Preventing the spread of invasive marine species

Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) are aquatic organisms that establish and reproduce rapidly outside their native range and threaten natural ecosystems, human health and the economy.   Invasive species are also called alien, nuisance or exotic species.

AIS threaten the diversity or abundance of native species through competition for resources, predation, parasitism, interbreeding with native populations, transmitting diseases, or causing physical or chemical changes to the invaded habitat. With the onset of climate change, it is anticipated that species will be introduced to non-native habitats as their range expands, and associated ecosystem impacts will be experienced in new locations.  Through their impacts on natural ecosystems, water delivery and flood protection systems, AIS may also negatively affect human health and/or the economy.  Examples of direct impact to human activities include the clogging of navigable waterways and water delivery systems, weakening flood control structures, introducing diseases to marine life (especially those that are raised or harvested commercially), and diminishing sportfish populations.

A large population of aquatic invasive species can start from a very small number of individuals, and those individuals can be difficult to see, so they may easily go unnoticed.  The tiny young of invasive shellfish, or a fragment of an aquatic weed can be enough to start off a population that will ultimately become a multimillion dollar headache for the state.  However, these populations do not grow from a few individuals to damaging levels overnight, and if populations are detected early enough, there is a good likelihood that they can be eliminated before they cause damage and huge population control costs.  Early detection and rapid response are the most effective and cost efficient responses to invasive species introductions. Ideally, minimizing AIS introductions through preventative measures will reduce the need for these responses.

California’s current management of AIS in marine and coastal ecosystems is focused on preventing introductions of AIS from commercial shipping – both ballast water and hull fouling.  Invasive species are also introduced from other pathways such as commercial fishing; recreational boating; intentional and accidental releases of aquaculture species, aquarium specimens or bait; and other means. Foreign invaders such as the green crab, zebra mussel and Pacific jellyfish have displaced native species and diminished biodiversity, resulting in significant economic impacts and fundamental disruptions of coastal and fresh water ecosystems.

In 2005, the OPC provided $110,000 to the San Francisco Estuary Project and coordination to complete the California Aquatic Invasive Species Management Plan (appendices).  OPC is now working with state agencies and other partners on implementing the plan, which identifies the actions that need to be taken to minimize the harmful environmental, economic, and human health impacts of AIS in California.  OPC is focused on the following actions to support implementation of the plan:

If these core actions can be accomplished, it will provide a basis for pursuing the larger list of AIS management priorities in the future.


Council Documents
Staff Recommendation to fund research on aquatic invasive species vector risk assessments

Staff Recommendation to fund completion of the AIS Plan

Central Coast Groundfish Project

The Central Coast Groundfish Project (CCGP) is an innovative endeavor being spearheaded by The Nature Conservancy (TNC).  The goal of the CCGP is to establish a community-based fishing institution that can provide for the long-term ecological and economic sustainability of the Central Coast groundfish fishery.  OPC funds have been used to develop and implement aspects of the project which evaluate and demonstrate the effectiveness of different harvesting techniques and ways of organizing fishing effort to achieve the goals of ecological and economic sustainability.

Council Documents/Staff Recomendations
Staff Recommendation for the Central Coast Groundfish Project: Conserving a Working Seascape Project (September 10-11, 2008)

Staff Recommendation for the Central Coast Groundfish Project Trawl Impact and Recovery Study (November 29, 2010)

In 2005, TNC partnered with regulatory agencies and trawl fishermen in Central Coast communities to create a program aimed at developing new and sustainable approaches to the Central Coast groundfish fishery in California.  Jointly, these groups petitioned the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) for 3.8 million acres of important marine habitats (Essential Fish Habitat, “EFH”) that would be off limits to bottom trawl gear. Simultaneously, to reduce bottom trawl fishing effort and to mitigate the economic impact of bottom trawl closures, TNC purchased federal permits and vessels from local fishermen interested in leaving the trawl groundfish industry.

Building on the purchase of the federal groundfish trawl permits, TNC began leasing its permits back to local fisherman. As part of these leases, TNC has been evaluating the benefits of using more selective gear (hook & line and traps) and shared harvest caps using protocols approved by federal regulators.  These experiments are being conducted with local fishermen as a test for community-based fisheries management.

The prospect of the transition to an Individual Transferable Quota (ITQ or Rationalization) has raised concern among the fishing community for a potential loss of the fishing heritage of the region.  Fishermen in this remote area may sell or move their permits to more viable trawl ports. This management shift offers an opportunity to design an approach to mitigate these potential impacts by transitioning its permits and associated quota share to a new fishing entity. This entity would anchor access in Central Coast Communities; convert from trawl to lower volume, higher value, and more sustainable fishing practices; promote local stewardship and co-management; and provide California consumers with access to sustainably harvested fish.

Project Details

The grant from the OPC is being used to fund the following three components of the CCGP:

1. Community Based Fishing Association/Exempted Fishing Permit – The Community-Based Fishing Association (CBFA) is a demonstration project operating under regulatory approvals by the PFMC and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in which up to six TNC-owned trawl permits will be transitioned to more selective, hook-and-line and trap methods used by participating fishermen, who will also cooperatively harvest a pooled catch limit.  This project will demonstrate the feasibility of transitioning local trawl effort to alternative gear types and establishing shared community goals for harvest and sale of fish. TNC is working with its fishing and community partners and experts in the Central Coast to design and eventually establish a CBFA, an institution that can hold and manage fishery assets (permits and quota) and incorporate conservation, community, and business goals into its business decision making.  Important to the CCGP vision is market demand for premium quality, locally harvested, and sustainably caught seafood.

TNC has secured final approval for the Exempted Fishing Permits (EFPs) necessary to implement this demonstration project in 2009 and 2010.  A harvest plan to guide fishing effort during the course of the project has been developed for the EFP.

2. Conservation Fishing Agreements – The Conservation Fishing Agreements are part of a demonstration project in which TNC-owned trawl permits are used by fishermen subject to a private trawl lease agreement that incorporates specific conservation terms into the contract.  The purpose is to evaluate the feasibility of improving trawling practices to reduce bycatch and habitat damage.

3. Central Coast Trawl Impact Study – TNC worked with key partners to implement the first year of a five-year study to assess the impacts of groundfish trawling on soft-bottom habitats and the amount of time it takes for seafloor habitats to recover from trawling effort.  The first year of the research project is focused on baseline data collection (pre-trawling), implementation of directed trawling treatments, and post-trawling data collection at a study site on the continental shelf off of Morro Bay, California.  OPC support has been used to conduct the first year of surveys and directed trawling effort.


Fishery Bulletin: Ecological Effects Of Bottom Trawling On Fish Habitat Along The Central California Outer Continental Shelf (Lindholm et al.)

The partnership generated from the Central Coast Groundfish Project will help inform future management decisions and may clear the path for similar partnerships and innovations in the larger West Coast groundfish fishery and beyond.

The Nature Conservancy Contact
Michael Bell


Bridget Besaw

California Marine Renewable Energy Working Group

The California Marine Renewable Energy Working Group is an interagency group chaired by the California Ocean Protection Council.  The goals of the Working Group are to:

  • Address uncertainties in regulatory processes for marine renewable energy projects in California
  • Address the information needs of state agencies and stakeholders to inform potential impacts and user conflicts with marine renewable energy projects;, and
  • Facilitate the development of agreements and joint state-federal committees to improve coordination of state and federal permitting processes.

Working Group Members:

California Energy Commission

California Department of Fish and Game

California State Lands Commission

California Coastal Commission

California Public Utilities Commission


Working Group Developed Documents: