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'.those waters and substrate necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity.

 essential fish habitat.jpg (33440 bytes)Essential Fish Habitat (EFH/HACP) and Habitats of Particular Concern (HAPC) designations protects the habitat of federally managed organisms. The species and their habitats are delineated in the Fisheries Management Plans (FMPs) for coral and live rock, reef fish, and migratory fish. Many of the offshore platforms are covered with live rock organisms and some with coral, however, the structures are not considered protected under the FMP for Coral and Live Rock. 

 Over 50 federally managed species of fish and crustaceans utilize, to varying degrees, the platform substrate for feeding, spawning, mating, and growing to maturity. Again, platforms are not considered in any of their FMPs.

 

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The offshore platforms are obviously EFH/HACP.  If the platforms were recognized as “protected habitat”, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) would have to recommend to Minerals Management Service (MMS) to not remove the platforms or take actions to mitigate the loss of habitat. You can help preserve thousands of these colossal offshore structures by expressing your opinion to NMFS during the Public Comment Period on EFH/HACP habitat determinations.  More....

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Essential Fish Habitat  | Endangered Species HabitatFederally Managed SpeciesCoral HabitatLive RockSchooling FishAttraction vs. Production

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Essential Fish Habitat and Protected Habitat Designations for Oil and Gas Platforms

EFH/HACP Background Information

Regulatory guidelines outlined in the Magnuson-Stevens Act advises federal agencies to protect coral and “essential fish habitat” (EFH/HACP). The Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council (GMFMC) is the responsible federal agency assigned with the task of evaluating and designating protected species and “essential fish habitat” (EFH/HACP).   

EFH/HACP Federal Action 

Removal of a platform requires a federal permit (30 CFR 250.112). EFH/HACP provisions only govern actions by Federal agencies. If the platforms were considered “protected habitat,” this requirement makes their removal subject to NMFS review. That is not to say that a manmade substrate that is EFH/HACP can't be removed, only that removal can't be accomplished until NMFS has evaluated the action and determined the need for appropriate mitigative measures (i.e. impact avoidance, minimization, compensation). 

 

Regulatory Mandate for Coral 

Coral and Live Rock organisms in the Gulf has long been federally protected under the Magnuson-Stevens Act and implemented through 50 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 622.  The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (GMFMC) has authority under the Magnusen-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to manage coral resources. GMFMC then completed a fishery management plan (FMP) in 1982.  That FMP prohibited the take of stony corals and sea fans but allowed limited commercial harvest of soft corals (gorgonians).   

Regulatory Mandate 

In 1996, the Magnuson-Stevens Act was re-authorized and changed by amendments to emphasize the sustainability of the nation’s fisheries and establish a new standard by requiring that fisheries be managed at maximum sustainable levels and that new approaches be taken in habitat conservation.  EFH/HACP is added to fishery management plans (FMPs) via the Gulf Council’s amendment process. EFH is broadly defined by the Act to include “those waters and substrate necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity”. This language is interpreted or described in the 1997 Interim Final Rule [62 Fed. Reg. 66551, Section 600.10 Definitions] -- Waters include aquatic areas and their associated physical, chemical, and biological properties that are used by fish and may include historic areas if appropriate; substrate includes sediment, hard bottom, structures underlying the waters, and associated biological communities; necessary means the habitat required to support a sustainable fishery and the managed species’ contribution to a healthy ecosystem; and “spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity” covers a species’ full life cycle.  

Conclusion

The MMS requires a federal action (30 CFR 250.112) to remove oil and gas platforms. If offshore platforms receive a federally managed status, then GMFMC and NMFS will have to advise the MMS that the platforms should not be removed or some mitigative action be taken to replace the loss of habitat.  If a wide range of platforms received protected status, numerous abandonment and shut-down options would become available to the Gulf offshore oil and gas industry.

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