National Fish Habitat Action Plan

Posted: May 7, 2008
Location: Nation-wide

Objective: The mission of the National Fish Habitat Action Plan is to protect, restore and enhance the nation's fish and aquatic communities through partnerships that foster fish habitat conservation and improve the quality of life for the American people.
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 Click image to view the Action Plan

Participants: Organizations represented on the National Fish Habitat Board include the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, NOAA Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, EPA, Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Coastal Conservation Association, Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, Michigan State University, Northwest Marine Technology Inc., Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, American Sportfishing Association, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, USDA Forest Service, and BASS.  Many other conservation groups, industries, Federal agencies, state, local and tribal agencies and universities are also involved.

History: The National Fish Habitat Action Plan was born in 2001 when an ad hoc group supported by the FACA chartered Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council explored the notion of developing a partnership effort for fish on the scale of what was done for waterfowl in the 1980s through the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. The waterfowl plan has worked wonders during the past two decades to boost waterfowl populations by forming strong local and regional partnerships to protect key habitats.

The need for a nationally focused fisheries conservation effort was validated by fisheries experts attending a series of regional meetings held by the Council- they were nearly unanimous in their support for the plan.  In 2004, the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, which represents all state wildlife agencies, voted to lead the plan with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA as the principle federal partners. 

Through a series of meetings and workshops involving a wide array of stakeholders, a National Fish Habitat Action Plan was developed and was approved by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies for implementation on March 24, 2006.

The Action Plan provides a framework to foster more effective networking among partners so that resources can be better aligned, progress can be evaluated, and approaches can be continually refined. The vision of the plan is to support existing fish habitat partnerships and to foster new, voluntary partnership efforts aimed at protecting, restoring, and enhancing key watersheds. 

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 Brook Trout
Image courtsey of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, artist Timothy Knepp
The Action Plan set forth an organizational structure with a National Fish Habitat Board, a Science and Data Committee and locally and regionally-based partnerships.  The National Fish Habitat Board oversees implementation of the plan at the national level, facilitates a comprehensive coordination and evaluation of progress, and encourages the formation of new partnerships.  The role of the Science and Data Committee is to provide timely recommendations to the Board and partnerships on technical or science policies, processes, and methodology.  Fish Habitat Partnerships are the primary work units of the National Fish Habitat Plan.  Each partnership is entitled a significant amount of autonomy, but is held accountable and linked nationally by the National Fish Habitat Board.   Participants believe that this approach will lead to actions that are strategically employed and results that can be measured against protection, restoration and enhancement goals.

Accomplishments: The National Fish Habitat Board officially recognized the first four "National Fish Habitat Partnerships" in October of 2007.  The recognized Partnerships include: the Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership in the Southern United States, the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture in the northeast, Midwest Driftless Area Restoration Effort in the mid-west, and Matanuska-Susitna Basin Salmon Conservation Partnership in southcentral Alaska.

Each of the recognized partnerships has begun implementing habitat conservation projects on the ground.  Examples include:

  • In Bear Wallow Creek, Arizona, a project is underway to remove fish barriers and bring back 1.8 miles of habitat for apache trout and other species.
  • In Badger Creek, Idaho, partners are working to restore 6.5 miles of fish access for bull trout.
  • In LaBarge Creek, Wyoming, partners are working to restore the LaBarge drainage and 58 miles of in-stream habitat to benefit Colorado cutthroat trout. 
The National Fish Habitat Board has also teamed up with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to launch the "More Fish Campaign," a five-ear initiative to raise awareness and funding to protect, conserve and enhance the nation's fish populations and their habitat. 

Challenges/constraints: The partners involved in the National Fish Habitat Action Plan ultimately hope to have legislation passed to codify the plan and to establish a secure funding source.  While partners in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan were successful in passing legislation for a similar purpose several years prior (for waterfowl conservation), increasing pressure on natural resource agency budgets may be a signal that Congress is reluctant to establish new sources of funding for conservation. 

As with most inter-agency efforts, coordination will likely continue to be a challenge for National Fish Habitat Action Plan implementation.  With partners from over 19 federal agencies and in state fish and wildlife agencies and non-profits across the nation, coordinating resources and data, communication, and reporting project's results will likely continue to be challenges.

For more information see:

National Fish Habitat Action Plan

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