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Consultations to Protect Essential Fish Habitat

NOAA Fisheries coordinates directly with federal agencies to conserve and enhance Essential Fish Habitat (EFH). A consultation is required when a federal agency authorizes, funds, or undertakes an action that may adversely affect EFH.

Federal agencies should notify NOAA Fisheries in writing as early as possible regarding their planned actions. Early coordination can help agencies integrate habitat conservation measures into their plans and may eliminate the need for a full consultation.

Who Needs a Consultation?

A consultation is required if each of the following factors is satisfied:

  1. A federal agency has authorized, funded, or undertaken part or all of a proposed activity. For example, if a project proposed by a federal or state agency or an individual requires a federal permit, then the federal agency authorizing the project through the issuance of a permit must consult with NOAA Fisheries.
  2. The action will “adversely” affect EFH. An adverse effect is defined as any impact that reduces quality and/or quantity of EFH. This includes direct or indirect physical, chemical, or biological alterations of the waters or substrate and loss of, or injury to species and their habitat, and other ecosystem components, or reduction of the quality and/or quantity of EFH. Adverse effects may result from actions occurring within EFH or outside of EFH. Use NOAA Fisheries’ EFH Mapper tool to determine if the proposed action is located within or adjacent to EFH.

If a federal agency determines that an action will not adversely affect EFH, no consultation is required. Private landowners and state agencies are not required to consult with NOAA Fisheries.

If a federal agency determines that an action will adversely affect EFH, then:

  1. The action agency provides notification of the action to NOAA Fisheries.
  2. The action agency submits an EFH Assessment to NOAA Fisheries.
  3. NOAA Fisheries reviews the EFH Assessment, and, if necessary, provides EFH Conservation Recommendations to the action agency within 30-60 days.
  4. The action agency responds to NOAA Fisheries within 30 days with information on how it will proceed with the action.

Streamlining EFH Consultations

Consultations are typically combined with existing environmental review procedures, such as those under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, to streamline the requirements and avoid duplication. Federal agencies may also consult on a group of similar activities through a programmatic consultation. Find more information on the types of EFH consultations and mechanisms to streamline the review in the EFH regulatory guidelines (at 50 CFR 600.920), or contact an EFH specialist in your region .