Deep 7 Bottomfish Annual Catch Limits and Accountability Measures for 2012-13

NMFS proposes to specify a quota (annual catch target) of 325,000 lb of Deep 7 bottomfish in the main Hawaiian Islands for the 2012-13 fishing year, based on a proposed annual catch limit of 346,000 lb. When the quota is projected to be reached, NMFS would close the commercial and non-commercial fisheries for MHI Deep 7 bottomfish for the remainder of the fishing year. The proposed specifications and fishery closure support the long-term sustainability of Hawaii bottomfish.

Comments must be received by August 17, 2012.

ADDRESSES: Comments on this proposed specification, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2012-0130, may be sent to either of the following addresses:
     Electronic Submission: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal; or
     Mail: Mail written comments to Michael D. Tosatto, Regional Administrator, NMFS, Pacific Islands Region (PIR), 1601 Kapiolani Blvd., Suite 1110, Honolulu, HI 96814-4700.

Instructions: Comments must be submitted to one of the two addresses to ensure that the comments are received, documented, and considered by NMFS. Comments sent to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered. All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on without change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address, etc.) submitted voluntarily by the sender 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 fields if you wish to remain anonymous). Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word or Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats only.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jarad Makaiau, NMFS PIR Sustainable Fisheries, 808-944-2108.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The bottomfish fishery in Federal waters around Hawaii is managed under the Fishery Ecosystem Plan for the Hawaiian Archipelago (Hawaii FEP), developed by the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) and implemented by NMFS under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act). The regulations at Title 50 Code of Federal Regulations Part 665.4 require NMFS to specify an annual catch limit for MHI Deep 7 bottomfish each fishing year, based on a recommendation from the Council. The Deep 7 bottomfish are onaga (Etelis coruscans), ehu (E. carbunculus), gindai (Pristipomoides zonatus), kalekale (P. sieboldii), opakapaka (P. filamentosus), lehi (Aphareus rutilans), and hapuupuu (Epinephelus quernus).

The Council's recommendation of an annual catch limit of 346,000 lb considers the most recent bottomfish stock assessment, risk of overfishing, past fishery performance, recommendations from its Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC), and input from the public. The proposed annual catch limit is based on a 2010 stock assessment that indicated that the MHI Deep 7 bottomfish were not overfished and not subject to overfishing. The proposed annual catch limit is associated with less than a 41 percent probability of overfishing the Deep 7 bottomfish in the MHI.

Management uncertainty, influenced by unreported recreational landings, accuracy of commercial catch reporting, weather influences on the fishing activity and productivity, monitoring and forecasting capabilities, and mortality of recreational catch discards associated with high-grading, could cause the fishery to exceed the annual catch limit. Accordingly, the Council recommended a quota (annual catch target) of 325,000 lb, which is about six percent (21,000 lb) lower than the annual catch limit, to provide a sufficient buffer to ensure that the fishery does not exceed the limit.

If the quota is projected to be reached before the end of the fishing year (August 31), NMFS will close the non-commercial and commercial fisheries for Deep 7 bottomfish in Federal waters through the end of the fishing year. When NMFS closes Federal waters to fishing for Deep 7 bottomfish, State of Hawaii law allows the State to adopt a complementary closure of the Deep 7 fishery in State waters. During a closure for Deep 7 bottomfish, no person may fish for, possess, or sell any of these fish in the MHI, except as otherwise authorized by law. Specifically, fishing for, and the resultant possession or sale of, Deep 7 bottomfish by vessels legally registered to Pacific Remote Island Area bottomfish fishing permits, and conducted in compliance with all other laws and regulations, are not affected by the closure. There is no prohibition on fishing for or selling other non-Deep 7 bottomfish species throughout the year.

 NMFS will consider public comments on the proposed annual catch limit and quota, and will announce the final specifications prior to the scheduled reopening of the fishery on September 1, 2012. The fishery will continue until August 31, 2013, unless the fishery is closed earlier because the quota is reached. Regardless of the final annual catch limit and quota, all other management measures will continue to apply in the MHI bottomfish fishery. To be considered, comments on these proposed specifications must be received by August 17, 2012, not postmarked or otherwise transmitted by that date.