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Essential Fish Habitat in the U.S. Caribbean

The U.S. Caribbean includes the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The 1996 amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) set forth a mandate for NOAA Fisheries, regional fishery management councils, and other federal agencies to identify and protect important marine and anadromous fish habitat.  The essential fish habitat (EFH) provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act support one of the nation’s overall marine resource management goals - maintaining sustainable fisheries.  Maintaining suitable marine fishery habitat quality and quantity is critical to achieve this goal.

The Caribbean Fishery Management Council first identified and described EFH in a 1998 fishery management plan (FMP) amendment.  The most recent revisions and updates became effective in 2005 and were reviewed in 2012 and again in 2019.  EFH in the U.S. Caribbean includes important marine and estuarine habitats such as coral and coral reefs, hard bottoms, seagrasses, mangroves, marshes, algal flats, and substrates such as sand, shell, mud and rock.

The Southeast Region’s Habitat Conservation Division (HCD) implements NOAA Fisheries' EFH program in the coastal states from North Carolina south through Texas as well as the territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  HCD has prepared an EFH Guide for the U.S. Caribbean (PDF 16 Pages) to provide an overview of the EFH provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act in the U.S. Caribbean.

EFH Consultations

One of the principal authorities for protecting and conserving marine fishery habitats is the EFH provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act which requires federal agencies that authorize, fund, or undertake projects that may adversely affect EFH to consult with NOAA Fisheries. Through consultation, the HCD provides recommendations to federal agencies to avoid, minimize, mitigate, or otherwise offset the effects of their actions on EFH.

At its most basic, an EFH consultation consists of a federal agency providing NOAA Fisheries with an EFH Assessment, NOAA Fisheries responding with EFH Conservation Recommendations followed by the federal agency’s response to NOAA Fisheries' recommendations.  However, it is often beneficial for permit applicants and federal agency project managers to contact the HCD early in the planning of their projects.

EFH Consultation Flowchart.jpg

Image:  Illustrating the general EFH Consultation process including optional, but encouraged, pre-application coordination.

The HCD has offices located in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Christiansted, St. Croix and area of responsibility coincides with the Caribbean Fishery Management Council’s.  The review, advisory, and consultative services provided by the HCD to effect conservation and enhancement of fishery habitats use existing laws in addition to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, including the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, Federal Power Act, and the Coral Reef Conservation Act.

Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, fishery management actions developed by fishery management councils, and approved by NOAA Fisheries, are also required to minimize adverse affects of fishing activities on EFH to the maximum extent practicable.

Last updated by Southeast Regional Office on August 27, 2020