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Research Set-Aside Program - Frequently Asked Questions

A. General Program Information | B. Request for Proposals | C. Proposal Review and Selection Process |
D. Grants | E. Compensation Fishing | F. Research Reports and Results

A. General Program Information

1. What is the Research Set Aside (RSA) Program?

Research Set-Aside (RSA) Programs were established by the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils (Councils) to fund research that can help inform fishery management decisions and improve stock assessments. There are active RSA programs established under the Atlantic Sea Scallop (scallop), Monkfish, and Atlantic Herring (herring) Fishery Management Plans. The Councils reserve a portion of the allowable scallop and herring catch and monkfish days-at-sea, which is awarded through a competitive grant process administered by NOAA Fisheries. Instead of giving money to support research like a typical grant program, specific amounts of fish and shellfish are awarded to successful applicants. These awards are then harvested through partnerships between scientists and fishermen to generate funds to pay for the research. RSA programs have proven to be an effective approach for funding cooperative research that can address fishery-specific science and management needs.

2. Who runs the RSA programs?

Responsibility for the RSA programs is a joint effort between NOAA Fisheries and the Councils. NOAA Fisheries implements the RSA Programs, administering the proposal review and selection process, making sure that the research is technically sound and aligns with Council research priorities, oversees regulatory and vessel permitting needs, and monitors RSA harvest activities. Council members and staff provide critical support for the RSA programs. In addition to setting aside RSA quota and days-at-sea, the Councils develop research priorities, provide management expertise in reviewing proposals, and consider the research results to support their fishery management decisions.

3. How many RSA programs are there, and when were they established?

There are four RSA programs: Scallop (est. 1999); Monkfish (est. 2005); Herring (est. 2008); and the Mid-Atlantic (est. 2001). While the scallop, monkfish, and herring programs are active, the Mid-Atlantic program was suspended in August 2014.

4. How much fish are set aside to fund research, and how much money is generated?

The New England Fishery Management Council reserves set-aside quota and days-at-sea through fishery management plan specifications and frameworks. The amounts are established under each respective fishery management plan, and may be adjusted through future Council action. Because the value of RSA quota and days-at-sea are driven by market conditions, these estimates are approximate and will vary from year to year.

Scallop RSA: The Council reserves 1.25 million pounds of scallops per year. This generates approximately $15 million; of which approximately $3 million supports research projects.

Monkfish RSA: The Council reserves 500 RSA days-at-sea per year. This generates approximately $1.75 million; of which approximately $300,000 supports research projects.

Herring RSA: The Council reserves up to 3% of the annual catch limit (ACL) from each herring management area. Due to the uncertainty of management area closures, which drives compensation fishing opportunities, funds generated under the Herring RSA Program is uncertain. In general, approximately $100,000-$200,000 is generated to support research each year.

5. How are funds generated to support research when the awards are made in amounts of fish and days-at-sea?

Successful grant recipients partner with the fishing industry to harvest set-aside pounds or use days-at-sea through RSA compensation fishing. The grant recipient and industry partner either share the proceeds generated from compensation fishing trips, or the grant recipient sells the right to harvest RSA pounds or days-at-sea outright. For more information on compensation fishing, see the section within this document dedicated to that process.

6. What is the status of the Mid-Atlantic RSA Program? Is the program ever coming back?

The Mid-Atlantic Council continues to deliberate whether to revive this program. Inquiries to the status of this review should be made directly to the Mid-Atlantic Council.

7. Who do I contact if I want more information about the RSA program?

Ryan Silva, Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office, coordinates general RSA program implementation. He supports the proposal review and project selection process, monitors RSA-funded research and results, conducts outreach, and oversees harvest activities and permitting to make sure that RSA awards and catch limits are not exceeded. He can be reached at 978-281-9326 or ryan.silva@noaa.gov.

Cheryl Corbett, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, runs the grant solicitation and proposal review processes, and makes sure that the RSA competitions meet Federal grant program requirements. Cheryl also coordinates the review and distribution of project reports. She can be reached at 508-495-2070 or cheryl.corbett@noaa.gov.

B. Request for Proposals

1. How often does NOAA Fisheries solicit RSA proposals? Does each program have a different schedule?

Each RSA program runs on a different schedule, and is based primarily on the fishing year for the applicable species. The herring Federal Funding Opportunity posts in April/May, scallop in June/July, and monkfish in August/September. Because RSA competitions are multi-year and all of the available set-aside may be awarded for those years, there may not be a competition every year.

The Federal Funding Opportunity outlines the program requirements, and is distributed through a mass e-mailing from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) and Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office (GARFO), is posted on the Northeast Cooperative Research website (http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/coopresearch), the GARFO website, and Grants.gov. It is also sent to both the New England and Mid-Atlantic Councils for further distribution.

2. Can I be notified when an RSA Federal Funding Opportunity is published?

We can add your name to the general cooperative research e-mail list, which will notify you of RSA funding opportunities, among other cooperative research program activities. To be added to this list, e-mail your name and e-mail address to Carolyn Woodhead at carolyn.woodhead@noaa.gov.

3. How long is the Federal Funding Opportunity open?

The Federal Funding Opportunity is open for 60 days.

C. Proposal Review and Selection Process

1. How are projects selected?

RSA proposals are evaluated through a technical review for technical merit, and a management review for importance to fishery management. There are also program selection factors that are listed in the FFO that are occasionally used when making selection recommendations. The primary goal for the RSA program is to support robust scientific research that is going to help inform important resource and management needs. NOAA Fisheries strives throughout the review and selection process to ensure all proposals submitted into the competition are reviewed by a diversity of well-qualified reviewers with subject matter expertise, in a consistent and fair manner.

2. The Federal Funding Opportunity states that NOAA Fisheries will base project selections on technical score rank and management panel recommendations when making selection decisions. How does NOAA balance these different factors?

Both the technical and management panel reviews carry approximately the same weight when making funding decisions. There is not a formula used to determine project selections, but all proposals that get funded must have both strong technical merit and be responsive to management program priorities. Having both of these attributes is critical to the success of the RSA programs.

3. Who decides which projects are going to be funded?

The Science and Research Director of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center makes project selections based on technical review scores and management panelist recommendations. The technical reviewers and management panelists are made up of subject matter experts, such as NMFS staff, Council members and staff, and members of the fishing industry. The Director may also consider selection factors, which are standard to NOAA grant programs, listed in the Federal Funding Opportunity, which are:

  1. Availability of funding.
  2. Balance/distribution of RSA quota:
    • Geographically
    • By type of institutions
    • By type of partners
    • By research areas.
    • By project types
  3. Whether this project duplicates other projects currently supported or being considered for support by other NOAA offices.
  4. Program priorities and policy factors.
  5. Applicant's prior award performance.
  6. Partnerships and/or Participation of targeted groups.
  7. Adequacy of information necessary to conduct a NEPA analysis and determination.

Although these factors may be applied in the selection process, the technical review and management panel recommendations dominate the decision making process. When they are applied, availability of funding and duplicative research are the most common selection factors used.

4. Who participates in the management review and how many panelists are there? Is there industry representation?

Panels are developed for each competition by NOAA Fisheries, in close coordination with the New England Council. All of the panelists invited to participate are closely involved in issues that relate to the management of each respective fishery, and typically include Council staff and members, industry advisory panel members, and GARFO staff. The size of the management review panel varies between program and years. The monkfish and herring RSA management panels generally have 3-7 panelists, while the scallop RSA management panel has 8-15 panelists.

5. What evaluation factors are considered in the technical review and how many points are associated with each factor?

The following are the 5 evaluation factors used by technical reviewers to score each proposal:

  1. Importance and/or relevance and applicability of the proposed project: This criterion ascertains whether there is intrinsic value in the proposed work and/or relevance to NOAA, Federal, regional, state, or local activities. Applicants should provide a clear definition of the problem, need, issue, or hypothesis to be addressed. The proposal should describe its relevance to RSA program priorities. If not directly related to priorities listed in this solicitation, applicants should provide justification why the proposed project should be considered. (20 points)

  2. Technical/scientific merit: This criterion assesses whether the approach is technically sound and/or innovative, if the methods are appropriate, and whether there are clear project goals and objectives. Special emphasis will be given to proposals that foster and improve cooperative interactions with the fishing industry, other research organizations conducting scallop research, NOAA Fisheries, and other stakeholders. A clear description of the project design, including a detailed description of field and laboratory work, and analysis methods, should be provided. The time frame for conducting the proposed research should be clearly specified. Activities that take place over a wider versus narrower geographical range, where appropriate, are preferred. (30 points)

  3. Overall qualifications of the project: This criterion assesses whether the applicant, and team members, possess the necessary education, experience, training, facilities, and administrative resources to accomplish the project. This includes demonstration of support, cooperation and/or collaboration with the fishing industry, and qualifications/experience of project participants. (15 points)

  4. Project costs: This criterion evaluates the budget to determine if it is realistic and commensurate with the project needs and time frame. Cost-effectiveness of the project is considered. (25 points)

  5. Outreach and education: This criterion assesses whether the project involves a focused and effective education and outreach strategy regarding NOAA's mission to protect the Nation's natural resources. This includes identification of anticipated benefits, potential users, likelihood of success, and methods of disseminating results. Where appropriate, data generated from the research must be formatted in a manner consistent with NOAA Fisheries and ACCSP databases. A copy of this format is available from NOAA Fisheries. Principal Investigators should anticipate being requested to provide an oral presentation to the applicable Council Committee, Advisory Panel, or Plan Development Team on the results of their research. (10 points)
6. Is it just NOAA Fisheries’ staff that conduct the technical reviews? How many reviewers are assigned to each proposal?

No, there are at least three reviewers for each proposal. Generally, there is one reviewer from NEFSC, while the others are a combination of GARFO and Council staff, and industry experts.

7. How are fishermen included in the review and selection process?

Fishermen and fishing industry representatives are always included in the management panel review, and often participate as technical reviewers. NOAA Fisheries is always interested in expanding the pool of reviewers. If you are interested, please contact Cheryl.Corbett@noaa.gov.

8. Are technical reviewers' names and comments made public?

No, the agency protects reviewer identities to the extent permitted by law. Anonymous proposal review is the foundation for scientific review and is used by a number of funding organizations included the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Releasing this information could compromise the agency’s deliberative process by, among other things, dissuading reviewers from participating in, or being candid in, their evaluations. In addition, these comments are often in reference to specific elements of a research proposal, and would lack context without having the full proposal at hand. Reviewer comments could also reveal details about a proposal that the unsuccessful applicant may not want to be released to the public, such as a proposed gear modification or survey technology. In addition to releasing proprietary content, unsuccessful applicants may not want critical comments on their research proposal released to the public.

9. Is the negotiated indirect cost rate considered in the proposal review process?

No, the negotiated indirect cost rate must be accepted and may not be considered in the selection of a project. Technical reviewers are instructed that indirect cost may not be used when evaluating project cost. If indirect cost is cited in the reviewer comments, the reviewer will be required to revisit their score and amend their comment.

10. Why does NOAA Fisheries use review panels in the review process?

Review panels can improve the review process by allowing a group of highly qualified subject matter experts to discuss the merits of proposals submitted to NOAA Fisheries for review. Panelists are able to review all or a subset of proposals, and to discuss the relative strengths and weaknesses of the individual proposals.

In the past, using panels to review proposals was reserved for the management review, where panelists review every proposal. The panel approach was extended to the technical review phase in the 2016 scallop RSA competition. A group of NOAA Fisheries and non-NOAA scientists were tasked with reviewing all of the scallop resource survey proposals. This was done for 2 primary reasons. Foremost, this was an effective way to help integrate the findings of the scallop survey methodology peer review, which occurred in 2015, into the RSA decision process. The panel was briefed on the findings of the peer review, and then the panel met to discuss the technical merits of the proposals, prior to submitting their technical review comments and scores. In addition to facilitating the consideration of the peer review findings, the panel approach allowed for a group of very qualified reviewers to consider the relative merits of the survey proposals, in accordance with the five evaluation factors.

This approach led to a more thorough evaluation, and will likely be applied in future RSA competitions.

11. Do review panels make group funding recommendations?

No, there is no consensus allowed on any of the review panels. The primary objective for the panel approach is to facilitate discussion among the reviewers to increase their knowledge and understanding of the proposal, and consider the relative strengths and weaknesses of the proposals they are reviewing. Each panelist must submit written independent comments.

12. What are the conflict of interest rules and how do they apply to proposal reviewers?

It is the policy of the Department of Commerce (DOC) to maintain high standards of conduct to prevent real or apparent conflicts of interest in the proposal review process. A conflict of interest exists when a person participates in a matter which is likely to have a direct and predictable effect on his or her personal or financial interests. A conflict also exists where there is an appearance that a person’s objectivity in performing his or her responsibilities is impaired. Non-Federal employees who conduct reviews are required to certify themselves that no conflict exists by signing electronically the Department of Commerce Form CD571, “Reviewer Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality Certification for Non-Governmental Peer Reviewers.” Federal employees do not sign such a waiver as they are already bound by standards of ethical conduct established at 5 CFR Part 2635, which includes conflict of interest standards. Violations of conflict of interest laws are subject to criminal penalties or fines.

13. Can a person involved in RSA compensation fishing be involved with the project review process?

Not if there is an arrangement with one of the applicants to harvest set-aside quota or use RSA days-at-sea, if funded. Reviewers must comply with the DOC Conflict of Interest regulations. All non-governmental employees are required to certify that they are eligible to participate in the review in accordance with the CD571 Reviewer Conflict of Interest and Confidentiality Certification for Non-Governmental Peer Reviewers. A conflict of interest exists if you have financial or other interest in a financial assistance application that has been submitted for consideration. You must disclose if you are negotiating or have an arrangement concerning employment, including consultantship, or an affiliation with a vessel that will be involved in harvesting allocations, for any of the applicants involved in the competition. This includes past employers (within the last year).

14. If I have a conflict of interest on one project, can I still participate in the review of other projects where no conflict of interest exists?

No. If you must recuse yourself from reviewing an application you may not review any of the proposals. The conflict of interest certification is done in Grants Online (GOL) and certification is done on an all or none basis. Here is language taken directly from the Department of Commerce Grants and Cooperative Agreement Manual:

It is the policy of DOC to maintain high standards of conduct to prevent real or apparent conflicts of interest in connection with awards. A conflict of interest exists when a person participates in a matter which is likely to have a direct and predictable effect on his or her personal or financial interests. A conflict also exists where there is an appearance that a person’s objectivity in performing his or her responsibilities is impaired. An appearance of impairment of objectivity could result from an organizational conflict where, because of other activities or relationships with other persons or entities, a person is unable or potentially unable to render impartial assistance or advice to the government. A conflict of interest could also result from non-financial gain to the individual, such as benefit to reputation or prestige in a professional field.
15. Who determines if a conflict of interest exists? What does NOAA Fisheries do to ensure reviewers do not have a conflict of interest?

The conflict of interest rules are issued by DOC. The reviewer determines if they have a conflict of interest. If they are not sure, they can get help with that certification from the Federal Program Officer. The Program Officer may consult with NOAA General Counsel if necessary.

NOAA Fisheries relies on reviewers’ certifications to determine whether there is a conflict of interest However, if there is information within the proposal that indicates a conflict may exist, the Federal Program Officer will address the issue with the prospective reviewer.

16. Why does NOAA Fisheries sometimes require an applicant to change their research proposal?

NOAA Fisheries may require an applicant to change their research proposal for a variety of factors, including an adjustment that would produce a more beneficial research product, if there are insufficient resources to fully fund the proposal, or to reduce the environmental impacts from the research activity. These adjustments are usually minor and within the scope of the proposed research. However, on occasion the change may be substantial, such as shifting a study region or altering the project design.

17. When are applicants notified if their proposal will be granted an award? When are unsuccessful applicants notified?

The selected applicants are notified when the Science Center Director has made the initial project selections.

The non-selected projects get notified at the end of the competition, once the grant award process is complete. NOAA Fisheries recognizes that this can result is a period of uncertainty for the applicant, and takes steps to expedite this stage of the process so all applicants are aware of the status of their application as soon as possible.

18. How does NOAA Fisheries decide how much set aside quota or days-at-sea to award successful applicants? How does NOAA Fisheries estimate the value of the set-aside pounds and days-at-sea?

RSA program applicants must provide a detailed budget for their research project, and describe how they will compensate fishing industry partners that harvest RSA quota or use RSA days-at-sea.

Under the Scallop and Herring RSA Programs, applicants must include the total amount of funds needed to support the project (i.e., funds needed to conduct the research and funds needed to compensate industry partners harvesting set-aside quota). NOAA Fisheries, in consultation with the Council, will then use product price information from recent RSA compensation fishing trips, historical price information, and future price projections to determine how much set-aside quota to offer favorably reviewed applicants.

Monkfish RSA program applicants typically request a certain number of days-at-sea to cover research expenses. Applicants base their request on how much they anticipate they will be able to sell each RSA day-at-sea for.

D. Grants

1. Why are the RSA awards grants and not contracts? Can this change?

The determination to administer RSA programs as a grant program was made by the Department of Commerce’s Office of General Counsel (DOC OGC) in 2000. This decision was based on the nature of the RSA programs, and the fundamental difference between grants and contracts. NOAA's primary purpose with respect to this program is not to acquire services from the applicants for its direct benefit or use. Rather, the agency is providing financial assistance to the researchers to accomplish a public objective focused on fisheries research and Council research priorities.

Since this initial determination, there have been inquiries into whether RSA programs could be administered through contractual arrangements instead of grants. DOC OGC has consistently advised that there is no basis upon which to revise its original advice that, as configured, the RSA programs should operate using a grant funding mechanism as opposed to a contract award.

2. What are some of the differences between grants and contracts?
Provide financial or other assistance for the recipient to use in order to accomplish a public objective authorized by law Acquire goods or services for the direct benefit for or use by the Government
Advance payment allowed if appropriate Pay for delivery after receipt
Technical/program competed Price must be considered
Grantee can terminate No Contractor right to terminate
Deliverable is a report or completion of project Product or service required
Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circulars FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulations)
3. Why does it take so long to award a grant?

NOAA Fisheries is committed to a timely proposal review process. However, there are several stages to the solicitation, review, and award process that takes time. The competitive grants processing requirement is 240 days from when the Request for Application (RFA) closes to when the grants are approved. The 240 days breaks down as follows: 150 Days with Program Office, which include the solicitation, and proposal review, selection and award negotiation process; 60 days with NOAA Grants Headquarters for final award; and 30 days awarded prior to start. Although this is the standard amount of time designated, the Program Office works hard to expedite this timeline in order to ensure RSA awards are made by the start of the fishing year (March 1 for scallops, May 1 for monkfish, and January 1 for herring).

4. What are the different stages of the grant competition?

There are 3 primary stages of the competition: Proposal solicitation, proposal review, and project awards.

Proposal solicitation: The Federal Funding Opportunity (FFO) is used to solicit proposals, outline program requirements, and explain the proposal review and selection process. The FFO is open for 60 days. All proposals are reviewed to make sure they comply with minimum requirements before they are accepted and proceed to the proposal review stage.

Proposal review: RSA proposals undergo a 2-stage review; a technical review and a management review. Under the technical review, at least 3 subject matter experts review and score proposals in accordance with the evaluation criteria, which include importance/relevance (20 points), technical/scientific merit (30 points), overall qualifications (15), project cost (25 points), and outreach/education (10 points). A technical review panel may also be convened to discuss the merits of the proposal, before reviewers submit their comments and scores. NOAA Fisheries has used panels in the past to review a sub-set of proposals that would address the same research priority (e.g., scallop survey proposals). The technical review panel approach enables a thorough and holistic evaluation of a set of proposals.

NOAA Fisheries, in consultation with the Council, convenes a management review panel, which includes Council staff, Council members and Advisors, and other fishery experts, to review and individually critique the proposals to enhance NOAA's understanding of the proposals as they relate to the program priorities created by the Council and listed in the FFO.

Management reviewers submit written comments and non-consensus funding recommendations to NOAA Fisheries. The results of the technical review and management review are used by RSA program staff to make funding recommendations to the Science Director for further review and approval.

The recommended proposals are also reviewed by a regulatory review panel from GARFO to ensure that projects will comply with all federal environmental regulations, and to identify vessel permitting needs. This review considers the potential environmental impacts of a proposed project, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and Endangered Species Act, for example, and identifies permitting needs for projects that may need waivers from fishing regulations. This review may require the applicant to provide additional information that will address questions or support impact analyses.

Project Award: Once the proposal review is complete and the Science Director has made project selections, The Federal Assistance Law Division (FALD) reviews the NEFSC Director’s project selections to make sure the competition was properly conducted and in accordance with the DOC Grants and Cooperative Agreements Manual.

Successful applicants are then notified that they have been favorably reviewed. The applicant is contacted to discuss the award offer and terms, including the amount of fish or days-at-sea to be awarded, and to address any outstanding questions or issues related to the proposed research.

The Grants Officer at Headquarters conducts the final review and issues the award to the grant recipient.

5. Are there any Federal dollars awarded to fund RSA projects?

No Federal dollars are used to fund research in the RSA program. Funds are generated through the harvest of set-aside awards. Grant recipients and fishing industry partners share the proceeds generated from RSA compensation fishing, with a portion retained by the vessel to offset vessel costs, and a portion retained by the researcher to fund approved research projects. The grant recipient is responsible for the accounting and distribution of the funds.

6. What type of financial reporting is required for RSA grant recipients?

The SF425 Federal Financial Report is the standard government form used by Federal grant recipients for financial reporting. However, this form is not set up for this unique nature of the RSA program and is not required. There are 2 primary ways for conducting RSA program financial oversight. All RSA fishing activity is monitored through compensation fishing reporting requirements and dealer reporting. In addition, there is a new requirement that grant recipients include in their progress and final report a detailed accounting for compensation fishing activities. Compensation fishing reports will include information on all catch landed during a compensation fishing trip, including target and incidental catch, and the revenue generated from the trip.

7. What are indirect costs and is there a set indirect cost rate cap for RSA proposals?

Indirect costs are the costs incurred by an organization that are not readily identifiable with a particular project or program but are nevertheless necessary to the operation of the organization and the performance of its programs. The costs of operating and maintaining facilities, depreciation, and administrative salaries, are examples of the types of costs that are usually treated as indirect costs.

There is no indirect cost rate cap for the RSA program. If an established indirect cost rate is granted to the awarded agency by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) then NOAA is required by Federal law to use the approved cost rate.

E. Compensation Fishing

Research Set Aside Compensation Fishing, Vessel Participation and Eligibility, Permits

1. What is RSA compensation fishing?

RSA compensation fishing is the harvest of scallop or herring RSA quota, or operating under a monkfish RSA day-at-sea. RSA grant recipients partner with fishing vessel owners to harvest RSA quota or use RSA days-at-sea. They either share the proceeds from the RSA compensation fishing, or the vessel owner may purchase outright the opportunity to conduct compensation fishing from the grant recipient. The proceeds retained by the grant recipient are used to fund the research.

2. Who is eligible to participate in RSA compensation fishing?

Vessels that hold a Federal scallop or Federal herring permit, or a limited access monkfish permit, are eligible to participate in scallop, herring, and monkfish compensation fishing, respectively.

3. Who decides which vessels get to conduct RSA compensation fishing?

Vessel participation is largely determined by the RSA grant recipient. RSA grant recipients are responsible for working with the fishing industry to generate funds through compensation fishing. Although the grant recipient identifies the vessels, NOAA Fisheries reviews vessel violation histories to ensure they do not conflict with the GARFO exempted fishing permit (EFP) sanction policy. If the vessel has previous violations that conflict with this policy, they are not authorized to participate in the program. In addition, state authorities have discretion when considering whether to grant waivers from state regulation.

4. How do I get involved in RSA compensation fishing?

Fishermen interested in participating in RSA compensation fishing should contact current and previous RSA grant recipients. NOAA Fisheries does not select vessels to participate in the RSA program. For information on recent RSA grant recipients, visit www.nefsc.noaa.gov/coopresearch/rsa_program.html, or contact Cheryl Corbett or Ryan Silva at www.nefsc.noaa.gov/coopresearch/ncrp_staff.html.

5. Are the names and permit numbers of vessels authorized to conduct RSA compensation fishing available to the public?

No. Although vessels authorized to conduct RSA compensation fishing are not confidential, we do not make these lists publicly available at this time.

6. Are landing reports from RSA compensation fishing trips available to the public?

RSA compensation fishing data is subject to data confidentiality requirements. As a result, only aggregate data may be provided to the public. Aggregate data are currently not available on the NEFSC or GARFO website, but efforts are underway to make this information more readily available.

7. What special fishing privileges does NOAA Fisheries give to vessels that are on RSA compensation fishing trips? What permits are needed to conduct RSA compensation fishing?

GARFO issues exempted fishing permits and scallop RSA letters of authorization that authorize vessels to exceed fishery effort controls in support of RSA compensation fishing. RSA compensation fishing permits contain explicit terms and conditions that must be followed. These permits must be signed by the vessel operator and the principal investigator to ensure that they agree to the terms and conditions of the permit. They are subject to fines and/or sanctions if the terms and conditions are not followed.

  • Scallop RSA - Vessels are authorized to take additional fishing trips, and are exempt from scallop possession limits.
  • Herring RSA - Vessels are authorized to fish in herring management areas that are closed to the directed herring fishery after a management area quota is attained; and to harvest herring RSA quota during Area 1A and 1B sub-ACL seasonal closures.
  • Monkfish RSA - Vessels are authorized to take additional days-at-sea above the vessel allocation, and to exceed monkfish possession limits.
8. Why are these special fishing privileges given?

The effort control exemptions provide additional fishing opportunities to participating vessels, which adds value to RSA quota. Without the added value generated by these additional fishing opportunities, there is little incentive to vessels to participate in the program. If the RSA quota is not harvested, funds cannot be generated to support the research projects.

9. Why does compensation fishing happen independently from the research? Isn’t the RSA program supposed to be a cooperative research program that brings the science and fishing communities together? Doesn’t this decoupling undermine the intent of the program?

The harvest of RSA quota may or may not occur in conjunction with research activities, although typically these activities occur separately. This decoupling of the compensation fishing from the research is not new. Decoupling these activities allows greater flexibility for the types of research projects that may be supported, particularly for projects that are conducted in a manner that is not conducive to harvesting commercial quantities of fish, such as surveys and tagging studies, or projects targeting species with relatively low value. In keeping with the intent of the program, the selected projects are cooperative research studies that closely involve the fishing industry, research community, and other stakeholders.

10. How many vessels are involved in RSA compensation fishing?

Vessel participation varies by project, and between programs. But in general, there are 100 scallop vessels, 60 monkfish vessels, and 10 herring vessels that conduct compensation fishing in any given year. The number of vessels per project is constrained by GARFO’s RSA vessel cap, which restricts the number of vessels that can participate in compensation fishing for each project to 50 vessels.

11. Why does NOAA Fisheries limit the number of vessels that can conduct RSA compensation fishing?

NOAA Fisheries limits the number of vessels that can participate in RSA compensation fishing to improve program oversight and enforceability. Currently, the number of vessels that can participate in compensation fishing is limited to 50 vessels per project.

12. Do RSA compensation fishing permits affect state fishing regulations?

No, these permits only waive Federal fishing regulations. State waivers must be obtained as needed through the state. NOAA Fisheries coordinates with the applicable states to ensure they are aware of the issuance of RSA compensation fishing permits that are issued, but it is incumbent on the grant recipient to secure state permits.

13. What are the requirements that must be followed when a vessel is on an RSA compensation fishing trip?

In accordance with the terms and conditions of RSA compensation fishing permits, vessels harvesting RSA quota or using RSA days-at-sea have additional reporting requirements. The vessel operator must notify NOAA Fisheries prior to departing on an RSA compensation fishing trip to establish his intent to harvest RSA quota, and to identify when and where the vessel will land. Prior to landing, the vessel operator must report the amount of RSA quota on board, and when and where it is going to be landed. After landing, a final report may be required, which includes the exact amount of RSA quota landed, the state where the fish were landed, and the vessel trip report serial number.

14. What does NOAA Fisheries do to make sure a vessel adheres to the RSA reporting requirements?

NOAA Fisheries has a set of quality assurance procedures to audit and validate RSA reported data to identify potential reporting errors or cases of non-compliance. All RSA trip reports are processed through these audits. If an aspect of the report conflicts with an audit, it will be flagged and then investigated to determine the appropriate course of action, including vessel outreach, referral to the Office of Law Enforcement, or potential revocation of compensation fishing privileges.

The Office of Law Enforcement also has near-real time access to RSA data, including information on when and where a vessel is landing, and how much RSA quota the vessel has on board. Using this information, they will be able to determine if a vessel has met the reporting requirements.

15. What happens if a vessel does not follow the program reporting requirements?

If a vessel operator does not follow the RSA reporting requirements, the vessel will be removed from the RSA program, and the compensation fishing permit will be revoked. In addition, they are subject to fines and/or sanctions if the terms and conditions are not followed.

16. Does NOAA Fisheries conduct a background check on vessel compliance history prior to allowing them to harvest RSA quota?

Yes. NOAA Fisheries has a sanction check policy that is used to vet vessels that are put forward by the grant recipient to conduct RSA compensation fishing. If a vessel conflicts with the criteria outlined in this policy, the vessel will not be issued a compensation fishing permit.

RSA Quota Monitoring

17. How does NOAA Fisheries track RSA compensation fishing activities?

Vessel reports, in conjunction with dealer reports, are used to monitor and track RSA compensation fishing activities.

18. What is the responsibility of the grant recipient in overseeing RSA compensation fishing activities that occur under their grant?

The grant recipient is responsible for managing vessels conducting RSA compensation fishing activities on their behalf, and to ensure vessels do not exceed the RSA quota award. As noted in the Federal Funding Opportunity that solicits research proposals, the principal investigator must have effective safeguards in place to ensure an RSA quota award is not exceeded.

The grant recipient must submit a formal request to NOAA Fisheries requesting authorization for the vessels they’ve partnered with to conduct compensation fishing. The grant recipient must sign all permits to acknowledge the terms and conditions of the permit. The grant recipient must also ensure all program requirements are distributed to their partner vessels. Failure to meet these requirements could impact future funding decisions.

19. Why doesn’t NOAA Fisheries require dealers to report RSA landings separate from non-RSA catch? Wouldn’t this help monitor RSA compensation fishing, and improve program oversight?

NOAA Fisheries considered implementing a regulation that would require a dealer to explicitly identify RSA quota purchases. However, it was decided that this requirement would have marginal benefit, and that there are more effective ways to match RSA vessel reports with dealer reports using RSA trip audit procedures. The primary concern with an RSA dealer regulation is that data quality would likely be poor, and that enforceability would be difficult given the dependency between the vessel and the dealer.

F. Research Reports and Results

1. What are the grant reporting requirements? How does NOAA Fisheries ensure research results are technically sound before a final report is accepted?

RSA grant recipients are required to submit progress reports every 6 months and a final report within 90 days of the conclusion of their grant. Progress reports provide a relatively brief update on project activities from the report period. This includes updates on field research activities, compensation fishing, and any unforeseen issues that have affected the project. Each progress report is reviewed to ensure the applicant is operating consistent with their research proposal and to flag any problems encountered.

Final reports provide a detailed account of the research effort, and include results, analysis, and conclusions. Applicants are required to document all RSA compensation fishing activities and funds derived from compensation fishing trips. Final reports undergo a final technical review to critique the research findings and ensure the results are technically sound. In addition, RSA Program staff review all final reports and final report technical reviews to ensure the final report is thorough and responsive to the proposed objectives, and the technical review is thorough and will support the consideration of the research results by fishery managers and scientists. If technical flaws are identified, or additional information is needed, the Federal Program Officer may work with the grant recipient to address concerns or provide additional information.

Once the final report review is complete, it is made available to the Council and the general public.

2. How do I get a copy of a final report?

Final reports are posted on the Northeast Cooperative Research website at: http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/coopresearch/projects_search_setup.html. Use the project query tool to find RSA project final reports. If the report in unavailable, there is a column within the query output that identifies when report is due.

3. Why are there so many grant extensions? Doesn’t this undermine the ability to make use of research results in a timely manner?

All grant recipients covered under 15 CFR Part 14 (e.g., educational institutions and nonprofit organizations), with non-construction awards can obtain a one-year extension without prior approval as long as the Grants Officer is notified in writing at least 10 days prior to expiration of the award with an explanation of the reason for the extension and none of the following conditions apply:

  • There are other special award conditions that prohibit the extension;
  • The extension requires additional Federal funds; and
  • The extension involves any change in program objectives or scope of the project.

In addition, a one-year no-cost extension may be granted to any grant recipient with prior approval. The request to extend the award period shall be submitted to the Federal Program Officer at least 30 days prior to the expiration of the award to provide the minimum time needed to review the request. The recipient proceeds at their own risk of incurring costs beyond the award expiration if the request is not submitted to NOAA at least 30 days prior to the expiration.

The flexibility afforded to Federal grant recipients to obtain a one-year extension can result in project results not being available for use by resource managers, the fishing industry, and other stakeholders. NOAA Fisheries recognizes the importance of having timely research results available to support fishery management decisions and stock assessments. RSA program applicants are encouraged to plan their projects to avoid the need for extensions so that project results are available in a timely manner.

When a grant recipient receives an extension, it will be reflected in the due date for the final report, which can be found using the project query tool on the Northeast Cooperative Research website: www.nefsc.noaa.gov/coopresearch/projects_search_setup.html

4. Is the Council notified when a final report becomes available?

The Council is provided with a quarterly report that identifies all RSA final reports that have been technically reviewed and accepted by NOAA Fisheries.

5. Are researchers required to present their results to the Councils and fishing industry?

Principal Investigators should anticipate being requested to provide an oral presentation to the applicable Council Committee, Advisory Panel, or Plan Development Team on the results of their research (either preliminary or final).

6. How does NOAA Fisheries help ensure research results will be useful?

There are steps in the project selection process and the grant life-cycle to help ensure research results will be useful.

Both the technical and management panel reviews are structured to ensure selected projects are technically sound, the objectives are attainable, and the results are likely to help manage the resource. There are often recommendations that come out of the technical and management review to help a project align more closely with program priorities and produce more useful results. Grant progress report and final report reviews are additional stages where feedback may be provided to the grant recipient to help optimize to usefulness of project results. All RSA final reports that have been reviewed and accepted are posted on the Northeast Cooperative Research website, circulated to interested parties, and listed in a quarterly report that is sent to the Council.

7. Do RSA programs fund research that NOAA Fisheries should be paying for?

RSA program priorities and selected projects often align closely with research activities conducted by NOAA Fisheries (e.g., resource surveys), and research funded through RSA programs may inform NOAA research efforts. However, project selections are based solely on the process outlined in the FFO, which includes responsiveness to the RSA program priorities established by the Councils, technical merit, and management applicability.

8. Do RSA grant recipients need to provide all data collected under the grant to NOAA Fisheries?

Yes, if requested. In accordance with the NOAA Data Sharing Policy for Grants and Cooperative Agreements, environmental data and information, collected and/or created under NOAA grants/cooperative agreements must be made visible, accessible, and independently understandable to general users, free of charge or at minimal cost, in a timely manner (typically no later than two (2) years after the data are collected or created), except where limited by law, regulation, policy or by security requirements.

9. How effective are RSA programs in supporting research that helps manage scallops, monkfish, and herring?

RSA programs have a demonstrated track record for consistently funding projects that produce results used to inform management decisions and stock assessments. RSA programs rely heavily on the expertise of subject matter experts at the Councils, within NOAA Fisheries, and from the fishing industry. The broad-based interest, support, and involvement in the RSA programs have helped them become some of the most successful cooperative research programs in the country.

The Scallop RSA Program in particular has become an integral source of information used to manage one of the nation’s most valuable fisheries, supporting annual harvest specification setting, and identifying bycatch reduction practices, among many other program benefits. The Monkfish RSA Program has primarily supported monkfish life history and biology research to improve the understanding of this data poor species. The Herring RSA Program, which has limited capacity to generate funds, has supported a port-side sampling program and river herring avoidance network that is widely recognized as an important program for the herring mid-water trawl fishery.

Not all RSA projects produce results that feed neatly into a management decision or stock assessment. Some projects take multiple years to develop before producing useful results, while some projects do not produce results with clear utility. However, through close coordination with the Councils, and working closely with the fishing industry and other stakeholders, the RSA programs will continue producing robust science that can be applied toward meeting scallop, monkfish, and herring fishery management needs.

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