2013-14 Bluefish Proposals

NMFS proposes specifications for the 2013 and 2014 Atlantic bluefish fishery, including an annual catch limit, total allowable landings, a commercial quota and recreational harvest limit, and a recreational possession limit. The intent of this action is to establish the allowable 2013 and 2014 harvest levels and other management measures to achieve the target fishing mortality rate, consistent with the Atlantic Bluefish Fishery Management Plan.

Comments must be received on or before March 7, 2013.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2013-0006,
by any one of the following methods:
     Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking portal. Go to www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0006, click the ``Comment Now!'' icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.
     Mail: Submit written comments to John Bullard, Regional
Administrator, NMFS, Northeast Regional Office, 55 Great Republic
Drive, Gloucester, MA 01930.
     Fax: (978) 281-9135, Attn: Carly Bari.


Instructions: 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 by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the
public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on
www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying
information (e.g., name, address, etc.), confidential business
information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily
by the sender will be publically accessible. 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, Excel, or Adobe PDF file formats only.

Copies of the specifications document, including the Environmental
Assessment and Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (EA/IRFA) and
other supporting documents for the specifications, are available from
Dr. Christopher M. Moore, Executive Director, Mid-Atlantic Fishery
Management Council, Suite 201, 800 N. State Street, Dover, DE 19901.
The specifications document is also accessible via the Internet at:

Specialist,  (978) 281-9224.



    The Atlantic bluefish fishery is managed cooperatively by the Mid-
Atlantic Fishery Management Council (Council) and the Atlantic States
Marine Fisheries Commission (Commission). The management unit for
bluefish specified in the Atlantic Bluefish Fishery Management Plan
(FMP) is U.S. waters of the western Atlantic Ocean. Regulations
implementing the FMP appear at 50 CFR part 648, subparts A and J. The
regulations requiring annual specifications are found at Sec.  648.162.

   The FMP requires the Council to recommend, on an annual basis, the
annual catch limit (ACL), annual catch target (ACT), and total
allowable landings (TAL) that will control fishing mortality (F). An
estimate of annual discards is deducted from the ACT to calculate the
TAL that can be harvested during the year by the commercial and
recreational fishing sectors. The FMP requires that 17 percent of the
ACT be allocated to the commercial fishery, with the remaining 83
percent allocated to the recreational fishery. The Council may also
recommend a research set-aside (RSA) quota, which is deducted from the
bluefish TAL (after any applicable transfer) in an amount proportional
to the percentage of the overall TAL as allocated to the commercial and
recreational sectors.
    The annual review process for bluefish requires that the Council's
Bluefish Monitoring Committee and Scientific and Statistical Committee
(SSC) review and make recommendations based on the best available
scientific information, including, but not limited to, commercial and
recreational catch/landing statistics, current estimates of fishing
mortality, stock abundance, discards for the recreational fishery, and
juvenile recruitment. Based on the recommendations of the Monitoring
Committee and SSC, the Council makes a recommendation to the NMFS
Northeast Regional Administrator. Because this FMP is a joint plan, the
Commission also meets during the annual specification process to adopt
complementary measures.
    The Council's recommendations must include supporting documentation
concerning the environmental, economic, and social impacts of the
recommendations. NMFS is responsible for reviewing these
recommendations to ensure that they achieve the FMP objectives, and may
modify them if they do not. NMFS then publishes proposed specifications
in the Federal Register, and after considering public comment, NMFS
will publish final specifications in the Federal Register.

Proposed Specifications

Updated Model Estimates

    According to Amendment 1 to the FMP, overfishing for bluefish
occurs when F exceeds the fishing mortality rate that allows maximum
sustainable yield (FMSY), or the maximum F threshold to be
achieved. The stock is considered overfished if the biomass (B) falls
below the minimum biomass threshold, which is defined as \1/2\
BMSY. Amendment 1 also established that the long-term target
F is 90 percent of FMSY (FMSY = 0.19; therefore
Ftarget = 90 percent of FMSY, or 0.17), and the
long-term target B is BMSY = 324 million lb (147,052 mt).
    An age-structured assessment program (ASAP) model for bluefish was
approved by the 41st Stock Assessment Review Committee (SARC 41) in
2005 to estimate F and annual biomass. In June 2012, the ASAP model was
updated in order to estimate the current status of the bluefish stock
(i.e., 2011 biomass and F estimates) and enable the Monitoring
Committee and SSC to recommend 2013 and 2014 specifications using
landings information and survey indices through the 2011 fishing year.
The results of the assessment update were as follows: (1) An estimated
stock biomass for 2011, B2011 = 292.972 million lb (132,890
mt); and (2) an estimated fishing mortality rate for 2011,
F2011 = 0.114. Based on the updated 2011 estimate of
bluefish stock biomass, the bluefish stock is not considered
overfished: B2011 is slightly less than BMSY, but
well above the minimum biomass threshold, \1/2\ BMSY, of 162
million lb (73,526 mt). Estimates of F have declined from 0.41 in 1991
to 0.114 in 2011. The updated model results also conclude that the
Atlantic bluefish stock is not experiencing overfishing; i.e., the most
recent F (F2011 = 0.114) is less than the maximum F
overfishing threshold specified by SARC 41 (FMSY = 0.19).
Bluefish was declared rebuilt in 2009.

2013 and 2014 Catch Limits

    Following the framework implemented by the Council's ACL Omnibus
Amendment, the Council recommended that ACL be set to acceptable
biological catch (ABC) for 2013 (27.472 million lb, 12,461 mt) and for
2014 (27.057 million lb, 12,273 mt). No deductions were recommended to
account for management uncertainty; therefore, ABC=ACL=ACT for both
years. The ACT is initially allocated between the recreational fishery
(83 percent) and the commercial fishery (17 percent). After deducting
an estimate of recreational discards (commercial discards are
considered negligible), the recreational harvest limit (RHL) would be
19.190 million lb (8,704 mt) for 2013 and 18.846 million lb (8,548 mt)
for 2014 and the commercial quota would be 4.670 million lb (2,118 mt)
for 2013 and 4.60 million lb (2,087 mt) for 2014.
    The FMP specifies that, if 17 percent of the TAL is less than 10.5
million lb, and the recreational fishery is not projected to land its
harvest limit for the upcoming year, the commercial fishery may be
allocated up to 10.5 million lb as its quota, provided that the
combination of the projected recreational landings and the commercial
quota does not exceed the TAL. The RHL would then be adjusted downward
so that the TAL would be unchanged.
    The Council projected an estimated annual recreational harvest for
2013 and 2014 of 14.069 million lb (6,381 mt). As such, it is expected
that a transfer of up to 4.686 million lb (2,125 mt) for 2013 and 4.342
million lb (1,969 mt) for 2014 from the recreational sector to the
commercial sector could be approved. These options represent the
preferred alternatives recommended by the Council in its specifications
document. The actual transfer amount in the final rule, if any, will
depend on the final 2012 recreational landings data.


    For 2013, the Council preliminarily approved two research projects
that would utilize bluefish RSA quota and forwarded them to NOAA's
Grants Management Division. The Council preliminarily approved 715,819
lb (325 mt) of RSA quota for use by these projects during 2013. For
2014, the Council preliminarily approved 703,385 lb (319 mt) of RSA
quota for future research projects. Proportional adjustments of these
amounts to the commercial and recreational allocations would result in
a final commercial quota of 9.076 million lb (4,117 mt) for 2013 and
8.674 million lb (3,934 mt) for 2014, and a final RHL of 14.069 million
lb (6,381 mt) for both 2013 and 2014. NMFS staff will update the
commercial and recreational allocations based on the final 2013 RSA
awards as part of the final rule for the 2013 specifications.

Proposed Recreational Possession Limit

    The Council recommended, and NMFS proposes, to maintain the current
recreational possession limit of up to 15 fish per person to achieve
the RHL for both 2013 and 2014.

Proposed State Commercial Allocations

    The proposed state commercial allocations for the recommended 2013
and 2014 commercial quota are shown in Table 1, based on the
percentages specified in the FMP. These quotas do not reflect any
adjustments for quota overages that may have occurred in some states in
2012. Any potential deductions for states that exceeded their quota in
2012 will be accounted for in the final rule.

[[Page 11811]]


  Table 1--Proposed Bluefish Commercial State-by-State Allocations for 2013 and 2014 (Including RSA Deductions)
                                               2013 Council-    2013 Council-    2014 Council-    2014 Council-
                                    Percent       proposed         proposed         proposed         proposed
              State                  share       commercial       commercial       commercial       commercial
                                                 quota (lb)       quota (kg)       quota (lb)       quota (kg)
ME...............................     0.6685           60,673           27,521           57,985           26,302
NH...............................     0.4145           37,620           17,064           35,953           16,308
MA...............................     6.7167          609,606          276,513          582,603          264,264
RI...............................     6.8081          617,902          280,276          590,531          267,860
CT...............................     1.2663          114,929           52,131          109,838           49,822
NY...............................    10.3851          942,549          427,533          900,797          408,595
NJ...............................    14.8162        1,344,715          609,953        1,285,148          582,933
DE...............................     1.8782          170,465           77,322          162,914           73,897
MD...............................     3.0018          272,443          123,578          260,374          118,104
VA...............................    11.8795        1,078,181          489,055        1,030,421          467,391
NC...............................    32.0608        2,909,831        1,319,878        2,780,935        1,261,411
SC...............................     0.0352            3,195            1,449            3,053            1,385
GA...............................     0.0095              862              391              824              374
FL...............................    10.0597          913,016          414,137          872,572          395,792
    Total........................   100.0001        9,075,976        4,116,795        8,673,941        3,934,435