Regulatory Impact Review for a Regulatory Amendment to Reduce a Harvest Restriction for Participants in the Harvest Limit Area Atka Mackerel Fishery in the Aleutian Islands Subarea
This Regulatory Impact Review (RIR) evaluates the costs and benefits of a proposed regulatory amendment to relax a harvest restriction for participants in the harvest limit area (HLA) Atka mackerel fishery in the Aleutian Islands. The proposed action would allow participants in the HLA fishery to harvest Atka mackerel outside of the HLA during the first assigned HLA fishery. Regulations currently prohibit harvest of any groundfish other than Atka mackerel, and then only within the HLA, during the first HLA fishery. This action would relieve a restriction on participants in the HLA Atka mackerel fishery and potentially provide additional protection for Steller sea lions by allowing for less harvest from within the HLA. The regulatory amendment would allowmore efficient harvest of Atka mackerel. This RIR addresses the requirements of Presidential Executive Order 12866.
This Regulatory Impact Review (RIR) was prepared to evaluate a regulatory amendment to relax a harvest restriction for participants in the harvest limit area Atka mackerel fishery in the Aleutian Island subarea of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone. This RIR addresses the requirements of Presidential Executive Order (E.O.) 12866, which mandates an evaluation of the costs and benefits, and of the significance, of all Federally proposed regulatory actions.
The regulations at 50 CFR 679.20(a)(8) establish a harvest limit area (HLA) fishery to control the removal of Atka mackerel within the designated HLA of the Aleutian Islands subarea. The HLA is defined as, the waters of statistical areas 542 and 543, west of 178° W longitude, and within 20 nm seaward of sites listed in Table 6 of 50 CFR part 679 that are located west of 177°57.00' W longitude. This area includes critical habitat for Steller sea lions, as well as waters around additional haulouts that are considered important for Steller sea lion foraging.
The original action was prompted by concern that, if the Atka mackerel fleet concentrated its effort in a single area, expected catch rates could cause localized depletion of Atka mackerel, an important prey species for Steller sea lions. To reduce the amount of daily catch in the HLA by about half, and to disperse the fishery over two distinct areas, the Atka mackerel trawl fleet is divided into two groups, each assigned to fish in the HLA in either area 542 or area 543. Two HLA fisheries are held each season. The current regulations at § 679.7(a)(19) and § 679.20(a)(8)(iii) prohibit fishing for all groundfish, including Atka mackerel, outside the HLA during the first assigned HLA fishery in a season. The intent of this prohibition was to ensure participants in the HLA fishery would not leave the HLA Atka mackerel assignment unused, while shifting effort to another groundfish fishery that may be open at the same time, thus increasing competition with other groundfish fishermen.
This action would allow Atka mackerel fishermen to fish for Atka mackerel (but not for other groundfish) outside the HLA during the first HLA fishery in each season.
Since the HLA fishery has been implemented, participants have occasionally fished outside the HLA during the second HLA fishery. By having the option to fish either inside or outside the HLA, the participants have the operational flexibility to increase the efficiency of their harvest of Atka mackerel. Removing the prohibition on fishing for Atka mackerel outside the HLA, during the first HLA fishery, will make the restrictions in the first and second HLA fisheries consistent and does not pose competition problems between Atka mackerel and other groundfish fisheries. This action may allow Atka mackerel fishermen to fish more profitably, and would provide the potential for additional reduction in the rate of Atka mackerel harvest within the HLA, potentially reducing competition and interaction between Steller sea lions and the Atka mackerel fleet.
This action is not believed to have the potential to be significant under the criteria specified in E.O. 12866.