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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

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

Marine Fisheries

Agency Works to Meet Goal of Coastal Habitat Protection Plan

By Patricia Smith
Fish Eye News
May 2008 Archive

It’s a simple sentence, really. Goal 2 of the N.C. Coastal Habitat Protection Plan reads:

Identify, designate and protect strategic habitat areas.

As simple as it reads, it is no easy task for the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries to point to these particularly important fisheries habitat areas.

It has taken several months of working with university scientists and other agencies to gather and sort through available data to determine what marine fisheries habitats fit the bill – that’s just in the Albemarle Sound area.

“The overall goal is to identify critically important areas on which to focus our protection and restoration efforts,” said Anne Deaton, head of the division’s Habitat Protection Section.

The state has done a good job in the past in designating and protecting primary nursery areas, where some species of young fish find cover and food to grow up, Deaton said. But as they get older, fish rely on different habitats, she said.

“You can’t just protect the nursery areas,” Deaton said. “You have to protect the whole ecosystem because fish move throughout their life cycle to different habitats.”

It would be impractical, if not impossible, to try to stop all impacts on fisheries habitat along the coast, Deaton said.

“We can be more effective if we focus on the most important areas, while still maintaining existing protections,” Deaton said.

It’s a concept similar to protecting green corridors for land-based wildlife, she said.

The catch: In order to know the most important areas to protect, you have to know what’s there.

With new positions provided by the N.C. General Assembly, and funding assistance from the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuarine Program, the division has stepped up efforts to map sea grass beds and oyster reefs and add habitat assessments to existing fish sampling programs. These data sets, and others, are being compiled in a computer program that helps the scientists get an overall look at what’s where.

The division hopes to present proposed strategic habitat areas in the Albemarle Sound region to the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission by the end of the year. Once strategic habitat areas are designated, the Division of Marine Fisheries will work with other agencies within the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources to find ways to protect them from land-based and water-based activities. 

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

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