Essential Fish Habitat

Fish require healthy surroundings to survive and reproduce. Essential Fish Habitat includes all types of aquatic habitat—wetlands, coral reefs, seagrasses, rivers—where fish spawn, breed, feed, or grow to maturity. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (Fisheries) works with the regional fishery management councils to identify the essential habitat for every life stage of each federally managed species using the best available scientific information. Essential Fish Habitat has been described for approximately 1,000 managed species at multiple life stages to date. contains three types of Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) data: EFH, EFH Areas Protected from Fishing, and Habitat Area of Particular Concern (HAPC).   What do ocean planners need to know about Essential Fish Habitat?  

  1. Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) contains information critical to identifying whether agencies need to consult with NOAA Fisheries. Whenever federal agencies authorize, fund, or carry out actions that may adversely affect EFH, they must consult with NOAA Fisheries to identify measures the agency can take to reduce, minimize, or avoid adverse effects of the activities on EFH.
  2. Some areas within EFH contain specific fishing restrictions. EFH Areas Protected from Fishing are areas where fishing or the use of fishing gear has been restricted or modified in order to minimize the adverse effects of fishing on EFH, as required by Section 303(a)(7) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.
  3. EFH is identified and described in coordination with the regional fishery management councils. The Magnuson-Stevens Act requires NOAA and the eight regional fishery management councils to describe and identify EFH in their respective regions. EFH is described in both text and maps. If users have specific questions on the content and use of the EFH data, it is recommended they contact the expert in their region of interest.

Quick Caveats. The data were developed using methods that reflected regional differences in both source data and management needs. Because of the variability in the quality and intended usage of these GIS data layers, each should be considered individually when interpreting the accuracy and utility of the information that they provide. Please be sure to view the EFH Mapper and read the information under the Data Quality tab in the Help menu to fully understand the usage constraints for each data layer and the completeness and accuracy of the information. Users are also advised that the spatial representation of essential fish habitat is for informational purposes only and should not be solely relied on for regulatory purposes. Implementing regulations [50 CFR 600.815(a)(1)(iv)(B)] specify that if there are differences between the descriptions of EFH in text and maps, the textual description as found in the amendment is ultimately determinative of the limits of EFH. EFH textual descriptions can be found in the EFH Data Inventory.

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