Consultations for Essential Fish Habitat
A consultation with NOAA Fisheries is required whenever a federal agency, including the military, works in an area that will affect essential fish habitat. Together, the agency and NOAA determine how best to conduct coastal development while supporting fish habitat and minimizing or avoiding environmental damage.
Every year, NOAA Fisheries habitat experts across the country advise federal agencies on hundreds of projects, from port expansions to offshore energy development. We identify measures to avoid, reduce, or compensate for adverse impacts to fish habitat and ensure that publicly-funded projects do not carelessly destroy habitat.
Private landowners and state agencies are not required to consult with NOAA Fisheries. However, NOAA Fisheries must provide conservation recommendations on any state action that would adversely affect EFH.
Actions with Impacts Need Consultations
A consultation is required if:
- A federal agency has authorized, funded, or undertaken part or all of a proposed activity. For example, if a project requires a federal permit, then the federal agency issuing the permit must consult with NOAA Fisheries.
- The action will “adversely” affect EFH. An adverse effect includes direct or indirect physical, chemical, or biological alterations. It includes adverse changes to:
- Waters or substrate.
- Species and their habitat.
- Other ecosystem components.
- Quality and/or quantity of EFH.
Use our EFH Mapper tool to determine if the proposed action is located within or adjacent to EFH.
If a federal agency determines that an action will not adversely affect EFH, and NOAA Fisheries agrees, no consultation is required.
The Consultation Process
When a federal agency authorizes, funds, or undertakes an action that may adversely affect EFH, it should notify NOAA Fisheries in writing as early as possible. Early coordination helps agencies integrate habitat conservation measures into their plans and may eliminate the need for a full consultation.
If a federal agency determines that an action will adversely affect EFH, then:
- The implementing (action) agency provides notification of the action to NOAA Fisheries.
- The action agency submits an EFH assessment to NOAA Fisheries.
- NOAA Fisheries reviews the EFH assessment, and, if necessary, provides EFH conservation recommendations to the action agency within 30-60 days.
- The action agency responds to NOAA Fisheries within 30 days with information on how it will proceed with the action.
Regulations and Guidance
To streamline requirements and avoid duplication, EFH consultations are typically combined with existing environmental review procedures, such as those required under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act. Federal agencies may also consult on a group of similar activities through a programmatic consultation.
For more information on essential fish habitat in your region, please contact the appropriate NOAA Fisheries’ Regional Coordinator.