Marine Conservation Agreements
A Practitioner's Toolkit

Washington State Analysis

Status: In-depth

The Ocean and Coast

Washington State owns approximately 2.3 million acres of lands lying below the ordinary high tide along the Puget Sound and outer coast, which together measure 3,026 miles in length. These lands include 30% of the intertidal lands of Puget Sound and nearly 100% of the subtidal lands of the Puget Sound and outer coast extending three nautical miles offshore.

Marine Conservation Agreements

Washington State serves as a good example of a state that provides ample opportunities for private organizations to undertake Marine Conservation Agreements (MCAs). Nearly 70% of the intertidal areas of the Puget Sound are privately-owned, and conservation organizations such as The Nature Conservancy have taken advantage of this situation in areas such as Port Susan Bay.

While it is rare for private entities to own subtidal lands, the state has developed a formal conservation leasing program that authorizes private entities to undertake conservation activities on state-owned aquatic lands, including intertidal and subtidal lands. The Nature Conservancy entered into the first conservation lease at Woodard Bay under this program. Intertidal lands along the open coast are generally protected under the Seashore Conservation Act and managed by the Parks and Recreation Commission.

Submerged Lands - Aquatic Lands, and Aquaculture

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Aquatic Resources Program serves as the proprietary manager of state-owned aquatic lands in Washington State. Aquatic lands is the overarching term used in Washington State to describe submerged lands. Aquatic lands are subdivided into bedlands (below the extreme low tide, submerged at all times within navigable fresh and salt water bodies), tidelands (between the ordinary high tide line and the extreme low tide line), and shorelands (along the edge of rivers and lakes). As the boundary between state-owned and private aquatic lands varies depending on local history and several legal concepts, the DNR has developed a pamphlet, Boundaries of State-owned Aquatic Lands, to guide public understanding of this complex matter.

The DNR strives to provide a balance of public benefits from its management of state-owned aquatic lands, including:

  • Encouraging direct public use and access,
  • Fostering water-dependent uses,
  • Ensuring environmental protection,
  • Utilizing renewable resources, and
  • Generating revenue (in a manner consistent with the other four).

The DNR authorizes a variety of aquatic land uses through mechanisms such as leases, licenses, easements, and permits. The DNR is also the primary agency responsible for implementing a well-developed finfish and shellfish aquaculture program on state-owned aquatic lands. Entities seeking to undertake conservation activities on state-owned aquatic lands should seek authorization from the DNR.

Washington Department of Natural Resources
Aquatic Resources Program
Conservation Leasing Program, Aquaculture Leasing Program
1111 Washington St. SE
P.O. Box 47027
Olympia, WA 98504-7027
Tel: 360-902-1100
Fax: 360-902-1786

Coastal Zone, Water Quality, and Shoreline Development

The Washington Department of Ecology serves as the primary manager of the coastal zone, water quality, and shoreline development; however, much of the latter authority related to shoreline development permitting has been delegated to counties and cities. Entities seeking to undertake conservation activities within the coastal zone should consult with the Department of Ecology and local authorities regarding necessary regulatory permits.

Washington Department of Ecology
Shorelands and Environmental Assistance Program
PO Box 47600
Olympia, WA 98504
Tel: 360-407-6000

Washington Department of Ecology
Water Quality Program
PO Box 47600
Olympia, WA 98504
Tel: (360) 407-6405

Washington Department of Ecology
Governor's Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance (ORIA)
300 Desmond Street, SE
Lacey WA 98503
Tel: 360-725-0628 or 1-800-917-0043


The Washington Parks and Recreation Commission is responsible for managing state parks in Washington, including the five coastal state parks and the Seashore Conservation Area, which includes the much of the ocean coast beach (excluding federal and tribal areas) along Washington's western boundary. In most areas, the Parks and Recreation Commission manages the beach from the line of vegetation to the ordinary low tide line for public recreation and natural resource conservation. The other primary manager of inter-tidal areas along the outer coast is the National Park Service (in areas fronting portions of the Olympic National Park). Entities wishing to undertake conservation activities on Washington's coastal beaches or coastal parks should seek authorization from the Parks and Recreation Commission, the National Park Service, or appropriate tribal authorities.

Washington Parks and Recreation Commission
7150 Cleanwater Drive S.W.
P.O. Box 42650
Olympia, WA 98504-265
Tel: 360-902-8635

Olympic National Park
600 East Park Avenue
Port Angeles, WA 98362-6798
Tel: 360-565-3130
Fax: 360-565-3015
Email: Web site

Washington State Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs

Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) is the primary state regulatory manager of public fish and wildlife resources, including aquatic vegetation, habitat, and rare species. The DFW issues regulatory permits for recreational and commercial harvest of many fish and wildlife species and also issues Hydraulic Project Approval permits for activities that may impact fish and fish habitat. Entities seeking to undertake MCA projects that may impact fish or fish habitat should consult with DFW to determine if permits are necessary.

DFW also has some proprietary management authority over state “Oyster Reserves”—certain expanses of inter-tidal areas that were legislatively reserved from sale or lease by DNR because of their potential for long-term propagation of shellfish resources. DFW sometimes collaborates with parties conducting shellfish restoration projects when such projects further DFW goals. In limited situations, DNR may also issue leases within Oyster Reserves, but only with the express permission of DFW.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
600 Capitol Way N.
Olympia, WA, 98501-1091
Habitat Program
Tel: 360-902-2534
Fish Program
Tel: 360-902-2700


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