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FR Notice – Rebuilding Plan for the American Samoa Bottomfish Fishery (May 2, 2022)

American Samoa, Federal Register Notices, News and Updates

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

ACTION: Final rule.

SUMMARY: This final rule implements a rebuilding plan that includes annual catch limits (ACL) and accountability measures (AM) for the overfished bottomfish stock complex in American Samoa. This action is necessary to rebuild the overfished stock consistent with the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act).

DATES: The final rule is effective June 1, 2022.

ADDRESSES: Copies of Amendment 5, including an Environmental Assessment and Regulatory Impact Review, and other supporting documents for this action are available at​document/​NOAA-NMFS-2022-0023-0006.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Heather Cronin, NMFS PIR Sustainable Fisheries, 808-725-5179.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NMFS and the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) manage the American Samoa bottomfish fishery under the American Samoa Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP) and implementing regulations. The fishery primarily targets and harvests a complex of 11 bottomfish management unit species (BMUS), which includes emperors, snappers, groupers, and jacks. Bottomfish are typically harvested in deep waters, though some species are caught over reefs at shallower depths. Most (85 percent) bottomfish habitat is in territorial waters (generally from the shoreline to 3 nautical miles (5.6 km) offshore), with the rest in Federal waters (i.e., the U.S Exclusive Economic Zone) around offshore banks. Fishing for bottomfish in American Samoa primarily occurs within 20 mi (32.2 km) from shore using aluminum catamarans less than 32 ft (9.7 m) long, known locally as alia.

On February 10, 2020, NMFS notified the Council that the American Samoa bottomfish stock complex was overfished and subject to overfishing (85 FR 26940, May 6, 2020). Consistent with section 304(e) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and implementing regulations at 50 CFR 600.310(j), the Council must prepare, and NMFS must implement, a rebuilding plan within two years of the notification.

Amendment 5 implements a rebuilding plan for the American Samoa bottomfish stock complex that consists of an ACL, and in-season AM, and a higher performance standard should the fishery exceed the ACL. The rebuilding plan implements an ACL of 5,000 lb (2,268 kg) starting in 2022. NMFS is obligated to manage the stock throughout its range, and the complex exists in both territorial and Federal waters. Therefore, we would count harvests from territorial and Federal waters toward the ACL. However, existing data monitoring programs do not differentiate catch from territorial versus Federal waters. The fishing year is the calendar year.

As an in-season AM, if NMFS projects that the fishery will reach the ACL in any year, then we would close the fishery in Federal waters for the remainder of that year. At this time, American Samoa has not developed regulations to implement complementary management to restrict catch in territorial waters if the ACL is reached, and it is not reasonably certain they will implement complementary management measures in the future. Accordingly, as a higher performance standard, if the total annual catch (which includes catch from both Federal and territorial waters) exceeds the ACL during a year, we would close the fishery in Federal waters until NMFS and the Territory of American Samoa implement a coordinated management approach to ensure that catch in Federal and territorial waters is maintained at levels that allow the stock to rebuild. The rebuilding plan would remain in place until NMFS determines that the stock complex is rebuilt, which is expected to take 10 years if catches are maintained at the specified level. The Council and NMFS selected the 5,000 lb ACL because it is the maximum catch that allows the bottomfish stock to rebuild within the ten-year timeframe permitted under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. This level of catch also helps to minimize cultural, economic and social effects of the rebuilding plan on communities in American Samoa. NMFS and the Council would review the rebuilding plan routinely every two years and modify it, as necessary, per section 304(e)(7) of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

You may find additional background information on this action in the preamble to the proposed rule (87 FR 6470, February 4, 2022).

Click here for complete FR Notice.