The MSA defines EFH as “those waters and substrate necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding or growth to maturity” [16 U.S.C. §1802]. All four of the Council’s FMPs have described EFH for managed species, with the groundfish FMP having the most detail, including closed areas to protect EFH. Because of the widely ranging level of EFH detail across FMPs, documenting where habitat actions have big ecosystem impacts is difficult without a cross-FMP understanding of habitat.
This initiative takes a species distribution modeling approach to understand where spatial and temporal overlaps occur for species included in each of the FMPs. Many species distribution models have been completed as part of compiling data and projecting species distributions for stock assessments; additional effort could focus on the appropriate suite of species from FMPs and standardizing oceanographic and climate predictors for use across species distribution models. In addition, working through the NOAA Fisheries Distribution Mapping and Analysis Portal (DisMAP), this initiative could highlight both current areas of habitat overlap as well as lead to predictions for how these overlaps may change under different climate scenarios.
This initiative would help identify commonalities to EFH across FMPs, identify habitat areas that are considered highly productive or biodiverse under more than one FMP, help predict potential impacts of climate variability and change to multi-species EFH, and help identify future research needs. Habitats of importance to species from multiple FMPs could serve as focal points for Council efforts to assess and mitigate for fishing and non-fishing effects on EFH, and for research to better understand the complex interactions between FMP species and their shared habitat. One possible result of an integrated EFH review would be cross-FMP Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (HAPC) designations for areas that are important to species from multiple FMPs. Another result could be consideration of spatially and temporally variable EFH and HAPCs that align with when managed species are using important habitat at key life stages, with consideration of non-static habitat and marine features such as upwelling fronts. This initiative would address FEP Objectives 1a, 3c, and 4a.
With the impending rise of offshore non-fishing activities, a cross-FMP EFH review could help the Council, other agencies, and the public better understand how those activities might interact with and affect ocean habitat and prioritize those habitats that are most important to Council-managed species and fisheries. Council attention to EFH across its FMPs could spur improvements in digitizing multi-species EFH maps for a better understanding of where our species’ EFH overlap, and could support work on models to forecast range shifts due to ocean conditions.
This initiative would build on work proposed under Initiative 2.2, Science Policy and Planning for Understanding the Effects of Oceanographic Conditions and Recruitment on Council-Managed Finfish Species. To implement this initiative, the Council could task its Habitat Committee, science center representatives, or members of an ad hoc advisory committee, to cooperatively review species distribution models from different FMPs to develop a suite of species with which to incorporate in this initiative. The juvenile life history stages of many species are less well understood, so this approach might best be applied to pre-recruit or adult life stages. The cross-FMP distributions could be used by the Council, advisory bodies, and state and Federal authorities to better project potential habitat and climate impacts across FMPs.