On August 21, 2015, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced the final rule to revise critical habitat for Hawaiian monk seals. Critical habitat triggers consultation requirements under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for actions that are authorized, funded or carried out by Federal agencies. The revised critical habitat goes into effect September 21, 2015.

In the main Hawaiian Islands, the monk seal critical habitat includes the seafloor and marine habitat to 10 meters or approximately 33 feet above the seafloor from the 200-meter depth contour through the shoreline and extending into terrestrial habitat 5 meters or approximately 16.5 feet inland from the shoreline between identified boundary points around Kaula Island, Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Maui Nui (including Kahoolawe, Lanai, Maui, and Molokai), and Hawaii. The marine portion of the critical habitat only includes the area 10 meters from the seafloor and does not include the remainder of the water column.

In the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the critical habitat includes all beach areas, sand spits and islets, including all beach crest vegetation to its deepest extent inland as well as the seafloor and marine habitat 10 m in height above the seafloor from the shoreline out to the 200-m depth contour around 10 atolls, islands and reefs.

The final rule is a significant revision to the proposed rule, which was published in June 2011. NMFS revised the boundary from the proposed 500-meter depth contour based on public comments and new scientific information. Responding to public comments, NMFS also produced a revised economic report and clarified potential economic impacts from the designation.

The critical habitat designation is not expected to impact fisheries managed under the Council’s Hawaii Archipelagic Fishery Ecosystem Plan (FEP) at this time. The final biological report for the critical habitat designation stated that “at this time, there is no information to indicate that Hawaii’s FEP managed fisheries will require additional management above current efforts to address impacts to critical habitat.”

To read the final rule (including NMFS’ responses to public comments), go to: https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2015/08/21/2015-20617/endangered-and-threatened-species-final-rulemaking-to-revise-critical-habitat-for-hawaiian-monk

For more information about the Hawaiian monk seal critical habitat (including the final economic report), visit the NMFS Pacific Islands Regional Office website: http://www.fpir.noaa.gov/PRD/prd_critical_habitat.html