Daily Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices of the Federal Government
NMFS manages the GOA groundfish fisheries in the exclusive economic zone of the GOA under the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Gulf of Alaska (FMP). The Council prepared the FMP under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, 16 U.S.C. 1801
The FMP and its implementing regulations require NMFS, after consultation with the Council, to specify the total allowable catch (TAC) for each target species, the sum of which must be within the optimum yield (OY) range of 116,000 to 800,000 metric tons (mt) (50 CFR 679.20(a)(1)(i)(B)). Section 679.20(c)(1) further requires NMFS to publish and solicit public comment on proposed annual TACs, Pacific halibut prohibited species catch (PSC) limits, and seasonal allowances of pollock and Pacific cod. Upon consideration of public comment received under § 679.20(c)(1), NMFS must publish notice of final harvest specifications for up to two fishing years as annual TACs, per § 679.20(c)(3)(ii). The final harvest specifications set forth in Tables 1 through 30 of this document reflect the outcome of this process, as required at § 679.20(c).
The proposed 2017 and 2018 harvest specifications for groundfish of the GOA and Pacific halibut PSC limits were published in the
In December 2015, the Council recommended for Secretary of Commerce (Secretary) review Amendment 103 to the FMP to reapportion unused Chinook salmon PSC limits among the GOA pollock and non-pollock trawl sectors. Amendment 103 allows NMFS to reapportion the Chinook salmon PSC limits established by Amendments 93 and 97 to the FMP to prevent or limit fishery closures due to attainment of sector-specific Chinook salmon PSC limits, while maintaining the annual, combined 32,500 Chinook salmon PSC limit for all sectors. The Secretary approved Amendment 103 on August 24, 2016. The final rule implementing Amendment 103 published on September 12, 2016, (81 FR 62659) and became effective on October 12, 2016.
In April 2015, the Council recommended for Secretarial review Amendment 101 to the FMP for the sablefish individual fishing quota (IFQ) fisheries in the GOA. Amendment 101 authorizes the use of longline pot gear in the GOA sablefish IFQ fishery. The objective of that amendment is to increase efficiency in harvesting sablefish IFQ and decrease the depredation of sablefish caught on hook-and-line gear by whales. The Secretary approved Amendment 101 on November 4, 2016. NMFS issued a final rule to implement Amendment 101 to the FMP for the sablefish individual fishing quota (IFQ) fisheries in the GOA on December 28, 2016 (81 FR 95435). The effective date of this final rule has been temporarily stayed in accordance with the memorandum of January 20, 2017, from the Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff, entitled “Regulatory Freeze Pending Review,” published in the
In December 2016, the Council, its Advisory Panel (AP), and its Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) reviewed the most recent biological and harvest information about the condition of groundfish stocks in the GOA. This information was compiled by the Council's GOA Groundfish Plan Team and was presented in the draft 2016 SAFE report for the GOA groundfish fisheries, dated November 2016 (see
In previous years, the greatest changes from the proposed to the final harvest specifications have been based on recent NMFS stock surveys, which provide updated estimates of stock biomass and spatial distribution, and changes to the models used for producing stock assessments. At the November 2016 Plan Team meeting, NMFS scientists presented updated and new survey results, changes to stock assessment models, and accompanying stock assessment estimates for all groundfish species and species groups that are included in the final 2016 SAFE report. The SSC reviewed this information at the December 2016 Council meeting. Changes from the proposed to the final 2017 and 2018 harvest specifications are discussed below.
The final 2017 and 2018 OFLs, ABCs, and TACs are based on the best available biological and socioeconomic information, including projected biomass trends, information on assumed distribution of stock biomass, and revised methods used to calculate stock biomass. The FMP specifies the formulas, or tiers, to be used to compute OFLs and ABCs. The formulas applicable to a particular stock or stock complex are determined by the level of reliable information available to fisheries scientists. This information is categorized into a successive series of six tiers to define OFL and ABC amounts, with Tier 1 representing the highest level of information quality available and Tier 6 representing the lowest level of information quality available. The Plan Team used the FMP tier structure to calculate OFL and ABC amounts for each groundfish species. The SSC adopted the final 2017 and 2018 OFLs and ABCs recommended by the Plan Team for all groundfish species, with the exception of an adjustment to the sablefish OFLs. The Council adopted the SSC's OFL and ABC recommendations and the AP's TAC recommendations. The final TAC recommendations were based on the ABCs as adjusted for other biological and socioeconomic considerations, including maintaining the sum of all TACs within the required OY range of 116,000 to 800,000 mt.
The Council recommended 2017 and 2018 TACs that are equal to ABCs for pollock, sablefish, deep-water flatfish, rex sole, Pacific ocean perch, northern rockfish, shortraker rockfish, dusky rockfish, rougheye rockfish, demersal shelf rockfish, thornyhead rockfish, big skate, longnose skate, other skates, sculpins, sharks, squids, and octopuses in the GOA. The Council recommended TACs for 2017 and 2018 that are less than the ABCs for Pacific cod, shallow-water flatfish in the Western GOA, arrowtooth flounder, flathead sole in the Western and Central GOA, “other rockfish” in the Southeast Outside (SEO) District, and Atka mackerel. The Pacific cod TACs are set to accommodate the State of Alaska's (State's) guideline harvest levels (GHLs) for Pacific cod so that the ABCs are not exceeded. The shallow-water flatfish, arrowtooth flounder, and flathead sole TACs are set to allow for increased harvest opportunities for these target species while conserving the halibut PSC limit for use in other, more fully utilized fisheries. The “other rockfish” TAC in the SEO District is set to reduce the amount of discards of the species in that complex. The Atka mackerel TAC is set to accommodate incidental catch amounts in other fisheries.
The final 2017 and 2018 harvest specifications approved by the Secretary are unchanged from those recommended by the Council and are consistent with the preferred harvest strategy alternative in the EIS (see
Tables 1 and 2 list the final 2017 and 2018 OFLs, ABCs, TACs, and area apportionments of groundfish in the GOA. The sums of the 2017 and 2018 ABCs are 667,877 mt and 597,052 mt, respectively, which are lower in 2017 and 2018 than the 2016 ABC sum of 727,684 mt (81 FR 14740, March 18, 2016). The 2017 harvest specifications set in this final action will supersede the 2017 harvest specifications previously set in the final 2016 and 2017 harvest specifications (81 FR 14740, March 18, 2016). The 2018 harvest specifications herein will be superseded in early 2018 when the final 2018 and 2019 harvest specifications are published. Pursuant to this final action, the 2017 harvest specifications therefore will apply for the remainder of the current year (2017), while the 2018 harvest specifications are projected only for the following year (2018) and will be superseded in early 2018 by the final 2018 and 2019 harvest specifications. Because this final action (published in early 2017) will be superseded in early 2018 by the publication of the final 2018 and 2019 harvest specifications, it is projected that this final action will implement the harvest specifications for the Gulf of Alaska for approximately one year.
NMFS' apportionment of groundfish species is based on the distribution of biomass among the regulatory areas over which NMFS manages the species. Additional regulations govern the apportionment of pollock, Pacific cod, and sablefish. Additional detail on the apportionment of pollock, Pacific cod, and sablefish are described below.
The ABC for the pollock stock in the combined Western, Central, and West Yakutat Regulatory Areas (W/C/WYK) includes the amount for the GHL established by the State for the Prince William Sound (PWS) pollock fishery. The Plan Team, SSC, AP, and Council have recommended that the sum of all State and Federal water pollock removals from the GOA not exceed ABC recommendations. For 2017 and 2018, the SSC recommended and the Council approved the W/C/WYK pollock ABC, including the amount to account for the State's PWS GHL. At the November 2016 Plan Team meeting, State fisheries managers recommended setting the PWS GHL at 2.5 percent of the annual W/C/WYK pollock ABC. For 2017, this yields a PWS pollock GHL of 5,094 mt, a decrease of 1,264 mt from the 2016 PWS GHL of 6,358 mt. For 2018, the PWS pollock GHL is 3,937 mt, a decrease of 2,421 mt from the 2016 PWS pollock GHL. After the GHL reductions, the 2017 and 2018 pollock ABC for the combined W/C/WYK areas is then apportioned between four statistical areas (Areas 610, 620, 630, and 640) as both ABCs and TACs, as described below and detailed in Tables 1 and 2. The total ABCs and TACs for the four statistical areas, plus the State GHL, do not exceed the combined W/C/WYK ABC.
Apportionments of pollock to the W/C/WYK management areas are
NMFS establishes pollock TACs in the Western, Central, West Yakutat Regulatory Areas, and the Southeast Outside District of the GOA (see Tables 1 and 2). NMFS also establishes seasonal apportionments of the annual pollock TAC in the Western and Central Regulatory Areas of the GOA among Statistical Areas 610, 620, and 630. These apportionments are divided equally among each of the following four seasons: The A season (January 20 through March 10), the B season (March 10 through May 31), the C season (August 25 through October 1), and the D season (October 1 through November 1) (§ 679.23(d)(2)(i) through (iv), and § 679.20(a)(5)(iv)(A) and (B)). Additional detail is provided below; Tables 3 and 4 list these amounts.
The 2017 and 2018 Pacific cod TACs are set to accommodate the State's GHL for Pacific cod in State waters in the Western and Central Regulatory Areas, as well as in PWS. The Plan Team, SSC, AP, and Council recommended that the sum of all State and Federal water Pacific cod removals from the GOA not exceed ABC recommendations. Accordingly, the Council set the 2017 and 2018 Pacific cod TACs in the Western, Central, and Eastern Regulatory Areas to account for State GHLs. Therefore, the 2017 Pacific cod TACs are less than the ABCs by the following amounts: (1) Western GOA, 10,887 mt; (2) Central GOA, 11,045 mt; and (3) Eastern GOA, 1,968 mt. The 2018 Pacific cod TACs are less than the ABCs by the following amounts: (1) Western GOA, 9,770 mt; (2) Central GOA, 9,911 mt; and (3) Eastern GOA, 1,766 mt. These amounts reflect the State's 2017 and 2018 GHLs in these areas, which are 30 percent of the Western GOA ABC and 25 percent of the Eastern and Central ABCs.
NMFS establishes seasonal apportionments of the annual Pacific cod TAC in the Western and Central Regulatory Areas. Sixty percent of the annual TAC is apportioned to the A season for hook-and-line, pot, and jig gear from January 1 through June 10, and for trawl gear from January 20 through June 10. Forty percent of the annual TAC is apportioned to the B season for hook-and-line, pot, and jig gear from September 1 through December 31, and for trawl gear from September 1 through November 1 (§§ 679.23(d)(3) and 679.20(a)(12)). The Western and Central GOA Pacific cod TACs are allocated among various gear and operational sectors. The Pacific cod sector apportionments are discussed in detail in a subsequent section of this preamble.
The Council's recommendation for sablefish area apportionments takes into account the prohibition on the use of trawl gear in the SEO District of the Eastern Regulatory Area and makes available 5 percent of the combined Eastern Regulatory Area ABCs to trawl gear for use as incidental catch in other groundfish fisheries in the WYK District (§ 679.20(a)(4)(i)). Tables 7 and 8 list the final 2017 and 2018 allocations of sablefish TAC to hook-and-line and trawl gear in the GOA.
In October 2016, the Council's recommendations for the proposed 2017 and 2018 harvest specifications (81 FR 87881, December 6, 2016) were based largely on information contained in the final 2015 SAFE report for the GOA groundfish fisheries, dated November 2015. The final 2015 SAFE report for the GOA is available from the Council (see ADDRESSES). The Council proposed that the final OFLs, ABCs, and TACs established for the 2017 groundfish fisheries (81 FR 14740, March 18, 2016) be used for the proposed 2017 and 2018 harvest specifications, pending completion and review of the final 2016 SAFE report at its December 2016 meeting.
As described previously, the SSC adopted the final 2017 and 2018 OFLs and ABCs recommended by the Plan Team, except for the sablefish OFL. The SSC deducted the amount calculated for whale depredation from the sablefish OFL. The Council adopted the SSC's OFL and ABC recommendations and the AP's TAC recommendations for 2017 and 2018. The final 2017 ABCs are higher than the proposed 2017 ABCs published in the proposed 2017 and 2018 harvest specifications (81 FR 87881, December 6, 2016) for Pacific cod, sablefish, shallow-water flatfish, deep-water flatfish, rex sole, flathead sole, northern rockfish, and rougheye rockfish. The final 2017 ABCs are lower than the proposed 2017 and 2018 ABCs for pollock, arrowtooth flounder, Pacific ocean perch, dusky rockfish, demersal shelf rockfish, and squids.
The final 2018 ABCs are higher than the proposed ABCs for sablefish, shallow-water flatfish, deep-water flatfish, rex sole, and flathead sole. The final 2018 ABCs are lower than the proposed ABCs for pollock, Pacific cod, arrowtooth flounder, Pacific ocean perch, northern rockfish, dusky rockfish, rougheye rockfish, demersal shelf rockfish, and squids. For the remaining target species, the Council recommended the final 2017 and 2018 ABCs that are the same as the proposed 2017 and 2018 ABCs.
Additional information explaining the changes between the proposed and final ABCs is included in the final 2016 SAFE report, which was not available when the Council made its proposed ABC and TAC recommendations in October 2016. At that time, the most recent stock assessment information was contained in the final 2015 SAFE report. The final 2016 SAFE report contains the best and most recent scientific information on the condition of the groundfish stocks, as previously discussed in this preamble, and is available for review (see
Based on changes in the estimates of overall biomass made by stock assessment scientists for 2017 and 2018, as compared to the estimates previously made for 2015 and 2016, the greatest TAC percentage increases are for sablefish, shallow-water flatfish, rex sole, and Atka mackerel. One notable increase includes that made for sablefish. The increase in the sablefish ABC and TAC is a result of the inclusion of new catch, abundance, and age datasets, as well as adjustments to
Based on changes in the estimates of biomass, the greatest decrease in TACs is for pollock. The pollock assessment model incorporated 2016 survey data, as well as changes to the model. A notable model change included using a random-effects model to calculate the weight-at-age of pollock, rather than a 5-year average weight-at-age. This change resulted in a downward calculation of biomass and ABC, with additional declines expected in the short-term.
For all other species and species groups, changes from the proposed 2017 TACs to the final 2017 TACs are within a range of plus or minus 4 percent. The changes from the proposed 2018 TACs to the final 2018 TACs are within a range of plus or minus 8 percent. These TAC changes correspond to associated changes in the ABCs and TACs, as recommended by the SSC, AP, and Council.
Detailed information providing the basis for the changes described above is contained in the final 2016 SAFE report. The final TACs are based on the best scientific information available. These TACs are specified in compliance with the harvest strategy described in the proposed and final rules for the 2017 and 2018 harvest specifications. The changes in TACs between the proposed rule and this final rule are compared in Table 1a.
The final 2017 and 2018 TAC recommendations for the GOA are within the OY range established for the GOA and do not exceed the ABC for any species or species group. Tables 1 and 2 list the final OFL, ABC, and TAC amounts for GOA groundfish for 2017 and 2018, respectively.