California continues to advocate for statewide Marine Protected Areas program

Department of Fish and Wildlife continues to conduct outreach, research, monitoring and policy development of designated protection zones.

SACRAMENTO—California’s Fish and Game Commission received its annual management update of the statewide Marine Protected Areas (MPA) program during its December meetings in Sacramento. The state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) staff specifically provided updates of the program’s four components: outreach/education; research/monitoring; enforcement/compliance; and, policy/permitting.

DFW staff stated they are still continuing efforts to increase public awareness of the MPA network, specifically to improve compliance of regulations and overall understanding of the program.

The department specifically finalized and released the “California MPA Network Outreach and Education Guide,” a resource providing messaging about the state’s MPAs. DFW staff also updated the state’s Ocean Sport Fishing Web Map, a mobile phone app informing anglers of fishing regulation boundaries.

Department officials also continue to conduct research and monitoring activities for California’s MPA network, according to DFW staff. Some research/monitoring projects include: evaluation of kelp forest ecosystems; evaluating the performance of California’s MPAs through sandy beach and surf zone ecosystems; integrated ocean observing systems for MPA assessments; and, establishing a statewide baseline monitoring program for MPAs.

Several MPA monitoring projects were conducted throughout 2019, DFW staff continued. Most of those projects were conducted in partnership with the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans, Reef Check California, Multi-Agency Rocky Intertidal Network, California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program, Marine Applied Research and Exploration and the National Parks Service.

Two DFW vessels – R/V Garibaldi and R/V Mystinus – provided 55 days of on-the-water support for long-term MPA monitoring, department staff stated in a report to commissioners.

Several advances were made this year in the enforcement and compliance component, as well, according to DFW staff. The department’s Law Enforcement Division made frequent contact with individuals navigating in and around MPAs, DFW staff told commissioners during the Dec. 12 meeting. Law Enforcement Division staff specifically reported 11,611 contacts, 422 warnings and 224 citations for the first half of 2019. These numbers compare to 33,000-some contacts, 1,000-plus warnings and more than 900 citations in 2017. In 2018 there were almost 19,000 contacts, 800-some warnings and nearly 500 citations issued.

This year also saw one piece of legislation go into effect: AB 2369 increased the penalties for commercial fishing operators who were caught and convicted of violating MPA regulations. AB 2369 went into effect on the first day of 2019.

DFW’s Law Enforcement Division also implemented a new electronic records management system in September. The system helps identify hot spots and repeat offenders.

The department also issued 54 new “Scientific Collecting Permits” within 85 MPAs, 41 state marine reserves, 35 conservation areas and seven no-take areas in 2019. Almost 750 such permits have been issued since 2012, according to DFW staff.

California’s network of MPAs was established as an attempt to protect and enhance marine life off the state’s coast, but the program has been met with controversy or disagreement ever since its inception. Anglers who either disagreed with or weren’t fans of the network of MPAs consistently stated the conservation zones or no-take areas limit recreational fishing opportunities.

The Fish and Game Commission approved the final MPA master plan in August 2016. DFW staff agreed to provide annual updates; the first annual update was provided in December 2018.

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