The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council voted during this week’s meeting in Washington, D.C. to suspend the Research Set-Aside (RSA) program in 2015 to allow for a thorough review. The Council’s decision followed an extensive discussion of the program’s costs, benefits, enforcement concerns, and consideration of public comments.
The Mid-Atlantic’s RSA program was established in 2001 as a mechanism to generate funds for fisheries research through the sale of a portion of each species’ total allowable landings. Successful RSA applicants were given a grant in the form of fish—the majority of which are sold at auction to fund the proposed research. Since its inception, the program has funded 41 research projects at a total cost of $16.3 million.
One of the chief concerns about the RSA program is that its current design makes it vulnerable to abuse through under-reporting and non-reporting of catch. Two recent investigations in New York by NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement revealed that significant quantities of summer flounder were being taken illegally under the cover of quota acquired through the RSA program.
The Council also discussed whether the science produced through RSA-funded projects justifies the costs of the program. While some projects, such as the Southern New England/Mid-Atlantic Trawl survey conducted by the Northeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program (NEAMAP), have provided data that were successfully incorporated into the management process, a number of other projects have failed scientific review after completion, raising concerns about the process for vetting proposals and overseeing project implementation.
"The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council has a longstanding tradition of supporting cooperative fisheries research in the region," stated Council Chairman Rick Robins. “The Council will use the one-year suspension of the RSA program to continue its ongoing review and reform of enforceability, monitoring, and other aspects of the program in an effort to improve the program for future success."
The Council will conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the program over the next year to determine how the program should be restructured.