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An Essential Part of the Magnuson-Stevens Act Reaches 20 Years

A Message from Pat Montanio, Director of Habitat Conservation for NOAA Fisheries
February 29, 2016

As we celebrate 40 years of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, we reflect on how one revision to the Act has resulted in 20 years of protection for habitats that are vital to our nation’s fisheries. Join us this year in honoring the remarkable efforts and accomplishments through the Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) Program, which was mandated by Congress in 1996.

Healthy Fish Habitat is Truly Essential

Healthy habitat provides the foundation for productive fisheries and resilient coastal communities. Fish habitats provide homes to many of our important commercial and recreational species, and also protect our coastal communities by acting as buffers from storms and wave damage. These benefits are linked, because the areas where fish grow and thrive are often close to shore, where thousands of fishers work and millions of people live.  

NOAA’s EFH mandate has charged us to seek out the best available science to understand how and why habitats are important to our species. To date, NOAA Fisheries and the regional fishery management councils have described habitats for more than 1,000 species.

Collaboration is Key

EFH has saved large amounts of both habitat and money. Together, NOAA Fisheries and the regional councils have succeeded in protecting more than 800 million acres of habitat. That’s the size of eight Californias! Plus, NOAA Fisheries has worked with state and federal agencies to improve the design, construction, and operation of hundreds of coastal and marine infrastructure projects. These collaborations have reduced habitat impacts and saved many millions of taxpayer dollars by inspiring greater attention to smart development that allows both ecosystems and economies to thrive.  

Thankfully, a determined group of people made EFH a reality 20 years ago, and the future of sustainable fisheries will rely heavily on its continued success. In our reflections, we also have an opportunity to look forward, refine our approach, and make EFH even more effective. Today, we invite you to learn more and peruse stories of how EFH works—and works well.


Pat Montanio
Director of Habitat Conservation for NOAA Fisheries