Daily Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices of the Federal Government
Federal regulations at 50 CFR part 679
The FMP and its implementing regulations require NMFS, after consultation with the Council, to specify the total allowable catch (TAC) for each target species category. The sum TAC for all groundfish species must be within the optimum yield (OY) range of 1.4 million to 2.0 million metric tons (mt) (see § 679.20(a)(1)(i)(A)). This final rule specifies the TAC at 2.0 million mt for both 2017 and 2018. NMFS also must specify apportionments of TAC, as well as prohibited species catch (PSC) allowances and prohibited species quota (PSQ) reserves established by § 679.21; seasonal allowances of pollock, Pacific cod, and Atka mackerel TAC; Amendment 80 allocations; and Community Development Quota (CDQ) reserve amounts established by § 679.20(b)(1)(ii). The final harvest specifications set forth in Tables 1 through 26 of this action satisfy these requirements.
Section 679.20(c)(3)(i) further requires NMFS to consider public comment on the proposed annual TACs (and apportionments thereof) and PSC allowances, and to publish final harvest specifications in the
The final ABC levels for Alaska groundfish are based on the best available biological and socioeconomic information, including projected biomass trends, information on assumed distribution of stock biomass, and revised technical methods used to calculate stock biomass. In general, the development of ABCs and overfishing levels (OFLs) involves sophisticated statistical analyses of fish populations. The FMP specifies a series of six tiers to define OFL and ABC amounts based on the level of reliable information available to fishery scientists. Tier 1 represents the highest level of information quality available, while Tier 6 represents the lowest.
In December 2016, the Council, its Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC), and its Advisory Panel (AP) reviewed current biological and harvest information about the condition of the BSAI groundfish stocks. The Council's BSAI Groundfish Plan Team (Plan Team) compiled and presented this information in the final 2016 SAFE report for the BSAI groundfish fisheries, dated November 2016 (see
In December 2016, the SSC, AP, and Council reviewed the Plan Team's recommendations. The final TAC recommendations were based on the ABCs as adjusted for other biological and socioeconomic considerations, including maintaining the sum of all the TACs within the required OY range of 1.4 million to 2.0 million mt. As required by annual catch limit rules for all fisheries (74 FR 3178, January 16, 2009), none of the Council's recommended TACs for 2017 or 2018 exceed the final 2017 or 2018 ABCs for any species or species group. The Secretary of Commerce (Secretary) approves the final 2017 and 2018 harvest specifications as recommended by the Council. NMFS finds that the Council's recommended OFLs, ABCs, and TACs are consistent with the preferred harvest strategy and the biological condition of groundfish stocks as described in the 2016 SAFE report that was approved by the Council.
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 14773, 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 Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands for approximately one year.
The State of Alaska (State) manages separate Pacific cod fisheries in the Bering Sea subarea and the Aleutian Islands subarea. The State's guideline harvest level (GHL) fisheries are conducted independently of the Federal groundfish fisheries under direct regulation of the State. GHLs are derived from the Pacific cod ABC for the Bering Sea subarea and the Aleutian Islands subarea, and the TAC for each subarea is set at an amount less than or equal to the amount available after the annual GHL percentage has been deducted from the ABC. The State's GHLs for 2017 and 2018 are set equal to 6.4 percent of the Pacific cod ABC for the Bering Sea subarea and 27 percent of the Pacific cod ABC for the Aleutian Islands subarea. The Council and its Plan Team, Scientific and Statistical Committee, and Advisory Panel recommended that the sum of all State and Federal water Pacific cod removals from the Bering Sea subarea and the Aleutian Islands subarea not exceed the proposed ABC recommendations. Accordingly, the Council recommends setting the final 2017 and 2018 Pacific cod TACs in the Bering Sea subarea and the Aleutian Islands subarea to account for State GHLs.
NMFS has published the final rule to implement Amendment 113 (81 FR 84434, November 23, 2016). This rule sets aside a portion of the Aleutian Islands Pacific cod TAC for catcher vessels that directed fish for Aleutian Islands Pacific cod and then deliver the catch to Aleutian Islands shoreplants for processing. The set-aside applies only if specific notification and performance requirements are met. For 2017, NMFS has been notified that no shoreplants in
The Council's recommendations for the proposed 2017 and 2018 harvest specifications (81 FR 87863, December 6, 2016) were based largely on information contained in the 2015 SAFE report for the BSAI groundfish fisheries. Through the proposed harvest specifications, NMFS notified the public that these harvest specifications could change, as the Council would consider information contained in the final 2016 SAFE report; recommendations from the Plan Team, SSC, and AP committees; and public testimony when making its recommendations for final harvest specifications at the December 2016 Council meeting. NMFS further notified the public that, as required by the FMP and its implementing regulations, the sum of the TACs must be within the OY range of 1.4 million and 2.0 million mt.
Information contained in the 2016 SAFE report indicates biomass changes from the 2015 SAFE report for several groundfish species. The 2016 report was made available for public review during the public comment period for the proposed harvest specifications. At the December 2016 Council meeting, the SSC recommended the 2017 and 2018 ABCs for many species based on the best and most recent information contained in the 2016 SAFE reports. This recommendation resulted in an ABC sum total for all BSAI groundfish species in excess of 2 million mt for both 2017 and 2018.
Based on increased fishing effort in 2016, the Council recommends increasing Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands yellowfin sole TAC by 10,000 mt in 2017 and 2018. In terms of percentage, the largest increases in final TACs relative to the proposed TACs were for Bering Sea subarea Pacific Ocean perch and Bering Sea subarea Greenland turbot. These increases were to account for a higher interest in directed fishing than in 2016. Other increases in the final TACs relative to the proposed TACs included increases in Aleutian Islands subarea Pacific cod, sablefish, and Atka mackerel in all subareas. These increases were to account for higher interest in directed fishing or higher anticipated incidental catch needs.
Decreases in final TACs compared to the proposed TACs were for rock sole, flathead sole, rougheye rockfish, and shortraker rockfish. The decreases were to account for the requirement not to exceed the 2.0 million mt OY limit on overall TAC in the BSAI.
The changes to TACs between the proposed and final harvest specifications are based on the most recent scientific and economic information and are consistent with the FMP, regulatory obligations, and harvest strategy as described in the proposed harvest specifications, including the upper limit for OY of 2.0 million mt. These changes are compared in Table 1A.
Table 1 lists the Council's recommended final 2017 OFL, ABC, TAC, initial TAC (ITAC), and CDQ reserve amounts of the BSAI groundfish species or species groups; and Table 2 lists the Council's recommended final 2018 OFL, ABC, TAC, ITAC, and CDQ reserve amounts of the BSAI groundfish species or species groups. NMFS concurs in these recommendations. The final 2017 and 2018 TAC recommendations for the BSAI are within the OY range established for the BSAI and do not exceed the ABC for any species or species group. The apportionment of TAC amounts among fisheries and seasons is discussed below.
Section 679.20(b)(1)(i) requires NMFS to reserve 15 percent of the TAC for each target species, except for pollock, hook-and-line or pot gear allocation of sablefish, and Amendment 80 species, in a non-specified reserve. Section 679.20(b)(1)(ii)(B) requires that NMFS allocate 20 percent of the hook-and-line or pot gear allocation of sablefish for the fixed-gear sablefish CDQ reserve. Section 679.20(b)(1)(ii)(D) requires that NMFS allocate 7.5 percent of the trawl gear allocations of sablefish and 10.7 percent of the Bering Sea Greenland turbot and arrowtooth flounder TACs to the respective CDQ reserves. Section 679.20(b)(1)(ii)(C) requires that NMFS allocate 10.7 percent of the TAC for Atka mackerel, Aleutian Islands Pacific ocean perch, yellowfin sole, rock sole, flathead sole, and Pacific cod to the CDQ reserves. Sections 679.20(a)(5)(i)(A) and 679.31(a) also require that 10 percent of the Bering Sea pollock TACs be allocated to the pollock CDQ directed fishing allowance (DFA). The entire Bogoslof District pollock TAC is allocated as an ICA pursuant to
Pursuant to § 679.20(a)(5)(i)(A)(
Pursuant to § 679.20(a)(8) and (10), NMFS allocates ICAs of 4,000 mt of flathead sole, 5,000 mt of rock sole, 4,500 mt of yellowfin sole, 10 mt of Western Aleutian Islands (WAI) Pacific ocean perch, 60 mt of Central Aleutian Islands (CAI) Pacific ocean perch, 100 mt of Eastern Aleutian Islands (EAI) Pacific ocean perch, 20 mt of WAI Atka mackerel, 75 mt of CAI Atka mackerel, and 1,000 mt of EAI and Bering Sea subarea Atka mackerel TAC after subtracting the 10.7 percent CDQ reserve. These ICA allowances are based on NMFS' examination of the incidental catch in other target fisheries from 2003 through 2016.
The regulations do not designate the remainder of the non-specified reserve by species or species group. Any amount of the reserve may be apportioned to a target species category that contributed to the non-specified reserves during the year, provided that such apportionments are consistent with § 679.20(a)(3) and do not result in overfishing (see § 679.20(b)(1)(i)). The Regional Administrator has determined that the ITACs specified for the species listed in Table 1 need to be supplemented from the non-specified reserve because U.S. fishing vessels have demonstrated the capacity to catch the full TAC allocations. Therefore, in accordance with § 679.20(b)(3), NMFS is apportioning the amounts shown in Table 3 from the non-specified reserve to increase the ITAC for shortraker rockfish, rougheye rockfish, “other rockfish,” sharks, and octopuses by 15 percent of the TAC in 2017 and 2018.
Section 679.20(a)(5)(i)(A) requires that the Bering Sea subarea pollock TAC be apportioned, after subtracting 10 percent for the CDQ program and 3.9 percent for the ICA, as a DFA as follows: 50 Percent to the inshore sector, 40 percent to the catcher/processor (C/P) sector, and 10 percent to the mothership sector. In the Bering Sea subarea, 45 percent of the DFA is allocated to the A season (January 20-June 10), and 55 percent of the DFA is allocated to the B season (June 10-November 1) (§§ 679.20(a)(5)(i)(B)(
The Steller sea lion protection measure final rule (79 FR 70286, November 25, 2014) sets harvest limits for pollock in the A season (January 20 to June 10) in Areas 543, 542, and 541 (see § 679.20(a)(5)(iii)(B)(
Tables 4 and 5 also list seasonal apportionments of pollock and harvest limits within the Steller Sea Lion Conservation Area (SCA). The harvest