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Daily Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices of the Federal Government

DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 660

[Docket No. 120814338-2338-01]

RIN 0648-BC35

Magnuson-Stevens Act Provisions; Fisheries Off West Coast States; Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery; 2013-2014 Biennial Specifications and Management Measures

AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.
ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments.
SUMMARY: This proposed rule would establish the 2013-2014 harvest specifications and management measures for groundfish taken in the U.S. exclusive economic zone off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) and the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan (PCGFMP). This proposed rule would also revise the collection of management measures in the groundfish fishery regulations that are intended to keep the total catch of each groundfish species or species complex within the harvest specifications.
DATES: Comments must be received no later than December 5, 2012.
ADDRESSES: *Electronic Submission:Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portalwww.regulations.gov.To submit comments via the e-Rulemaking Portal, first click the "submit a comment" icon, then enter NOAA-NMFS-2012-0202 in the keyword search. Locate the document you wish to comment on from the resulting list and click on the "Submit a Comment" icon on the right of that line.

*Mail:Submit written comments to William Stele, Administrator, Northwest Region, NMFS, 7600 Sand Point Way NE., Seattle, WA 98115-0070, Attn: Sarah Williams.

*Fax:206-526-6736, Attn: Sarah Williams.

Instructions:Comments must be submitted by one of the above methods to ensure that the comments are received, documented, and considered by NMFS. Comments sent by any other method, 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 onwww.regulations.govwithout change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address, etc.) submitted voluntarily by the sender will 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.

Information relevant to this proposed rule, which includes a draft environmental impact statement (EIS), a regulatory impact review (RIR), and an initial regulatory flexibility analysis (IRFA) are available for public review during business hours at the office of the Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council), at 7700 NE. Ambassador Place, Portland, OR 97220, phone: 503-820-2280. Copies of additional reports referred to in this document may also be obtained from the Council.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Sarah Williams, phone: 206-526-4646, fax: 206-526-6736, or email:sarah.williams@noaa.gov.
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Electronic Access

This rule is accessible via the Internet at the Office of the Federal Register Web site athttps://www.federalregister.gov.Background information and documents are available at the NMFS Northwest Region Web site athttp://www.nwr.noaa.gov/Groundfish-Halibut/Groundfish-Fishery-Management/index.cfmand at the Council's Web site athttp://www.pcouncil.org.

Executive Summary I. Purpose of the Regulatory Action

This proposed rule is needed to implement the 2013-2014 harvest specifications and management measures for groundfish species taken in the U.S. exclusive economic zone off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California. The purpose of the proposed action is to conserve and manage Pacific Coast groundfish fishery resources to prevent overfishing, to rebuild overfished stocks, to ensure conservation, to facilitate long-term protection of essential fish habitats (EFH), and to realize the full potential of the Nation's fishery resources. The need for this proposed action is to set catch limit specifications and management measures for 2013-2014 that are consistent with existing or revised overfished species target rebuilding years and harvest control rules for all stocks. These harvest specifications are set consistent with the optimum yield (OY) harvest management framework described in Chapter 4 of the PCGFMP. This rule is authorized by 16 U.S.C. 1854-55 and by the PCGFMP.

II. Major Provisions

This proposed rule contains two types of major provisions. The first are the harvest specifications (overfishing limits (OFLs), acceptable biological catches (ABCs), and annual catch limits (ACLs)), and the second are management measures designed to keep fishing mortality within the ACLs. The harvest specifications (OFLs, ABCs, and ACLs) in this rule have been developed through a rigorous scientific review and decision-making process, which is described in detail later in this proposed rule.

In summary, the OFL is the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) harvest level and is an estimate of the catch level above which overfishing is occurring. OFLs are based on recommendations by the Council's Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) as the best scientific information available. The ABC is an annual catch specification that is the stock or stock complex's OFL reduced by an amount associated with scientific uncertainty. The SSC-recommended method for incorporating scientific uncertainty is referred to as the P star-sigma approach and is discussed in more detail below and in the proposed and final rules for the 2011-2012 biennial specifications and management measures (75 FR 67810, November 3, 2010 and 76 FR 27508, May 11, 2011). The ACL is a harvest specification set equal to or below the ABC. The ACLs are decided in a manner to achieve OY from the fishery, which is the amount of fish that will provide the greatest overall benefit to the Nation, particularly with respect to food production and recreational opportunities and taking into account the protection of marine ecosystems. The ACLs are based on consideration of conservation objectives, socio-economic concerns, management uncertainty, and other factors. All known sources of fishing and research catch are counted against the ACL.

This proposed rule includes ACLs for the seven overfished species managedunder the PCGFMP. For the 2013-2014 biennium two species, canary rockfish and Pacific ocean perch (POP), require rebuilding plan changes. These changes are necessary because the rebuilding analyses prepared showed that even in the absence of fishing, these two species were unlikely to rebuild by the current target rebuilding year (TTARGET) in their rebuilding plans. The EIS prepared for this action analyzed a range of POP and canary rockfish ACLs arrayed in different configurations along with the ACLs for other stocks and the management measures needed to prevent ACLs from being exceeded. These “integrated alternatives” are designed to help demonstrate how changes in POP and canary rockfish ACLs affect access to target stocks or influence projected mortalities of overfished species, among other factors. This integrated approach is also described in the proposed rule for the 2011-2012 harvest specifications and management measures (75 FR 67810, November 3, 2010). However, unlike the integrated alternatives from the last biennium, for 2013-2014 the integrated alternatives varied mainly with respect to the ACLs for canary rockfish and POP, as those were the only species for which new scientific information required changes to rebuilding plans. Because of the multispecies nature of the groundfish fishery (the ACL of one species can influence the ACL and/or access to another species), the choice of canary rockfish and POP harvest rates, and the resulting ACLs and TTARGETS, were carefully considered by the Council. In their final recommendation, the Council weighed many factors including rebuilding progress, biology of the stock, economic impacts, allocations, and the need for new or more restrictive management measures. Ultimately, the Council recommended maintaining the harvest rate in the existing rebuilding plans for POP and canary rockfish and establishing revised TTARGETS.

In order to keep mortality of the species managed under the PCGFMP within the ACLs the Council also recommended management measures. Generally speaking, management measures are intended to rebuild overfished species, prevent ACLs from being exceeded, and allow for the harvest of healthy stocks. Management measures include time and area restrictions, gear restrictions, trip or bag limits, size limits, and other management tools. Management measures may vary by fishing sector because different fishing sectors require different types of management to control catch. The groundfish fishery is also managed with a variety of other regulatory requirements, many of which are not proposed to be changed through this rulemaking. Most of the management measures the Council recommended for 2013-2014 were slight variations to existing management measures and do not represent a change from current management practices. These types of changes include changes to trip limits, bag limits, closed areas, etc. However, several new management measures were recommended by the Council including: Changes to latitude and longitude coordinates that define the boundaries of the Rockfish Conservation Areas (RCA)s; the ability to routinely modify deductions from the ACL to assign fish to different sectors that would otherwise go unharvested while still preventing ACLs from being exceeded; a requirement that all fish from a landing be offloaded before a new trip begins to improve catch accounting; a new sorting requirement for blackgill rockfish so mortality can be accounted against the new species-specific blackgill rockfish harvest guideline (HG); the ability for NMFS to modify the percentage of surplus carryover in the Shorebased Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) Program, as an inseason action based on a Council recommendation; and a clarification to the threshold at which participants in the limited entry fixed gear sablefish primary fishery would transition from fishing their tier limits and begin fishing against trip limits.

Background

The Pacific Coast Groundfish fishery is managed under the PCGFMP. The PCGFMP was prepared by the Council, approved on July 30, 1984, and has been amended numerous times. Regulations at 50 CFR part 660, subparts C through G, implement the provisions of the PCGFMP.

The PCGFMP requires the harvest specifications and management measures for groundfish to be set at least biennially. This proposed rule is based on the Council's final recommendations that were made at its June 2012 meeting.

Specification and Management Measure Development Process

The process for setting the 2013 and 2014 biennial harvest specifications began in 2011 with the preparation of stock assessments. A stock assessment is the scientific and statistical process where the status of a fish population or subpopulation (stock) is assessed in terms of population size, reproductive status, fishing mortality, and sustainability. In the terms of the PCGFMP, stock assessments generally provide: (1) An estimate of the current biomass (reproductive potential); (2) an FMSYor proxy (a default harvest rate for the fishing mortality rate that is expected to achieve the maximum sustainable yield), translated into exploitation rate; (3) an estimate of the biomass that produces the maximum sustainable yield (BMSY); and, (4) a precision estimate (e.g., confidence interval) for current biomass. Each stock assessment is reviewed by the Council's stock assessment review panel (STAR panel). The STAR panel is designed to review the technical merits of stock assessments and is responsible for determining if a stock assessment document is sufficiently complete. Finally, the SSC reviews the stock assessment and STAR panel reports and makes recommendations to the Council. In addition to full stock assessments, stock assessment updates that run new data through existing models without changing the model are also prepared.

When spawning stock biomass falls below the minimum stock size threshold (MSST), a stock is declared overfished and a rebuilding plan must be developed that determines the strategy for rebuilding the stock to BMSYin the shortest time possible while considering needs of fishing communities and other factors (16 U.S.C. 1854(e)). The current MSST reference point for assessed flatfish stocks is 12.5 percent of initial biomass or B12.5%. For all other assessed groundfish stocks, the current MSST reference point is 25 percent of initial biomass or B25%. The following overfished groundfish stocks would be managed under rebuilding plans in 2013 and 2014: bocaccio south of 40°10′ N. lat.; canary rockfish; cowcod south of 40°10′ N. lat.; darkblotched rockfish; Pacific Ocean Perch (POP); petrale sole; and yelloweye rockfish. NMFS declared widow rockfish rebuilt based on the most recent stocks assessment and therefore widow rockfish will not be managed under a rebuilding plan after 2012.

For overfished stocks, in addition to any stock assessments or stock assessment updates, rebuilding analyses are also prepared. The rebuilding analysis is used to project the future status of the overfished resource under a variety of alternative harvest strategies and to determine the probability of recovering to BMSYor its proxy within a specified time-frame. The SSC establishes minimum requirements for rebuilding analyses and encourages analysts to explore alternative calculations and projections that may more accurately capture uncertainties instock rebuilding and better represent stock-specific concerns. The SSC groundfish subcommittee reviews the rebuilding analyses and associated modeling issues, and makes recommendations relative to the best available information for management decisions. The SSC also encourages explicit consideration of uncertainty in projections of stock rebuilding for individual stocks, including comparisons of alternative states of nature using decision tables to quantify the impact of model uncertainty. Each rebuilding analysis includes: An estimation of B0(the unfished biomass) and BMSYor its proxy; the selection of a method to generate future recruitment; the specification of the mean generation time; a calculation of the minimum possible rebuilding time (TMIN), which is the time to rebuild to BMSYwith a 50 percent probability starting from the time when the rebuilding plan was first implemented assuming no fishing occurs; TF=0, which is the number of years needed to rebuild to BMSYwith a 50 percent probability if all future fishing mortality was eliminated from the first year of the biennium, in this case 2013; and the identification and analysis of alternative harvest strategies and rebuilding times.

The Council considered new stock assessments, stock assessment updates, rebuilding analyses, public comment, and advice from its advisory bodies over the course of six Council meetings during development of its recommendations for the 2013-2014 harvest specifications and management measures. At each Council meeting between September 2011 and June 2012, the Council made a series of decisions and recommendations that were in some cases refined after further analysis and discussion. Detailed information, including the supporting documentation the Council considered at each meeting is available at the Council's Web site,www.pcouncil.org.

A draft EIS identifying the preliminary preferred alternative for each decision point was made available to the public, the Council, and the Council's advisory bodies prior to the June 2012 Council meeting. At that meeting, following public comment and Council consideration, the Council made its final recommendations on the 2013 and 2014 harvest specifications and management measures as well as Amendment 21-2 to the PCGFMP. Amendment 21-2 would reinstate previous catch accounting methodologies that were inadvertently removed through Amendment 21. This proposed rule does not contain regulations to implement Amendment 21-2 to the PCGFMP. The amendment was analyzed in the EIS and was part of the Council's final action. However, in consultation with NMFS, the Council chose not to transmit the FMP amendment at this time because additional work on the implementing regulations was necessary. It is anticipated that the FMP amendment, and any necessary implementing regulations, will be transmitted at a later date.

Additional information regarding the OFLs, ABCs, and ACLs being proposed for groundfish stocks and stock complexes in 2013-2014 is presented below, followed by a description of the proposed management measures for commercial and recreational groundfish fisheries.

Harvest Specifications Proposed OFLs for 2013 and 2014

The OFL is the MSY harvest level associated with the current stock abundance and is an estimate of the level of total catch of a stock or stock complex above which overfishing is occurring. The OFLs for groundfish species with stock assessments are derived by multiplying the FMSYharvest rate proxy by the current estimated biomass. Fx% harvest rates are the rates of fishing mortality that will reduce the female spawning biomass per recruit (SPR) to X percent of its unfished level. A rate of F40% is a more aggressive harvest rate than F45% or F50%.

For 2013 and 2014, the Council maintained a policy of using a default harvest rate as a proxy for the fishing mortality rate that is expected to achieve the maximum sustainable yield (FMSY). A proxy is used because there is insufficient information for most Pacific Coast groundfish stocks to estimate species-specific FMSYvalues. Taxon-specific proxy fishing mortality rates are used due to perceived differences in the productivity among different taxa of groundfish. A lower value is used for stocks with relatively high resilience to fishing while higher values are used for less resilient stocks with low productivity. In 2013 and 2014, the following default harvest rate proxies, based on the SSC's recommendations, were used: F30% for flatfish, F50% for rockfish (including thornyheads), and F45% for other groundfish such as sablefish and lingcod.

For the 2013 and 2014 biennial specification process, eight stock assessments and four stock assessment updates were prepared. Full stock assessments, those that consider the appropriateness of the assessment model and that revise the model as necessary, were prepared for the following stocks: POP, widow rockfish, petrale sole, Dover sole, blackgill rockfish, sablefish, spiny dogfish, and greenspotted rockfish. Stock assessment updates, those that run new data through an existing model, were prepared for bocaccio, canary rockfish, darkblotched rockfish, and yelloweye rockfish. Because the bocaccio and darkblotched assessment updates encountered data anomalies, some modifications to the models were required and these were therefore not strictly updates.

Each new stock assessment includes a base model and two alternative models. The alternative models are developed from the base model by bracketing the dominant dimension of uncertainty (e.g., stock-recruitment steepness, natural mortality rate, survey catchability, recent year-class strength, weights on conflicting catch per unit effort series, etc.) and are intended to be a means of expressing uncertainty within the model by showing the contrast in management implications. Once a base model has been bracketed on either side by alternative model scenarios, capturing the overall degree of uncertainty in the assessment, a two-way decision table analysis (states-of-nature versus management action) is used to present the repercussions of uncertainty to decision makers. As noted above, the SSC makes recommendations to the Council on the appropriateness of using the different stock assessments for management purposes, after which the Council considers adoption of the stock assessments, use of the stock assessment for the development of rebuilding analysis, and the OFLs resulting from the base model runs of the stock assessments.

The following summaries pertain to the proposed 2013 and 2014 OFLs for stocks that were overfished in 2011.

Bocaccio (Sebastes paucispinis)

A stock assessment update was prepared for the bocaccio stock between the U.S.-Mexico border and Cape Blanco, OR. The bocaccio OFLs of 884 mt for 2013 and 881 mt for 2014 are based on the FMSYharvest rate proxy of F50% as applied to the estimated exploitable biomass from the 2011 stock assessment update. For setting harvest specifications, six percent of the assessed biomass was estimated to occur north of 40°10′ N. lat. The projected OFLs from the assessment were adjusted accordingly.

Canary Rockfish (Sebastes pinniger)

A stock assessment update was prepared for the coastwide canary rockfish stock. The canary rockfish OFLs of 592 mt for 2013 and 741 mt for 2014 are based on the FMSYharvest rate proxy of F50% as applied to the estimated exploitable biomass from the 2011 stock assessment update.

Darkblotched Rockfish (Sebastes crameri)

A stock assessment update was prepared for darkblotched rockfish in the U.S. Vancouver, Columbia, Eureka, and Monterey areas. The darkblotched rockfish OFLs of 541 mt for 2013 and 553 mt for 2014 are based on the FMSYharvest rate proxy of F50% as applied to the estimated exploitable biomass from the 2011 stock assessment update.

Petrale Sole (Eopsetta jordani)

A new coastwide stock assessment was prepared for petrale sole. The assessment treats the U.S. petrale sole resource from the Mexican border to the Canadian border as a single coastwide stock. The petrale sole OFLs of 2,711 mt for 2013 and 2,774 mt for 2014 are based on the FMSYharvest rate proxy of F30% as applied to the estimated exploitable biomass from the 2011 stock assessment.

POP (Sebastes alutus)

A new stock assessment was prepared for POP north of 40°10′ north latitude. This is the first full assessment of POP since 2003. The POP OFLs of 844 mt for 2013 and 838 mt for 2014 are based on the FMSYharvest rate proxy of F50% as applied to the estimated exploitable biomass from the 2011 stock assessment.

Widow Rockfish (Sebastes entomelas)

A new coastwide stock assessment was prepared for widow rockfish in the U.S. Vancouver, Columbia, Eureka, Monterey, and Conception areas. The widow rockfish OFLs of 4,841 mt for 2013 and 4,435 mt for 2014 are based on the FMSYharvest rate proxy of F50% as applied to the estimated exploitable biomass from the 2011 stock assessment.

Yelloweye Rockfish (Sebastes ruberrimus)

A coastwide stock assessment update was prepared for yelloweye rockfish. The yelloweye rockfish OFLs of 51 mt for 2013 and 2014 are based on the FMSYharvest rate proxy of F50% as applied to the estimated exploitable biomass from the 2011 stock assessment update.

The following summaries pertain to the proposed OFLs for individually managed non-overfished stocks with new stock assessments or stock assessment updates in 2011.

Dover Sole (Microstomus pacificus)

A new coastwide stock assessment was prepared for Dover sole. The Dover sole OFLs of 92,955 mt in 2013 and 77,774 mt in 2014 are based on the FMSYharvest rate proxy of F30% as applied to the estimated exploitable biomass from the 2011 stock assessment.

Sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria)

A new coastwide stock assessment was prepared for sablefish. The sablefish OFLs of 6,621 mt in 2013 and 7,158 mt in 2014 are based on the FMSYharvest rate proxy of F45% as applied to the estimated exploitable biomass from the 2011 stock assessment.

For individually managed species that did not have new stock assessments or updates prepared, the Council recommended OFLs derived from applying the FMSYharvest rate proxy to the estimated exploitable biomass from the most recent stock assessment or update, the results of rudimentary stock assessments, or the historical landings data approved by the Council for use in setting harvest specifications. These stocks include: Arrowtooth flounder, English sole, starry flounder, black rockfish south, black rockfish north, California scorpionfish, chilipeper rockfish south, longnose skate, longspine thornyhead Pacific cod, shortbelly rockfish, shortspine thornyhead, splitnose rockfish south, yellowtail rockfish, cabezon (off California), cabezon (off Oregon), and lingcod north and south. Proposed OFLs for these species can be found in Tables 1a and 2a.

There are currently eight stock complexes used to manage groundfish stocks pursuant to the PCGFMP. These stock complexes are: (1) Minor nearshore rockfish north; (2) minor shelf rockfish north; (3) minor slope rockfish north; (4) minor nearshore rockfish south; (5) minor shelf rockfish south; (6) minor slope rockfish south; (7) other flatfish; and (8) other fish. Stock complexes are used to manage the harvest of many of the unassessed groundfish stocks. The proposed OFLs for stock complexes are the sum of the OFL contributions for the component stocks, when known. For the 2013-2014 biennial specification process, similar to what was done in 2011-2012, Depletion-Corrected Average Catch (DCAC), Depletion-Based Stock Reduction Analysis (DB-SRA), or other SSC-endorsed methodologies were used to determine the OFL contributions made by category three species (data limited species). Stock assessment scientists from the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and the Southwest Fisheries Science Center developed the DCAC and DB-SRA methodologies. The DCAC and DB-SRA provide an estimate of sustainable yield for data-poor stocks of uncertain status. The Council and the SSC recognized these methods as improvements upon previous catch-based methods for estimating sustainable yield. While OFL contribution estimates should not vary from year to year for the category three stocks, a bias was discovered and corrected in both the DB-SRA and DCAC estimates. The 2011 estimates were generally biased somewhat high and the revised 2013 estimates were more precise. The corrected 2013 and 2014 OFL contribution estimates decreased an average of 6 percent relative to the 2011 estimates. For further information seehttp://www.pcouncil.org/resources/archives/briefing-books/september-2011-briefing-book/#groundfish,Agenda Item G.5.a Supplemental Attachment 8.

The proposed OFLs for complexes can be found at in tables 1a and 2a of this proposed rule. In addition to OFL contributions derived by DCAC, DB-SRA, or other SSC approved estimates, OFL contributions for the following stocks were determined by applying the FMSYharvest rate proxy to the estimated exploitable biomass from the most recent stock assessments: Blackgill rockfish, blue rockfish, chilipepper rockfish north, greenstriped rockfish, greenspotted rockfish, gopher rockfish, splitnose rockfish north, and spiny dogfish. As summarized below, three of the stocks with OFL contributions determined by applying the FMSYharvest rate proxy to the estimated exploitable biomass from stock assessments had new stock assessments this cycle.

Blackgill Rockfish (Sebastes melanostomus)

A new stock assessment was prepared for the portion of the blackgill rockfish stock south of 40°10′ N. lat. Blackgill rockfish contributes 130 mt in 2013 and 134 mt in 2014 to the minor slope rockfish south OFL. The blackgill rockfish contributions to the 2013 and 2014 minor slope rockfish south OFLs are based on the FMSYharvest rate proxy of F50% as applied to the estimated exploitable biomass from the 2011 stock assessment.

Greenspotted Rockfish (Sebastes chlorostictus)

A new assessment was prepared for the portion of the greenspotted rockfishstock off California. The assessment modeled greenspotted rockfish as two independent stocks, one off southern California, and one off northern California. Greenspotted rockfish contributes 80.3 mt in 2013 and 80.3 mt in 2014 to the minor shelf rockfish south OFLs and contributes 15.5 mt in 2013 and 15.5 mt in 2014 to the minor shelf rockfish north OFLs. The greenspotted rockfish contributions to the 2013-2014 minor shelf rockfish south OFLs are based on a FMSYharvest rate proxy of F50% as applied to the estimated exploitable biomass from the 2011 stock assessment, and as apportioned to the minor shelf rockfish south complex. Greenspotted rockfish contributions to the 2013-2014 minor shelf rockfish north OFLs are based on the application of the of the same FMSYharvest rate proxy as described above and as apportioned to the minor shelf rockfish north complex. The DCAC estimate of 6.1 mt for the portion of the greenspotted rockfish stock off Oregon and Washington also contributes to the minor shelf rockfish north OFLs.

Spiny Dogfish (Squalus acanthias)

A new coastwide stock assessment was prepared for spiny dogfish. Spiny dogfish contributes 2,980 mt in 2013 and 2,950 mt in 2014 to the other fish complex OFLs. Spiny dogfish contributions to the other fish complex OFLs are based on the FMSYharvest rate proxy of F45% as applied to the estimated exploitable biomass from the 2011 stock assessment.

Proposed ABCs for 2013 and 2014

The ABC is the stock or stock complex's OFL reduced by an amount associated with scientific uncertainty. The SSC-recommended P star-Sigma approach determines the amount by which the OFL is reduced to establish the ABC. Under this approach, the SSC recommends a sigma (σ) value. The σ value is generally based on the scientific uncertainty in the biomass estimates generated from stock assessments. After the SSC determines the appropriate σ value the Council chooses a P star (P*) based on its chosen level of risk aversion considering the scientific uncertainties. As the P* value is reduced, the probability of the ABC being greater than the “true” OFL becomes lower. In combination, the P* and σ values determine the amount by which the OFL will be reduced to establish the SSC-endorsed ABC.

The SSC has quantified major sources of scientific uncertainty in the estimate of OFL for category one stocks (stocks with relatively data-rich quantitative assessments) and recommended a σ value of 0.36. For category two stocks (stocks with relatively data-poor quantitative or non-quantitative assessments) the SSC recommended a σ value of 0.72 and for category three stocks (data-limited stocks with OFL contributions usually determined with DCAC or DB-SRA), the SSC recommend a σ value of 1.44. For stocks with data-poor stock assessments or no stock assessments (category two and three stocks), there is typically greater scientific uncertainty in the estimate of OFL. Therefore, the scientific uncertainty buffer is generally greater than that recommended for stocks with quantitative stock assessments. Assuming the same P* is applied, a larger σ value results in a larger reduction from the OFL.

For 2013 and 2014, the Council continued the general policy of using the SSC-recommended σ values for each species category. However, an exception to the general σ policy was made for widow rockfish. For widow rockfish, the SSC recommended a larger σ value of 0.41 rather than the 0.36 that would typically be used for category one stocks to better represent uncertainty in stock-recruit steepness, which is considered the major source of uncertainty in the widow rockfish assessment. In addition, several species changed categories in 2013-2014 as a result of updated stock assessments or due to being assessed for the first time. The σ value for these species was updated accordingly when determining the proposed ABCs for 2013 and 2014, as described below.

The species categories for yelloweye rockfish and blackgill rockfish south of 40°10′N. lat. were revised for 2013 and 2014 from category one to category two stocks. The yelloweye rockfish assessment was not able to estimate relative year class strength and the SSC recommended, yelloweye rockfish be considered a category two stock, and the σ value of 0.72 was used. Similarly, based on the stock assessment, the SSC recommended that blackgill rockfish be treated as a category two stock and the σ value of 0.72 was used. As a result of new stock assessments the species categories for spiny dogfish and greenspotted rockfish were revised for 2013 and 2014 from category three stocks to category two stocks. Accordingly, the σ values of 0.72 were used. Additional information about the σ values used for different species categories as well as the P*- σ approach can be found in the proposed and final rules from the 2011-2012 biennium. (75 FR 67810, November 3, 2010; 76 FR 27508, May 11, 2011). A discussion of the P* values used in combination with the σ values follows.

The PCGFMP specifies that the upper limit of P* will be 0.45. A P* of 0.5 equates to no additional reduction for scientific uncertainty beyond the sigma value reduction. A lower P* is more risk averse than a higher value, meaning that the probability of the ABC being greater than the “true” OFL is lower. For 2013 and 2014, the Council largely maintained the P* policies it established for the 2011-2012 biennium. Specifically, the Council recommended using P* values of 0.45 for all category one species, expect sablefish, which is described below. Combining the σ value of 0.36 the P* value of 0.45 results in a reduction of 4.4 percent from the OFL when deriving the ABC. For category two and three stocks, the Council's general policy was to use a P* of 0.4. When combined with the σ values of 0.72 and 1.44 for category two and three stocks, a P* value of 0.40 corresponds to 16.7 percent and 30.6 percent reductions, respectively.

The Council recommended more precautionary P* values in 2013-2014 for spiny dogfish and sablefish in order to account for uncertainty regarding the stock assessments. Spiny dogfish is a category two stock due to the model structure (fixed key parameters and no recruitment deviations) and sensitivity of the model results. The Council recommended a P* of 0.3 for spiny dogfish, which results in a 31.4 percent reduction from the OFL, in recognition of the uncertain catch history of the stock, which are largely discarded in west coast fisheries. The Council also expressed the need for precaution in managing spiny dogfish, pending a meta-analysis of elasmobranch FMSYharvest rates due to the indication in the stock assessment that the current FMSYharvest rate proxy of F45% may be too aggressive. Regarding the 2011 sablefish assessment, the level of uncertainty in estimates of both depletion and absolute biomass is greater than in earlier assessments, in particular because allowance was made for uncertainty in key parameters such as natural mortality, growth, and survey catchability. Additionally, sablefish steepness cannot be estimated reliably given the currently available data, and steepness had to be set to an assumed value (0.6) in the assessment. Therefore, the Council recommended a P* of 0.4 for sablefish, which results in a 8.7 percent reduction from the OFL.

The Council also applied the two-step σ and P* approach for stocks managed in stock complexes. The Council's SSC categorized and applied the appropriate σ value for individual stocks managed in stock complexes. For the six minor rockfish complexes, which arecomprised of a mix of all three categories of stocks, the Council recommended a P* of 0.45. For the other flatfish, and other fish stock complexes, which is composed of category three stocks (except for spiny dogfish in the Other Fish which is category 2) a more precautionary P* of 0.40 was recommended. For each of the stock complexes, the component species ABC contributions were calculated and summed to derive the complex ABC. Tables 1a and 2a of this proposed rule present the harvest specifications for each stock and stock complex, including the proposed ABCs, while the footnotes to these tables describe how the proposed specifications where derived. Details regarding this can also be found in Chapter 2.1.2 of the DEIS (see Supplementary Information section above).

Proposed ACLs for 2013 and 2014

ACLs are specified for each stock and stock complex that is “in the fishery”. An ACL is a harvest specification set equal to or below the ABC to address conservation objectives, socioeconomic concerns, management uncertainty, or other factors necessary to meet management objectives. All sources of fishing related mortality (tribal, commercial groundfish and non groundfish, recreational, and EFP), including retained and discard mortality, plus research catch are counted against an ACL. The ACL serves as the basis for invoking accountability measures (AMs). If ACLs are exceeded more than one time in four years, then improvements to or additional AMs, for example catch monitoring and inseason adjustments to fisheries, may need to be implemented.

Under the PCGFMP harvest policies, when a stocks depletion level falls below BMSYor the proxy for BMSY,which is the biomass level that produces MSY (B25% for assessed flatfish, B40% for all other groundfish stocks), but is above the overfished level (MSST- B12.5% for assessed flatfish, B25% for all other groundfish stocks),the stock is said to be in the “precautionary zone” or below the precautionary threshold. In general, when recommending ACLs, the Council follows a risk-averse policy by recommending an ACL that is below the ABC when there is a perception the stock is below its BMSY,or to accommodate management uncertainty, socioeconomic concerns, or other considerations. When a stock is below the precautionary threshold the harvest policies reduce the fishing mortality rate. The further the stock biomass is below the precautionary threshold, the greater the reduction in ACL relative to the ABC, until at B10% for a stock with a BMSYproxy of B40% or B5% for a stock with a BMSYproxy of B25%, the ACL would be set at zero. These policies, known as the 40-10 and 25-5 harvest control rules, respectively, are designed to prevent stocks from becoming overfished and serve as an interim rebuilding policy for stocks that are below the overfished threshold. For stock complexes, the ACL is set for the complex in its entirety and is less than or equal to the sum of the individual component ABCs. The ACL may be adjusted below the sum of component ABCs to address the factors described above.

Under the PCGFMP, the Council may recommend setting the ACL at a different level than what the default ACL harvest control rule specifies as long as the ACL does not exceed the ABC and complies with the requirements of the MSA. The ACLs proposed for 2013-2014 are discussed below.

ACLs for “Healthy” and “Precautionary Zone” Individually Managed Species

For the following individually managed species there was no new scientific information or change in management policy from the 2011-2012 biennium for establishing 2013 and 2014 ACLs: arrowtooth flounder (ACLs set equal to the ABCs); black rockfish (OR-CA) (ACLs set below the ABCs); black rockfish (WA) (ACLs set equal to the ABCs); cabezon (CA) (ACLs set equal to the ABCs); cabezon (OR) (ACLs set equal to the ABCs); California scorpionfish (ACLs set equal to the ABCs); chilipepper south of 40°10′ N. lat. (ACLs set equal to the ABCs); English sole (ACLs set equal to the ABCs); longspine thornyhead north of 34°27′ N. lat. (ACLs set below the ABCs); longspine thornyhead south of 34°27′ N. lat. (ACLs set below the ABCs); Pacific cod (ACLs set below the ABCs); shortbelly rockfish (ACLs set below the ABCs); shortspine thornyhead north of 34°27′ N. lat. (ACLs set below the ABCs); shortspine thornyhead south of 34°27′ N. lat. (ACLs set below the ABCs); splitnose south of 40°10′ N. lat. (ACLs set equal to the ABCs); starry flounder (ACLs set equal to the ABCs); and yellowtail north of 40°10′ N. lat. (ACLs set equal to the ABCs).

The Council considered new policies or information relative to the ACLs for the following healthy and precautionary zone species: Dover sole, lingcod north of 42° N. lat., lingcod south of 42° N. lat., longnose skate, sablefish north of 36° N. lat., sablefish south of 36° N. lat., and widow rockfish.

Dover Sole

A new Dover sole assessment was done in 2011, which indicated the stock was healthy with a 2011 spawning stock biomass depletion of 83.7 percent of unfished biomass. Rather than set the ACLs equal to the ABCs of 88,865 mt in 2013 and 74,352 mt in 2014, the proposed 2013 and 2014 ACL of 25,000 mt is a re-specification of the 2012 ACL. The stock is projected to remain healthy while accommodating the current level of catch. Lower sablefish ACLs are proposed for 2013 and 2014 and, given that the trawl sablefish allocation can dictate the amount of Dover sole that can be accessed in the IFQ fishery, the Council did not recommend higher Dover sole ACLs.

Lingcod

Lingcod are distributed coastwide with harvest specifications based on two area stock assessments that were conducted in 2009 for the areas north and south of the California-Oregon border at 42° N. latitude. The stock assessments indicate west coast lingcod stocks are healthy with the stock depletion estimated for lingcod off Washington and Oregon to be at 62 percent of its unfished biomass, and lingcod off California estimated to be at 74 percent of its unfished biomass at the start of 2009. The lingcod ACLs for 2013-14 are being proposed for the areas north and south of the current 40°10′ N. lat. management line rather than north and south of the California-Oregon border (42° N. lat.), which is where the stock assessment splits the stocks. Current regulations at § 660.112(b)(1)(vii) prohibit vessels participating in the shorebased IFQ program from fishing in more than one IFQ management area on the same trip. Therefore, if lingcod were to have a geographic split at 42° N. lat. it would create a new IFQ management area that could unnecessarily restrict IFQ program participants. Dividing the lingcod specifications at 40°10′ N. lat. has no biological implications yet is consistent with the management of most other species with north-south specifications. The adjusted specifications for lingcod were based on the NMFS Northwest Fisheries Science Center trawl survey. The swept area biomass estimates calculated annually (2003-2010) in the NMFS Northwest Fisheries Science Center trawl survey indicated that 48 percent of the lingcod biomass for the stock south of 42° N. lat. occurred between 40°10′ N. lat. and 42° N. lat, and the specifications were adjusted accordingly. The 2013 and 2014 lingcod ACLs are 3,187 mt in 2013and 3,023 mt in 2014 for the stock north of 40°10′ N. latitude and 1,111 mt in 2013 and 1,063 mt in 2014 for the stock south of 40°10′ N. lat., with the ACLs set equal to the ABCs.

Longnose Skate

The west coast longnose skate stock was assessed in 2007. The spawning stock biomass was estimated to be at 66 percent of its unfished biomass at the start of 2007. The Council considered two 2013 and 2014 longnose skate ACL alternatives. The alternatives were an ACL of 1,349 mt, which was the 2012 ACL and was based on a 50 percent increase in the average 2004-2006 total catch mortality, and an ACL of 2,000 mt. The Council recommended an ACL of 2,000 mt to accommodate the increased landings in the non-whiting trawl fishery seen in recent years and limit potential disruption of current fisheries. An ACL of 2,000 mt is well below the 2013 and 2014 ABCs for the stock of 2,774 mt and 2,692 mt. The proposed ACL is within a level of harvest projected to maintain the population at a healthy level as projected in the 10-year forecast for longnose skate in the 2007 stock assessment.

Sablefish

A new coastwide sablefish stock assessment was conducted in 2011. The spawning stock biomass was estimated to be at 33 percent of its unfished biomass at the beginning of 2011. Because the sablefish stock is in the precautionary zone with a stock biomass below the B40%target MSY biomass, the 40-10 harvest control rule was applied to the ABC to determine the proposed ACL. The coastwide ACL was then apportioned north and south of 36° N. lat., using the average 2003-2010 proportions derived from the swept-area biomass estimates of sablefish from the NWFSC shelf-slope trawl survey (73.6 percent north; 26.4 percent south). The apportionments used to determine 2013 and 2014 sablefish ACLs included updated information from the 2011 stock assessment. The proportions differ slightly from those used to apportion in 2012 ACLs.

To account for the uncertainty inherent in the abundance estimates of sablefish south of 36° N. lat. (due to the short time-series of survey data from the southern area and advisory body advice), the Council recommended southern area ACL apportionments that were reduced by 50 percent for 2011 and 2012. For 2013 and 2014, the SSC advised the Council that a fuller time series of trawl survey and catch data informing stock biomass in the Conception area reduced the scientific uncertainty in estimating biomass in that area in the 2011 assessment making the added 50 percent reduction unnecessary. The 2013 and 2014 proposed sablefish ACLs are 4,012 mt in 2013 and 4,349 mt in 2014 for the stock north of 36° N. lat. and 1,439 mt in 2013 and 1,560 mt in 2014 for the stock south of 36° N. lat. The ACLs are set below the ABCs based on the 40-10 harvest control rule. The 2013 and 2014 ACLs are a 25 percent reduction from the 2011-2012 ACLs for sablefish north of 36° N. lat. Sablefish is an economically important species in all commercial fisheries. The effects of the sablefish ACL on projected ex-vessel revenues in 2013 and 2014 are further discussed in the Classification section below.

Widow Rockfish

A new full assessment of widow rockfish was conducted in 2011. The new stock assessment indicated the spawning stock biomass was at 51 percent of its unfished biomass at the start of 2011 and above the rebuilding threshold. Beginning in 2013 and 2014, widow rockfish will be managed as a healthy stock. Although the base model is considered to be the best available science, there was considerable uncertainty regarding the new stock assessment's findings. The Council took this into consideration when making the ACL recommendations. For 2013-2014, the Council recommended ACLs of 1,500 mt to accommodate increased opportunity in the trawl fishery while keeping the spawning stock biomass above the target B40%level for the next 10 years according to the base model. The ACL of 1,500 mt adds more precaution given the uncertainty associated with the results of the stock assessment and is set below the ABC of 4,598 mt in 2013 and 4,212 mt in 2014.

ACLs for Stock Complexes

For the eight stock complexes managed under the PCGFMP, the Council recommended maintaining the 2013 and 2014 ACLs as close as possible to the 2012 ACLs. Maintaining ACLs as similar as possible to 2012 will help provide stability to fisheries in 2013 and 2014 while the trawl fishery continues to adjust to IFQ management and while NMFS and the Council consider changes to how stock complexes are structured. All of the ACLs for stock complexes are less than or equal to the summed ABC contribution of each component stock in each complex as described in the following paragraphs.

Minor Nearshore Rockfish North and South of 40°10′ N. Lat.

For minor nearshore rockfish north of 40°10′ N. lat., the preferred 2013 and 2014 complex ACL is set equal to the ABC, at 94 mt each year. The 2013 and 2014 complex ABC is the summed contribution of the component stocks′ ABCs. For minor nearshore rockfish south of 40°10′ N. lat., the preferred 2013 and 2014 complex ACL of 990 mt is the same as the 2012 ACL and is less than the 2013 ABC for the complex.

Minor Shelf Rockfish North and South of 40°10′ N. lat.

For minor shelf rockfish north of 40°10′ N. lat., the preferred 2013 and 2014 complex ACL of 968 mt is the same as the 2012 ACL and is less than the 2013 ABC of 1,920 and the 2014 ABC of 1,932 mt, for the complex. For minor shelf rockfish south of 40°10′ N. lat., the preferred 2013 and 2014 complex ACL of 714 mt is the same as the 2012 ACL and is less than the 2013 and 2014 ABCs for the complex.

Greenspotted rockfish is managed within the minor shelf rockfish complexes. The 2011 assessment indicated the stock is in the precautionary zone with spawning biomass depletions of 30.6 percent and 37.4 percent for the stocks north and south of Point Conception, respectively. However, the stocks have shown substantial biomass increases since implementation of the rock fish conservation areas (RCAs) in 2003. Shelf rockfish are particularly well-protected by the RCAs, and greenspotted rockfish catches have been negligible since 2003.

Minor Slope Rockfish North and South of 40°10′ N. Lat.

For minor slope rockfish north of 40°10′ N. lat., the preferred 2013 and 2014 complex ACL of 1,160 mt is the same as the 2012 ACL and is less than the 2013 ABC of 1,381 mt and the 2014 ABC of 1,414 mt, for the complex. For minor slope rockfish south of 40°10′ N. lat., the preferred 2013 and 2014 complex ACL is set equal to the ABC, at 618 mt in 2013 and 622 mt in 2014.

Blackgill rockfish is managed within the minor slope rockfish complexes. The 2011 assessment for the stock south of 40°10′ N. lat. indicated the stock was in the precautionary zone with spawning biomass depletion estimated to be 30 percent of its unfished biomass at the start of 2011. The Council recommended and NMFS is proposing to establish 2013 and 2014 HGs equal to the 40-10 adjusted ACLs calculated for the southern blackgill rockfish stock of 106 mt and 110 mt in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

Other Flatfish

The preferred 2013 and 2014 ACL for the other flatfish complex of 4,884 mt is equal to 2012 ACL. The 2013-2014 ACLs are set below the ABC of 6,982 mt.

Other Fish

The preferred 2013 and 2014 ACLs for the other fish complex of 4,717 mt and 4,697 mt, respectively, are equal to the preferred 2013 and 2014 ABCs, which are lower than the No Action 2012 ACL of 5,575 mt.

Spiny dogfish is managed within the other fish complex. The 2011 assessment indicated that spiny dogfish stock was healthy with an estimated spawning biomass at 63 percent of its unfished biomass. Although the Council initially considered managing spiny dogfish with a species specific harvest specifications, the final recommendation was to continue managing it within the other fish complex ACL for 2013 and 2014. Reconsideration of species specific specifications would be made in the 2015-2016 specifications cycle when a thorough analysis on complex management is expected to be completed as described below.

Stock Complex Composition

The Council and NMFS have recognized the need to revisit the composition of the stock complexes to ensure that stocks grouped together are sufficiently similar in geographic distribution, life history, productivity, and susceptibility to the fishery. However, recognizing that additional scientific work and management consideration is necessary to comprehensively address the issue, the Council recommended maintaining the current stock complexes for 2013 and 2014. NMFS is prioritizing completion of an analysis to inform changes to stock complexes in time for the 2015-2016 biennium due to information indicating that the harvest of some stocks may be out of proportion to their contribution to the complex specifications. The DEIS indicates that routine modifications to existing management measures could be effective at controlling catch of stock complexes if it becomes necessary.

Rebuilding Plan ACLs for Overfished Species

When a stock has been declared overfished a rebuilding plan must be developed and the stock must be managed in accordance with the rebuilding plan. ACLs for these stocks are therefore set according to the rebuilding plans. The following seven overfished groundfish stocks would be managed under rebuilding plans in 2013 and 2014: Bocaccio south of 40°10′ N. lat.; canary rockfish; cowcod south of 40°10′ N. lat.; darkblotched rockfish, Pacific Ocean Perch (POP), petrale sole, and yelloweye rockfish. Section 304(e)(4) of the MSA provides that any fishery management plan, plan amendment, or proposed regulations for rebuilding an overfished fishery shall: “(A) specify a time period for rebuilding the fishery that shall—(i) be as short as possible, taking into account the status and biology of any overfished stocks of fish, the needs of fishing communities, recommendations by international organizations in which the United States participates, and the interaction of the overfished stock of fish within the marine ecosystem; and (ii) not exceed ten years, except in cases where the biology of the stock of fish, other environmental conditions, or management measures under an international agreement in which the United States participates dictates otherwise” (16 U.S.C. 1854(e)(4)).

The Council and NMFS rely on rebuilding analyses to develop rebuilding plans, particularly to determine the amount of time needed to rebuild stocks given varying levels of fishing mortality. An overfished groundfish stock is considered rebuilt once its biomass reaches BMSY. Rebuilding analyses are used to project the status of the overfished resource into the future under a variety of alternative harvest strategies to determine the probability of recovering to BMSY(or its proxy) within a specified time frame. Life history characteristics (e.g., age of reproductive maturity, relative productivity at different ages and sizes, etc.) and the effects of environmental conditions on abundance (e.g., relative productivity under inter-annual and inter-decadal climate variability, availability of suitable food and habitat for different life stages, etc.) are taken into account in the stock assessment and the rebuilding analysis. A rebuilding analysis for an overfished species uses the information in the stock assessment for that species to determine TMIN, the minimum time to rebuild to BMSYwith a 50 percent probability starting at the time the rebuilding plan was implemented, in the absence of fishing-caused mortality. Also included in the rebuilding analysis and rebuilding plan is TF=0which is the minimum time to rebuild to BMSYwith a 50 percent probability in the absence of fishing-caused mortality starting from the beginning of the next biennial cycle, in this case 2013. The value of TF=0is therefore, in effect, TMINbased on our current understanding of the stock. For purposes of this section and its description of the canary rockfish and POP rebuilding plans, TF=0can thus be considered as TMIN. The rebuilding analyses are used to predict TMINfor each overfished species and, in doing so, answer the question of what time period for rebuilding is “as short as possible” for each of the overfished species. The amount of time between TMINand the target rebuilding year (TTARGET), is used to measure the time period that the MSA requires to be as “short as possible,” when taking into account the required factors, including the needs of fishing communities. The TTARGETparameter is discussed in more detail below.

TTARGETis the year in which the Council expects the stock to rebuild with at least a 50 percent probability under the chosen rebuilding strategy and is set between TMINand TMAX. TMAXis TMINplus the length of time associated with one mean generation time for that stock. A particular TTARGETis determined by the productivity of the stock, its current status, and the allowable harvest associated with a particular rebuilding strategy established based on consideration of the required factors. To rebuild a stock by the TMINdate would require elimination of human-induced mortality on a stock (the complete absence of fishing mortality is referred to as F=0). Even if incidental fishing mortality of overfished species, that occurs as the result of fishing for target groundfish species is ended, this does not necessarily result in the complete absence of human-induced fishing mortality. To rebuild by the TMINdate would require elimination of extractive scientific research, such as surveys, in addition to any target or incidental commercial, recreational, or ceremonial and subsistence fishing that results in overfished species mortality. Eliminating extractive scientific research would eliminate a significant portion of the data used to inform stock assessments and better understand the biological condition of groundfish stocks. Thus, the Council's rebuilding strategies allow for these sources of scientific research-related mortality. Also, as discussed above, the MSA requires that rebuilding plans take into account the needs of fishing communities. The rebuilding strategy for each overfished stock, and the resulting TTARGET, is determined in consideration of the statutory factors.

When an SPR harvest rate is used as the rebuilding strategy, the Council's preference is to maintain a constant SPR harvest rate during the rebuilding period for a stock, if appropriate. TheSPR is the expected lifetime contribution to the spawning stock biomass for a recruit (a fish of specific spawning age or greater). Harvest rates are presented in terms of the SPR. This is a percent value indicating an effective harvest rate that would return the population to a given level of spawning potential (reproductive output) in relation to the spawning potential of the unfished population. The SPR harvest rate specifies the proportion of the spawning stock that can be removed each year while allowing the stock to rebuild by TTARGETand inherently takes into account the productivity of the stock. The harvest rate, or harvest control rule, determines the ACLs for overfished species. The exploitation pattern, rate of growth, and natural mortality can be given consideration when calculating an SPR harvest rate. Applying a constant SPR harvest rate is more precautionary in an uncertain environment as it reduces the effect of changes in variability in the scale of biomass (a change in the entire trajectory of biomass from the first biomass estimate forward to the current biomass estimate). When a new stock assessment results in a change in the understanding of stock scale or absolute stock abundance, a constant harvest rate strategy is expected to keep the stock on track towards rebuilding. In addition, the “rebuilding paradox” (the fishing interaction for a stock increases as the stock biomass increases) is addressed within a constant SPR approach. This is because the ACL would change in relation to changes in biomass. In contrast, constant catch rebuilding strategies do not adjust in relation to changes in biomass, which can be problematic when there is a downward change in abundance. In this case, the catch may become too large relative to the size of the biomass population and adjustments would become necessary to meet the same TTARGET. Although the biennial management cycle requires focus on ACLs for a two year period, an SPR harvest strategy is based on a rebuilding trajectory over time. For stocks with slow trajectories, the differences between two alternatives considered during a single biennial management cycle need to be compared in relation to how they rebuild the stock over time.

As explained in the preamble to the proposed specifications and management measures for the 2011-2012 biennium (75 FR 67810, November 3, 2010), new information or changes in perception of stock status and biology can result in variability in stock assessments and rebuilding analyses. In some cases, this variability requires revisions to existing rebuilding plans in order to account for new estimates of TMIN. Given the changes in perception of stock status and biology, the Council tracks rebuilding progress in three dimensions: Stock productivity; absolute stock abundance or stock scale; and relative stock abundance or stock status. Stock productivity is referred to as recruitment and means the ability of a stock to generate new individuals of harvestable size. Stock scale is the total number of individuals in a population. This value is rarely known, but is usually estimated from relative abundance or through other methods. Absolute stock abundance is an estimate of the current biomass usually measured by indices that track trends in population biomass over time. Stock status is the current biomass relative to the unfished biomass. Each of these dimensions is subject to considerable scientific uncertainty and can change the overall rebuilding outlook from cycle to cycle. To determine whether a stock is better or worse off compared to a previous assessment, all three dimensions must be examined. Changes in the understanding of stock productivity can affect rebuilding plans by altering our perception of how quickly a stock can increase. Changes in our understanding of life history traits (e.g. mortality, maturity, fecundity, or growth) can change the evaluation of stock productivity. In the case of many groundfish, recruitment is highly variable and sporadic or poorly understood. Age or length data, along with survey biomass estimates and removal histories, all inform recruitment patterns, but to varying degrees of resolution. The most recent few years of recruitment are often the most uncertain.

Absolute stock abundance, or stock scale, has also demonstrated considerable variability across assessments. This variability is often a result of uncertainty in catch histories, which scales the biomass via estimates of fishing mortality, but is also sensitive to life history parameters such as growth and mortality. Any changes in these estimates can have large effects in perceived biomass. These changes in scale are commonly seen in estimates of unfished biomass, as the scale of the entire population trajectory can shift up or down. Changes in population scale will affect the level of catch needed to achieve the rebuilding goals if harvest levels are not based on harvest rates. Stock status or depletion is expressed as an estimate of current biomass relative to the estimate of unfished biomass. Importantly, changes in the estimate of unfished biomass can change with new data, even though the current population biomass stays the same. Likewise, as more data becomes available on productivity in current years it may alter our understanding of current year biomass relative to an unfished biomass. Because stock status is the basis for determining when a stock is rebuilt, subsequent estimates of when a stock is projected to rebuild at a specific SPR may change as estimates of stock status change.

For two stocks, POP and canary rockfish, new scientific information revealed that it is unlikely that the stocks can be rebuilt by their current TTARGETeven if all catch of these stocks was prohibited. To avoid disastrous short-term consequences for fishing communities, harvest levels above the TMINlevel were considered. Section 4.5.3.2 of the PCGFMP provides the following general guidance on the needs of the fishing communities: “Fishing communities need a sustainable fishery that: is safe, well-managed, and profitable; provides jobs and incomes; contributes to the local social fabric, culture, and image of the community; and helps market the community and its services and products.” Because so many of the groundfish stocks are intermixed in different proportions, making adjustments to protect one stock may increase the mortality of other stocks. This intermixing makes rockfish rebuilding plans particularly challenging. Reducing catch of overfished rockfish indirectly affects fishing opportunity by constraining the harvest of target stocks in multiple commercial and recreational fishery sectors. The Council has approached this challenging situation using a comprehensive approach to analyzing rebuilding alternatives and impacts to fishing communities by taking into account the biology of the stocks and the needs of fishing communities in a holistic fashion that simultaneously considers all rebuilding species and groundfish fishing sectors.

The EIS prep