On February 5, 2024, NOAA Fisheries published a final rule to implement the New England Fishery Management Council’s (NEFMC’s) Framework Adjustment that identifies a Habitat Area of Particular Concern (HAPC) offshore of Southern New England. This rule adjusts the following fishery management plans: Northeast Multispecies; Atlantic Sea Scallop; Monkfish; Northeast Skate Complex; and Atlantic Herring. The HAPC is within and around wind lease areas in Southern New England, including Cox Ledge, to focus conservation recommendations on cod spawning habitats and complex benthic habitats that are known to serve important habitat functions to Council managed fishery species. The HAPC designation is effective as of March 6, 2024.

The Southern New England HAPC can be viewed in the Data Explorer under Commercial Fishing > Management Areas > Habitat Conservation. The layer can be overlaid with any other ocean resource or use layer in the Data Explorer, including the active renewable energy leases in the framework analysis study area and trawl data showing spring and fall Atlantic cod biomass from 2010-2019.

Screenshot of Data Explorer map

Screenshot of Data Explorer displaying the proposed Habitat Area of Particular Concern (red outlined area), along with the Active Renewable Energy Leases map layer (colored blocks) and NEFSC data on fall and spring Atlantic cod biomass from 2010-2019 (colored circles).

HAPCs support the development of conservation measures through the Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) consultation process by providing focal locations and habitat types where the Council recommends an especially hard look at the impacts of federally permitted activities. HAPCs designated by the New England Fishery Management Council do not directly restrict fishing or non-fishing ocean activities, but actions to avoid, minimize, or mitigate impacts on habitats are strongly encouraged within HAPCs. HAPCs provide a clear indication of the value the Council places on specific habitat types and functions, and underscores recommendations to protect such habitats from impacts.

This multipurpose HAPC is focused on the area of Southern New England leased for offshore wind energy development, plus additional sites around Cox Ledge beyond leased areas where there is evidence of cod spawning activity. The designation is applied during consultation on a particular project if the best available data at the time of consultation indicate that the project area supports cod spawning or contains complex habitat. This approach allows NOAA Fisheries to use available data to determine whether to consult on a project area as an HAPC, without the need for additional action from the Council. Actions that promote conservation of both spawning areas and complex habitats during offshore development are recommended through the Council’s December 2021 Offshore Wind Energy Policy.