World Environment Day and Essential Fish Habitats

© OCEANA

Author: Angela Pauly
Date: June 5, 2013



It’s World Environment Day. We’ve always argued that protecting the marine environment, so that it functions like the well-oiled machine it should be, is the only way to ensure a strong and sustainable fishing industry.

There are some areas in the world that are known for their immense contribution to biodiversity, science and productivity. Though most often areas above ground are given as examples of this, beneath the waves, there are also incredibly rich areas that play a crucial role in the health of our oceans, and particularly of the fish stocks that our fishing industries rely so much on.

Essential Fish Habitats (EFH) are fragile and vital marine habitats that host the most critical phases of the cycle of life of marine species; they are areas where fish spawn, feed and nurse.

  • Bamboo coral fields for example, which we’ve spotted on two seamounts in the Channel of Mallorca (you know we love seamounts) form an essential fish habitat for Norway lobsters, which gather there to feed. Deep sea corals on the other hand, form spawning areas for commercial fish species like hake.
  • Estuaries, which are partially-enclosed areas along the coast, where river and ocean waters meet to form brackish and nutrient rich conditions, are among the most productive natural habitats in the world. They are often nurseries for species like anchovies, sardines and langoustines.
  • Upwellings – when cooler, nutrient rich water moves towards the ocean’s surface replacing warmer, nutrient-depleted water – create critically important feeding areas for marine species in their early stages of life. These incredibly diverse areas are also some of the most productive, attracting many marine species, and thus, heavy levels of commercial fishing. Their ecosystems are easily threatened by overfishing.

These are just some examples of EFHs and as you can imagine, protecting these areas – by restricting fishing and other harmful activities - must be at the core of any holistic and sustainable approach to fisheries management.

At the beginning of the CFP reform process, we pushed hard to make sure that this concept was incorporated into the future policy. Though the term itself was not mentioned, we are pleased to see that as of now, the current text, despite not prioritizing feeding grounds as areas in need of protection, does include references to nursing and spawning grounds. This is, without a doubt, important progress.