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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - CHPP Facts

Marine Fisheries

Facts and Fundamentals: From the Coastal Habitat Protection Plan

Compiled by Kelly Odom
Fish Eye News
May 2008 Archive

North Carolina has the largest estuarine system on the Atlantic coast. It includes almost 2.9 million acres of estuarine and marine waters with approximately 2.5 million of those acres being used as spawning and nursery grounds. These waters are important to many of the fish that migrate along the East Coast.

North Carolina is located at the convergence of the warm Gulf Stream flowing north and cool Labrador Current flowing south. These currents bring a variety of fish species into our coastal waters. The state’s central location, vast estuarine system and extensive shoreline all play important roles in the health of fisheries all along the Atlantic coast.

North Carolina’s coastal fish habitats help maintain a billion dollar commercial and recreational fishing industry. It has a strong heritage of commercial and recreational fishing and it is vital to a sustainable economy.

It includes six distinct habitats that are used by fish and shellfish: the water column, shell bottom, submerged aquatic vegetation, wetlands, soft bottoms and ocean hard bottom.

  • The water column is the water in which the fish swim. It connects and supports all of the aquatic plants and animals and is crucial to every other coastal fish habitat.
  • Submerged aquatic vegetation, which is sea grass, provides refuge for fish and other aquatic animals. Organisms that grow on it serve as food for fish and waterfowl.
  • Shell bottom is the only coastal habitat that is also a fishery resource. This habitat includes reefs made of living oysters or shells, and is located in the sub tidal or intertidal zone of sounds and estuaries.
  • Wetlands are vital to a lot of the fish species. At some point in their life, more than 95 percent of the United States’ commercially harvested finfish, crabs and shellfish depend on wetlands.
  • Soft bottom, mud or sand, strongly influences the water column with its constant cycling of nutrients and sediments.
  • Hard bottom habitat, exposed areas of rock or other structures, provides a surface for coral, algae and sponges to attach. It is considered to be critical spawning habitat for many commercially important grouper and snapper species. North Carolina’s shipwrecks and artificial reefs add to the natural hard structure already in the ocean and sounds.

The state’s Environmental Management, Coastal Resources and Marine Fisheries commissions are working together under a jointly adopted Coastal Habitat Protection Plan (CHPP) to protect and restore these critical resources to North Carolina’s commercial and recreational fisheries. Recommendations of the CHPP have been organized into four goals: Improve the effectiveness of existing rules and programs protecting coastal fish habitats; identify, designate, and protect strategic habitat area; enhance and protect it from physical impacts; and enhance and protect water quality.

For more information on the CHPP or to download a copy of the report, visit http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/n.c.-marine-habitat. Questions or comments can be directed to CHPP@ncdenr.gov or by calling 252-808-8066 or 800-682-2632.

N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632

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