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Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Final Kelp Management Report: Background, Environmental Setting and Recommendations

King, A.E., and A. DeVogelaere (October 2000)

MBNMS Report, 54pp.


The appropriate level of kelp harvest is an ongoing issue of great interest within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS or Sanctuary). In 1999, the MBNMS Advisory Council identified kelp uses and management as one of its top priority topics to address. Environmental concerns, as well as multiple-use conflicts, have made this an issue of considerable public debate.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Ocean Service (NOS), Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, has authority under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act to promulgate regulations governing kelp harvesting within the MBNMS. However, NOAA recognizes the historical authority of the State of California to manage kelp resources, and prefers, at this time, to work through that authority rather than issue its own regulations. This MBNMS Kelp Management Report is the result of a year-long public process aimed at creating recommendations for the State of California regarding kelp harvesting in the Sanctuary. California plans to complete its own five-year State Kelp Management regulatory review process in the late fall of 2000.

The MBNMS has developed this document to formalize the MBNMS process for developing Sanctuary views on kelp resource issues. On January 14, 2000, the MBNMS released its first draft of the "MBNMS Kelp Management Report: Background and Environmental Setting." Written public comments on the first release of the document were sought until February 23, 2000. Additionally, the document was scheduled for discussion at a series of public meetings. On June 2, 2000, the MBNMS release a second draft of the report, the "MBNMS Kelp Management Report: Background, Environmental Setting and Draft Recommendations." Further public meetings and a public comment period followed until August 7, 2000. The final "MBNMS Kelp Management Report" is the third release of the report. It includes a final set of recommendations to the State of California from the MBNMS.

The MBNMS Kelp Management Report outlines the general environmental setting of the MBNMS, including its general meteorological, oceanographic, geological, nutrient and kelp forest characteristics. Sections of the already-completed MBNMS Site Characterization were used to provide this information. The MBNMS Kelp Management Report discusses what is known about kelp harvesting in the MBNMS, as well as the known environmental impacts from the activity. This review concludes:

  • When kelp harvesting is done on a limited scale, there is generally little detectable effect on the MBNMS kelp forest resources within the Sanctuary, and
  • Few long term studies exist that can determine the point at which intensive repetitious harvesting, especially in a confined space, will begin to cause significant ecological impacts.

Other interests in, and uses of, kelp resources exist, such as those important to the local tourism industry. While many of the recreational uses of kelp have never been studied extensively, or at all, to determine their environmental effects on kelp forests, other indirect anthropogenic effects have been clearly documented, such as sewage spills and coastal nearshore developments.

Use conflicts between harvesters and recreational users/interests have occurred over the past few years. One area, along Cannery Row in Monterey, has been the venue of most of these conflicts. Socio-economic studies that could help frame public discussion of this issue are lacking.

The MBNMS has been involved in kelp harvesting issues, especially those of kelp resource use conflicts since early 1996. The MBNMS is now working with the State of California to help resolve these conflicts, and address public concerns through the California kelp management process. After completing the described public process above, the MBNMS has concluded that the present management regime for kelp harvesting in the MBNMS is inadequate, and needs to be altered in several ways.

The MBNMS Kelp Management Report provides 11 recommendations to California for the management of kelp in the MBNMS. The MBNMS recommends that:

Recommendation #1: The MBNMS recommends that the State's kelp management process fully document and analyze the State's costs in managing kelp harvesting, including research, monitoring and enforcement, and evaluate the extent to which the revenues generated from various fees collected from the kelp harvesting industry (e.g., license fees, violation fines, business and personal taxes, tonnage fees) cover these costs.

Recommendation #2: The MBNMS recommends the designation of a single no-kelp-harvest area from the City of Monterey's Coast Guard Breakwater to the north wall at the current location of the Charthouse Restaurant extending from the mean high-tide mark to a depth of 100 feet. This no-harvest area must be monitored for its effectiveness in reducing multiple-use conflicts and increasing kelp canopy to allow for proper re-evaluation in five years.

Recommendation #3: The MBNMS recommends that there be no mechanical harvesting within DFG Kelp Beds #220 and #221.

Recommendation #4: The MBNMS recommends the implementation of a system of limited entry for kelp harvesting in DFG Kelp Bed #220.

Recommendation #5: The MBNMS recommends that no hand-harvesting (including possession) of Nereocystis be allowed in the MBNMS between April 1 and August 31 (inclusive) of each year.

Recommendation #6: The MBNMS recommends that the State restrict annual harvest of any kelp bed available for harvest in the MBNMS to 50% of that bed's total maximum canopy cover.

Recommendation #7: The MBNMS recommends that the State implement a more systematic method to collect, analyze and publish useful data on kelp harvesting. The MBNMS further recommends that the State resist any efforts to limit public access to kelp harvesting data.

Recommendation #8: The MBNMS recommends that DFG Beds #224, 225, 226 and 301 be closed to harvesting.

Recommendation #9: The MBNMS recommends that the State ensure its kelp management process evaluates the adequacy of current monitoring and enforcement of kelp harvesting activities, and strengthens them where necessary.

Recommendation #10: The MBNMS recommends that the State implement an education program on kelp forest ecology and sustainable kelp harvesting for a variety of audiences, including kelp harvesters and the general public.

Recommendation #11: The MBNMS recommends that the definition of "take" in the California Code of Regulations (Title 14, CCR, Chapt 1., Section 1.80) be amended to include plants.

This report is concluded with two additional sections. The first lays out 14 areas for future research on kelp forest use and management, as well as general anthropogenic effects. The second section discusses what management resources are presently put towards kelp management by the State, and what the MBNMS believes would be adequate to properly manage the resource.

Numerous public comments were made to the MBNMS and incorporated, as appropriate, into the MBNMS Kelp Management Report. The MBNMS has responded to these comments in a "Comment and Response" document that can be requested separately from the MBNMS as a set of appendices.

Reviewed: April 11, 2024
Web Site Owner: National Ocean Service

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