The Sustainable Fisheries Act (SFA) (P.L. 10 4-297) requires that each regional fishery management council identify the habitats used by all the life history stages of their managed species. The habitats that are necessary to the species for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity are designated as Essential Fish Habitat (EFH). These habitats must be described in narratives and identified geographically in a fishery management plan (FMP).
A subset of EFH is Habitat Area of Particular Concern (HAPC). An area can be designated as an HAPC based on one or more of the following:
- the importance of the ecological function provided by the habitat,
- its sensitivity to human-induced environmental degradation,
- the extent of threats posed by development to the habitat, or
- the rarity of the habitat type
The HAPC designation does not confer additional protections or restrictions, but can help prioritize conservation efforts.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is responsible for administering the FCMA.
The SFA requires that BOEM and other Federal Agencies consult with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA‑‑Fisheries) with respect to any action authorized, funded, or undertaken by that Agency that may adversely affect any EFH. According to the final rule for the provisions (50 CFR Part 600), NOAA--Fisheries will comment on the consultation, and the consulting Agency then has 30 days to respond. Any conservation recommendations provided by NOAA--Fisheries to the consulting Agency are nonbinding. If the consulting Agency chooses not to accept some or all of the conservation recommendations, it must provide an explanation to NOAA--Fisheries.
BOEM can initiate consultations for a category of actions or for specific proposals. The level of analysis and type of consultation are commensurate with the degree of impact. BOEM and other Federal Agencies must consult on activities that may adversely affect EFH in order to comply with the legislative mandate. The EFH consultation combined with other environmental reviews must include a description of the proposed action and an analysis of the effects of the proposed action on EFH, the managed species, and their affected life stages and proposed mitigation, if applicable.
The EFH regulations at 50 CFR 600.920(f) enable NOAA--Fisheries to make a finding that an existing consultation or environmental review procedure can be used to satisfy the FCMA consultation requirements. In March 2002, BOEM received a NOAA--Fisheries Letter of Finding that allows BOEM to choose to use the NEPA process by submitting to NOAA--Fisheries programmatic, lease sale, or project-specific environmental impact statements (EISs) or environmental assessments (EAs), as appropriate, in lieu of a stand-alone EFH assessment. A stand-alone EFH assessment is also an option. For more information on the consultation process, look at NOAA--Fisheries’ Essential Fish Habitat Consultation Guidance.
The National Marine Fisheries Service is developing a composite of EFH maps on a computer database for species covered in an FMP. This tool could be useful in addressing fisheries issues. To learn more about the mapping tool, visit http://www.habitat.noaa.gov/efhmapper