Consultations with Federal Agencies


What are federal agency consultations?

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) [link to ESA tab of Laws topic page] and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) [link to MSA tab of Laws topic page] require federal agencies to consult with NOAA Fisheries when they authorize, fund, or undertake actions that may impact (1) endangered and threatened marine species and/or their habitats and (2) habitats necessary for healthy, productive fish stocks.

Federal agency consultations on essential fish habitat (EFH) are required under the MSA. Learn more about essential fish habitat. [link to card stack]

Federal agency consultations on activities that may affect endangered and threatened species or their habitats are required under section 7 of the ESA.

These interagency consultations are designed to help the agencies ensure that federal projects or activities do not jeopardize the continued existence of a species or adversely impact important fish habitat or designated critical habitat. [link to subtopic page on critical habitat]

We also consult within NOAA Fisheries on scientific research permits and the development of fishery management plans.

Placeholder: How do essential fish habitat consultations work?

*Note: this card will not be created as part of this stack. This card will get pulled directly from the essential fish habitat card stack (card #7). Text is presented here for review of general flow and context with other cards in this stack. Once conent is in Drupal, this card should be deleted and the EFH consultations card created by habitat should get put in this stack.

NOAA Fisheries works with partners and uses the best available science to identify, describe, and map EFH for all federally-managed fish species. Fishery management councils use this information to pinpoint sensitive habitats, and protect them by limiting certain fishing gears in those areas. We also provide advice for smart development that minimizes or avoids environmental impacts. These efforts are preventative and focus on federal-level actions that may impact marine fisheries and vital habitats. [link to Consultations section]

Our EFH conservation efforts function like federal dietary recommendations: We guide people to make good choices with long-term benefits. Every year, habitat experts across the country advise federal agencies on hundreds of projects, ranging from port expansions to offshore energy development. These consultations ensure that projects funded by your tax dollars do not destroy habitat.

Read more about EFH authorities in the Magnuson-Stevens Act [link to MSA tab on topics page] and its official wording in the EFH regulatory guidelines.

How do endangered species consultations work?

Federal agencies must determine whether their actions may affect ESA-listed species. [link to presorted list of threatened and endangered animals] If an agency determines its actions may affect threatened or endangered marine species, the agency is required to consult with NOAA Fisheries. Some consultations are informal, involving conference calls and exchange of e-mails and letters. Others are formal, resulting in biological opinions [link to subtopic page on biological opinions. The time needed to conduct an ESA consultation will vary depending on the complexity of the proposed action.

Informal consultations are conducted on actions that are not likely to adversely affect ESA-listed species or designated critical habitat. [link to subtopic page on critical habitat] In these cases, NOAA Fisheries provides a letter of concurrence and no further consultation is required.

Formal consultations are conducted on actions that are likely to adversely affect ESA-listed species or designated critical habitat. These consultations must be completed within 135 days of initiation (90 days for consultation plus 45 days for coordination between the agencies), unless an extension is agreed upon by the agencies. Formal consultations result in a biological opinion [link to biological opinion subtopic page], which states NOAA Fisheries' determination of whether the federal action is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of an ESA-listed species or is likely to destroy or adversely affect designated critical habitat.

During an ESA consultation, NOAA Fisheries reviews the proposed action and its effects on ESA-listed species and designated critical habitat. [link to subtopic page on critical habitat] The goal of consultation is to identify, avoid, and/or minimize potential harm to threatened or endangered species or impacts to critical habitat. The biological opinion [link to subtopic page on biological opinions] resulting from a formal consultation documents the consultation process, analyses, and conclusions. It also identifies the conditions under which the proposed action may proceed.

During consultation, we work with the acting federal agency to identify appropriate mitigation, monitoring, and best management practices for their activities to ensure the protection of ESA-listed species and their habitat. If at the end of consultation we find that the action is likely to jeopardize ESA-listed species, an alternative action with fewer impacts (known as a reasonable and prudent alternative) may be required.

What types of activities does NOAA Fisheries provide consultations for?

Federal activities we consult on can range from local or state projects, to regional, national, or international actions. The scope of projects also varies, from small river systems, estuaries, or coastal areas to an ocean basin like the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean. Actions that commonly require consultation include:

  • Dredging.
  • Hydroelectric activities.
  • Large construction activities.
  • Military exercises, testing, and training.
  • Offshore energy activities.
  • Permitting programs.
  • Scientific research.
  • Seismic surveys.

What federal agencies do we consult with?

Some of the agencies we consult with include:

  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
  • Department of Defense.
  • Department of the Interior.
  • Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
  • National Science Foundation.
  • Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
  • U.S. Geological Survey.

We also provide consultations within our own agency. This may include review and consultation on scientific research projects or development of fishery management plans.

Where can I find the consultations developed by NOAA Fisheries?

All federal consultations conducted under the ESA and MSA can be found through the NOAA Public Consultation Tracking System. [link to] This online database allows you to search by year, location, consultation type, federal agency, and species.