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A Message about Habitat from Buck Sutter, Director of the NOAA Fisheries Office of Habitat Conservation
Seventeen years ago, Congress recognized that one of the greatest long-term threats to our nation’s commercial and recreational fisheries is the continuing loss of their habitats. At that time, they added a new tool to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act giving the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the fishery management councils a stronger voice in decisions that affect the habitats essential to our fisheries. Since then, NOAA and our partners have conserved nearly one billion acres of habitat essential to our valuable commercial and recreational fisheries.
Despite this accomplishment, our coastal habitats are still at risk. For decades, fish habitat throughout U.S. has been in decline and the rate of loss is increasing. Coastal wetlands are disappearing at a rate of 60,000 acres a year. Without action to protect and restore habitat now, this trend will continue and worsen due to the combined effects of climate change and sea level rise threatening the viability of our fisheries.
It’s time for NOAA and its partners in the fishing community to recognize habitat conservation as a key strategy to improve the health of our fisheries. Our collective success in ending overfishing allows us to turn our attention to habitat and better integrate habitat issues into ecosystem-based fisheries management. As a vital component of marine ecosystems, marine fisheries and their habitats should also be considered in ocean resource management decisions.
NOAA and its partners should take several practical steps towards achieving this goal:
- Identifying and delineating priority habitats and their vulnerabilities
- Setting habitat conservation objectives
- Integrating habitat conservation explicitly into other aspects of fisheries management
- Expanding partnerships and building alliances to conserve habitat
NOAA has established a roadmap to achieve these steps and to guide our habitat conservation actions. The NOAA Habitat Blueprint is designed to help us think and act strategically across programs and with our partners, to increase the effectiveness of our habitat conservation efforts.
I’m looking forward to discussing these and other ideas at Managing Our Nation’s Fisheries 3.
Posted April 22, 2013