Fish depend on healthy habitats in order to survive and thrive, which is precisely why fishing conservation areas are so important. Thankfully, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) fisheries experts, regional fishery management councils, federal agencies, and state agencies have ways of working together on fish conservation plans to ensure that publicly-funded projects consider our nation's coastal fish habitats.
As an angler, you should be aware of fishing conservation areas and national fish conservation methods. There are three types of national fishing conservation areas you should know about.
Essential Fish Habitat (EFH)
Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) includes all types of aquatic habitat where fish spawn, breed, feed, or grow to reach maturity. Essential habitat can include wetlands, coral reefs, seagrasses, and rivers. In fact, consultation with NOAA Fisheries is required whenever a federal agency, including the military, works in an area that will affect essential fish habitat. Together, the agency and NOAA come up with EFH conservation recommendations in order to determine how best to conduct coastal development while supporting fish habitat and minimizing or avoiding environmental damage.
Essential Fish Habitat Conservation Areas (EFH Conservation Areas)
EFH Conservation Areas are closed to specific types of fishing (as defined by specific latitude and longitude coordinates) in an effort to minimize the adverse effects of fishing on essential fish habitat. If you're not sure about conservation area fishing designations or rules, you can find the NOAA EFH Mapper online. The NOAA EFH Mapper is an interactive map that will display any EFH Areas that are protected from fishing, or outline any regulations that apply to fishing in conservation areas.
Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (HAPCs)
High priorities for EFH conservation are referred to as Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (HAPCs). HAPCs are habitat areas with important ecological functions or rare habitat areas that are especially vulnerable to degradation. HAPCs can include coastal estuaries, canopy kelp, shallow corals, seagrass, and rocky reefs. HAPC coordinates and the NOAA Mapper can help you identify those areas that meet HAPC conditions.
By learning more about different fish species and the habitats in which they live, you'll also better understand the long-term importance of regulations that apply to fishing in conservation areas.