2012 Atlantic Bluefish Fishery

NMFS issues final specifications for the 2012 Atlantic bluefish fishery, including an annual catch limit, total allowable landings, a commercial quota and recreational harvest limit, and a recreational possession limit. This action establishes the allowable 2012 harvest levels and other management measures to achieve the target fishing mortality rate, consistent with the Atlantic Bluefish Fishery Management Plan.

DATES: The final specifications for the 2012 Atlantic bluefish fishery areeffective May 29, 2012, through December 31, 2012.

ADDRESSES: Copies of the specifications document, including the Environmental Assessment and Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (EA/IRFA) and other supporting documents for the specifications, are available from Dr. Christopher M. Moore, Executive Director, Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, Suite 201, 800 N. State Street, Dover, DE 19901. The specifications document is also accessible via the Internet at: http://www.nero.noaa.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Carly Bari, Fishery Management Specialist, (978) 281-9224.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

The Atlantic bluefish fishery is managed cooperatively by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (Commission). The management unit for bluefish specified in the Atlantic Bluefish Fishery Management Plan (FMP) is U.S. waters of the western Atlantic Ocean. Regulations implementing the FMP appear at 50 CFR part 648, subparts A and J. The regulations requiring annual specifications are found at Sec.  648.160.

The FMP requires the Council to recommend, on an annual basis, annual catch limit (ACL), annual catch target (ACT), and total allowable landings (TAL) that will control fishing mortality (F). The Council may also recommend a research set-aside (RSA) quota, which is deducted from the bluefish TALs (after any applicable transfer) in an amount proportional to the percentage of the overall TAL as allocated to the commercial and recreational sectors.

Pursuant to Sec.  648.162, the annual review process for bluefish requires that the Council's Bluefish Monitoring Committee and Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) review and make recommendations based on the best available data. Based on the recommendations of the Monitoring Committee and SSC, the Council makes a recommendation to the NMFS Northeast Regional Administrator. Because this FMP is a joint plan, the Commission also meets during the annual specification process to adopt complementary measures.

The Council's recommendations must include supporting documentation concerning the environmental, economic, and social impacts of the recommendations. NMFS is responsible for reviewing these recommendations to assure they achieve the FMP objectives, and may modify them if they do not. NMFS then publishes proposed specifications in the Federal Register, and after considering public comment, NMFS publishes final specifications in the Federal Register. A proposed rule for this action published in the Federal Register on February 15, 2012 (77 FR 8776), and comments were accepted through March 1, 2012.

Final 2012 Specifications

A description of the process used to estimate bluefish stock status and fishing mortality, as well as the process for deriving the ACL and associated quotas and harvest limits, is provided in the proposed rule and in the bluefish regulations at Sec. Sec.  648.160-162. The stock is not overfished or experiencing overfishing, and the catch limits described below reflect the best available scientific information on bluefish. The final 2012 bluefish ABC, ACL, and ACT are specified at 32.044 million lb (14,535 mt).

The ACT is initially allocated between the recreational fishery (83 percent = 26.597 million lb, 12,064 mt) and the commercial fishery (17 percent = 5.448 million lb, 2,471 mt). After deducting an estimate of recreational discards (commercial discards are considered negligible), the recreational TAL would be 22.819 million lb (10,350 mt) and the commercial TAL would be 5.448 million lb (2,471 mt).

However, the FMP specifies that, if 17 percent of the ACT is less than 10.5 million lb, and recreational fishery is not projected to land its harvest limit for the upcoming year, the commercial fishery may be allocated up to 10.5 million lb as its quota, provided that the combination of the projected recreational landings and the commercial quota does not exceed the ACT. The recreational harvest limit (RHL) would then be adjusted downward so that the ACT would be unchanged. Based on updated data, the recreational fishery landed 11,892,696 lb (5,394 mt) of bluefish in 2011. Assuming recreational landings in 2012 are consistent with those from 2011, the Council's proposed transfer of 5.052 million lb (2,291 mt) from the recreational sector to the commercial sector can be approved. This results in an adjusted commercial quota of 10.5 million lb (4,763 mt), and an adjusted RHL of 17.766 million lb (8,059 mt).

Final RSA, Commercial Quota, and RHL

Three projects that will utilize bluefish RSA were approved by NOAA's Grants Management Division. A total RSA quota of 491,672 lb (223 mt) was approved for use by these projects during 2012. Proportional adjustments of this amount to the commercial and recreational allocations results in a final commercial quota of 10.317 million lb (4,680 mt) and a final RHL of 17.457 million lb (7,919 mt).

Final Recreational Possession Limit

The current recreational possession limit of up to 15 fish per person is maintained to achieve the RHL.

Final State Commercial Allocations

The final state commercial allocations of the 2012 commercial quota are shown in Table 1, based on the percentages specified in the FMP.

 

                     Table 1--Final Bluefish Commercial State-by-State Allocations for 2012

                                           [Including RSA deductions]

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                                                                          2012 council-final  2012 council-final

                        State                            Percent share     commercial quota    commercial quota

                                                                                 (lb)                (kg)

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ME..................................................              0.6685              68,972              31,285

NH..................................................              0.4145              42,765              19,398

MA..................................................              6.7167             692,986             314,333

RI..................................................              6.8081             702,416             318,611

CT..................................................              1.2663             130,649              59,261

NY..................................................             10.3851           1,071,466             486,009

NJ..................................................             14.8162           1,528,639             693,379

DE..................................................              1.8782             193,781              87,897

MD..................................................              3.0018             309,707             140,481

VA..................................................             11.8795           1,225,649             555,945

NC..................................................             32.0608           3,307,827           1,500,405

SC..................................................              0.0352               3,632               1,647

GA..................................................              0.0095                 980                 445

FL..................................................             10.0597           1,037,894             470,781

                                                     -----------------------------------------------------------

    Total...........................................            100.0001          10,317,362           4,679,878

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Comments and Responses

The public comment period for the proposed rule ended on March 1, 2012. Five comments were received on the proposed rule. A summary and response to the concerns raised by the commenters are included below.

    Comment 1: One commenter generally criticized the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission for using poor data and allowing overharvest of bluefish, but provided no clear evidence to support their claims.

    Response: Atlantic bluefish are not overfished, nor are they subject to overfishing; therefore, there is no scientific basis for making changes to the quotas based on this comment. NMFS used the best scientific information available and selected specifications for the bluefish fishery that are consistent with the FMP and recommendations of the Council.

    Comment 2: Three commenters opposed the quota transfer from the recreational sector to the commercial sector. They suggested that the transfer would increase the total takes from the fishery overall and allow the commercial sector to harvest the most mature fish which would lead to an unsustainable fishery. Additionally, they commented that the increased commercial quota as a result of the transfer allows commercial fishermen to take fish once reserved for the recreational sector.

    Response: These comments included no scientific justifications for decreasing or eliminating the transfer between sectors. NMFS used the best scientific information available and selected specifications for the bluefish fishery that are consistent with the FMP and recommendations of the Council. Bluefish are not considered overfished or subject to overfishing, and the recreational sector is not projected to harvest its allocation. Sufficient analysis and scientific justification for NMFS's action in this final rule are contained within the supporting documents.   

Comment 3: A charter/party boat operator in the Atlantic bluefish fishery in Massachusetts was supportive of the proposed ACL.

    Response: NMFS agrees that the approved ACL meets the requirements of the Atlantic Bluefish FMP.

Classification

Pursuant to section 304(b)(1)(A) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), the NMFS Assistant Administrator has determined that this final rule is consistent with the Atlantic Bluefish FMP, other provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law. This final rule is exempt from review under Executive Order 12866. This final rule does not duplicate, conflict, or overlap with any existing Federal rules.