In August 2006, the Fish and Game Commission of the US state of California unanimously approved a proposal to designate a network of marine protected areas along the state’s central coast, encompassing 18% of Central California’s coastal waters. Totaling 204 square miles (528 km2), the proposed network of MPAs will now undergo environmental and regulatory review before taking effect, which could occur in early 2007, say officials. The proposed network consists of 29 MPAs each extending seaward from the coast for three nautical miles, the outer boundary of state waters. Approximately 94 square miles (243 km2) of the network would be no-take marine reserves, while the remainder would allow limited recreational or commercial fishing.

The proposed network is the first product of California’s seven-year process so far to build a state-wide system of marine reserves in its waters. The California state legislature passed the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) in 1999 with a goal of redesigning and strengthening the state’s fragmented system of MPAs (MPA News 1:3). But the MLPA-based process to plan and designate a marine reserve network got bogged down in stakeholder opposition (MPA News 3:9) and budget shortfalls (MPA News 5:7). California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger revived the process in 2004 with funding contributed by private foundations, appointing a special task force of experts to spearhead the planning. In a statement following the Commission’s approval of the proposed network, Schwarzenegger said, “[This] milestone makes California a national leader in ocean management and is proof of what can be done when all those involved – the fishing industry, environmentalists, and others – work together.”

Fishing groups, however, have expressed disappointment with the proposed network. United Anglers of Southern California (UASC), which represents nearly 50,000 recreational fishermen, said in a press statement that although the proposed network was “not the worst possible outcome” (there had been larger reserve packages on the table for consideration), the reserves would have an unnecessarily large impact on sport boat operators who depend on access to areas now slated for closure. UASC Fisheries Specialist Bob Osborn specified that the proposed network focused disproportionately on rocky reef habitats, thereby limiting anglers’ opportunities to catch rockfish, a popular target. Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, said that despite no-take regulations, the proposed reserves would still be vulnerable to the threat of coastal pollution and runoff from the region’s major cities and farming areas, and called for stricter controls on these impacts.

The Commission’s proposed network provided less protection than several environmental groups would have liked, but these organizations applauded the step forward. “This is a solid start toward restoring our ocean and implementing ecosystem-based management,” said Kaitlin Gaffney of The Ocean Conservancy. “Although we believe that a higher level of protection is warranted, the Commission action does protect important central coast habitats like kelp forests, nearshore reefs, and submarine canyons, consistent with science guidelines on preferred size [of reserves] and protection levels.”

In January 2007, the California Department of Fish and Game is expected to begin meetings with stakeholders about possible marine reserves in the Southern California region.

For links to more information:

The proposed network for Central California, including maps and regulations:

Response from United Anglers of Southern California:

Response from The Ocean Conservancy:

BOX: US federal government unveils plan for more reserves in Channel Islands

The US National Marine Sanctuary Program has released a plan that would roughly double the area of no-take zones in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, off the coast of California. The new no-take areas in federal waters of the sanctuary would complement a system of reserves designated in the sanctuary’s shallower state waters in 2003 (MPA News 4:6). The proposed federal designations represent the final steps to completing a marine zoning network in the MPA. If the federal plan is approved, a total of 19% of the sanctuary, or 802 km2, would be no-take. (The zoning system in state waters also includes two “marine conservation areas” that allow for limited harvest, and the federal plan proposes creation of an additional, similar marine conservation area. Together, these marine conservation areas would comprise less than 1% of the total sanctuary area.)

Details of the plan are contained in a draft environmental impact statement available at The plan is undergoing a 60-day public comment period through 10 October 2006, after which NOAA will write a final environmental document. In 1999, the sanctuary and the California Department of Fish and Game developed a joint federal and state process to consider marine reserves in the Channel Islands based on the agencies’ overlapping and complementary jurisdictions.