Amendment 12 Golden Tilefish

NMFS publishes this proposed rule to implement a regulatory amendment (Regulatory Amendment 12) to the Fishery Management Plan for the Snapper-Grouper Fishery of the South Atlantic Region (FMP), as prepared by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council). If implemented, this rule would modify the golden tilefish annual catch limit (ACL), which would be equal to the optimum yield (OY), as well as revise the recreational accountability measures (AMs) for golden tilefish in the South Atlantic exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The intent of this rule is to modify management measures for golden tilefish in the commercial and recreational sectors in the South Atlantic based on new stock assessment analyses.

Written comments on this proposed rule must be received on or before August 20, 2012.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on the proposed rule identified by ``NOAA-NMFS-2012-0087'' by any of the following methods:

     Electronic submissions: Submit electronic comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the ``Instructions'' for submitting comments.

     Mail: Karla Gore, Southeast Regional Office, NMFS, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

    Instructions: All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted to http://www.regulations.gov without change. All Personal Identifying Information (for example, name, address, etc.) voluntarily submitted by the commenter may be publicly accessible. Do not submit Confidential Business Information or otherwise sensitive or protected information. NMFS will accept anonymous comments (enter N/A in the required field if you wish to remain anonymous).

    To submit comments through the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov, enter ``NOAA-NMFS-2012-0087'' in the search field and click on ``search.'' After you locate the document ``Snapper-Grouper Fishery off the Southern Atlantic States; Snapper-Grouper Management Measures,'' click the ``Submit a Comment'' link in that row. This will display the comment Web form. You can then enter your submitter information (unless you prefer to remain anonymous), and type your comment on the Web form. You can also attach additional files (up to 10MB) in Microsoft Word, Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats only.

    Comments received through means not specified in this rule will not be considered.

    For further assistance with submitting a comment, see the ``Commenting'' section at http://www.regulations.gov/#!faqs or the Help section at http://www.regulations.gov.

    Electronic copies of documents supporting this proposed rule including an environmental assessment, initial regulatory flexibility analysis (IRFA), regulatory impact review, and fishery impact statement may be obtained from the Southeast Regional Office Web site at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/sf/SASnapperGrouperHomepage.htm.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Karla Gore, telephone: 727-824-5305, or email: Karla.Gore@noaa.gov.

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).

Background

    The Magnuson-Stevens Act requires NMFS and the regional fishery management councils to prevent overfishing, to achieve (on a continuing basis) the OY from federally managed fish stocks, and to rebuild stocks that have been determined to be overfished. These mandates ensure management of fishery resources for the greatest overall benefit to the nation, particularly with respect to providing food production and recreational opportunities, and protecting marine ecosystems. Reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act in 2007 required implementation of new tools to help end and prevent overfishing to achieve the OY from a fishery. The tools are ACLs and AMs.

    An ACL is the level of annual catch of a stock that, if met or exceeded, triggers some corrective action through AMs. The AMs are management controls to prevent exceeding the ACLs and to correct for overages of ACLs if they occur. An AM might be an in-season closure if catch approaches the ACL, or it may require reducing the ACL for the following fishing year because of an overage that occurred during the previous fishing year. ACLs may not exceed the overfishing limit (OFL) and the acceptable biological catch (ABC). The OFL is an estimate of the catch level above which overfishing is occurring and may come from a stock assessment. The ABC is defined as the level of a stock's annual catch that accounts for the scientific uncertainty in the estimate of OFL and any other scientific uncertainty, and is based on the Council's ABC control rule.

Management Measures Contained in This Proposed Rule

This proposed rule, if implemented, would modify the ACL for golden tilefish. In 2011, ACLs and AMs were implemented for golden tilefish through the Amendment 17B to the FMP (75 FR 82280, December 30, 2010).Since then, golden tilefish have been assessed through the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review (SEDAR) process using data through 2010.The stock assessment for golden tilefish indicated that the South Atlantic population is not overfished nor undergoing overfishing. Results from the recent stock assessment (SEDAR 25 2011) suggest that the current South Atlantic golden tilefish ACL (326,554 lb (148,122 kg), round weight, or 291,566 lb (132,252 kg), gutted weight), can be increased. The current South Atlantic golden tilefish commercial ACL is 316,757 lb (143,679 kg), round weight, or 282,819 lb (128,285 kg), gutted weight; and the recreational ACL is 1,578 fish. If implemented, the commercial and recreational ACLs for golden tilefish in the South Atlantic would be set at the yield associated with 75 percent fishing mortality that will produce the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) while the population is at equilibrium. Therefore, this proposed rule would increase the current South Atlantic golden tilefish ACL to 625,000 lb (283,495 kg), round weight, or 558,036 lb (253,121 kg), gutted weight. The ACLs would continue to be split using the existing recreational (3 percent) and commercial (97 percent) sector allocation. Therefore, if implemented, this proposed rule would set the South Atlantic golden tilefish commercial ACL equal to 606,250 lb (274,990 kg), round weight, or 541,295 lb (245,527 kg), gutted weight, and the recreational ACL equal to 3,019 fish. The ACLs would be set at this level to ensure there is a buffer between the ACLs and ABC (668,000 lb (303,000 kg), round weight, or 596,429 lb (270,536 kg), gutted weight) to account for management uncertainty. Equilibrium values represent the yield expected, on average, over a long period from a given management strategy. Using the estimated equilibrium values as a catch limit is a risk-averse approach that sacrifices some yield over the short-term to gain stability over the long-term and prevent unrealistic expectations of fishery potential by constituents.

    This proposed rule would also modify the AMs for the golden tilefish recreational sector of the snapper-grouper fishery. If recreational landings for golden tilefish meet, or are projected to meet the recreational ACL, NMFS will file a notification with the Office of the Federal Register to close the recreational sector for the remainder of the fishing year. Additionally, if the ACL is exceeded, the current recreational AMs for golden tilefish use a 3-year running average to determine if the length of the following fishing season needs to be reduced to ensure that the ACL is not exceeded in the following year. The 3-year running average could be heavily influenced by a single year's anomalously high or low landings, which may or may not be due to actual increases in harvest or statistical variation. This proposed rule would eliminate the 3-year running average and use landings in a single year instead to reduce the risk of implementing verly conservative AMs when they are not needed.

Management Measures Contained in Regulatory Amendment 12

Additionally, Regulatory Amendment 12 revises OY for golden tilefish and would establish the ACL equal to the OY and equal to the yield at 75 percent of the fishing mortality at MSY when the population is at equilibrium.