Habitat is the foundation for the commercial and recreational saltwater fishing industries that provided more than 1.6 million full- and part-time jobs and over $200 billion dollars in economic activity in 2015.

Healthy Habitat: The Foundation of America's Seafood and Fisheries

This short video describes the important role healthy habitat serves as the foundation of America’s seafood and fisheries and what NOAA is doing to conserve habitat to rebuild fisheries.

The video features the summer flounder which are found in inshore and offshore waters from Nova Scotia, Canada to the east coast of Florida. In the U.S., they are most abundant in the Mid-Atlantic region from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Cape Fear, North Carolina.


Fish require healthy surroundings to survive and reproduce.  Essential fish habitat includes all types of aquatic habitat - wetlands, coral reefs, seagrasses, mangroves - where fish spawn, breed, feed, or grow to maturity.

In the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, Congress defined essential fish habitat (EFH) as “...those waters and substrate necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity.”  Three fishery management councils - the Gulf of Mexico, South Atlantic, and U.S. Caribbean - are responsible for identifying EFH for federally managed species in the southeast United States.  Also, highly migratory species, such as tunas, billfish, and sharks, are managed by NMFS and have EFH designations in these areas of the Southeast as well.

Federal agencies are required to consult with NMFS when their activities, including permits and licenses they issue, may adversely affect EFH and respond to NMFS recommendations for protecting and conserving EFH.  NMFS must also include measures to minimize the adverse affects of fishing gear and fishing activities on EFH as well.


A variety of guidance documents are provided below for use by individuals and agencies seeking to perform water-development activities in the Southeastern U.S.  Many contain guidance and recommendations designed to afford adequate levels of protection to marine fishery habitat, including essential fish habitat, used by commercially and recreationally important fisheries, protected resources, and other living marine resources.  Some of these guidelines have been developed solely by the NMFS Southeast Regional Office, Habitat Conservation Division and may not be applicable to activities of other NOAA/NMFS agencies or programs, nor do they necessarily reflect the views of other federal and state regulatory and review agencies.  However, others have been developed jointly with state and federal regulatory and natural resource agencies for application in specific areas or specific projects.  We recognize the overall responsibility for balancing social, economic, and environmental factors is a principal function of the regulatory agencies.

Who Do I Contact?

Because habitat conservation requirements vary from site to site, determinations made by NMFS Habitat Conservation Division field biologists familiar with local and regional habitat requirements of living marine resources may differ from the guidance documents. The Habitat Conservation Division has offices throughout the southeast United States. It is usually best to call the office in your state if you have a question about a specific project or area in the Southeast Region.

For more information:

David Dale
Southeast Region EFH Coordinator

In the Gulf of Mexico:

Rusty Swafford
Gulf of Mexico Branch Supervisor

In the Atlantic and U.S. Caribbean:

Pace Wilber
South Atlantic Branch Supervisor

SERO Guides
  • Gulf of Mexico Guide (pdf) provides an overview of EFH from from Texas to the Florida Keys and contains information on the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council's fisheries, EFH identification and descriptions, mapping as well as information on the EFH consultation process.
  • South Atlantic Guide (pdf) provides an overview of EFH from from North Carolina to the Florida Keys and contains information on the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council's fisheries, EFH identification and descriptions, mapping as well as information on the EFH consultation process.
  • U.S. Caribbean Guide (pdf)provides an overview of EFH in the U.S. Caribbean (Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) and contains information on the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council's fisheries, EFH identification and descriptions, mapping as well as information on the EFH consultation process.

Best Management Practices
Joint Guidance Documents
  • DOCK CONSTRUCTION GUIDELINES: Adverse impacts to aquatic vegetation from dock construction may be ameliorated by strict adherence to the joint Corps/National Marine Fisheries Service's "Dock Construction Guidelines in Florida for Docks or Other Minor Structures Constructed in or over Submerged Aquatic Vegetation, Marsh or Mangrove Habitat — U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/National Marine Fisheries Service — August 2001 (pdf)
  • USACE Galveston District Interagency Construction Guidelines: Construction guidelines developed in conjunction with other federal and state resource agencies. Use of these guidelines should reduce the overall impact to the environment and may qualify applications for nationwide or general permits.


To prevent the need to conduct emergency consultation during every oil spill occurring in the NMFS Southeast Region’s area of responsibility the Habitat Conservation Division has prepared HAZMAT Response Activities BMPs (pdf) for minimizing impacts to trust resources and serve as EFH conservation recommendations for certain response activities.

To avoid unnecessary delays and duplication, the Southeast Region utilizes the same process for initiating Emergency Consultations for both Essential Fish Habitat and the Endangered Species Act.  An emergency is a situation involving an act of God, disasters, casualties, national defense or security emergencies, etc., and includes response activities which must be taken during hazardous material clean-up, response to natural disasters, or actions to protect public safety.  During any emergency, NMFS’ primary objective is to provide technical assistance and recommendations for minimizing adverse effects to EFH recognizing the primary objectives of the responding agency to protect public safety will take precedence if there is a conflict with conservation measures for EFH.


Activities designed in a manner to qualify for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Nationwide and/or General Permits (NWPs & GPs) offer streamlined regulatory review because in most cases necessary consultations, including EFH consultation, have already occurred.  Nationwide Permits are issued by the USACE Chief of Engineers and are designed to regulate certain activities having minimal impacts with minimal delay and paperwork.  USACE Districts add regional conditions to Nationwide Permits through consultation with the NMFS and other federal and state agencies.  Additionally, USACE Districts may develop General Permits to authorize certain categories of activities within their District.

NWPs and GPs in NMFS Southeast Region Area of Responsibility:

Jacksonville District
Charleston District
Wilmington District


General Concurrences are meant to be an efficient way of consulting on actions that have minimal adverse effects allowing NMFS and other agencies to focus more effort on actions posing a greater threat to EFH.  General Concurrences identify specific types of Federal actions that may adversely affect EFH, but for which no further consultation is generally required because NMFS has determined they will likely result in no more than minimal adverse effects individually and cumulatively.  They may be developed for categories of similar actions that under normal, or specified conditions, would cause no more than minimal adverse effects on EFH individually or cumulatively. 

For Federal actions to qualify for General Concurrence, NMFS must determine the actions meet the following criteria:

  • The actions must be similar in nature and similar in their impact on EFH.
  • The actions must not cause greater than minimal adverse effects on EFH when implemented individually.
  • The actions must not cause greater than minimal cumulative adverse effects on EFH.
  • Actions qualifying for General Concurrence must be tracked to ensure their cumulative effects are not more than minimal.

Please refer to 50 CFR 600.920(g) for the EFH General Concurrence procedures.

To apply a General Concurrence to a qualified federal action in the NMFS Southeast Region:

The responsible federal agency should email the permit application or project description to the Habitat Conservation Division (nmfs.ser.efhgeneralconcurrence@noaa.gov) indicating thier determination the activity qualifies for the the specified General Concurrence. In the NMFS Southeast Region, the following federal actions have been found to qualify for General Concurrence:
USCG Marine Events

Effictive January 2, 2015: The U.S. Coast Guard consults with the NMFS Southeast Region Habitat Conservation Division during their evaluation of permit applications by individuals or organizations planning to hold a regatta, parade, or other marine events on navigable waters of the United States.

NMFS SERO Live Rock Aquaculture

Effective November 24, 2014: In the Southeast Region, the Regional Aquaculture Coordinator and/or the Constituency Services Branch consults with the Habitat Conservation Division during their evaluation of permit applications for certain live rock aquaculture activities occuring in federal waters of the exclusive economic zone off the State of Florida.


Effective November 24, 2014: In the Southeast Region, the Sustainable Fisheries Division consults with the Habitat Conservation Division during their evaluation of scientific research, exempted fishing, and educational activities for the Regional Administrator.

NOS/ONMS Field Activities

Effective September 28, 2016: NOAA's National Ocean Service Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (NOS ONMS) prepared a Programmatic Environmental Assessment of Field Operations in the Southeast and Gulf of Mexico (PEA) which describes research and management activities occurring at the tree sanctuaries in the southeastern United States.

ONMS notifies the Habitat Conservation Division, and provides annual reports of all field operations undertaken under the PEA and the General Concurrence for NMS Field Activities.


Since inception of the NMFS Habitat Program in the early 1970's, review, advisory, and consultative services provided by NMFS were conducted in accordance with procedures established for statutes such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, Clean Water Act, and Federal Power Act (among others).

The EFH Consultation became a requirement with the 1996 amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act).  NMFS regulations encourage EFH consultations to be consolidated with existing interagency consultation, coordination, or environmental review procedures to the greatest extent possible.

Use of existing environmental review procedures regulations are found at: 50 CFR 600.920(f)(1)

In order to use an existing procedure the following criteria must be met:

  • Timely Notification - The existing process must provide NMFS with timely notification of actions that may adversely affect EFH.  This is typically a public notice or public comment period utilized in the existing process.
  • EFH Assessment - Notification must include an assessment of the impacts of the action on EFH meeting the requirements for EFH Assessments 50 CFR 600.920(e):
    • A description of the action.
    • An analysis of the potential adverse effects of the action on EFH and the managed species.
    • The Federal agency's conclusions regarding the effects of the action on EFH.
    • Proposed mitigation.
  • "FINDING" NMFS must make a determination the existing review process satisfies the Federal agency consultation requirements of section 305 of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Many existing environmental review procedures include some or all of the EFH consultation elements, however some modifications or additions may be required to fully comply with Magnuson-Stevens Act and the EFH guidelines. The following are Findings currently in effect in the NMFS Southeast Region.