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The 1996 amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) set forth a new mandate for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), regional fishery management councils (FMC), and other federal agencies to identify and protect important marine and anadromous fish habitats. The essential fish habitat (EFH) provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act support one of the Nation's overall marine resource management goals - maintaining sustainable fisheries.

Essential to achieving this goal is the maintenance of suitable marine fishery habitat quality and quantity. The FMCs, with assistance from NMFS, has delineated "essential fish habitat" (EFH) for Federally managed species. As new FMPs are developed, EFH for newly managed species will be defined as well. Federal action agencies which fund, permit, or carry out activities that may adversely affect EFH are required to consult with NMFS regarding the potential impacts of their actions on EFH, and respond in writing to NMFS or FMC recommendations. In addition, NMFS and the FMCs may comment on and make recommendations to any state agency on their activities which may affect EFH. Measures recommended by NMFS or an FMC to protect EFH are advisory, not proscriptive.

Within the area encompassed by the NMFS Southeast Region, EFH has been identified for hundreds of marine species covered by 20 FMPs, under the auspices of the Gulf of Mexico, South Atlantic, or Caribbean FMC or the NMFS.  Generic FMP amendments delineating EFH for species managed by the three FMCs and NMFS were completed and approved in early 1999. The generic FMPs of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean FMCs were subsequently was updated and revised in 2005.  In addition, EFH has been identified for highly migratory species managed by the NMFS.


Helpful Resources


FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions

NMFS Headquarters EFH Website


EFH Case Studies


Gulf of Mexico FMC


Essential Fish Habitat - Gulf of Mexico: A Marine Fish Habitat Conservation Mandate For Federal Agencies (PDF 83kb)




2004 EFH Environmental Impact Statement (Text)

2005 Generic EFH Fishery Management Plan Amendment

1998 Generic EFH Fishery Management Plan Amendment
South Atlantic FMC

Essential Fish Habitat - South Atlantic: A Marine Fish Habitat Conservation Mandate For Federal Agencies (PDF 81kb)


MAPS: Available from the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council's internet map server here.


1998 Habitat Plan

1998 Generic EFH Fishery Management Plan

2002 Sargassum Fishery Management Plan

2003 Dolphin-Wahoo Fishery Management Plan

Caribbean FMC

Essential Fish Habitat - Caribbean: A Marine Fish Habitat Conservation Mandate For Federal Agencies (PDF 90kb)


2004 EFH Environmental Impact Statement

2005 Generic EFH Amendments (SFA Fishery Management)

1998 Generic EFH Fishery Management Plan Amendment

NMFS Highly Migratory Species FMP

HMS Fishery Management Plans are available here.

The Essential Fish Habitat identifications and descriptions were most recently revised in Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan Amendment of July 2009.


The NMFS' implementing regulations for EFH contain provisions for adopting existing environmental review procedures including procedures required by other statues (e.g., NEPA, the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, Clean Water Act) for consulting and commenting on federal actions that may adversely affect EFH. NMFS must make a finding that the existing process satisfies the EFH requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The following NMFS Findings are in effect in the Southeast Region:

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Department of Interior

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Federal Highways Administration

Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act Task Force

NOAA Restoration Center






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Last Updated: March 18, 2013

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