MPA Management Program

Divers holding MPA banner underwater

MPA Research & Monitoring

CDFW employee tabling at outreach event

MPA Outreach & Education

CDFW LED officers and boat

MPA Enforcement & Compliance

Community members raising hand

MPA Policy & Permitting

California's marine protected areas (MPAs) are managed as a statewide network through the MPA Management Program.

About the MPA Management Program

California’s MPAs are managed as a statewide network through the MPA Management Program*. This program consists of four focal areas and was designed to facilitate the adaptive management of California’s MPA network as an interconnected system of protected areas along the entire California coast.

The MPA Management Program and its components are guided by several foundational documents including the Master Plan for MPAs (Master Plan), the link opens in new windowMPA Partnership Plan (PDF) (Partnership Plan), and the MPA Monitoring Action Plan (Action Plan). The Master Plan directs the design, implementation, and management of California’s MPA Network. The Partnership Plan provides guidance on a partnership based approach for managing the Network. The Action Plan informs next steps for long-term monitoring and will aid in the adaptive management and evaluation of the Network in meeting the goals of the MLPA.

The MPA Management Program is a collaboration between the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Ocean Protection Council, the Fish and Game Commission, and the MPA Statewide Leadership Team. This novel partnership-based approach ensures California’s MPA network is adaptively managed and informed by engaged partnerships.

For more information, refer to the Master Plan for MPAs, the Ocean Protection Council's link opens in new windowMPA Partnerships web page, or the MPA Action Plan.

Cover for the 2016 Master Plan for MPAs Cover for the California Collaborative Approach-Link opens in new windowcover of MPA Monitoring Action Plan

* synonymous with the “Marine Life Protection Program” adopted by the California Fish and Game Commission

Program Goals

To improve the design and effectiveness of California’s MPAs, the Marine Life Protection Act requires the Fish and Game Commission to adopt a MPA Management Program with the following goals:

  1. Protect the natural diversity and abundance of marine life, and the structure, function, and integrity of marine ecosystems.
  2. Help sustain, conserve, and protect marine life populations, including those of economic value, and rebuild those that are depleted.
  3. Improve recreational, educational, and study opportunities provided by marine ecosystems that are subject to minimal human disturbance, and to manage these uses in a manner consistent with protecting biodiversity.
  4. Protect marine natural heritage, including protection of representative and unique marine life habitats in California waters for their intrinsic values.
  5. Ensure California's MPAs have clearly defined objectives, effective management measures, and adequate enforcement, and are based on sound scientific guidelines.
  6. Ensure the State's MPAs are designed and managed, to the extent possible, as a network.

In addition to these six primarily ecosystem-based goals, the Marine Life Protection Act also states the Program shall include:

  • An improved marine life reserve component consistent with guidelines specified within the act.
  • Specific identified objectives, and management and enforcement measures, for all MPAs in the system.
  • Provisions for monitoring, research, and evaluation at selected sites to facilitate adaptive management of MPAs and ensure that the system meets the stated goals.
  • Provisions for educating the public about MPAs, and for administering and enforcing MPAs in a manner that encourages public participation.
  • A process for the establishment, modification, or abolishment of existing MPAs or new MPAs established pursuant to this program.

link opens in new windowView the full text of the Marine Life Protection Act
California Legislative Information website

Program Process

The Marine Life Protection Act goals, objectives, and design considerations serve as the cornerstone for the MPA Management Program’s adaptive management process. This process was designed to help the State learn and evaluate whether California’s MPA Network is making progress towards meeting the goals of the Marine Life Protection Act. The adaptive management process consists of three steps and provides a framework for implementing potential management actions:

circular flow diagram depicting the MPA Management process

Research & Monitoring

The Marine Life Protection Act requires that the statewide network of MPAs be monitored to evaluate progress towards meeting its goals, and that the results of monitoring inform adaptive management decisions.

Outreach & Education

Outreach and education is key to informing people about the MPA network and ensuring compliance with the regulations. Outreach priorities include disseminating information related to:

  • Regulations essential to ensuring MPA effectiveness;
  • Scientific principles underpinning the design of MPAs;
  • Monitoring to measure MPA effectiveness; and
  • Species and habitats likely to benefit from MPAs.

MPA Outreach Products

The Department of Fish and Wildlife also provides guidance to many other organizations involved in MPA outreach and education across the state in order to ensure accurate and consistent messaging.

Enforcement & Compliance

Enforcement and compliance of MPA regulations is fundamental to their success. As the primary agency responsible for enforcing MPA regulations, the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Law Enforcement Division monitors MPA sites and takes enforcement action as appropriate. In addition to CDFW enforcement, partner agencies such as California State Parks, National Park Service, US Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, municipal harbor patrols, local police, sheriffs, lifeguards, and city resource officers may also assist in enforcement. Improvements in technology and community support may also help increase compliance.

Additional resources:

link opens in new windowCalifornia Fish and Game Code

Californians Turn in Poachers and Polluters (CalTIP)


Policy & Permitting

Consistent policy and permitting allow for an effective approach to MPA network governance. Coordination between the primary managing agencies and partners is essential to maintain a consistent vision for the California MPA Network. For instance, the Department of Fish and Wildlife uses scientific data and staff expertise to provide management recommendations to the Fish and Game Commission to aid in their rule-making decisions.

Furthermore, the Department of Fish and Wildlife reviews and issues Scientific Collecting Permits. As specified in link opens in new windowCalifornia Fish and Game Code, §1002 and link opens in new windowCalifornia Code of Regulations, Title 14, §650, a scientific collecting permit is required when take or possession of fish and wildlife occurs for research, educational, or propagation purposes. Take is defined in link opens in new windowCalifornia Fish and Game Code, §86 as “hunt, pursue, catch, capture, or kill, or attempt to hunt, pursue, catch, capture, or kill.” Additionally, California Code of Regulations, Title 14, §650 states that take also includes “capturing, marking, and releasing any animal”.

Program Partners Roles and Responsibilities

As the lead managing agency for the California MPA Network the Department of Fish and Wildlife implements and enforces the regulations set by the Fish and Game Commission, and works across all four focal areas of the MPA Management Program.

The Fish and Game Commission is the primary decision-making authority for California’s MPA regulations and adopted the MPA Management Program and Master Plan for MPAs.

link opens in new tab or window More information on the California Fish and Game Commission.

California Ocean Protection Council Logo

The Ocean Protection Council is the policy lead for California’s MPAs and implementation of Marine Life Protection Act activities.

link opens in new tab or windowMore information on the Ocean Protection Council.

The MPA Statewide Leadership Team (convened by the Ocean Protection Council in 2014) helps guide program activities and ensures communication, collaboration, and coordination among entities that have significant authority, mandates, or interests that relate to California’s MPA Network.

link opens in new tab or windowMore Information on the MPA Statewide Leadership Team.