Management of Kelp Forests

photo of kelp of cat rock

Under the regulations pursuant to the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, kelp harvesting (the collection of kelp for commercial use) is permitted only in one sanctuary.

The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary sanctions kelp harvesting and allows kelp harvesters to alter the seabed and historical resources as a result of kelp harvesting. Legal authority in regulating kelp harvesting is shared between the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary/NOAA and the California Department of Fish and Game/Fish and Game Commission (DFG/FGC). Only in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary does the state choose to lease kelp beds to either individuals or companies, or leave the beds open, allowing harvesting to take place by anyone with a valid Department of Fish and Game kelp-harvesting permit.

The California Coastal Commission and the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control recently issued four permits to begin abalone aquaculture operations in the Pillar Point Harbor, which would result in kelp being removed from the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in order to sustain these operations.Besides issuing permits, the Department of Fish and Game/Fish and Game Committee enforces numerous laws concerning kelp harvesting, for example: kelp beds are to be leased for a period of no greater than 20 years, and no more than 25 square miles or 50% of the total kelp bed area, whichever is greater.

The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, on the other hand, does not exempt kelp harvesters from the alteration of the seabed. In fact, according to the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary management plan, kelp harvesting is not permitted in this sanctuary except in cases of traditional (Native American) practices. The Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary regulations does not address kelp harvesting; therefore, under the provisions that prohibit the alteration of the seabed, kelp harvesting is illegal in the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Similarly, the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary does not permit kelp harvesting.

Though Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is currently the only sanctuary to allow kelp harvesting, NOAA does recognize the possibility of a need for future regulations.