Comments Wanted for Increasing Red Snapper Quota

NMFS proposes to implement management measures described in a framework action to the Fishery Management Plan for the Reef Fish Resources of the Gulf of Mexico (FMP) prepared by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (Council). If implemented, this rule would increase the commercial and recreational quotas for red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf) reef fish fishery for the 2013 fishing year. This proposed rule is intended to help achieve optimum yield (OY) for the Gulf red snapper resource without increasing the risk of red snapper experiencing overfishing.

Written comments must be received on or before April 19, 2013.

 

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on the proposed rule, identified by 

 

``NOAA-NMFS-2013-0055'' by any of the following methods:

     Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public 

comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to 

www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0055, click the 

``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or 

attach your comments.

     Mail: Submit written comments to Cynthia Meyer, Southeast 

Regional Office, NMFS, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

    Instructions: 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 by NMFS. 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.), confidential business 

information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily 

by the sender will be publicly accessible. 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, Excel, or Adobe PDF file formats only.

    Electronic copies of the framework action, which includes an 

environmental assessment and a regulatory impact review, may be 

obtained from the Southeast Regional Office Web site at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sf/GrouperSnapperandReefFish.htm.

 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Cynthia Meyer, Southeast Regional 

Office, NMFS, telephone 727-824-5305; email: Cynthia.Meyer@noaa.gov.

 

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NMFS and the Council manage the Gulf reef 

fish fishery under the FMP. The Council prepared the FMP and NMFS 

implements the FMP through regulations at 50 CFR part 622 under the 

authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management 

Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act).

 

Background

 

    The Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR) update 

assessment for Gulf red snapper, conducted in August 2009 (SEDAR 9), 

determined that overfishing had ended for the red snapper stock, and 

that the acceptable biological catch (ABC) may be increased. The stock, 

however, is still overfished and is under a rebuilding plan through 

2032. The next SEDAR benchmark stock assessment currently scheduled for 

Gulf red snapper will be conducted in 2013.

    The Council's Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) met in 

November 2012, to review the updated landings data and recommended a 

new ABC for the 2013 fishing year. For 2013, the SSC recommended an ABC 

of 8.46 million lb (3.83 million kg). The Council met in February 2013, 

and voted to implement this new ABC through the 2013 Gulf red snapper 

framework action.

 

Management Measures Contained in This Proposed Rule

 

    This rule would set the 2013 commercial and recreational quotas for 

red snapper based on the ABC recommended by the SSC and on the current 

commercial and recreational allocations (51-percent commercial and 49-

percent recreational). Therefore, the 2013 commercial quota would be 

set at 4.315 million lb (1.957 million kg), round weight, and the 2013 

recreational quota would be set at 4.145 million lb (1.880 million kg), round 

weight.

    The Council also considered modifying the red snapper recreational 

bag limit, but decided to maintain the current 2-fish per angler bag 

limit.

    The red snapper management measures contained in this proposed rule 

would achieve the goal set by National Standard 1 of the Magnuson-

Stevens Act, which states that conservation and management measures 

shall prevent overfishing while achieving, on a continuing basis, the 

OY for the fishery.

 

Red Snapper Recreational Fishing Season

 

    Under 50 CFR 622.34 (m), the red snapper recreational fishing 

season opens each year on June 1 and closes when the recreational quota 

is projected to be reached. Prior to June 1 each year, NOAA projects 

the closing date based on the previous year's data, and notifies the 

public of the closing date for the upcoming season. If subsequent data 

indicate that the quota has not been reached by that closing date, NMFS 

may reopen the season.

    After finalized 2012 recreational landings data are available and 

before the season opens on June 1, 2013, NMFS will announce when the 

2013 quota is projected to be harvested. NMFS may announce when the 

2013 quota is projected to be harvested in the final rule associated 

with this action. The 2013 season would be shorter than the 2012 season 

as a result of an increase in the average size of the red snapper 

harvested, and the increase in catch rates. Because the red snapper 

population is in a rebuilding plan, population abundance is expected to 

increase, which is expected to lead to increased quotas and higher 

catch rates.

    NMFS implemented an emergency rule to authorize NMFS to set the 

closure date of the red snapper recreational fishing season in the 

exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off individual states (78 FR 17882, March 

25, 2013). The closure dates off each Gulf state would be based on the 

recreational quota increase contained in this proposed rule and any 

state's inconsistent regulations. The extent to which NMFS would adjust 

a state's Federal season is contingent upon the estimated landings from 

states with any inconsistent regulations. The more a state exceeds its 

apportionment of the annual quota, the greater the Federal season off 

that state is likely to be reduced to compensate for any quota overage.

    The emergency rule contains tentative closure dates in the EEZ off 

each Gulf state. These tentative closure dates are based on a 

recreational quota of 4.145 million lb (1.880 million kg), round 

weight, and inconsistent state regulations in Texas, Louisiana, and 

Florida. The tentative closure dates contained in the emergency rule 

are as follows: Texas, June 12, 2013; Louisiana, June 9, 2013; 

Mississippi, June 28, 2013; Alabama, June 28, 2013; and Florida, June 

21, 2013. These dates could change if states change their regulations 

in state waters or additional states (Mississippi and Alabama) 

implement inconsistent regulations in their state waters. To determine 

these closure dates, NMFS analyzed the catch rates for each state. The 

amount each state's Federal season would be shortened is contingent on 

estimates of landings when the Federal season is closed. The more a 

state exceeds its apportionment of the annual quota, the more the 

Federal season must be reduced off that state to compensate for the 

overage. NMFS estimates catch rates on the order of 1.5 to 3 times 

greater than the current state water catch rates due to factors such as 

increasing catch rates and fish size, higher bag limits, weekend 

fishing, peak season fishing, increases in stock abundance, potentially 

significant levels of deliberate or accidental non-compliance by 

constituents with state/Federal boundaries during incompatible 

regulatory periods, and the fact that some for-hire vessels are not 

federally permitted and would contribute to landings when the Federal 

season is closed. For the season projections, NMFS used 2 times the 

catch rate because using 1.5 times the catch rate would potentially be 

an underestimate and using 3 times the catch rate could be too 

conservative. Final official closure dates will be announced prior to 

the start of the season on June 1, 2013, and may be announced in the 

final rule for this action.

 

Classification

 

    Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the 

NMFS Assistant Administrator has determined that this proposed rule is 

consistent with the FMP, other provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, 

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.

    The Chief Counsel for Regulation of the Department of Commerce 

certified to the Chief Counsel for Advocacy of the Small Business 

Administration that this proposed rule, if implemented, would not have 

a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small 

entities. The factual basis for this determination is as follows:

    The purpose of this proposed rule is to set 2013 quotas for the 

commercial and recreational harvest of red snapper in the Gulf EEZ that 

are consistent with the red snapper rebuilding plan in order to achieve 

OY. The Magnuson-Stevens Act provides the statutory basis for this 

proposed rule. No duplicative, overlapping, or conflicting Federal 

rules have been identified. This proposed rule would not introduce any 

changes to current reporting, record-keeping, or other compliance 

requirements.

    This rule, if implemented, would be expected to directly affect all 

commercial and for-hire vessels that harvest red snapper. In addition 

to needing red snapper allocation, a commercial reef fish permit is 

required to harvest red snapper in the Gulf EEZ in excess of the bag 

limit and to sell red snapper. An estimated 890 vessels possess a valid 

(non-expired) or renewable commercial reef fish permit. A renewable 

permit is an expired permit that may not be actively fished, but is 

renewable for up to 1 year after permit expiration. However, over the 

period 2007-2011, an average of only 333 vessels per year recorded 

commercial red snapper harvests. As a result, for the purpose of this 

assessment, the number of potentially affected commercial vessels is 

estimated to range from 333-890. The average commercial vessel in the 

Gulf reef fish fishery is estimated to earn approximately $50,000 (2011 

dollars) in annual gross revenue, while the average vessel with red 

snapper landings is estimated to earn approximately $96,000.

    A Federal reef fish for-hire vessel permit is required for for-hire 

vessels to harvest red snapper in the Gulf EEZ. On November 21, 2012, 

1,364 vessels had valid or renewable reef fish for-hire permits. The 

for-hire fleet is comprised of charterboats, which charge a fee on a 

vessel basis, and headboats, which charge a fee on an individual angler 

(head) basis. Although the for-hire permit does not distinguish between 

headboats and charterboats, an estimated 69 headboats operate in the 

Gulf. As a result, 1,295 of the vessels with valid or renewable reef 

fish for-hire permits are expected to operate as charterboats. The 

average charterboat is estimated to earn approximately $80,000 (2011 

dollars) in gross annual revenue, while the average headboat is 

estimated to earn approximately $242,000.

    NMFS has not identified any other small entities that would be 

expected to be directly affected by this proposed rule.

    The Small Business Administration has established size criteria for 

all major industry sectors in the U.S., including fish harvesters. A 

business involved in fish harvesting is classified as a small business 

if it is independently owned and operated, is not dominant in its field 

of operation (including its affiliates), and has combined annual 

receipts not in excess of $4.0 million (NAICS code 114111, finfish 

fishing) for all its affiliated operations worldwide. The revenue 

threshold for a business involved in the for-hire fishing industry is 

$7.0 million (NAICS code 713990, recreational industries). All 

commercial and for-hire vessels expected to be directly affected by 

this proposed rule are believed to be small business entities.

    This rule, if implemented, would increase the 2013 red snapper 

commercial quota by 194,000 lb (87,997 kg), round weight, and the 2013 

red snapper recreational quota by 186,000 lb (84,368 kg), round weight. 

The proposed increase in the commercial quota would be expected to 

result in an increase in gross revenue (ex-vessel revenue minus the 3-

percent cost recovery fee) for commercial vessels that harvest red 

snapper of approximately $721,000 (2011 dollars), or approximately 

$810-$2,165 per vessel ($721,000/890 vessels = $810 per vessel; 

$721,000/333 vessels = $2,165 per vessel). The expected range in the 

increase in gross revenue per vessel would be equal to approximately 

1.6 percent ($810/$50,000) and 2.3 percent ($2,165/$96,000) increases 

in the average annual revenue per vessel, respectively.

    The proposed increase in the recreational quota would be expected 

to result in an increase in net operating revenue (gross revenue minus 

operating costs except for labor) for for-hire businesses of 

approximately $502,000 (2011 dollars) for charterboats and 

approximately $562,000 for headboats. The projected increase in net 

operating revenue for charterboats would be equal to approximately $388 

per vessel ($502,000/1,295 vessels), or approximately 0.5 percent 

($388/$80,000) of average annual revenue per vessel. For headboats, the 

projected increase in net operating revenue would be equal to 

approximately $8,152 per vessel ($562,000/69 vessels), or approximately 

3.4 percent ($8,152/$242,000) of average annual revenue per vessel.

    In summary, the proposed rule, if implemented, would not be 

expected to have a significant impact on a substantial number of small 

entities and, as a result, an initial regulatory flexibility analysis 

is not required and none has been prepared.