Guest Post by Brian Owens, California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Did you know that when someone is proposing a non-lethal research or educational activity within a marine protected area (MPA), such as installing scientific equipment or conducting docent-led tide pool surveys for school groups, that a scientific collecting permit (SCP) may be required?  

In fact, nearly all research and many educational activities being carried out in California’s MPAs require an SCP.  Knowing when you need an SCP can seem unclear when an activity is not “directly collecting” anything per se.  Most people associate SCPs with activities that physically remove one or more organisms from a site.  While this is a logical assumption, it is only part of the restrictions that would necessitate obtaining an SCP, so let’s dig a little deeper by reviewing the rules governing both SCPs and MPAs.  

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is the permitting agency for managing scientific and educational activities in state waters, which extend from the mean high tide line to three nautical miles offshore, including off all intertidal rocks and the mouths of embayments, including large open bays.  The following laws and regulations govern how SCPs are issued:

Fish and Game Code (FGC) §1002(a) states, “The department may issue permits, subject to restrictions and regulations that the department determines are desirable, to take or possess, in any part of the state, for scientific, educational, or propagation purposes, mammals, birds and the nests and eggs thereof, fish, amphibians, reptiles, or any other form of plant or animal life.”

California Code of Regulations, (CCR), Title 14, §650(a) states, “Except as otherwise provided, it is unlawful to take or possess marine plants, live or dead birds, mammals, fishes, amphibians, or reptiles for scientific, educational, or propagation purposes except as authorized by permit issued by the department.  Notwithstanding FGC §86, take includes capturing, marking, and releasing any animal.”

The word “take” was emphasized in both excerpts above, because the definition of “take” sets the bar for being in compliance with the law.  Take means to “Hunt, pursue, catch, capture, or kill or attempt to hunt, pursue, catch, capture, or kill (FGC §86).  Therefore, should any proposed activity result in any of these things occurring inside or outside an MPA in the name of education or research, a SCP would be required.  

Focusing on MPAs, the rules become stricter.  SCPs are required when activities within an MPA may “injure, damage, take, or possess any living, geological, or cultural marine resource….” [CCR, Title 14, §632 (a)(1)(A)-(C); Public Resources Code §36710].  Again, the emphasis above represents the three conditions of the law that are typically invoked when explaining why an activity would require an SCP.  For example, conducting plankton tows for an at-sea classroom demonstration (possession of marine resources) in MPAs would require an SCP.  

Now you may think permitting non-invasive activities is unnecessarily burdensome – but it’s not. 

Obtaining an SCP is important for a few reasons.  First, it provides the CDFW with the ability to track educational and research activities happening in the state waters, which is especially important within MPAs.  Second, it provides the CDFW with the opportunity to better manage the state’s resources by providing feedback to the applicant before the project takes place.  Finally, and most importantly, it ensures that researchers and educators are in compliance with the law.  

So if you think your educational and/or research activity may need an SCP, you should do one of two things:
1) submit an application for an SCP that can be downloaded from: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Licensing/Scientific-Collecting; or
2) call or email me, and I would be more than happy to help you figure out whether an SCP is required for the activity you are proposing.
Either way, the CDFW will strive to ensure a smooth permitting process for you, and we will be happy to resolve any issues you come across during the application process.  Until then, don’t forget the SCP!

Contact Information:
Brian Owens, Marine Environmental Scientist
California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Brian.Owens@wildlife.ca.gov or 650-631-6786