Essential Fish Habitat

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Essential fish habitat

Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) is a federal provision to conserve and sustain the habitats that fish need to go through their life cycles. The United States Congress in 1996 added the EFH provision to the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976. Renamed the Magnuson-Stevens Conservation and Management Act in 1996, the act is the federal law that governs marine (sea) fishery management in the United States.

The amended act required that fishery management plans include designations and descriptions of essential fish habitats. The plan is a document describing the strategy to reach management goals in a fishery, an area where fish breed and people catch them. The Magnuson-Stevens Act covers plans for waters located within the United States' exclusive economic zone . The zone extends offshore from the coastland for three to 200 miles.

The designation of EFH was necessary because the continuing loss of aquatic habitat posed a major longterm threat to the viability of commercial and recreational fisheries, Congress said in 1996. Lawmakers defined EFH as "those waters and substrate necessary to the fish for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity". Substrate consists of sediment and structures below the water.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act called for identification of EFH by eight regional fishery management councils and the Highly Migratory Species Division of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), an agency of the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, NOAA manages more than 700 species . These species range from tiny reef fish to large tuna.

NOAA Fisheries and the councils are required by the act to minimize "to the extent practicable" the adverse effects of fishing on EFH. The act also directed the councils and NOAA to devise plans to conserve and enhance EFH. Those plans are included in the management plans. Also in the plan are "habitat areas of particular concern." These areas within an EFH include rare habitat or habitat that is ecologically important.

Furthermore, the act required federal agencies to work with NMFS when the agencies plan to authorize, finance, or carry out activities that could adversely affect EFH. This process called an EFH consultation is required if the agency plans an activity like dredging near an essential fishing habitat. While NMFS does not have veto power over the project, NOAA Fisheries will provide conservation recommendations.

The eight regional fishery management councils were established by the 1976 Magnuson Fishery and Conservation Management Act. That legislation also established the exclusive economic zone and staked the United States' claim to it. The 1976 act also addressed issues such as foreign fishing and how to connect the fishing community to the management process, according to an NOAA report. The councils manage living marine resources in their regions and address issues such as EFH.

The New England Fishery Management Council manages fisheries in federal waters off the coasts of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. New England fish species include Atlantic cod, Atlantic halibut, and white hake.

The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council manages fisheries in federal waters off the mid-Atlantic coast. Council members represent the states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. North Carolina is represented on this council and the South Atlantic Council. Fish species found within this region include ocean quahog, Atlantic mackerel, and butterfish.

The South Atlantic Fishery Management Council is responsible for the management of fisheries in the federal waters within a 200-mile area off the coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and east Florida to Key West. Marine species in this area include cobia, golden crab, and Spanish mackerel.

The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council draws its membership from the Gulf Coast states of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. Marine species in this area include shrimp, red drum, and stone crab.

The Caribbean Fishery Management Council manages fisheries in federal waters off the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The management plan covers coral reefs and species including queen triggerfish and spiny lobster.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council includes representatives from Alaska and Washington state. Species within this area include salmon , scallops, and king crab.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council draws its members from Washington, Oregon, and California. Species in this region include salmon, northern anchovy, and Pacific bonito.

The Western Pacific Fishery Management Council is concerned with the United States exclusive economic zone that surrounds Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and other U.S. possessions in the Pacific. Fishery management encompasses coral and species such as swordfish and striped marlin.

[Liz Swain ]



Dobbs, David. The Great Gulf: Fishermen, Scientists, and the Struggle to Revive the World's Greatest Fishery. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2000.

Hanna, Susan. Fishing Grounds: Defining a New Era for American Fishing Management. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2000.


National Marine Fisheries Service Office of Habitat Conservation, 1315 E. West Highway, 15th Floor, Silver Springs, MD 20910 (301) 713-2325, Fax: (301) 713-1043, Email: [email protected], <

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 14th Street & Constitution Avenue, NW, Room 6013, Washington, D.C. 20230 (202) 482-6090, Fax: (202) 482-3154, Email: [email protected], <

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Essential Fish Habitat

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