Habitat is the environment where an animal lives, feeds, reproduces, and grows.
Many fish move through different habitats during their lives. For example, a fish might spawn in the surf zone, but live as an adult in open water; or might move seasonally into different depths or substrates. Fish move into different habitats for feeding, spawning, to avoid predation, and for other reasons.
The Council and National Marine Fisheries Service are required by law to identify and protect the essential fish habitat (EFH) of species managed under fishery management plans. EFH is defined as “those waters and substrate necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity.” This may include areas that were historically used by fish, like a river above a dam.
The Council can create an area closure (like a Rockfish Conservation Area) or put limits on gear to protect fish habitat, whether or not it is designated as EFH. However, the Council must identify and describe EFH for the Council’s managed species, and must describe both fishing and non-fishing impacts on EFH. These descriptions can be found in the Council’s fishery management plans (below). They are updated roughly every five years.
The Council must also identify habitat areas of particular concern, which are a subset of EFH that highlight especially important habitat areas or types.
Finally, the Council is required to comment upon and make recommendations on activities it views as likely to “substantially affect the habitat, including EFH” of anadromous species (salmon) under its authority. For all other species’ EFH, the Council may make comments and recommendations. This includes commenting on activities that affect prey species, which are legally considered a component of EFH.
The Council’s Habitat Committee provides input into these EFH activities and alerts the Council to activities that might affect habitat. The Habitat Committee generates the Council’s comment letters on habitat issues.
Useful habitat links
- Habitat Committee, habitat correspondence, and topics discussed by the Habitat Committee
- Habitat backgrounder
- Council habitat goals: a list of goals expressed in fishery management plans (2020)
- Essential fish habitat description for coastal pelagic species (1998) and updated FMP language (2018)
- Essential fish habitat description for salmon (2014)
- Essential fish habitat description for groundfish (2019)
- Essential fish habitat description for highly migratory species (2018)
- NOAA interactive habitat mapper
- NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region essential fish habitat page
- Council positions on habitat issues (as expressed in previous correspondence) (coming soon)
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