Habitat Overview

Regional Fishery Management Councils are required to designate essential fish habitat (EFH) and take steps to minimize the impacts of fishing on EFH to the extent practicable. The New England Council’s original 1999 habitat amendment: (1) designated EFH for the 18 species managed by the Council at the time; (2) documented major threats to EFH from both fishing and non-fishing related activities, and (3) designated Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (HAPC) for Atlantic salmon and Atlantic cod.

In 2004, the Council initiated Omnibus EFH Amendment 2 (OHA2). This amendment was approved by the Council in June 2015 and went into effect on April 9, 2018. OHA2: (1) updated EFH designations for all species managed by the Council, now at 28; (2) designated new HAPCs; and (3) revised the current habitat and groundfish management areas. The amendment used a new Swept Area Seabed Impact (SASI) model to assess habitat vulnerability to fishing gear and develop revised habitat management areas. Work on an updated version of this model, Fishing Effects, was presented to the Council in June 2019 and will be used on an ongoing basis to support the Council’s habitat conservation efforts.

During and after completion of OHA2, the Council developed a deep-sea coral amendment that designated coral management zones and fishing gear restrictions. The final amendment document and environmental assessment were submitted to NOAA Fisheries in June 2019. The amendment was approved by NOAA Fisheries in November 2019 and the final rulemaking is pending. The Council coordinates with the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council on deep-sea coral management efforts, pursuant to a 2013 memorandum of understanding.

Between 2015 and 2019, the Council developed a trailing action to OHA2 that considered whether to exempt clam dredges in the Great South Channel (GSC) Habitat Management Area (HMA). In December 2018, the Council recommended three exemption areas where clam and mussel dredges will be exempt from the mobile bottom-tending gear restrictions of the HMA and identified two other areas for further research. The final framework document and environmental assessment were submitted to NOAA Fisheries in July 2019. The framework went into effect on June 18, 2020.

The Council’s Habitat Committee and staff are actively engaged in the development of offshore wind in the Northeast region, participating in various groups seeking to mitigate the effects of offshore wind on marine species and fisheries and helping to facilitate coordinated regional science and monitoring. The Council works closely with the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) to develop comments to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and serve as a resource to the fishing industry. The Councils’ joint wind webpage is hosted by MAFMC and can be accessed via the Quick Link at right called NEFMC/MAFMC Offshore Wind Webpage.

The Council also is engaged in other regional habitat and ocean planning issues, including the Northeast Regional Habitat Assessment for Fish (NRHA). NRHA will characterize estuarine, coastal, and offshore fish habitat distribution, abundance, and quality in the Northeast from Maine to the border of North Carolina and South Carolina, from tidal inshore to offshore waters. NRHA products, including habitat-based metrics and indicators, will improve descriptions of fish habitat use. Products will support updated designations of essential fish habitat and habitat areas of particular concern, as well as ecosystem approaches to fisheries management. The assessment is led by a Steering Committee comprised of representatives from the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, the New England Fishery Management Council, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and others, including the Atlantic Coastal Fish Habitat Partnership (ACFHP). The assessment workplan has been approved and work will be completed between July 2019 and July 2022.

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Plan Amendments, Frameworks, and Specifications

Plan Amendments

April 9, 2018
This action implements approved regulations for the New England Fishery Management Council’s Omnibus Essential Fish Habitat Amendment 2. This rule revises essential fish habitat and habitat area of particular concern designations, revises or creates habitat management areas, including gear restrictions, to protect vulnerable habitat from fishing gear impacts, establishes dedicated habitat research areas, and implements several administrative measures related to reviewing these measures, as well as other regulatory adjustments to implement these measures. This action is necessary to comply with the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to periodically review essential fish habitat designations and protections. The measures are designed to minimize to the extent practicable the adverse effects of fishing on essential fish habitat.
June 25, 2021
The Deep-Sea Coral Amendment includes management areas to protect coral habitat from the impacts of fishing gears, provisions to encourage further research on deep-sea corals and fisheries, and measures to facilitate future updates to coral management approaches.
April 21, 1999
Omnibus Habitat Amendment 1 (OHA1) was prepared by the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) to implement the essential fish habitat (EFH) provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act as reauthorized in 1996.

Framework Adjustments/Specifications

February 5, 2024
This omnibus action establishes a new Habitat Area of Particular Concern (HAPC) in Southern New England through framework adjustments to the groundfish, scallop, monkfish, skate, and Atlantic herring plans.
May 19, 2020
This framework adjustment would allow surfclam and mussel dredging under restrictive conditions in the Great South Channel Habitat Management Area (GSC HMA).