The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service has designated critical habitat for Atlantic sturgeon, a move the agency called an important step to ensuring recovery of one of the oldest fish species in the world.
The critical habitat designation announced Aug. 16 will require federal agencies to consult NOAA Fisheries if they operate or fund activities that may affect designated critical habitat in more than 3,968 miles of coastal river habitat from Maine to Florida. Atlantic sturgeon was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2012 and is comprised of the threatened Gulf of Maine distinct population segment and the endangered New York Bight, Chesapeake Bay, Carolina and South Atlantic distinct population segments.
The act requires that NOAA Fisheries designate critical habitat when a species is listed as threatened or endangered. Under the act, critical habitat is defined as specific areas within the geographical areas that are occupied by the species that contain physical or biological features essential to the conservation of that species, and that may require special management considerations.
The designation of critical habitat does not include any new restrictions or management measures for recreational or commercial fishing operations, nor does it create any preserves or refuges. Instead, when a federal agency funds, authorizes, or carries out activities that may affect critical habitat, it must work with NOAA Fisheries to avoid or minimize potential harmful effects on critical habitat.