Habitat Area of Particular Concern
There are many ways to protect marine life. No-take and fishing gear restrictions, adding to the endangered or threatened list, and setting aside critical areas where a species is known to live can all help. A Habitat Area of Particular Concern (HAPC) is a designation that encompasses discrete subsets of Essential Fish Habitat (EFH), which provide extremely important ecological functions or are especially vulnerable to degradation. The purpose of HAPCs is to highlight priority areas within EFH to focus conservation, management, and research efforts. These areas typically possess detailed information on ecological function and habitat vulnerability. So why should ocean energy planners pay attention to where HAPCs are located?
- HAPCs represent sensitive or vulnerable areas. HAPCs are derived from Essential Fish Habitats, which consist of all waters and substrate necessary for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity. HAPCs are subsets of EFH that are rare, particularly susceptible to human-induced degradation, especially ecologically important, or located in an environmentally stressed area. Proposed development activities within HAPCs, such as energy or dredging projects, will be more carefully scrutinized during consultations with NOAA, and may require extra study and mitigation planning compared to surrounding areas. Some fishery management councils have restricted the use of certain fishing gears within HAPCs to protect vulnerable habitats from destructive fishing practices.
- There are regional differences. HAPCs are different across the country primarily because each fishery management council has taken a different approach to designating EFH and HAPCs. In addition, it is not uncommon for data density, quality, and availability to vary from one area of the country to the next. While differences in data availability contribute to the inconsistencies in designing HAPCs, the primary reason is still that the councils have different management priorities and approaches.
- Boundaries are made as clear as possible. Regulations state that fishery management plans should describe EFH and HAPCs, including reference to geographic location using boundaries such as longitude and latitude, political boundaries, and major landmarks when possible. For those HAPCs that have explicit boundaries, geospatial data are provided through the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) website. Differences in data quality and availability, as well as management practices, will sometimes cause boundaries to be more general than others. In every case, all the known information is provided.
Quick Caveats. The naming convention of HAPCs varies depending on which regional fishery management council has identified the areas and sometimes depending on the purpose of the HAPC. Some HAPCs are named for either the species they protect, the type of habitat they protect, or the particular geographic area or feature they protect. In the Marine Cadastre, many of the HAPCs have been renamed to reflect a specific species within the HAPC and therefore might not be the same as the official name. These areas are only changed when the fishery management councils determine the need to do so. The data set within MarineCadastre.gov comes straight from the NMFS servers and therefore should reflect the most up-to-date data. However, as with all Marine Cadastre data sets, caution should be used in its interpretation and application. More research will be needed. To assist users, NMFS maintains a mapping interface, the Essential Fish Habitat Mapper, and links to additional information. This mapper includes HAPC data as well as essential fish habitat. NMFS also has experts in each region that should be contacted to verify the description and location of HAPCs. Contact information can be found at www.habitat.noaa.gov/protection/efh/regionalcontacts.html.
Source Data Expert
Terra Lederhouse, Marine Habitat Resource Specialist, NOAA Fisheries, Office of Habitat Conservation
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