Northern California Marine Protected Areas

Casey AllenMarine Protected Areas

From the HASA 2013 Winter Newsletter

By Matt Wells,
CDFG Fortuna Warden

In this edition I’d like to spend some time talking about the new Marine Protected Areas in Northern California that, as of December 19, 2012, have taken effect. In Humboldt County we have four new State Marine Reserves, three new State Marine Conservation Areas, one State Marine Recreational Management Area, and two Special Closures. While this column will cover some of the basic MPA issues in Humboldt County I encourage all ocean fishermen to stop by the Eureka office (619 2nd St.) and pick up a copy of the Department’s “Guide to the Northern California Marine Protected Areas”. This is a 68 page guide to the new protected areas and it provides a lot more detail than I can in a short column. You can tell them that Matt sent you and while you’re there be sure to pick up a tape measure decal for the boat, a CalTIP sticker, and if you enjoy my articles in the HASA newsletter maybe even a Warden Stamp. Contrary to popular rumor the Warden Stamp does not authorize the taking of any Wardens!

There are four types of new Marine Protected Areas. State Marine Reserves are the most restrictive of all the Marine Protected Areas and they are typically shown in red on the charts available from the Department. State Marine Reserves prohibit the take of all living marine resources. State Marine Conservation Areas are generally less restrictive and typically allow for limited take of marine resources. They are typically shown in blue on the charts available from the Department. For example the Samoa State Marine Conservation Area, located between Trinidad and Eureka, allows the recreational take of salmon by trolling, surf smelt by dip net, and Dungeness crab by trap, hoop net, or hand. The one State Marine Recreational Management Area (SMRMA) we have in Humboldt County, South Humboldt Bay SMRMA prohibits the take of all living marine resources but allows waterfowl hunting during the appropriate season. We have two different Special Closures in Humboldt County. Special Closures are basically restricted areas around offshore rocks that prohibit entry. Our first special closure is at Sugarloaf Island at Cape Mendocino and it is in effect year round. Our second Special Closure is at Steamboat Rock, south of Cape Mendocino, and is in effect from March 1 through August 31 only.

I encourage fishermen to look at the Department’s literature and study the Department’s website ( prior to going fishing this year. Fishermen heading north from Trinidad will want to look closely at Reading Rock SMR and Reading Rock SMCA. Fishermen heading south out of Humboldt Bay will want to pay close attention to South Cape Mendocino SMR and Mattole Canyon SMR. Folks heading north from Shelter Cover will want to look at Big Flat SMCA, Sea Lion Gulch SMR, and also Mattole Canyon SMR. Look at the areas you like to fish in and check to see if there are any new protected areas that you may encounter on your fishing grounds. I suggest entering the coordinates for any of the Marine Protected areas you may encounter on a fishing trip as waypoints in your chart plotter or GPS unit. This will give you a visual reference on your chart plotter or GPS unit and can help you stay out of these areas. As always remember that one minute of latitude is equal to one nautical mile.

A common question I field in regards to MPA’s is, “Can I transit through a protected area with my catch on board?” Page four of the “Guide to the Northern California Marine Protected Areas” addresses this very issue. In short, transit is allowed through all MPA’s, with the exception of special closures, so long as no fishing gear is deployed in the water.

If you were paying close attention to the MPA process you may have noticed that the historic Punta Gorda Marine Reserve vanished when the new areas took effect. I suppose the elimination of the Punta Gorda Marine Reserve is one bright spot for anglers, especially folks who like to fish out of Shelter Cove.

As always your local Wardens are here to help with questions in regards to the new Marine Protected Areas and the Eureka office can patch you through to any of us. Please be sure to at least invest a little time studying the new regulations before heading to the phone. At times we are overwhelmed with phone calls for questions that could have been answered with a mouse click or the flip of a page. As far as enforcement of the new Marine Protected Area laws goes, you can expect us to be firm but fair. We will be patrolling the new protected areas by land, sea, and air. The law abiding, ethical sportsmen are the Warden’s allies. Here’s to a prosperous 2013 season.