Stevenson D, Chiarella L, Stephan D, Reid R, Wilhelm K, McCarthy J, Pentony M. Characterization of the fishing practices and marine benthic ecosystems of the northeast US shelf, and an evaluation of the potential effects of fishing on essential habitat. NOAA Tech Memo NMFS NE 181; 179 p.

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This document was developed to provide assistance in meeting the Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) mandates of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) for the NOAA Fisheries Service’s Northeast Region (hereafter just “Northeast Region” or “the region”) which ranges from Maine to North Carolina. The 1996 amendments to the MSA require that federal fishery management plans (hereafter just “FMPs”) minimize, to the extent practicable, adverse effects on EFH caused by fishing [MSA Section 303(a)(7)]. Pursuant to the EFH regulations [50 CFR 610.815(a)(2)], FMPs must include an evaluation of the potential adverse effects of fishing on EFH, including the effects of fishing activities regulated under other federal FMPs. The evaluation should consider the effects of each fishing activity on each type of habitat found within EFH, and provide conclusions as to whether and how each fishing activity adversely affects EFH. FMPs must describe each fishing activity, and must review and discuss all available and relevant information such as information regarding the intensity, extent, and frequency of any adverse effect on EFH, the type of habitat within EFH that may be adversely affected, and the habitat functions that may be disturbed. The evaluation should also consider the cumulative effects of multiple fishing activities on EFH. Additionally, FMPs must identify any fishing activities that are not managed under the MSA that may adversely affect EFH. Such activities may include fishing managed by state agencies or other authorities. However, regional fishery management councils (hereafter just “councils”) are not required to take action to minimize adverse effects from non-MSA fishing activities. In completing this evaluation, councils are expected to use the best scientific information available, as well as other appropriate information sources.

This document emphasizes those fishing gears directly managed by the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC). Much of the information included in earlier drafts of this document was incorporated into recent environmental impact statements and amendments to NEFMC FMPs for Atlantic sea scallops, groundfish, and monkfish (goosefish) (NEFMC 2003a,b, 2004), and into an environmental impact statement that evaluated the effects of gears used in the Atlantic herring fishery on EFH (NOAA/NMFS 2005). The information in this document relates strictly to the direct physical and biological effects of fishing on benthic habitat; it does not include resource population effects or ecosystem-level effects that are caused by the removal of targeted species or bycatch.

The information used in this document includes descriptions of benthic habitats and species assemblages (fish and invertebrates) in four subregions of the Northeast U.S. Shelf Ecosystem, descriptions of 37 gear types used in state and federal waters in the region, and the extent and distribution of fishing activity for the major commercial fishing gears used in the region during 1995-2001. In addition, this document summarizes the results of 73 scientific studies that form the basis for understanding the effects of fishing on benthic marine habitats in the region, and evaluates the vulnerability of benthic EFH to fishing for 47 species of federally managed fish and invertebrate species in the region. Conclusions reached by a panel of experts that met in October 2001 for the purpose of evaluating habitat effects in the Northeast Region (NREFHSC 2002) were also incorporated. A preliminary draft of this document was distributed to the workshop panelists to assist them in conducting their evaluation.