Habitat Conservation

Essential Fish Habitat Consultations

Coral Photo: Coral Reef, Ordnance Reef, Oahu by Robert O'Conner, NOAA NMFS PIRO.

The 1996 amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) set forth the Essential FishHabitat (EFH) provisions to identify and protect important habitats of federally managed marine and anadromous fish species. Federal agencies which fund, permit, or undertake activities that may adversely affect EFH are required to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) regarding the potential effects of their actions on EFH, and respond to NMFS recommendations.

The PIRO NOAA Fisheries Habitat Conservation Division (HCD) coordinates with state and federal agencies to conserve EFH, "Those waters and substrates necessary to fish for spawning breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity."

NMFS consultations with federal agencies utilizes existing interagency coordination processes to review proposed projects and other actions which may affect marine resource habitat and makes recommendations for conserving that habitat. Use of these existing processes will allow for continued efficient project review by NMFS and the other federal agencies. HCD must comply with a number of federal laws and statutes.

larval shrimp Photo: Charleston Bump Expedition 2003. NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration; Dr. George Sedberry, South Carolina DNR, Principal Investigator

HCD provides conservation recommendations on issues relating to coastal and marine habitat for Management Unit Species (MUS). MUS are those species managed under Fish Management Plans (FMP) or Fish EcosystemPlans (FEP). MUS include those species caught in quantities sufficient to warrant management or specific monitoring by NMFS and the Western Pacific Management Council. MUS managed in the Pacific Island Region include bottom fish, crustaceans, coral reef, precious coral, and pelagic species.

Although the federal action agency is ultimately responsible for complying with the EFH Consultation Requirements of the MSA, the agency may designate a non-federal representative to conduct anwrasse Photo: Coral Reef with Wrasse, Ordnance Reef, Oahu by Robert O'Conner, NOAA NMFS PIRO. abbreviated consultation or prepare an EFH Assessment. Generally this means that a permit applicant or consultant prepares the required EFH Assessment. Applicants and consultants should only begin preparation of an EFH assessment after receiving guidance from the federal action agency, regarding the scope and level of effort appropriate for the assessment. This will insure that the assessments submitted to NMFS are adequate and complete.

The NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Region Office (PIRO) EFH Assessment Worksheet for Federal Agencies can be utilized to assist Federal agencies in determining whether an EFH consultation is necessary, and developing the needed information should a consultation be required.

The first step in preparing an EFH assessment is to determine the MUS and life stages for which EFH may be impacted by the action. Once the list of MUS has been determined for the project area, the EFH MUS Descriptions (WPMC) will provide the description for each MUS. These descriptions will allow the applicant to determine whether or not the location of the proposed activity is actually within or adjacent to EFH for the listed species. Once the action agency determines which EFH species and habitats are of concern for the proposed action, the action agency can then conduct the required analysis of the effects of the proposed action on EFH. In cases where a non-federal designee is preparing the EFH assessment, preparation of the assessment should only begin after receiving guidance from the federal action agency, in consultation with HCD, on the appropriate scope and level of effort.

There are basically two types of consultations, abbreviated and expanded. The type of consultation necessary depends upon the magnitude of the adverse effect on EFH. Abbreviated consultations are used when a proposed project will have less than substantial adverse impact on EFH. Expanded consultations are used when the adverse impact on EFH may be substantial.

Regardless of consultation type, there are 4 required components to an EFH Consultation...

  1. Notification:
    The federal agency must notify NMFS regarding a proposed action that may adversely affect EFH. The notification will typically be in the form of a Public Notice (PN), Draft Environmental Assessment (EA), or Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
  2. EFH Assessment:
    This is a written assessment of the effects of the action on EFH. The EFH Assessment will typically be incorporated within the notification document (PN or EA) or submitted as a separate document in cases where an expanded consultation is required.
  3. An EFH Assessment must contain the following sections:
    A description of the proposed action. An analysis of the potential adverse effect of the action on EFH, and MUS. The federal agency's conclusions regarding the effects of the action on EFH, and the managed species.
  4. Agency determinations:
    1. No adverse effect to EFH (no consultation required)
    2. Minimal adverse effect or less than substantial adverse effect to EFH (abbreviated consultation can be conducted)
    3. Substantial adverse effect to EFH (expanded consultation required) proposed mitigation, if applicable.
    4. Proposed mitigation if applicable.

The level of detail contained within the EFH Assessment should be commensurate with the degree of adverse impact to EFH. Other information may also be appropriate to include in the assessment such as: the results of an on-site inspection to evaluate habitat and site specific effects of the project; the views of recognized experts on the habitat or species that may be affected; a review of pertinent literature and relevant information; an analysis of alternatives to the proposed action including those alternatives that avoid or minimize the adverse effects on EFH.

EFH Conservation Recommendations:
After receipt of the completed EFH Assessment, HCD will provide EFH Conservation Recommendations to the federal agency detailing measures that can be taken by that agency to conserve EFH.

Agency Response:
Within 30 days of receiving NMFS recommendations, the federal agency must provide a detailed written response to NMFS. The response must include a description of measures proposed by the agency for avoiding, mitigating, or offsetting the impact of the activity on EFH. In the case where a response is inconsistent with NMFS recommendations, the federal agency must explain its reasons for not following the recommendations, including the scientific justification for any disagreements with NMFS over the anticipated effects of the proposed action and the measures needed to minimize, mitigate or offset such effects.

Additional EFH Resources:

For further assistance please contact:
NOAA Fisheries Service Pacific Islands Regional Office
(808) 725-