Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary – Case Study

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The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS) was established in 1980 by the US Congress to protect biodiversity, uniquely productive marine ecosystems and culturally significant resources. Located 8 to 40 miles off the southern coast of California, the Sanctuary encompasses approximately 1,252 square nautical miles (nm). The Sanctuary contains all waters within 6 nm of each of the Channel Islands. A number of state and federal agencies administer programs that provide protection to specified features or portions of the islands, inshore and offshore waters. In 1999, to address the continuing decline in habitat and fisheries, the CINMS initiated] an eight year process designed to create a network of marine reserves within the sanctuary that operate in a consistent manner (1). This was a highly controversial process that raised many issues between the fishing community and the agencies with responsibility for fishery resources. (1, 2). The CINMS is a good case study of how regulatory agencies at state and federal levels with overlapping interests and jurisdictions can successfully coordinate their activities.


The Channel Islands marine area contains a globally unique and diverse assemblage of habitats and species. The Sanctuary contains over 33 species of marine mammals, over 60 species of seabirds, hundreds of fish species, thousands of invertebrate species, and dozens of marine algae and plant species It is also heavily used by commercial and recreational fishers, recreational boaters and divers, maritime shipping and researchers.

Research confirms the CINMS is a stressed marine ecosystem that has seen significant changes in its biodiversity and overall health since 1980 (1). Most of this is due to water pollution and fishing pressure. Data shows decreases in landings for several categories of commercial and recreational fisheries (1). In 2007 monitoring reports indicate the habitat in CINMS is improving because of a trawling ban implemented in 2005 by the state in waters within 3 nautical miles (nm) of the coast. .

Governance Framework

Figure 1 presents the agencies with responsibilities within the Sanctuary. The following have key roles in resource protection for the Channel Islands area:

  • US National Park Service (NPS) manages the terrestrial park that extends seaward one nautical mile.
  • California Fish and Game Commission regulates, manages, and enforces regulations over use of waters and marine resources from the mean high tide line to three nautical miles offshore. This is the regulatory body responsible for fisheries.
  • National Marine Fisheries Service is responsible for the management and enforcement of the nation’s fisheries in federal waters from 3nm to 200nm.
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shares authority with the NMFS to protect marine mammals and endangered species.
  • US Coast Guard is responsible for enforcing all other non-fishing federal laws and regulations.
Figure 2: Network of Marine Reserves in the CINMS[1]

Joint Enforcement Program

The CINMS has designed a coordinated enforcement program with Federal and State agencies. The NMSP relies upon law enforcement officials in the NMFS to enforce sanctuary rules. Within the sanctuary, the sanctuary staff, NMFS, US National Park Service, U.S. Coast Guard, and State of California work together. The National Park Service enforces laws on land and ensures compliance with state fishing regulations. The California Department of Fish and Game provides enforcement and education. The CDFG are cross-deputized with federal enforcement authority from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and NOAA to enforce sanctuary, state, and federal fisheries regulations.


The regulatory roles and authority between the NOAA Marine Sanctuary Program and the Fisheries Service overlap, are in some cases unclear, and have resulted in protracted management planning processes. The relationship between some sanctuary and fishery officials has been characterized by “uncertainty and distrust” and a lack of understanding of agency mandates (2). In the case of the CINMS, the Pacific Fishery Management Council and the NMFS were reportedly concerned about the NMSP “taking on fishing regulations” to achieve sanctuary conservation goals (2). NMSP actions, however, prompted the other fishery regulators to recognize the need to take action or be substituted by the sanctuaries.

CINMS has succeeded in balancing limited regulatory powers with the gains to be made in partnering. US sanctuaries have limited resources and authority to achieve success without the support and coordination between state, federal and private groups.

See also

Internal Links

External Links

  1. Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary
  2. NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program

Further Reading

  1. NOAA Section 304(a)(5) Letter. SUPPORTING MATERIALS Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. May 25, 2005
  2. Lynn Sutherland. 2008. An Analysis of Habitat Conservation in National Marine Sanctuaries: A Case Study of the Channel Islands, Flower Garden Banks, and Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuaries