California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Locations of Marine Protected Areas

What are marine protected areas? Marine protected areas (MPAs) are named, discrete geographic marine or estuarine areas designed to protect or conserve marine life and habitat.

What can I do in a marine protected area? There are three types of MPAs: state marine reserve (SMR), state marine park (SMP), and state marine conservation area (SMCA), each with different rules about what activities can or cannot be done 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.

What is the Marine Life Protection Act? The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) was signed into law in 1999 and directs the state to redesign existing California MPAs to increase their coherence and effectivesness, ensuring that, to the extent possible, all state MPAs function together as a network.

When and where did the MLPA Initiative (Initiative) start? Redesigning the system of MPAs along California's 1,100 mile coastline is such a large task that it was divided up into smaller pieces. In the first phase of the Initiative, a master plan framework was created to help guide the planning process within individual geographic areas, called study regions. After the framework was created, regional MPA planning processes began.

How were MPAs designed in the MLPA Initiative planning process? MPAs were designed through a collaborative public process. Regional Stakeholder Groups (RSG) were formed of people who were knowledgeable in the uses and/or resources of the planning region. Members included commercial and recreational angles, tribal and government representatives, educators/researchers and conservationists. The RSGs worked together to design MPA proposals for each region. Once the MPA proposals were completed, they underwent scientific and policy review and were then forwarded to the California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) for adoption and implementation.

What were the planning regions? The individual MPA planning study regions, in the order of completion, were as follows: the Central Coast (Pigeon Point to Point Conception), the North Central Coast (Alder Creek near Point Arena to Pigeon Point), the South Coast (Point Conception to the California/Mexico border), the North Coast (California/Oregon border to Alder Creek near Point Arena).

Is it true that all human uses are restricted in MPAs? No, unless specifically prohibited all non-extractive uses such as swimming, wading, boating, diving and surfing are allowed in MPAs. The 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.

Is it legal to travel through or anchor in an MPA with catch on-board? 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. Vessels shall be allowed to transit through marine protected areas and marine managed areas 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.

How do I know where an MPA is, are they all marked with buoys? 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. Regulations and site specific MPA maps are available on this website. 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.

If an area is closed as an MPA will it always be closed? Not necessarily. The MLPA allows CDFW to re-examine MPAs and the MPA network for effectiveness. This means that as MPAs are re-assessed for effectiveness changes may be necessary, either to individual MPAs or the network as a whole. This may mean changing allowances for extractive activities depending on how well MPAs are meeting their goals and could also mean that other previously closed sites may be proposed for re-opening. 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 approximately every 5 years and during that assessment the MPA designation can change.

How does the MLPA and MPAs affect existing fisheries management measures and closures? MPAs and the MLPA 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.

Where can I find more information? For more information about MPAs, or for printable MPA specific maps, regulations, boundaries and uses visit: www.dfg.ca.gov/marine/mpa. In addition, a mobile MPA website can be viewed on any portable Internet-enabled device at www.dfg.ca.gov/m/mpa.