NMFS News Release





Northeast Regional Office
One Blackburn Drive
Gloucester, MA 01930




American Lobster Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement

[Federal Register: October 22, 1997 (Volume 62, Number 204)]

[Notices]

[Page 54834-54836]

From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

[DOCID:fr22oc97-38]

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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

[I.D. 101497B]

American Lobster; Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact

Statement

AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and

Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.

ACTION: Notice of intent (NOI) to prepare an environmental impact

statement (EIS); request for written comments.

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SUMMARY: NMFS announces its intent to prepare an EIS to assess the

impact on the natural and human environment of possible measures to

manage fishing for American lobster in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone

(EEZ). This NOI requests public input in the form of written comments

on issues that NMFS should consider in preparing the EIS. Specifically,

the EIS will examine alternatives available to NMFS in addressing the

overfishing of American lobsters in the EEZ as well as state waters,

including specific recommendations to the Secretary of Commerce

(Secretary) by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC)

in its proposed Amendment 3 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan

for Lobster. Public hearings for the EIS will be scheduled at a later

date.

DATES: Written comments on the intent to prepare the EIS must be

received on or before November 20, 1997. Public hearings will be

announced in the Federal Register at a later date.

ADDRESSES: Comments should be sent to: Andrew A. Rosenberg, Ph.D.,

Regional Administrator, Northeast Region, NMFS, One Blackburn Drive,

Gloucester, MA 01930-3799.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Paul H. Jones, Fishery Policy Analyst,

978-281-9273.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

On March 27, 1996 (61 FR 13478), NMFS published a proposed rule

requesting comments on its initial determination to withdraw approval

of the American Lobster Fishery Management Plan (FMP) under the

Magnuson-Stevens Fishery

[[Page 54835]]

Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act)(16 U.S.C. 1801

et seq.), and its implementing regulations (50 CFR part 649), and

develop regulations under the Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative

Management Act (ACFCMA)(Pub. L. 103-206). The stated reason for the

proposed withdrawal of this FMP, as more fully discussed in the

proposed rule, was to transfer the lead for lobster management to the

states and the ASMFC. In establishing the need for the transfer of

management authority, NMFS pointed to the fact that most of the lobster

resource resides within state waters and, therefore, without full state

cooperation, NMFS could not ensure that it could address overfishing

concerns as required under the Magnuson Act (now called the Magnuson-

Stevens Act). At that time, NMFS determined that ACFCMA would be a

better vehicle for addressing conservation needs in the American

lobster fishery, particularly since ACFCMA provides a mechanism for

state compliance with any coastal management plans adopted by ASMFC.

Nevertheless, NMFS made the promulgation of a final rule to withdraw

the FMP contingent upon appropriate action by the ASMFC and the states

to address lobster conservation that would allow NMFS to issue

effective compatible Federal regulations under ACFCMA, as necessary.

At the time, withdrawal of the American lobster FMP, subject to

this contingency, was supported in formal comments submitted by the New

England Fishery Management Council (Council), the ASMFC, and Maine's

Department of Marine Resources.

Since the issuance of this proposed rule, the Magnuson Act was

significantly amended (including a name change to the Magnuson-Stevens

Act) by the Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA)(Pub. L. 104-297) on October

11, 1996. Most notably for purposes of American lobster management, the

SFA required that NMFS identify annually all overfished fisheries

within the jurisdictions of fishery management councils, and that

fishery management councils submit FMPs or amendments to FMPs to end

overfishing and to rebuild overfished stocks by September 30, 1998. The

SFA further required that, if a council does not submit a required FMP

or amendment to end overfishing by the deadline, the Secretary shall

prepare the FMP or amendment to stop the overfishing and to rebuild the

overfished stocks 9 months after September 30, 1998. On September 30,

1997, NMFS issued its list of overfished fisheries, which includes the

American lobster fishery.

The SFA also amended the ACFCMA by adding section 810 which

provides that, if no regulations have been issued under section 804(b)

of ACFCMA by December 31, 1997, to implement a coastal fishery

management plan (CFMP) for American lobster, the Secretary shall issue

interim regulations before March 1, 1998, that will prohibit any vessel

that takes lobsters in the EEZ by a method other than pots or traps

from landing lobsters (or any parts thereof) at any location within the

United States in excess of:

(1) 100 lobsters (or parts thereof) for each fishing trip of a 24-

hour or less duration (up to a maximum of 500 lobsters, or parts

thereof, during any 5-day period); or

(2) 500 lobsters (or parts thereof) for a fishing trip of 5 days or

longer.

Section 804(b) of the ACFCMA states that, in the absence of an

approved and implemented FMP under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and after

consultation with the appropriate Councils, the Secretary may implement

regulations to govern fishing in the EEZ that are--

1. Compatible with the effective implementation of an ASMFC CFMP;

and

2. Consistent with the national standards set forth in section 301

of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Meanwhile, the lobster board of the ASMFC has developed the final

draft of Amendment 3 to the ASMFC lobster FMP. The draft amendment

includes the following specific recommendations for Secretarial action

in the EEZ to support the Commission's FMP:

1. Keep the moratorium on new Federal permits;

2. Continue the Federal regulation currently in place;

3. Require that fishermen comply with the landing laws of the state

in which they land lobsters, regardless of where they were caught; and

4. Implement any further measures that will be required on a

coastwide basis in this plan including--

Specifications of the Management Unit; Definition of Overfishing;

Stock Rebuilding Schedule; Implementation Schedule; Minimum Size;

Possession of V-notched Female Lobsters; Permits and Licensing; Maximum

Trap Size; Escape Vents on Traps; Area-specific Trap Proposals;

Moratorium on Entry; License Limitations; Measures That May Be

Optionally Implemented in Various Areas; Management Measures Applicable

to Mobile Gear Fisheries; and Monitoring and Reporting.

ASMFC must decide whether to adopt the lobster board's draft

Amendment 3 at its next meeting on October 21, 1997. If Amendment 3 is

adopted by ASMFC with substantially the same measures as currently

proposed, it is not certain whether overfishing will be adequately

addressed, even if NMFS were to withdraw the Magnuson-Stevens Act

lobster FMP and adopt compatible Federal regulations for the EEZ

portion of the lobster fishery. If NMFS determines that overfishing

will not be adequately addressed by the ASMFC amendment, the

contingency for withdrawing the Magnuson-Stevens Act FMP will not have

been met.

Therefore, NMFS is facing a difficult dilemma given the new

requirements in the Magnuson-Stevens Act to address overfishing in the

lobster fishery by a time certain as opposed to NMFS' stated intent to

withdraw the lobster FMP and transfer the lead for lobster conservation

management to the ASMFC and the states. Complicating this scenario is

the new ACFCMA provision that mandates a possession limit on lobsters

by non-trap vessels if the Magnuson-Stevens Act FMP is not withdrawn

and replaced by Federal regulations under ACFCMA.

Although NMFS has not yet determined under which regulatory

authority to proceed to implement conservation measures in the lobster

fishery because ASMFC has not made a final determination on its

Amendment 3, NMFS has decided that it must move forward with the

process of implementing significant conservation measures to address

overfishing in the lobster fishery. Accordingly, NMFS is issuing this

NOI to prepare an EIS and soliciting public comments on the impacts of

possible lobster conservation measures. This step is necessary to

implement such measures, whether they are promulgated under the

Magnuson-Stevens Act or ACFCMA. In addition to the possible measures

recommended by ASMFC draft Amendment 3, described in this document,

NMFS is also considering other measures, including, but not limited to

the following: (1) Effort caps based on an historic number of traps or

a flat cap of traps for all Federal limited access lobster permitted

vessels that take lobsters in the EEZ by a method of traps, with

possible consideration of the areas fished; (2) a trap reduction

program to 1991 fishing levels; (3) a percent cap on landings based on

the total reported catch of previous years allowable catch of lobster,

or 100 lobsters (or parts thereof) for each fishing trip of a 24-hour

or less duration (up to a maximum of 500 lobsters, or parts thereof,

during any 5-day period), or 500 lobsters (or parts thereof) for a

fishing trip of 5 days or longer, for all Federal limited access

[[Page 54836]]

lobster permitted vessels that take lobsters in the EEZ by a method

other than traps, (4) a prohibition on the taking or possession of

lobster in the EEZ; (5) the application of current Federal regulations

(50 CFR part 649) to the EEZ under ACFCMA; and (6) status quo or no

action taken. NMFS also requests comments on the appropriate regulatory

authority under which it should proceed with lobster conservation

measures.

NMFS has determined that the preparation of an EIS is appropriate,

because of the potentially significant impact of EEZ regulations on the

human environment. All of the Federal EEZ measures recommended in draft

Amendment 3 to the ASMFC FMP will be assessed also during the EIS

process. Participants in this fishery will be affected and may face

more restricted harvests of lobster while the natural stocks of lobster

are allowed to recover.

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

Dated: October 17, 1997.

Gary Matlock,

Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, National Marine Fisheries

Service.

[FR Doc. 97-27966 Filed 10-21-97; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 3510-22-F





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