Change to Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Retention Limit

NMFS has determined that the Atlantic bluefin tuna (BFT) daily retention limit that applies to vessels permitted in the Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Charter/Headboat category (when fishing recreationally for BFT) should be adjusted for the remainder of 2012, based on consideration of the regulatory determination criteria regarding inseason adjustments and based on preliminary 2012 landings data. NMFS also closes the southern area Angling category fishery for large medium and giant (``trophy'') BFT. These actions are being taken consistent with the BFT fishery management objectives of the 2006 Consolidated HMS Fishery Management Plan (Consolidated HMS FMP) and to prevent overharvest of the 2012 Angling category quota.

DATES: Effective April 7, 2012, through December 31, 2012.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Sarah McLaughlin or Brad McHale, 978-281-9260.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Regulations implemented under theauthority of the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act (16 U.S.C. 971 et seq.) and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act
(Magnuson-Stevens Act; 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.) governing the harvest of
BFT by persons and vessels subject to U.S. jurisdiction are found at 50
CFR part 635. Section 635.27 subdivides the U.S. BFT quota allocated by
the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas
(ICCAT) among the various domestic fishing categories, per the
allocations established in the Consolidated HMS FMP (71 FR 58058,
October 2, 2006) and in accordance with implementing regulations.


The 2012 BFT fishing year, which is managed on a calendar-year
basis and subject to an annual calendar-year quota, began January 1,
2012. The Angling category season opened January 1, 2012, and continues
through December 31, 2012. Currently, the default Angling category
daily retention limit of one school, large school, or small medium BFT
(measuring 27 to less than 73 inches (68.5 to less than 185 cm))
applies (Sec. 635.23(b)(2)). An annual limit of one large medium or
giant BFT (73 inches or greater) per vessel also applies (Sec.
635.23(b)(1)). These retention limits apply to HMS Angling and HMS
Charter/Headboat category permitted vessels (when fishing
recreationally for BFT).


The currently codified Angling category quota is 182 mt (94.9 mt
for school BFT, 82.9 mt for large school/small medium BFT, and 4.2 mt
for large medium/giant BFT).

NMFS examined the results of the 2008 through
2011 fishing seasons under the applicable daily retention limits, as
well as the observed trend in the recreational fishery over that time
period toward heavier fish, particularly in the small medium size range
(59 to less than 73 inches). Data and dockside observations from 2008
through 2011 indicated a shift in availability to the large school/
small medium size class (47 to less than 73 inches (119 to less than
185 cm)), particularly to large school BFT (47 to less than 59 inches
(119 to less than 150 cm)) in 2008 and to small medium BFT in 2009
through 2011. Large school and small medium BFT traditionally have been
managed as one size class (47 to less than 73 inches). Over the last 5
years, NMFS has found that as this cohort of fish aged and grew in
weight but remained under 73 inches (i.e., the upper range of the large
school/small medium size class), the large school/small medium subquota
was attained with fewer fish landed.


In 2010 and in 2011, based on considerations of the available
quota, fishery performance in recent years, and the availability of BFT
on the fishing grounds, NMFS adjusted the Angling category retention
limit from the default level to prohibit the retention of small medium
BFT for the remainder of the respective fishing years (75 FR 33531,
June 14, 2010, and 76 FR 18416, April 4, 2011). Recognizing the
different nature, socio-economic needs, and recent landings results of
private and charter/headboat vessels, NMFS implemented separate limits
for each. Effective June 12 through December 31, 2010, and effective
April 2 through December 31, 2011, the limit was one school or large
school BFT per vessel per day/trip for private vessels (i.e., those
with HMS Angling category permits), and was one school BFT and one
large school BFT per vessel per day/trip for charter vessels (i.e.,
those with HMS Charter/Headboat permits, when fishing recreationally
for BFT).


It is important that NMFS constrain landings to BFT subquotas both
to adhere to the current FMP quota allocations and to ensure that
landings are as consistent as possible with the pattern of fishing
mortality (e.g., fish caught at each age) that was assumed in the
projections of stock rebuilding. However, based on the annual growth
rate of BFT and preliminary 2012 recreational catch information, it is
reasonable to assume that the cohort of fish described above largely
has grown to greater than 73 inches, i.e., has moved through the
recreational large school/small medium size class.


Based on current considerations of the available quota, fishery
performance in recent years, and the availability of BFT on the fishing
grounds, NMFS has determined that the Angling category retention limit
applicable to HMS Charter/Headboat category participants (when fishing
recreationally) should be adjusted from the default level, and that
implementation of separate limits for private and charter/headboat
vessels is appropriate, recognizing the different nature, socio-
economic needs, and recent landings results of the two components of
the recreational BFT fishery. For example, charter operators
historically have indicated that a multi-fish retention limit is vital
to their ability to attract customers. In addition, 2011 Large Pelagics
Survey estimates indicate that charter/headboat BFT landings constitute
approximately 35 percent of recent recreational landings, with the
remaining 65 percent landed by private vessels.


Therefore, for private vessels (i.e., those with HMS Angling
category permits), the limit is maintained at one school, large school,
or small medium BFT per vessel per day/trip (i.e., one BFT measuring 27
to less than 73 inches). For charter vessels (i.e., those with HMS
Charter/Headboat permits), the limit is one school BFT and one large
school/small medium BFT per vessel per day/trip when fishing
recreationally for BFT (i.e., one BFT measuring 27 to less than 47
inches, and one BFT measuring 47 to less than 73 inches). These
retention limits are effective in all areas, except for the Gulf of
Mexico, where NMFS prohibits targeted fishing for BFT. Regardless of
the duration of a fishing trip, the daily retention limit applies upon
landing.


NMFS anticipates that the BFT daily retention limits in this action
will result in landings during 2012 that would not exceed the available subquotas
as codified in 2011. However, NMFS will monitor 2012 landings closely
and will adjust the daily retention limit further through additional
inseason actions if warranted.


The determination to adjust the daily retention limit is based
primarily on: the usefulness of information obtained from recreational
BFT catches for biological sampling and monitoring of the status of the
stock (Sec. 635.27(a)(8)(i)); catch to date and the likelihood of
closure of the Angling category if no adjustment is made (Sec.
635.27(a)(8)(ii)); the effects of the adjustment on accomplishing the
objectives of the Consolidated HMS FMP (Sec. 635.27(a)(8)(vi));
variations in seasonal distribution, abundance, or migration patterns
of BFT (Sec. 635.27(a)(8)(vii)); and the anticipated availability of
school, large school, and small medium BFT on the fishing grounds
(Sec. 635.27(a)(8)(ix)).

Angling Category Large Medium and Giant ``Trophy'' Fishery Closure

The codified BFT quotas provide for 4.2 mt of large medium and
giant (trophy) BFT (measuring greater than 73 inches) to be harvested
from the regulatory area by vessels fishing under the Angling category
quota, with 1.4 mt for the area north of 39[deg]18' N. lat. (off Great
Egg Inlet, NJ) and 2.8 mt for the area south of 39[deg]18' N. lat.


Based on information from the NMFS Automated Landings Reporting
System and the North Carolina Tagging Program, NMFS has determined that
the codified Angling category trophy BFT subquota has been taken and
that a closure of the southern area trophy BFT fishery is warranted at
this time. Therefore, fishing for, retaining, possessing, or landing
large medium or giant (``trophy'') BFT south of 39[deg]18' N. lat. by
persons aboard vessels permitted in the HMS Angling category and the
HMS Charter/Headboat category (when fishing recreationally) must cease
at 11:30 p.m. local time on April 7, 2012. This action is taken
consistent with the regulations at Sec. 635.28(a)(1).


These Angling category actions are intended to provide a reasonable
opportunity to harvest the U.S. quota of BFT without exceeding it,
while maintaining an equitable distribution of fishing opportunities;
and to be consistent with the objectives of the Consolidated HMS FMP.


HMS Angling and HMS Charter/Headboat category permit holders may
catch and release (or tag and release) BFT of all sizes, subject to the
requirements of the catch-and-release and tag-and-release programs at
Sec. 635.26. Anglers are also reminded that all BFT that are released
must be handled in a manner that will maximize survivability, and
without removing the fish from the water, consistent with requirements
at Sec. 635.21(a)(1). For additional information on safe handling, see
the Careful Catch and Release brochure available at www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/hms/.


If needed, subsequent Angling category adjustments will be
published in the Federal Register. In addition, fishermen may call the
Atlantic Tunas Information Line at (888) 872-8862 or (978) 281-9260, or
access www.hmspermits.gov, for updates.

Classification

The Assistant Administrator for NMFS (AA) finds that it is
impracticable and contrary to the public interest to provide prior
notice of, and an opportunity for public comment on, this action for
the following reasons:


The regulations implementing the Consolidated HMS FMP provide for
inseason retention limit adjustments to respond to the unpredictable
nature of BFT availability on the fishing grounds, the migratory nature
of this species, and the regional variations in the BFT fishery. Based
on available BFT quotas, fishery performance in recent years, the
availability of BFT on the fishing grounds, among other considerations,
an adjustment to the recreational BFT daily retention limit is
warranted. Analysis of available data shows that adjustment to the BFT
daily retention limit from the default level would result in minimal
risks of exceeding the ICCAT-allocated quota.


Furthermore, closure of the southern area Angling category trophy
fishery is necessary to ensure sufficient quota remains available to
ensure overall 2012 fishing year landings are consistent with ICCAT
recommendations and the Consolidated HMS FMP. NMFS provides
notification of closures and retention limit adjustments by publishing
the notice in the Federal Register, emailing individuals who have
subscribed to the Atlantic HMS News electronic newsletter, and updating
the information posted on the Atlantic Tunas Information Line and on
www.hmspermits.gov.


These fisheries are currently underway and delaying this action
would be contrary to the public interest as it could result in
excessive trophy BFT landings that potentially could result in future
quota reductions for the Angling category and other BFT quota
categories, depending on the magnitude of any Angling category
overharvest. NMFS must close the southern area trophy BFT fishery
before additional landings of these sizes of BFT accumulate. Delays in
increasing the daily recreational BFT retention limits would adversely
affect those Charter/Headboat category vessels that would otherwise
have an opportunity to harvest more than the default retention limit of
one school, large school, or small medium BFT per day/trip and may
exacerbate the problem of low catch rates and quota rollovers.
Therefore, the AA finds good cause under 5 U.S.C. 553(b)(B) to waive
prior notice and the opportunity for public comment. For all of the
above reasons, there is good cause under 5 U.S.C. 553(d) to waive the
30-day delay in effectiveness.