MPAs are named, discrete geographic marine or estuarine areas designed to protect or conserve marine life and habitat. There are different marine managed area classifications used in California's MPA Network. This includes three MPA designations (State Marine Reserve, State Marine Conservation Area, State Marine Park), a marine recreational management area (State Marine Recreational Management Area), and special closures:
- In a state marine reserve (SMR), it is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living geological, or cultural marine resource, except under a permit or specific authorization from the managing agency for research, restoration, or monitoring purposes. While, to the extent feasible, the area shall be open to the public for managed enjoyment and study, the area shall be maintained to the extent practicable in an undisturbed and unpolluted state. Access and use for activities including, but not limited to, walking, swimming, boating, and diving may be restricted to protect marine resources. Research, restoration, and monitoring may be permitted by the managing agency. Educational activities and other forms of non-consumptive human use may be permitted by the designating entity or managing agency in a manner consistent with the protection of all marine resources. (PRC Section 36710(a))
- In a state marine park (SMP), it is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living or nonliving marine resource for commercial exploitation purposes. Any human use that would compromise protection of the species of interest, natural community or habitat, or geological, cultural, or recreational features, may be restricted by the designating entity or managing agency. All other uses are allowed, including scientific collection with a permit, research, monitoring, and public recreation, including recreational harvest, unless otherwise restricted. Public use, enjoyment, and education are encouraged, in a manner consistent with protecting resource values. (PRC Section 36710(b))
- In a state marine conservation area (SMCA), it is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living, geological, or cultural marine resource for commercial or recreational purposes, or a combination of commercial and recreational purposes, that the designating entity or managing agency determines would compromise protection of the species of interest, natural community, habitat, or geological features. The designating entity or managing agency may permit research, education, and recreational activities, and certain commercial and recreational harvest of marine resources. (PRC Section 36710(c))
- In a state marine recreational management area (SMRMA), it is unlawful to perform any activity that, as determined by the designating entity or managing agency, would compromise the recreational values for which the area may be designated. Recreational opportunities may be protected, enhanced, or restricted, while preserving basic resource values of the area. No other use is restricted. (PRC Section 36710(e)). The Fish and Game Commission may designate, delete, or modify state marine recreational management areas for hunting purposes. (PRC Section 36725(a))
- A special closure is an area designated by the Fish and Game Commission that prohibits access or restricts boating activities in waters adjacent to sea bird rookeries or marine mammal haul-out sites.
Unless specifically prohibited, all non-extractive uses such as swimming, wading, boating, diving and surfing are allowed in MPAs. The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) relies upon the Marine Managed Area Improvement Act (MMAIA) to define the types of MPAs and uses that are allowed within those MPAs. The MMAIA indicates that, to the extent possible, MPAs should be open to the public for managed enjoyment and study. One of the goals of the MLPA is to improve the recreational, educational and study opportunities within MPAs subject to minimal human disturbance. It is not the intent of the MLPA to prevent access to MPAs for non-extractive activities.
The three main types of MPAs – state marine reserve (SMR), state marine park (SMP), and state marine conservation area (SMCA) – each have different rules about the activities that may or may not be undertaken within the MPA. In general, SMRs do not allow any type of extractive activities (including fishing or kelp harvesting) with the exception of scientific collecting under a permit, SMPs do not allow any commercial extraction, and SMCAs restrict some types of commercial and/or recreational extraction.
Yes, transit and anchoring are generally allowed. A few areas may restrict or prohibit transit and anchoring to protect a particularly vulnerable habitat or species, though all have allowances for anchoring or transit in emergencies. The relevant language is found in the California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Section 632, subsections 632(a)(7) and 632(a)(8), which state the following:
(7) Anchoring. Vessels shall be allowed to anchor in any marine protected area or marine managed area with catch onboard unless otherwise specified in subsection 632(b), areas and special regulations for use. Fishing gear shall not be deployed in the water while anchored in a state marine reserve. Fishing gear, except legal fishing gear used to take species identified as allowed for take in subsection 632(b), shall not be deployed in the water while anchored in a state marine recreational management area, state marine park or state marine conservation area. Anchoring regulations shall be consistent with federal law and allowances made for anchoring required by emergency or severe weather.
(8) Transit or Drifting.
(A) Vessels shall be allowed to transit through MPAs and marine managed areas (MMAs) with catch onboard. Fishing gear shall not be deployed in the water while transiting through a state marine reserve. Fishing gear, except legal fishing gear used to take species identified as allowed for take in subsection 632(b), shall not be deployed in the water while transiting through a state marine recreational management area, state marine park or state marine conservation area.
(B) Spearfishermen with or without catch shall be allowed to transit through MPAs and MMAs. While transiting MPAs and MMAs that prohibit spearfishing or while in possession of species not identified as allowed for take in the MPA or MMA being transited, spearfishing gear shall be in an unloaded condition, not carried in hand, and the diver shall remain at the surface.
Special closures may restrict or prohibit transit, with or without catch on board. Check the individual special closure regulations for details.
Most MPA boundaries are designed to use major onshore landmarks and simple due north/south or east/west lines for easy recognition. However, it is ultimately up to the user to determine if they are in an MPA. See the MPA map to find individual MPAs. In some cases, boundaries that are complex or hard to determine may be marked with buoys, though this is not realistic in many areas due to depths and ocean conditions.
Just because an area is closed to one type of use or another does not mean that it will always be that way. The adaptive management approach recommends that the MPAs be re-assessed regularly, and during that assessment the MPA designation can change.
The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) allows CDFW to re-examine MPAs and the MPA Network to determine how effectively they are meeting MLPA goals. This examination is accomplished during what is known as a Decadal Management Review. Every 10 years California's MPAs are assessed for effectiveness. Changes may be necessary, either to individual MPAs or the Network as a whole, depending on how well the MPAs are meeting their goals.
MPAs and the Marine Life Protection Act are intended to complement existing fishery regulations and are not intended to replace existing regulations. MPAs address a broad array of ecosystem concerns and, in particular, allow for interactions between both fished and unfished species to occur in a more natural setting. If any changes to fisheries regulations were required in response to MPAs, this would occur through existing systems established in fisheries management plans and other regulatory frameworks.