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Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) In the Northeast

Life history and habitat characteristics of Northeastern U.S. species

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSFCMA), which was reauthorized and amended by the Sustainable Fisheries Act (1996), requires the eight regional fishery management councils to describe and identify essential fish habitat (EFH) in their respective regions, to specify actions to conserve and enhance that EFH, and to minimize the adverse effects of fishing on EFH. Congress defined EFH as "those waters and substrate necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding or growth to maturity." The MSFCMA requires the NOAA Fisheries Service to assist the regional fishery management councils in the implementation of EFH in their respective fishery management plans. For complete information and background on EFH, see the NOAA Fisheries Service Office of Habitat Conservation's web site.

The NOAA Fisheries Service has taken a broad view of habitat as the area used by fish throughout their life cycle. Fish use habitat for spawning, feeding, nursery, migration, and shelter, but most habitats provide only a subset of these functions. Fish may change habitats with changes in life history stage, seasonal and geographic distributions, abundance, and interactions with other species. The type of habitat, as well as its attributes and functions, are important for sustaining the production of managed species.

The Northeast Fisheries Science Center compiled the available information on the distribution, abundance, and habitat requirements for each of the species managed by the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils. That information is presented in this series of  EFH species reports (plus one consolidated methods report; below). The EFH species reports comprise a survey of the important literature as well as original analyses of fishery-independent data sets from the NOAA Fisheries Service and several coastal states. The species reports are also the source for the current EFH designations by the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils, and have understandably begun to be referred to as the "EFH source documents."

NOAA Fisheries provided guidance to the regional fishery management councils for identifying and describing EFH of their managed species. Consistent with this guidance, the species reports present information on current and historic stock sizes, geographic range, and the period and location of major life history stages. The habitats of managed species are described by the physical, chemical, and biological components of the ecosystem where the species occur. Information on the habitat requirements is provided for each life history stage, and it includes, where available, habitat and environmental variables that control or limit distribution, abundance, growth, reproduction, mortality, and productivity.

Identifying and describing EFH are the first steps in the process of protecting, conserving, and enhancing essential habitats of the managed species. Ultimately, the NOAA Fisheries Service, the regional fishery management councils, fishing participants, Federal and state agencies, and other organizations will have to cooperate to achieve the habitat goals established by the MSFCMA.

The initial series of EFH species source documents were published in 1999 in the NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-NE series.

Updating and review of the EFH components of the councils’ Fishery Management Plans is required at least every five years by the NOAA Fisheries Service Guidelines for meeting the Sustainable Fisheries Act/EFH Final Rule. Second editions of several of these species source documents were written to provide the updated information needed to meet these requirements. The second editions provide new information on life history, geographic distribution, and habitat requirements via recent literature, research, and fishery surveys, and incorporate updated and revised maps and graphs.

NMFS-NE-122 Fishery Independent Surveys, Data Sources, and Methods

New England Fishery Management Council

Middle Atlantic Fishery Management Council

Last updated by Northeast Fisheries Science Center on June 04, 2021