Beginning in 2001, the Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council explored the notion of developing a partnership effort for fish and aquatic resources similar in scale and design as the highly successful North American Waterfowl Management Plan. By 2006, a charter for the National Fish Habitat Board was established and partnerships began to develop around the concept. Today, there are 20 regional, taxonomically specific or system specific partnerships recognized by the board. These localized, “bottom-up” partnerships have proven successful in implementing much needed habitat improvement projects on the ground. Unfortunately, in recent years, much of the limited funding available for the partnerships has been consumed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service for program overhead or diverted to other programmatic areas, and the program has become much more of a “top-down” approach. Authorizing legislation to officially establish the National Fish Habitat Partnership (NFHP) is needed to clarify the roles of the partnerships, the NFHP Board and the Service, as well as to secure an avenue for consistent funding for on-the-ground fish and aquatic habitat conservation.
In 2006, he National Fish Habitat Action Plan (Action Plan) was established to “protect, restore, and enhance the nation’s fish and aquatic communities through partnerships and foster fish habitat conservation and improve the quality of life for the American people.” It is grounded on science and driven by regional partnerships with the capacity to successfully achieve these fish habitat conservation goals and objectives. The Action Plan has become the blueprint for the success we know today and for shaping the National Fish Habitat Conservation Through Partnerships Act.
The overall strength and benefits from this partnership model are attributed to its strategic perspective, providing a framework for coordinated voluntary collaborative efforts of state, federal, and local agencies, local communities, industry, including non-governmental and other conservation organizations, and other partners. This effort creates an opportunity for these agencies and organizations to come together around landscape-scale habitat concerns, prioritize strategic actions and develop and work toward common goals and objectives to protect, restore and enhance our nation’s most important freshwater, estuarine and marine fish habitats. By strategically addressing habitat concerns, the collaborative efforts can best reverse declines of fish species and enhance fishing opportunities and improve the health of aquatic habitat.
The National Fish Habitat Conservation Through Partnerships Act (NFHCTPA) provided a strong overarching framework to build on the Action Plan and further advance fish habitat protection habitat conservation actions nationally. NFHCTPA is modeled on the strategic and local implementation of conservation actions within a specific geography to benefit fish and fish habitat. This state-driven and locally-based successful model of conservation is similar in concept to the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), which has proven to be one of the most successful conservation programs in the United States.
In March 2019, the NFHCTPA was introduced in both the House and Senate. On the House side, H.R. 1747 was introduced by Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) Vice-Chair Congressman Marc Veasey (TX) and CSC Member Congressman Rob Wittman (VA). On the Senate side, a similar bill (S. 754) was introduced by CSC Member Senator Mike Crapo (ID) and Senator Ben Cardin (MD). The NFHCTPA was included as a provision in the ACE Act and became law on October 30, 2020.