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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 635

[Docket No. 110831548-2430-01]

RIN 0648-BB29

Highly Migratory Species; Atlantic Shark Management Measures

AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.
ACTION: Proposed rule; request for comments.
SUMMARY: NMFS is amending the 2006 Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan based on several shark stock assessments that were completed from 2009 to 2012. The assessments for Atlantic blacknose, dusky, and scalloped hammerhead sharks indicated that these species are overfished and experiencing overfishing. The assessment for sandbar sharks indicated that this species is overfished, but not experiencing overfishing. The assessment for Gulf of Mexico blacktip sharks, adopted in this rulemaking, indicated that the stock is not overfished and not experiencing overfishing. The assessment for Gulf of Mexico blacknose sharks was not accepted; therefore, the overfished and overfishing statuses have been determined to be unknown. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) requires the Agency to implement management measures that prevent overfishing and rebuild overfished stocks, as necessary. Based on the new stock assessments, and after considering public comments received during scoping and on a predraft document, we are proposing measures that would reduce fishing mortality and effort in order to rebuild overfished Atlantic shark species while ensuring that a limited sustainable shark fishery can be maintained consistent with our legal obligations. The proposed measures include changes to commercial quotas and species groups, the creation of several time/area closures, a change to an existing time/area closure, an increase in the recreational minimum size restrictions, and the establishment of recreational reporting for certain species of sharks. The proposed measures could affect U.S. commercial or recreational fishermen who harvest sharks within the Atlantic Ocean, including the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea.
DATES: Written comments will be accepted until February 12, 2013. NMFS will announce the dates and locations of public hearings in a futureFederal Registernotice.
ADDRESSES: You may submit comments on this document, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2012-0161, by any of the following methods:

*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-2012-0161 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 Peter Cooper, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910.

*Fax:301-713-1917;Attn:Peter Cooper

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.

Written comments regarding the burden-hour estimates or other aspects of the collection-of-information requirements contained in this proposed rule may be submitted to the Highly Migratory Species Management Division of the Office of Sustainable Fisheries and by email toOIRA_Submission@omb.eop.govor fax to (202) 395-7285.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Peter Cooper, Guy DuBeck, Michael Clark, or Karyl Brewster-Geisz at 301-427-8503.
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Atlantic tunas and swordfish are managed under the dual authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) and the Atlantic Tuna Conventions Act (ATCA), which authorizes the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary) to promulgate regulations as may be necessary and appropriate to implement recommendations of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). Federal Atlantic shark fisheries are managed under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The authority to issue regulations under the Magnuson-Stevens Act and ATCA has been delegated from the Secretary to the Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, NOAA (AA). On May 28, 1999, NMFS published in theFederal Register(64 FR 29090) final regulations, effective July 1, 1999, implementing the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Atlantic Tunas, Swordfish, and Sharks (1999 FMP). On October 2, 2006, NMFS published in theFederal Register(71 FR 58058) final regulations, effective November 1, 2006, implementing the 2006 Consolidated Highly Migratory Species (HMS) FMP, which details the management measures for Atlantic HMS fisheries, including the Atlantic shark fisheries.

Background

A brief summary of the background of this proposed action is provided below. Additional information regarding Atlantic HMS management can be found in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Amendment 5, the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP and its amendments, the annual HMS Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation Reports, and online athttp://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/hms/.

On April 28, 2011, we made the determination that scalloped hammerhead sharks were overfished and experiencing overfishing (76 FR 23794). On October 7, 2011, we published a notice announcing our intent to prepare a proposal for Amendment 5 to the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP with an Environmental Impact Statement in accordance with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (76 FR 62331) based on several assessments and determinations. In that notice, we made stock status determinations based on the results of the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review 21 process. Determinations in the October 2011notice included that sandbar sharks are still overfished, but no longer experiencing overfishing, and that dusky sharks are still overfished and still experiencing overfishing (i.e., their stock status has not changed). The October 2011 notice also acknowledged recent available scientific information indicating that there are two stocks of blacknose sharks, the Atlantic blacknose shark and the Gulf of Mexico blacknose shark, and that the Atlantic blacknose shark stock is overfished and experiencing overfishing, and the Gulf of Mexico blacknose shark stock status is unknown.

In that notice, as part of a scoping process for Amendment 5, we asked for comments on existing commercial and recreational shark management measures that would assist us in determining options for conservation and management of scalloped hammerhead, sandbar, dusky, and blacknose sharks consistent with relevant Federal statutes. We held six scoping meetings from October through December 2011 and released a scoping presentation in conjunction with theFederal Registernotice. In the presentation and at the scoping meetings, we described results of stock assessments and potential options for management of scalloped hammerhead, sandbar, dusky, and blacknose sharks to reach rebuilding goals.

We released a predraft of Amendment 5 to the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP, which summarized and incorporated comments received during scoping, to the HMS Advisory Panel on March 14, 2012, and made it available to the public on the Internet for broader public comment. The predraft included, among other things, the outcome of stock assessments for sandbar, dusky, scalloped hammerhead, Atlantic blacknose, and Gulf of Mexico blacknose sharks as well as potential management measures for these species/stocks. We requested that the HMS Advisory Panel and Consulting Parties (Atlantic, Gulf, and Caribbean Fishery Management Councils, Marine Fisheries Commissions, U.S. Coast Guard, and other State and Federal Agency representatives) submit comments on the predraft by April 13, 2012. The predraft was published online and public comments were collected.

We published aFederal Registernotice on May 29, 2012 (77 FR 31562) notifying the public that we were considering the addition of Gulf of Mexico blacktip sharks to Amendment 5. This addition was proposed because Gulf of Mexico blacktip sharks were undergoing a stock assessment as part of the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review 29 process, and that process would be completed before this amendment was finalized. Therefore, we believed that the addition of Gulf of Mexico blacktip sharks to this amendment would facilitate administrative efficiency by optimizing our resources, and would allow us to address new scientific information in the timeliest manner. We also expected that this addition would provide better clarity to and understanding by the public regarding any possible impacts of the rulemaking on shark fisheries by combining potential management measures resulting from recent shark stock assessments into one rulemaking. Public comments on this addition to Amendment 5 were accepted until June 21, 2012. We received two comments on the notice, one supporting the addition of blacktip sharks, the other opposing the addition. The commenter who opposed the addition felt that more time was needed in the predraft scoping period to provide comment on any particular proposals regarding blacktip shark management. While it is preferable to have a pre-draft, it is not a legal requirement and we believe that ample opportunity will be presented through the rulemaking process for public input and comment. The commenter who supported the addition felt that this was the most responsive and timely way to address the stock assessment.

The Final Stock Assessment Report for Gulf of Mexico Blacktip Sharks was completed in June 2012, and the peer review was completed in July 2012. The assessment was conducted through the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review process and the peer review was conducted by two scientists under the Center for Independent Experts. Both peer reviewers raised questions about the assessment. One reviewer accepted the model and its results. The other peer reviewer supported the assessment's conclusion that the Gulf of Mexico blacktip shark stock is not overfished, but concluded that the status regarding overfishing is uncertain. The Southeast Fisheries Science Center addressed the questions from the peer reviewers in a post peer-review “updates and projections” document written by stock assessment scientists, who were the lead scientists during the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review 29 process. The scientists concluded that the reviewer's conclusion on the overfishing status was based on the reviewer's interpretation that the model configuration was not appropriate for the stock. Specifically, the peer reviewer did not think that reasonable variation in recruitment was incorporated into the model and was not confident about the conclusion of “no overfishing” reached in the assessment because three of the indices had declined in the last five years and because maximum sustainable yield fishing mortality (FMSY) was low. The peer reviewer stated that a model with reasonable variation in recruitment could indicate a current fishing mortality more similar to FMSYand thus show the stock approaching an overfishing condition. The stock assessment scientists showed in the post-review updates and projections document that process error in recruitment was fully considered and that recruitment in the model was reasonable. They also showed that the low value of FMSYis consistent with what is expected from the biology of sharks, and that of the three indices mentioned by the reviewer that showed a decline, two show an increase in the terminal year of 2010. Therefore, the stock assessment scientists concluded that the stock assessment result of no overfishing is warranted. As such, in this proposed rule, we accept the results of the stock assessment as final and declare the Gulf of Mexico blacktip shark stock to be not overfished with no overfishing occurring.

Results of the stock assessment show that Gulf of Mexico blacktip sharks are not overfished (SSF2009/SSFMSY= 2.50-2.78) and are not experiencing overfishing (F2009/FMSY= 0.03-0.106). Because the stock is healthy, projections and the calculations needed to determine the acceptable biological catch were not considered part of the statement of work for the stock assessment and therefore were not conducted during the stock assessment itself (for an overfished stock, these calculations would have been done before completion of the stock assessment). Rather, the Southeast Fisheries Science Center calculated the projections after the stock assessment as a whole was peer reviewed. The stock assessment noted that current removal rates are sustainable, and the subsequent projections, which were completed outside the Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review process, indicate that current removals are unlikely to lead to an overfished fish stock by 2040. The projections also indicate that higher levels of removal (those associated with an FTARGETscenario) are unlikely to result in an overfished stock; however, the methodology for estimating FTARGETis currently in development for sharks and has yet to be introduced and reviewed within the Southeast Data, Assessment,and Review process for this species. Therefore, we analyze a range of alternatives to calculate the total allowable catch and define a draft preferred alternative. Once this rule and Amendment is finalized in 2013, we will establish the total allowable catch described in the final preferred alternative to be the annual catch limit for the stock. As described above and in the Alternative Suites, we split the total allowable catch into recreational harvest, dead discards, and commercial landings to calculate the different sector annual catch limits. These sector annual catch limits are currently in draft and their calculation depends on the amount calculated for the total allowable catch. Thus, we analyze a range of sector annual catch limits dependent on the total allowable catch.

Based on comments received during scoping, on the predraft, and on our notice considering the addition of Gulf of Mexico blacktip shark, we determined the scope of significant issues of concern that would be addressed in this draft amendment. The objectives in the draft amendment and this proposed rule are driven by statutory mandates under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, such as rebuilding overfished sandbar, dusky, scalloped hammerhead, and Atlantic blacknose shark stocks, and ending overfishing of dusky, scalloped hammerhead, and Atlantic blacknose sharks. The specific goals and objectives of the draft amendment and proposed rule are: (1) To end overfishing and achieve optimum yield for dusky, scalloped hammerhead, and Atlantic blacknose sharks; (2) to implement a rebuilding plan for scalloped hammerhead and Atlantic blacknose sharks to ensure that fishing mortality levels for both species are maintained at or below levels that would result in a 70-percent probability of rebuilding in the timeframe recommended by the assessments; (3) to modify the current rebuilding plan for dusky sharks to ensure that fishing mortality levels for dusky sharks are maintained at or below levels that would result in a 70-percent probability of rebuilding in the timeframe recommended by the assessment; (4) to maintain the rebuilding plan for sandbar sharks to ensure a 70-percent probability of rebuilding in the timeframe recommended by the assessment; and (5) to achieve optimum yield and provide an opportunity for the sustainable harvest of Gulf of Mexico blacknose, Gulf of Mexico blacktip sharks, and other sharks, as appropriate.

To meet these objectives, we consider a range of alternatives for several different issues including establishing total allowable catches, quota limits, time/area closures and bycatch caps, as well as establishing rebuilding plans for overfished stocks, and recreational measures. Because many of the species-specific total allowable catch, commercial quota, and recreational measures are interlinked, these alternatives are arranged and analyzed in groups of Alternative Suites. In addition to the Alternative Suites, which focus on quotas and recreational measures, we developed potential stand-alone alternatives for pelagic and bottom longline effort modifications or controls. These alternatives contain independent measures to modify and/or establish time/area closures, bycatch caps, and restrictions within the shark research fishery. Many of these effort modification alternatives are designed to reduce fishing mortality of dusky sharks, a species that has been prohibited from commercial and recreational retention since 2000, but was still determined to be overfished and experiencing overfishing. For details regarding all the alternatives considered and their potential impacts, please see draft Amendment 5. A summary of the alternatives and their expected impact is found below. The proposed measures in this rule are the preferred alternatives in draft Amendment 5.

It is important to note that while the alternatives could affect all shark fishing, this proposed rule and the draft Amendment 5 do not propose changes to the current total allowable catch or commercial quota for sandbar sharks. According to the 2010/2011 stock assessment, current management measures implemented in Amendment 2 to the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP in 2008 appear to have stopped overfishing on sandbar sharks. Additionally, according to the most recent stock assessment, the sandbar shark stock status is improving, and the current rebuilding timeframe, with the 2008 total allowable catch of 220 metric tons (mt) whole weight (ww) (158.3 mt dressed weight (dw)), provides a greater than 70-percent probability of rebuilding by 2070. Having a 70-percent probability of rebuilding is the level of success for rebuilding of sharks that was established in the 1999 FMP for Atlantic Tunas, Swordfish, and Sharks and carried over in the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP. The recent stock assessment also indicates that reducing the total allowable catch from the current 220 to 178 mt ww (128 mt dw) would provide a 70-percent chance of rebuilding the stock by the year 2066, a reduction of 4 years from the current rebuilding timeframe. Because the current total allowable catch already provides a greater than 70-percent probability of rebuilding, and because overfishing is not occurring and the stock status is improving, we believe that maintaining the current total allowable catch and rebuilding plan is fully consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements and the National Standard Guidelines. Additionally, a change in the rebuilding plan that would result in a reduction in total allowable catch of sandbar sharks from 220 to 178 mt ww could have significant economic impacts to fishermen participating in the shark research fishery. If fishermen feel the economic impacts are sufficiently negative, they are less likely to participate in the shark research fishery which, in turn, would likely reduce the ability of the Agency to both collect biological and other data for stock assessments from the research fishery and monitor the status of sandbar and other sharks. Furthermore, we anticipate that the other measures proposed, such as modifications to the recreational minimum size and new or expanded time/area closures, would likely further reduce fishing mortality of sandbar sharks beyond the reductions considered in the assessment, and that these reductions will likely provide assurances of meeting or reducing the current rebuilding timeframe. After considering this information, we are maintaining the current sandbar shark total allowable catch of 220 mt ww and the current sandbar shark rebuilding plan including regulations prohibiting possession of sandbar sharks in commercial and recreational shark fisheries and allowing retention only in a shark research fishery.

In addition to the management measures considered in this proposed action and below, we are also proposing several minor changes in the regulations for corrective or clarification purposes. The proposed changes are not expected to have any ecological or economic impacts and do not impose any new requirements on the regulated community or require fishermen to change their actions to comply with the regulations. These administrative changes are: (1) The addition of a definition for “fork length”; (2) an update to the permit Web page and name of the reporting system at § 635.5(c)(1); (3) the deletion of incorrect text referring to swordfish permits in a sentence regarding tunas at § 635.20(a); (4) a correction changing the term “NED closed area” to “NED restricted area” at § 635.21(c)(5)(iii)(C);(5) the removal of smoothhound shark language at § 635.24(a)(7) that incorrectly remained after the final rule (November 10, 2011, 76 FR 70064) delaying the effectiveness of the smoothhound measures indefinitely; (6) the removal of language at § 635.27(b)(1)(iv)(C) that required landings reported by dealers located in certain areas to be counted against the regional quota where the dealer is located. Measures recently put in place in the electronic dealer reporting rule (August 8, 2012, 77 FR 47303) allow dealers to report and to count landed fish against the appropriate quota of the region where the fish was caught; and (7) in Table 1 of Appendix A, a correction to the scientific name of Atlantic angel sharks along with a removal of the headings “ridgeback” and “non-ridgeback sharks” since, with the proposed changes in this rule, those terms are no longer used. Additionally, to accommodate the changes being proposed and to more clearly organize the regulations § 635.27(b) has been reorganized. Changes to the operative text are minimal and include: removing language and sentences that refer to text that will be expired before this rule is finalized and removing terms such as “non-sandbar LCS” that would no longer be operable based on the proposed changes in this rule.

Summary of the Alternatives Considered Regarding Total Allowable Catches, Commercial Quotas, and Recreational Measures

As described above, because many of the species-specific total allowable catch, commercial quota, and recreational measures are interlinked, these alternatives are arranged in groups of Alternative Suites. We considered five Alternative Suites that were chosen to meet the objectives of the rulemaking consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP and its amendments, and other requirements. Each Alternative Suite analyzes certain management actions under seven different topics including: Scalloped hammerhead measures, large coastal shark (LCS) measures, blacktip measures, blacknose measures, non-blacknose small coastal shark (SCS) measures, quota linkage measures, and recreational measures.

A. Analyses of the Proposed Alternative Suite

We are proposing the management measures in Preferred Alternative Suite A2, the Preferred Alternative Suite in the draft Amendment 5. Preferred Alternative Suite A2 would establish species-specific total allowable catches for scalloped hammerhead, Atlantic blacknose, Gulf of Mexico blacknose, and Gulf of Mexico blacktip sharks. It also would also create regional commercial quotas for all hammerheads combined, blacknose, non-blacknose SCS, and “aggregated LCS,” and species-specific commercial quotas for blacknose and Gulf of Mexico blacktip sharks. Furthermore, certain quota would be linked to prevent overfishing, and there are multiple recreational measures that would be implemented, including increasing the minimum size and requiring non-tournament reporting of hammerhead sharks. The details and impacts of each of these measures are described below, starting with impacts of the alternative as a whole followed by the impacts of the alternative on each of the seven topics in the Alternative Suite.

Overall, Preferred Alternative Suite A2 is expected to have direct, moderate, beneficial ecological impacts in the short- and long-term as these measures in the Atlantic shark fisheries would end overfishing and rebuild the stocks. These impacts would mostly affect scalloped hammerhead and blacknose sharks, because the quotas for those species would be reduced slightly. The quota linkages between species and species groups would ensure that overfishing ends because shark species that are undergoing rebuilding would not be caught as bycatch in other shark fisheries once the directed quota category has been closed. These management measures would cause neutral indirect impacts in the short- and long-term since fishermen would not be expected to redirect fishing pressure on other species. The cumulative direct and indirect impacts on essential fish habitat, predator/prey relationships, and protected resources would be neutral for the short- and long-term because commercial quotas would be similar to or reduced slightly compared to current levels and fishing pressure is not expected to change.

Overall, Preferred Alternative Suite A2 would likely have direct short- and long-term minor adverse socioeconomic impacts. These impacts would mostly affect fishermen targeting scalloped hammerhead and blacknose sharks, because those quotas for those species would be reduced. Fishermen are likely to adapt to the new regulations by fishing in other fisheries, or changing their fishing habitats. Recreational management measures would increase the size limit and would require fishermen to catch and release sharks (rather than land them), although tournament participants should not be impacted because tournament participants typically target larger sharks and the sharks many tournaments target, such as shortfin mako, blue, and thresher, grow to larger than 96 inches FL. Neutral socioeconomic impacts are expected for fishermen targeting the newly configured “aggregated LCS” and non-blacknose SCS groups since the new proposed quotas are based on the average landings for each species. Quota linkages would affect the socioeconomic impacts based on the fishing rate of each linked shark quota. For example, the Preferred Alternative Suite A2 proposes to link regional hammerhead shark and aggregated LCS quotas so that the two quotas will open and close together. If fishermen fill both quotas at about the same rate, there will be little or no unutilized quota. If, however, one or the other is filled at a much faster rate than the other and both quotas close, there could be quota available that otherwise could have been harvested and sold by fishermen. When we compare the socioeconomic impacts of Preferred Alternative Suite A2 to the other Alternative Suites, this Alternative Suite would cause fewer impacts overall to fishermen. For this reason and the ecological reasons stated above, we prefer this Alternative Suite at this time.

1. Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks

Under Preferred Alternative Suite A2, scalloped, smooth, and great hammerhead sharks (hammerhead sharks) would be removed from what is now the “non-sandbar LCS” complex, and separate Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico hammerhead shark quotas would be established. To calculate the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico hammerhead shark quotas, we would estimate the maximum sustainable level of scalloped hammerhead shark commercial landings by using the total allowable catch calculated in the 2009 stock assessment and all sources of scalloped hammerhead mortality (including recreational landings, commercial discards, and research mortality). We would then split this maximum sustainable level of scalloped hammerhead shark commercial landings between each region, and make it applicable to scalloped, smooth, and great hammerhead sharks. As a result, we are proposing that the total Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico commercial hammerhead shark quota would be 52.2 mt dw (115,076 lb dw). This quota would be split between the two regions using the average percentage of hammerhead sharks landed in each region from 2008 to 2011, or 54.2 percent for the Atlantic region and 45.8 percent for the Gulf of Mexico region.

This action would have short- and long-term direct, moderate, beneficial ecological impacts for the following reasons. A separate hammerhead shark quota in each region would allow us to more precisely monitor commercial landings of the species to keep mortality within the recommended total allowable catch in the stock assessment and to rebuild within the parameters set by the rebuilding plan. Additionally, including all three large hammerhead species (scalloped, great, and smooth hammerhead sharks) under the same quota would prevent fishing in excess of the quota that could occur as a result of species identification problems. The three large hammerhead species can be difficult to differentiate, particularly when dressed with the head removed. Including all three species under one quota is proposed, because, otherwise, scalloped hammerhead sharks that are mistakenly identified as one of the other large hammerhead species could improperly be reported under the LCS quota. Including all three species in one quota will therefore enable us to more effectively monitor commercial landings of hammerhead sharks and will provide additional ecological benefits for the species by better tracking the populations and more carefully enforcing the quota limits. Preferred Alternative Suite A2 would cause neutral direct and indirect impacts on essential fish habitat, predator/prey relationships, and protected resources in the short- and long-term because the changed hammerhead shark complex and quota should not increase fishing pressure.

This action would have short- and long-term direct minor adverse socioeconomic impacts due to the reduction in hammerhead shark quotas. From 2008 through 2011, the data indicate that fishermen caught and sold an annual average 63,404 lb dw of hammerhead sharks in the Atlantic and 53,613 lb dw in the Gulf of Mexico. Under Preferred Alternative Suite A2, harvest of hammerhead sharks would be limited to 62,371 lb dw in the Atlantic and 52,705 lb dw in the Gulf of Mexico. Using the ex-vessel prices described in the DEIS under Alternative Suite A1 and assuming a fin-to-carcass ratio of 5 percent, this would result in the hammerhead fishery having an average annual ex-vessel value of $50,721 in the Atlantic (63,404 lb of meat, 3,170 lb of fins) and $53,618 in the Gulf of Mexico (53,613 lb of meat, 2,681 lb of fins). Under the quotas proposed under Preferred Alternative Suite A2, ex-vessel hammerhead shark revenue would be reduced by $809 to $49,912 in the Atlantic (62,390 lb of meat, 3,120 lb of fins) and reduced by $928 to $52,690 in the Gulf of Mexico (52,690 lb of meat, 2,634 lb of fins), assuming the same ex-vessel values and fin-to-carcass ratio. These reductions in revenue would negatively impact fishermen in the directed and incidental hammerhead shark fishery but not to a great extent. Additionally, hammerhead sharks species rarely make up a significant portion of the catch. Therefore, short- and long-term direct minor adverse socioeconomic impacts are expected.

2. Large Coastal Shark Complex

Under Preferred Alternative Suite A2, species formerly grouped in Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico non-sandbar LCS complexes would be re-grouped. Some species now would be addressed individually while others would continue to be managed within a newly-configured and re-named complex. In the Atlantic, all three hammerhead sharks (scalloped, smooth, and great hammerhead sharks) would be removed from the Atlantic non-sandbar LCS quota and a separate Atlantic hammerhead shark quota would be established. The methodology for establishing the Atlantic hammerhead shark quota is outlined above. After removing hammerhead sharks, the sharks remaining from the Atlantic non-sandbar LCS quota would be renamed the “Atlantic Aggregated LCS quota” and would include blacktip, bull, lemon, nurse, silky, spinner, and tiger sharks. Using the methodology outlined in draft Amendment 5, under Preferred Alternative Suite A2, the Atlantic Aggregated LCS commercial quota would be 168.2 mt dw. For the Gulf of Mexico region, blacktip sharks as well as all three hammerhead sharks (scalloped, smooth, and great hammerhead sharks) would be removed from the current Gulf of Mexico non-sandbar LCS complex, and the complex, composed of the remaining species, would be renamed the “Gulf of Mexico aggregated LCS.” In addition, a separate quota would be established for both blacktip sharks and hammerhead sharks. The Gulf of Mexico Aggregated LCS would include bull, lemon, nurse, silky, spinner, and tiger sharks. Using the methodology described in the draft Amendment 5, under Preferred Alternative Suite A2, the Gulf of Mexico aggregated LCS commercial quota would be 157.9 mt dw.

The aggregated LCS quota would be based on average annual landings of the remaining species. Therefore, those species comprising the aggregated LCS management groups would not experience a change in fishing pressure, and landings would be capped at recent levels. For these reasons, short- and long-term direct ecological impacts resulting from this portion of Preferred Alternative Suite A2 are expected to be neutral. Similarly, the short- and long-term direct socioeconomic impacts resulting from this portion of Preferred Alternative Suite A2 are expected to be neutral. We do not expect any additional ecological or socioeconomic impacts to occur as the result of the measures in this Alternative Suite.

3. Blacktip Sharks

Under Preferred Alternative Suite A2, blacktip sharks would be removed from the non-sandbar LCS quota complex in the Gulf of Mexico and a separate blacktip quota would be established along with a new “aggregated LCS” commercial quota. The assessment of Gulf of Mexico blacktip sharks was recently completed and we adopt its results as final in this proposed rule. The assessment and the projections completed by the Southeast Fisheries Science Center indicate that the Gulf of Mexico blacktip shark stock is not overfished and overfishing is not occurring, that current removal rates are sustainable and are unlikely to lead to an overfished stock by 2040, and that higher levels of removal are unlikely to result in an overfished stock. Based on this information, we would establish a total allowable catch based on current sustainable levels of catch. This total allowable catch would be 413.4 mt dw and would be calculated by summing all of the sources of mortality (recreational landings, commercial discards, and research set-aside mortality) and the commercial quota. The commercial quota would be calculated by taking the proportion of current Gulf of Mexico blacktip shark landings that make up the Gulf of Mexico non-sandbar LCS quota multiplied by the Gulf of Mexico non-sandbar LCS quota that will be in effect in 2013. This would result in a commercial quota of 256.7 mt dw (565,921 lb dw).

Neutral short- and long-term direct impacts would be expected under Alternative Suite A2, the preferred alternative, as overfishing is not occurring and commercial landings would be capped at current fishing levels. Based on the stock assessment, this alternative would cause neutral direct and indirect impacts on EFH, predator/prey relationships, and protected resources in the short- and long-term because fishing pressure would be similar to current levels and is not anticipated to change.

This alternative suite's proposed blacktip shark measure is likely to resultin short- and long-term direct socioeconomic neutral impacts. The quota of 256.7 mt dw (565,921 lb dw) of blacktip sharks is representative of the current blacktip shark landings percentage applied to the 2013 Gulf of Mexico non-sandbar LCS quota (see draft Amendment 5 for further details). Based on current average annual landings, the Gulf of Mexico blacktip shark fishery has average annual revenues of $650,809 across the whole fishery (2008-2011 median ex-vessel values of $0.40 for meat and $15for fins, based on a 5 percent fin-to-carcass ratio). Given the current stock status, fishermen would likely continue to realize this revenue, fishery-wide. Therefore, short- and long-term direct socioeconomic impacts are expected to be neutral.

4. Blacknose Sharks

In 2010, Amendment 3 to the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP (Amendment 3) removed blacknose sharks from the SCS complex and established a separate quota for blacknose sharks that covered both the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico regions. Preferred Alternative Suite A2 would create separate commercial quotas for Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico blacknose sharks based on the recent blacknose assessments conducted under the Southeast, Data, Assessment and Review 21 process, which determined that two separate stocks exist (Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico). The Atlantic commercial quota would be derived from the total allowable catch of 7,300 blacknose sharks, or 21.2 mt dw, that was specified in the stock assessment. Within the total allowable catch of 21.2 mt dw, all of the sources of mortality (recreational landings, commercial discards, and research set-aside mortality) would be summed and subtracted from the total allowable catch to calculate the commercial quota of 18 mt dw (39,749 lb dw).

The Southeast Data, Assessment, and Review 21 Review Panel did not accept the Gulf of Mexico stock assessment for blacknose sharks, and therefore, we did not receive a total allowable catch recommendation. Therefore, we determined that the stock status for the Gulf of Mexico blacknose shark stock is unknown (76 FR 62331; October 7, 2011). As such, we explored how to calculate a Gulf of Mexico blacknose shark total allowable catch that would include all commercial and recreational landings and any dead discards in all fisheries that interact with Gulf of Mexico blacknose sharks. A total allowable catch of 34.9 mt dw for blacknose sharks was calculated by summing mortality from the 2011 commercial fishery and average recreational and discard mortality since the implementation of blacknose shark measures from Amendment 3 to the 2006 Consolidated HMS Fishery FMP in 2010. Amendment 3 removed blacknose sharks from the SCS quota and created a blacknose shark-specific quota of 19.9 mt dw (43,872 lb dw) for both regions. Also, the blacknose shark and non-blacknose SCS quotas were linked, so if either the blacknose shark quota or non-blacknose SCS quota (488,540 lb dw; 221.6 mt dw) reaches 80 percent, both fisheries close for the rest of the season. The reduced quotas and quota linkage changed the fishery as fishermen began avoiding blacknose sharks to ensure that the larger non-blacknose SCS quota remained open. The 2011 commercial mortality was used to calculate the total allowable catch instead of average commercial mortality since Amendment 3 was implemented because of a shortened 2010 fishing season due to the implementation of Amendment 3 (season opened on June 1, 2010) and fishing restrictions due to the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill. On May 11, 2010, we issued an emergency rule to close portions of the Gulf of Mexico Exclusive Economic Zone to all fishing, in order to respond to the evolving nature of the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (75 FR 27217). Thus, a large portion of the fishing grounds for blacknose and non-blacknose SCS in the Gulf of Mexico, whose commercial fishing season opened on June 1, 2010, were closed for most of the 2010 commercial fishing season. Using 2011 commercial landings of blacknose sharks in the Gulf of Mexico, the new Gulf of Mexico blacknose shark commercial quota would be 2.0 mt dw (4,513 lb dw). Establishing this total allowable catch would account for the blacknose shark mortality that occurs as bycatch in the shrimp trawl and reef fish fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico region. Since the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council manages the shrimp trawl and reef fish fisheries, we would continue to work with the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to establish bycatch reduction methods, as appropriate, to reduce mortality in the shrimp trawl and reef fish fisheries.

Preferred Alternative Suite A2 is anticipated to have minor, beneficial ecological impacts for blacknose sharks as it would separate blacknose sharks into two separate regions (Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico) as recommended in the Southeast Data, Assessment and Review 21 stock assessment and reduce fishing mortality based on the total allowable catch. The Atlantic blacknose shark stock is overfished with overfishing occurring, while the Gulf of Mexico stock status is unknown. Projections of the base model indicated that the Atlantic stock could rebuild by 2043 with a total allowable catch of 7,300 blacknose sharks. For the Gulf of Mexico blacknose shark stock, we would use a total allowable catch of 17,802 blacknose sharks, which was determined by using the average mortality of blacknose sharks since Amendment 3 as well as commercial landings from 2011. Preferred Alternative Suite A2 would cause neutral direct and indirect impacts on essential fish habitat, predator/prey relationships, and protected resources in the short- and long-term because the fishery would not change.

This alternative would decrease the blacknose shark quotas overall in each region. In the Atlantic region, blacknose shark landings would be reduced by 61 percent to allow for a total allowable catch of 7,300 blacknose sharks consistent with the assessment. The new commercial quota for the Atlantic blacknose sharks would be 18.0 mt dw (39,749 lb dw) under Preferred Alternative Suite A2. Average annual gross revenues for the blacknose shark landings for the Atlantic region would decrease by $3,268 from $58,122 under the No Action alternative to $54,854 under Preferred Alternative Suite A2. We anticipate these directed and incidental shark permit holders would experience minor direct adverse socioeconomic impacts in the short- and long-term as blacknose sharks are not the targeted shark species for SCS fishermen.

For the Gulf of Mexico, we would implement a blacknose shark quota that is equal to the 2011 commercial landings. The new quota would be 2.0 mt dw (4,513 lb dw) under this alternative. This would cause a minor increase to the average annual gross revenues for the blacknose shark landings for the Gulf of Mexico region from $3,273 under the No Action alternative to $5,650 under Preferred Alternative Suite A2. We anticipate these directed and incidental shark permit holders would experience neutral direct socioeconomic impacts in the short- and long-term since the new Gulf of Mexico blacknose shark quota would be consistent with current landings.

Under Preferred Alternative Suite A2, we anticipate that there would be direct moderate adverse socioeconomic impacts in the short-term from the proposed quotas under this Alternative Suite. In the short-term, lost revenues would be moderate for the 22 directedshark permit and 3 incidental shark permit holders that land blacknose sharks in the Atlantic region, and the 8 directed shark and the 2 incidental shark permits that land blacknose sharks in the Gulf of Mexico. Over the long-term, the socioeconomic impact would be minor, as the fishermen are likely to adapt to the new regulations by fishing in other fisheries, or change their fishing habitats. The indirect socioeconomic impacts from Preferred Alternative Suite A2 would be adverse, but minor in the short-term, as the anticipated reduction in blacknose landings would result in a corresponding loss of revenue for a small number of businesses as blacknose shark product does not make up a large part of the market. In the long-term, these indirect impacts would be neutral as businesses would be expected to find other sources of revenue to augment the losses from the reduced quotas.

5. Non-Blacknose Small Coastal Sharks

Preferred Alternative Suite A2 would separate the non-blacknose SCS quota into two separate regions (Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico) based on the percentage of regional landings since implementation of the Amendment 3 blacknose shark quotas. As described above, blacknose sharks were removed from the SCS complex and a non-blacknose shark-specific quota of 221.6 mt dw (488,540 lb dw) was created for both regions. Blacknose shark and non-blacknose SCS quotas were also linked so that if either the non-blacknose SCS quota or blacknose shark quota reaches 80 percent, both fisheries close for the rest of the fishing year. The reduced quotas and quota linkage changed how the SCS fishery operated as fishermen began to specifically avoid blacknose sharks to ensure that the larger non-blacknose SCS quota would remain open. According to 2010 and 2011 dealer data, an average of 89.3 percent of non-blacknose landings occurred in the Atlantic region (94.2 and 85.2 percent for 2010 and 2011, respectively). The 2010 and 2011 Gulf of Mexico non-blacknose SCS landings were 5.8 and 14.8 percent, respectively, for an average of 10.7 percent for total Gulf of Mexico non-blacknose SCS landings. Based on these averages, the new non-blacknose SCS quota in the Atlantic would be 197.9 mt dw (436,290 lb dw), while the Gulf of Mexico quota would be 23.7 mt dw (52,249 lb dw).

This alternative is anticipated to have direct, minor beneficial ecological impacts for Atlantic sharpnose, bonnethead, and finetooth sharks in the short- and long-term as it would create regional quotas and restrict fishing mortality below the total allowable catch established for SCS in the last stock assessment for those species. Currently, there is one quota for non-blacknose SCS in both the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, and, according to landings reports from 2008 through 2011, fishing pressure for non-blacknose SCS is higher in the Atlantic region. Over time, this could cause unsustainable fishing pressure on non-blacknose SCS in the Atlantic region. However, regional quotas would cap fishing pressure at levels since Amendment 3 was implemented and prevent overfishing. Since fishing pressure would be similar to current levels, the impacts on essential fish habitat, predator/prey relationships, and protected resources would be neutral.

Based on the landings data, the non-blacknose SCS quota in the Atlantic would be 197.9 mt dw (436,243 lb dw) and the Gulf of Mexico quota would be 23.7 mt dw (52,296 lb dw). In the Atlantic, an average of approximately 33 vessels with directed shark permits landed blacknose sharks, while approximately 10 vessels with incidental shark permits landed non-blacknose SCS. The average annual gross revenues from Atlantic non-blacknose SCS meat were $314,095 and average annual gross revenues for Atlantic non-blacknose SCS fins were $261,746, making total average annual gross revenues for blacknose shark landings for the entire fishery $575,841.

In the Gulf of Mexico, an average of approximately nine vessels with directed shark permits landed blacknose sharks, while approximately three vessels with incidental shark permits landed non-blacknose SCS since Amendment 3. The average annual gross revenues from Gulf of Mexico non-blacknose SCS meat were $31,378 and average annual gross revenues for Atlantic non-blacknose SCS fins were $39,222, making total average annual gross revenues for blacknose shark landings for the entire fishery $70,600.

Under the Preferred Alternative Suite A2, there would be neutral direct and indirect socioeconomic impacts to directed and incidental shark permit holders as the average annual gross revenues from non-blacknose SCS landings would be the same as the status quo in the short- and long-term. Fishermen and shark dealers would be expected to operate in the same manner as the status quo in the short- term. However, this Alternative Suite could have minor negative direct and indirect socioeconomic impacts on fishermen and shark dealers and associated shark businesses that deal with non-blacknose SCS product if fishing effort increases for non-blacknose SCS. Currently, the fishery never reaches the allowable quota, but that could change with a smaller regional quota and if fishermen are displaced from other fisheries.

6. Quota Linkages

Under Preferred Alternative Suite A2, several quota linkages would be implemented to prevent exceeding the newly established quotas. Generally, two or more shark species with separate quotas are caught together on the same set or trip. If the quota for one of these species has been filled and closed, that species could still be caught in other directed shark fisheries as bycatch, possibly resulting in mortality and negating some of the conservation benefit of quota closures. Preferred Alternative Suite A2 would link several quotas to ensure that the quota for shark species that are caught together open and close at the same time. In the Atlantic, the hammerhead shark and aggregated LCS quotas would be linked. These two quotas would open at the same time and both quotas would close when landings of either hammerhead sharks or aggregated LCS reach, or are expected to reach, 80 percent of the quota. Opening and closing these two quotas concurrently would strengthen the conservation benefits of either group's quota closure. Similarly, in the Gulf of Mexico, hammerhead sharks, blacktip sharks, and the aggregated LCS quota would open at the same time and all three quotas would close when landings of any one of the three quotas reach, or are expected to reach, 80 percent. Also, linkage of the blacknose and non-blacknose SCS regional quotas would be implemented under this alternative. The Atlantic blacknose shark quota would be linked to the Atlantic non-blacknose SCS quota, and the Gulf of Mexico blacknose shark quota would be linked to the Gulf of Mexico non-blacknose SCS quota.

We would also establish a mechanism to allow inseason and annual regional quota transfers between species or species groups where the quota was split regionally for management purposes and not as a result of a stock assessment. At this time, only the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico non-blacknose SCS and the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico hammerhead regional quotas meet this criterion. Monitoring total mortality for these quotas, not regional-specific mortality, is necessary for conservation purposes. Providing this regional quota transfer flexibility would facilitate overall quota management while having no negative conservation impacts on stocks whereregional mortality is not a concern for stock conservation. Before making any inseason quota transfer, we would consider certain criteria and other relevant factors described in § 635.27(b)(2)(iii)(A) through (b)(2)(iii)(H).

The quota linkages proposed under this Alternative Suite would be expected to have short- and long-term direct moderate beneficial ecological impacts. Linking quotas of species that are often caught together on the same set or trip can prevent incidental catch of sharks caught in other directed shark fisheries as bycatch, possibly resulting in mortality and negating some of the conservation benefit of quota closures. For quotas that are linked, the fisheries would open and close together. In the Atlantic, the hammerhead shark and aggregated LCS quotas would be linked as would the non-blacknose SCS and blacknose shark quotas. If, for example, the Atlantic the hammerhead quota closes based on landings information, the Atlantic aggregated LCS quota would close as well, preventing additional incidental hammerhead mortality from occurring in the directed aggregated LCS fishery. Similarly, if the aggregated LCS quota closes, a hammerhead quota closure would prevent incidental aggregated LCS landings in the directed hammerhead fishery, to the extent that a directed hammerhead fishery occurs. In the Gulf of Mexico, the blacktip, hammerhead, and aggregated LCS quota would be linked as would the non-blacknose SCS and blacknose shark quotas. In addition, we would allow inseason regional quota transfers between regions for species or management groups where the species are the same between regions and the quota is split between regions for management purposes and not as a result of a stock assessment. At this time, only the hammerhead sharks and the regional non-blacknose SCS meet this description; and therefore, we are proposing that only the hammerhead shark and non-blacknose SCS regional quotas can be transferred on an inseason basis between regions. Before making any inseason quota transfer, we would consider certain criteria and other relevant factors described in § 635.27(b)(2)(iii)(A-H). This would help ensure that the hammerhead shark and non-blacknose SCS fisheries are not limited by the smaller regional quotas. All quota transfers would be announced in aFederal Registernotice. These measures would have direct, minor beneficial ecological impacts because they provide additional protection against exceeding the scientifically-determined total allowable catch for each species and complex.

The quota linkages proposed under this Alternative Suite could have short- and long-term direct moderate adverse socioeconomic impacts. Quota linkages are explicitly designed to concurrently close multiple shark quotas, regardless of whether all the linked quotas are filled. This provides protection against incidental capture for species for which the quota has been reached, but it can also preclude fishermen from harvesting the entirety of each of the linked quotas. A quantitative analysis of the economic impact is not possible without comparing the rates of hammerhead shark, blacktip shark, and aggregated LCS catch, and without knowing the extent to which fishermen can avoid hammerhead sharks. However, a qualitative analysis can provide insight on possible adverse socioeconomic impacts. Under Preferred Alternative Suite A2, both the hammerhead shark and aggregated LCS quotas would close when landings of either reaches or is expected to reach 80 percent of the quota. If hammerhead shark landings reach 80 percent of the hammerhead shark quota, the aggregated LCS fishery would close, regardless of what portion of the aggregated LCS quota has been filled. If the entire Aggregate LCS quota has not been harvested, the fishery would not realize the full level of revenues possible under the established quota. A similar situation could occur in the Gulf of Mexico under Preferred Alternative Suite A2 where both the hammerhead shark and blacktip shark quotas would be linked to the aggregated LCS quota.

The blacknose shark and non-blacknose SCS socioeconomic impacts would be the same as the aggregated LCS since there would be similar scenarios with the quota linkage by species and region. In addition, we would allow inseason quota transfer between non-blacknose SCS regions. This would have minor beneficial socioeconomic impacts for this fishery as the non-blacknose SCS quota would not be the limiting factor. Consequently, the quota linkages proposed under this Alternative Suite could have short- and long-term direct moderate adverse socioeconomic impacts.

7. Recreational Measures

Under Preferred Alternative Suite A2, the minimum recreational size limit for sharks would increase from 54 to 96 inches fork length (FL) (8 ft or 244 cm). Currently, the recreational size limit for authorized shark species (except for Atlantic sharpnose and bonnethead sharks) is 54-inches FL. This minimum size was established based on the size at maturity of sandbar sharks. This new size limit is based on the best available scientific information, which reported female dusky shark size-at-maturity to be 235 cm fork length (approximately 93 inches). Since 93 inches does not equate to a round number of feet (93 inches = 7.75 feet), we are proposing to round up the minimum size to the whole foot, resulting in a proposed minimum size of 96 inches FL (8 feet). Dusky sharks have been prohibited in the recreational fishery since 1999, but are still landed due to misidentification issues. To address the misidentification issues, we would increase outreach to the recreational community to increase awareness of current regulations and shark identification, specifically for dusky and sandbar sharks which are prohibited, and for the three species of hammerhead sharks (great, scalloped, and smooth).

This increased recreational size limit will also help reduce blacknose, sandbar, and scalloped hammerhead shark catches because fishermen usually do not catch sharks that large frequently. Blacknose shark retention in the recreational fishery effectively would be eliminated with a 96-inch FL recreational size limit. Blacknose sharks rarely reach a size greater than the current Federal minimum size of 54-inch FL; therefore, the 96-inch FL size limit creates ade factoretention prohibition of blacknose sharks in Federal waters. In the draft Amendment 3, we proposed prohibiting retention of blacknose sharks in the recreational fishery. During the public comment period for Amendment 3, we received comments that if we prohibited the retention of blacknose sharks in Federal waters, then states would also have to implement the prohibition in state waters. The comments also stated that because some states have a well-managed blacknose recreational fishery and conservation measures in place to adequately protect this species in state waters, prohibiting their retention is unnecessary. However, since we did not prohibit blacknose sharks in Amendment 3, some states continued to allow recreational landings of blacknose sharks below the 54-inch FL in state waters. Overfishing continued to occur on the Atlantic blacknose shark stock based on the recent assessment, and we need to reduce the recreational mortality of blacknose sharks to meet rebuilding target for the established total allowable catch.

Like dusky sharks, recreational fishermen are not allowed to retain sandbar sharks, but fishermen still land them due to misidentification. Thelarger size limit would reduce recreational catches since sandbar sharks do not grow to 96 inches FL. We plan to conduct outreach to the recreational community to better inform anglers of prohibited species as well as identifying dusky and sandbar sharks. This increase in minimum size would also reduce scalloped hammerhead sharks catches in the recreational fishery and help rebuild this overfished stock. Female scalloped hammerhead sharks reach maturity at approximately 78-inches FL. The larger recreational size limit would limit the retention of scalloped hammerhead sharks to mature individuals and help rebuild the stock faster consistent with rebuilding goals. We are currently working on an identification guide for all of the prohibited shark species to help with this outreach. This identification guide would complement the existing guide of shark species that can be landed by focusing on the species that cannot be landed.

In addition to the change in minimum size, we would require mandatory reporting of all hammerhead sharks landed recreationally through the non-tournament reporting system. The non-tournament reporting system was established to track the trips that released (alive or dead) or retained bluefin tuna, blue marlin, white marlin, roundscale spearfish, longbill spearfish, sailfish, and swordfish. Fishermen can report online or over the phone. Recreational fishermen who land hammerhead sharks would need to submit similar information, thus providing us more timely and accurate estimates of recreational hammerhead landings.

This alternative would have short- and long-term moderate, beneficial ecological impacts on dusky, sandbar, scalloped hammerhead, and blacknose sharks. Increasing the size limit, providing outreach material, and establishing mandatory reporting for hammerhead sharks should reduce recreational catches and provide us better and timelier estimates of recreational ladings of hammerhead sharks. There would be beneficial indirect ecological impacts since increasing the size limit would reduce the recreational catch of other shark species that do not grow larger than 96 inches FL. Overall, the reductions in recreational mortality along with the commercial management measures are expected to help rebuild the overfished stocks. The increased recreational size limit would cause neutral direct and indirect impacts on essential fish habitat, predator/prey relationships, and protected resources in the short- and long-term.

This alternative would result in direct minor adverse socioeconomic impacts for recreational fishermen in the short-term due to the reduced incentive to recreationally fish for sharks. However, management measures to address overfishing of dusky, sandbar, scalloped hammerhead, and blacknose sharks are needed based on the stock assessments. Tournaments awarding points for sharks are unlikely to be impacted by implementing the 96 inch FL minimum size. Tournament participants typically target larger sharks and the sharks many tournaments target, such as shortfin mako, blue, and thresher, grow to larger than 96 inches FL. These measures could change the way that the recreational shark fishery operates, which could cause short-term moderate adverse direct socioeconomic impacts. Implementation of management measures that would significantly alter the way charter vessels operate, or reduce opportunity and demand for recreational shark fishing, could create adverse socioeconomic impacts. In the long-term, increased recreational fisheries opportunities may result as these measures end overfishing and overfished stocks rebuild.

B. Summary of the Other Alternative Suites Considered

In addition to Preferred Alternative Suite A2, we considered four other Alternative Suites ranging from status quo or no action (Alternative Suite A1) to closing all shark fisheries (Alternative Suite A5). Alternative Suite A1 is the No Action Alternative. Under this alternative, we would maintain current total allowable catches, commercial quotas, and recreational measures in all shark fisheries. Choosing this alternative would not end overfishing or rebuild overfished stocks. Taken as a whole, this alternative would have direct moderate, adverse ecological impacts in the short-term since there would be no change to harvest levels in the Atlantic shark fisheries and overfishing of scalloped hammerhead and blacknose sharks would continue. This alternative could result in direct significant, adverse long-term ecological impacts for certain LCS and SCS, since this alternative would result in continued overfishing of scalloped hammerhead, dusky, and Atlantic blacknose sharks, which would lead to further stock decline of these species, and could increase fishing pressure on the other LCS and SCS species as fishermen shift their efforts to other species to make up for the reduced catches. This alternative would have indirect neutral ecological impacts in the short-term since no action would be taken, but may result in moderate, adverse indirect impacts over time due to the increasing decline of the scalloped hammerhead, dusky, and Atlantic blacknose shark populations. Alternative Suite A1 would cause neutral direct and indirect impacts on essential fish habitat, predator/prey relationships, and protected resources in the short- and long-term no action would be taken relative to the status quo.

Alternative Suite A1 would likely have direct neutral social and economic impacts in the short-term because the fisheries would continue to operate as they currently do. In the long-term, it could cause direct moderate adverse social and economic impacts because overfished stocks would not rebuild and catches would decline. The decline in catches would lead to a moderate reduction in sales and revenue. Additionally, Alternative Suite A1 would likely have neutral indirect short-term socioeconomic impacts. Dealers and supporting businesses, such as bait and tackle suppliers, would be unlikely to experience any impacts in the short-term. In the long-term, catches of the overfished stocks would decline, and minor negative socioeconomic impacts would occur as dealers and supporting businesses would have to offset reduced revenues from shark landings. For these reasons, we do not prefer this Alternative Suite at this time.

Alternative Suite A3 is similar to the proposed Preferred Alternative Suite A2 except we would not create regional hammerhead shark and non-blacknose SCS quotas, there would be no quota linkage for the shark fisheries, and there would be an increase in the recreational minimum size limit for only hammerhead sharks. Specifically, Alternative Suite A3 would establish new species complexes by regions, adjust LCS and SCS quotas, prohibit retention of commercial blacknose sharks in the Gulf of Mexico, and increase the hammerhead shark minimum recreational size to 78″ FL. This alternative would remove hammerhead sharks from the non-sandbar LCS complex to form a separate non-regional quota of 52.2 mt dw, while non-blacknose SCS regulations and quota would remain the same (221.6 mt dw). This alternative would also create regional quotas for blacknose sharks as well as remove blacktip sharks from the Gulf of Mexico non-sandbar LCS complex. Additionally, this alternative would reconfigure and rename the species remaining in the non-sandbar LCS complex as the “aggregated LCS” in both the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexicoregions. The new Gulf of Mexico base quotas would be as follows: blacktip sharks—380.7 mt dw; and non-sandbar LCS—157.3 mt dw. The new aggregated LCS complex in the Gulf of Mexico region would consist of bull, lemon, nurse, spinner, silky, and tiger sharks. In the Atlantic region, base quotas would be as follows: Non-sandbar LCS—168.2 mt dw; and blacknose sharks—18 mt dw. The new aggregated LCS complex in the Atlantic would consist of blacktip, bull, lemon, nurse, spinner, silky, and tiger sharks. We would need to prohibit the retention of blacknose sharks in the Gulf of Mexico region so we can meet the rebuilding plan for this species.

When taken as a whole, Alternative Suite A3 would have direct moderate, beneficial ecological impacts in the short-term since changes to the Atlantic shark fisheries would help rebuild scalloped hammerhead and blacknose shark stocks, but long-term impacts would be minor and adverse because the absence of quota linkages could allow overfishing to continue through dead discards in other fisheries. The indirect ecological impacts would be neutral to essential fish habitat, predator/prey relationships, or protected resources because fishing pressure is expected to remain near current levels. Establishing a Gulf of Mexico blacktip shark total allowable catch at a level 30 percent greater than the total allowable catch calculated in Alternative Suite 2 could increase shark fishing effort and, as described above, might have adverse ecological impacts on other shark stocks and other species. It is also uncertain what impact the increase would have on the Gulf of Mexico shark stock because there is high degree of uncertainty associated with the projections, particularly since these projections were not peer reviewed as part of the Southeast Data, Assessment and Review process.

Additionally, Alternative Suite A3 would