Essential Fish Habitat
Fish and other marine species depend on their habitat to survive and reproduce. NOAA Fisheries works to identify and protect essential fish habitat.
Essentially, Fish Habitat
Fish and other marine species depend on their habitat to survive and reproduce. Congress improved the nation's primary fisheries law in 1996 to recognize the importance of healthy habitat for commercial and recreational fisheries.
Protecting and restoring Essential Fish Habitat has helped to maintain productive fisheries and rebuild depleted fish stocks in the United States. NOAA Fisheries has used EFH authorities to support the $200 billion U.S. fishing industry while protecting more than 800 million acres of habitat. Our economy and fishing industry benefit from sustainable fisheries supported by productive habitats that provide high-quality seafood.
We work quietly and efficiently—mostly behind the scenes—to identify and protect EFH. We work with partners like regional fishery management councils and use the best available scientific information to identify, describe, and map EFH for all federally managed fish species. Fishery management councils use this information to pinpoint and protect sensitive habitats by limiting certain fishing gear in those areas.
A consultation with NOAA Fisheries is required whenever a federal agency, including the military, works in an area that will adversely 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. Our EFH conservation efforts function like federal dietary recommendations: we help people make good choices with long-term benefits. Every year, our habitat experts advise agencies on hundreds of projects, from port expansions to offshore energy development. These consultations ensure that publicly-funded projects do not carelessly destroy habitat.
Read more about EFH authorities in the Magnuson-Stevens Act and its official wording in the EFH regulatory guidelines. Access habitat conservation and restoration policy directives or contact an EFH specialist in your region.
Using the best available science, NOAA Fisheries and regional fishery management councils have identified and mapped EFH for each life stage of nearly 1,000 federally-managed species. You can find this information in the regional fishery management councils' fishery management plans and the EFH Mapper.
EFH includes all types of aquatic habitat where fish spawn, breed, feed, or grow to maturity, such as:
These habitats are "essential" because, without them, fish would not be able to survive.
Location, Location, Location
High priorities for EFH conservation are called Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (HAPC) and merit special attention from NOAA Fisheries. These areas include, for example, coastal estuaries, canopy kelp, shallow corals, seagrass, and rocky reefs.
HAPCs meet the following conditions:
Major ecological functions
Sensitivity to decline
Stress from development
Essential Fish Habitat Mapper
The Essential Fish Habitat Mapper is a one-stop tool that displays maps of EFH, Habitat Areas of Particular Concern, and EFH areas protected from fishing.
Using the Mapper, you can search for maps of specific species, their life stages, and important habitats. You can also discover the species that spawn, grow, or live in a chosen location on the map and find supporting documentation, including fishery management plans and GIS data.
Essential Fish Habitat in the Regions
- Alaska Essential Fish Habitat Research Plan
- Essential Fish Habitat in Alaska
- Essential Fish Habitat in the Pacific Islands
- Essential Fish Habitat on the West Coast
- Magnuson-Stevens Act
- Regional Essential Fish Habitat Coordinators
- Essential Fish Habitat Consultations
- EFH Regulatory Guidelines
- Final Amendment 10: Essential Fish Habitat
- EFH and Critical Habitat: A Comparison
- Regional Use of the Habitat Area of Particular Concern
- 6 Reasons Habitat Matters to Fish, and People Too