NMFS implements management measures described in a regulatory amendment (Regulatory Amendment 13) to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region (FMP), as prepared by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council).
This final rule revises the annual catch limits (ACLs), including sector ACLs, for 37 snapper-grouper species based on updated landings data. The purpose of this rule is to ensure that the ACLs are based on the best scientific information available, and to prevent unnecessary negative socio-economic impacts to participants in the snapper-grouper fishery and fishing community that could occur if the ACLs are not revised, in accordance with the provisions set forth in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act).
This rule is effective July 17, 2013.
ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of the regulatory amendment, which
includes an environmental assessment, regulatory impact review,
Regulatory Flexibility Act analysis, and fishery impact statement, may
be obtained from the Southeast Regional Office Web site at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sf/SASnapperGrouperHomepage.htm.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Nikhil Mehta, Southeast Regional
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The snapper-grouper fishery of the South
Atlantic is managed under the FMP and includes 60 species, 37 of which
are addressed in Regulatory Amendment 13 and this final rule. These 37
snapper-grouper species do not have stock assessments; their acceptable
biological catch estimates (ABCs) are greater than zero; and their ABCs
were specified using a formula established in the Comprehensive ACL
Amendment. Species in the fishery management unit with stock
assessments and species with an ABC equal to zero are not addressed in
Regulatory Amendment 13. For assessed species, adjustments to landings
data will be made during assessment updates or revisions. Species with
an ABC of zero are prohibited harvest species and are outside the scope
of the amendment. The FMP was prepared by the Council and implemented
through regulations at 50 CFR part 622 under the authority of the
On March 21, 2013, NMFS published a proposed rule for the
regulatory amendment and requested public comments (78 FR 17336). The
proposed rule and the regulatory amendment outline the rationale for
the actions contained in this final rule. A summary of the actions
implemented by this final rule are provided below.
The purpose of this rule and Regulatory Amendment 13 is to revise
the ABCs, ACLs (including sector ACLs) and annual catch targets (ACTs)
implemented by the South Atlantic Comprehensive ACL Amendment (77 FR
15916, March 16, 2012) using improved data. If the ABCs, ACLs
(including sector ACLs), and ACTs are not updated using the new data,
there could be a disconnect between how the ACLs were calculated and
how the landings are calculated to determine if ACLs are met and AMs
Management Measures Contained in This Final Rule
This final rule revises ACLs for the following species and species
complexes: Deep-water complex species (yellowedge grouper, blueline
tilefish, silk snapper, misty grouper, sand tilefish, queen snapper,
black snapper, and blackfin snapper); shallow-water groupers (red hind,
rock hind, yellowmouth grouper, yellowfin grouper, coney, and graysby);
snappers (gray snapper, lane snapper, cubera snapper, dog snapper, and
mahogany snapper), jacks (almaco jack, banded rudderfish, and lesser
amberjack), grunts (white grunt, sailor's choice, tomtate, and
margate); porgies (jolthead porgy, knobbed porgy, saucereye porgy,
scup, and whitebone porgy); Atlantic spadefish; blue runner; bar jack;
gray triggerfish; scamp; and hogfish. NMFS monitors landings throughout
a fishing season to ensure they do not exceed the ACLs. Because the
ACLs trigger the AMs that were established in the Comprehensive ACL
Amendment it is important that data used to calculate the ACLs is
consistent with the data used to monitor landings.
The commercial AMs for the species and species complexes in this
final rule specify that if the commercial ACL for a species or species
complex is reached or projected to be reached during a fishing year,
the sector will close for the remainder of that fishing year for that
species or species complex. If a complex is closed, sale and purchase
of any species in that complex is prohibited. If a species, or a single
member of a species complex, is designated as overfished and the
commercial ACL is exceeded, then during the following fishing year the
commercial sector ACL would be reduced by the amount of the commercial
ACL overage in the prior fishing year.
The recreational AMs for the species and species complexes are as
follows: If the recreational ACL is exceeded for a species or species
complex in a fishing year, then during the next fishing year the NMFS
Regional Administrator will monitor the recreational landings for a
persistence in increased landings, and will reduce the length of the
recreational fishing season as necessary to ensure the recreational
landings do not exceed the recreational ACL.
This final rule ensures that the methodology used to calculate the
ACLs is consistent with the methodology used to monitor landings and to
determine when it is necessary to trigger the AMs.
Additional Measures Contained in Regulatory Amendment 13
In addition to the ACL revisions in this final rule, Regulatory
Amendment 13 revises the ABCs and ACTs for these 37 snapper-grouper
species using the improved data methods as previously described.
Comments and Responses
A total of 16 comment submissions were received on the proposed
rule for Regulatory Amendment 13. Comments were received from
individuals, an environmental organization, a recreational fishing
association, and a Federal agency. Of the comments received, some were
generally opposed to any regulations, and others were supportive of the
action in the regulatory amendment. There were also comments outside
the scope of this rulemaking. Several of those questioned the species
groupings and the formula used to establish the ACLs, which were
actions included in the South Atlantic Comprehensive ACL Amendment and
are not reconsidered in Regulatory Amendment 13. Specific comments
related to the actions contained in Regulatory Amendment 13 and NMFS'
responses are summarized below.
Comment 1: NMFS states in Regulatory Amendment 13 that the ``best
scientific information available'' is used. Provide the legal
definition of the term ``best scientific information available'' and
the timeline for the revision of National Standard 2.
Response: National Standard 2 requires that ``conservation and
management measures shall be based upon the best scientific information
available,'' 16 U.S.C. 1851(a)(2). The Magnuson-Stevens Act does not
define the phrase ``best scientific information available'' but NMFS
has published National Standard 2 guidelines to provide guidance on how
this phrase should be interpreted in the development of fishery
management actions. See 50 CFR 600.315. On December 9, 2009, NMFS
published a proposed rule that would revise the National Standard 2
Guidelines (74 FR 65724). NMFS is reviewing the comments received on
the proposed rule and expects to publish a final rule in the near
Comment 2: Regulatory Amendment 13 results in allocations that
favor the recreational sector more than the commercial sector.
Response: NMFS disagrees. Sector allocations were established by a
formula selected by the Council in the Comprehensive ACL Amendment in
2012. Regulatory Amendment 13 did not consider modifications to the
allocation formula but uses updated data, including MRIP data, to
revise the ABCs, ACLs, and ACTs for 37 snapper-grouper species. The use
of updated data changes the percentage of allocations for these species
but as shown in Table 2.2 of Regulatory Amendment 13, the differences
are generally small and do not favor one sector over the other.
Changes From the Proposed Rule
On April 17, 2013, NMFS published in the Federal Register an
interim final rule to reorganize the regulations in 50 CFR part 622 for
the Gulf of Mexico, the South Atlantic, and the Caribbean (78 FR
22950). That interim final rule did not create any new rights or
obligations; it reorganized the existing regulatory requirements in the
Code of Federal Regulations into a new format. This final rule
incorporates this new format into the regulatory text; it does not
change the specific regulatory requirements that were contained in the
proposed rule. Therefore, as a result of this reorganization, the ACLs
previously located at Sec. 622.49 are now located at Sec. 622.193.