Alaska Essential Fish Habitat Research Plan, Processed Report 2017-05
The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSFCMA) mandates NOAA to identify habitats essential for managed species and conserve habitats from adverse effects on those habitats. These habitats are termed “Essential Fish Habitat” or EFH, and are defined as “those waters and substrate necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity”. Further, the MSFCMA requires federal agencies to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) when their actions may adversely affect EFH. These consultations occur for both fishing and non-fishing activities.1 The recently revised National Standard 1 guidelines add several provisions to facilitate the incorporation of ecosystem-based fisheries management into federal fisheries management. National Standard 2 of the MSFCMA requires NMFS to conserve and manage fishery resources based upon the best available scientific information. To meet these mandates, NOAA’s research must identify habitats that contribute most to the survival, growth, and productivity of managed fish species and determine science-based measures to best manage and conserve these habitats from adverse effects of human activities.
The approach for identifying EFH is described in the NMFS EFH regulations (Appendix 1). The regulations require that, at a minimum, distributional data (level 1 information) be used in the identification of EFH. This level 1 information is based on presence/absence data of the species or life stages in specific habitats used. Where possible, data sets and information on habitat related densities of species (level 2), growth, reproduction and survival within habitats (level 3) and production rates by habitat (level 4) should be used to identify EFH. In Alaska, information for most commercial fish and crab species currently is level 1 or level 2, depending on the species and life stage, and no level 3 or level 4 information has been described. EFH research is conducted in part to elevate the EFH level for the studied species. While striving for level 4 information, the current goal of this research plan is level 3 information (see research objective 2, listed below).
Previous EFH Research Plans (AFSC 2006, Sigler et al. 2012) for Alaska have guided research to meet EFH mandates in Alaska since 2005. This document revises and supersedes these earlier plans, and similar to previous plans, is expected to guide the next several years of EFH research. Revisions of the EFH research plan (Sigler et al. 2012, this document) are timed to match required EFH 5-year reviews; the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) and NMFS are required by EFH regulations to review the EFH components within each fishery management plan (FMP) every 5 years. The objectives of these reviews are to evaluate and synthesize new information on habitat, determine whether changes to the FMPs are warranted, and present this evaluation in a summary report to the Council. These reviews summarize the status of EFH research, which then provides a basis for determining future research directions (i.e., this revised research plan).