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 (EFH) 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.
We also provide advice to federal agencies on smart development that minimizes or prevents environmental impacts to EFH. 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. You can also learn more about the consultation process.
Managers need the highest level information on EFH. Currently, the quantity of information decreases at each successive level.
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.
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.
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.
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