Habitat Conservation and Stewardship in the Greater Atlantic Region
An overview of habitat conservation and stewardship in New England and the Mid-Atlantic.
Healthy habitats are the foundation of healthy fisheries. By conserving the marine, estuarine, and riverine habitats that underpin healthy ecosystems, the Habitat and Ecosystems Services Division (HESD) provides the foundation necessary to support NOAA goals and objectives, including: maintaining sustainable fisheries; developing responsible aquaculture; conserving and recovering protected species; sustainably managing the nation’s coastal regions; and augmenting resiliency of coastal ecosystems and communities in a changing climate.
Our vision is for healthy and self-sustaining marine, estuarine, and riverine habitats that support vital ecosystem services, including abundant living marine resources, diverse 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, support sustainable aquaculture and maintain resilient coastal ecosystems and communities.
Our geographic area of responsibility includes the Atlantic coastal states from Maine through Virginia. Habitat and Ecosystem Services Division staff are located in offices throughout the region in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia.
Consultation and Stewardship 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.
We use a number of authorities to provide advice and recommendations to support our mission and vision including:
- Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act
- Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act
- Federal Power Act
- National Environmental Policy Act
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 stewardship activities include participation in a wide range of watershed management activities and workgroups throughout New England and the Mid-Atlantic to support habitat restoration, water quality improvements and diadromous fish passage.
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.
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.
Another important part of HESD’s mission is to support sustainable aquaculture within the Greater Atlantic Region. Aquaculture provides important economic opportunities for businesses along our coast, augmenting coastal community resilience. It complements commercial and recreational fisheries by offering another source of safe, healthy, and sustainable seafood. Further, aquaculture can offer multiple benefits to our coastal and marine ecosystems by improving water quality and habitat, which, in turn, supports healthy, sustainable fisheries and the resilience of coastal habitats.
Our aquaculture team works cooperatively with state, local, and industry partners, as well as the NOAA Fisheries Office of Aquaculture and other regional aquaculture coordinators, to promote and enhance coastal and off-shore aquaculture activities in the region. With mariculture in federal waters in its infancy, our team provides important pre-permitting guidance for prospective aquaculture businesses. Aquaculture facilities in federal waters must be permitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Before a permit is approved by either entity, the project must be analyzed for its impacts on habitat and protected species, requiring consultations for essential fish habitat under the Magnuson Stevens Act, and under section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. Our aquaculture coordinators work closely with applicants, federal permitting agencies, HESD staff, and our Protected Resources Division to coordinate throughout the process and to ensure consistency in the information provided to the lead agency and the applicant.
The Ecosystem Management Branch in HESD coordinates our region’s evaluation of proposed offshore wind energy projects. The leases and permits for the wind farms are issued by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), an agency within the Department of the Interior. As the lead action agency, BOEM is required to consult with us on the impacts of these projects under several different statutes. HESD staff conducts essential fish habitat consultations on the projects as required under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and also provides comments related to impacts of proposed projects on fishermen and fisheries through our review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). As a cooperating agency on these projects, we help inform BOEM’s analysis under NEPA by providing them with data and information related to fisheries and marine resources. We also work closely with our Protected Resources Division and Headquarters Office of Protected Resources to help coordinate review under the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act. The guidance and advice we provide is aimed at minimizing the impacts of these projects on marine resources, and our stakeholders that depend on them, facilitating the responsible development of offshore wind facilities on the outer continental shelf.
- EFH Consultations in the Greater Atlantic Region
- Hydropower and Fish Passage
- Offshore Wind Energy
- Habitat News
- What is a Watershed?
- Contact Regional Office Staff