Final Rule Amendment 18A Implementation

NMFS issues this final rule to implement Amendment 18A to the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region (Amendment 18A), as prepared and submitted by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council). This rule modifies the current system of accountability measures for black sea bass, limits effort in the black sea bass segment of the snapper-grouper fishery, and improves fisheries data in the for-hire sector of the snapper-grouper fishery. Amendment 18A also updates the rebuilding plan and modifies the acceptable biological catch (ABC) for black sea bass. This final rule is intended to reduce overcapacity in the black sea bass segment of the snapper-grouper fishery.

This rule is effective July 1, 2012.

ADDRESSES: Electronic copies of Amendment 18A may be obtained from the 

Southeast Regional Office Web site at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sf/SASnapperGrouperHomepage.htm. Amendment 18A includes an Environmental 

Impact Statement, a Regulatory Impact Review, and a Fishery Impact 

Statement.

    Comments regarding the burden-hour estimates or other aspects of 

the collection-of-information requirements contained in this final rule 

may be submitted in writing to Anik Clemens, Southeast Regional Office, 

NMFS, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701; and OMB, by 

email at OIRA Submission@omb.eop.gov, or by fax to 202-395-7285.

 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Kate Michie, 727-824-5305.

 

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The snapper-grouper fishery of the South 

Atlantic is managed under the FMP. The FMP was prepared by the Council 

and is implemented through regulations at 50 CFR part 622 under the 

authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management 

Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act).

    On January 31, 2012, NMFS published a notice of availability for 

Amendment 18A and requested public comment (77 FR 4754). On March 23, 

2012, NMFS published a proposed rule for Amendment 18A and requested 

public comment (77 FR 16991).

    NMFS partially approved Amendment 18A on May 2, 2012. NMFS 

disapproved the action establishing transferability criteria for the 

black sea bass pot endorsement, explaining that the amendment 

identified the wrong preferred alternative selected for this action, 

and there were discrepancies in the record regarding the Council's 

discussion of the alternatives and the text describing and analyzing 

this alternative in the document. Because the Council's intent was 

unclear from the administrative record, NMFS was unable to implement 

this action in compliance with the Administrative Procedure Act. The 

Council is addressing transferability criteria for black sea bass pot 

endorsements in a separate FMP amendment, which is currently under 

development.

    The proposed rule and Amendment 18A outline the rationale for the 

actions contained in this final rule. The proposed rule incorrectly 

indicated that it would modify the black sea bass rebuilding strategy 

and ABC. Although these measures are included in Amendment 18A, they 

are not codified in the regulations. A summary of the actions 

implemented by this final rule is provided here.

    This rule modifies the black sea bass annual catch limit (ACL); 

limits participation in the black sea bass pot segment of the snapper-

grouper fishery through an endorsement program; establishes an appeals 

process for fishermen excluded from the black sea bass pot endorsement 

program; limits the number of pot tags issued to participants in the 

black sea bass pot segment of the snapper-grouper fishery; implements 

measures to reduce black sea bass bycatch; modifies accountability 

measures (AMs) for black sea bass; establishes a commercial trip limit 

for black sea bass; modifies the current commercial and recreational 

black sea bass size limits; and improves data reporting in the for-hire 

sector of the snapper-grouper fishery. The intent of this rule is to 

reduce overcapacity in the black sea bass segment of the snapper-

grouper fishery.

 

Comments and Responses

 

    A total of 28 comments were received on the proposed rule and 

Amendment 18A from individuals, Federal agencies, and fishing 

associations. NMFS received 2 comments of general support and 26 

individual comments opposing one or more actions contained in Amendment 

18A. Several of the comments recommended alternative management 

measures for black sea bass. Specific comments related to the actions 

contained in the amendment and the rule as well as NMFS' respective 

responses, are summarized below.

    Comment 1: Several commenters stated they have recently seen more 

black sea bass and larger black sea bass than in previous years. 

Additionally, several commenters stated they are seeing black sea bass 

in areas where they were not previously found. For these reasons the 

same commenters stated the commercial and recreational ACLs for black 

sea bass should be significantly increased to allow for more fishing of 

the stock.

    Response: Many fishery participants have indicated they are now 

seeing more black sea bass and larger black sea bass than in recent 

years, which is consistent with the finding of the most recent 

Southeast, Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR) for black sea bass 

which was completed in October 2011 (SEDAR 25). SEDAR 25 indicates that 

black sea bass are no longer overfished, but are not yet fully rebuilt, 

and that black sea bass was experiencing overfishing to a small extent 

based on data from 2009 and 2010. Amendment 17B to the FMP (Amendment 

17B), which was implemented on January 31, 2011, established ACLs and 

AMs for black sea bass to ensure overfishing of black sea bass does not 

occur (75 FR 82280).

    The Magnuson-Stevens Act requires rebuilding plans to rebuild a 

stock within 10 years except under limited

 

[[Page 32409]]

 

circumstances. The rebuilding strategy for black sea bass, which was 

implemented in 2006 through Amendment 13C to the FMP (71 FR 55096, 

September 21, 2006), holds catch at a constant level as the stock size 

increases. The target time for rebuilding black sea bass is 2016. 

Because the stock is rebuilding, fishermen are encountering black sea 

bass more frequently than in recent years.

    NMFS is implementing, through this final rule, a modified 

rebuilding strategy that holds the combined commercial and recreational 

ACL at 847,000 lb (384,200 kg), round weight [717,797 lb (325,587 kg), 

gutted weight] for the next 2 fishing years; then changes the ACL to 

the yield at FRebuild. The Council's Scientific and 

Statistical Committee (SSC) endorsed this modification to the current 

rebuilding strategy, but recommended the ACL not be modified until a 

stock assessment update is completed before the 2014/2015 fishing year. 

This rebuilding strategy has a 66 percent probability of rebuilding the 

stock by 2016 while allowing increases to the ACL, if supported by the 

next stock assessment.

    Comment 2: One commenter is concerned that the continued shortening 

of the commercial fishing season for black sea bass has led to 

decreased revenues for his business.

    Response: The black sea bass commercial sector has closed much 

earlier the past 3 fishing years than in previous years, and in each of 

these years the fishing season was shorter than the previous fishing 

season. Thus, fishermen have experienced market glut during the months 

of June, July, and August, and the purchase and sale of black sea bass 

have been prohibited for the remainder of the season. Actions in 

Amendment 18A are intended to extend fishing opportunities further into 

the fishing season to mitigate these negative socioeconomic effects.

    Comment 3: One commenter states that the early in-season closures 

in the commercial and recreational sectors during the 2011/2012 fishing 

year were not necessary because the stock is no longer overfished.

    Response: Results of a 2011 stock assessment indicate that black 

sea bass are no longer overfished but are not rebuilt, and that the 

stock was undergoing overfishing to a minor degree according to 2009 

and 2010 data. Following this overfishing determination, Amendment 17B 

implemented AMs and ACLs on January 31, 2011, as required by the 

Magnuson-Stevens Act, to ensure that overfishing of black sea bass does 

not occur. In-season closures are a part of the system of commercial 

and recreational AMs and ACLs for the black sea bass component of the 

snapper-grouper fishery. The commercial sector AM for black sea bass 

closes the commercial sector if commercial landings reach, or are 

projected to reach, the commercial quota, which serves as the 

functional commercial sector ACL.

    The recreational sector AMs for black sea bass include closing the 

recreational sector when the ACL is met or projected to be met if the 

stock is overfished. Because the stock was still considered overfished 

during the 2011/2012 fishing year the sector was closed on October 17, 

2011, based on projections that the recreational ACL would be reached 

by that time. This final rule will modify the current recreational AMs 

to provide the Regional Administrator with the authority to close the 

recreational sector when the ACL is met or projected to be met 

regardless of the overfished status of black sea bass.

    Comment 4: One commenter states that the most recent stock 

assessment for black sea bass should have been delayed until 2011 data 

for the black sea bass segment of the snapper-grouper fishery could be 

included. One commenter recommends doing a new stock assessment for 

black sea bass as soon as possible because the species may no longer be 

undergoing overfishing.

    Response: NMFS and the Council must schedule stock assessments 

several years in advance to allow time for the needed data to be 

compiled for use by stock assessment scientists. Stock assessment 

schedules are reviewed by the Council and approved by the SEDAR 

Steering Committee. The schedule may be found at the SEDAR Web site: 

http://www.sefsc.noaa.gov/sedar/SEDAR_PlanSchedule_Nov2011.pdf. The 

next black sea bass stock assessment has not been scheduled yet.

    Amendment 17B (75 FR 82280, December 30, 2010) contained ACLs and 

AMs to address black sea bass overfishing, and prevent future 

overfishing from occurring, as required by the Magnuson-Stevens Act. 

Delaying the assessment until 2011 data became available would have 

delayed the implementation of Amendment 18A by 1 to 2 years. The 

Council's SSC endorsed a modified rebuilding strategy, previously 

discussed under the response to Comment 1, but recommended that the ACL 

not be modified until a stock assessment update is completed prior to 

the 2014/2015 fishing year. The stock assessment update would include 

any effects the actions in Amendment 17B may have had on ending 

overfishing of black sea bass.

    Comment 5: One commenter inquired as to why Mid-Atlantic and New 

England black sea bass have been successfully rebuilt while South 

Atlantic black sea bass have not.

    Response: Black sea bass are managed as separate stocks north and 

south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. When establishing a rebuilding 

plan for an overfished species, each Council must take into account 

many variables including the degree to which overfishing is occurring, 

Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements, the social and economic environment, 

and trends in effort which are unique to different fisheries. In 2000, 

black sea bass north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, were considered 

to be overfished and undergoing overfishing, and actions were taken to 

rebuild the stock. According to the 2010 Status of U.S. Fisheries found 

at: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/statusoffisheries/2010/2010_FSSI_non_FSSI_stockstatus.pdf, black sea bass north of Cape Hatteras, 

North Carolina, are no longer overfished and are not undergoing 

overfishing. A 2005 stock assessment indicated that the black sea bass 

stock south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, was still overfished and 

undergoing overfishing. Amendment 15A to the FMP implemented a 10-year 

rebuilding plan for South Atlantic black sea bass in 2008, designating 

2006 as year one of the plan. The most recent stock assessment for 

South Atlantic black sea bass, SEDAR 25, indicates that the stock is on 

track to be rebuilt by 2016.

    Comment 6: Several commenters stated the amount of regulatory 

discards of species, such as black sea bass, caused by a low bag limit 

and small recreational ACL has negatively impacted for-hire businesses 

because paying customers are not willing to charter vessels for trips 

that only allow catch-and-release. Thus, the number of trips and 

quality of trips for some for-hire businesses has decreased. On the 

other hand, two recreational anglers support a reduced bag limit in 

order to keep the recreational fishing season open longer.

    Response: Amendment 17B to the FMP implemented a recreational ACL 

for black sea bass of 409,000 lb (185,519 kg), gutted weight [482,620 

lb (218,913 kg), round weight]. In Amendment 18A, the Council 

considered a range of alternatives for modifying the rebuilding plan 

and the combined commercial and recreational ACL. The Council decided 

to maintain the combined ACL established in Amendment 17B through

 

[[Page 32410]]

 

the 2013/2014 fishing year until a stock assessment update can be 

completed. At that time the Council can decide whether increasing the 

combined ACL is appropriate. Further, the Council and NMFS anticipate a 

large increase in the allowable catch when the stock is rebuilt in 

2016. Regulatory Amendment 9 to the FMP and its implementing final rule 

(76 FR 34892, June 15, 2011) reduced the recreational bag limit from 15 

fish to 5 fish per person. The recreational bag limit was not the 

subject of the proposed rule to implement Amendment 18A; and therefore, 

the comments related to the recreational bag limit are beyond the scope 

of this rulemaking.

    Comment 7: One commenter stated it is incorrect for NMFS to 

partially attribute the early ACL closures in the black sea bass 

segment of the snapper-grouper fishery to shifting effort from other 

more heavily regulated species. The commenter states that anglers who 

would normally target species such as red snapper, for which harvest is 

now prohibited in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ), are not likely to 

shift their fishing effort to black sea bass. The commenter suggested 

effort would likely shift towards groupers, mutton snapper, or some 

other large fish species, all of which are legal to harvest June 

through October.

    Response: The rebuilding black sea bass population, which has led 

to increased catch per unit effort, is likely a more significant 

contributor to the ACLs being met early in the fishing season than 

effort shifting during the past 2 fishing years. However, during the 

initial development of Amendment 18A, the black sea bass commercial 

sector of the snapper-grouper fishery was open during seasonal closures 

for other species (vermillion snapper and shallow-water groupers) and 

total prohibitions on other species (red snapper). This scenario is 

likely to have caused some level of effort shifting to black sea bass. 

Additionally, the Council determined that management restrictions 

placed on other snapper-grouper species could cause further effort 

shifting to black sea bass in the South Atlantic.

    Comment 8: One commenter recommends that each state be assigned its 

own black sea bass quota based on historical landings, and argues that 

the Council process is no longer effective for the successful 

management of black sea bass because it does not allow for state-by-

state quotas. One commenter suggests that the Council manage black sea 

bass off the coast of Florida separately from the other states in the 

South Atlantic, and another commenter suggests that the Council manage 

black sea bass off the coast of North Carolina separately from the 

other states in the South Atlantic. One commenter recommends the 

creation of separate ACLs for the two gear components of the commercial 

black sea bass sector; namely, an ACL for the pot component and an ACL 

for the hook-and-line component.

    Response: The Council has discussed state-by-state quotas several 

times in reference to various fish species including black sea bass. 

However, enforcement of different state quotas or ACLs along state 

boundary lines is likely to be very difficult. Additionally, 

administrative difficulties associated with monitoring very small state 

ACLs have prevented the Council from endorsing state-by-state quotas as 

a management tool. Implementing gear specific ACLs for the pot and 

hook-and-line components of the commercial black sea bass sector would 

have similar issues, and enforcement of these separate component ACLs 

would be difficult if fishermen used both gear types on one vessel. 

Again, monitoring these smaller component ACLs would be 

administratively difficult. However, the Council will continue to 

discuss these issues and explore options for implementation of state 

ACLs and separate gear ACLs as quota monitoring capabilities improve 

over time.

    The Council process is effective in managing the black sea bass 

stock in the South Atlantic. In 2005, a stock assessment indicated that 

black sea bass in the South Atlantic was still overfished and 

undergoing overfishing. Through the Council process a rebuilding plan 

was implemented and the most recent stock assessment indicates that 

this stock is no longer overfished and is on track to be rebuilt by 

2016.

    Comment 9: One commenter recommends a recreational tag program 

where recreational anglers are issued a pre-set number of tags (similar 

to North Carolina swan tags) that can be used to harvest black sea bass 

throughout the year. The commenter believes that a tag system for black 

sea bass would allow recreational fishermen to participate in the black 

sea bass segment of the snapper-grouper fishery throughout the year, 

and could improve recreational data for black sea bass. One commenter 

recommends that NMFS use game wardens to perform dockside checks to 

gather recreational harvest data, or have state game wardens fill out 

catch reports because recreational fishermen may not accurately report 

their catch during dockside and phone interviews.

    Response: The suggestion of tag limits to allow participation 

throughout the year or improve data collection, and the use of game 

wardens were not the subject of the proposed rule to implement 

Amendment 18A; the purpose of Amendment 18A is to address overcapacity 

in the black sea bass segment of the snapper-grouper fishery and 

therefore, the comments related to tag limits and game wardens are 

beyond the scope of this rulemaking. However, the Council is not 

precluded from considering a fish tag program or other ways to collect 

data in the future.

    Comment 10: One commenter is concerned the increasing rate of 

recreational harvest of black sea bass is shrinking the allocation for 

the commercial sector. The same commenter recommends establishing a 

control date using a year when commercial and recreational harvest were 

closer to being equal and implementing a Federal recreational fishing 

permit with reporting requirements.

    Response: As noted in response to Comment 6 above, the Council 

considered modifying the combined commercial and recreational ACL in 

Amendment 18A but chose to maintain the combined ACL established in 

Amendment 17B until a stock assessment update is completed. These ACLs 

are based on the 57 percent recreational/43 percent commercial 

allocation established in Amendment 13C to the FMP (71 FR 55096, 

September 21, 2006), which used historical landings data from 1999-

2003. The Council did not consider changing this allocation formula in 

Amendment 18A.

    The Council recommended a control date of December 4, 2008, for the 

black sea bass pot segment of the snapper-grouper fishery (74 FR 7848, 

February 20, 2009) based on concerns about a potential increase in the 

number of participants in the fishery that may result because of 

increased regulations on other species in the snapper-grouper complex. 

However, the Council did not use the December 4, 2008 control date 

because they decided that the eligibility criteria should give more 

weight to present participation in the fishery. The Council's 

eligibility criteria included average annual historical landings of at 

least 2,500 lb (1,134 kg), round weight [2,118 lb (961 kg), gutted 

weight] between January 1, 1999, and December 31, 2010, in addition to 

having some (at least 1 1b (0.4 kg)) reported black sea bass landings 

between January 1, 2008, and December 31, 2010.

    A recreational permit program for private recreational anglers was 

also not

 

[[Page 32411]]

 

the subject of the proposed rule implementing Amendment 18A, and 

therefore, the comments related to a recreational permit program are 

beyond the scope of this rulemaking. However, this does not preclude 

the Council from considering such a program in the future.

    Comment 11: Two commenters state that the Council should declare 

its long-term objectives for the black sea bass commercial sector in 

order to establish reasonable allocations. Additionally, one commenter 

states that NMFS is disproportionately swayed by environmental 

organizations in their precautionary approach to managing black sea 

bass, and NMFS does not adequately take into account the concerns of 

the recreational sector when making decisions.

    Response: The Council's long-term objective for the commercial 

black sea bass sector within the snapper-grouper fishery is to achieve 

the optimum yield (OY) for the resource. The Council did not consider 

changing the commercial and recreational allocations in Amendment 18A. 

However, the Council did consider minimizing adverse socioeconomic 

impacts to the recreational and commercial black sea bass sectors when 

developing the management measures contained in Amendment 18A and this 

final rule.

    Throughout the development of Amendment 18A and this rulemaking, 

the Council and NMFS considered input from all stakeholders. No one 

organization or entity was given a disproportionate influence in public 

participation during the Council and rulemaking process.

    Comment 12: One commenter states that NMFS should allocate fewer 

funds to the Council's advisory panels (APs) and re-allocate those 

funds to law enforcement because the APs do not function adequately.

    Response: This comment is beyond the scope of this rulemaking and, 

therefore, is not addressed here.

    Comment 13: One commenter supports a mid-August to mid-December 

seasonal closure if NMFS chooses to implement a seasonal closure. These 

months are considered the slowest time of year for the for-hire sector 

in the state of Florida, and any closure that would include the months 

of May through July is discouraged because black sea bass are one of 

the only species available when bottom water off the Florida coast 

cools in the summer. One commenter recommended changing the opening 

date of the black sea bass component of the snapper-grouper fishery to 

coincide with the opening of the vermilion snapper fishing season, 

which is July 1, in order to reduce the directed targeting of black sea 

bass during the month of June.

    Response: The Council only considered seasonal closures during the 

black sea bass spawning season, which is March through May. The Council 

chose not to implement a spawning season closure for black sea bass 

based on information that indicated black sea bass do not have 

increased vulnerability during the spawning season like other snapper-

grouper species, such as shallow-water groupers. Additionally, 

Amendment 18A states that peak spawning for black sea bass occurs at 

different times of the year in different areas of the South Atlantic, 

ranging from late winter/early spring off Georgia and Florida to 

primarily spring off North Carolina and South Carolina. The lack of a 

spawning season closure should not have a negative impact on spawning 

of black sea bass. The Council could revisit options for black sea bass 

seasonal closures in the future.

    Amendment 13C to the FMP (71 FR 55096, September 21, 2006) 

established a June 1 start date for the black sea bass fishing year for 

both the commercial and recreational sectors with the intent that, if a 

closure should occur, it would most likely coincide with the black sea 

bass spawning season. The Council again considered a change in the 

black sea bass fishing year as a possible means to extend the black sea 

bass season during the development of Regulatory Amendment 9 to the FMP 

(76 FR 34892, June 15, 2011), although they decided not to change the 

starting date for the fishing year at that time. Furthermore, the 

Council considered two 6-month fishing seasons (June-November and 

December-May) for black sea bass in Regulatory Amendment 9. However, 

NMFS disapproved this action due to concerns this action could result 

in the presence of numerous vertical black sea bass pot buoy lines 

within the endangered northern right whale migration route during the 

time of year when the whales are transiting off the Southeast coast.

    The Council recognizes that the timing of the opening and closing 

dates of the fishing season affects South Atlantic states differently. 

For this reason, the Council has discussed the possibility of state-by-

state quotas for black sea bass and could consider such a regional 

approach to management in a future amendment. Additionally, the 

Snapper-Grouper AP has expressed its support for this type of a 

regional approach to the management of black sea bass.

    Comment 14: Four commenters state that an in-season closure of the 

black sea bass segment of the snapper-grouper fishery during the winter 

is not an appropriate management measure because the winter months are 

the time when black sea bass are most prolific off the coast of North 

Carolina, and fishing during the winter would help maximize 

profitability of for-hire operations.

    Response: Regulations implementing Amendment 17B included AMs for 

black sea bass to ensure that the ACL is not exceeded and to correct 

for an ACL overage should one occur. One component of the system of AMs 

implemented through Amendment 17B is that the recreational sector will 

close when the recreational sector ACL is met or projected to be met, 

but it only applies if the stock is overfished. Regardless of 

overfished status, the ACL would be reduced by the amount of the 

overage in the following year. The Council determined that an in-season 

closure is needed for the recreational sector regardless of the 

overfished status because catches have increased for black sea bass as 

the stock rebuilds. Thus, the overage could be very large, and a 

substantial reduction in the ACL could occur in the following year if 

there is no in-season closure of black sea bass. Therefore, the Council 

selected the alternative that provides the RA authority to close the 

recreational sector when the ACL is met or projected to be met 

regardless of the overfished status of the stock. The timing of a 

commercial or recreational in-season closure will depend on the fishing 

effort and when landings reach the appropriate level to trigger the 

AMs.

    Comment 15: Two recreational anglers state that the two main issues 

that negatively impact the black sea bass stock are inadequate Federal 

management and continuing to allow the use of black sea bass pots.

    Response: For reasons articulated in Amendment 4 to the FMP, black 

sea bass pots are an allowable and appropriate gear type for black sea 

bass. The final rule implementing Amendment 4 to the FMP contained a 

prohibition on the use of fish traps in the South Atlantic EEZ based on 

concerns related to ghost fishing by lost traps, habitat damage, 

enforcement difficulties, and bycatch mortality issues. Page 71 of 

Amendment 4 outlines the rationale for the Council's choice to prohibit 

all fish traps, except black sea bass pots, north of 28[deg]35.1' N 

latitude because black sea bass pot construction specifications make 

them highly selective for black sea bass, and bycatch is minimal.

    Federal management of black sea bass includes a rebuilding plan and 

commercial and recreational ACLs and

 

[[Page 32412]]

 

AMs. Currently, when the commercial ACL is reached or projected to be 

reached, commercial harvest and sale of the species is prohibited and 

the black sea bass pots must be removed from the water. This rule 

implements an endorsement program that limits the number of commercial 

permit holders allowed to fish for black sea bass with pot gear. This 

rule also limits the number of black sea bass pot tags issued to each 

endorsement holder each permit year; specifies a commercial trip limit; 

increases the commercial minimum size limit; and requires that all 

black sea bass pots be brought back to shore at the conclusion of each 

trip. The Council and NMFS believe that these measures, together with 

the existing measures, comprise an appropriate conservation and 

management program for black sea bass in the South Atlantic.

    Comment 16: Two commenters support the actions contained in 

Amendment 18A that update the rebuilding plan for black sea bass based 

on the most recent stock assessment. One commenter states that the 

rebuilding strategy should be based upon a constant fishing mortality 

rate, rather than a constant catch rate.

    Response: NMFS agrees that the actions updating the rebuilding plan 

based on the most recent stock assessment are appropriate.

    The Council considered various rebuilding plans based on either a 

constant fishing mortality rate or on a constant catch rate. 

Originally, the Council chose to define a rebuilding strategy for black 

sea bass that maintains a constant fishing mortality rate throughout 

the remaining years of the rebuilding timeframe, which would allow the 

greatest amount of harvest possible, while still having a 50 percent 

chance of rebuilding by 2016. However, at its December 2011 meeting, 

the Council determined a more conservative rebuilding strategy 

alternative that incorporates a higher probability of rebuilding by the 

start of the 2016/2017 fishing year is more appropriate for the stock. 

Therefore, the preferred rebuilding strategy alternative was changed 

from a constant fishing mortality rate to a rebuilding strategy that 

would hold catch at the current level for the 2012/2013 and 2013/2014 

fishing years, and then change to a constant catch rebuilding strategy. 

The Council's preferred rebuilding strategy has a 66 percent chance of 

rebuilding the stock by 2016.

    Comment 17: A number of commenters expressed concerns regarding the 

eligibility criteria for the black sea bass pot endorsement. Two 

commenters oppose the landings qualification because it will exclude 

some fishermen who have invested in the black sea bass commercial 

sector of the snapper-grouper fishery. Another commenter believes too 

many Unlimited South Atlantic Snapper-Grouper Permit holders will 

qualify for the endorsement. Two commenters are concerned that the 

endorsement program favors older fishermen with a more established 

catch history for black sea bass. One commenter states that the 

Councils choice of qualifying criteria for the endorsement program is 

not fair and equitable.

    Response: The objective of the black sea bass endorsement program 

is to reduce the rate of harvest and limit the number of the 

participants in the black sea bass pot segment of the snapper-grouper 

fishery to curtail derby fishing conditions, which have caused the 

commercial fishing season to close early for the past 3 fishing years. 

In determining which eligibility criteria were most appropriate, the 

Council considered this objective and the requirements for establishing 

a limited access system set forth in section 303(b)(6) of the Magnuson-

Stevens Act (16 U.S.C. 1853(b)(6)), which include present participation 

in the fishery and historical fishing practices in, and dependence on 

the black sea bass segment of the snapper-grouper fishery, and the fair 

and equitable distribution of fishing privileges.

    Regarding the number of permit holders who will qualify for the 

endorsement, prior to the Council finalizing Amendment 18A at its 

December 2011 meeting, the preferred endorsement eligibility criteria 

required that fishermen have average annual historical landings greater 

than 3,500 lb (1,588 kg), round weight [2,966 lb (1,345 kg), gutted 

weight] between January 1, 1999, and December 31, 2010. Under the 

3,500-lb (1,588-kg), round weight criterion, 24 fishery participants 

would be eligible to receive black sea bass pot endorsements.

    After reviewing public comments during its December 2011 meeting, 

the Council determined that limiting the number of black sea bass pot 

endorsements to 24 participants would eliminate too many fishermen from 

the black sea bass pot segment of the snapper-grouper fishery who had 

historically fished large quantities of black sea bass with pot gear. 

Therefore, the Council chose to change its preferred eligibility 

criteria to average annual historical landings of at least 2,500 lb 

(1,134 kg), round weight [2,118 lb (961 kg), gutted weight] between 

January 1, 1999, and December 31, 2010, in addition to having some (at 

least 1 1b (0.4 kg)) reported black sea bass landings between January 

1, 2008, and December 31, 2010. This addressed both historical fishing 

practices as well as current participation in the black sea bass pot 

segment of the snapper-grouper fishery. Applying these new criteria 

will result in the issuance of 31 endorsements. The Council determined 

that this resulted in the fair and equitable distribution of fishing 

privileges.

    Comment 18: Two commenters recommend that the Council allow 

management measures such as the commercial trip limit and the limit on 

the number of black sea bass pot tags issued to each permit holder each 

permit year, to work before reducing capacity in the pot segment of the 

fishery through an endorsement program.

    Response: As noted in the response to comment 17, the objective of 

the black sea bass endorsement program is to reduce the rate of harvest 

and limit the number of the participants in the black sea bass pot 

segment of the snapper-grouper fishery to curtail derby fishing 

conditions, which have caused the commercial fishing season to close 

early for the past 3 fishing years. The Council does not believe that a 

commercial trip limit and limitation on the number of black sea bass 

pots alone will be sufficient to ease derby fishing conditions.

    Comment 19: One commenter states that only two black sea bass pot 

fishermen in the state of Florida would qualify for the endorsement.

    Response: NMFS estimates that six fishermen from Florida 

(identified by the address on record with the NMFS Permits Office) will 

qualify for a black sea bass endorsement.

    Comment 20: One commenter suggests that a catch share program for 

black sea bass is a more appropriate means of managing the commercial 

sector rather than an endorsement program. The commenter cites the need 

to provide black sea bass to consumers year round and prevent market 

gluts when the black sea bass season opens.

    Response: This comment is beyond the scope of this rulemaking. 

However, the Council previously considered an action to establish a 

catch share program for black sea bass in Amendment 21 to the FMP but 

tabled that amendment due to lack of public support. The Council may 

decide to again consider a catch share program for black sea bass in 

the future.

    Comment 21: Two commenters support the endorsement program appeals 

process included in Amendment 18A.

 

[[Page 32413]]

 

    Response: NMFS agrees that setting aside a period of time for those 

who feel they may have been inappropriately excluded from the black sea 

bass pot endorsement program to appeal their exclusion from the program 

is important and consistent with appeals processes for limited access 

programs implemented by NMFS.

    Comment 22: Three commenters support limiting the number of black 

sea bass pot tags issued to each endorsement holder per permit year to 

35.

    Response: NMFS agrees that limiting the number of black sea bass 

pot tags issued to each endorsement holder to 35 tags per permit year 

will be an effective means of reducing the rate of harvest of black sea 

bass in the commercial sector, improve in-season management of the 

species, reduce the amount of vertical-line gear in the water to reduce 

entanglement risks to protected species in the area, reduce the chance 

that pots could be lost and that ghost fishing could occur, and limit 

overall effort in the black sea bass pot segment of the snapper-grouper 

fishery.

    Comment 23: Two commenters support the provision to require black 

sea bass traps to be brought back to shore at the end of each trip. One 

commenter opposes this provision because some fishermen may fish 

differently in other regions of the South Atlantic and one commenter 

opposes this provision because the same is not required for spiny 

lobster traps, which are fished in much greater abundance than black 

sea bass pots. One commenter states that ghost fishing can be addressed 

through the use of improved biodegradable escape panels. This same 

commenter is concerned that traps would be required to be pulled from 

the water during foul weather events.

    Response: Currently, black sea bass fishermen can leave black sea 

bass pots in the water for the duration of the commercial fishing 

season. Although approximately 62 percent of black sea bass pot 

fishermen currently bring their black sea bass pots back to shore at 

the conclusion of each trip, others may leave untended gear in the 

water for the entire season. Allowing this practice to continue would 

perpetuate the problem of ghost fishing by lost traps.

    However, ghost fishing by lost black sea bass pots is not the only 

rationale for requiring that the pots be brought back to shore at the 

end of every trip. The longer the black sea bass pots remain in the 

water the greater the risk of lost pots, unintended bycatch of black 

sea bass, and the amount of vertical-line gear in the water. This is 

true regardless of where black sea bass pot fishing takes place within 

the South Atlantic Region.

    Weather is always a factor that must be considered in planning 

fishing trips. NMFS believes that fishers will make informed decisions 

about when to fish and when to end a trip and pull traps from the 

water.

    The Council recognized that there are similar concerns with spiny 

lobster traps and addressed the issue of removing derelict spiny 

lobster traps in Amendment 10 to the Spiny Lobster FMP (76 FR 75488, 

December 2, 2011).

    Comment 24: Four commenters support the 1,000-lb (454-kg), gutted 

weight, commercial trip limit for black sea bass.

    Response: NMFS supports the 1,000-lb (454-kg), gutted weight, 

commercial trip limit for black sea bass as a means of extending the 

commercial fishing opportunities further into the fishing year, while 

still allowing commercial black sea bass pot fishermen to have 

economically profitable trips.

    Comment 25: Two commenters support requiring selected for-hire 

vessels to report landings information electronically.

    Response: NMFS supports the requirement that selected for-hire 

(both charter and headboat) vessels report landings information 

electronically on a weekly or daily basis. Currently, selected charter 

vessels are required to report on a weekly basis, and selected headboat 

vessels are required to report at the end of each month. Increased 

reporting frequency for selected for-hire vessels will improve in-

season management of the recreational sector for snapper-grouper.

    Comment 26: Four commenters support increasing the commercial and 

recreational minimum size limits for black sea bass. Several commenters 

noted a disparity between commercial and recreational restrictions on 

fishing for black sea bass. Specifically, several commenters oppose 

increasing the recreational minimum size limit without increasing the 

commercial minimum size limit to the same size. One commenter states 

that the increase of the recreational minimum size limit is too large 

and would guarantee increased discards. Two commenters state the 

recreational minimum size limit should be 12 inches (30 cm), TL. Two 

commenters oppose the use of minimum size limits as a management 

measure for black sea bass.

    Response: NMFS is increasing the minimum size limit for black sea 

bass in the commercial sector from 10 inches (25 cm), TL, to 11 inches 

(28 cm), TL, and in the recreational sector from 12 inches (30 cm), TL, 

to 13 inches (33 cm), TL. Public hearing comments were divided on the 

usefulness of increasing minimum size limits for black sea bass. The 

Snapper-Grouper AP supported increasing the minimum size limits to slow 

the rate of harvest of black sea bass. The SSC also supported 

increasing the recreational and commercial black sea bass minimum size 

limits because larger fish are economically more valuable.

    The Council determined that it was unnecessary for the commercial 

and recreational minimum size limits to be the same because the 

commercial and recreational sectors for black sea bass are managed 

differently. The commercial and recreational sectors are each allocated 

their own portion of the allowable catch and each sector will close 

when their respective ACLs are met or are projected to be met.

    The most recent stock assessment for black sea bass (SEDAR 25) 

indicates release mortality of black sea bass is very low (7 percent 

for hook-and-line; 1 percent for black sea bass pot) if fish are 

returned to the water quickly. The Council chose an 11-inch (27.9 cm) 

size limit for the commercial sector because pots catch a large number 

of fish and the Council was concerned that a substantial increase in 

the minimum size limit for the commercial sector could cause an 

increase in dead discards if there was an increase in the time 

undersized black sea bass were out of the water. The current minimum 

size limit in the commercial sector is 10 inches (25 cm), TL, and the 

2-inch (5-cm) back panel of the pots culls out a large portion of fish 

less than 11-inches (28-cm), TL.

    Recreational sector participants use hook-and-line gear, which 

generally catches one or two fish at a time. Therefore, regulatory 

discards in the recreational sector are more likely to be released 

quickly and alive, when compared to the commercial sector if there are 

large numbers of undersized fish to cull out.

    Comment 27: Several commenters oppose implementing a 1,000-lb (454-

kg), gutted weight, commercial trip limit, while the recreational 

sector is limited to only 5 fish per person per day.

    Response: The Council did not address the recreational bag limit 

for black sea bass in Amendment 18A. The 5-fish bag limit was 

implemented through Regulatory Amendment 9 in 2011. Previously, the 

commercial sector had no trip limit, which contributed to derby fishing 

conditions that negatively affect profitability and safety of 

fishermen. The 1,000-lb (454-kg), gutted weight, trip limit is expected 

to reduce

 

[[Page 32414]]

 

the rate of harvest and help constrain harvest to the ACL.

    Comment 28: One commenter states that commercial trip limits and 

the requirement that pots be brought to shore each day is not necessary 

to reduce the risk of right whale interactions with black sea bass 

pots. This commenter believes that gear modifications could reduce the 

risk of interactions with right whales and notes that there has never 

been a documented interaction between black sea bass pot gear and right 

whales.

    Response: NMFS completed a biological opinion on the South Atlantic 

snapper-grouper fishery on June 7, 2006. The biological opinion 

concluded that the continued authorization of the snapper-grouper 

fishery was not likely to adversely affect marine mammals, in part, 

because there has never been a documented interaction between black sea 

bass pot gear and large whales in the South Atlantic. However, for a 

majority of large whale entanglements, the actual fishery involved in 

the interaction cannot be determined and entanglements in trap gear 

similar to black sea bass pots have occurred in the South Atlantic. 

Thus, there is the risk of large whale entanglements in black sea bass 

pot gear.

    The management measures contained in Amendment 18A, including the 

commercial trip limit and the requirement to return black sea bass pot 

gear to shore at the conclusion of each trip, lessen that risk. The 

Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team (ALWTRT) has identified 

reducing the entanglement of North Atlantic right whales in vertical 

lines (i.e., trap lines), particularly in the Southeast during the 

winter calving season (November-April), as a conservation priority. As 

part of their objective of large whale conservation, the ALWTRT may 

consider the use of modified vertical line gear that decreases the risk 

of entanglement of large whales.

 

Classification

 

    The Regional Administrator, Southeast Region, NMFS has determined 

that this final rule is consistent with the FMP, Amendment 18A, other 

provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable law.

    The Council and NMFS prepared a final environmental impact 

statement (FEIS) for Amendment 18A. The FEIS was filed with the EPA on 

February 10, 2012. A notice of availability was published on February 

17, 2012 (77 FR 9652). In partially approving Amendment 18A, NMFS 

issued a Record of Decision identifying the selected alternatives. A 

copy of the record of decision (ROD) is available from NMFS (see 

ADDRESSES).

    This final rule has been determined to be not significant for 

purposes of Executive Order 12866.

    A final regulatory flexibility analysis (FRFA) was prepared. The 

FRFA incorporates the initial regulatory flexibility analysis (IRFA), a 

summary of the significant economic issues raised by public comments, 

NMFS' responses to those comments, and a summary of the analyses 

completed to support the action. The FRFA follows.

    No public comments specific to the IRFA were received and, 

therefore, no public comments are addressed in this FRFA. However, 

several comments with socioeconomic implications were received and are 

addressed in the Comments and Responses section in the responses to 

comments 2, 6, and 17. No changes in the final rule were made 

in response to public comments.

    NMFS agrees that the Council's choice of preferred alternatives 

would best achieve the Council's objectives while minimizing, to the 

extent practicable, the adverse effects on fishers, support industries, 

and associated communities. The preamble to the final rule provides a 

statement of the need for and objectives of this rule, and it is not 

repeated here.

    The Magnuson-Stevens Act provides the statutory basis for this 

final rule. No duplicative, overlapping, or conflicting Federal rules 

have been identified.

    This final rule will introduce certain changes to current 

reporting, record-keeping, and other compliance requirements. In 

particular, a sample of the 1,985 vessels with for-hire snapper-grouper 

permits would be required to electronically report their harvest. 

Because all headboats are currently subject to logbook reporting, the 

incremental professional skill needed under the new requirement would 

be relatively small. The incremental professional skill required of 

charterboats would be relatively higher because only about 10 percent 

of charter captains are currently contacted on a weekly basis to 

collect trip level information.

    NMFS expects this final rule to directly affect commercial fishers 

and for-hire operators. The Small Business Administration established 

size criteria for all major industry sectors in the U.S. including fish 

harvesters and for-hire operations. A business involved in fish 

harvesting is classified as a small business if independently owned and 

operated, is not dominant in its field of operation (including its 

affiliates), and its combined annual receipts are not in excess of $4.0 

million (NAICS code 114111, finfish fishing) for all of its affiliated 

operations worldwide. For for-hire vessels, other qualifiers apply and 

the annual receipts threshold is $7.0 million (NAICS code 713990, 

recreational industries).

    From 2005-2010, an annual average of 247 vessels with valid permits 

to operate in the commercial snapper-grouper fishery landed black sea 

bass, generating dockside revenues of approximately $1.103 million 

(2010 dollars). Each vessel, therefore, generated an average of 

approximately $4,465 in gross revenues from black sea bass. Vessels 

that operate in the black sea bass segment of the snapper-grouper 

fishery may also operate in other segments of the snapper-grouper 

fishery, the revenues of which are not reflected in these totals.

    Based on revenue information, all commercial vessels affected by 

the rule can be considered small entities.

    From 2005-2010, an annual average of 1,985 vessels had valid 

permits to operate in the for-hire sector of the snapper-grouper 

fishery, of which 85 are estimated to have operated as headboats. The 

for-hire fleet consists of charterboats, which charge a fee on a vessel 

basis, and headboats, which charge a fee on an individual angler (head) 

basis. The charterboat annual average gross revenue (2010 dollars) is 

estimated to range from approximately $62,000-$84,000 for Florida 

vessels, $73,000-$89,000 for North Carolina vessels, $68,000-$83,000 

for Georgia vessels, and $32,000-$39,000 for South Carolina vessels. 

For headboats, the corresponding estimates are $170,000-$362,000 for 

Florida vessels, and $149,000-$317,000 for vessels in the other states.

    Based on these average revenue figures, all for-hire operations 

that would be affected by the rule can be considered small entities.

    Some fleet activity, i.e., multiple vessels owned by a single 

entity, may exist in both the commercial and for-hire snapper-grouper 

sectors to an unknown extent, and NMFS treats all vessels as 

independent entities in this analysis.

    NMFS expects the final rule to directly affect all federally 

permitted commercial vessels harvesting black sea bass and for-hire 

vessels that operate in the South Atlantic snapper-grouper fishery. All 

directly affected entities have been determined, for the purpose of 

this analysis, to be small entities. Therefore, NMFS determines that 

this final rule will affect a substantial number of small entities.

    NMFS considers all entities expected to be affected by the rule as 

small

 

[[Page 32415]]

 

entities, so the issue of disproportional effects on small versus large 

entities does not arise in the present case.

    Setting the ACL, ABC, and OY equal to one another would provide an 

economic environment that would allow small entities to maintain or 

increase their profits by way of maximizing their use of the black sea 

bass resource.

    Establishing a black sea bass pot endorsement program would likely 

result in profit increases to those who would qualify and profit 

decreases to those who would not. Out of the 50 to 60 individuals that 

currently fish for black sea bass using pots, approximately 31 would 

qualify for the endorsement. Although those who would not qualify could 

still fish for black sea bass using other gear types, their harvest 

performance could suffer. Because a limited number of individuals could 

fish for black sea bass using pots under the endorsement program, the 

fishing season for the commercial sector would likely remain open 

longer than it has in the last few years. This could cause overall 

industry profits to increase or at least remain stable.

    Establishing an appeals process for fishermen initially excluded 

from the black sea bass pot endorsement program would provide 

opportunities for those qualified to receive their endorsement. Given 

the narrow basis for appeals, only a limited number of appeals would 

likely be successful.

    Limiting the number of pots per vessel would likely decrease the 

short-term profits of small entities. The maximum number of 35 pots 

allowed per vessel is lower than the current average of 45 pots per 

vessel fished, and would affect about 48 percent of the trips. Vessels 

that have historically used more than 35 pots per trip would generate 

lower revenues per trip or higher overall fishing costs to maintain the 

same overall revenues. However, because the endorsement program would 

limit the number of participants in the black sea bass pot segment of 

the snapper-grouper fishery, fishermen who would be adversely affected 

by the limit on the number of pot tags per vessel could take more trips 

to recoup their losses. Thus, overall industry profits, which are 

expected to increase or remain stable under the endorsement program, 

may remain unaffected by the potential losses to fishermen adversely 

affected by the limit on pot tags.

    Requiring that black sea bass pots be brought back to shore at the 

conclusion of each trip as a means to reduce bycatch may restrict the 

fishing operations of some vessels. Its effects on profits are 

relatively unknown, but NMFS notes that in approximately 65 percent of 

trips, pots are brought back to shore. If vessels undertake longer 

trips to allow their pots to fish longer, costs could rise because no 

restriction exists on the length of each trip. If this practice results 

in maintaining the same revenues per trip, vessel profits could 

decrease. If, however, this requirement results in less ghost fishing 

and less interaction with protected species, future restrictions 

imposed on the fishery may lessen, such that long-term profits of small 

entities would remain sustainable.

    The recreational AMs, consisting of the in-season harvest and 

possession restriction if the recreational ACL is met or projected to 

be met and the post-season reduction in the sector's ACL if the 

recreational ACL is exceeded in the current year, would likely reduce 

the short-term profits of for-hire vessels. Similarly, the commercial 

AMs consisting of the in-season prohibition on the purchase and sale of 

black sea bass and the post-season reduction in the sector's ACL, would 

likely result in profit reductions to the commercial vessels. To the 

extent that this provision allows the rebuilding target to be reached 

within the rebuilding period, long-term profits to for-hire and 

commercial fishing operations would increase. In addition, the 

projected increases in the aggregate (commercial and recreational) ACL 

under the rebuilding strategy, as long as the prior year's combined ACL 

is not exceeded, would tend to negate some or all of the adverse profit 

effects of the post-season AM applied to either the commercial or 

recreational sector. If either sector, but not both, exceeds its ACL in 

the current year, that sector's ACL would be reduced the following 

year. The combined commercial and recreational ACL, and therefore the 

sector ACLs, would still increase so long as the combined ACL is not 

exceeded in the prior year.

    Establishing a commercial vessel trip limit of 1,000 lb (454 kg), 

gutted weight [1,180 lb (535 kg), round weight], would tend to 

adversely affect the catch and revenue per trip of vessels that 

generally land over this limit. Based on the 2010-2011 fishing season 

data, this alternative would adversely affect approximately 8.4 percent 

of trips accounting for a total of about 83,000 lb (37,648 kg), valued 

at about $203,000. NMFS notes, though, that this trip limit could 

lengthen the fishing season, allowing opportunities for some vessels to 

recoup some of their revenue losses for the year. At any rate, NMFS 

expects that some of these revenue reductions would filter into the 

bottom line of some vessels and potentially the bottom line of the 

entire industry. The actual extent of industry profit reduction cannot 

be estimated based on available information.

    Increasing the recreational minimum size limit from 12 inches (30 

cm), TL, to 13 inches (33 cm), TL, could reduce the black sea bass 

harvests of headboats from 20.9 percent to 22.6 percent and black sea 

bass harvests of other fishing modes (i.e. charterboats and private 

vessels) from 18.8 percent to 20.3 percent. These harvest reductions 

could lead to trip cancellations because the quality of the fishing 

experience would decrease. However, these harvest reductions could be 

recouped through additional trips with a lengthened season. The actual 

effects on for-hire vessel profits depend on whether there would be 

trip cancellations, which is uncertain based on available information.

    Increasing the commercial size limit from 10 inches (25 cm), TL, to 

11 inches (28 cm), TL, could reduce the black sea bass harvests of 

commercial vessels by slightly over 9 percent. Actual reductions in 

harvest would partly depend on whether vessels take additional or 

longer trips to recoup potential harvest losses. Although additional or 

longer trips would maintain total revenues, either by maintaining the 

same harvest or by generating more revenue per fish since a bigger 

black sea bass generally commands a higher price, costs would also 

increase. The net effects on per vessel and industry profits cannot be 

determined with available information.

    Requiring selected for-hire vessels to report electronically would 

affect some of the 1,985 vessels with for-hire snapper-grouper permits. 

This requirement would add costs to these vessels' operations. The 

incremental costs to selected headboats would not likely be as much as 

for charterboats because headboats are currently subject to logbook 

reporting. Charterboats are not currently subject to logbook reporting 

although NMFS now routinely contacts some charter captains to collect 

trip level information. The resulting effects to for-hire vessel 

profits are indeterminable.

    Amendment 18A contains other provisions that could eventually have 

effects on the operations of small entities. First, modifying the 

rebuilding strategy and setting the ABC for black sea bass would retain 

the current economic status of small entities for the next 2 years of 

the rebuilding period. Thereafter, profits to small entities may 

increase with a shift from a constant catch strategy to a constant 

fishing mortality strategy that would allow the

 

[[Page 32416]]

 

ABC to increase over time depending on the results of future stock 

assessments. Second, as part of modifying the rebuilding strategy, 

overfishing for black sea bass will be determined on an annual basis 

using the maximum fishing mortality threshold and the overfishing 

limit. This provision alone would not affect the profits of small 

entities. Third, an ACT for the recreational sector would account for 

management uncertainty in the recreational sector, related in part to 

the timely accounting of this sector's harvests. Currently, this ACT 

does not trigger application of AMs, so short-term profits to small 

entities would remain unaffected. If the Council decides in the future 

to use the ACT as the trigger for application of AMs, profits to small 

entities may be adversely affected. However, because this measure is 

designed to help ensure that the rebuilding strategy stays on track, 

long-term profitability would be sustainable.

    Five alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 

considered for modifying the rebuilding strategy and ABC. The preferred 

alternative has a relatively high probability of rebuilding the stock 

so that it is more likely to result in ABC increases after the first 2 

years. The actual ABC levels after 2 years are currently unknown but 

would be specified based on future stock assessments. The first 

alternative, the no action alternative, would maintain the constant 

catch rebuilding strategy and current ABC throughout the rebuilding 

timeframe. This alternative has the same probability of rebuilding the 

stock as the preferred alternative. Because it would maintain the same 

ABC over time it would likely result in lower economic benefits than 

the preferred alternative. The second alternative would establish a new 

constant catch rebuilding strategy with a higher (than current) ABC 

throughout the remaining years of the rebuilding timeframe. Relative to 

the preferred alternative, the second alternative would provide for a 

higher ABC for 2 years and a lower or higher ABC thereafter depending 

on the results of future stock assessments. Thus, the sum of economic 

benefits over the rebuilding timeframe under this alternative could be 

lower or higher than that of the preferred alternative, depending on 

the preferred alternative's actual ABC level. It may only be noted 

that, being a constant catch strategy, this alternative would likely 

lead to the ACL being met sooner as the fish stock rebuilds, resulting 

in applications of in-season and post-season AMs. The third 

alternative, with two sub-alternatives, would establish a constant 

fishing mortality rebuilding strategy throughout the remaining years of 

the rebuilding timeframe. Under the first sub-alternative, the fishing 

mortality rate would be 75 percent of the fishing mortality at MSY (75-

percent FMSY), and under the second sub-alternative, the 

fishing mortality rate that would rebuild the stock by 2016 

(FREBUILD by 2016). These two sub-alternatives would provide 

for higher ABCs than the preferred alternative during the first 2 

years, and thus, higher economic benefits in the short term. These two 

sub-alternatives would also result in higher economic benefits in the 

long term if the preferred alternative's future ABCs were not 

substantially higher than those of the two sub-alternatives. The fourth 

alternative would maintain the current constant catch strategy and ABC 

for the next 2 years of the rebuilding timeframe and switch to a 

constant fishing mortality strategy at FREBUILD throughout 

the remainder of the rebuilding timeframe. This alternative would 

provide for the same ABC as the preferred alternative during the first 

2 years, but relates to a lower probability of rebuilding the stock to 

biomass at MSY. Because this alternative has the same ABCs as the 

preferred alternative during the first 2 years and adopts a constant 

fishing mortality rebuilding strategy thereafter, it is possible the 

two alternatives would result in about the same economic effects over 

time.

    Four alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 

considered for modifying the ACL for black sea bass. The first 

alternative, the no action alternative, would maintain the existing ACL 

equal to ABC and OY equal to 75 percent of the fishing mortality at 

MSY. This alternative is more restrictive than the preferred 

alternative in setting OY as the underlying goal of managing the black 

sea bass stock. The second alternative would set the ACL equal to 90 

percent of the ABC and the latter equal to OY. The third alternative 

would set the ACL equal to 80 percent of the ABC and the latter equal 

to OY. These other alternatives would provide for a lower ACL than the 

preferred alternative, and thus lower economic benefits as well.

    Three alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 

considered for establishing an endorsement program for the black sea 

bass pot segment of the snapper-grouper fishery. The first alternative, 

the no action alternative, would not establish an endorsement program. 

This alternative would continue to allow anyone with an Unlimited or 

225-lb (102-kg) Limited Snapper-Grouper Permit to engage in the black 

sea bass pot segment of the snapper-grouper fishery. This would 

increase the likelihood of the derby-style fishing conditions, 

potentially dampening industry profitability. The second alternative 

includes seven sub-alternatives, of which one is the preferred sub-

alternative that would require minimum landings of 2,500 lb (1,134 kg), 

round weight, to be eligible to participate in the endorsement program. 

The first sub-alternative would set the minimum landings at 500 lb (227 

kg), round weight; the second sub-alternative, at 1,000 lb (454 kg), 

round weight; the third sub-alternative, at 2,000 lb (907 kg), round 

weight; the fourth, at 3,500 lb (1,588 kg), round weight; the fifth, at 

5,000 lb (2,268 kg), round weight; and, the sixth, at 10,000 lb (4,536 

kg), round weight. These sub-alternatives would allow varying numbers 

of individuals/entities to qualify for the endorsement: higher landings 

requirements would result in fewer qualifiers. The Council's choice of 

preferred alternative was based on the assessment that about 30 

individuals/entities can be profitably sustained by the black sea bass 

pot segment of the snapper-grouper fishery. In this case, sub-

alternatives requiring less than 2,500 lb (1,134 kg), round weight, of 

landings for endorsement eligibility would likely result in 

unsustainable profits. On the other end, sub-alternatives requiring 

higher than 2,500 lb (1,134 kg), round weight, of landings would 

severely restrict participation in the fishery although industry 

profitability would be more sustainable. In addition, a highly 

restrictive endorsement qualification criterion, such as 10,000 lb 

(4,536 kg), round weight, would tend to eliminate small scale 

operations that have historically characterized the black sea bass pot 

segment of the snapper-grouper fishery. The third alternative, with two 

sub-alternatives, would require that no South Atlantic state shall have 

fewer than two entities qualifying for the endorsement. The first sub-

alternative would set a minimum landings requirement of 1,000 lb (454 

kg), round weight, and the second, 2,000 lb (907 kg), round weight. 

This alternative, with the sub-alternatives, was intended to allow 

participation by all South Atlantic states in the endorsement program. 

Since the minimum number of qualifiers from each state would be the 

same under this alternative and the preferred alternative, the Council 

deemed this third alternative unnecessary.

    Three alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 

considered

 

[[Page 32417]]

 

for establishing an appeals process for fishermen initially excluded 

from the endorsement program. The first alternative, the no action 

alternative, would not establish an appeals process. This alternative 

has the potential to unduly penalize participants if they were 

incorrectly excluded from the endorsement program. The second 

alternative is the same as the preferred alternative, except that it 

would establish a special board, composed of state directors and 

designees, that would review, evaluate, and make individual 

recommendations to the RA. This alternative would introduce an 

additional administrative burden that may not improve the appeals 

process because the only appealable issues are eligibility and 

landings.

    Five alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 

considered for limiting effort in the black sea bass pot segment of the 

snapper-grouper fishery. The first alternative, the no action 

alternative, would not limit the number of black sea bass pots deployed 

or pot tags issued to holders of snapper-grouper commercial permits. 

Among the alternatives, this is potentially the best alternative for 

efficient operations in the black sea bass pot segment of the snapper-

grouper fishery. But with no limit on the number of pots, a high 

likelihood arises that more pots may be lost and ``ghost fish'' for 

black sea bass or other species. In addition, the more pots, the more 

vertical lines are in the water, which increases the probability of 

interaction with certain protected species. Ghost fishing is likely to 

hinder the rebuilding of black sea bass or provide less protection to 

other snapper-grouper species subject to a rebuilding strategy. Both 

ghost fishing and interactions with protected species could lead to the 

implementation of more restrictive measures that would impinge on the 

profits of commercial vessels. The second alternative would limit black 

sea bass pot tags to 100 per vessel per year; the second alternative, 

to 50 per vessel per year; and, the third alternative, to 25 per vessel 

per year. These other alternatives differ from the preferred 

alternative only in the maximum number of pots deployed or pot tags 

issued per vessel, with the higher numbers providing better 

opportunities for higher profits per vessel trip. But as noted above, 

the higher number of pots, the higher the probability of ghost fishing 

and interaction with protected species.

    Three alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 

considered for reducing bycatch in black sea bass pots. The first 

alternative, the no action alternative, would allow pots to remain in 

the water until the commercial quota is reached. This alternative would 

not help reduce bycatch in the black sea bass pot segment of the 

snapper-grouper fishery. The second alternative would allow fishermen 

to leave pots in the water for no more than 72 hours. This alternative 

would have about the same effects as the preferred alternative on pot 

fishing operations, because most fishing trips for black sea bass using 

pots last for less than 3 days. However, it would present a higher 

probability for ghost fishing because pots may be left in the water on 

short vessel trips or not retrieved during inclement weather.

    Three alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 

considered for modifying the AMs for black sea bass. The first 

alternative, the no action alternative, would maintain the current 

commercial and recreational AMs. The Council concluded that this 

alternative was not effective in constraining harvest at or below the 

sector ACLs. The second alternative is similar to the preferred 

alternative for the recreational sector, except that it would trigger 

in-season AMs only if the black sea bass stock is overfished. This 

alternative could lead to larger post-season adjustment of the 

recreational ACL and thus larger adverse effects on for-hire profits, 

particularly if the aggregate ACL is exceeded. Moreover, if overages in 

the recreational harvest lead to exceeding the aggregate ACL, the 

aggregate ACL would not automatically increase the following year, 

resulting in adverse effects on both the commercial and recreational 

sectors.

    Nine alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 

considered for establishing a commercial trip limit. The first 

alternative, the no action alternative, would not establish a 

commercial trip limit. In principle, this alternative would likely 

provide the most short-term profitability among commercial vessels on a 

per trip basis, because commercial vessel operations would remain 

unaffected. However, this alternative could lead to lower industry 

profitability if harvest rate is not effectively controlled and this 

results in a shortened fishing season. The second alternative would 

establish a trip limit of 500 lb (227 kg), gutted weight; the third 

alternative, 750 lb (340 kg), gutted weight; the fourth alternative, 

1,250 lb (567 kg), gutted weight. The fifth alternative would establish 

a trip limit of 1,000 lb (454 kg), gutted weight, that would be reduced 

to 500 lb (227 kg), gutted weight, when 75 percent of the commercial 

ACL is met. The sixth alternative would establish a trip limit of 2,000 

lb (907 kg), gutted weight; the seventh, 2,500 lb (1,134 kg), gutted 

weight; and, the eighth alternative, 250 lb (113 kg), gutted weight. 

NMFS expects that trip limits lower than the preferred alternative of 

1,000 lb (454 kg), gutted weight, would lead to larger adverse effects 

on per trip profitability and the opposite would occur with higher trip 

limits. Based on the Council's assessment, the preferred alternative 

would provide the best balance between per trip losses in profits and 

higher industry profits from a longer fishing season.

    Three alternatives, including two preferred alternatives, were 

considered for modifying the commercial and recreational minimum size 

limit. The first alternative, the no action alternative, would not 

change the commercial or recreational size limit. In principle, this 

alternative would provide the best economic environment for both the 

commercial and recreational sectors, because their operations would 

remain relatively unaffected. However, this alternative would not help 

in constraining the rate of harvest which has been increasing in recent 

years, leading to early closures of both the commercial and 

recreational sectors of the black sea bass segment of the snapper-

grouper fishery. The second alternative includes three sub-alternatives 

for commercial size limits, one of which is the preferred sub-

alternative. The second sub-alternative would increase the commercial 

size limit from 10 inches (25 cm), TL, to 12 inches (30 cm), TL. This 

sub-alternative would lead to relatively larger adverse effects on the 

profits of commercial vessels but would also tend to allow a longer 

fishing season. However, the Council concluded that this sub-

alternative would not provide the best balance between short-term 

profit reductions and profit increases from a longer season. The third 

sub-alternative would increase the commercial size limit from 10 inches 

(25 cm), TL, to 11 inches (28 cm), TL, in the first year and to 12 

inches (30 cm), TL, thereafter. This sub-alternative would eventually 

lead to larger adverse effects on the profits of commercial vessels but 

would also tend to allow a longer fishing season. However, the Council 

concluded that this sub-alternative would not provide the best balance 

between short-term profit reductions and profit increases from a longer 

season.

    Four alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 

considered for improving for-hire data reporting. The first alternative 

(the no action alternative) would retain the existing data reporting 

systems for the for-hire sector. However, the Council concluded that 

modifications to existing

 

[[Page 32418]]

 

recreational data collection are necessary to the extent that they 

would not be too burdensome on for-hire vessel operations. The second 

alternative would require vessels operating with a Federal for-hire 

permit to maintain a logbook for discard characteristics (e.g., size 

and reason for discarding), if selected. This alternative would provide 

better information regarding discards, but would increase costs for 

for-hire vessel operations. The third alternative would require that 

for-hire landings and catch/effort data be submitted in accordance with 

the Atlantic States Cooperative Statistics Program (ACCSP) standards, 

using the South Atlantic Fisheries Information System (SAFIS). Although 

this alternative has the potential to improve recreational data 

collection, it would be costly to for-hire vessels. Therefore, the 

Council decided to wait until the new Marine Recreational Information 

Program (MRIP) has been in place for some time to determine whether it 

would be sufficient for reporting for-hire landings data.

    Four alternatives, including the preferred alternative, were 

considered for setting the recreational annual catch target (ACT). The 

first alternative, the no action alternative, would not set a 

recreational ACT, and thus, would not meet the stated objective. The 

second alternative would set the recreational ACT equal to 85 percent 

of the recreational ACL. The third alternative would set the 

recreational ACT equal to 75 percent of the recreational ACL. NMFS 

estimates that these two alternatives would result in lower ACTs than 

the preferred alternative, so that if an ACT triggers management 

actions, these two alternatives would result in larger adverse effects 

on the profits of for-hire vessels.

    In Amendment 18A, the Council considered several actions for which 

the no-action alternative was the preferred alternative.

    Three alternatives, including the preferred alternative (no action 

alternative), were considered for setting the commercial ACT. The first 

alternative would set the commercial ACT equal to 90 percent of the 

commercial ACL. The second alternative would set the commercial ACT 

equal to 80 percent of the commercial ACL. Because NMFS closely tracks 

the commercial landings in-season through a quota monitoring system, 

the Council concluded that a commercial ACT as a monitoring tool was 

unnecessary.

    Five alternatives, including the preferred alternative (no action 

alternative), were considered for implementing a spawning season 

closure. The first alternative would implement a March 1-April 30 

spawning season closure; the second alternative, an April 1-May 31 

spawning season closure; the third alternative, a March 1-May 31 

spawning season closure; and, the fourth alternative, a May 1-May 31 

spawning season closure. These alternatives would result in short-term 

profit reductions to commercial and for-hire vessels. Black sea bass do 

not form large spawning aggregations and the peak spawning period 

occurs at different times of the year across the South Atlantic. 

Therefore, short-term profit reductions could persist in the future as 

the benefits from a spawning season closure are not well established.

    Four alternatives, including the preferred alternative (no action 

alternative), were considered for improving commercial data reporting. 

The first alternative would require all vessels with Federal snapper-

grouper commercial permits to have an electronic logbook tied to the 

vessel's Global Position System onboard the vessel. The second 

alternative would provide the option for fishermen to submit their 

logbook entries electronically via an electronic version of the logbook 

made available online. The third alternative would require submission 

of commercial landings and catch and effort data in accordance with the 

ACCSP standards, using the SAFIS. These alternatives would introduce 

additional cost to commercial fishing operations. In the particular 

case of the second alternative, fishermen would be unlikely to opt for 

electronic reporting because of its additional cost, thereby rendering 

the alternative impractical. The Council decided to address this issue 

in the future through a comprehensive amendment for improving data 

collection.

    Section 212 of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness 

Act of 1996 states that, for each rule or group of related rules for 

which an agency is required to prepare a FRFA, the agency shall publish 

one or more guides to assist small entities in complying with the rule, 

and shall designate such publications as small entity compliance 

guides. As part of the rulemaking process, NMFS prepared a fishery 

bulletin, which also serves as a small entity compliance guide. The 

fishery bulletin will be sent to all vessel permit holders in the South 

Atlantic snapper-grouper fishery.

    This final rule contains collection-of-information requirements 

subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) and which have been 

approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under control 

numbers 0648-0603 and 0648-0205. Public reporting burden for the for-

hire sector of the snapper-grouper fishery to submit logbook 

information electronically, if selected to do so, is estimated to 

average 30 minutes per electronic logbook installation and 1 minute per 

weekly download of the weekly logbook information. Public reporting 

burden for South Atlantic Unlimited Snapper-Grouper Permit holders to 

submit their logbook information if they are appealing their landings 

data for a black sea bass pot endorsement is estimated to average 2 

hours per response. Public reporting burden for the requirement to 

check boxes on the Federal Permit Application Form for a new 

endorsement or renewal of the black sea bass pot endorsement is 

estimated to average 1 minute per response. Finally, the public 

reporting burden for the requirement to check boxes on the Federal 

Permit Application Form for black sea bass pot tags (Floy tags) for the 

endorsement program is estimated to average 1 minute per response. 

These estimates of the public reporting burden include the time for 

reviewing instructions, searching existing data sources, gathering and 

maintaining the data needed, and completing and reviewing the 

collection-of-information. Send comments regarding the burden estimate 

or any other aspect of the collection-of-information requirement, 

including suggestions for reducing the burden, to NMFS and to OMB (see 

ADDRESSES).

    Notwithstanding any other provision of the law, no person is 

required to respond to, and no person shall be subject to 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.

 

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 622

 

    Fisheries, Fishing, Puerto Rico, Reporting and recordkeeping 

requirements, Virgin Islands.

 

    Dated: May 29, 2012.

Alan D. Risenhoover,

Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National 

Marine Fisheries Service.

 

    For the reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 622 is amended 

as follows:

 

[[Page 32419]]

 

PART 622--FISHERIES OF THE CARIBBEAN, GULF, AND SOUTH ATLANTIC

 

0

1. The authority citation for part 622 continues to read as follows:

 

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.

 

 

0

2. In Sec.  622.4, paragraph (a)(2)(xv) is added and paragraph 

(a)(5)(i)(A) is revised to read as follows:

 

 

Sec.  622.4  Permits and fees.

 

    (a) * * *

    (2) * * *

    (xv) South Atlantic black sea bass pot endorsement. For a person 

aboard a vessel, for which a valid commercial vessel permit for South 

Atlantic snapper-grouper unlimited has been issued, to use a black sea 

bass pot in the South Atlantic EEZ, a valid South Atlantic black sea 

bass pot endorsement must have been issued to the vessel and must be on 

board. A permit or endorsement that has expired is not valid. NMFS will 

renew this endorsement automatically when renewing the commercial 

vessel permit for South Atlantic snapper-grouper unlimited associated 

with the vessel. The RA will not reissue this endorsement if the 

endorsement or the commercial vessel permit for South Atlantic snapper-

grouper unlimited is revoked or if the RA does not receive a complete 

application for renewal of the commercial vessel permit for South 

Atlantic snapper-grouper unlimited within 1 year after the permit's 

expiration date.

    (A) Initial eligibility. To be eligible for an initial South 

Atlantic black sea bass pot endorsement, a person must have been issued 

and must possess a valid or renewable commercial vessel permit for 

South Atlantic snapper-grouper that has black sea bass landings using 

black sea bass pot gear averaging at least 2,500 lb (1,134 kg), round 

weight, annually during the period January 1, 1999 through December 31, 

2010. Excluded from this eligibility, are trip-limited permits (South 

Atlantic snapper-grouper permits that have a 225-lb (102.1-kg) limit of 

snapper-grouper) and valid or renewable commercial vessel permits for 

South Atlantic snapper-grouper unlimited that have no reported landings 

of black sea bass using black sea bass pots from January 1, 2008, 

through December 31, 2010. NMFS will attribute all applicable black sea 

bass landings associated with a current snapper-grouper permit for the 

applicable landings history, including those reported by a person(s) 

who held the permit prior to the current permit owner, to the current 

permit owner. Only legal landings reported in compliance with 

applicable state and Federal regulations are acceptable.

    (B) Initial issuance. On or about June 1, 2012, the RA will mail 

each eligible permittee a black sea bass pot endorsement via certified 

mail, return receipt requested, to the permittee's address of record as 

listed in NMFS' permit files. An eligible permittee who does not 

receive an endorsement from the RA, must contact the RA no later than 

July 1, 2012, to clarify his/her endorsement status. A permittee denied 

an endorsement based on the RA's initial determination of eligibility 

and who disagrees with that determination may appeal to the RA.

    (C) Procedure for appealing black sea bass pot endorsement 

eligibility and/or landings information. The only items subject to 

appeal are initial eligibility for a black sea bass pot endorsement 

based on ownership of a qualifying snapper-grouper permit, the accuracy 

of the amount of landings, and correct assignment of landings to the 

permittee. Appeals based on hardship factors will not be considered. 

Appeals must be submitted to the RA postmarked no later than October 1, 

2012, and must contain documentation supporting the basis for the 

appeal. The RA will review all appeals, render final decisions on the 

appeals, and advise the appellant of the final NMFS decision.

    (1) Eligibility appeals. NMFS' records of snapper-grouper permits 

are the sole basis for determining ownership of such permits. A person 

who believes he/she meets the permit eligibility criteria based on 

ownership of a vessel under a different name, for example, as a result 

of ownership changes from individual to corporate or vice versa, must 

document his/her continuity of ownership.

    (2) Landings appeals. Determinations of appeals regarding landings 

data for 1999 through 2010 will be based on NMFS' logbook records. If 

NMFS' logbooks are not available, the RA may use state landings records 

or data for the period 1999 through 2010 that were submitted in 

compliance with applicable Federal and state regulations on or before 

December 31, 2011.

    (D) [Reserved]

    (E) Fees. No fee applies to initial issuance of a black sea bass 

pot endorsement. NMFS charges a fee for each renewal or replacement of 

such endorsement and calculates the amount of each fee in accordance 

with the procedures of the NOAA Finance Handbook for determining the 

administrative costs of each special product or service. The fee may 

not exceed such costs and is specified with each application form. The 

handbook is available from the RA. The appropriate fee must accompany 

each application for renewal or replacement.

* * * * *

    (5) * * *

    (i) * * *

    (A) An operator of a vessel that has or is required to have a 

Commercial Vessel Permit for Rock Shrimp (Carolinas Zone) or a 

Commercial Vessel Permit for Rock Shrimp (South Atlantic EEZ).

* * * * *

 

0

3. In Sec.  622.5, paragraphs (b)(2)(i) and (ii) are revised to read as 

follows:

 

 

Sec.  622.5  Recordkeeping and reporting.

 

* * * * *

    (b) * * *

    (2) * * *

    (i) Charter vessels. Completed fishing records required by 

paragraph (b)(1)(i) of this section for charter vessels must be 

submitted to the SRD weekly, postmarked not later than 7 days after the 

end of each week (Sunday). Completed fishing records required by 

paragraph (b)(1)(ii) of this section for charter vessels may be 

required weekly or daily, as directed by the SRD. Information to be 

reported is indicated on the form and its accompanying instructions.

    (ii) Headboats. Completed fishing records required by paragraph 

(b)(1)(i) of this section for headboats must be submitted to the SRD 

monthly and must either be made available to an authorized statistical 

reporting agent or be postmarked not later than 7 days after the end of 

each month. Completed fishing records required by paragraph (b)(1)(ii) 

of this section for headboats may be required weekly or daily, as 

directed by the SRD. Information to be reported is indicated on the 

form and its accompanying instructions.

* * * * *

 

0

4. In Sec.  622.37, paragraph (e)(3)(i) is revised to read as follows:

 

 

Sec.  622.37  Size limits.

 

* * * * *

    (e) * * *

    (3) * * *

    (i) Black seas bass. (A) For a fish taken by a person subject to 

the bag limit specified in Sec.  622.39(d)(1)(vii)--13 inches (33 cm), 

TL.

    (B) For a fish taken by a person not subject to the bag limit 

specified in Sec.  622.39(d)(1)(vii)--11 inches (28 cm), TL.

* * * * *

 

0

5. In Sec.  622.40, paragraph (d)(1)(i)(B) is revised and paragraphs 

(d)(1)(i)(C) and (D) are added to read as follows:

 

[[Page 32420]]

 

Sec.  622.40  Limitations on traps and pots.

 

* * * * *

    (d) * * *

    (1) * * *

    (i) * * *

    (B) A sea bass pot must be removed from the water in the South 

Atlantic EEZ and the vessel must be returned to a dock, berth, beach, 

seawall, or ramp at the conclusion of each trip. Sea bass pots may 

remain on the vessel at the conclusion of each trip.

    (C) A sea bass pot must be removed from the water in the South 

Atlantic EEZ when the applicable quota specified in Sec.  622.42(e)(5) 

is reached. After a closure is in effect, a black sea bass may not be 

retained by a vessel that has a sea bass pot on board.

    (D) A vessel that has on board a valid Federal commercial permit 

for South Atlantic snapper-grouper and a South Atlantic black sea bass 

pot endorsement that fishes in the South Atlantic EEZ on a trip with 

black sea bass pots, may possess only 35 black sea bass pots per vessel 

per permit year. Each black sea bass pot in the water or onboard a 

vessel in the South Atlantic EEZ, must have a valid identification tag 

issued by NMFS attached. NMFS will issue new identification tags each 

permit year that will replace the tags from the previous permit year.

* * * * *

 

0

6. In Sec.  622.42, paragraph (e)(5) is revised to read as follows:

 

 

Sec.  622.42  Quotas.

 

* * * * *

    (e) * * *

    (5) Black sea bass--309,000 lb (140,160 kg), gutted weight; 364,620 

lb (165,389 kg), round weight.

* * * * *

 

0

7. In Sec.  622.44, paragraph (c)(8) is added to read as follows:

 

 

Sec.  622.44  Commercial trip limits.

 

* * * * *

    (c) * * *

    (8) Black sea bass. Until the applicable quota specified in Sec.  

622.42(e)(5) is reached, 1,000 lb (454 kg), gutted weight; 1,180 lb 

(535 kg), round weight. See Sec.  622.43(a)(5) for the limitations 

regarding black sea bass after the applicable quota is reached.

* * * * *

 

0

8. In Sec.  622.49, paragraph (b)(5) is revised to read as follows:

 

 

Sec.  622.49  Annual catch limits (ACLs) and accountability measures 

(AMs).

 

* * * * *

    (b) * * *

    (5) Black sea bass--(i) Commercial sector. (A) If commercial 

landings, as estimated by the SRD, reach or are projected to reach the 

quota specified in Sec.  622.42(e)(5), the AA will file a notification 

with the Office of the Federal Register to close the commercial sector 

for the remainder of the fishing year.

    (B) If commercial landings exceed the quota specified in Sec.  

622.42(e)(5), the AA will file a notification with the Office of the 

Federal Register, at or near the beginning of the following fishing 

year to reduce the ACL for that following year by the amount of the 

overage in the prior fishing year, unless the SRD determines that no 

overage is necessary based on the best scientific information 

available.

    (ii) Recreational sector. (A) If recreational landings for black 

sea bass, as estimated by the SRD, are projected to reach the 

recreational ACL of 409,000 lb (185,519 kg), gutted weight; 482,620 lb 

(218,913 kg), round weight; the AA will file a notification with the 

Office of the Federal Register to close the recreational sector for the 

remainder of the fishing year. On and after the effective date of such 

a notification, the bag and possession limit is zero. This bag and 

possession limit applies in the South Atlantic on board a vessel for 

which a valid Federal charter vessel/headboat permit for South Atlantic 

snapper-grouper has been issued, without regard to where such species 

were harvested, i.e. in state or Federal waters.

    (B) If recreational landings for black sea bass, as estimated by 

the SRD, exceed the ACL, the AA will file a notification with the 

Office of the Federal Register, to reduce the recreational ACL the 

following fishing year by the amount of the overage in the prior 

fishing year, unless the SRD determines that no overage is necessary 

based on the best scientific information available.

* * * * *

 

[FR Doc. 2012-13342 Filed 5-31-12; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 3510-22-P