Exploring California’s Marine Protected Areas: Crystal Cove State Marine Conservation Area

The sandy beach and rocky shoreline at Crystal Cove State Marine Conservation Area
  CDFW photo by A. Van Diggelen

“That’s a marine protected area, you can’t fish there!” Actually, in over half of California’s marine protected areas (MPAs), you can. It’s a misconception that fishing isn’t allowed in MPAs, because in reality 65 of the 124 MPAs throughout the state allow the harvest of specified marine resources, either commercially or recreationally – sometimes both. The only MPAs that prohibit all types of recreational or commercial harvest are state marine reserves and no-take state marine conservation areas (SMCAs). One of the MPAs that falls into the “go fishing!” category is Crystal Cove SMCA. Implemented in 2012 alongside 49 additional Southern California MPAs and two special closures, Crystal Cove SMCA allows for certain types of recreational and commercial fishing.

A California spiny lobster, Panulirus interruptus, hides beneath a rocky overhang in Crystal Cove SMCA.
CDFW photo by A. Van Diggelen

Stretching over four miles along the coastline next to the land-based Crystal Cove State Park,  Crystal Cove SMCA waters extend to more than 200 feet deep, and encompass an array of marine habitats. There are sandy beaches, rocky shores, surfgrass beds, and many different types of seafloor. The variety of unique habitats support a multitude of marine species. Tidepools house anemones, limpets, chitons, and mussels; crabs scurry among rocky outcroppings; California halibut camouflage themselves on the sandy bottom, and senorita, opaleye, and a dizzying array of perches greet snorkelers amid the giant kelp. There are plenty of ways to enjoy recreating at Crystal Cove SMCA beyond non-consumptive activities like snorkeling, surfing, swimming, sunbathing, or just observing the marine life. One way is to grab your fishing license and head down to the beach. If you fancy yourself a diver, duck beneath the surface to spear kelp bass or California sheephead, hunt for spiny lobster, or grab some sea urchins. If getting wet doesn’t sound like fun, you can always wet a line instead to take finfish from shore or boat. Just make sure you bring along a current copy of the Ocean Sport Fishing Regulations booklet to ensure that what you do harvest from the MPA is allowed, in season, at least minimum size, and doesn’t exceed your daily bag limit. passport_coverTo take full advantage of California’s recreational fishing opportunities, including those within Crystal Cove SMCA, pick up a California Fishing Passport when you purchase your annual fishing license or at any California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) office. CDFW’s California Fishing Passport program encourages anglers to catch and document more than 150 species of fish throughout the State. Along the way you can accrue stamps documenting your fishing expertise and achieve celebratory milestones to highlight your successes as an experienced California angler, diver, or hoopnetter! The next time you head out to your local MPA check to see if you can fish there!  If you have more questions about what you can and can’t do in MPAs please read these Frequently Asked Questions or send us an email at AskMarine@wildlife.ca.gov! California has some of the best fishing opportunities in the world, and CDFW wants to encourage everyone to explore the intrinsic beauty and all of the opportunities waiting at your local MPA.

Crystal Cove State Marine Conservation Area is one of the 124 MPAs in California’s statewide MPA Network. Please visit CDFW’s MPA website for more information, and sign up to receive updates about the MPA Management Program.

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post by Amanda Van Diggelen, CDFW Environmental Scientist


Learn more about MPAs by diving into the Exploring California’s Marine Protected Areas series!