MPA Mondays: Portuguese Ledge and Soquel Canyon

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In our final installment of MPA Mondays, we explore Portuguese Ledge and Soquel Canyon. Both marine protected areas are home to a wide variety of species and serve an important role in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Fishing and take of all living marine resources is prohibited in the Portuguese Ledge State Marine Conservation Area and the Soquel Canyon State Marine Conservation Area, except the commercial and recreational take of pelagic fish: a subset of finfish defined as northern anchovy, barracudas, billfishes, dolphinfish, Pacific mackerel, salmon, Pacific sardine, blue shark, salmon shark, shortfin mako shark, thresher sharks, swordfish, tunas, and yellowtail.

The Portuguese Ledge SMCA is located just north of Asilomar State Marine Reserve and south of the Soquel Canyon SMCA. Established in September 2007 by the California Fish & Wildlife Commission, it protects important refuge habitat for several over-fished deepwater rockfish species and is expected to contribute to the recovery of these species.

portuguese ledge- credit california mpas

Map of Soquel Canyon SMCA and Portuguese Ledge SMCA (Credit: californiampas.org)

Stretching 10.9 square miles, the Portuguese Ledge SMCA has been fished for more than 100 years, and yet scientists have found a high diversity of fish species nonetheless.

A vast assortment of species can also be found in the Soquel Canyon SMCA, which was established in September 2007 and covers 23.41 square miles. Located to the north of the Portuguese Ledge SMCA and south of Natural Bridges State Marine Reserve, it funnels cold, nutrient-rich waters into the Monterey Bay.

The Soquel Canyon SMCA captures an entire side-branch of the Monterey Submarine Canyon—from relatively shallow waters at the canyon’s head to very deep waters. Its rocky canyon walls and mud-and-sand canyon floor offer ideal habitat for rockfishes, including depleted species. The area contains communities of fragile deepwater corals and sponges, and it is also an important sea bird forage and whale feeding area.

Yelloweye-rockfish

Yelloweye rockfish

Scientists have observed several species of management concern, including bocaccio, cowcod and yelloweye rockfish, in relatively high numbers at the Soquel Canyon SMCA. In addition, they have noted the presence of deep-sea coral Lophelia.

Since the area is a favorite spot for the Santa Cruz, Moss Landing and Monterey fleets, fishing for salmon, mackerel and sardines in the waters above these MPAs is allowed.

Activities, such as kayaking, diving, snorkeling and swimming are also permitted at both SMCAs, unless otherwise restricted.

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