NOAA Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning

Regional Activities

California Marine Life Protection Act Initiative

Total miles of U.S. coastline 3,427
Total spatial area under consideration Approximately 5,758 square miles

Activity lead contact information:
Melissa Miller-Henson
Marine Life Protection Act Initiative
Melissa@resources.ca.gov

Becky Ota
California Department of Fish and Game
bota@dfg.ca.gov  

Activity Implementation: In 1999, the California state legislature adopted the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), which directs the state to redesign California’s system of marine protected areas (MPAs). In 2004, the MLPA Initiative was established to conduct a public planning process and develop recommendations for how the MLPA might be implemented.

California is taking a regional approach to redesigning MPAs along its coastline and has divided the state into five study regions. To date, MPA redesign has been completed in three of the five study regions: the central coast from 2004 to 2007 (Pigeon Point in San Mateo County south to Point Conception in Santa Barbara County); north central coast from 2007 to 2009 (Alder Creek/Point Arena in Mendocino County to Pigeon Point, including the Farallon Islands); and south coast from 2008 to 2010 (Point Conception to the Mexico border, including the Channel Islands). The north coast study region (Oregon border in Del Norte County to Alder Creek) and the San Francisco Bay study region (waters within San Francisco Bay, from the Golden Gate Bridge east to the Carquinez Bridge) are still under consideration.

Activity status: Ongoing

State(s) involved: California

Regional association involvement: No regional association engagement is occurring at this time, although members of the West Coast Governors’ Agreement (WCGA) on Ocean Health participated in the MLPA planning process.

Partners: California Natural Resources Agency, California Department of Fish and Game (DFG), Resources Legacy Fund Foundation

Activity description: Signed into law in 1999, the MLPA directs the state to redesign California’s system of MPAs to increase the coherence and effectiveness of MPAs in state waters. The MLPA goals state that MPAs should be designed to protect the state’s marine life and habitats, marine ecosystems, and marine natural heritage, as well as improve recreational, educational, and study opportunities provided by marine ecosystems. The MLPA Initiative, a public–private partnership of the California Natural Resources Agency, DFG, and the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, uses the best readily available science, as well as the advice and assistance of scientists, resource managers, experts, stakeholders, and members of the public, to develop recommendations for how the State of California might implement the MLPA.

There are three types of MPAs in California―state marine conservation areas, state marine parks, and state marine reserves―each with different rules about what extractive activities can or cannot occur within its boundaries. All proposed MPAs are located within state waters, from the mean high tide line (MHTL) to approximately three nautical miles offshore.

The MLPA Initiative guides the framework for MPA planning through a stakeholder-based process. First, an appointed regional stakeholder group leads the development of MPA proposals over a series of three iterations, or rounds. At the completion of each round, proposals are reviewed and evaluated by a science advisory team, DFG, California Department of Parks and Recreation (California State Parks), and MLPA Initiative staff members; guidance is also provided by a policy-level MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force. Members of the public have the opportunity to provide feedback at each stage of the process. Ultimately the task force submits recommendations to the California Fish and Game Commission, the decision-making body under the MLPA.

Jurisdictions: Local, state, federal, tribal

Objectives: Economic, environmental, social

Ocean uses to be managed: Any human activity that leads to the injury, damage, take, or possession of living, geological, or cultural marine resources (including things like dredging, oil and gas development, groins and jetties, and wave energy projects) is to be managed. In general, nonconsumptive activities such as wading, diving, and surfing are not affected.

Ocean uses to be considered/analyzed: Fishing, recreation, wastewater discharges and outfalls, military activities, dredging, other uses as consistent with the policy

Management considerations:

  • Compatible and incompatible uses within the planning area
  • Trade-offs among competing uses for ocean areas to reduce conflicts among users
  • Synergies among compatible uses

Uses not spatially managed by this planning effort: Any human activity that leads to the injury, damage, take, or possession of living, geological, or cultural marine resources may potentially be managed under this planning effort, while those that generally do not (such as wading, diving, surfing) are not spatially managed by this planning effort.

Enabling authority: Existing legislation (see below for relevant legislation)

Priority legislation:

Committed resources: Varies for each study region from 10 to 28 full-time-equivalent DFG staff members, California State Parks staff members, and independent contractors

Public participation: Members of the public have the opportunity to submit MPA proposals and provide feedback at each stage of the planning process. The MLPA Initiative’s success depends on the active involvement of stakeholders and the public.

Plan evaluation and adaptation process: Under the California Marine Life Protection Act Master Plan for Marine Protected Areas, a review and evaluation of each study region is slated for every five years, whereby revisions may be made (including potential boundary changes or amended regulations for those activities that are allowed) to ensure that the network is achieving the goals of the MLPA. The California Ocean Science Trust created the MPA Monitoring Enterprise to develop and deliver monitoring data for the long-term adaptive management of the new statewide system of MPAs, which will be important information for the five-year review process.

Next Steps: To date, the MPA redesign process has been completed in three of the five study regions: the central coast (Pigeon Point in San Mateo County south to Point Conception in Santa Barbara County); north central coast (Alder Creek/Point Arena in Mendocino County to Pigeon Point, including the Farallon Islands); and south coast (Point Conception to the Mexico border, including the Channel Islands). While the MPA planning process for the north coast study region has been completed, the state regulatory and environmental review processes are anticipated to begin in spring 2011.

The San Francisco Bay study region is the fifth and final study region for consideration under the MLPA. The MLPA Initiative is developing an options report for how an MPA planning process might be approached in San Francisco Bay. The options report will be submitted to the California Secretary for Natural Resources and Director of DFG in spring 2011.

Baseline data collection is almost complete in the central coast study region, has begun in the north central coast study region, and is anticipated to begin in 2011 in the south coast study region. Long-term monitoring of the five regions is set to occur for the foreseeable future.