Frequently Asked Questions: Essential Fish Habitat in Alaska
Since 1996, U.S. Congress added new habitat conservation provisions to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries have described and identified essential fish habitat in each of the six Alaska fishery management plans.
What is Essential Fish Habitat in Alaska?
Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) means waters and substrates necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growing to maturity. 'Waters' include aquatic areas and their associated physical, chemical and biological properties. ‘Substrate’ includes sediment underlying the waters. 'Necessary' means the habitat required to support a sustainable fishery and the contributions of ‘managed species' to a healthy ecosystem. ‘Spawning, breeding, feeding, or growing to maturity’ includes all habitat types utilized by a species throughout its life cycle. The descriptions and identification of EFH in Alaska can be found in each of the six Alaska fishery management plans, and more detailed information about EFH can be found in the EFH regulatory guidelines (January 17, 2002; 67 FR 2343).
How is EFH described?
EFH is described using the best scientific information available based on the general distribution of each species. EFH is identified with text descriptions and delineated by maps where sufficient information exists. If there are differences between the descriptions of EFH in text and maps, the textual description ultimately determines the limits of EFH.
EFH text descriptions are the legal definition for EFH and serve as the "basis" for effect determinations. EFH text describes the physical and biological environment and the location of EFH for each species by life history stage, if known. Species profiles and habitat assessment reports within the fishery management plans provide information about each species, including any known habitat associations, reproductive traits, predator prey relationships, and species-specific literature citations.
EFH maps complement EFH text descriptions and spatially depict the area of EFH for each life stage of fish managed under a fishery management plan within the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands.
- Alaska EFH Application: ArcGIS Web Application with spatial data and maps of EFH for species managed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Alaska's federal fishery management plans.
- National EFH Mapper: Data about areas where steps have been taken to minimize the impact that fisheries have on EFH by geographic area of interest.
- Pacific Salmon Freshwater EFH in Alaska: Alaska Department of Fish & Game Anadromous Fish Waters Catalog.
What species in Alaska have EFH identified?
Many fish species exist in Alaska waters. However, EFH is identified for only those species managed under a federal fishery management plan. EFH descriptions for Alaska may be found via the following links:
- Bering Sea and Aleutian Island Groundfish
- Gulf of Alaska Groundfish
- Bering Sea and Aleutian Island King and Tanner Crab
- Alaska Scallops
- Alaska Stocks of Pacific Salmon
What common Alaska species DO NOT have Essential Fish Habitat identified?
Many fish species exist in Alaska waters. However, EFH is only identified for only those species managed under a federal fishery management plan. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council develops FMPs under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Many common commercial and recreational species are not managed under an FMP and are managed by the State of Alaska. Halibut are managed by the Council and NOAA Fisheries under an international treaty, Northern Pacific Halibut Act of 1982.
- Ling cod
- Pacific herring
- Dolly Varden
- Arctic char
- Northern pike
- Dungeness crab
- Alaska King or Tanner crabs in the Gulf of Alaska region
- Spotted prawns or striped shrimps
- Pacific geoduck
- Razor or butter clams
- Pacific oyster
- Pinto abalone
- Red sea urchin
- California sea cucumber
What is a Habitat Area of Particular Concern?
Habitat Areas of Particular Concern, or HAPCs, are smaller habitat areas within EFH that meet at least two of the four considerations: 1)The importance of the ecological function provided by the habitat; 2) The extent to which the habitat is sensitive to human-induced environmental degradation; 3) Whether, and to what extent, development activities are, or will be, stressing the habitat type; 4) The rarity of the habitat type. (Rarity is a mandatory criterion of all Council HAPC proposals.)
- HAPC Process Document: Habitat Areas of Particular Concern with Essential Fish Habitat.
- North Pacific Fishery Management Council HAPC information.
- HAPC site locations and area maps.
- BSAI Groundfish FMP Amendment 104: Designates six areas of skate egg concentration as Habitat Areas of Particular Concern.
How often is Essential Fishing Habitat information updated?
EFH is updated every five years. The EFH 5-year review is the mechanism (or roadmap) to ensure NOAA Fisheries and Fishery Management Councils incorporate the most recent and best science available into fishery management and each fishery management plan. Each review evaluates recent scientific information, assesses information gaps and research needs, and identifies whether any revisions to EFH are needed or suggested. Based on the 5-year review, federal fishery management plans are updated and EFH Conservation Recommendations are offered for those activities that may adversely affect EFH.
Has EFH information changed?
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council revised the EFH sections of its fishery management plan to address the results of the 5-year review. The Council submitted Amendment 115 to the FMP for Groundfish of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Management Area, Amendment 105 to the FMP for Groundfish of the Gulf of Alaska, Amendment 49 to the FMP for Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands King and Tanner Crabs, Amendment 13 to the FMP for the Salmon Fisheries in the EEZ Off Alaska, and Amendment 2 to the FMP for Fish Resources of the Arctic Management Area, (collectively Amendments) to the Secretary of Commerce for review. A Notice of Availability was published in the Federal Register on March 5, 2018 (83 FR 9257). These Amendments revised the FMPs by updating the description and identification of EFH, and updating information on adverse impacts to EFH based on the best scientific information available. The Secretary of Commerce approved the EFH Omnibus Amendments on May 31, 2018 (83 FR 31340).
Who are the EFH contacts in Alaska?
For more information contact the Alaska Habitat Conservation Division at (907) 586-7636 for questions about southeast Alaska or (907) 271-5006 for questions about the rest of Alaska. Or, see the directory of Habitat Conservation Division staff.
What triggers an EFH Consultation?
An EFH Consultation is triggered when a federal agency, or its designee, determines that an action to be authorized, funded, or undertaken by the agency may adversely affect EFH.
What is the definition of an EFH 'adverse effect'?
An 'adverse effect' is any impact that reduces the quality and/or quantity of EFH. Adverse effects may include direct or indirect physical, chemical, or biological alterations of the waters or substrate and loss of, or injury to, benthic organisms, prey species and their habitat, and other ecosystem components, if such modifications reduce the quality and/or quantity of EFH. Adverse effects to EFH may result from actions occurring within EFH or outside of EFH and may include site-specific or habitat-wide impacts, including individual, cumulative, or synergistic consequences of actions.
What are a few examples of actions that affect EFH?
Common activities that may adversely affect EFH include fishing activities, port development, marine disposal of dredged materials, development of coastal wetlands, coastal transportation projects such as roadways, pollutant discharges, and certain resource extraction activities such as mining, logging, and oil and gas exploration. More detailed effect discussions are contained in reports:
- Evaluation of Fishing Activities That May Adversely Affect EFH (Appendix B) (PDF, 1326 pages)
- Assessment of the Effects of Fishing on Essential Fish Habitat in Alaska (PDF, 22 pages)
- Impacts to Essential Fish Habitat from Non-Fishing Activities in Alaska (PDF, 233 pages)
- North Pacific Fishery Management Council EFH Consultation Process with NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region (PDF, 2 pages)
- NOAA Restoration Center EFH Programmatic Consultation for Restoration Center Activities in Alaska (PDF, 27 pages)
- EFH Consultation Guidance
What do federal agencies need to do?
A federal action agency, or its official designee, must determine whether its actions may adversely affect EFH. If the agency determines that an action may adversely affect EFH, the action agency must prepare an EFH Assessment. If the action would not adversely affect EFH, then the agency should document this determination in its record.
What is in an EFH Assessment?
An EFH Assessment is an objective review of the impact an action may have on fish and their habitat. An EFH Assessment includes:
a description of the action
- an analysis of the potential adverse effects of the action on EFH and the managed species
- the agency’s conclusions regarding the effects of the action on EFH
- and proposed mitigation, if applicable
Is the State of Alaska required to consult on EFH?
No. State agencies are not required to consult with NOAA Fisheries on their activities. However, a state action that also requires a federal permit, license, or funding may require consultation between NOAA Fisheries and the federal action agency.
Are private landowners required to consult for projects on their land?
No. However, should a private action require a federal permit, EFH consultation between the permitting agency and NOAA Fisheries is required if the action adversely affects EFH. For example, for projects in areas identified as EFH, consultation between NOAA Fisheries and the Army Corps of Engineers will take place using the Clean Water Act section 404 permit process.
When does EFH consultation begin?
EFH consultation begins when a federal agency contacts NOAA Fisheries and requests review of an EFH Assessment.
Where does EFH Consultation Guidance exist?
The EFH regulations at 50 CFR 600 Subpart K establish procedures for interagency coordination and consultation regarding actions that may adversely affect EFH. The preamble provides background information and addresses many issues raised through public comment. Federal agencies and the public may also refer to the EFH Consultation Guidance, EFH Assessment Guidance, and EFH Policy and Directives.
Are there initial steps an action agency can take before contacting NOAA Fisheries?
Yes. Online information sources are available to assist federal agencies and the public. EFH Map Descriptions depict the area of EFH for each life stage of fish managed under a Fishery Management Plan within the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea, and Aleutian Islands. EFH Text Descriptions identify EFH for each life stage of managed fish species. If these tools do not provide adequate information for you to identify EFH at a given location, please contact the Habitat Conservation Division at (907) 586-7636 (Southeast Alaska) or (907) 271-5006 (rest of Alaska) or see the Alaska Region staff directory.
Can EFH Assessments be combined with other federal consultations or environmental review processes?
Yes. NOAA Fisheries strongly encourages such efforts to streamline the consultation process. There are nearly 30 legal authorities and additional guidance that drive our habitat conservation 6 Essential Fish Habitat FAQ programs. Additional details describing the primary legal authorities can be found on the EFH Consultations website. EFH consultation should be consolidated, where appropriate, with interagency consultation, coordination and environmental review procedures required by other statutes such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and Federal Power Act. EFH consultation requirements can be satisfied using existing review procedures if they provide NOAA Fisheries timely notification of actions that may adversely affect EFH and the notification meets the requirements of an EFH Assessment.
If EFH overlaps with ESA, are two individual consultations considered?
No. Both ESA and EFH considerations can be handled under one unified consultation. Though EFH Assessments have their own information requirements, federal agencies are encouraged to incorporate an EFH Assessment into documents prepared for other purposes such as an ESA Biological Assessment or NEPA documents and public notices.
After a federal agency consults, what must NOAA Fisheries do?
NOAA Fisheries will provide conservation recommendations to the action agency within 30 days of the proposed action, or within existing review procedures.
What is required of the federal action agency once it receives EFH conservation recommendations from NOAA Fisheries?
Within 30 days after receiving a conservation recommendation from NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency is required to provide a detailed written response to NOAA Fisheries. This response must include a description of measures proposed for avoiding, mitigating, or offsetting the impact of the activity on EFH.
Are federal agencies required to accept NOAA Fisheries conservation recommendation(s)?
No. EFH recommendations are advisory and non-binding to the federal action agency. However, in the case of a response from a federal agency that is inconsistent with the NOAA Fisheries recommendations, the federal agency must explain in writing its reasons for not following the recommendations.