The April 24 Ocean Protection Council (OPC) meeting moved several efforts forward into next steps and introduced new efforts toward protecting California’s coast and ocean in 2023.
Action items on the agenda supporting OPC’s Strategic Plan goals were all passed unanimously by the Council. Funding was approved in amounts up to:
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The January 24 Ocean Protection Council (OPC) meeting finalized significant efforts from 2022 and set the framework for continued progress toward protecting California’s coast and ocean in 2023.
OPC staff presented the Annual Coast and Ocean Report highlighting both preliminary indicators for ocean health and a retrospective of OPC accomplishments towards achieving 2020-2025 Strategic Plan goals in 2022. Action items on the agenda supporting OPC’s 2023 efforts towards meeting Strategic Plan goals were all passed unanimously by the Council, including:
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“As we look to 2022, our goal at the agency is to… continue California’s global leadership, combating climate change, transitioning our economy, and protecting our people and nature in the meantime. I believe strongly that people are resilient and that nature is resilient. We can adapt and weather these changes we are experiencing right now, and we at the Natural Resources Agency and across state government are focused on strengthening the resilience of our communities, our residents, and of our natural places to these changes we are experiencing. I’m optimistic that we will work harder than ever before and make unprecedented process toward building this resilience.” – from California Natural Resources Secretary and Ocean Protection Council Chair Wade Crowfoot’s end of the year video message
As 2021 brought global challenges to the forefront, the state of California responded with bold, decisive actions to protect our coast and ocean. OPC staff led multiple projects designed to restore wetlands, improve water quality, prevent plastic pollution, respond to environmental justice inequities, promote sustainable fisheries, protect marine wildlife and build resilience to climate change.
Despite the many looming threats, we continue to find hope in the form of scientific solutions to the planet’s biggest problems and in the promising work done by our grantees on the front lines. Join us in celebrating specific achievements from the past year below: … read more
Photo credit: California Sea Grant
California’s collection of 124 marine protected areas (MPAs), which spans the state’s 1,100-mile coastline, is unique in its size, scale, biogeographic and cultural setting, and status as an ecologically connected network. As the MPA network approaches its ten-year anniversary and accompanying first decadal management review in December 2022, Californians want to know: are our MPAs working? In other words, to what extent is the MPA network making progress toward the goals listed in its founding legislation— protecting the state’s natural marine biodiversity, rebuilding depleted populations, and improving ocean health, especially in the face of a changing climate?
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At its October 25, 2018 meeting, the California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) unanimously approved 24 research projects totaling $6 million in funding through the Proposition 84 Competitive Grants Program. The projects support state priorities focused on stewardship and management of California’s ocean and coastal resources in the areas of: ocean acidification and hypoxia; sustainable fisheries and aquaculture; sea-level rise adaptation and coastal resilience; coastal sediment management; marine pollution; and marine renewable energy.
The research projects were selected through a competitive process based on criteria developed by OPC in alignment with its mission and priorities. California Sea Grant and the University of Southern California Sea Grant facilitated the review panel process and will administer project grants on behalf of OPC.
Communities and economies throughout California depend on a healthy ocean and coast. Using the best available science to inform management decisions is critical to preserve ecosystems and livelihoods. Results from these projects will enable resource managers, decisionmakers, and the general public to develop and implement science-based strategies to increase environmental and economic sustainability in the face of a changing climate.
California Sea Grant is administering 12 of the 24 projects in the areas of ocean acidification and hypoxia, and sustainable fisheries and aquaculture. University of Southern California Sea Grant is administering the remaining 12 projects in the areas of sea-level rise adaptation and coastal resilience, coastal sediment management, marine pollution, and marine renewable energy. Links to project descriptions are below.
Sea-Level Rise Adaptation and Coastal Resilience
Coastal Sediment Management
Marine Renewable Energy
Ocean Acidification, Hypoxia & Other Changes in Ocean Conditions from a Changing Climate
Sustainable Fisheries & Aquaculture
California Sea Grant Fellowships
The California Sea Grant State Fellowship Program provides a unique educational opportunity for graduate students who are interested both in marine resources and in the policy decisions affecting those resources. The program matches highly motivated and qualified graduate students with “hosts” in California state agencies for a 12-month paid fellowship. California Sea Grant Fellows have been assigned to the California Ocean Resources Management Program, California Ocean Protection Council, California Ocean Science Trust, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, NOAA Coastal Services Center, West Coast Regional Office, and CALFED Science Program, among others.
The OPC has hosted numerous Sea Grant Fellows and many of them have continued to work in the field at OPC and at partner agencies. The OPC has contributed funding for the fellowship program since 2007.
UC Marine Council Fellowships
The UC Marine Council (UCMC) was established within the Office of the President to coordinate marine policy, research, education and public service, and promote responsible stewardship of the state’s marine resources throughout the University of California system. In 2000, the UCMC developed a California Coastal Environmental Quality Initiative, (CEQI) which offers graduate fellowships to research topics that of priority for state marine management such as climate change and invasive species.
In 2007 and 2008, the OPC contributed $60,000 to the program to support fellowships.
California’s 2006 Budget Act appropriated $8 million to the California Ocean Protection Council for the implementation of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) and Marine Life Management Act (MLMA). The Budget Act called for these funds to be expended “pursuant to a work plan developed jointly by the OPC and the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG).” An additional $2 million was appropriated to DFG to fulfill these same goals. To maximize the effectiveness of these associated appropriations, OPC and DFG created a joint work plan that set forth priorities for the complete $10 million.
The OPC-DFG Joint Work Plan was aimed at collecting, analyzing, and applying data essential to the implementation of the MLPA and the MLMA. Work plan projects focused on three activities: (1) improving methods and collection of fishery-dependent and fishery-independent data; (2) monitoring to inform the management of marine protected areas (MPAs); and (3) equipment improvements to ensure capacity to collect and manage data. Data and results collected as part of this effort will support MPA monitoring and evaluation, which is being led by the MPA Monitoring Enterprise in collaboration with DFG.
Work Plan Projects
- Baseline monitoring of California’s Central Coast marine protected areas (MPAs) – $2,275,000 was provided for socioeconomic and ecological baseline data collection of the MLPA Central Coast Study Region necessary for future evaluations of ecosystem and socioeconomic changes inside and outside of this region’s MPAs. Six research projects were funded to implement a program of baseline data collection following a competitive process led by OPC, DFG, and California Sea Grant. A final report is available here.
- Seafloor and marine habitat maps for the MLPA North Central Coast Study Region – The Monterey Bay Sanctuary Foundation granted $2,510,000 (of which $1,200,000 was funded by OPC and $1,000,000 from DFG, and the remainder from additional partners) to California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) and Fugro Pelagos for fieldwork, and CSUMB, Moss Landing Marine Lab and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) for data interpretation and data products. Together, these efforts resulted in accurate benthic habitat maps that were critical to the selection, design, and analysis of the newly designated marine protected areas in the central coast and north central coast regions as part of the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative. The success of this pilot effort led to the full implementation of the California Seafloor Mapping Program.
- SCUBA surveys of the Channel Islands Marine Reserves – $371,187 was awarded to University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) PISCO and $210, 668 was awarded to the National Park Service Kelp Forest Monitoring (KFM) program conducted collaborative fish and benthic surveys in 2007 and 2008. These surveys used methods consistent with PISCO and KFM long-term monitoring of these reserves, and recorded density and size structure of fishes, invertebrates, and algae inside and outside of numerous reserves. The data were incorporated into the existing datasets and made available through the PISCO data catalogue to support future MPA management and fisheries stock assessments.
- Trap Surveys of the Channel Islands Marine Reserves – $407,000 was awarded to UCSB to conduct lobster and finfish surveys in 2007, 2008, and 2009 as part of a collaborative effort between UCSB and local fishermen. These data recorded overall size and abundance of lobsters and finfish inside and outside of MPAs to help inform MPA management and potentially lobster stock assessments. The project was also part of the Collaborative Lobster and Fishery Research Project. The final report from this project is available here.
- Deep Water Ocean Surveys – $660,000 was awarded to Marine Applied Research and Exploration (MARE) to conduct deep-water ocean surveys at various monitoring sites within the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary in collaboration with Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSFMC) and DFG. More information on the surveys can be found here.
- Nearshore Ichthyoplankton Data Baseline – $500,000 was awarded to UC San Diego to synthesize data on California Current and nearshore ichthyoplankton populations based on historic and recent data from California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI) and other ichthyoplankton monitoring programs, including expanded coastal sampling as part of the Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System (SCCOOS). The research provides a valuable baseline picture of ichythoplankton populations, and for informing stock assessments for species such as the California lobster. UCSD is also producing a web-accessible database, to inform future studies of changes in fish populations.
- Socio-economic information for the MLPA North Central Coast Study Region – $200,000 was awarded to Ecotrust to collect baseline socioeconomic data collection for the MLPA North Central Coast Study Region. Ecotrust developed and deployed an interactive computer tool to collect georeferenced information from the fishing community about the extent and relative importance of commercial and recreational fisheries in the North Central Coast Study Region. The data were used during the MLPA process to inform stakeholder discussions of MPA sites. Ecotrust also analyzed the fishery data in combination with additional DFG data to estimate maximum potential impacts of proposed MPA networks developed in the MLPA Initiative process.
- Improving management of California coastal fisheries –Many of California’s nearshore fisheries are data-poor, making it difficult to conduct stock assessments or develop management strategies for these populations. To help address this situation, Quantitative Resources Assessment, LLC (QRA) was awarded $150,000 to conduct an evaluation of alternative management strategies that can be applied to data-poor California fisheries. QRA has provided an introductory description of a management strategy approach and applied it to specific case studies (a final report is available here). As part of this project, QRA developed a stock assessment for California halibut, which was ranked as the highest priority finfish species for fishery management plan (FMP) development (stock assessment report is available here).
- Upgrades to DFG equipment, vessels, and fishery data management systems – The work plan also provided the following grant awards to upgrade DFG data management and equipment systems: $325,000 for upgrades to DFG remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), research vessels, and other DFG marine equipment; $302,571 to conduct an assessment of the informational and data needs of DFG to support the work of managing the state’s marine resources; $445,000 to PSMFC to develop a comprehensive and integrated electronic data collection and reporting system for commercial and recreational fishery-dependent data and an additional $630,000 to test new survey methods for reducing uncertainty in recreational fishing data when sampling private and rental boats that return to private-access sites as part of the California Recreational Fisheries Survey (CRFS) .
In 1998, California passed the Marine Life Management Act (MLMA), which calls for an ecosystem approach to achieving sustainable fisheries and identifies the acquisition of essential fishery information (EFI) as a critical component in management decisions. EFI includes, among other things, fish population status and trends, impacts of fishing, ecological relationships, habitat information, and other environmental information. In 1999, the State went further, passing the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), which mandated a redesign of the state’s system of MPAs “to increase its coherence and its effectiveness at protecting the state’s marine life, habitat, and ecosystems.”
The Channel Islands MPAs became the first of the new MPA networks to be implemented. Established in 2003, the network includes eleven State Marine Reserves (SMRs) where no take of living, geological or cultural resources is allowed and two State Marine Conservation Areas (SMCAs) where limited commercial and/or recreational take is allowed.
Working together, the California Department of Fish and Game and Marine Applied Research and Exploration (MARE) developed an ROV program designed to collect data in the deepwater (20 to 100 meter) habitats in the newly established Channel Islands MPAs—habitats beyond the reach of most SCUBA divers. The overarching goal of the program was to provide fishery-independent data required by the MLMA and MLPA—data to provide information on relative abundance, species interactions and associations, habitat preference, fishing effects on habitat, distribution, size composition of stocks, and human interactions with the marine environment. When tracked over time, this kind of information may provide managers with an indication of whether stocks are increasing or decreasing, and whether current management measures are achieving their intended conservation objectives. These data are also are needed to improve understanding of marine ecosystems and to enable adaptive management.
Key Findings and Successes A full report on the ROV program results to date is contained in “ROV-based Deep Water Monitoring of the Northern Channel Islands Marine Protected Areas Annual Report – 2009,” Marine Region Administrative Report No. 10-02, which will be posted on the California Department of Fish and Game web page: http://www.dfg.ca.gov.
The ROV data show that fish densities inside the MPAs have been consistently higher than densities in sites with similar habitats outside the MPAs. These differences were also detected by SCUBA based surveys in the shallow water areas adjacent to ROV study sites. While the causes for these differences are unknown, the fact that two independent methods showed similar results validates the use of ROV-based surveys for fishery-independent data collection.
The data have shown only slight changes in density within the MPAs since 2005. Given that most species of rockfish need very specific ocean conditions for successful reproduction, population changes are not expected to occur at a steady pace, but rather as large recruitment events that occur every five to ten years. Accordingly, it is not surprising that we have not yet seen large changes in MPA fish populations. In 2009, however, the team observed huge clouds of young of the year rockfish. Scientists working with MARE do not yet know if this is a huge recruitment class, or simply that the research cruise was conducted a month earlier than normal.
The time series data collected over the last five years has provided a cost effective baseline assessment of finfish and invertebrate abundance inside the MPAs and in unprotected comparison areas. Further, no animals were harmed by this video sampling.
Detailed analysis of data collected during this baseline sampling period is ongoing. The wealth of information contained within the archival video record collected will provide marine scientists the opportunity to expand our understanding of these highly productive marine ecosystems.
Underwater video clips of species in the Channel Islands MPAs
Research and Monitoring
Solving complex ocean resource problems will require a better scientific understanding of the underlying functioning of ocean and coastal ecosystems. The Ocean Protection Council seeks to establish policies that coordinate the collection and sharing of scientific data related to coast and ocean resources between agencies. The issues facing the ocean are multifaceted and partnerships are necessary to address these concerns. Under this strategic goal, OPC aims to improve the scientific understanding of our ocean resources and monitor the ocean environment to provide data about conditions and trends. By 2011, OPC would like for the state to have sufficient scientific understanding of biological, physical, and socio-economic processes in order to implement ecosystem based management statewide. OPC would also like to have consistent monitoring data accessible to resource managers and the public by 2011.
Objectives of Research and Monitoring Section of the 2006 – 2011 OPC strategic plan:
Objective 1: Research
Science should be the foundation of ocean and coastal policy, but often it is not. Sometimes this is because research and monitoring activities are under-funded and other times it is because results are not communicated effectively to decision makers and the public. To begin to remedy these gaps in knowledge or application, the OPC works with the Ocean Science Trust, the OPC Science Advisory Team, the two California-based Sea Grant programs, and many other partners to identify high priority research needs. The OPC includes research as a part of its funding strategy and seeks federal support for the state’s research needs. Another OPC research effort is to make California’s ocean observing system a national model.
Objective 2: Monitoring
Changes in ocean and coastal ecosystems can only be measured if sufficient baseline information is available. Increased and improved monitoring through data acquisition and analysis will provide that critical knowledge. They also provide metrics to assess effectiveness of management measures. In order to achieve this goal, OPC recognizes the need to create state-sponsored ocean observing programs that will work with the federal Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS), the Regional Associations (RAs) and other entities to build an integrated ocean observing system in California. OPC is also in a partnership to complete seafloor maps of state waters, which will provide information on marine habitats and substrates. These maps are critical to effective management of fisheries, design of marine protected areas, and other management efforts. The OPC is also partnering to complete topographic maps of the California coastal region to aid in better land-sea research, such as climate change or tsunami impacts. Also, OPC is supporting the development of a comprehensive monitoring program focused on developing and delivering cost effective and useful monitoring data essential for ensuring the long-term adaptive management of the new statewide system of marine protected areas (MPAs).
Initiatives and Funded Projects:
Monitoring and Assessment
Ocean Science Trust
California Sea Grant Research Programs
Promoting Applied Ocean Research
Solving complex ocean resource problems requires scientific understanding of how ocean and coastal ecosystems function. The OPC strives to bridge the gaps between scientists, the public, and resource managers by supporting applied scientific research and the translation of data into usable information.
The OPC integrates and utilizes existing scientific information in many ways. Working with the Science Advisory Team (OPC-SAT), the OPC ensures that the best available science is applied to OPC policy decisions. The OPC-SAT is coordinated by the California Ocean Science Trust (OST) and co-chaired by the OST Executive Director. One of the OPC-SAT’s fundamental functions is evaluating the technical merit of scientific projects by suggesting experts to serve as peer reviewers for OPC proposals and products. In coordination with OPC staff, the OPC-SAT also develops yearly research priorities. Finally, to keep the OPC at the cutting edge of ocean and coastal research, the OPC-SAT identifies critical emerging science issues for OPC consideration, which are used by the council to inform future meeting themes, projects, and workshops.
To support new science, the OPC funds applied ocean research projects that correspond to the priorities proposed by the OPC-SAT. These research projects are solicited and chosen in partnership with the UC Sea Grant program and USC Sea Grant Program in California. Recent years have seen the development of an innovative funding approach: the Focused Research and Outreach Initiative. The goal is to promote well-coordinated, interdisciplinary programs of applied research and training focusing on a priority research topic. The research funded through the Sea Grant programs includes projects on international ecosystem-based management of fishery resources in the Southern California Bight, groundfish assemblages on offshore petroleum platforms on the San Pedro Shelf, and the impacts of ocean acidification on economically important shellfish species.
- California Ocean Science Trust Science Integration
- Marine Protected Areas Monitoring Enterprise