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Request for Comments: Action to Improve Compliance and Flexibility in the Gulf of Mexico Commercial Individual Fishing Quota Programs

February 21, 2018

FB18-014 Gulf of Mexico Fishery Bulletin; For More Information, Contact: Sustainable Fisheries, 727-824-5305

Key Message:
NOAA Fisheries announces a comment period on proposed regulations affecting commercial reef fish fishermen.  The purpose of this action is to improve compliance and increase management flexibility in the Gulf of Mexico individual fishing quota (IFQ) programs. Comments are due by April 23, 2018.

Summary of Proposed Changes:

  • Require the owner or operator of a commercial reef fish permitted vessel landing any commercially caught, federally managed reef fish from the Gulf of Mexico to provide an advance notice of landing at least 3 hours, but no more than 24 hours, prior to landing.
  • Return permanently to NOAA Fisheries any shares contained in IFQ accounts that have never been activated since January 1, 2010.
  • Allow NOAA Fisheries to withhold the distribution of IFQ allocation equal to the amount of an expected commercial quota reduction on January 1, the beginning of the fishing year, but distribute that allocation if the expected reduction does not take place by June 1.

How to Comment on the Notice of Availability and Proposed Rule:
The comment period is open now through April 23, 2018.  You may submit comments on the notice of availability and proposed rule by electronic submission or by postal mail.  Comments sent by any other method (such as e-mail), to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered by NOAA Fisheries.

Formal Federal Register Name/Number: FR#7447, published Feb. 21, 2018.

Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. 

  1. Go to www.regulations.gov.
  2. Click the "Comment Now!" icon, complete the required fields.
  3. Enter or attach your comments.

Mail: Submit written comments to Peter Hood, Southeast Regional Office, NMFS, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why are landing notifications being required for all commercial trips landing reef fish species, not just IFQ species?

  • One issue identified in a 5-year review of the red snapper IFQ program was additional enforcement efforts are needed to deter violations in the program.
  • Extending the landing notification requirement to all commercial reef fish trips should help to deter fishermen from illegally landing IFQ species or reporting IFQ species as another species (e.g., red snapper reported as vermilion snapper).
  • With this requirement, law enforcement and port agents can be alerted in advance of all reef fish trips returning to port and can meet vessels to inspect landings.

What information needs to be in the landing notification?

  • The landing notification must provide the vessel identifier (name and official vessel registration), date and time of expected landing, expected landing location, and certification that there are no IFQ species on board the vessel.
  • Landing locations must be on NOAA Fisheries’ pre-approved landing location list.

When and how are landing notifications made?

  • Landing notifications can be made through the vessel monitoring system (VMS) required for federally permitted commercial reef fish vessels.
  • Notifications could be submitted by other NMFS-approved methods in the future (g., by phone) if they are developed.
  • Landing notifications need to be made at least 3 hours, but no more than 24 hours, prior to landing.

How do I find out if my landing location is pre-approved and what do I need to do to get a landing location approved?

  • A list of currently approved landing locations can be found at http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov.
  • If your landing location is on this list, you do not need to submit a new one.
  • If your landing location is not on the list, then you must submit a new landing location.
  • The landing location must contain a contact name and phone number, a location name, and the location’s street address, unless there is no street address on record. If a particular landing location has no street address on record, global positioning system (GPS) coordinates for an identifiable geographic location must be provided in decimal degrees.
  • New landing locations will be approved only at the end of each calendar-year quarter.  To have a landing location approved by the end of the calendar-year quarter, it must be submitted at least 45 days before the end of the calendar-year quarter. 

Why must pre-approved landing locations be used?

  • Landing locations must be approved in advance to ensure the sites actually exist and law enforcement agents can access these sites. The landing notification requirement is intended to provide law enforcement officers the opportunity to be present at the point of landing so they can monitor and enforce IFQ requirements dockside. 
  • Landing locations must be publicly accessible by land and water. No conditions may impede free and immediate access to the site by an authorized law enforcement officer or port agent.  Examples of which include, but are not limited to: A locked gate, fence, wall, or other barrier preventing 24-hour access to the site; a gated community entry point; a guard animal; a posted sign restricting access to the site; or any other physical deterrent.  Other criteria may also be used by the Office of Law Enforcement when approving locations. 
  • Landing locations are approved by the Office of Law Enforcement.
  • More information on landing locations and how to submit a new landing location.

What are the landing notification time requirements?

  • A vessel can land anytime during the day and night, provided that a landing notification has been given between 3 to 24 hours prior to landing.
  • A vessel must land within 1 hour after the arrival time given in the landing notification. If a vessel is going to be more than 1 hour after the arrival time, a new notification with an updated arrival time must be submitted.  The captain is not required to wait an additional 3 hours if only one superseding landing notification has been submitted for the trip.
  • Vessels are allowed to land prior to the 3-hour landing notification time of arrival if an authorized officer is present, is available to meet the vessel at the landing site, and authorizes the owner or operator of the vessel to land early.
  • Fishers only need to notify law enforcement in advance of landing, not offloading.

Which IFQ share accounts are being returned to NOAA Fisheries?

  • Shares in accounts that have never been activated since January 1, 2010, would permanently be returned to NOAA Fisheries.
  • The amount of shares in accounts that have not been activated since January 1, 2010, is small.
  • Because all the share accounts have not been activated, this means that not all the allocation is being harvested and the entire commercial quota cannot be caught.

Why does NOAA Fisheries need to hold back some of the quota?

  • Sometimes a quota needs to be reduced quickly to address overfishing (too many fish being caught), or a change in status is detected through a recent scientific assessment of the population.
  • Under the IFQ programs, annual allocation is distributed to IFQ shareholders on January 1, and most IFQ program participants begin to use or transfer their allocation early in the year.
  • After shareholders begin transferring or landing allocation, it would not be possible to go back and withdraw allocation from shareholder accounts if a quota decrease became effective after January 1.
  • This action would allow NOAA Fisheries to anticipate a decrease in the quota of any IFQ species or multi-species share categories after the start of a year and distribute a portion of the annual allocation to shareholders on January 1.

What if NOAA Fisheries is not able to reduce the quota in a timely fashion?

  • NOAA Fisheries understands that fishermen need time to plan to fish or transfer IFQ allocation.
  • If the quota decrease could not be completed by June 1, then the withheld quota would be distributed back to IFQ participants that hold shares for the given share category at the time of distribution.

Where can I find more information on Amendment 36A?

  • Contact NOAA Fisheries, Southeast Regional Office
    By Mail: Peter Hood
    NOAA Fisheries, Southeast Regional Office
    Sustainable Fisheries Division
    263 13th Avenue South
    St. Petersburg, Florida 33701-5505
    By FAX: (727) 824-5308
    By Phone: (727) 824-5305


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Last updated by Southeast Regional Office on July 27, 2023