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Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative

Fisheries Uses and Values Project


The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) is a California state law directing the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) to design and manage an improved network of marine protected areas off California's coast. In 2004, CDFG and the California Natural Resources Agency partnered with the Resource Legacy Foundation to launch a public-private initiative to implement the MLPA.

Ecotrust was contracted by the MLPA Initiative (MLPAI) to collect and compile local expert knowledge and has used a custom-developed software tool called Open OceanMap to interview over 2000 commercial and recreational fishermen. (Our use of the word "fishermen" follows common practice among fishery industry participants.)

Fishermen are asked to identify areas of economic importance over their cumulative fishing experience, and to rank these areas using a weighted percentage — an imaginary "bag of 100 pennies." These data are aggregated to protect confidentiality and delivered to the MLPAI Regional Stakeholder Groups, who are then able to consider socioeconomic factors in their marine protected area recommendations. Further information is available about the interview process for commercial and recreational fishermen, as well as in a collection of Frequently Asked Questions.

Central Coast Study Region

Ecotrust was retained in May of 2005 to collect, compile and analyze fishery data along the Central Coast: from Pigeon Point in San Mateo County to Point Conception in Santa Barbara County. Utilizing a custom-built geographic information system called Open OceanMap, we interviewed 108 commercial fishermen working in 22 fisheries on the extent and relative importance of their fishing activities.

We analyzed the data collected along with data provided by CDFG to estimate first-order maximum potential impacts of proposed marine protected area networks developed by the Central Coast Regional Stakeholder Group. In the spring of 2006, we delivered to CDFG a final report, Commercial fishing grounds and their relative importance off the Central Coast of California. Separate CDFG-commissioned examinations of Ecotrust work discussed methodology, assessed indicators of relative importance, and offered a full peer review. Significant among the findings of the peer review and of a CDFG-commissioned lessons learned report were the need for a more complete study of socioeconomic impacts of proposed marine protected areas. In a response to the peer review, we examined the shortcomings of our work on the Central Coast, given the limited scope and timeline.

In April 2007, CDFG adopted a network of 29 marine protected areas in the Central Coast Study Region (see map), representing about 18% of state waters. Data collected and compiled by Ecotrust were not available to the Central Coast Regional Stakeholder Group at the time of deliberations, and the 29 marine protected areas on the Central Coast do not reflect these data. One of the recommendations of the lessons learned report was that these data be available to stakeholders earlier in the process.

Subsequent to the Central Coast process, Ecotrust worked with research partners at the University of Queensland to test the effectiveness of MLPA protected area network designs with a numerical optimization tool called Marxan. We found that the proposal designed by fishermen was more efficient than the proposals designed by other stakeholder groups at representing biodiversity and minimizing impact to the fishing industry. The paper, "Effectiveness of Marine Reserve Networks in Representing Biodiversity and Minimizing Impact to Fishermen: A Comparison of Two Approaches Used in California," was published by the journal Conservation Letters.

North Central Coast Study Region

In June 2007, Ecotrust began work on the North Central Coast, extending from Alder Creek, five miles north of Point Arena in Mendocino County, to Pigeon Point in San Mateo County. We interviewed 174 commercial fishermen working in 8 fisheries, as well as 101 recreational fishermen. Commercial passenger fishing vessels (charter boats) were included in our survey for the first time. We analyzed potential impacts of Regional Stakeholder Group protected area proposals at regional, fishery and port scales, and these findings were available to stakeholders at the time of deliberation.

Our final report was completed in June 2008, and a CDFG-commissioned lessons learned report found high ratings for the helpfulness of Ecotrust's socioeconomic analysis of potential impacts to commercial fisheries. In August 2009, CDFG adopted a proposal for a network of 21 protected areas (see map), covering about 20% of state waters.

Working again with partners at the University of Queensland, we utilized Marxan with Zones to test the effectiveness of North Central Coast protected area designs. The paper, "Marxan with Zones: Software for optimal conservation based land- and sea-use zoning," was published by the journal Environmental Modeling & Software.

South Coast Study Region

In February 2008, Ecotrust was retained to work on the South Coast, extending from Point Conception in Santa Barbara County to the California border with Mexico. We interviewed 254 commercial and 119 commercial passenger fishing vessel (CPFV). We supplemented our interview process with an online version of Open OceanMap, and 504 recreational fishermen responded to the online survey.

Working together with partners at UC Santa Barbara and The Nature Conservancy, we developed another software tool, called MarineMap, which was used by the South Coast Regional Stakeholder Group. MarineMap provides stakeholders with real-time feedback on protected area proposals: their performance against the habitat requirements of the MLPA and their potential impacts at regional, port and fishery scales.

We also utilized MarineMap to assist the California Fisheries Coalition, a group of 27 marine-related organizations working on the South Coast, to develop a proposal for submission to the South Coast Regional Stakeholder Group. Here is a brochure that we created about Ecotrust's work with the California Fisheries Coalition in the Fisheries Information Network.

We submitted a final report on the South Coast Region to CDFG in January 2010.

Fisheries Uses and Values Project - Commercial Fishery Questionnaire (2008) (256Kb pdf)

North Coast Study Region

We conducted over 800 interviews with fishermen in the North Coast Study Region, using a purposive sampling design similar to the one implemented in the Central, North Central and South Coast processes. Data was collected through interviews using the Open OceanMap computer-based map interface. Interviewees reviewed the accuracy of their information with printed maps; and composite datasets were created for the fishing grounds of each fishery. The information was analyzed and incorporated into the MarineMap decision-support tool and the MLPA database, affording managers and stakeholders the ability to design and assess the potential effects of protected area proposals.

On March 15, 2010, we submitted our draft analysis of potential impacts for the February Proposed External 2010 MPA Arrays on commercial and recreational fishing in the North Coast Study Region to the Science Advisory Team (SAT) for review, and results were presented at the March 16-17, 2010 SAT meeting. We submitted a final report on the North Coast Region to CDFG in February 2011.

Questions about Ecotrust's work in the MLPA Initiative? Contact:

Our Work

Community-Based Fisheries Management

Marine Planning

Marine Life Protection Act Initiative

Life-Cycle Assessment of Salmon Fisheries


Learn More

Incorporation of Spatial and Economic Analyses of Human-Use Data in the Design of Marine Protected Areas, Conservation Biology, 12/22/10.

Ecotrust & MLPA Initiative FAQ (23kb pdf)

Interview Process (commercial)

Interview Process (recreational)

Interview Sign-up (recreational)

Fishermen Presentation (North Coast) (1.0mb pdf)

Fisheries Uses and Values Project - Commercial Fishery Questionnaire (2008) (256Kb pdf)

North Coast Information Packet:

Plans for the upcoming North Coast interview process: North Coast Information Packet (65kb pdf)


Field Notes

California's Coastal Reserves by Daniel Etra, July 2007


Charles Steinback
Director of Marine Planning
tel: 503.467.0777
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Cheryl Chen
Marine Project Manager
tel: 503.467.0812
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Jon Bonkoski
GIS Analyst
tel: 503.467.0804
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Jennifer Bloeser
Marine Planning Business Manager
tel: 503.467.0785
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