Access California's Ecoregional Assessments
The Nature Conservancy's California Chapter
The Ocean and Coast
California has 3,424 miles of coastline (1,100 miles of straight line frontage) and more than four million acres of submerged lands under both fresh and saltwater. California’s tidelands and submerged lands extend from the mean high water line to three nautical miles offshore.
Marine Conservation Agreements
Marine Conservation Agreements (MCAs), in various forms, are currently being applied in California. The Nature Conservancy, California Audubon, and local land trusts own and lease tidelands, submerged lands and associated resources in California at present. Most notable are the kelp lease, Richardson Bay Sanctuary and trawler acquisition projects (see the Resources Box to the right).
Private ownership of tidelands and submerged lands is known to occur within bays and estuaries, as opposed to the open coast. Leasing occurs within bays and estuaries as well as along the open coast. While there are numerous precedents to point to in California, leasing and ownership are not yet comprehensively employed or appreciated as conservation tools nor have the acquisition processes been fully established. Leases can be acquired from state and local governments, depending on which entity is the underlying landowner. In either case, it should not be assumed that MCAs will be supported or approved without close scrutiny.
In 2009, a legal analysis was completed that evaluated options and issues relating to acquiring and leasing tidelands and submerged lands in California for conservation purposes (the full report can be downloaded from the Resources Box). In summary, the analysis revealed that:
- Private ownership of tidelands and submerged lands in California may only be acquired from existing private owners and, as such, may pose limited opportunities for large scale conservation application.
- Leasing of tidelands and submerged lands primarily falls within the jurisdiction of the State Lands Commission; since the courts and Commission policies recognize conservation of natural resources as a valid trust purpose, the Commission has the authority to grant conservation leases.
- Although leases covering State lands typically are granted for projects involving some sort of development on the tidelands or submerged lands and although conservation leasing has been little utilized, the practice should be permitted under existing laws and regulations.
- In addition to conservation leasing of submerged lands and tidelands, sustainable shellfish aquaculture and kelp bed leasing may be additional methods of improving the health of the ocean. The Department of Fish and Game has authority to grant leases for aquaculture and kelp beds.
If organizations pursue MCAs in California, several local, state, and federal authorizations may be required. The information that follows provides context for and information regarding possible authorization needs.
Submerged Lands and Tidelands
In California, tidelands are those lands that lie between the mean high tide and the mean low tide while submerged lands are those lands that lie between the mean low tide and the three-mile seaward extent of the state's jurisdictional limit. The Lands Management Division (LMD) of the California State Lands Commission (SLC) has primary responsible for leasing California’s sovereign tidelands and submerged lands. However, early in the state’s history, the legislature granted certain tidelands and submerged lands to 85 cities, counties, and harbor districts, including major ports such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. Though the state no longer owns these lands, the SLC continues to protect public trust rights in these lands.
The SLC may grant leases on tidelands and submerged lands for any public trust purpose. Leases generally fall into the following categories: recreational, commercial, industrial, right-of-way, or salvage; however, leases have also been given for wetlands and habitat management projects. It should be noted that tidelands and submerged land leasing rights in California are generally awarded to the adjacent riparian or upland owner. However, the commission retains a “broad discretion” in all aspects of leasing.
California State Lands Commission
Land Management Division
100 Howe Avenue, Suite 100-S
Sacramento, CA 95825-8202
Coastal Zone and Shoreline Development
The California Coastal Program is administered by three agencies. The California Coastal Commission manages development along the coast, except for the San Francisco Bay Area, where these powers lie with the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (SFBCDC). The California Coastal Conservancy purchases, protects, and restores coastal resources.
The Coastal Commission and the SFBCDC (or their partners in local government) issue permits for any construction, subdivision, or intensification of use within the coastal zone. Both bodies also assist local governments with coastal planning and other projects. The SFBDC, in partnership with the Coastal Conservancy, NOAA, and the San Francisco Estuary Project, recently began a Subtidal Habitat Goals Project aimed at providing land-use managers with recommendations for subtidal habitat restoration, and may be of interest to tideland and submerged land projects.
California Coastal Commission
45 Fremont Street, Suite 2000
San Francisco, CA 94105-2219
San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission
50 California Street, Suite 2600
San Francisco CA 94111
California Coastal Conservancy
1330 Broadway, 13th Floor
Oakland, CA 94612
The State Water Resources Control Board and Regional Water Quality Control Boards preserve, enhance and restore water quality in California. The boards also regulate water allocation and use. MCA projects that may directly or indirectly affect water quality should contact the state and regional water quality control boards to determine if regulatory permits are needed.
State Water Resources Control Board
P.O. Box 100
Sacramento, CA 95812
Fish and Wildlife
The Marine Region of the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) is responsible for managing the state’s marine resources. The Marine Region is unique in that it combines both policy and operational responsibilities. It approaches marine management with an ecosystem-based approach, looking at fisheries, habitat, environmental review, and water quality. DFG has several programs to encourage conservation and restoration.
California has a large, diverse aquaculture industry with $83 million a year in farm-site value. DFG is also responsible for aquaculture and kelp harvesting permits. A copy of A Guide to California State Permits, Licenses, Laws and Regulations Affecting California's Aquaculture Industry may be requested from DFG’s Aquaculture Coordinator.
The 1974 Proposition 20 Coastal Initiative required that coastal landowners provide public access to sandy beachfront areas owned by the state. The California Coastal Commission oversees a Coastal Access Program that works with the Coastal Conservancy, the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), and the State Lands Commission to provide public access to beaches. Four-hundred-twenty public beaches line the California coast, and almost all wet sand below the mean high tide line is legally open to the public. The largest manager of California’s public beaches is the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Beach fill and erosion control structures require permits either from the California Coastal Commission or, if the project is above the mean high water line and there is an approved Local Coastal Plan, from the local government. However, the California Coastal Act gives owners of existing coastal developments strong legal support for erosion control measures. Major public beach fill and restoration projects are most often funded by the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Department of Boating and Waterways (Beach Erosion Control Program), or the Department of Transportation.1
California Department of Parks and Recreation
1416 9th Street
P.O. Box 942896
Sacramento, CA 94296
California has a large, diverse aquaculture industry in both fresh and saltwater, producing $83 million a year in farm-site value. The current leading species for marine aquaculture are oysters, mussels, and abalone. Water bottoms and water columns are leased as shellfish growing areas from the state through the Fish and Game Commission, Harbor Districts, and Navigation Districts.2 Kelp beds are also leased through the Fish and Game Commission. The Sustainable Oceans Act of 2006 directs the Fish and Game Commission to revise marine aquaculture regulations, requiring leases and setting standards for finfish aquaculture in marine waters.
The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) issues aquaculture and kelp harvesting permits. A copy of A Guide to California State Permits, Licenses, Laws and Regulations Affecting California's Aquaculture Industry may be requested from DFG’s Aquaculture Coordinator. While DFG’s website does not have easily accessible information on aquaculture, information may be obtained from the California Aquaculture Association and the University of California, Davis.
California Department of Fish and Game
1416 Ninth Street
Sacramento, California 95814
2 Conte, F.S. 1996. California oyster culture. In California Aquaculture, 96(2). University of California, Davis, Department of Animal Science.