MRAG Americas contributed to the development of an Environmental Impact Statement for the Generic Essential Fish Habitat Amendment to the Fishery Management Plans for the U.S. Caribbean in 2004. With this and other legal documents, in 2005 the CFMC completed the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) to describe and identify essential fish habitat (EFH), minimize adverse effects of fishing, and identify actions to conserve and enhance EFH. The EFH regulation states that the Fishery Management Councils and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) should periodically review the EFH provisions of FMPs and revise or amend those provisions as warranted, and a complete review of all EFH information should be conducted at least once every 5 years. The CFMC contracted MRAG Americas to conduct the first 5-year review, which was completed in 2011. Since then, a wealth of new information on EFH has been produced; updated EFH maps have been developed for the US Caribbean; Island Based Fishery Management Plans for Puerto Rico, St. Thomas/St. John and St. Croix have been developed, with new species being considered for federal management; and the CFMC has proposed the development of a Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP).
Once again, MRAG Americas has been selected to conduct the second EFH review for the CFMC, with the following objectives: (1) improve habitat association tables, by species and life stage for federally managed fish and invertebrate species; (2) update the current spatial depictions of EFH; and (3) contribute to the development of a web-based database and mapping application to improve access and ease of use of EFH information at various life stages for better informed stock assessments and fishery management and the development of island-based FEPs. Ultimately, this web-based tool would be accessible to the public and utilized as the framework for identifying and describing EFH. The review will provide the detailed information necessary for the development of the tool and addition to GIS map viewer, but will not develop the actual tool as a deliverable. The 5-year review will be conducted through the end of 2018, with Dr. Valle-Esquivel leading the work, and Dr. Zollett and expert consultant Dr. Garcia-Saez as team members.