83 FR 31677 - Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; Final Rule To Revise Atlantic Shark Fishery Closure Regulations

DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Federal Register Volume 83, Issue 131 (July 9, 2018)

Page Range31677-31684
FR Document2018-14665

This final rule revises the current closure regulations for commercial shark fisheries. These changes affect commercial shark fisheries in the Atlantic Ocean, including the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean. Revisions include changes to the landings threshold that prompts a closure and the minimum time between filing of the closure with the Federal Register and the closure becoming effective. This action is necessary to allow more flexibility when closing shark fisheries and to facilitate the use of available quota while still preventing overharvests.

Federal Register, Volume 83 Issue 131 (Monday, July 9, 2018)
[Federal Register Volume 83, Number 131 (Monday, July 9, 2018)]
[Rules and Regulations]
[Pages 31677-31684]
From the Federal Register Online  [www.thefederalregister.org]
[FR Doc No: 2018-14665]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Part 635

[Docket No. 170703617-8097-01]
RIN 0648-BG97


Atlantic Highly Migratory Species; Final Rule To Revise Atlantic 
Shark Fishery Closure Regulations

AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.

ACTION: Final rule.

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SUMMARY: This final rule revises the current closure regulations for 
commercial shark fisheries. These changes affect commercial shark 
fisheries in the Atlantic Ocean, including the Gulf of Mexico and 
Caribbean. Revisions include changes to the landings threshold that 
prompts a closure and the minimum time between filing of the closure 
with the Federal Register and the closure becoming effective. This 
action is necessary to allow more flexibility when closing shark 
fisheries and to facilitate the use of available quota while still 
preventing overharvests.

DATES: This rule is effective on August 8, 2018.

ADDRESSES: Copies of the supporting documents, including the Final 
Environmental Assessment (EA), Regulatory Impact Review (RIR), Final 
Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (FRFA), and the 2006 Consolidated 
Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Fishery Management Plan (FMP) and 
amendments are available from the HMS website at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/topic/atlantic-highly-migratory-species or by 
contacting Lauren Latchford at (301) 427-8503.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Lauren Latchford, Gu[yacute] DuBeck, 
Chant[eacute] Davis, or Karyl Brewster-Geisz by phone at (301) 427-8503 
or Delisse Ortiz at (240) 681-9037.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Atlantic sharks are directly managed under 
the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and 
Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act). NMFS published in the Federal 
Register (71 FR 59058, October 2, 2006) final regulations, effective 
November 1, 2006, implementing the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP, which 
details management measures for Atlantic HMS fisheries. The 
implementing regulations for the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP and its 
amendments are at 50 CFR part 635. This final rule modifies the current 
regulations related to closures for commercial shark fisheries.

Background

    A brief summary of the background of this action is provided below; 
more detailed information can be found in the proposed rule (83 FR 
8037, February 23, 2018) and is not repeated here. Additional 
information regarding Atlantic HMS management, specifically the 
commercial fisheries season structure, can be found in the Final EA for 
this action and the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP and its amendments, found 
on the HMS website (see ADDRESSES).
    On February 23, 2018, NMFS published a proposed rule (83 FR 8037) 
that proposed (1) changing the regulations from requiring a shark 
fishery species and/or management group to close when landings have 
reached or are projected to reach 80 percent of the available overall, 
regional, and/or sub-regional quota, and instead allowing the fishery 
to remain open in such circumstances if the species and/or management 
group's landings are not projected to reach 100 percent before the end 
of the commercial fishing season, and (2) changing the minimum notice 
time between filing and the closure going into effect from five days to 
three. A 30-day public comment period closed on March 26, 2018. The 
comments received on the Draft EA and proposed rule, and our responses 
to those comments, are summarized below in the section labeled 
``Response to Comments.''

[[Page 31678]]

    After reviewing the public comments and consulting with the HMS 
Advisory Panel, this final action allows a shark fishery to remain open 
after the fishery's landings have reached or are projected to reach 80 
percent of the available overall, regional, and/or sub-regional quota, 
if the fishery's landings are not projected to reach 100 percent of the 
applicable quota before the end of the season. This final action also 
changes the minimum notice time between filing of the closure notice 
with the Office of the Federal Register and the closure going into 
effect from five days to four days, which is a change from the proposed 
rule based on public comment.

Response to Comments

    During the 30-day public comment period, NMFS held one webinar and 
presented information about the proposed rule at the HMS Advisory Panel 
meeting. In addition to the nine verbal comments received at those 
meetings, NMFS also received 10 written comments regarding the proposed 
action from fishermen, states, environmental groups, academia, and 
other interested parties. All written comments can be found at http://www.regulations.gov/ by searching for RIN 0648-BG97. All of the 
comments received are summarized below.

Section A: Comments on Closure Threshold and Closure Notice 
Alternatives

    Comment 1: NMFS received a number of comments regarding the closure 
threshold alternatives. Some commenters supported preferred Alternative 
1f, while other commenters suggested combining Alternative 1e, which 
would establish criteria to use for evaluation of a closure, with the 
preferred Alternative 1f. Other commenters wanted to increase the 
federal fishery closure threshold for the shark management groups from 
80 percent to greater than 90 percent because they felt the current 
weekly electronic reporting requirements for dealers increased the 
timeliness and accuracy of dealer reporting (compared to reporting 
requirements that were in place when the 80-percent buffer was 
implemented) and would allow for a smaller buffer while still 
preventing overharvest of the quota. Lastly, one commenter preferred 
Alternative 1a, No Action.
    Response: After considering public comment and carefully reviewing 
the relevant data, NMFS is finalizing this action as proposed with 
preferred Alternative 1f, which would allow a shark fishery to remain 
open after the fishery's landings have reached or are projected to 
reach 80 percent of the available overall, regional, and/or sub-
regional quota, if the fishery's landings are not projected to reach 
100 percent of the applicable quota before the end of the season. With 
regard to comments preferring the combination of Alternatives 1e and 
1f, Alternative 1e would have established criteria such as examining 
stock status or patterns of over- and underharvest that NMFS would 
evaluate before determining if a closure notice is needed when any 
shark fishery species and/or management group landings reach or are 
projected to reach 80 percent of the available overall, regional, and/
or sub-regional quota. If the evaluation of the specified criteria were 
to indicate that the fishery does not need to close at 80 percent, the 
fishery could remain open until landings reach, or are projected to 
reach, 90 percent. Alternative 1f, however, maintains the 80-percent 
threshold, and at that threshold, NMFS would review landings 
projections indicating whether a closure is needed to avoid exceedance 
of the available overall, regional, and/or sub-regional quota by the 
end of the season. If the species and/or management group's landings 
are not projected to reach 100 percent of the applicable quota before 
the end of the season, the fishery will remain open. Because 
Alternative 1e would require closing the fishery at 90 percent of the 
quota, regardless of whether the projections indicate the fishery would 
not exceed 100 percent of the quota before the end of the fishing 
season (which is what Alternative 1f would allow), NMFS is assuming 
that commenters who suggested combining these two alternatives actually 
were suggesting adding the criteria listed in Alternative 1e to 
Alternative 1f. NMFS does not prefer adding criteria to Alternative 1f 
because doing so would unnecessarily complicate the closure procedures, 
possibly confuse the regulated community, and would not necessarily 
enhance the accuracy of any closure notice. Requiring NMFS to step 
through specific criteria such as stock status that do not influence 
catch rates would add complexity to the process and would not improve 
accuracy of the projections and in fact may delay needed closures in 
some circumstances.
    Some commenters supported a higher closure threshold than was 
analyzed in the proposed alternatives, such as closure when quota use 
reaches 100 percent, because they felt the combination of weekly 
electronic dealer reporting with advanced projection methodologies 
should allow for full quota utilization before closing the fishery. 
Most states in the Gulf of Mexico require all state-only dealers to 
report electronically, but some states still allow for paper reports, 
and/or require reporting once a month rather than weekly. That, in 
combination with late dealer reports prevent NMFS from setting the 
threshold at full utilization because of the risk of exceeding the 
quota. The 80-percent fishery-closure threshold for the shark 
management groups was implemented in Amendment 2 to the 2006 
Consolidated HMS FMP (73 FR 35778, June 24, 2008; 73 FR 40658, July 15, 
2008). At that time, NMFS relied on hard copy dealer reports that were 
mailed to the Agency and were often several weeks, or even months, out 
of date. Since then, NMFS has established weekly electronic reporting 
with weekly compliance monitoring. While dealer reporting now is 
electronic, except for some state-only dealers, particularly in the 
Gulf of Mexico, and thus generally more timely, NMFS must still account 
for late reporting by shark dealers and provide a buffer to include 
landings received after the reporting deadline to avoid overharvests. A 
review of closures since NMFS began electronic reporting has showed 
that the current 80-percent threshold is not always effective at 
closing in time to prevent overharvest of small quotas, such as 
porbeagle sharks. Additionally, the review shows that on average, 
across all of the shark fisheries, 16 percent of the quota is landed 
after a closure is announced. Therefore, a 90-percent or greater 
closure threshold would likely result in overharvests of the quotas. 
For stocks with small quotas, we can anticipate that this higher 
closure threshold would result in consistent overharvests, with little 
opportunity to account for the overharvests in the next year (because 
overharvests would occur again) and this could be expected to have 
moderate adverse direct ecological effects on such shark species and 
result in the need to close the fisheries in future years.
    Regarding the commenter who preferred no action, that alternative 
would require NMFS to continue closing the relevant management group 
when 80 percent of its shark quota had been landed. However, in recent 
years as a result of monitoring the fishery and changing the trip 
limits throughout the year, several management groups (e.g., aggregated 
large coastal sharks (LCS) and hammerhead sharks) are remaining open 
for the entire year and may not reach 80 percent of that quota until 
late in the year. Under no action, NMFS would close these fisheries 
once

[[Page 31679]]

landings reach 80 percent of the quota even if it would be unlikely 
that the quota would be fully harvested. Instead, this final action 
would allow NMFS to keep those fisheries open for the entire year as 
long as projections indicate the quotas would not be exceeded by 
December 31 of each year.
    Comment 2: Some commenters supported the proposed Alternative 2b, 
which would close sharks fisheries three days after the notice was 
filed with the Office of the Federal Register. Other commenters, 
including the States of North Carolina and Louisiana, supported the no 
action alternative and did not support proposed Alternative 2b because, 
they argued, three days would not allow time for states to implement 
complementary measures by closing state water shark fisheries. 
Additionally, some commenters stated that some commercial pelagic 
longline participants take multi-day trips that could be interrupted by 
such an earlier closure notice. Finally, commenters were worried that a 
three-day notice would have safety issues if, after getting notice of a 
closure, fishermen decide to fish one or more trips before a closure 
occurs and without regard to any weather conditions.
    Response: After considering public comment and reviewing the data, 
NMFS has decided to change from its originally preferred alternative 
providing three days' notice (Alternative 2b) to a new alternative that 
provides four days' notice (Alternative 2d) between filing of the 
closure notice with the Office of the Federal Register and the closure 
going into effect. This change is in response to comments that States 
need more than three days' notice in order to close state water shark 
fisheries at the same time as federal water shark fisheries. Closing 
with four days' notice adequately addresses our concerns about closing 
shark fisheries in a timely manner, while ensuring state and federal 
waters close at the same time to prevent confusion among fisherman, 
dealers, and enforcement. Additionally, the four-day preferred 
alternative increases flexibility to close the fishery as needed while 
still preventing overharvest and allowing sufficient time for fishermen 
to complete ongoing trips at the time of the closure. The allotted time 
before the closure becomes effective is also well within the range of 
the current directed shark trip lengths (i.e., one to two days). 
Because the EA examined alternatives ranging from immediate closure to 
closure with five days' notice, this new alternative is within the 
range of originally proposed actions.
    Regarding Alternative 1a, no action, NMFS does not prefer to keep 
the closure notice at five days because this alternative would not 
increase flexibility in NMFS' ability to manage the shark fisheries in 
a timely manner. As stated in the response to Comment 1, after NMFS 
announces a closure, approximately 16 percent of the quota is harvested 
before the fishery actually closes five days later. Under a no action 
alternative, continued landings during a five-day notice period would 
likely contribute to overharvests. When such overharvests occur on a 
frequent basis over the long-term, it can lead to overfishing, delayed 
rebuilding of overfished stocks, and overall negative impacts on 
fishermen and dealers. However, NMFS also recognizes that complementary 
state water closures are needed in order to prevent quotas from being 
overharvested. As such, in this final action, NMFS is finalizing a 
different alternative, Alternative 2d that changes the closure 
notification from five days to four days. This alternative is an 
appropriate compromise between needing to provide appropriate notice 
for states to implement complementary measures and for the closure to 
take effect quickly and prevent overharvests.
    Regarding the concerns about the potential for fishermen to be out 
on long trips, and then having to discard their catch if they missed 
the closure date, historically (pre-2008), directed shark fishing 
trips, primarily targeting LCS, averaged between one and four days in 
length, but could be longer. However, because of reduced trip-based 
retention limits implemented in Amendment 2 in 2008, there has been a 
reduction in trip length, and the typical shark fishing trip is now 
only one or two days. Trips using pelagic longline gear, and 
interacting with pelagic sharks, can be longer, with the typical trip 
lasting nine days. Pelagic longline trips usually do not land many 
sharks, and the sharks they do land tend to be sharks in the pelagic 
shark management groups, which have never closed. Therefore, the four-
day closure notice should not affect pelagic longline trips. NMFS has 
determined that a four-day closure notice should allow fishermen enough 
time to finish their trips, while still providing NMFS the flexibility 
to close the fishery as needed while still preventing overharvest. 
Similarly, a four-day closure notice would also allow fishermen to 
safely fish one or two more trips, depending on weather and other 
factors, once the closure notice is announced.

Section B: General Comments

    Comment 3: NMFS should stop all shark fishing.
    Response: This comment is outside the scope of this rulemaking. The 
purpose of this rulemaking is to revise existing HMS regulations that 
require closure of shark fisheries with no fewer than five days' notice 
when landings or projections of landings reach 80 percent of the 
commercial quota. Management of the Atlantic shark fisheries is based 
on the best available science to achieve optimum yield while rebuilding 
overfished shark stocks and preventing overfishing. The final rule does 
not reanalyze the overall management measures for sharks, which have 
been analyzed in the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP and its amendments.
    Comment 4: NMFS should provide more information about catch across 
all sectors including catch versus total allowable catch (TAC), catch 
and release mortality, and bycatch associated with other fisheries.
    Response: This comment is beyond the scope of this rulemaking. This 
rulemaking updates and revises existing HMS regulations that require 
NMFS to close shark fisheries with no fewer than five days' notice, 
when landings or projections of landings reach 80 percent of the 
commercial quota. NMFS provides similar data in its annual Stock 
Assessment and Fishery Evaluation (SAFE) reports (https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/bulletin/2017-stock-assessment-and-fishery-evaluation-report-atlantic-highly-migratory-species).
    Comment 5: NMFS should provide the date and location of landings by 
region.
    Response: NMFS currently provides shark landings by region and 
management group on a monthly basis (https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/atlantic-highly-migratory-species/atlantic-highly-migratory-species-landings-updates), and uses the landings in our decision process to 
determine fishery closures and annual fishery quotas. Additionally, 
NMFS provides aggregated information in its annual SAFE reports. Due to 
the confidentiality requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, NMFS 
aggregates such data.

Changes From the Proposed Rule (83 FR 8037; February 23, 2018)

    NMFS made one change to the proposed rule. Specifically, in Sec.  
635.28(b)(2) and (b)(3), NMFS is changing from the proposed action of a 
three-day minimum notice time between filing of the closure notice with

[[Page 31680]]

the Office of the Federal Register and the closure going into effect to 
four days. This change is being made in response to comments from 
States that they need more than three days' notice in order to 
implement complementary state water shark fishery closures. This change 
to a four-day notice should provide NMFS the flexibility to close the 
fishery as needed while still preventing overharvests and allowing 
sufficient time for fishermen to complete ongoing trips at the time of 
the closure.

Classification

    Pursuant to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the NMFS Assistant 
Administrator has determined that the final rule is consistent with the 
2006 Consolidated HMS FMP and its amendments, other provisions of the 
Magnuson-Stevens Act, and other applicable laws.
    This final rule has been determined to be not significant for 
purposes of Executive Order 12866.
    This final rule is expected to be an Executive Order 13771 
deregulatory action.
    A Final Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (FRFA) was prepared for 
this rule. The FRFA incorporates the Initial Regulatory Flexibility 
Analysis (IRFA), and a summary of the analyses completed to support the 
action. The full FRFA and analysis of economic and ecological impacts 
are available from NMFS. A summary of the analysis follows. A copy of 
this analysis is available from NMFS (see ADDRESSES).
    Section 604(a)(1) of the RFA requires a succinct statement of the 
need for and objectives of the rule. The purpose of this final action 
is to allow shark fishermen to harvest available quota without 
exceeding it, consistent with conservation and management measures 
adopted in accordance with Magnuson-Stevens Act requirements to end 
overfishing and rebuild stocks. The final action is also intended to 
maximize economic benefits to stakeholders by allowing them to harvest 
available quota while achieving conservation goals, including 
preventing overfishing. To achieve this goal, this action considers 
modifications to the percent landings threshold that results in a 
closure, and modifications to the minimum amount of time before a 
closure is effective.
    Section 604(a)(2) requires a summary of significant issues raised 
by the public comment in response to the IRFA and a summary of the 
assessment of the Agency of such issues, and a statement of any changes 
made in the rule as a result of such comments. NMFS did not receive 
comments specific to the IRFA or any comments relating to economic 
impacts of the proposed action.
    Section 604(a)(4) of the RFA requires Agencies to provide an 
estimate of the number of small entities to which the rule would apply. 
The Small Business Administration (SBA) has established size criteria 
for all major industry sectors in the United States, including fish 
harvesters. This provision is made under the SBA's regulations for an 
agency to develop its own industry-specific size standards after 
consultation with and an opportunity for public comment (see 13 CFR 
121.903(c)). Under this provision, NMFS may establish size standards 
that differ from those established by the SBA Office of Size Standards, 
but only for use by NMFS and only for the purpose of conducting an 
analysis of economic effects in fulfillment of the agency's obligations 
under the RFA. To utilize this provision, NMFS must publish such size 
standards in the Federal Register, which NMFS did on December 29, 2015 
(80 FR 81194). In this final rule effective on July 1, 2016, NMFS 
established a small business size standard of $11 million in annual 
gross receipts for all businesses in the commercial fishing industry 
(NAICS 11411) for RFA compliance purposes. NMFS considers all HMS 
permit holders to be small entities because they all had average annual 
receipts of less than $11 million for commercial fishing.
    The final rule would apply to the approximately 113 commercial 
shark dealers, 490 commercial limited access permit holders in the 
Atlantic shark fishery (221 directed and 269 incidental permits), and 
154 open access smoothhound shark permit holders, based on an analysis 
of permit holders as of October 2017. Not all permit holders are active 
in the shark fishery in any given year. Active directed permit holders 
are defined as those with valid permits that landed one shark, based on 
HMS electronic dealer reports. Of those 221 commercial directed limited 
access permit holders, 32 (14 percent of permit holders) landed LCS, 30 
(14 percent of permit holders) landed non-blacknose SCS, and 14 (6 
percent of permit holders) landed blacknose sharks in the Atlantic. In 
the Gulf of Mexico region, 10 (5 percent of permit holders) landed LCS 
in the western sub-region, 6 (3 percent of permit holders) landed LCS 
in the eastern sub-region, and 8 (4 percent of permit holders) landed 
non-blacknose SCS throughout the region. Of directed limited access 
permit holders, 47 (21 percent of permit holders) landed pelagic 
sharks. Of the 154 open access smoothhound shark permit holders, 75 (49 
percent of permit holders) landed sharks in the Atlantic region. NMFS 
has determined that the final rule would not likely affect any small 
governmental jurisdictions.
    Section 603(a)(5) of the RFA requires agencies to describe any new 
reporting, record-keeping and other compliance requirements. The action 
does not contain any new collection of information, reporting, or 
record-keeping requirements. The alternatives considered modify the 
percentage landings threshold that prompts a shark fishery closure and 
the length of time between public notice and the effective date of a 
given fishery closure with the goal of avoiding under- and overharvests 
in these fisheries.
    Section 604(a)(6) of the RFA requires agencies is to describe the 
steps taken to minimize the significant economic impact on small 
entities consistent with the stated objectives of applicable statutes, 
including a statement of the factual, policy, and legal reasons for 
selecting the alternative adopted in the final rule and why each one of 
the other significant alternatives to the rule considered by the agency 
which affect the impact on small entities was rejected. These impacts 
are summarized below and discussed in the accompanying Final EA.
    Alternative 1a, the No Action alternative, would maintain the 
existing 80-percent threshold to close the shark fishery and maintain 
current shark quotas. Based on the 2017 ex-vessel prices, the potential 
average annual gross revenue for the 10 active directed permit holders 
from blacktip, aggregated LCS, and hammerhead shark meat in the western 
Gulf of Mexico sub-region would be $312,411, and average annual gross 
revenue from shark fins would be $187,631. Thus, potential average 
annual gross revenue by each active directed permit holder for 
blacktip, aggregated LCS, and hammerhead shark landings in the western 
Gulf of Mexico sub-region would be $50,004 ((312,411 + 187,631)/10 
active vessels). The potential total average annual gross revenue for 
the six active directed permit holders from blacktip, aggregated LCS, 
and hammerhead shark meat in the eastern Gulf of Mexico sub-region 
would be $113,327, and average annual gross revenue from shark fins 
would be $70,954. Thus, potential total average annual gross revenue by 
each active directed permit holder for blacktip, aggregated LCS, and 
hammerhead shark landings in the eastern Gulf of Mexico region would be 
$30,713 ((113,327 + 30,713)/6 active vessels). The potential total 
average annual gross revenue for the eight active directed permit 
holders for non-blacknose SCS and

[[Page 31681]]

smoothhound shark meat in the Gulf of Mexico would be $54,614, while 
revenue from shark fins would be $33,682. Thus, potential total average 
annual gross revenue by each active directed permit holder for non-
blacknose SCS in the Gulf of Mexico would be $11,036 ((54,614 + 
33,682)/8 active vessels). Since there have been no landings of 
smoothhound sharks in the Gulf of Mexico, the annual gross revenue for 
the active directed permit holders would be zero. The potential annual 
gross revenues for the 32 active directed permit holders from 
aggregated LCS and hammerhead shark meat in the Atlantic would be 
$283,630, while revenue from shark fins would be $97,566. Thus, 
potential total average annual gross revenues by each active directed 
permit holder for aggregated LCS and hammerhead shark in the Atlantic 
would be $11,912 ((283,630 + 97,566)/32 active vessels). The potential 
annual gross revenues for the 30 active directed permit holders from 
non-blacknose SCS shark meat in the Atlantic would be $266,150, while 
revenue from shark fins would be $54,869. Thus, potential total average 
annual gross revenue by each active directed permit holder for non-
blacknose SCS in the Atlantic would be $10,700 ((266,150 + 54,869)/30 
active vessels). The potential annual gross revenues for the 14 active 
directed permit holders from blacknose shark meat in the Atlantic would 
be $18,103, while revenue from shark fins would be $3,412. Thus, 
potential total average annual gross revenue by each active directed 
permit holder for blacknose in the Atlantic would be $1,537 ((18,103 + 
3,412)/14 active vessels). The potential annual gross revenues for the 
75 active directed permit holders from smoothhound shark meat in the 
Atlantic would be $582,233, while revenue from shark fins would be 
$48,808. Thus, potential total average annual gross revenues by each 
active directed permit holder for smoothhound shark in the Atlantic 
would be $8,414 ((582,233 + 48,808)/75 active vessels). The potential 
annual gross revenues for the 47 active directed permit holders from 
pelagic sharks (blue, porbeagle, shortfin mako, and thresher sharks) 
meat would be $381,580, while revenue from shark fins would be $20,134. 
Thus, potential total average annual gross revenues by each active 
directed permit holder for pelagic sharks would be $8,547 ((381,580 + 
20,134)/47 active vessels). Alternative 1a would likely result in 
neutral direct short- and long-term socioeconomic impacts because shark 
fishermen would continue to operate under current conditions, with 
shark fishermen continuing to fish at similar rates. The No Action 
alternative could also have neutral indirect impacts to those 
supporting the commercial shark fisheries, since the retention limits, 
and thus current fishing efforts, would not change under this 
alternative.
    Under Alternative 1b, NMFS would change the shark fishery closure 
threshold to 90 percent of the available overall, regional, and/or sub-
regional quota. This alternative would be likely to have neutral direct 
and indirect short- and long-term socioeconomic impacts because the 
base quotas would not change for any of the management groups and 
fishermen would still be limited in the total amount of sharks that 
could be harvested. This alternative could potentially lead to minor 
beneficial direct economic impacts if fishermen can land available 
quota that may have remained unharvested under the current 80-percent 
threshold. For example, in 2017, the quota for the blacktip, aggregated 
LCS, and hammerhead management groups from the western Gulf of Mexico 
sub-region was underutilized by 310,546 lb dw or 25 percent of the 
adjusted annual base quota, valued at $247,518 in potential ex-vessel 
revenue. Assuming all of this unharvested quota were caught, based on 
the 10 vessels that landed LCS in the western Gulf of Mexico sub-
region, the individual vessel impact would be an approximate gain of 
$31,055 per year. This does not include incidental permit holders, who 
would receive a smaller amount per year. For example, in the Atlantic, 
the blacknose shark management group was underutilized by 21,238 lb dw 
or 35 percent of the quota, valued at $25,807 in potential ex-vessel 
revenue. Based on the 14 vessels that landed blacknose in the Atlantic 
region, the individual vessel impact would be an approximate gain of 
$1,843 per year. This does not include incidental permit holders, who 
would receive a smaller amount per year. Alternative 1b could also lead 
to minor adverse socioeconomic impacts in the short-term if the quotas 
are overharvested, which would lead to lower quotas the following year. 
In addition, this alternative could potentially lead to minor adverse 
socioeconomic impacts if there is a large increase of landings combined 
with late dealer reporting, after the fishery is closed, that resulted 
in overharvest. For instance, the current 80 percent threshold has not 
been effective at closing in time to prevent overharvest of shark 
species that have small quotas, such as porbeagle sharks. As such, 
changing the percent closure threshold to 90 percent might be 
detrimental to the porbeagle shark fishery, as it may not provide a 
sufficient buffer to prevent overharvest and season closures that 
occurred in 2013 and 2015. However, this negative impact would be only 
in the short-term, as NMFS has the ability to monitor quotas on a 
weekly basis and promptly close the shark fishery.
    Under Alternative 1c, NMFS would change the shark fishery closure 
threshold to 70 percent of the available overall, regional, and/or sub-
regional quota. This change would potentially leave a larger buffer for 
fishermen to complete trips and receive delayed dealer reports. It is 
likely the change in threshold to 70 percent would have neutral direct 
and indirect short- and long-term socioeconomic impacts since none of 
the commercial quotas are being changed and NMFS is not expecting an 
increase in effort or fishing. This alternative could potentially have 
minor adverse direct socioeconomic impacts if there is a large amount 
of underharvest remaining every year, after accounting for late dealer 
reports, that fishermen would no longer be able to harvest as compared 
to the No Action alternative. For instance, a 10 percent decrease in 
realized revenue for the western Gulf of Mexico blacktip, aggregated 
LCS, and hammerhead shark fisheries would equate to approximately 
$50,004 (10 percent of $500,042) loss in ex-vessel revenue. Based on 
the 10 vessels that landed LCS in the western Gulf of Mexico sub-
region, the individual vessel impact would be an approximate loss of 
$5,000 per year. This does not include incidental permit holders, who 
would receive a smaller amount per year. However, these would be only 
be in the short-term because the fisheries have achieved close to full 
quota utilization in recent years for some shark quotas.
    Under Alternative 1d, NMFS would change the shark fishery closure 
threshold to 90 percent in the Atlantic Region, while maintaining the 
Gulf of Mexico closure threshold or overall non-regional threshold at 
80 percent. Alternative 1d provides some flexibility in assigning 
different closure thresholds between the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. 
In the Atlantic region, this alternative could potentially lead to 
minor beneficial direct economic impacts if fishermen can land 
available quota that may have remained unharvested under the current 
80-percent threshold. For instance, a 10 percent increase in realized 
revenue for the Atlantic aggregated LCS and hammerhead shark fisheries 
would equate to an approximate $38,119 (10 percent of $381,196) gain in 
ex-vessel

[[Page 31682]]

revenue. Based on the 32 vessels that landed LCS in the Atlantic 
region, the individual vessel impact would be an approximate increase 
of $1,191 per year. This does not include incidental permit holders, 
who would receive a smaller amount per year. In the Gulf of Mexico 
region and for fisheries with no region, this alternative could likely 
result in neutral direct and indirect, short- and long-term 
socioeconomic impacts because shark fishermen would continue to operate 
under current conditions, with shark fishermen continuing to fish at 
similar rates. Impacts in the Gulf of Mexico would therefore be the 
same as those described in Alternative 1a.
    Under Alternative 1e, when any shark fishery species and/or 
management group landings reach or are projected to reach 80 percent of 
the available overall, regional, and/or sub-regional quota, NMFS would 
evaluate the following criteriato determine if a closure is needed at 
the 80-percent threshold:
    A. The stock status of the relevant species or management group and 
any linked species and/or management groups;
    B. The patterns of over- and underharvest in the fishery over the 
previous five years;
    C. The likelihood of continued landings after the federal closure 
of the fishery;
    D. The effects of the closure on accomplishing the objectives of 
the 2006 Consolidated HMS FMP and its amendments;
    E. The likelihood of landings exceeding the quota by December 31 of 
each year; and
    F. The impacts of the closure on the catch rates of other shark 
management groups, including likelihood of an increase in dead 
discards.

(See discussion in Chapter 2 of the Final EA.) This alternative would 
add flexibility to close a fishery depending on a set of criteria, 
helping to maximize management efficacy while preventing overharvest. 
If this increased flexibility in determining when to close a fishery 
leads to full quota utilization of management groups, while still 
preventing overharvest of shark fisheries, then fishermen could 
potentially see additional revenue from being able to land sharks that 
would otherwise have remained unharvested under the existing 80-percent 
threshold. For instance, a 20-percent increase in realized revenue for 
the Atlantic aggregated LCS and hammerhead shark fisheries would equate 
to an approximate $76,239 (20 percent of $381,196) gain in ex-vessel 
revenue. Based on the 32 vessels that landed LCS in the Atlantic 
region, the individual vessel impact would be an approximate increase 
of $2,382 per year. This does not include incidental permit holders, 
who would receive a smaller amount per year. Based upon these criteria, 
the fishery could still operate similarly to the status quo 80-percent 
closure threshold, which would result in neutral socioeconomic impacts 
as described for Alternative 1a, the status quo alternative. As 
examples, if a shark species and/or management group quota reaches 80 
percent by September 1, then NMFS would evaluate the criteria in 
Alternative 1e before determining if a closure is needed at the 80-
percent threshold in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic regions. Based on 
criteria A (stock status of the relevant species or management group 
and any linked species and/or management groups) and C (continued 
landings after the federal closure), NMFS would likely close the shark 
species and/or management group quota in the Gulf of Mexico. In the 
Atlantic region, NMFS would likely also close the shark species and/or 
management group quota based on criteria A since all of the shark 
species and/or management groups in the region have an overfished or 
unknown stock status. This would lead to neutral socioeconomic impacts 
in both regions since there would be no change from current 
regulations. If a shark species and/or management group quota reaches 
80 percent by December 1, then NMFS would need to evaluate all of the 
criteria closely before implementing a closure in either the Gulf of 
Mexico or Atlantic region. A key criterion to evaluate is the 
likelihood of landings exceeding the quota by December 31 of each year 
(Criteria E). In the Gulf of Mexico region, NMFS would also consider 
Criteria C (continued landings after the federal closure) and how this 
would impact the fishery. In the Atlantic region, NMFS would likely 
keep the fishery open as long as landings are not projected to exceed 
the quota by the end of the year.
    Alternative 1f, the preferred alternative, will allow a shark 
fishery to remain open after the fishery's landings have reached or are 
projected to reach 80 percent of the available overall, regional, and/
or sub-regional quota, if the fishery's landings are not projected to 
reach 100 percent of the applicable quota before the end of the season. 
If the 80 percent threshold is reached but a closure is not necessary, 
NMFS will notify the public of this determination in the first monthly 
shark landings update listserv notice following achievement of the 80 
percent level. If a closure is needed, NMFS will file a Notice in the 
Federal Register reflecting that determination and closing the fishery 
with the appropriate notice. This alternative, similar to Alternatives 
1d and 1e, will provide the flexibility of achieving full quota 
utilization while still preventing overharvest. This alternative could 
therefore lead to neutral socioeconomic impacts, similar to Alternative 
1a, the status quo alternative, if the landings are projected to reach 
100 percent before the end of the fishing year. As examples, if 
landings of a shark species and/or management group reach 80 percent by 
September 1, then NMFS would likely have to close the fishery if it was 
in either the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic regions since the landings 
would likely reach 100 percent before the end of the fishing year. This 
would cause neutral socioeconomic impacts since it would be the status 
quo for the fishery. If landings of a shark species and/or management 
group reach 80 percent by December 1, then NMFS would project whether 
the landings in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic regions would reach 100 
percent before the end of the fishing year. If NMFS makes a 
determination that the landings would exceed 100 percent of the 
available quota before the end of the fishing year (December 31) absent 
a closure, then NMFS would keep the fishery open. Thus, this could lead 
to minor beneficial socioeconomic impacts since the quota could be 
fully utilized. A fishery reaching the 80-percent threshold without 
being projected to exceed its quota before the end of the season is 
most likely to occur late in the year.
    Under Alternative 2a, NMFS would maintain the status quo and would 
not change the notice period of five days for the closure of a 
management group. This alternative would have no impact on the 
allowable level of fishing pressure, catch rates, or distribution of 
fishing effort. As such, it is likely that the No Action Alternative as 
well as this alternative in combination with any of the Alternatives 
1b, 1c, 1d, 1e, or 1f would have both neutral direct and indirect, 
short- and long-term socioeconomic impacts. If there is a large amount 
of landings made during the five-day notice and a later closure under 
Alternatives 1b, 1c, or 1d, then there could be the potential for minor 
beneficial socioeconomic impacts for those fisheries who have 
underutilized the quota in recent years. The majority of fishing trips 
for sharks are currently one day in length, so a five-day closure

[[Page 31683]]

notice should not result in regulatory discards for these trips. 
However, this alternative could potentially result in interrupted 
fishing activities, potentially resulting in regulatory discards if 
trips were underway at the time of the notice of the closure. For 
instance, pelagic longline fishing vessels, which can take trips that 
last several weeks, may need to discard any dead sharks onboard and in 
their hold if the vessel is unable to land the sharks before the 
closure is effective. However, NMFS expects few dead discards as a 
result of closure notices given that NMFS has implemented several 
management measures that prohibit retention of some sharks (i.e., 
silky, oceanic whitetip, hammerhead sharks) on vessels with pelagic 
longline gear onboard. In combination with all other alternatives 
(i.e., 1a, 1c, 1d, 1e, and 1f), except Alternative 1b, this alternative 
would allow fishermen to complete their fishing trips while still 
preventing overharvest. In combination with Alternative 1b (e.g., 90-
percent closure threshold), there is a risk of overharvest if the 
landings rate was high before the closure date is effective and 
potential reduced quotas the following season.
    Under Alternative 2b, NMFS would change the minimum notice period 
to three days instead of the current five-day notice once the fisheries 
reached a landings threshold necessitating a closure. This change would 
allow more timely action in closing shark fisheries, helping to prevent 
overharvest. In combination with all other Alternatives (1a, 1b, 1d, 
1e, and 1f), except Alternative 1c, this alternative would reduce the 
risk of exceeding the quota, especially if the landings rate was high 
before the closure date is effective. In combination with Alternative 
1c (e.g., 70-percent closure threshold), this alternative would 
increase the risk of a significant underharvest and would cause minor 
adverse socioeconomic impacts. This alternative would have no impact on 
the allowable level of fishing pressure, catch rates, or distribution 
of fishing effort, as the commercial quotas would remain the same. 
Therefore, it is likely that this alternative would have both neutral 
direct and indirect, short- and long-term socioeconomic impacts. This 
alternative could potentially result in interrupted fishing activities 
for pelagic longline vessels, which generally take trips up to nine 
days in length, potentially resulting in regulatory discards if shark 
trips were underway at the time of the closure and the closure was 
immediate upon filing of the closure notice. However, NMFS expects few 
dead discards as a result of the closure notice timing as most pelagic 
longline fishermen do not target sharks and are unlikely to land many 
sharks given recent management measures to reduce shark mortality on 
pelagic longline vessels. In addition, the preferred time before the 
closure is effective is well within the range of the current directed 
shark trip lengths (i.e., one to two days). This alternative was 
preferred in the draft EA primarily because it would increase 
flexibility to close the fishery as needed while still preventing 
overharvest and allowing sufficient time for most fishermen to complete 
trips underway at the time of the notice of the closure. Based on 
public comment, this alternative is no longer preferred. A new 
preferred alternative (2d) better addresses concerns from the States 
that they need more than three days' notice in order to close state 
waters in conjunction with federal waters while also addressing NMFS' 
need to increase flexibility to close the fishery as needed while still 
preventing overharvest.
    Under Alternative 2c, NMFS would change the timing of shark fishery 
species and/or management group closures to allow immediate closure 
upon filing of the closure notice with the Office of the Federal 
Register. This alternative would allow timely action in closing shark 
fisheries, helping to prevent overharvest. In combination with all 
other alternatives, this alternative would either reduce the risk of 
exceeding the quota (i.e., Alternatives 1a, 1b, 1d, 1e, and 1f) or 
increase the risk of a significant underharvest (i.e., Alternative 1c). 
Therefore, it is likely that this alternative would have both neutral 
direct and indirect, short- and long-term economic impacts. However, as 
described in above, this alternative could potentially result in 
interrupted fishing activities with little or no warning to the 
regulated community, potentially resulting in regulatory discards, if 
shark trips were underway at the time of the notice of the closure, 
with associated loss of revenue. Additionally, HMS AP members from 
several states indicated that some states would have difficulty closing 
state water fisheries immediately.
    Under Alternative 2d, the new preferred alternative, NMFS will 
change the minimum notice period to four days instead of the current 
five-day notice once the landings reach a threshold necessitating a 
closure. This alternative is preferred because it addresses the 
concerns from the States that they need more than three days' notice in 
order to close state waters in conjunction with federal waters while 
addressing NMFS' need to increase flexibility to close the fishery as 
needed while still preventing overharvest. In combination with all 
other alternatives (i.e., 1a, 1c, 1d, 1e, and 1f), except Alternative 
1b, Alternative 2d will allow most fishermen, particularly those 
fishing for sharks, to complete their fishing trips while still 
reducing the risk of exceeding the quota, especially if landings rate 
increases substantially between the filing of the closure notice and 
the effective date of the closure. In combination with Alternative 1b 
(e.g., 90-percent closure threshold), there is a risk of overharvest if 
the landings rate was high before the closure date is effective under 
Alternative 2d. This alternative would likely have both neutral direct 
and indirect short- and long-term socioeconomic impacts to shark 
fishery participants because the allowable level of fishing pressure, 
catch rates, distribution of fishing effort, and the commercial quotas 
would remain the same. This alternative is within the range of 
originally proposed actions, which covered potential closure notice 
between immediate closure and five days.
    Section 212 of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness 
Act of 1996 states that, for each rule or group of related rules for 
which an agency is required to prepare a FRFA, the agency shall publish 
one or more guides to assist small entities in complying with the rule 
and shall designate such publications as ``small entity compliance 
guides.'' The agency shall explain the actions a small entity is 
required to take to comply with a rule or group of rules. As part of 
this rulemaking process, a listserv notice and a statement published 
online that also serves as small entity compliance guide (the guide) 
was prepared. Copies of this final rule and the guide are available 
upon request (see ADDRESSES).

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 635

    Fisheries, Fishing, Fishing vessels, Foreign relations, Imports, 
Penalties, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements, Treaties.

    Dated: July 3, 2018.
Patricia A. Montanio,
Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, National 
Marine Fisheries Service.
    For the reasons set out in the preamble, 50 CFR part 635 is amended 
as follows:

PART 635--ATLANTIC HIGHLY MIGRATORY SPECIES

0
1. The authority citation for part 635 continues to read as follows:


[[Page 31684]]


    Authority:  16 U.S.C. 971 et seq.; 16 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.


0
2. In Sec.  635.24, revise paragraph (a)(8)(iii) to read as follows:


Sec.  635.24   Commercial retention limits for sharks, swordfish, and 
BAYS tunas.

* * * * *
    (a) * * *
    (8) * * *
    (iii) Estimated date of fishery closure based on when the landings 
are projected to reach 80 percent of the quota given the realized catch 
rates and whether they are projected to reach 100 percent before the 
end of the fishing season;
* * * * *

0
3. In Sec.  635.28, revise paragraphs (b)(2) and (b)(3) to read as 
follows:


Sec.  635.28   Fishery closures.

* * * * *
    (b) * * *
    (2) Non-linked quotas. If the overall, regional, and/or sub-
regional quota of a species or management group is not linked to 
another species or management group and that overall, regional, and/or 
sub-regional quota is available as specified by a publication in the 
Federal Register, then that overall, regional, and/or sub-regional 
commercial fishery for the shark species or management group will open 
as specified in Sec.  635.27(b). When NMFS calculates that the overall, 
regional, and/or sub-regional landings for a shark species and/or 
management group, as specified in Sec.  635.27(b)(1), has reached or is 
projected to reach 80 percent of the applicable available overall, 
regional, and/or sub-regional quota as specified in Sec.  635.27(b)(1) 
and is projected to reach 100 percent of the relevant quota by the end 
of the fishing season, NMFS will file for publication with the Office 
of the Federal Register a notice of an overall, regional, and/or sub-
regional closure, as applicable, for that shark species and/or shark 
management group that will be effective no fewer than 4 days from date 
of filing. From the effective date and time of the closure until NMFS 
announces, via the publication of a notice in the Federal Register, 
that additional overall, regional, and/or sub-regional quota is 
available and the season is reopened, the overall, regional, and/or 
sub-regional fisheries for that shark species or management group are 
closed, even across fishing years.
    (3) Linked quotas. As specified in paragraph (b)(4) of this 
section, the overall, regional, and/or sub-regional quotas of some 
shark species and/or management groups are linked to the overall, 
regional, and/or sub-regional quotas of other shark species and/or 
management groups. For each pair of linked species and/or management 
groups, if the overall, regional, and/or sub-regional quota specified 
in Sec.  635.27(b)(1) is available for both of the linked species and/
or management groups as specified by a publication in the Federal 
Register, then the overall, regional, and/or sub-regional commercial 
fishery for both of the linked species and/or management groups will 
open as specified in Sec.  635.27(b)(1). When NMFS calculates that the 
overall, regional, and/or sub-regional landings for any species and/or 
management group of a linked group have reached or are projected to 
reach 80 percent of the applicable available overall, regional, and/or 
sub-regional quota as specified in Sec.  635.27(b)(1) and are projected 
to reach 100 percent of the relevant quota before the end of the 
fishing season, NMFS will file for publication with the Office of the 
Federal Register a notice of an overall, regional, and/or sub-regional 
closure for all of the species and/or management groups in that linked 
group that will be effective no fewer than 4 days from date of filing. 
From the effective date and time of the closure until NMFS announces, 
via the publication of a notice in the Federal Register, that 
additional overall, regional, and/or sub-regional quota is available 
and the season is reopened, the overall, regional, and/or sub-regional 
fishery for all species and/or management groups in that linked group 
is closed, even across fishing years.
* * * * *
[FR Doc. 2018-14665 Filed 7-6-18; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3510-22-P


Current View
CategoryRegulatory Information
CollectionFederal Register
sudoc ClassAE 2.7:
GS 4.107:
AE 2.106:
PublisherOffice of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Administration
SectionRules and Regulations
ActionFinal rule.
DatesThis rule is effective on August 8, 2018.
ContactLauren Latchford, Gu[yacute] DuBeck, Chant[eacute] Davis, or Karyl Brewster-Geisz by phone at (301) 427-8503 or Delisse Ortiz at (240) 681-9037.
FR Citation83 FR 31677 
RIN Number0648-BG97
CFR AssociatedFisheries; Fishing; Fishing Vessels; Foreign Relations; Imports; Penalties; Reporting and Recordkeeping Requirements and Treaties

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