Conserving Habitat in the Greater Atlantic Region

An overview of habitat conservation in New England and the Mid-Atlantic.

Cod habitat

Cod hiding in boulder habitat

Healthy habitats are the foundation of healthy fisheries. We work to protect, conserve, and restore habitats for fishery resources under our stewardship. Our vision is for healthy and self-sustaining coastal and marine habitats that support vital ecosystem functions, including abundant living marine resources, human uses, and resilient coastal communities. We work cooperatively with a wide variety of federal, state, and local agencies and non-governmental organizations to protect and restore habitat to sustain fisheries, recover protected species, and maintain resilient coastal ecosystems and communities.

We use a number of authorities to provide advice and recommendations to support our vision including:

Through these authorities, we are involved in a wide range of consultative and stewardship activities including aquaculture, coastal storm risk management activities; transportation, infrastructure and energy development; living shorelines and Engineering with Nature initiatives; as well as wetland conservation and the protection of deepwater corals and submerged aquatic vegetation.

Our geographic area of responsibility includes the Atlantic coastal states from Maine through Virginia. Habitat Conservation Division staff are located in offices throughout the region in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia.

Environmental Review and Consultation Activities

Since the establishment of the NOAA Fisheries Habitat Program in the early 1970s, we have focused on consultations with federal and state agencies and other entities whose actions and activities may result in adverse effects on marine and estuarine fishery habitats.

Essential Fish Habitat Consultations

The principal authorities for protecting and conserving marine fishery habitats are the EFH provisions in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Federal agencies are required to consult with us on any action that they authorize, fund, or undertake that may adversely affect EFH. Using our extensive scientific and resource management expertise, we provide advice and recommendations to federal agencies on measures to avoid, minimize, mitigate, or otherwise offset the effects of their actions on EFH. We also include measures to minimize the adverse effects of fishing gear and fishing activities on EFH as well.

Learn more about essential fish habitat

Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act Consultations

The Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act requires that all federal agencies consult with us when proposed actions might result in modifications to a natural stream or body of water. It also requires that they consider effects that these projects would have on fish and wildlife and must also provide for improvement of these resources. Under this authority, we work to protect, conserve and enhance species and habitats for a wide range of aquatic resources such as shellfish, migratory fish species, and other commercially and recreationally important species that are not managed by the federal fishery management councils and do not have designated EFH.

Federal Power Act Consultations

Migrating fish such as river herring, shad, and salmon need access to freshwater habitat for spawning and rearing their young. Anadromous fishes including American shad, alewife, blueback herring, striped bass, and Atlantic salmon spend most of their adult life in the ocean, but return to freshwater rivers and streams, often where they were born, to spawn. Catadromous American eels spawn in the Sargasso Sea and travel as young elvers into freshwater habitats to mature. These migratory fish are prey for commercially valuable fish like Atlantic cod, and provide many other important ecosystem functions.

Hydropower projects can block the movement of these fish as well as disrupt the flow of rivers and streams causing changes in water flow and quality. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission process of licensing and re-licensing hydropower projects triggers NOAA's authority under the Federal Power Act and represents another major opportunity to influence a federal activity affecting fish and fishery habitats.

Learn more about fish passage


Understanding Essential Fish Habitat

Essential fish habitat includes coral reefs, kelp forests, bays, wetlands, rivers, and even areas of the deep ocean that are necessary for fish reproduction, growth, feeding, and shelter.