June 20, 2012

Reef Check Spotlight: California Adopts New MPAs Along Northern Coast

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By Reef Check California’s North-Central Coast Manager Megan Wehrenberg

On June 6, 2012 the California Fish and Game Commission approved and adopted the boundaries and regulations for a new set of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the northern region of the state, an area stretching from Alder Creek near Point Arena to the California/Oregon border. The decision was a major milestone as the planning process for this region began in June 2009 and included numerous public workshops, over 75 days of meetings with public input, and extensive public comment throughout the regulatory and environmental review processes. The plan includes 19 MPAs, a recreational management area, and 7 special closures covering 13% of the region’s state waters. The north coast regulations include a unique provision for federally recognized tribal members to continue harvesting and gathering fish, kelp, and shellfish as they have for generations. The provision will allow non-commercial take to continue, in MPAs other than State Marine Reserves, where there is a record of ancestral take by a specific tribe. The north coast MPAs are expected to go into effect in early 2013.

The north coast was the fourth and final region needed to complete California’s statewide network of MPAs. The MPAs were developed to fulfill the mission of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), the first statutory mandate of its kind in the nation, requiring that California’s MPAs be designed/redesigned based on the best available science, with identified goals and objectives and the advice and input of stakeholders and experts to create a statewide network. The entire network of state MPAs now includes 119 MPAs, 5 recreational management areas, and 15 special closures covering 16% of open coast state waters from Mexico to the Oregon state line. This management measure has not only been groundbreaking in terms of ocean protection but also employed a cutting-edge public process, which greatly improved with each successive region.

Reef Check has been involved in the MLPA process since its onset, providing the Department of Fish and Game with scientifically-rigorous data collected along the California coast since 2006. Many Reef Check survey sites are inside MPA boundaries, or directly outside of them, which will prove to be very useful to managers interested in measuring any changes that occur as a result of the MPAs.

The MLPA process mandates that the MPAs must be adaptively managed, meaning that they will be monitored over time and perhaps amended to maintain efficacy. Therefore, once MPAs are chosen in a region, a thorough, multidisciplinary study of the coast is conducted to create a baseline of conditions for future comparisons. A consortium of researchers is selected to collect and analyze this “before data.” Reef Check has been a member of these consortiums collecting baseline data for the Central Coast, North-Central Coast, and the South Coast MPAs. This has been an incredibly important time to be monitoring California’s rocky reefs! Our staff and volunteers feel honored to be collecting data that is so critical to the science-based management and conservation of our coasts!

[This article was adapted from the CDFG press release]