (8 feet).
Dusky sharks have been prohibited in the recreational fishery since
1999, but are still landed due to misidentification issues. To address
the misidentification issues, we would increase outreach to the
recreational community to increase awareness of current regulations and
shark identification, specifically for dusky and sandbar sharks which
are prohibited, and for the three species of hammerhead sharks (great,
scalloped, and smooth).
    This increased recreational size limit will also help reduce
blacknose, sandbar, and scalloped hammerhead shark catches because
fishermen usually do not catch sharks that large frequently. Blacknose
shark retention in the recreational fishery effectively would be
eliminated with a 96-inch FL recreational size limit. Blacknose sharks
rarely reach a size greater than the current Federal minimum size of
54-inch FL; therefore, the 96-inch FL size limit creates a de facto
retention prohibition of blacknose sharks in Federal waters. In the
draft Amendment 3, we proposed prohibiting retention of blacknose
sharks in the recreational fishery. During the public comment period
for Amendment 3, we received comments that if we prohibited the
retention of blacknose sharks in Federal waters, then states would also
have to implement the prohibition in state waters. The comments also
stated that because some states have a well-managed blacknose
recreational fishery and conservation measures in place to adequately
protect this species in state waters, prohibiting their retention is
unnecessary. However, since we did not prohibit blacknose sharks in
Amendment 3, some states continued to allow recreational landings of
blacknose sharks below the 54-inch FL in state waters. Overfishing
continued to occur on the Atlantic blacknose shark stock based on the
recent assessment, and we need to reduce the recreational mortality of
blacknose sharks to meet rebuilding target for the established total
allowable catch.
    Like dusky sharks, recreational fishermen are not allowed to retain
sandbar sharks, but fishermen still land them due to misidentification.
The

[[Page 70560]]

larger size limit would reduce recreational catches since sandbar
sharks do not grow to 96 inches FL. We plan to conduct outreach to the
recreational community to better inform anglers of prohibited species
as well as identifying dusky and sandbar sharks. This increase in
minimum size would also reduce scalloped hammerhead sharks catches in
the recreational fishery and help rebuild this overfished stock. Female
scalloped hammerhead sharks reach maturity at approximately 78-inches
FL. The larger recreational size limit would limit the retention of
scalloped hammerhead sharks to mature individuals and help rebuild the
stock faster consistent with rebuilding goals. We are currently working
on an identification guide for all of the prohibited shark species to
help with this outreach. This identification guide would complement the
existing guide of shark species that can be landed by focusing on the
species that cannot be landed.
    In addition to the change in minimum size, we would require
mandatory reporting of all hammerhead sharks landed recreationally
through the non-tournament reporting system. The non-tournament
reporting system was established to track the trips that released
(alive or dead) or retained bluefin tuna, blue marlin, white marlin,
roundscale spearfish, longbill spearfish, sailfish, and swordfish.
Fishermen can report online or over the phone. Recreational fishermen
who land hammerhead sharks would need to submit similar information,
thus providing us more timely and accurate estimates of recreational
hammerhead landings.
    This alternative would have short- and long-term moderate,
beneficial ecological impacts on dusky, sandbar, scalloped hammerhead,
and blacknose sharks. Increasing the size limit, providing outreach
material, and establishing mandatory reporting for hammerhead sharks
should reduce recreational catches and provide us better and timelier
estimates of recreational ladings of hammerhead sharks. There would be
beneficial indirect ecological impacts since increasing the size limit
would reduce the recreational catch of other shark species that do not
grow larger than 96 inches FL. Overall, the reductions in recreational
mortality along with the commercial management measures are expected to
help rebuild the overfished stocks. The increased recreational size
limit would cause neutral direct and indirect impacts on essential fish
habitat, predator/prey relationships, and protected resources in the
short- and long-term.
    This alternative would result in direct minor adverse socioeconomic
impacts for recreational fishermen in the short-term due to the reduced
incentive to recreationally fish for sharks. However, management
measures to address overfishing of dusky, sandbar, scalloped
hammerhead, and blacknose sharks are needed based on the stock
assessments. Tournaments awarding points for sharks are unlikely to be
impacted by implementing the 96 inch FL minimum size. Tournament
participants typically target larger sharks and the sharks many
tournaments target, such as shortfin mako, blue, and thresher, grow to
larger than 96 inches FL. These measures could change the way that the
recreational shark fishery operates, which could cause short-term
moderate adverse direct socioeconomic impacts. Implementation of
management measures that would significantly alter the way charter
vessels operate, or reduce opportunity and demand for recreational
shark fishing, could create adverse socioeconomic impacts. In the long-
term, increased recreational fisheries opportunities may result as
these measures end overfishing and overfished stocks rebuild.

B. Summary of the Other Alternative Suites Considered

    In addition to Preferred Alternative Suite A2, we considered four
other Alternative Suites ranging from status quo or no action
(Alternative Suite A1) to closing all shark fisheries (Alternative
Suite A5). Alternative Suite A1 is the No Action Alternative. Under
this alternative, we would maintain current total allowable catches,
commercial quotas, and recreational measures in all shark fisheries.
Choosing this alternative would not end overfishing or rebuild
overfished stocks. Taken as a whole, this alternative would have direct
moderate, adverse ecological impacts in the short-term since there
would be no change to harvest levels in the Atlantic shark fisheries
and overfishing of scalloped hammerhead and blacknose sharks would
continue. This alternative could result in direct significant, adverse
long-term ecological impacts for certain LCS and SCS, since this
alternative would result in continued overfishing of scalloped
hammerhead, dusky, and Atlantic blacknose sharks, which would lead to
further stock decline of these species, and could increase fishing
pressure on the other LCS and SCS species as fishermen shift their
efforts to other species to make up for the reduced catches. This
alternative would have indirect neutral ecological impacts in the
short-term since no action would be taken, but may result in moderate,
adverse indirect impacts over time due to the increasing decline of the
scalloped hammerhead, dusky, and Atlantic blacknose shark populations.
Alternative Suite A1 would cause neutral direct and indirect impacts on
essential fish habitat, predator/prey relationships, and protected
resources in the short- and long-term no action would be taken relative
to the status quo.
    Alternative Suite A1 would likely have direct neutral social and
economic impacts in the short-term because the fisheries would continue
to operate as they currently do. In the long-term, it could cause
direct moderate adverse social and economic impacts because overfished
stocks would not rebuild and catches would decline. The decline in
catches would lead to a moderate reduction in sales and revenue.
Additionally, Alternative Suite A1 would likely have neutral indirect
short-term socioeconomic impacts. Dealers and supporting businesses,
such as bait and tackle suppliers, would be unlikely to experience any
impacts in the short-term. In the long-term, catches of the overfished
stocks would decline, and minor negative socioeconomic impacts would
occur as dealers and supporting businesses would have to offset reduced
revenues from shark landings. For these reasons, we do not prefer this
Alternative Suite at this time.
    Alternative Suite A3 is similar to the proposed Preferred
Alternative Suite A2 except we would not create regional hammerhead
shark and non-blacknose SCS quotas, there would be no quota linkage for
the shark fisheries, and there would be an increase in the recreational
minimum size limit for only hammerhead sharks. Specifically,
Alternative Suite A3 would establish new species complexes by regions,
adjust LCS and SCS quotas, prohibit retention of commercial blacknose
sharks in the Gulf of Mexico, and increase the hammerhead shark minimum
recreational size to 78'' FL. This alternative would remove hammerhead
sharks from the non-sandbar LCS complex to form a separate non-regional
quota of 52.2 mt dw, while non-blacknose SCS regulations and quota
would remain the same (221.6 mt dw). This alternative would also create
regional quotas for blacknose sharks as well as remove blacktip sharks
from the Gulf of Mexico non-sandbar LCS complex. Additionally, this
alternative would reconfigure and rename the species remaining in the
non-sandbar LCS complex as the ``aggregated LCS'' in both the Atlantic
and Gulf of Mexico

[[Page 70561]]

regions. The new Gulf of Mexico base quotas would be as follows:
blacktip sharks--380.7 mt dw; and non-sandbar LCS--157.3 mt dw. The new
aggregated LCS complex in the Gulf of Mexico region would consist of
bull, lemon, nurse, spinner, silky, and tiger sharks. In the Atlantic
region, base quotas would be as follows: Non-sandbar LCS--168.2 mt dw;
and blacknose sharks--18 mt dw. The new aggregated LCS complex in the
Atlantic would consist of blacktip, bull, lemon, nurse, spinner, silky,
and tiger sharks. We would need to prohibit the retention of blacknose
sharks in the Gulf of Mexico region so we can meet the rebuilding plan
for this species.
    When taken as a whole, Alternative Suite A3 would have direct
moderate, beneficial ecological impacts in the short-term since changes
to the Atlantic shark fisheries would help rebuild scalloped hammerhead
and blacknose shark stocks, but long-term impacts would be minor and
adverse because the absence of quota linkages could allow overfishing
to continue through dead discards in other fisheries. The indirect
ecological impacts would be neutral to essential fish habitat,
predator/prey relationships, or protected resources because fishing
pressure is expected to remain near current levels. Establishing a Gulf
of Mexico blacktip shark total allowable catch at a level 30 percent
greater than the total allowable catch calculated in Alternative Suite
2 could increase shark fishing effort and, as described above, might
have adverse ecological impacts on other shark stocks and other
species. It is also uncertain what impact the increase would have on
the Gulf of Mexico shark stock because there is high degree of
uncertainty associated with the projections, particularly since these
projections were not peer reviewed as part of the Southeast Data,
Assessment and Review process.
    Additionally, Alternative Suite A3 would likely have direct short-
and long-term moderate beneficial socioeconomic impacts, mainly
resulting from the increase in Gulf of Mexico blacktip quota. Adverse
impacts would mostly affect fishermen catching hammerhead and blacknose
sharks. The hammerhead shark quota would be based on the scalloped
hammerhead shark total allowable catch and would reduce all hammerhead
shark landings. The blacknose shark quota in the Atlantic would be
reduced, while the Gulf of Mexico blacknose shark retention would be
prohibited to meet the total allowable catch. Recreational management
measures would affect fishermen who catch hammerhead sharks since the
increased size limit would result in more hammerhead sharks having to
be released, and blacknose sharks would be prohibited under this
Alternative Suite. Neutral socioeconomic impacts are expected for
fishermen targeting the aggregated LCS and non-blacknose SCS complexes
since these management measures would maintain status quo in these
fisheries. Furthermore, the lack of quota linkages in Alternative Suite
A3 would allow fishermen to fully harvest all of the quotas. This
alternative would likely have indirect short-term minor adverse
socioeconomic impacts. The measures in this Alternative Suite adjust
quotas based on new scientific information and would impact shark
landings. Consequently, dealers and supporting businesses such as bait
and tackle suppliers may experience minor adverse impacts in the short-
term, but since they do not rely solely on the shark fishery and buy
from and sell to a variety of fisheries, the impacts are expected to be
neutral in the long-term. The changes to quotas would impact fishermen
retaining sharks, but the changes are small enough that dealers and
supporting businesses are unlikely to experience impacts from this
Alternative Suite. While Alternative Suite A3 might have more
beneficial direct socioeconomic impacts than the proposed Preferred
Alternative Suite A2, the ecological impacts would be adverse and would
not achieve the rebuilding plan targets for these stocks.
    Indirect short- and long-term moderate beneficial socioeconomic
impacts would likely result from this Alternative Suite's actions. The
measures in this Alternative Suite adjust quotas based on new
scientific information and would impact shark landings. Consequently,
the increase in the commercial Gulf of Mexico blacktip shark quota
could result in short- and long-term beneficial economic impacts for
dealers and supporting businesses such as bait and tackle suppliers.
The other changes to quotas (e.g., scalloped hammerhead, blacknose)
would impact fishermen retaining sharks, but the changes are small
enough that dealers and supporting businesses are unlikely to
experience impacts from this alternative suite. This increase in the
Gulf of Mexico blacktip quota could lead to increased revenues of
$314,376 when compared to the quota calculated in Alternative Suite A2.
Because of the uncertainty in the projections and because this
Alternative Suite does not have quota linkages that would prevent quota
exceedances from occurring (and thus would affect the ability to end
overfishing and rebuild the species), we do not prefer this Alternative
Suite at this time.
    We also considered Alternative Suite A4. This Alternative Suite is
different than the Proposed Alternative Suite A2 because it would
establish regional scalloped hammerhead shark quotas, establish
regional aggregated LCS quotas based on the largest landings, divide
the non-blacknose SCS quota in half for each region, and establish
species-specific recreational shark quotas. Specifically, Alternative
Suite A4 would establish new species complexes by regions, adjust LCS
and SCS quotas, prohibit retention of commercial blacknose sharks in
the Gulf of Mexico region, link appropriate quotas, and establish
species-specific recreational shark quotas. The alternative would
remove scalloped hammerhead sharks from the non-sandbar LCS complex to
form separate regional quotas, and create regional quotas for blacknose
and non-blacknose SCS. Also, blacktip sharks would be removed from the
Gulf of Mexico non-sandbar LCS complex and the non-sandbar LCS complex
would be renamed ``aggregated LCS'' in both the Atlantic and Gulf of
Mexico. The new Gulf of Mexico base quotas would be as follows:
scalloped hammerhead sharks 24.4 mt dw; blacktip sharks 1,992.6 mt dw;
non-sandbar LCS 185.2 mt dw; and non-blacknose SCS 110.8 mt dw. The new
aggregated LCS complex in the Gulf of Mexico region would consist of
bull, lemon, nurse, spinner, silky, and tiger sharks. In the Atlantic
region, base quotas would be as follows: scalloped hammerhead sharks
27.8 mt dw; non-sandbar LCS 180.1 mt dw; blacknose sharks 18 mt dw; and
non-blacknose SCS 110.8 mt dw. The new aggregated LCS in the Atlantic
region would consist of blacktip, bull, lemon, nurse, spinner, silky,
and tiger sharks. This Alternative Suite would also link the species
within regional LCS and SCS quotas to prevent overfishing of one
species while fishing for another species/group continues. Under this
Alternative Suite, we would prohibit the retention of blacknose sharks
in the Gulf of Mexico to end overfishing and meet the rebuilding plan
target for this species.
    Considering all the ecological impacts for each species, complex,
or issue as discussed above, when taken as a whole, Alternative Suite
A4 would likely have direct short- and long-term minor beneficial
ecological impacts. Overfishing on scalloped hammerhead and Atlantic
blacknose sharks would be addressed, and the rebuilding plans for these
stocks would be implemented.

[[Page 70562]]

However, only scalloped hammerhead sharks would be included under the
scalloped hammerhead total allowable catch, rather than all three large
hammerhead species as in Alternative Suites A2 and A3, possibly leading
to exceedances of scalloped hammerhead total allowable catch due to
capture and retention of scalloped hammerheads misidentified as other
hammerhead species. Additionally, the Atlantic non-blacknose SCS
commercial quota would be reduced. Indirect short- and long-term
ecological impacts resulting from any of the Alternative Suite A4
actions would likely be neutral. Similarly, all impacts on protected
resources would be neutral as well because the measures in Alternative
Suite A4 would be unlikely to significantly alter effort in the
Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico shark fisheries. Therefore, additional
impacts to essential fish habitat, predator/prey relationships, or
protected resources are unlikely. Although this alternative suite would
allow for the highest Gulf of Mexico blacktip shark commercial quota,
it is based on base model projections, which the NMFS scientists who
participated in the stock assessment felt had a high degree of
uncertainty, and, because these projections were developed outside of
the standard Southeast Data, Assessment and Review process and were not
been peer reviewed, they could not conclude with certainty that such a
high level of catch would not result in overfishing. Therefore, given
the uncertainty in the results of the projections at this level of
catch, this alternative suite could lead to long-term adverse
ecological impacts due to overfishing if the projections were overly
optimistic.
    Alternative Suite A4 would likely have direct short- and long-term
minor adverse socioeconomic impacts. These impacts would mostly affect
fishermen catching blacknose sharks. The blacknose shark quota in the
Atlantic would be reduced, while the Gulf of Mexico blacknose shark
retention would be prohibited to prevent exceedance of the total
allowable catch. Recreational management measures would affect
fishermen who retain sharks since we would implement species- and
complex-specific quotas for the recreational fishery. Neutral
socioeconomic impacts are expected for recreational and commercial
fishermen targeting scalloped hammerhead sharks, aggregated LCS, and
non-blacknose SCS as detailed in those sections of this Alternative
Suite. While this alternative suite might have minor adverse
socioeconomic impacts, there is the potential for more adverse
socioeconomic impacts if quotas are exceeded in the future. Although
this alternative suite would allow for the highest Gulf of Mexico
blacktip shark commercial quota, as described above, the stock
assessment scientists could not conclude with certainty that such a
high level of catch would not result in overfishing. In addition to the
uncertainty in the model, the blacktip shark quota proposed under this
alternative suite could lead to increased bycatch of other species due
to increased fishing effort.
    Indirect short-term minor adverse socioeconomic impacts would
likely result from this Alternative Suite's actions. The measures in
this Alternative Suite adjust quotas based on new scientific
information and would impact shark landings. Consequently, dealers and
supporting businesses such as bait and tackle suppliers may experience
minor adverse impacts in the short-term, but since they do not rely
solely on the shark fishery and buy from and sell to a variety of
fisheries, the impacts are expected to be neutral in the long-term. The
changes to quotas would impact fishermen retaining sharks, but the
changes are small enough that dealers and supporting businesses are
unlikely to experience impacts from this Alternative Suite. In summary,
this Alternative Suite is less likely to end overfishing on scalloped
hammerhead due to catch and misidentification as other hammerheads and
because of the administrative difficulties in establishing and
monitoring numerous hammerhead species-specific recreational quotas.
Additionally, this Alternative Suite may not prevent overfishing on
Gulf of Mexico blacktip sharks and could increase fishing mortality of
other sharks as bycatch. Furthermore, while this Alternative Suite
might have minor adverse socioeconomic impacts, there is the potential
for more adverse socioeconomic impacts if quotas are exceeded and
stocks are prevented from rebuilding it may become necessary to
implement smaller quotas and more strict retention limits. For all
these reasons, and because of the potential for additional adverse
socioeconomic impacts if quotas are exceeded, we do not prefer this
Alternative Suite at this time.
    The last Alternative Suite we considered in this section is
Alternative Suite A5. Under this Alternative Suite, all commercial and
recreational shark fisheries, except spiny dogfish, in all regions (the
Atlantic Ocean including the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea) would
close. As a whole, Alternative Suite A5 would have significant
beneficial ecological impacts in the short- and long-term. Overfishing
on scalloped hammerhead and Atlantic blacknose sharks would end, and
rebuilding plan targets would be achieved. By preventing the landing of
any sharks, except spiny dogfish, in the Atlantic Ocean, including the
Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, we would affect not only the species
that are overfished, but all other shark species. This Alternative
Suite would cause an increase in the number of dead discards of sharks
that are caught as bycatch in other fisheries because none of those
sharks could be legally landed. Also, closing the recreational shark
fishery effectively would create a catch and release requirement for
all Atlantic sharks, except spiny dogfish, in the recreational fishery
and all tournaments that have Atlantic shark prize categories. Indirect
short- and long-term ecological impacts resulting from any of the
Alternative Suite A5 actions would likely be significantly beneficial.
These measures could eliminate effort in the Atlantic Ocean, including
the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, shark fisheries; therefore
additional impacts to essential fish habitat, predator/prey
relationships, or protected resources are unlikely. This Alternative
Suite would likely have direct short- and long-term significant adverse
socioeconomic impacts because all recreational and commercial shark
fishing would be prohibited. Indirect short- and long-term
socioeconomic impacts resulting from this Alternative Suite's actions
would likely be moderately adverse. The measures in this Alternative
Suite would shut down the commercial and recreational shark fisheries,
and dealers and supporting businesses such as bait and tackle suppliers
would likely be adversely impacted due to decreased shark catches and
sales. Because other alternatives should meet the objectives of this
Amendment with less significant adverse socioeconomic impacts, and
because this Alternative Suite would curtail data collection for future
stock assessments, we do not prefer this Alternative Suite at this
time.

Summary of the Alternatives Considered Regarding Pelagic and Bottom
Longline Effort Modifications/Controls

    Dusky sharks are overfished and continue to experience overfishing,
even though they have been a prohibited shark species since 2000.
Therefore, we are considering a number of individually-assessed
alternatives that would address pelagic and bottom longline fishing
effort to further reduce

[[Page 70563]]

interactions and fishing mortality of dusky sharks, especially since
dusky sharks tend to have high at-vessel mortality rates on commercial
fishing gear. Although these alternatives are mainly targeted at dusky
sharks, they should also help end overfishing on other shark species
including scalloped hammerhead sharks and help rebuild other species of
sharks such as scalloped hammerhead and sandbar sharks. We chose to
consider the alternatives described in this section because they meet
the objectives of this rulemaking consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens
Act, the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP and its amendments, and other
requirements.
    Some of the alternatives are based on current time/area closures
while others would develop additional time/area closures. The first
time/area closure in the HMS regulations was implemented in the 1999
FMP with the Northeastern U.S. closure off New Jersey in June to reduce
bluefin tuna discards. Since then, additional closures have been
implemented by us and the Regional Fishery Management Councils that
affect HMS fishermen. The goals of all of the HMS time/area closures
are to: (1) Maximize the reduction in bycatch; (2) minimize the effects
of any reduction in the target catch; and (3) consider impacts on non-
target HMS (e.g., bluefin tuna, undersized swordfish) to minimize or
reduce non-target catch levels, to the extent practicable.
    In looking at time/area closures, we analyzed various fishing data
using two different methodologies. One methodology is to assume
redistribution of effort. Under this methodology, fishing effort that
occurred in an area considered for closure is assumed to move into
areas that remain open. In other words, we assumed all fishermen would
continue fishing in an open area for the duration of the closure or
would sell their permits to other fishermen who would continue fishing
in the open areas. A second methodology is to assume no redistribution
of effort. Under this methodology, fishing effort that occurred in an
area considered for closure is assumed to stop. In other words, we
assumed all fishermen would stop fishing entirely for the duration of
the closure rather than fish in an open area. In reality, the impact of
any particular closure or group of closures is likely to be somewhere
between the results of these two methodologies as some fishermen will
continue fishing while other fishermen will move onto different species
or to other occupations.

C. Summary of the Proposed Individual Alternatives

    We are proposing three Alternatives (Alternatives B3, B5, and B6)
that would modify pelagic and bottom longline fishing effort. The first
alternative is Alternative B3. Alternative B3 would identify discrete
areas in space and time where high dusky shark interactions occurred
(according to HMS logbook data from 2008-2010), and would prohibit
pelagic longline fishing in these dusky shark ``hotspot'' areas by all
U.S. flagged-vessels permitted to fish for HMS. ``Hotspot'' areas were
identified by using Geographic Information System software to plot the
location and timing of dusky shark interactions based on latitude and
longitude coordinates of individual sets made with pelagic longline
gear between 2008 and 2010. In order to maximize the efficacy of
hotspot closed areas, areas were selected based on the number and
concentration of interactions and the ability to delineate a simple
polygon that would encapsulate these interactions. Discrete,
identifiable areas with fishing effort that contributed to greater than
10 dusky shark interactions over the 3-year period were included for
analysis. Areas with fewer than 10 dusky shark interactions over the 3-
year period were not included because they would not make a significant
contribution to reducing dusky shark interactions. Furthermore, odd-
shaped or excessively large polygons were avoided in favor of more
discrete areas for shorter periods of time to avoid significant
disruptions to fishing activity while ensuring dusky shark interactions
are reduced. Using this methodology, a total of eight hotspot areas are
proposed to be closed to pelagic longline fishing.
    In draft Amendment 5, the eight hotspot closed areas are subdivided
into alternatives B3a through B3h. While draft Amendment 5 looks at the
impact of each individual hotspot closed area, all of these hotspot
closed areas are included and proposed under Alternative B3 because
their cumulative reduction in dusky shark interactions would be
necessary to assist in reaching reductions in fishing mortality
recommended by the stock assessment. A summary of the cumulative impact
of all eight hotspot closed areas is included below. For more details
regarding the impact of each individual hotspot closed area, please see
draft Amendment 5.
    The primary goal of the proposed hotspot closed areas for pelagic
longline gear is to maximize reductions in interactions with dusky
sharks while minimizing impacts to target species or other bycatch,
including protected resources. By limiting the size and duration of
these hotspot closed areas, the Agency is attempting to minimize any
negative ecological impacts that could occur if fishing effort
redistributes to adjacent areas. The cumulative impact of combining the
eight preferred hotspot closed areas for pelagic longline gear under
Alternative B3 and assuming redistribution of fishing effort would
reduce the number of dusky shark interactions by 854 dusky sharks. This
represents a 49-percent reduction in the number of dusky shark
interactions compared to current levels. If fishing effort were not
redistributed, dusky shark interactions would be reduced by 55-percent.
Reducing dusky shark interactions to this extent would result in
direct, moderate, beneficial long-term ecological benefits for dusky
shark populations consistent with stock assessment recommendations to
reduce fishing mortality by 62 percent in all fisheries. Short-term,
moderate beneficial impacts for dusky sharks are expected as well;
however, it would take time to see any impacts on the dusky shark
population.
    The ecological impacts on 34 HMS and non-HMS target species,
prohibited species, and bycatch depends on the species and whether or
not interactions increase or decrease after redistribution of fishing
effort as a result of the eight closures. See draft Amendment 5 for
tables summarizing the impacts of the proposed closure for these
individual species, both with and without redistribution of fishing
effort. Generally, we expect direct, moderate, beneficial, short- and
long-term ecological impacts for protected sea turtles because after
redistributing fishing effort to adjacent open areas, interactions with
sea turtles would decrease by three leatherback and 23 loggerhead sea
turtles. Given the moderate direct impacts of most species, with the
exception of dusky sharks, the indirect impacts of Alternative B3 on
ecosystem function and predator/prey relationships are anticipated to
be neutral in the short- and long-term.
    These pelagic longline hotspot closed areas are being considered
along with other measures that would affect the number of dusky shark
interactions in bottom longline and recreational fisheries, although
the alternatives are being assessed individually. While Alternative B3
may not reduce the number of dusky shark interactions in the pelagic
longline fishery by the 62-percent target outlined in the 2009 stock
assessment, measures proposed for the bottom longline and recreational
fisheries may reduce interactions by

[[Page 70564]]

more than 62-percent. Considered together, the target reductions for
dusky shark interactions outlined in the stock assessment would be
achieved. Furthermore, in May of 2011, the Agency implemented a
requirement that pelagic longline vessels in the Gulf of Mexico use
weak hooks in order to minimize bycatch of large, spawning bluefin tuna
on the spawning grounds. Based on research conducted by the Southeast
Fisheries Science Center, Mississippi Laboratory, two dusky sharks were
caught on experimental weak hooks and four dusky sharks were caught on
the standard (non-weak) hooks. This requirement has direct ecological
benefits for dusky shark populations in the Gulf of Mexico, and is also
included in the reduction targets for dusky sharks to end overfishing
and rebuild the stock. Between 2008 and 2010, logbook reports indicate
that 133 dusky sharks were discarded in the Gulf of Mexico. The number
of dusky shark discards is expected to decrease with the implementation
of weak hooks because larger dusky sharks may be able to straighten the
hook.
    Implementing the eight time/area hotspot closed areas included in
Alternative B3 would result in direct, moderate, adverse socioeconomic
impacts in the short-term on participants in the pelagic longline
fishery. While these impacts may become less adverse in the long-term
as the pelagic longline fleet adjusts their fishing activities after
implementation of the closures, the time/area closures would result in
reduced fishing opportunities in the near-term. In addition to direct
impacts to vessels owners, operators, and crew members, these time/area
closures would have minor, adverse indirect impacts in the short- and
long-term on fish dealers, processors, bait/gear suppliers, and other
shore-based businesses impacted by reduced fishing opportunities for
pelagic longline vessel owners in the vicinity of the proposed
closures. The closures may result in indirect social impacts ranging
from disruption of local fishing communities to relocation of vessels
and homeports, loss of crew, increased time at sea, and other social
hardships stemming from further reducing fishing opportunities in the
vicinity of the respective closures. Overall, the proposed time/area
closures in Alternative B3 would reduce annual revenues by $385,423 per
year and would impact 72 unique vessels that have fished in these
hotspot closed areas between 2008 and 2010.
    In addition to Alternative B3, we are also proposing Alternative
B5, which would modify the timing of the existing mid-Atlantic shark
time/area closure from January 1 through July 31 to December 15 through
July 15. In other words, this alternative would modify the timing of
the existing mid-Atlantic shark time/area closure by two weeks. The
Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Shark Plan closes state
waters in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey from May 15
through July 15 every year to protect nursery areas during pupping
season. The purpose of Alternative B5 is to ensure that the end date of
the closure coincides with the season opening dates in the Atlantic
States Marine Fisheries Commission Shark Plan (i.e., July 15) while
maintaining the total length of the closure, and to address requests
from the State of North Carolina to revisit this time/area closure in
regards to impacts to that one state. The State of North Carolina has
made several requests, both formally and informally, since 2008 for the
Agency to reconsider the timing of the end date of the mid Atlantic
Shark Closed Area because North Carolina feels the current opening of
July 31 disadvantages its fishermen, contrary to National Standard 4,
compared to other states in the region. Thus, North Carolina would like
to have Federal waters available to its fishermen on July 15,
consistent with the ASMFC Shark Plan and other states near it. These
comments have been received during the public comment period for
actions that affect the shark fishery. The dimensions of the closure
would remain the same and only the start and end dates of the closure
would change.
    The mid-Atlantic closed area was implemented to reduce bycatch of
dusky sharks, along with neonate and juvenile sandbar sharks.
Alternative B5 would result in direct and indirect, neutral, short- and
long-term ecological benefits for both dusky and sandbar shark stocks
as the closure area timing would be shifted by 15 days and should not
have a significant impact on fishing effort with bottom longline gear
in this area. Fishing effort for sharks in this area would continue to
be impacted by the timing of the Federal shark season for LCS, which in
recent years, has not opened until July. This alternative would not
affect the rebuilding plans for dusky and sandbar sharks and would have
neutral impacts on protected resources because the duration of the
closure is not affected, while the timing of the closure is affected
(15 days). Direct, neutral, short- and long-term ecological impacts for
protected resources are expected. Given the neutral impacts on most
species, the indirect impacts of Alternative B5 on ecosystem function
and predator/prey relationships are also anticipated to be neutral in
the short- and long-term.
    Alternative B5 is anticipated to have direct, minor, beneficial
short- and long-term socioeconomic impacts because fishermen in North
Carolina would have access to adjacent Federal waters, consistent with
other shark fisheries in other states and the Atlantic States Marine
Fisheries Commission Shark Plan. In the short-term, revenue gain would
be minor for the 17 directed shark permit and 12 incidental shark
permit holders along with state-water fishermen that might normally
fish in the mid-Atlantic closed area. These North Carolina fishermen
would be able to fish sooner than in previous years, but the adjustment
to the starting date of the closure would have minor impacts. In the
past 4 years, the non-sandbar LCS fishery, which primarily uses bottom
longline gear, has only been open beyond December 15 once. This
occurred in 2008 when the fishery opened in late July under the current
fishing regulations. Since then, the non-sandbar LCS fishery has closed
before December 15. Over the long-term, the economic impact would be
minor, as the fishermen are likely to adapt to the new regulations.
    Alternative B5 is preferred because it would result in beneficial
economic impacts and would not have adverse ecological impacts. This
alternative was included in response to several requests from the State
of North Carolina for the Agency to reconsider the timing of the end
date of the mid-Atlantic Shark Closed Area because North Carolina feels
the current opening of July 31 disadvantages its fishermen, contrary to
National Standard 4, compared to other states in the region. Thus,
North Carolina would like to have Federal waters available to its
fishermen on July 15, consistent with the ASMFC Shark Plan and other
states near it. These comments have been received in writing during the
public comment period for actions that affect the shark fishery. The
dimensions of the closure would remain the same and only the start and
end dates of the closure would change. It is not expected to have any
impacts to the rebuilding plans for dusky or sandbar sharks because
overall fishing effort (and fishing mortality) would still be regulated
by quotas and retention limits for target species.
    The last effort-control proposed alternative is alternative B6.
This alternative would modify the existing bottom longline shark
research fishery to reduce dusky shark interactions by 62 percent, at a
minimum, while still allowing for shark biological and catch

[[Page 70565]]

rate data to be collected. In 2008, we implemented a shark research
fishery that allowed fishermen to target and retain sandbar sharks to
maintain the commercial fishery time series and to obtain biological
information for stock assessments. Fishermen participating in the shark
research fishery are generally targeting sandbar sharks, and can catch
dusky sharks as bycatch. A total of 450 dusky sharks were caught during
shark research fishery trips from 2008 through 2011 with 263 being
discarded dead. We need to reduce the bycatch of dusky sharks in the
shark research fishery to ensure that the dusky rebuilding plan target
is achieved. Measures considered to reduce dusky shark interactions,
include, but are not limited to: Limitations on soak time, limits on
the number of hooks deployed per set, prohibiting participants from
deploying bottom longline gear at times and in areas where elevated
levels of dusky shark interactions have been observed, and/or stopping
the shark research fishery, or a specific vessel in the fishery, for
the year if a certain number of dusky shark interactions is reached.
Reduction in dusky shark interactions may need to be greater than 62
percent in the shark research fishery if reductions in other fisheries
(i.e., pelagic longline and recreational) do not reach their targets.
    There are a several options we could use to reduce dusky shark
mortality in this fishery. Based on preliminary data, we would have to
limit soak times to approximately 4 hours to reduce dusky shark
mortality by 50 percent. Another way to reduce dusky shark mortality
would be to limit the number of hooks deployed per set. Decreasing the
number of hooks and limiting the soak time would decrease the mortality
and possible interaction with dusky sharks. In addition, we have
noticed certain areas where a large number of dusky sharks have been
caught (i.e., the mid-Atlantic shark bottom longline closed area).
Fishing in these locations resulted in 71 percent of the dusky shark
dead discards from 2008 through 2011. We could prohibit participants
from deploying bottom longline gear at times and/or in areas where
elevated levels of dusky shark interactions have been observed. Another
potential way to decrease dead discards of dusky sharks would be to
implement a bycatch cap for dusky shark interactions in the shark
research fishery. The potential ramifications of a dusky shark bycatch
cap could limit the fishing opportunities to collect data for the shark
research fishery if the bycatch cap is reached.
    Alternative B6 would have direct, moderate, beneficial ecological
impacts for dusky sharks in the short- and long-term. Indirect, minor
beneficial impacts would be expected as a result of limiting soak time
because of increased post-release survival rates of sharks, and
teleosts in the short- and long-term. The potential changes in the
shark research fishery are targeted to reduce dusky shark dead
discards, but the possible modifications would benefit all sharks.
Limiting soak time, decreasing the number of hooks per set, restricting
fishing areas, or reducing overall fishing effort by restricting
participation in the research fishery would have minor, indirect
beneficial ecological impacts. However, extensive modifications to the
shark research fishery could become so restricting in the view of
fishery participants that participation decreases and valuable data
from the shark research fishery could be lost. Direct, neutral, short-
and long-term ecological impacts for protected resources are expected.
Given the neutral to minor beneficial ecological impacts on most
species, with the exception of dusky sharks, the indirect impacts of
Alternative B6 on ecosystem function and predator/prey relationships
are also anticipated to be neutral in the short- and long-term.
    Alternative B6 could result in direct, minor adverse socioeconomic
impacts in the short-term for fishermen participating in the shark
research fishery because of additional restrictions placed on
participating vessels. Long-term impacts are not anticipated because
the pool of applicants and those selected for participation in the
shark research fishery changes on an annual basis. Fishermen
participating in the research fishery are targeting sandbar sharks;
however, dusky sharks are often caught as bycatch when targeting
sandbar sharks. These measures could change the way that the shark
research fishery operates, which could result in direct, short-term,
minor adverse socioeconomic impacts. However, it is anticipated that
vessels will continue to want to participate in the shark research
fishery because these vessels have the exclusive privilege of being
able to target and harvest sandbar sharks, a high-fin-value species.
There is a possibility that these measures would help sandbar sharks
rebuild more quickly and increase commercial fisheries opportunities in
the future. Indirect impacts in the short-term would be minor and
adverse due to reduced revenues for fish dealers and other support
industries that may occur if fishing effort is curtailed in the shark
research fishery.
    An objective of this rulemaking is to reduce fishing mortality of
dusky sharks. Alternative B6 is preferred because it would result in
beneficial ecological impacts by reducing the number of dusky shark
interactions that occur on bottom longline gear. Since the majority of
the interactions with dusky sharks and bottom longline gear occur in
the shark research fishery, it is important that modifications in this
fishery that reduce interactions with dusky sharks by vessels targeting
sandbar sharks. Economic impacts are expected to be minor and adverse
as a result of reduced soak time, limiting the number of hooks deployed
per set, or preventing fishermen from fishing in areas with elevated
densities of sandbar sharks in order to reduce the potential for dusky
shark interactions.

D. Summary of the Other Individual Alternatives Considered

    In addition to proposed alternatives B3, B5, and B6, we considered
four other alternatives, including Alternative B1, the status quo or No
Action Alternative; Alternative B2, which would extend the existing
Charleston Bump time/area closure through May (Feb. 1 through May 31)
and prohibit the use of pelagic longline gear by all U.S. flagged-
vessels permitted to fish for HMS in this area; Alternative B4, which
would implement bycatch caps on dusky shark interactions in hotspot
areas identified for closure in Alternative B3; and Alternative B7,
which would prohibit the use of pelagic and bottom longline gear in HMS
fisheries in all areas to enhance rebuilding of overfished dusky
sharks, as well as other overfished shark species (sharks would still
be able to be retained recreationally and commercially with gillnets).
    Alternative B1, the No Action Alternative, would maintain all
existing time/area closures for pelagic and bottom longline fishermen.
The pelagic longline fishery for Atlantic HMS primarily targets
swordfish, yellowfin tuna, and bigeye tuna in various areas and
seasons. Secondary target species include dolphin, albacore tuna, and,
to a lesser degree, sharks, among other species. Although this gear can
be modified (e.g., depth of set, hook type, hook size, bait, etc.) to
target swordfish, tunas, or sharks, it is generally a multi-species
fishery. These vessel operators are opportunistic, switching gear style
and making subtle changes to target the best available economic
opportunity of each individual trip. Pelagic longline gear sometimes
attracts and hooks non-target finfish with little or no commercial
value, as well as species that cannot be retained by commercial
fishermen due to regulations, such as

[[Page 70566]]

billfish. Pelagic longline gear may also interact with protected
species such as marine mammals, sea turtles, and seabirds. As of
October 2011, there were 242 vessels that could use pelagic longline to
catch HMS. The effectiveness of existing pelagic longline time/area
closures in reducing bycatch has been evaluated on an annual basis
since 2006 for the HMS Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation Report.
In the 2011 Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation report, we examined
the combined effects of the individual time/area closures and gear
restrictions, comparing the reported catch and discards from 2005
through 2010 to the averages for 1997 through 1999, throughout the
entire U.S. Atlantic fishery. Overall effort, expressed as the number
of hooks reported per set, declined by 27.6 percent during 2005 through
2010 compared to1997 through 1999. We also noted declines in both the
numbers of kept animals and discards of almost all species examined,
including swordfish, tunas, sharks, billfish, and sea turtles. The only
increases from the base period were the numbers of bluefin tuna and
dolphin kept. The closures also had an impact with respect to the
number of interactions with bycatch and protected species (turtles).
    The bottom longline fishery targets sharks. Comparing landings
reported from the South Atlantic region between 2002 through 2004
(without closed area) with 2005 (with closed area) indicates that
landings of LCS decreased by 22.3 percent after implementation of the
mid-Atlantic shark closed area. Landings of sandbar sharks in the South
Atlantic region decreased by 26.7 percent in 2005 compared to 2002-
2004, which could have been a result of the mid-Atlantic shark closed
area. In addition, observer data from 1994 to 2004 (i.e., before the
implementation of the closed area) indicate that there have been five
loggerhead sea turtles observed caught on bottom longline gear in the
vicinity of the mid-Atlantic shark closed area, two of which were
released alive. Therefore, maintaining the mid-Atlantic closed area
under Alternative B1 may maintain reductions in sea turtle interactions
with sea turtles and bottom longline gear when compared to pre-closure
levels, and, therefore have positive ecological impacts for protected
resources.
    Despite the ecological benefits of the existing pelagic and bottom
longline time/area closures, dusky sharks continue to experience
overfishing, and additional measures to reduce interactions and
mortality of dusky sharks in HMS fisheries are necessary based on the
most recent assessment. Maintaining the existing time/area closures,
and not implementing additional closures, would result in direct,
minor, adverse, short-term ecological impacts for dusky sharks. These
impacts would likely become moderate and/or significant as existing
interaction rates for dusky sharks would continue to exacerbate
overfishing, thus inhibiting the probability that dusky shark
populations would rebuild by 2099. The direct and indirect impacts on
other species, both HMS and non-HMS target species, bycatch, and
protected resources, are expected to be neutral in the short- and long-
term because the existing time/area closures would be maintained. Given
the minor direct impacts of most species, including dusky sharks, we
expect the indirect impacts to ecosystem function and predator/prey
relationships as a result of Alternative B1 to be neutral in the short-
and long-term.
    Maintaining the existing pelagic and bottom longline closures and
not implementing additional time/area closures, as proposed in this
rulemaking, would have direct, neutral, short-term economic impacts.
Vessels would continue to operate subject to existing regulations,
including time/area closures, therefore no new economic impacts would
be associated with maintaining the status quo. However, in the long-
term, if additional measures to prevent overfishing of dusky sharks and
allow populations to rebuild were implemented, including time/area
closures, minor to moderate adverse economic impacts could be
experienced by participants in the pelagic and bottom longline
fisheries.
    In addition to direct impacts to vessels owners, operators, and
crew members, this alternative would have also have neutral indirect
impacts in the short- and long-term on fish dealers, processors, bait/
gear suppliers, and other shore-based businesses impacted by fishing
opportunities for pelagic and bottom longline vessels. Maintaining the
status quo would also result in neutral impacts on local fishing
communities because it would not modify the existing time/area closures
or require that vessels relocate from homeports, have longer trips at
sea, and other social hardships that stem from further reducing fishing
opportunities for Atlantic HMS vessels.
    Alternative B1, the No Action Alternative, is not preferred because
maintaining the status quo would not reduce dusky shark fishing
mortality by 62 percent, consistent with the stock assessment
recommendations. Although the economic impacts of maintaining the
status quo would be largely neutral, the adverse ecological impacts are
unacceptable and inconsistent with the objectives of this rulemaking,
specifically, to implement ``stand-alone measures to reduce shark
fishing mortality to rebuild overfished stocks and end overfishing.''
    Alternative B2 would extend the Charleston Bump time/area closure
through the month of May. This alternative would result in direct,
moderate, beneficial ecological impacts for dusky sharks. In the short-
term, these impacts may be minor compared to the long-term where
impacts may increase to ``moderate'' because the benefits of reducing
interactions with individual dusky sharks may take several years to
affect the dusky shark population. However, the ecological impacts on
numerous HMS and non-HMS target species, prohibited species, and other
bycatch depends on the species and whether or not interactions increase
or decrease after redistribution of fishing effort from the closed area
to adjacent open areas in the Charleston Bump. The direct ecological
impacts of closing the Charleston Bump during the month of May would
have minor beneficial impacts in the short- and long-term for protected
resources because interactions with leatherback and loggerhead sea
turtles would decrease by one turtle per species.
    Additionally, Alternative B2 would result in direct, moderate,
adverse short- and long-term economic impacts. On average from 2008 to
2010, 27 vessels fished in the area that would be closed. However, all
pelagic longline vessels could potentially be affected by reduced
fishing opportunities. Overall, the annual average reduction in
revenues as a result of this closure would be $385,887 (fishery-wide),
after adjusting for redistribution of effort into remaining open areas
of the South Atlantic Bight Statistical reporting area. Vessels fishing
in this area during the month of May are primarily targeting swordfish
and dolphin, and, to a lesser extent, wahoo and yellowfin tuna.
Reductions of 46 percent (-$356,001) and 12 percent (-$148,447) for
swordfish and dolphin, respectively, would be expected on a regional
basis after fishing effort is redistributed to remaining open areas of
the South Atlantic Bight Statistical reporting area. Wahoo revenues
would decrease by 78 percent regionally (-$7,434) with redistribution
of fishing effort. Redistributing fishing effort to remaining open
areas of the South Atlantic Bight would increase interactions and
revenues from bluefin tuna (+$32,758), yellowfin tuna

[[Page 70567]]

(+$60,831), and bigeye tuna (+$23,111). While most pelagic longline
vessels do not target sharks, revenues from sharks (predominately from
shortfin mako sharks) would increase by $9,442.
    Alternative B2 would extend an existing three month time/area
closure for pelagic longline vessels in the Charleston Bump region for
an additional month, which would impose limits on regional fishing
opportunities. In addition to direct impacts to vessels owners,
operators, and crew members, this alternative would have minor, adverse
indirect impacts in the short- and long-term on fish dealers,
processors, bait/gear suppliers, and other shore-based businesses in
the vicinity of the closure. Impacts would be more pronounced in the
vicinity of the proposed closure because of the size and duration of
the closure because regional vessel owners would have to travel further
to fish in open areas; however, pelagic longline vessels from other
areas that have traditionally fished in the proposed closure would also
experience adverse economic impacts. The closure may result in numerous
indirect social impacts ranging from disruption of local fishing
communities to relocation of vessels and homeports, loss of crew,
increased time at sea, and other social hardships stemming from further
reducing fishing opportunities in the Charleston Bump region.
    Alternative B2 is not preferred because Alternative B3 meets the
Amendment's objectives and Alternative B2 would result in adverse
economic impacts compared to Alternative B3. Alternative B3 includes a
sub alternative (Alternative B3a) that would close a portion of the
area encapsulated in Alternative B2 where the majority of the dusky
shark interactions occur but would not close the entire Charleston
Bump. The objective of this rulemaking is to reduce fishing mortality
of dusky sharks, and Alternative B2 would reduce dusky shark
interactions by an additional nine fish, compared to Alternative B3a.
However, interactions with some other species would increase (tiger
sharks, hammerhead sharks, sandbar sharks, bluefin tuna, and blue
marlin). On balance, Alternative B2 is not selected and Alternative B3
is preferred because Alternative B3a provides ecological benefits that
meet the Amendment's objectives while mitigating economic impacts.
    Alternative B4 would implement bycatch caps on dusky shark
interactions in hotspot areas identified for closure in Alternatives
B3. Under this alternative, fishermen could fish in hotspot areas until
a specified number of dusky shark interactions occur. If vessel owners
are selected for observer coverage and an observer is available, these
vessels would be able to fish in hotspot areas within statistical
reporting areas for which they had been selected. Vessel operators
would be able to fish outside of an area for which they had been
selected but they would not be able to fish within any hotspot areas in
other statistical reporting areas. This alternative would not
completely close the hotspot areas and fishing would still be allowed,
with 100-percent observer coverage. The number of dusky shark
interactions allowed in hotspot areas would be set at 10 percent of the
estimated 3-year reduction in dusky shark interactions by closing each
hotspot area and accounting for redistribution of effort. Once observed
interactions with dusky sharks meet the 10-percent threshold for a
particular hotspot area, then that area would be closed for the
remainder of the 3-year period. Any overharvests in excess of the
bycatch cap would be accounted for in the subsequent 3-year period.
    The ecological impacts of hotspot area closures in Alternative B4
would be similar to those described for the proposed hotspot closed
areas in Alternative B3. Overall, for dusky sharks, this alternative
would also have moderate, direct beneficial impacts for dusky sharks.
In the short-term, these benefits may be somewhat reduced compared to
the long-term because the benefits of reducing interactions with
individual dusky sharks may take several years to affect the dusky
shark population. Interactions with the 34 HMS and non-HMS target
species, prohibited species, and bycatch, analyzed in Alternative B3
could be increased or decreased by 10-percent compared to completely
closing the area to fishing because vessels would be able to fish in
these areas (with an observer) until the 10 percent bycatch cap for
dusky sharks was reached. However, because vessels would have to be
selected for observer coverage and have an observer onboard to fish in
these areas, overall fishing effort and how vessels fish in these
hotspot areas would be affected. It is very likely that fishing effort
would be reduced considerably in the hotspot areas, especially compared
to the status quo, because only a limited number of vessels could gain
access in the hotspot area every year subject to observer availability.
Furthermore, if a bycatch cap were implemented, vessels may change
fishing practices in order to reduce the likelihood of a dusky shark
interaction. In the past, fishermen may not have had any incentive to
avoid dusky sharks. If bycatch caps were implemented, interactions with
dusky sharks in excess of the cap would close the area for up to 3
years, in which case fishermen may change fishing behavior to minimize
the likelihood of catching a dusky shark. Fishermen may deploy ``feeler
sets'' (shorter sets in length with fewer hooks that are shorter in
duration compared to other sets) in order to ascertain whether dusky
sharks are in the vicinity. Avoiding water of a certain temperature,
shorter soak times, and changes to hook and bait configurations also
may be employed to try to avoid dusky sharks.
    Implementing bycatch caps in conjunction with the proposed hotspot
closed described in Alternative B3 would result in direct, minor
adverse socioeconomic impacts in the short- and long-term consistent
with the social and economic impacts described for each of the hotspot
closed areas included in Alternative B3. The direct economic impacts of
Alternative B4 would be less adverse in the short-term than
implementing the proposed hotspot closed areas because bycatch caps
would allow a limited amount of fishing to continue within the hotspot
area until a bycatch cap was reached. The exact economic impacts of
implementing bycatch caps would depend on the number of vessels
authorized to fish in the hotspot areas (vessels selected for observer
coverage and carrying an observer) on an annual basis and the number of
trips that occur within each hotspot area before the bycatch cap is
met. After the cap is met, economic impacts would be more pronounced
and consistent with impacts of Alternative B3, because the hotspot area
would close for the remainder of the 3-year period.
    Alternative B4 is not preferred because it would result in
additional challenges for pelagic longline observers. Relative to
target catch and incidentally retained pelagic sharks, interactions
with dusky sharks are a rare event, making positive identification
difficult without bringing the fish onboard. Furthermore, if and when
vessel operators and crew interact with a prohibited species, their
goal is to cut the line and release the fish in a manner that maximizes
the probability of survival, therefore observers may not have the time
and viewing opportunities necessary to identify the sharks with
absolute certainty. Pelagic longline vessels typically use longer
gangions and have a higher freeboard than other vessels, which also
hinders an observer's ability to get an adequate view of the shark to
ensure that it is a dusky shark and not another

[[Page 70568]]

Carcharhinid shark (e.g., sandbar or silky sharks are commonly confused
with dusky sharks). Assuming that all unidentified Carcharhinid sharks
are dusky sharks may alleviate this concern to a degree; however, we
prefer implementation of the hotspot closed areas described in
Alternative B3, without bycatch caps, at this time.
    Alternative B7 would prohibit the use of pelagic longline and
bottom longline gear in all HMS fisheries. Prohibiting the use of
pelagic longline gears would have direct, significant beneficial
ecological impacts on target and non-target HMS, prohibited species,
and bycatch in the short- and long-term. The species-specific
ecological impacts on 34 HMS and non-HMS target species, prohibited
species, and other bycatch depends on the species' life history,
population status, and interaction rates in the pelagic longline
fishery. Of the alternatives considered, this alternative would have
the most beneficial ecological impacts for dusky sharks because the
number of interactions would be reduced by 586 sharks per year. The
number of harvested and discarded swordfish would decrease by 48,926
fish per year. Yellowfin tuna harvested would decrease by 35,757 fish
per year. Blue and white marlin discards would also decrease by
prohibiting the use of pelagic longline gear by 734 and 779 fish per
year, respectively. Bluefin tuna kept and discarded 1,853 fish per
year. Interactions with loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles would
decrease by 162 and 70 turtles per year, respectively. Interactions
with pelagic sharks, prohibited sharks, and LCS would all be decreased
substantially.
    Prohibiting the use of bottom longline gear--which is primarily
used to target LCS in HMS fisheries--would have direct, significant,
and beneficial ecological impacts on dusky sharks. Indirect,
significant, beneficial impacts on HMS and non-HMS target species
(primarily LCS), non-target HMS, and protected species in the short-
and long-term are also expected. The majority of LCS are caught on
bottom longline gear. In 2010, approximately 73 percent of LCS were
caught on bottom longline gear. The species-specific ecological impacts
on HMS and non-HMS target species, prohibited species, and other
bycatch depends on the species' life history, population status, and
interaction rates in the bottom longline fishery. Observers are onboard
for 100 percent of the trips targeting sandbars in the shark research
fishery and for 2-3 percent of the trips outside the shark research
fishery. Prohibiting bottom longline gear and closing the shark
research fishery would decrease the number of dusky shark interactions
because dusky sharks are predominately caught in the bottom longline
fishery by vessels targeting sandbar sharks. Between 2008 and 2010,
there were 325 observed interactions with dusky sharks in the shark
research fishery.
    Closing the pelagic and bottom longline fisheries would have
indirect, minor negative ecological impacts because these fisheries are
the primary source of fishery dependent data. These data are critical
to scientific understanding of the species that the fisheries interact
with, and the basis of stock assessments for many target and bycatch
species frequently encountered. Closing these fisheries would eliminate
the logbooks submitted by longline vessel operators and remove the
Agency's ability to deploy observers on longline vessels. Observer
programs for the pelagic and bottom longline fishery, administered by
the Southeast Fisheries Science Center, rely on observers for tagging
studies, collecting biological samples, and for enhancing understanding
on the life history and ecology of living marine resources. Closing the
pelagic and bottom longline fisheries would result in direct,
significant adverse economic impacts in the short- and long-term for
longline vessel owners, operators, and crew. In 2010, there were 242
tuna longline permits (pelagic longline) and 217 shark directed permit
holders (bottom longline) that would be affected. In 2010, the pelagic
and bottom longline fisheries had revenues of $27,026,120, which
equates to approximately 70 percent of the total revenues for all
commercial HMS fisheries.
    In addition to direct impacts to vessels owners, operators, and
crew members, this alternative would have significant, adverse indirect
impacts in the short- and long-term on fish dealers, processors, bait/
gear suppliers, and other shore-based businesses in the vicinity of the
fishing ports impacted by reduced fishing opportunities for longline
vessel owners. Prohibiting the use of longline gear would result in
significant, indirect social impacts ranging from disruption of local
fishing communities to relocation of vessels and homeports, loss of
crew, increased time at sea, and other social hardships stemming from
further reducing fishing opportunities for HMS participants. The states
with the most tuna permit holders are Massachusetts (31.5 percent),
North Carolina (12.9 percent), Maine (10.2 percent), New Jersey (7.0
percent), and New York (6.4 percent). The states with the most
swordfish permit holders are Florida (32.4 percent), New Jersey (13.9
percent), Louisiana (11.9 percent), Massachusetts (9.1 percent), and
New York (8.0 percent). The states with the majority of shark directed
permit holders include Florida (62 percent), New Jersey (11 percent),
and North Carolina (7 percent).
    Alternative B7 would result in ecological benefits for the 34
species considered in this analysis because prohibiting bottom longline
and pelagic longline gear would eliminate a significant source of
fishing mortality for these species. However, the economic impacts
stemming from prohibiting of these gears would also be significant.
While an objective of this rulemaking is to reduce fishing mortality of
dusky sharks and this alternative would meet this goal, we do not
prefer this alternative at this time because this objective can be
achieved via implementation of other measures, as described above.

Request for Comments

    We are requesting comments on the alternatives and analyses
described in this proposed rule and in the draft Amendment 5. Comments
on this proposed rule may be submitted via http://www.regulations.gov,
mail, or fax. Comments may also be submitted at a public hearing (see
Public Hearings and Special Accommodations below). We solicit comments
on this proposed rule by February 12, 2013 (see DATES and ADDRESSES).
    We will announce the dates and locations of public hearings in a
future Federal Register notice. Additionally, we have requested to
present a summary of the draft amendment and this proposed rule to the
five Atlantic Regional Fishery Management Councils (the New England,
Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Fishery
Management Councils) and the Atlantic and Gulf States Marine Fisheries
Commissions during the public comment period. Please consult the
Councils' and Commissions' fall meeting notices for times and
locations.
    We are also requesting comments on specific items related to the
alternatives to clarify sections of the regulatory text or in analyzing
potential impacts of the alternatives. Specifically, we request
comments on:
    1. Monitoring dusky shark bycatch caps. We are seeking public
comment on how to administer monitoring of dusky shark bycatch caps
with limited additional observer program resources. One alternative
that we are considering would implement dusky shark bycatch caps on
vessels fishing with pelagic longline gear. This alternative would
allow pelagic longline vessels limited

[[Page 70569]]

access to high dusky shark interaction areas while limiting the number
of dusky shark interactions that could occur in these areas. Once the
dusky shark bycatch cap for an area is reached, that area would close
until the end of the 3-year bycatch cap period (see Alternative B4
above). To implement this alternative, we would need an appropriate
level of monitoring and accuracy to ensure the mortality rate of dusky
sharks, as determined by the stock assessment and this amendment, is
not exceeded. However, additional funding sources to provide increased
observer coverage to monitor dusky bycatch cap areas are unlikely, and
we are looking for comments on how to monitor these areas if this
alternative is implemented. Options that we are exploring range from
allowing access only to vessels that have been selected for pelagic
longline observer program coverage under its current selection process
and when they are on a trip with an observer on board, to establishing
other monitoring programs, such as an industry-funded observer program,
or the use of electronic monitoring technology (e.g., video
monitoring).
    2. The name ``aggregated LCS.'' We are seeking public comment on
what to name the reconfigured grouping of sharks that would continue to
be managed collectively in the remainder of what is currently the LCS
complex for quota monitoring purposes. When we began managing sharks,
we grouped sharks for management purposes into three species complexes:
large coastal, small coastal, and pelagic sharks. Over time, as a
result of numerous species-specific stock assessments and increasing
requests for species-specific management, we have begun managing a
number of species separately and have removed those species from the
original LCS complex. In the draft Amendment 5 and this proposed rule,
we use the name ``aggregated LCS.'' However, other names may exist that
are more descriptive or appropriate and that could help avoid confusion
in the fishery as the groupings are reconfigured.
    3. Suggestions for improving angler identification of shark species
and reducing dusky shark mortality in the recreational fishery. We are
looking for comments and suggestions on how to improve angler
identification of the different shark species. Many shark species are
similar looking, particularly to recreational anglers who may not see
sharks on a regular basis. This difficulty in identifying sharks
correctly has resulted in recreational shark management measures that
try to group all sharks together (e.g., the recreational retention
limit of one shark per vessel per trip). However, these measures have
not been effective for some species, such as dusky sharks, which are
prohibited but look similar enough to other species that some anglers
land them in error. In the draft Amendment 5 and this proposed rule, we
propose increasing outreach to anglers and have suggested a companion
to the current shark placard that would describe the characteristics of
sharks that cannot be landed recreationally. We are looking for
comments and suggestions on additional methods we can use to provide
recreational anglers, particularly those that rarely fish for sharks,
information on how to identify sharks and comply with the regulations.
We are also looking for comments on additional approaches that could
reduce dusky shark mortality in the recreational fishery to help meet
the rebuilding targets of the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review 21
stock assessment. Because dusky sharks are prohibited from recreational
retention, we are proposing enhancing outreach and education efforts
along with increasing the recreational minimum size from 4.5 feet fork
length to 8 feet fork length to reach the rebuilding target, but
acknowledge that there may be other approaches that could assist in
reaching that target while also resulting in fewer changes to the way
the recreational fishery currently operates.
    4. Stowing longline gear to transit closed areas. We are looking
for comments on the proposed change that would allow longline fishermen
to stow gear and transit closed areas. There are currently a number of
time/area closures for pelagic and bottom longline fishermen that have
commercial swordfish and/or shark limited access permits. The
regulations do not provide these fishermen the ability to stow their
gear and transit the areas. Instead, fishermen must go around the areas
to remain in compliance with the regulations. Among other things, this
restriction has raised safety-at-sea concerns and could increase the
economic cost of fishing by requiring fishermen to spend more time at
sea and use more fuel. Over the years, we have heard from fishermen
that they should be allowed to transit the closed areas if the
hydraulics are disconnected from the mainline and drum. However, we
have not implemented that in lieu of a stowage requirement because of
concerns that the hydraulics are easily reconnected and, therefore,
disconnecting them does not effectively render the gear unavailable for
use. In this proposed rule, we propose language similar to the language
used in Sec.  622.34 and Sec.  648.23 that would allow fishermen to
transit the closed areas if they remove and stow the gangions, hooks,
and buoys from the mainline and drum. The hooks could not be baited. We
are seeking comments on whether this language is appropriate, if
following those requirements is possible on bottom and pelagic longline
vessels, and if disconnecting the hydraulics is a feasible option to
consider.

Classification

    Pursuant to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the NMFS Assistant
Administrator has determined that the proposed rule is consistent with
the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP and its amendments, other provisions of
the Magnuson-Stevens Act, ATCA, and other applicable law, subject to
further consideration after public comment.
    This proposed rule has been determined to be not significant for
purposes of Executive Order 12866.
    We prepared a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for this
rule that discusses the impact on the environment that would result
from this rule. A copy of the EIS is available from NMFS (see
ADDRESSES). The Notice of Availability of the EIS is publishing in the
Federal Register on the same day as this proposed rule. A summary of
the impacts of the alternatives considered is described above.

Paperwork Reduction Act

    This proposed rule would require recreational fishermen who are not
fishing in a tournament to report all landings of hammerhead sharks. If
finalized, this requirement would be considered a collection-of-
information requirement and would be subject to review and approval by
OMB under the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA). Because we are currently
in the process of renewing the existing non-tournament recreational
reporting requirement for billfish, swordfish, and bluefin tuna and
cannot make changes while in the renewal process, we have not yet
submitted this collection-of-information to OMB for approval. If we
finalize this permitting requirement, we would submit an application
amending the existing non-tournament recreational reporting collection-
of-information to OMB for approval and would delay implementation of
that portion of the rule pending approval.
    Public comment is sought regarding: whether this proposed
collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of
the functions of the agency, including whether the

[[Page 70570]]

information shall have practical utility; the accuracy of the burden
estimate; ways to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the
information to be collected; and ways to minimize the burden of the
collection of information, including through the use of automated
collection techniques or other forms of information technology. Send
comments on these or any other aspects of the collection of information
to (enter office name) at the ADDRESSES above, and by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or fax to (202) 395-7285.
    Notwithstanding any other provision of the law, no person is
required to respond to, nor shall any person be subject to, a penalty
for failure to comply with, a collection-of-information subject to the
requirements of the PRA, unless that collection-of-information displays
a currently valid OMB Control Number.

Regulatory Flexibility Act

    An initial regulatory flexibility analysis (IRFA) was prepared, as
required by section 603 of the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA). The
IRFA describes the economic impact this proposed rule, if adopted,
would have on small entities. A summary of the analysis follows. A copy
of this analysis is available from NMFS (see ADDRESSES).
    In compliance with section 603(b)(1) of the RFA, the purpose of
this proposed rulemaking is, consistent with the 2006 Consolidated HMS
FMP objectives, the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law, to
rebuild and end overfishing of certain species of sharks, as
appropriate. As described earlier in the preamble of this proposed rule
and in Chapter 1 of the draft Amendment 5, based on the results of the
Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review 21 stock assessments for
sandbar, dusky, and blacknose sharks, and a published stock assessment
for scalloped hammerhead sharks, we have determined that sandbar,
dusky, scalloped hammerhead, and Atlantic blacknose sharks are
overfished and that dusky, scalloped hammerhead, and Atlantic blacknose
sharks are experiencing overfishing. In addition, the overfishing and
overfished status of the Gulf of Mexico blacknose shark stock is
unknown, and the results of the Gulf of Mexico blacktip shark stock
assessment are to be incorporated into this amendment as appropriate.
    In compliance with section 603(b)(2) of the RFA, the objectives of
this proposed rulemaking are to provide for the sustainable management
of shark species under authority of the Secretary consistent with the
requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and other statutes which may
apply to such management, including the Endangered Species Act, Marine
Mammal Protection Act, and Atlantic Tunas Convention Act. As described
earlier in the preamble of this proposed rule and in Chapter 1 of the
draft Amendment 5, the management objectives of the proposed
regulations will be to amend the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP to achieve
the following: end overfishing and achieve optimum yield for dusky,
scalloped hammerhead, and Atlantic blacknose sharks; implement a
rebuilding plan for scalloped hammerhead and Atlantic blacknose sharks
to ensure that fishing mortality levels for both species are maintained
at or below levels that would result in a 70 percent probability of
rebuilding in the timeframe recommended by the assessments; modify the
current rebuilding plan for dusky sharks to ensure that fishing
mortality levels for dusky sharks are maintained at or below levels
that would result in a 70 percent probability of rebuilding in the
timeframe recommended by the assessment; maintain the rebuilding plan
for sandbar sharks to ensure 70 percent probability of rebuilding in
the timeframe recommended by the assessment; and achieve optimum yield
and provide an opportunity for the sustainable harvest of Gulf of
Mexico blacknose, Gulf of Mexico blacktip sharks, and other sharks, as
appropriate.
    Section 603(b)(3) of the RFA requires Agencies to provide an
estimate of the number of small entities to which the rule would apply.
The Small Business Administration has defined a ``small'' fishing
entity as one with average annual receipts of less than $4.0 million; a
small charter/party boat entity is one with average annual receipts of
less than $6.5 million; a small wholesale dealer as one with 100 or
fewer employees; and a small seafood processor as one with 500 or fewer
employees. Under these standards, we consider all Atlantic HMS permit
holders subject to this rulemaking to be small entities.
    The proposed rule would apply to the 479 commercial shark permit
holders in the Atlantic shark fishery based on an analysis of permit
holders in October 2011. Of these permit holders, 217 have directed
shark permits and 262 hold incidental shark permits. Not all permit
holders are active in the fishery in any given year. We estimate that
between 2008 and 2011, approximately 169 vessels with directed shark
permits and 121 vessels with incidental shark permits landed sharks.
The hotspot closed area alternatives also impact pelagic longline
vessels. Based on the number of Tuna Longline permit holders, we
estimate that there are 242 longline vessels with HMS permits that
could potentially be impacted by the proposed hotspot closed areas. Of
those pelagic longline vessels, 116 actively fished in 2011.
    The recreational measures proposed would also impact HMS Angling
category and HMS Charter/Headboat category permit holders. In general,
the HMS Charter/Headboat category permit holders can be regarded as
small businesses, while HMS Angling category permits are typically
obtained by individuals who are not considered small entities for
purposes of the RFA. In 2011, 4,194 vessels obtained HMS Charter/
Headboat category permits. It is unknown what portion of these permit
holders actively participate in shark fishing or market shark fishing
services for recreational anglers.
    Under section 603(b)(4) of the RFA, Agencies are required to
describe any new reporting, record-keeping and other compliance
requirements. Most of the proposed commercial and recreational measures
would not introduce any new reporting and record-keeping requirements.
However, Alternative Suite A2 would require hammerhead shark reporting
through the non-tournament reporting system. While this reporting
requirement primarily impacts recreational fishermen, it also impacts
small entities that operate charter/headboat trips that catch
hammerhead sharks. The 4,194 charter/headboat permit holders in 2011
would be required to submit hammerhead shark landings through the non-
tournament reporting system. Some small portion of those charter/
headboat permit holders, primarily vessels in the Gulf of Mexico or
South Atlantic targeting sharks, would actually be submitting reports
because most charter-headboat trips target other HMS species and not
hammerhead sharks.
    Under section 603(b)(5) of the RFA, Agencies must identify, to the
extent practicable, relevant Federal rules which duplicate, overlap, or
conflict with the proposed rule. Fishermen, dealers, and managers in
these fisheries must comply with a number of international agreements,
domestic laws, and other FMPs. These include, but are not limited to,
the Magnuson-Stevens Act, ATCA, the High Seas Fishing Compliance Act,
the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act, the
National Environmental Policy Act, the Paperwork Reduction Act, and the
Coastal Zone Management Act. The new regulations proposed to be
implemented

[[Page 70571]]

do not conflict with any relevant regulations, Federal or otherwise.
    Under section 603(c), agencies are required to describe any
alternatives to the proposed rule which accomplish the stated
objectives and which minimize any significant economic impacts. These
impacts are summarized below and in Amendment 5.
    One of the requirements of an IRFA is to describe any alternatives
to the proposed rule which accomplish the stated objectives and which
minimize any significant economic impacts. These impacts are discussed
below. Additionally, the RFA (5 U.S.C. 603(c)(1)-(4)) lists four
general categories of ``significant'' alternatives that would assist an
agency in the development of significant alternatives. These categories
of alternatives are: (1) Establishment of differing compliance or
reporting requirements or timetables that take into account the
resources available to small entities; (2) clarification,
consolidation, or simplification of compliance and reporting
requirements under the rule for such small entities; (3) use of
performance rather than design standards; and (4) exemptions from
coverage of the rule for small entities. In order to meet the
objectives of this proposed rule, consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens
Act and ESA, we cannot exempt small entities or change the reporting
requirements only for small entities because all the entities affected
are considered small entities. Thus, there are no alternatives
discussed that fall under the first and fourth categories described
above. Under the third category, ``use of performance rather than
design standards,'' we consider Alternative B4 addressing dusky shark
bycatch caps in the pelagic longline fishery, to be a performance
standard rather than a design standard. It establishes performance
levels for pelagic longline vessels for avoiding interactions with
dusky sharks, and only triggers closures of hotspot areas if those
performance levels are exceeded. As described below, we analyzed
several different alternatives in this proposed rulemaking and provide
the rationale for identifying the preferred alternative to achieve the
desired objective.
    In this rulemaking, we considered two different categories of
issues to address shark management measures where each issue had its
own range of alternatives that would meet the objectives of the
Magnuson-Stevens Act and the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP. The first
category (Alternative Suites A1-A5) covers five alternative suites that
address various shark quotas and total allowable catch. The second
category of alternatives (Alternatives B1-B7) involves pelagic longline
and bottom longline effort modifications, including time/area closures,
bycatch caps, modification to the existing bottom longline shark
research fishery, and gear restrictions. The expected economic impacts
of the different alternatives considered and analyzed are discussed
below. The potential impacts these alternatives may have on small
entities have been analyzed and are summarized below. The full IRFA and
all its analyses can be found in draft Amendment 5. The proposed action
includes: Alternative Suite A2, Alternative B3, Alternative B5, and
Alternative B6. The economic impacts that would occur under these
proposed actions were compared with the other alternatives considered
to determine if economic impacts to small entities could be minimized
while still accomplishing the stated objectives of this rule.
    Under the first group of alternatives that address various shark
quotas and total allowable catches, Alternative Suite A1 (status quo)
would not change current management of the Atlantic shark fisheries.
Specifically, for hammerhead sharks, from 2008 through 2011,
approximately 39 vessels with directed shark permits had hammerhead
shark landings, while approximately 9 vessels with incidental shark
permits had hammerhead shark landings in the Atlantic. In the Gulf of
Mexico, approximately 25 vessels with directed shark permits had
hammerhead shark landings, while approximately 4 vessels with
incidental shark permits had hammerhead shark landings. Spread amongst
the directed and incidental shark permit holders that landed scalloped
hammerhead in the Atlantic, the average directed shark permit holder
earned $748 in average annual gross revenues, and the average
incidental shark permit holder earned $760 in average annual gross
revenues from scalloped hammerhead shark landings. Spread amongst the
directed and incidental shark permit holders that landed scalloped
hammerhead in the Gulf of Mexico, the average directed shark permit
holder earned $1,363 in average annual gross revenues, and the average
incidental shark permit holder earned $1,387 in average annual gross
revenues from scalloped hammerhead shark landings. Scalloped hammerhead
sharks compose a small portion of total non-sandbar LCS landings; an
annual average of 7.6 percent of non-sandbar LCS landings are scalloped
hammerhead sharks in the Atlantic and 4.3 percent on the Gulf of
Mexico. Scalloped hammerhead sharks are overfished with overfishing
occurring, and the stock could become increasingly unproductive,
therefore we do not prefer this alternative at this time.
    For LCS, from 2008 through 2011, approximately 68 vessels with
directed shark permits had non-sandbar LCS landings, while
approximately 25 vessels with incidental shark permits had non-sandbar
LCS landings in the Atlantic. In the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 45
vessels with directed shark permits had non-sandbar LCS landings, while
approximately 11 vessels with incidental shark permits had non-sandbar
LCS landings. It is estimated that these permit holders would be the
most affected by management measures proposed for non-sandbar LCS.
Spread amongst the directed and incidental shark permit holders that
landed non-sandbar LCS in the Atlantic, the average directed shark
permit holder earned $7,656 in average annual gross revenues, and the
average incidental shark permit holder earned $7,703 in average annual
gross revenues from non-sandbar LCS landings. Spread amongst the
directed and incidental shark permit holders that landed non-sandbar
LCS, the average directed shark permit holder earned $19,001 in average
annual gross revenues, and the average incidental shark permit holder
earned $19,433 in average annual gross revenues from non-sandbar LCS
landings.
    For Gulf of Mexico blacktip sharks, from 2008 through 2011,
approximately 41 vessels with directed shark permits had blacktip shark
landings, while approximately 4 vessels with incidental shark permits
had blacktip shark landings in the Gulf of Mexico. Spread amongst the
directed and incidental shark permit holders that landed blacktip
shark, the average directed shark permit holder earned $13,861 in
average annual gross revenues, and the average incidental shark permit
holder earned $14,051 in average annual gross revenues from blacktip
shark landings.
    For blacknose sharks, since Amendment 3 to the 2006 HMS FMP was
implemented in 2010, an average of approximately 25 vessels with
directed shark permits had blacknose shark landings, while
approximately 4 vessels with incidental shark permits had blacknose
shark landings. It is estimated that these permit holders would be the
most affected by management measures proposed for blacknose sharks.
Spread amongst the directed and incidental shark permit holders that
landed blacknose, the average directed shark permit holder earned
$1,739 in average annual gross revenues, and the average

[[Page 70572]]

incidental shark permit holder earned $222 in average annual gross
revenues from blacknose shark landings.
    Similarly, for non-blacknose SCS, since Amendment 3 to the 2006 HMS
FMP was implemented in 2010, an average of approximately 39 vessels
with directed shark permits had blacknose shark landings, while
approximately 13 vessels with incidental shark permits had non-
blacknose SCS landings. It is estimated that these permit holders would
be the most affected by management measures proposed for non-blacknose
SCS. Spread amongst the directed and incidental shark permit holders
that landed non-blacknose SCS, the average directed shark permit holder
earned $13,414 in average annual gross revenues, and the average
incidental shark permit holder earned $1,677 in average annual gross
revenues from non-blacknose SCS landings.
    Regarding quota linkages, since Alternative Suite A1 does not
create any new species or species complex, new quota linkages would be
unnecessarily. Consequently, there are no additional direct or indirect
socioeconomic impacts in the short or long-term beyond those discussed
for scalloped hammerhead, blacktip sharks, non-blacknose SCS, and
blacknose sharks.
    Regarding recreational measures, under Alternative Suite A1, there
would be no changes to the existing recreational retention limits for
all species. Therefore, small entities, such as charter/headboat
operators and tournaments that target sharks, would not experience any
change in economic impact under this alternative.
    When taken as a whole, Alternative Suite A1 would likely have
neutral economic impacts on small entities in the short-term because
the fisheries would continue to operate as status quo. In the long-
term, it could cause direct minor adverse economic impacts because we
would need to make to changes to the fishery to address the overfishing
and overfished stocks. Since Alternative Suite A1 does not address the
overfished and/or overfishing determination based on recent stock
assessments, we do not prefer this alternative at this time.
    Alternative Suite A2, the preferred alternative, would establish
new species complexes by regions, adjust LCS and SCS quotas, link
appropriate quotas, and increase the shark minimum recreational size to
96'' FL. Specifically, for scalloped hammerhead sharks, under
Alternative Suite A2, we would establish an Atlantic and a Gulf of
Mexico hammerhead shark quota (including scalloped, smooth, and great
hammerhead sharks). Under those quotas, the reduction in revenue
fishery-wide would be $809 in the Atlantic and $928 in the Gulf of
Mexico. Therefore, there would be minimal impact on the annual revenues
of individual vessels actively involved in the fishery.
    For LCS, Alternative Suite A2 would establish new, separate quotas
for scalloped hammerhead sharks and Gulf of Mexico blacktip sharks,
necessitating removal of these species from the non-sandbar LCS complex
(which will then be renamed aggregated LCS complex in both the Atlantic
and Gulf of Mexico). The aggregated LCS quota would be based on average
annual landings of the remaining species, therefore, those species
composing the aggregated LCS complex would not experience a change in
fishing pressure and landings would be capped at recent levels. For
these reasons, economic impacts to small entities resulting from this
portion of Alternative Suite A2 are expected to be neutral.
    For Gulf of Mexico blacktip sharks, this alternative suite's
proposed blacktip shark action would essentially maintain the current
fishing levels and is likely to result in neutral economic impacts to
small entities. We have determined that the Gulf of Mexico blacktip
shark stock is not overfished and not experiencing overfishing. The
results of the most recent stock assessment indicate the Gulf of Mexico
blacktip shark stock can sustain current fishing levels and should not
result in any additional impacts to small entities.
    For blacknose sharks, under Alternative Suite A2, we would separate
blacknose sharks into the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico regions as
suggested in the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review 21 stock
assessment. These alternatives would decrease the blacknose shark
landings in each region. Average annual gross revenues for the
blacknose shark landings for the Atlantic region would decrease from
$58,122 under the No Action alternative down to $54,854 under
Alternative Suite A2. We anticipate these directed and incidental shark
permit holders would experience minor economic impacts as blacknose
sharks are not the targeted shark species for SCS fishermen. Average
annual gross revenues for the blacknose shark landings for the Gulf of
Mexico region would increase from $3,273 under the No Action
alternative to $5,650 under Alternative Suite A2. We anticipate these
directed and incidental shark permit holders would experience neutral
economic impacts since the new Gulf of Mexico blacknose shark quota is
consistent with current landings. In the short-term, lost revenues
would be moderate for the 22 directed shark permit and 3 incidental
shark permit holders that land blacknose sharks in the Atlantic region,
and the 8 directed shark and the 2 incidental shark permits that land
blacknose sharks in the Gulf of Mexico.
    For non-blacknose SCS, Alternative Suite A2 would establish
regional quotas for non-blacknose SCS based on the landings since
Amendment 3 to the 2006 HMS FMP was implemented in 2010. In the
Atlantic, an average of approximately 33 vessels with directed shark
permits had blacknose shark landings, while approximately 10 vessels
with incidental shark permits had non-blacknose SCS landings. In the
Gulf of Mexico, an average of approximately 9 vessels with directed
shark permits had blacknose shark landings, while approximately 3
vessels with incidental shark permits had non-blacknose SCS landings
since Amendment 3. Under the Alternative Suite A2, there would be
neutral economic impacts to directed and incidental shark permit
holders as the average annual gross revenues from non-blacknose SCS
landings would be the same as the status quo in the short- and long-
term. Fishermen would be expected to operate in the same manner as the
status quo in the short-term. However, this alternative suite could
have minor negative economic impacts on fishermen if fishing effort
increases for non-blacknose SCS. The fishery has never filled the
entire quota established for the fishery in 2010, but that could change
with a smaller regional quota and if fishermen are displaced from other
fisheries.
    Under Alternative Suite A2, the quota linkages could have short and
long-term moderate adverse economic impacts. Quota linkages are
explicitly designed to concurrently close multiple shark quotas,
regardless of whether all the linked quotas are filled. This provides
protection from exceeding the quota by incidental capture where a
directed fishery has been closed because it filled its quota, but it
could also preclude fishermen from harvesting the entirety of each of
the linked quotas. A quantitative analysis of the economic impact is
not possible without comparing the rates of hammerhead shark, blacktip
shark, and aggregated LCS catch and without knowing the extent to which
fishermen can avoid hammerhead sharks because. If fisherman are unable
to sufficiently avoid hammerhead sharks the quotas will likely close
much sooner, but if they can successfully avoid hammerhead sharks, it
is likely that

[[Page 70573]]

they will be able to fully utilize the other shark quotas. However, a
qualitative analysis can provide insight on possible adverse
socioeconomic impacts. Under Alternative Suite A2, both the hammerhead
shark and aggregated LCS quotas would close when landings of either
reaches or is expected to reach 80 percent of the quota. If hammerhead
shark landings reach 80 percent of the quota, the aggregated LCS
fishery would close, regardless of what portion of the quota has been
filled. If the entire aggregate LCS quota has not been harvested, the
fishery would not realize the full level of revenues possible under the
established quota. A similar situation could occur in the Gulf of
Mexico under Alternative Suite A2 where both the hammerhead shark and
blacktip shark quotas would be linked to the aggregated LCS quota. The
blacknose shark and non-blacknose SCS socioeconomic impacts would be
the same as the LCS since there would be similar scenarios with the
quota linkage by species and region. In addition, we would allow
inseason quota transfer between non-blacknose SCS regions. This would
have minor beneficial economic impacts for the fishery as the non-
blacknose SCS quota would not be the limiting factor. Consequently, the
quota linkages proposed under Alternative Suite A2 could have moderate
adverse economic impacts.
    Under Alternative Suite A2, we would increase the current
recreational size limit for all authorized shark species to 96 inches
FL, implement mandatory reporting of landed hammerhead sharks, and
provide identification guide for all of the prohibition shark species.
Implementation of these management measures would significantly alter
the way tournaments and charter vessels operate, or reduce opportunity
and demand for recreational shark fishing, could create adverse
economic impacts. However, these measures would help the stocks rebuild
and possibly increase recreational fisheries opportunities in the
future.
    When taken as a whole, Alternative Suite A2 would likely have
direct short and long-term minor adverse economic impacts. These
impacts would mostly affect fishermen targeting scalloped hammerhead
and blacknose sharks since the quotas would be reduced. These fishermen
are likely to adapt to the new regulations by fishing in other
fisheries, or change their fishing habitats. Recreational management
measures would increase the size limit and cause fishermen to catch and
release more sharks. Neutral economic impacts are expected for
fishermen targeting the aggregated LCS and non-blacknose SCS complexes
since the new proposed quotas are based on the average landings for
each species. Furthermore, quota linkages would affect the economic
impacts based on the fishing rate of each linked shark quota. When we
compare the economic impacts of Alternative Suite A2 to the other
alternative suites, this alternative suite would cause fewer impacts
overall to fishermen. For this reason and the ecological reasons
previously discussed, we prefer this alternative suite at this time.
    Alternative Suite A3 would establish new species complexes by
regions, adjust LCS and SCS quotas, prohibit retention of commercial
blacknose sharks in the Gulf of Mexico, and increase the hammerhead
shark minimum recreational size to 96'' FL. Specifically, for
hammerhead sharks, we would remove hammerhead sharks from the non-
sandbar LCS quota and establish a separate hammerhead shark quota for
the three species of large hammerhead sharks (scalloped, smooth, and
great hammerhead sharks), similar to the action proposed under
Alternative Suite A2. In contrast to Alternative Suite A2, however, the
hammerhead shark quota under Alternative Suite A3 would not be split
between the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, leaving one hammerhead shark
quota across both regions. Although this difference could create some
administrative difficulties, it is unlikely to alter the economic
impacts from Alternative Suite A2's minor adverse economic impacts.
Alternative B2 would have split the quota between the two regions based
on historical landings; therefore, under Alternative Suite A3, a
similar breakdown of landings would likely occur.
    Non-sandbar LCS complex management measures under Alternative Suite
A3 are identical to those under Alternative Suite A2. See the LCS
complex section of Alternative Suite A2 for more details on impacts.
    Alternative Suite A3 would create a separate Gulf of Mexico
blacktip shark total allowable catch and commercial quota, by
increasing the total allowable catch calculated in Alternative Suite A2
by 30 percent, which is based on the current landings percentage of
Gulf of Mexico blacktip sharks. This would result in a commercial quota
of 380.7 mt dw (839,291 lb dw), which is a 48 percent increase from
average Gulf of Mexico blacktip shark landings from 2008-2011 (256.7 mt
dw; 565,921 lb dw). This is an increase of $314,376 when compared to
current landings. From 2008 through 2011, approximately 41 vessels with
directed shark permits had blacktip shark landings, while approximately
4 vessels with incidental shark permits had blacktip shark landings in
the Gulf of Mexico. Spread amongst the directed and incidental shark
permit holders that landed blacktip shark, the average shark permit
holder could potentially land up to $6,986 in additional annual revenue
from Gulf of Mexico blacktip sharks.
    The blacknose shark management measures under Alternative Suite A3
are identical to those under Alternative Suite A2 for the Atlantic
region. Under Alternative Suite A3, we would prohibit blacknose sharks
in the commercial and recreational shark fisheries in the Gulf of
Mexico region and work with the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management
Council to reduce the mortality of blacknose sharks to attain the total
allowable catch of 11,900 sharks. Currently, the average annual gross
revenues for blacknose shark landings for the entire commercial fishery
are $3,273, but would be reduced to $0 under this alternative. Under
Alternative Suite A3, lost revenues would lead to moderate direct
adverse economic impacts for the 8 directed shark and the 2 incidental
shark permits that land blacknose sharks in the Gulf of Mexico.
    Alternative Suite A3 would keep the non-blacknose SCS complex and
quota as status quo with one regional quota of 221.6 mt dw (488,539 lb
dw). There would be neutral economic impacts to shark permit holders.
    Under Alternative Suite A3, no quota linkages would be implemented.
All shark quotas would open and close independently of each other.
Quota linkages can lead to closures of quotas that are not yet filled
if quotas of other sharks caught concurrently are closed. If each quota
opens and closes independently, each quota would have a higher
likelihood of being filled, allowing for full realization of potential
revenues. Thus, the lack of quota linkages under this alternative suite
could lead to minor beneficial economic impacts. However, this could
result in adverse ecological impacts for overfished shark species.
    Alternative Suite A3 would increase the minimum recreational size
for all hammerhead sharks (great, smooth, and scalloped) to 78 inches
FL, provide identification guide for all of the prohibition shark
species, and prohibit the retention of blacknose sharks in the
recreational fishery. Therefore, this alternative would likely result
in minor adverse economic impacts for charter/head boat operators and
tournaments

[[Page 70574]]

that target hammerhead and blacknose sharks because of the reduced
incentive to recreationally fish for these species. Increasing the
recreational size limit for hammerhead sharks would ensure that only
larger or ``trophy'' sized sharks would be landed.
    When taken as a whole, Alternative Suite A3 would likely have
moderate adverse economic impacts on small entities. These impacts
would mostly affect fishermen catching hammerhead and blacknose sharks.
The hammerhead shark quota would be based on the scalloped hammerhead
shark total allowable catch and would reduce all hammerhead shark
landings. The blacknose shark quota in the Atlantic would be reduced,
while the Gulf of Mexico blacknose shark retention would be prohibited.
Recreational management measures would affect fishermen who catch
hammerhead sharks since the increased size limit would result in more
hammerhead sharks having to be released and blacknose sharks as
blacknose sharks would be prohibited under this alternative suite. In
addition, no quota linkages would allow fishermen to fully harvest all
of the quotas. While this alternative suite might have more beneficial
direct economic impacts than Alternative Suite A2, the ecological
impacts would be adverse and would not achieve the rebuilding plan
targets for these stocks.
    Alternative Suite A4 would establish new species complexes by
regions, adjust LCS and SCS quotas, prohibit retention of commercial
blacknose sharks in the Gulf of Mexico, link appropriate quotas, and
establish a species-specific recreational shark quota. Specifically,
for scalloped hammerhead sharks, Alternative Suite A4 would use the
scalloped hammerhead shark total allowable catch established in the
stock assessment to create separate Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico quotas
applicable to only scalloped hammerheads sharks rather than all three
large hammerhead sharks as proposed under Alternative Suite A2. The
proposed quotas in both regions are higher than current landings.
Therefore, we expect neutral economic impacts. Great and smooth
hammerhead sharks could continue to be landed at current levels under
the aggregated LCS quota.
    For LCS, Alternative Suite A4 would establish new aggregated LCS
quotas in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico using a similar methodology
to that outlined in Alternative Suite A2, except for one difference.
While Alternative Suite A2 would calculate each species' contribution
to total non-sandbar LCS landings using average annual landings between
2008 and 2011, Alternative Suite A4 would instead calculate each
species' contribution to total non-sandbar LCS landings using the year
with the highest annual landings for the complex between 2008 and 2011
for each species. The year with the highest non-sandbar LCS landings in
the Atlantic was 2008 and the highest in the Gulf of Mexico was 2011.
This deviation in method does not substantially change the quotas;
therefore, economic impacts are unchanged from Alternative Suite A2.
    Alternative Suite A4 would establish a separate Gulf of Mexico
blacktip shark quota of 1,992.6 mt dw based upon projections produced
by stock assessment scientists. The quota of 1,992.6 mt dw is more than
five times the current Gulf of Mexico non-sandbar LCS quota. Ex-vessel
revenue resulting from this quota could increase by up to $4,427,322
across the entire Gulf of Mexico blacktip. Spread amongst the 45
directed and incidental shark permit holders that landed blacktip
shark, the average shark permit holder could potentially land up to
$98,385 in additional annual revenue from Gulf of Mexico blacktip
sharks. However, it is unlikely that this value would be realized. The
Gulf of Mexico blacktip shark quota would be linked to the Gulf of
Mexico aggregated LCS and scalloped hammerhead shark quotas. All three
of these quotas would close when one reached, or was expected to reach,
80 percent of the respective quota. Either the aggregated or scalloped
hammerhead quota would be likely to be filled before the large blacktip
quota was filled. Regardless, the increase blacktip quota would allow
for increased fishing opportunities and positive impacts to small
entities.
    Under Alternative Suite A4, the mortality of blacknose sharks in
the Atlantic region will be reduced by at least 61 percent in the
Atlantic region as recommended in the stock assessment. All of the
economic impacts resulting from this portion of the alternative suite
are the same as those analyzed in Alternative Suite A2.
    For the Gulf of Mexico, we would establish a total allowable catch
of 9,792 blacknose sharks. As described in Alternative Suite A3, we
would prohibit blacknose sharks in any shark fishery in the Gulf of
Mexico in order to meet this proposed total allowable catch given the
blacknose mortality in non-HMS fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico. We
would also work with the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to
reduce bycatch mortality of blacknose sharks in the shrimp trawl and
reef fish fisheries. The average annual gross revenues for blacknose
shark landings for the commercial fishery are $3,273, but would be
reduced to $0 under this alternative. Under Alternative Suite A4, it is
anticipated that there would be moderate adverse economic impacts. In
the short-term lost revenues would be moderate for the 8 directed shark
and the 2 incidental shark permits that land blacknose sharks in the
Gulf of Mexico. Over the long-term the economic impact would be
moderate, as the other management measures could be implemented to
reduce the discards of blacknose sharks.
    For non-sandbar SCS, under Alternative Suite A4, we would establish
regional quotas for non-blacknose SCS by dividing the current quota in
half. This alternative would cause significant adverse economic impacts
for shark fishermen in the Atlantic region. Alternative Suite A4 would
restrict fishing of non-blacknose in the Atlantic to 244,269.5 lb dw
and potentially reduce current annual revenue by $253,411. In the Gulf
of Mexico, this alternative would cause beneficial economic impacts for
non-blacknose SCS fishery as the quota would be larger than their
average landings. This larger quota could potentially increase gross
revenues by $259,157. However, this alternative suite would cause
adverse impacts on blacknose sharks since current fishing and bycatch
levels of blacknose sharks could increase. Since Alternative Suite A4
would not reduce blacknose shark mortality in the Gulf of Mexico and
decrease the Atlantic non-blacknose SCS fishing levels, we do not
prefer this alternative at this time.
    Quota linkages under Alternative Suite A4 are nearly identical to
those under Alternative Suite A2, except that instead of linking the
hammerhead quotas to the aggregated LCS quota in the Atlantic and Gulf
of Mexico, the scalloped hammerhead quota would be linked instead. This
deviation should not change the expected economic impacts. In addition,
we would link the Atlantic blacknose and non-blacknose SCS quotas and
Gulf of Mexico blacknose shark and non-blacknose SCS quotas, and allow
inseason quota transfer between the non-blacknose SCS regions. The
quota linkages proposed under Alternative Suite A4 would be expected to
have moderate adverse economic impacts.
    Under Alternative Suite A4, we would establish species-specific
recreational shark quotas and prohibit the recreational retention of
blacknose sharks. This alternative would cause short-term neutral
economic impacts for recreational fishermen as it would restrict
landings to current levels. In the

[[Page 70575]]

long-term, this alternative could have minor adverse socioeconomic
impacts if the species-specific recreational shark quotas are exceeded
and we implement additional management measures. This would have a
greater effect on tournaments and charter vessels that target sharks.
    Overall, Alternative Suite A4 would likely have direct short and
long-term minor adverse economic impacts. These impacts would mostly
affect fishermen catching blacknose sharks. The blacknose shark quota
in the Atlantic would be reduced, while the Gulf of Mexico blacknose
shark retention would be prohibited to meet the total allowable catch.
Recreational management measures would affect fishermen who retain
sharks since we would implement a species-specific quota for the
recreational fishery. Neutral economic impacts are expected for
recreational and commercial fishermen targeting scalloped hammerhead
sharks, aggregated LCS and non-blacknose SCS. While this alternative
suite might have minor adverse economic impacts, there is the potential
for more adverse economic impacts if quotas are exceeded in the future.
Although this alternative suite would allow for the highest Gulf of
Mexico blacktip shark commercial quota, it is based on base model
projections produced by stock assessment scientists after the formal
stock assessment process. These stock assessment scientists felt that
the projections had a high degree of uncertainty in the base model used
to create the projections. Furthermore, these projections were
developed outside of the standard stock assessment process and were not
reviewed. In addition to the uncertainty in the model, the blacktip
shark quota proposed under this alternative suite could lead to
increased bycatch of other species due to increased fishing effort. For
all these reasons, and because of the potential for additional adverse
socioeconomic impacts if quotas are exceeded, we do not prefer this
alternative suite at this time.
    Alternative Suite A5 would close all commercial and recreational
shark fisheries. Currently, scalloped hammerhead sharks provide
fishery-wide revenue of $75,633 (as discussed under Alternative Suite
A1), which would be lost under this alternative suite. Consequently,
the scalloped hammerhead portion of Alternative Suite A5 would be
expected to only have moderate adverse direct economic impacts. Closure
of the non-sandbar LCS fishery would have significant adverse direct
economic impacts. Many fishermen rely on the non-sandbar LCS fishery
for a large portion of annual earnings. A closure of the fishery would
significantly impact the livelihoods of these fishermen. Currently, the
non-sandbar LCS fishery provides fishery-wide revenue of $1,781,996 (as
discussed under Alternative Suite A1), which would be lost under this
alternative suite. Currently, Gulf of Mexico blacktip sharks provide
fishery-wide revenue of $624,496 (as discussed under Alternative Suite
A1), which would be lost under this alternative suite and reduce the
annual revenue of the approximately 45 direct and incidental shark
permit holders that had blacktip shark landings by $13,878 per permit
holder. Consequently, the Gulf of Mexico blacktip shark portion of
Alternative Suite A5 would be expected to have significant adverse
economic impacts. Alternative Suite A5 would close the entire blacknose
commercial shark fishery, prohibiting the landing of any blacknose
sharks. This alternative would have significant, adverse, economic
impacts on fishermen with directed and incidental shark permits that
fish for blacknose: the 29 directed shark permit holders, and the 4
incidental shark permit holders that had blacknose shark landings
during 2008 through 2011. The result would be a loss of average annual
gross revenues of $35,797 from blacknose shark landings. While this
alternative could reduce blacknose mortality below the commercial
allowance required to rebuild blacknose shark stocks, it would also
drastically reduce non-blacknose SCS landings, and have the largest
social and economic impacts of all the alternatives considered. This
action would require fishermen to leave the closed shark fisheries
altogether. Alternative Suite A5 would close the entire SCS commercial
shark fishery, prohibiting the landing of any SCS, including finetooth,
Atlantic sharpnose, and bonnethead. This alternative would have
significant, adverse, socioeconomic impacts on fishermen with directed
and incidental shark permits that fish for non-blacknose SCS, the 39
directed shark permit holders, and the 13 incidental shark permit
holders that had non-blacknose SCS landings since Amendment 3. The
result would be a loss of average annual gross revenues of $544,954
from non-blacknose SCS landings. This action would require fishermen to
leave the closed shark fisheries altogether. Alternative Suite A5 would
close all federally managed Atlantic recreational and commercial shark
fisheries, obviating the need for quota linkages. The quota linkages
portion of Alternative Suite A5 would likely result in no additional
economic impacts on small entities. Alternative Suite A5 would have
direct significant adverse socioeconomic impacts because it would
prohibit the retention of all sharks for recreational anglers. This
would have a significant effect on tournaments and charter vessels that
target sharks. Alternative Suite A5 would likely have significant
adverse economic impacts because recreational and commercial shark
fishing in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean would be
prohibited. Because other alternatives should meet the objectives of
this Amendment with less significant adverse socioeconomic impacts, we
do not prefer this alternative suite at this time.
    As explained above, in addition to Alternatives Suites A1 through
B5, we also considered a second category of alternatives (Alternatives
B1 through B7) that involve pelagic longline and bottom longline effort
modifications, including time/area closures, bycatch caps, modification
to the existing bottom longline shark research fishery, and gear
restrictions. Alternative B1 is the no action alternative in this group
and would maintain existing time/area closures and would not implement
any new time/area closures. Under this alternative, maintaining the
existing closures and not implementing additional time area closures
would have neutral, direct economic impacts in the short term. Vessels
would continue to operate subject to existing regulations, including
time/area closures, therefore no new economic impacts would be
associated with maintaining the status quo. However, in the long-term,
if additional measures to prevent overfishing of dusky sharks and allow
populations to rebuild were implemented, including time/area closures,
minor to moderate adverse economic impacts could be experienced by
participants in the PLL and BLL fisheries.
    Alternative B2 would modify the existing Charleston Bump Pelagic
Longline time/area closure by extending the timing of the closure
through May 31 every year. Closing the entire Charleston Bump during
the month of May would result in direct, moderate adverse economic
impacts in the short and long-term. On average from 2008 to 2010, 27
vessels fished in the proposed closure and would be affected. The
annual average reduction in revenues per affected vessel as a result of
the closure would be $14,292, after adjusting for redistribution of
effort into open areas of the South Atlantic Bight Statistical
reporting area.

[[Page 70576]]

    Alternative B3 would create additional time/area closures based on
dusky shark interaction hotspot areas. This is the preferred
alternative and under this alternative, we consider several different
sub-alternatives, all of which are preferred. Alternative B3a would
prohibit the use of pelagic longline gear in HMS fisheries in a portion
of the Charleston Bump during the month of May. This sub-alternative
would result in direct, minor adverse economic impacts in the short and
long-term, although this would be offset by a potential increase in
dolphin revenues. On average from 2008 to 2010, 17 vessels fished in
the proposed closure and would be affected. The annual average
reduction in revenues per affected vessel as a result of the closure
would be $1,074, after adjusting for redistribution of effort into open
areas of the Charleston Bump closed area.
    Alternative B3b would prohibit the use of pelagic longline gear in
HMS fisheries in the vicinity of the Cape Hatteras Special Research/
Hatteras Shelf Area during the month of May. This sub-alternative would
result in direct, minor adverse economic impacts in the short and long-
term. On average from 2008 to 2010, 10 vessels fished in the proposed
closure during that month and would be affected. The annual average
reduction in revenues per affected vessel as a result of the closure
would be $2,982, after adjusting for redistribution of effort into open
areas of the Mid Atlantic Bight Statistical reporting area.
    Alternative B3c would prohibit the use of pelagic longline gear in
HMS fisheries in the vicinity of the Cape Hatteras Special Research/
Hatteras Shelf Area during the month of June. This sub-alternative
would result in direct, minor adverse economic impacts in the short and
long-term. On average from 2008 to 2010, 11 vessels fished in the
proposed closure and would be affected. The annual average reduction in
revenues per affected vessel as a result of the closure would be
$2,559, after adjusting for redistribution of effort into open areas of
the Mid Atlantic Bight Statistical reporting area.
    Alternative B3d would prohibit the use of pelagic longline gear in
HMS fisheries in the vicinity of the Cape Hatteras Special Research/
Hatteras Shelf Area during the month of November. This sub-alternative
would result in direct, minor adverse economic impacts in the short and
long-term. On average from 2008 to 2010, 9 vessels fished in the
proposed closure and would be affected. The annual average reduction in
revenues per affected vessel as a result of the closure would be
$4,177, after adjusting for redistribution of effort into open areas of
the Mid Atlantic Bight Statistical reporting area.
    Alternative B3e would prohibit the use of pelagic longline gear in
HMS fisheries in three distinct closures in the vicinity of the Mid
Atlantic Bight Canyons during the month of October. This sub-
alternative would result in neutral direct ecological impacts in the
short and long-term. On average from 2008 to 2010, 24 vessels fished in
the proposed closure and would be affected. The annual average increase
in revenues per affected vessel as a result of the closure would be
+$5,707, after adjusting for redistribution of effort into open areas
of the Mid Atlantic Bight Statistical reporting area.
    Alternative B3f would prohibit the use of pelagic longline gear in
HMS fisheries in an area in the vicinity of the existing Northeastern
closed area during the month of July. This sub-alternative would result
in direct, moderate adverse economic impacts in the short term becoming
minor in the long-term as fishing vessels adjust to fishing in
different areas during the proposed closure. On average from 2008 to
2010, 15 vessels fished in the proposed closure and would be affected.
The annual average reduction in revenues per vessel as a result of the
closure would be -$12,518 after adjusting for redistribution of effort
into open areas of the Northeast Coastal Statistical reporting area.
    Alternative B3g would prohibit the use of pelagic longline gear in
HMS fisheries in an area in the vicinity of the existing Northeastern
closed area during the month of August. This sub-alternative would
result in direct, moderate adverse economic impacts in the short term
becoming minor in the long-term as fishing vessels adjust to fishing in
different areas during the proposed closure. On average from 2008 to
2010, 15 vessels fished in the proposed closure and would be affected.
The annual average reduction in revenues per affected vessel as a
result of the closure would be -$7,557, after adjusting for
redistribution of effort into open areas of the Northeast Coastal
Statistical reporting area.
    Alternative B3h would prohibit the use of pelagic longline gear in
HMS fisheries in a portion of the Charleston Bump during the month of
November. This sub-alternative would result in direct, moderate adverse
economic impacts in the short-term becoming minor in the long-term as
fishing vessels adjust to fishing in different areas during the
proposed closure. On average from 2008 to 2010, 12 vessels fished in
the proposed closure and would be affected. The annual average
reduction in revenues per vessel as a result of the closure would be
$8,954, after adjusting for redistribution of effort into open areas of
the Charleston Bump area.
    Under Alternative B4, we would implement dusky shark bycatch caps
in the pelagic longline fishery. Implementing bycatch caps in
conjunction with the proposed time/area closures described in
Alternative B3 would result in direct, minor economic impacts in the
short and long-term consistent with the economic impacts described for
each of the hotspot closed areas included in Alternative B3. The
economic impacts of Alternative B4 would be less adverse in the short-
term than implementing the preferred time/area closures because bycatch
caps would allow a limited amount of fishing to continue within the
time/area closures until a bycatch cap was reached. The exact economic
impacts of implementing bycatch caps would depend on the number of
vessels authorized to fish in the hotspot areas (vessels selected for
observer coverage and carrying an observer on an annual basis and the
number of trips that occur within each hotspot areas before the bycatch
cap is met. After the cap is met, economic impacts would be more
pronounced because of the fact that the hotspot area would close for
the remainder of the three year period.
    Between 2008 and 2010, a total of 72 unique vessels fished in the
proposed hotspot closed areas. The number of vessels that would be
authorized to fish in these areas would decrease as a result of
selecting this alternative, however, a limited number of vessels would
still be authorized to fish in the hotspot areas with an observer
therefore the economic impacts of this alternative would be more
adverse than the status quo (Alternative B1) and less adverse than the
preferred alternative (Alternative B3).
    Under Alternative B5, we would modify the timing of the existing
mid-Atlantic shark closed area to December 15 to July 15. This is a
preferred alternative. Under Alternative B2, we would modify the timing
of the existing mid-Atlantic shark closed area to coincide with the
season opening dates in the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission
Shark Plan. This is anticipated to have direct, minor, socioeconomic
impacts in the short- and long-term because fishermen in North Carolina
would have access to adjacent Federal waters at the same that state
waters open, consistent with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries
Commission Shark Plan. In the short-

[[Page 70577]]

term, revenue gain would be minor for the 17 directed shark permit and
12 incidental shark permit holders along with state-water fishermen
that might normally fish in the mid-Atlantic closed area. These North
Carolina fishermen would be able to fish sooner than in previous years,
but the adjustment to the starting date of the closure would have very
minor impacts. In the past four years, the non-sandbar LCS fishery,
which primarily uses bottom longline gear, has only been open beyond
December 15th once. This occurred in 2008 when the fishery opened in
late July under the current fishing regulations. Since then, the non-
sandbar LCS fishery has closed before December 15th. Over the long-
term, the economic impact would be minor, as the fishermen are likely
to adapt to the new regulations. Because the economic impacts of this
alternative would have direct, minor economic benefits and neutral
ecological impacts, we prefer this alternative suite at this time.
    Under Alternative B6, we would modify the existing bottom longline
shark research fishery to ensure that dusky shark interactions are
reduced. This alternative is also preferred. Under Alternative B6, we
would implement measures in the shark research fishery to reduce the
interactions with dusky sharks. This alternative would result in
direct, minor adverse socioeconomic impacts in the short and long term
for fishermen participating in the shark research fishery because of
additional restrictions placed on vessels participating in the shark
research fishery, including, but not limited to: Limitations on soak
time, limits on the number of hooks deployed per set, prohibiting
participants from deploying bottom longline gear at times and in areas
where elevated levels of dusky shark interactions have been observed,
and/or stopping the shark research fishery for the year if a certain
number of dusky shark interactions is reached. Fishermen participating
in the research fishery are targeting sandbar sharks; however, dusky
sharks are often caught as bycatch when targeting sandbar sharks. These
measures could change the way that the shark research fishery operates,
which could result in direct, long-term, minor adverse socioeconomic
impacts. However, it is anticipated that vessels will continue to want
to participate in the shark research fishery because these vessels have
the exclusive privilege of being able to target and harvest sandbar
sharks which are desired because of their high fin value. It is likely
that these measures would help sandbar sharks rebuild more quickly and
increase commercial fisheries opportunities in the future. Indirect
impacts, in the short and long term would be minor and adverse due to
reduced revenues for fish dealers and other support industries that may
occur if fishing effort is curtailed in the shark research fishery.
    Alternative B7 would prohibit the use of pelagic longline and
bottom longline gear in Atlantic HMS fisheries. Closing the pelagic and
bottom longline fisheries would result in direct, significant adverse
economic impacts in the short and long-term for longline vessel owners,
operators, and crew. In 2010, there were 242 tuna longline permits
(pelagic longline) and 217 shark directed permit holders (bottom
longline) that would be affected. We estimate that between 2008 and
2011, approximately 169 vessels with directed shark permits landed
sharks and 116 pelagic longline vessels made a set in 2011. In 2010,
the pelagic and bottom longline fisheries had revenues of $27,026,120,
which equates to approximately 70 percent of the total revenues for all
commercial HMS fisheries. Assuming these revenues are distributed
evenly among the 285 active vessels, the estimated annual reduction in
revenues per vessel would be approximately $94,828. Given that other
alternatives meet the objectives of this rule at significantly lower
economic impacts to small entities, this alternative is not preferred.

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