Resource Issues: Kelp Harvesting
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) contains one of the largest expanses of kelp forests in California. The physical structure of kelp provides vertical habitat similar to trees on land, providing an important ecosystem function for fish, invertebrates, and marine mammals. More information about kelp forest ecology within MBNMS is available at the Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network (SIMoN) website.
Kelp has been harvested within the sanctuary at a variety of locations to provide feed for aquaculture operations and an ingredient (algin) for various products. In the latter 1990's, conflicts arose in Monterey Bay over the harvesting of kelp, a practice that has been managed for decades by the California Department of Fish and Game (now the California Department of Fish and Wildlife). At that time, kelp canopies were retreating in Monterey Bay, and concerns arose that kelp harvesting might pose threats to local kelp forests and wildlife. State harvesting regulations prohibit cutting kelp more than 4 feet below the water surface.
How is the sanctuary involved?
In 2000 MBNMS conducted a thorough evaluation of the kelp harvesting issue, identified some problems, and provided detailed recommendations to the California Department of Fish and Game regarding the management of kelp resources within sanctuary boundaries. In 2001, the Department of Fish and Game included the majority of the sanctuary's recommendations in its statewide kelp management plan.
Since 1992, federal regulations have prohibited the disturbance of submerged lands within the sanctuary, thus protecting kelp from seafloor extraction. State regulations also prohibit removal of kelp from the seafloor.Today, the sanctuary's kelp forests are healthy and thriving. Commercial harvesting of kelp within the sanctuary has always been relatively modest in scale, and has diminished in recent years as the economy has slowed.