With half of America’s waters impaired, fish populations continue to decline. Fragmented restoration efforts have not done enough to reverse these trends. Seeing the need for a national initiative, the Sport Fishing and Boating Partnership Council recommended that the Service initiate a partnership effort modeled after the highly effective North American Waterfowl Management Plan in its 2002 report, “A Partnership Agenda for Fisheries Conservation.” The Council stated that the Service is “the Federal agency best positioned to work cooperatively in developing the National Aquatic Habitat Plan in full partnership with other agencies having statutory authority, including the States and Tribes."
The Service’s Fisheries Program recognized aquatic habitat as a focus area and made a commitment to work with partners to develop and implement a national aquatic habitat plan. Under the 2004–2008 Fisheries Program Strategic Plan, habitat conservation and restoration have been an increasing focus of the Service’s Fisheries Program in recent years. For example, the National Fish Passage Program has removed or bypassed hundreds of fish passage barriers across the nation, focusing on habitats for high priority fish species.
In September 2003, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies endorsed the concept and assumed a lead role in developing the comprehensive national fisheries habitat strategy in coordination with other existing fisheries habitat planning actions. The National Fish Habitat Initiative grew to become a science-based, voluntary and non-regulatory, nationwide strategy, endorsed by numerous partners and stakeholders, State fish and wildlife agency leaders, and 19 Federal agencies. With this strong base of support, the National Fish Habitat Action Plan (NFHAP) was signed on April 24, 2006.
Since then, a great deal has been accomplished in support of NFHAP, including:
The 22-member National Fish Habitat Board (the Board) was organized to oversee implementation of the Action Plan.
Legislation to codify NFHAP was introduced in Congress.
Seventeen Fish Habitat Partnerships have been formally endorsed by the Board.
The Board's Science and Data Committee developed “A Framework for Assessing the Nation’s Fish Habitat” and guided the first-ever national assessment of aquatic habitat, in collaboration with Michigan State University.
The American Fly Fishing Trade Association’s National Casting Call has become the annual forum for unveiling NFHAP’s “10 Waters to Watch” and the NFHAP annual awards.