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Essential Fish Habitat Consultations in the Greater Atlantic Region

Fish and other marine species depend on their habitat to survive and reproduce. We work to identify and protect essential fish habitat.

3264x2448-winter-flounder-NOAA.jpg Winter Flounder in eelgrass bed. Credit: Christopher Pickerell, Cornell Cooperative Extension.

The 1996 Sustainable Fisheries Act amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) required that federal fishery management plans be amended to include the designation of essential fish habitat (EFH) for all federally managed species. EFH is defined broadly to include "those waters and substrate necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity."

Within the Greater Atlantic Region, the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils have designated EFH for the species that they manage. Highly migratory species such as Atlantic tunas, swordfish, sharks, and billfish that are found throughout the Atlantic Ocean are managed by NOAA Fisheries at the headquarters office. Our office of Sustainable Fisheries has also designated EFH for these species within the Greater Atlantic Region in their Consolidated Atlantic Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan. EFH designations in our region can be found on the Essential Fish Habitat Mapper, a one-stop tool that displays maps of EFH, Habitat Areas of Particular Concern, and EFH areas protected from fishing.

Habitat Areas of Particular Concern are subsets of EFH identified due to:

  • Ecological function
  • Sensitivity to degradation
  • Stresses from development
  • Rarity

In our region, Habitat Areas of Particular Concern have been designated for several species including summer flounder, golden tilefish, Atlantic cod, Atlantic salmon, sandbar shark and sand tiger shark.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act also requires federal agencies to consult with us when their activities, including permits and licenses they issue, may adversely affect EFH. As part of this consultation process, we provide advice and EFH conservation recommendations to federal agencies to avoid, minimize or compensate for adverse impacts to EFH and federally managed species. An EFH consultation begins when the federal agency provides us with an EFH Assessment. Our habitat staff evaluate hundreds of EFH assessments every year for a wide range of activities including energy development, both offshore and hydroelectric projects, infrastructure and transportation, port developments, coastal resilience and aquaculture. Federal action agencies are also required to respond to our conservation recommendations and describe the measures they propose for avoiding, reducing, or offsetting the impact of the activity on EFH.

As part of the EFH consultation process, we may also include comments and recommendations pursuant to other authorities including the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Federal Power Act, at the same time; however, EFH conservation recommendations will be clearly identified.

Habitat Conservation Division staff are available to answer any questions that the public and federal agencies may have regarding EFH and the EFH consultation process. We encourage early coordination on activities that may adversely affect EFH including infrastructure, energy and port developments, coastal storm risk management activities and other coastal development actions. To assist federal action agencies in preparing EFH assessments, we have developed an EFH assessment worksheet that can be used to evaluate the effects of many proposed actions on EFH. For transportation projects, a programmatic consultation and Best Management Practices Manual has been developed with the Federal Highway Administration. We also encourage the consideration of climate change and sea level rise in the development and evaluation of large scale coastal activities.

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Last updated by Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office on September 12, 2022