Permit Guide to Aquaculture in California

Welcome

Welcome to the Aquaculture Permit Guide. This Permit Guide was created as a guide to the complex permitting process for an Aquaculture project. This process  involves multiple state, federal, and local agencies. Organized in roughly chronological order, this Guide lays out the different agencies in charge of permits, registrations, and consultations your project will need in order to be compliant with State, Federal, local, and Tribal authorities.

The first step is to contact the State Aquaculture Coordinator, who will be your guide through the process. Please come to the discussion with as much detail about your project as possible, including possible location, operation scale, and species to be cultured. Each project is unique and will require different considerations but the lists below capture much of the regulatory process. All facilities used for the controlled growing and harvesting of aquatic plants and animals in the State, whether on public or private lands, must be registered annually. All forms of aquatic plants, fish, and shellfish are subject to approval by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and/or the Fish and Game Commission. More detail about different regulations, species, and locations can be found on the CDFW Aquaculture page.

Private Land

Fish and Game Commission, California Department of Fish & Wildlife

The Department of Fish & Wildlife is in charge of registering Aquaculture ventures, as well as monitoring permitting for imports. 

Aquaculture Registration Aquaculture Registration is required for each facility devoted to the propagation, cultivation, maintenance, and harvesting of fish, shellfish and plants in marine, brackish, and fresh water. 
Importation Permit
State law requires an Importation Permit to import most live aquatic plants and animals. 

      Wild Broodstock Collection Permit      If initial stocks for the facility will originate from the wild, you'll need this permit. Additional (separate) approvals from the Fish and Game Commission are required for Sturgeon or Striped Bass collections.


For more information, explore the
CDFW Aquaculture website.

California Department of Public Health

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) regulates the growing, harvesting, processing, and marketing of bivalve shellfish (including oysters, mussels, clams, and scallops) intended for sale for human consumption. CDPH participates in the National Sanitation Shellfish Program (NSSP). The NSSP is the federal and state cooperative program recognized by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC), for the sanitary control of shellfish. The purpose of the NSSP is to promote and improve the sanitation of shellfish moving in interstate commerce through federal and state cooperation and uniformity of State shellfish programs. Within CDPH, the shellfish sanitation program is divided into two main components: Preharvest (administered under Environmental Management Branch) and Postharvest (administered under Food and Drug Branch).

Preharvest  
Sanitary Survey, Classification,
and Certification of Growing Area
The first step is to contact Eric Trevena at the CDHP with your detailed plan in order to begin the process of a sanitary survey. The classification of the location of your proposed lease will depend on the water quality of the area. The applicant is responsible for collecting water quality samples, as directed by the CDPH. Depending on the classification of the area, a management plan may be necessary. A management plan will involve coordination between local government, waste water treatment, and county health representatives to insure proper water quality is maintained. The plan will include ongoing requirements, such as record keeping, continued sampling, and closure response. Be sure to read the detailed step-by-step process document provided by CDPH as you begin your planning process. 
Postharvest  
       Shellfish Handling and Marketing        
Certificate  

Firms that process, handle, and distribute bivalve shellfish must obtain a Shellfish Handling and Marketing Certificate from the Food and Drug Branch of CDPH. This includes businesses involved in the distribution of shellfish that do not take physical possession of the shellfish.

 Shellfish Dealer Certification  

In addition, shellfish businesses shipping products into interstate commerce must be certified as a shellfish dealer by Food and Drug Branch for listing on the Interstate Certified Shellfish Shippers List (ICSSL).  In order to be certified, persons requesting certification must meet the NSSP Model Ordinance (MO) requirements.  The MO is located in the Guide for the Control of Molluscan Shellfish.

General Seafood Processing  
Processed Food Registration Manufacturers, processors, and distributors of seafood products, which include all fish and fishery products intended for human consumption, are required to obtain a Processed Food Registration. 


Learn more about the California Department of Public Health's Seafood & Shellfish Safety program.

Learn about the Preharvest Shellfish Protection and Marine Biotoxin Monitoring Program.

Learn more about general shellfish sanitation and current ISSC publications and reports here.

California State Water Resource Control Board

If your operation plans to discharge wastewater and/or pollutants into surface waters and ground waters, you may need a permit from your Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) under one or more of the following programs. Find your Region here.

Water Quality Certification
The Water Quality Certification regulates discharges of fill and dredged material when disturbing surface waters and is informed by Section 401 of the Clean Water Act and the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act. Contact RWQCB staff for more information.

National Pollutant Discharge
     Elimination System (NPDES) Permit      
The NPDES Permit Program controls surface water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants into surface waters of the United States. NPDES permits are also referred to as waste discharge requirements (WDRs) that regulate discharges to surface waters and are authorized by the Clean Water Act (CWA). Contact RWQCB Staff for more information.
Waste Discharge Requirements
Program
 

The Land Disposal Waste Discharge Requirements Program controls groundwater pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants into land and ground waters, and authorized by California’s Water Code and Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act. Contact RWQCB Staff for more information.



Local Jurisdictions (Counties, Harbor & Special Districts)

You may be required to submit other permits to local and state agencies concerning other aspects of your aquaculture business, including business licensing and fire prevention. Explore the permitting tool at GoBiz to learn about other permits you may need and remember to contact the Aquaculture Program to discuss your project's specific needs. 

Public Land/Waters

Fish and Game Commission, California Department of Fish & Wildlife

The Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) is in charge of administering leases for state water bottoms, as well as registering Aquaculture ventures, as well as monitoring permitting for imports. In some cases, CDFW may not be the lead agency for your water bottom lease; your local harbor district or a federal agency may administer the lease instead. Contact the Aquaculture Program to receive guidance.

Lease of State Water Bottom
for Aquaculture
Lease of public trust lands or water column for aquaculture use requires California Fish and Game Commission to find that the lease is in the public's interest.
Aquaculture Registration
Aquaculture Registration is required for each facility devoted to the propagation, cultivation, maintenance, and harvesting of fish, shellfish and plants in marine, brackish, and fresh water.
 
Importation Permit State law requires an Importation Permit to import most live aquatic plants and animals. 
               Wild Broodstock Collection Permit          
If initial stocks for the facility will originate from the wild, you'll need this permit. Additional (separate) approvals from the Fish and Game Commission are required for Sturgeon or Striped Bass collections.


A successful permit application will require a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Initial Study to determine of what kinds of impacts the project may have. Learn more about CEQA requirements.

For more information, explore the
CDFW Aquaculture website.

California Coastal Commission

The California Coastal Commission is charged with regulating development in the coastal zone, through the issuance of a Coastal Development Permit, issued by the Commission or local government. The California Coastal Act defines development broadly, so that any activity involving a structure in the water or change of water use must be permitted. 

             Coastal Development Permit                For projects in state waters, a coastal development permit application detailing the proposed activity should be completed and submitted for review. 
Consistency Certifications
Projects in federal waters may also be subject to Commission review. Those considering such projects should review the Federal Consistency Program page for guidance and contact staff of the Energy, Ocean Resources, and Federal Consistency Division at the Commission’s headquarters office in San Francisco.


For questions, general inquiries, or assistance with completing application materials, please contact staff at the Commission’s headquarters office in San Francisco. 

California State Lands Commission

The State Lands Commission has jurisdiction and management authority over all tidelands and submerged lands, and the beds of navigable lakes and waterways. These lands are subject to the protections of the common law Public Trust, which means the State holds these lands for the benefit of all people of the State for statewide Public Trust purposes, which include but are not limited to waterborne commerce, navigation, fisheries, water-related recreation, habitat preservation, and open space. On the coast, Commission jurisdiction extends from the mean high tide line to the State-Federal boundary 3 miles from shore. On navigable non-tidal waterways, including lakes, Commission jurisdiction extends to the ordinary low-water mark. 

It is important to note that because in most cases the jurisdictional boundary is ambulatory, determining the boundary is not obvious. The Commission should be consulted to determine the State’s ownership, ensure the proposed project does not interfere with other Public Trust resources and values, and is in the best interest of the State. The Office of Aquaculture will facilitate this conversation. Learn more about the State Lands Commission

United States Army Corps of Engineers

The United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Regulatory Program administers and enforces Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, and Section 404 of the Clean Water Act of 1972, as amended.  Under Section 10, a Corps permit is required for work or structures in, over, or under navigable waters of the United States.  Under Section 404, a Corps permit is required for the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States.  Many water bodies and wetlands in the nation are waters of the United States and are subject to the Corps' regulatory authority. The USACE may be the lead federal agency for some aquaculture projects, and will consult on all projects under its jurisdiction. Learn more about the Army Corps

               Nationwide Permit 48, Standard Individual Permits (SIP),              
or Letters of Permission (LOP) 
Which permit you need is dependent on the project and the USACE's discretion. The State Coordinator will help facilitate this process.

California Department of Public Health

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) regulates the growing, harvesting, processing, and marketing of bivalve shellfish (including oysters, mussels, clams, and scallops) intended for sale for human consumption. CDPH participates in the National Sanitation Shellfish Program (NSSP). The NSSP is the federal and state cooperative program recognized by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC), for the sanitary control of shellfish. The purpose of the NSSP is to promote and improve the sanitation of shellfish moving in interstate commerce through federal and state cooperation and uniformity of State shellfish programs. Within CDPH, the shellfish sanitation program is divided into two main components: Preharvest (administered under Environmental Management Branch) and Postharvest (administered under Food and Drug Branch).

Preharvest  
Sanitary Survey, Classification,
and Certification of Growing Area
The first step is to contact Eric Trevena at the CDHP with your detailed plan in order to begin the process of a sanitary survey. The classification of the location of your proposed lease will depend on the water quality of the area. The applicant is responsible for collecting water quality samples, as directed by the CDPH. Depending on the classification of the area, a management plan may be necessary. A management plan will involve coordination between local government, waste water treatment, and county health representatives to insure proper water quality is maintained. The plan will include ongoing requirements, such as record keeping, continued sampling, and closure response. Be sure to read the detailed step-by-step process document provided by CDPH as you begin your planning process. 
Postharvest  
       Shellfish Handling and Marketing        
Certificate  

Firms that process, handle, and distribute bivalve shellfish must obtain a Shellfish Handling and Marketing Certificate from the Food and Drug Branch of CDPH. This includes businesses involved in the distribution of shellfish that do not take physical possession of the shellfish.

 Shellfish Dealer Certification  

In addition, shellfish businesses shipping products into interstate commerce must be certified as a shellfish dealer by Food and Drug Branch for listing on the Interstate Certified Shellfish Shippers List (ICSSL).  In order to be certified, persons requesting certification must meet the NSSP Model Ordinance (MO) requirements.  The MO is located in the Guide for the Control of Molluscan Shellfish.

General Seafood Processing  
Processed Food Registration Manufacturers, processors, and distributors of seafood products, which include all fish and fishery products intended for human consumption, are required to obtain a Processed Food Registration. 


Learn more about the California Department of Public Health's Seafood & Shellfish Safety program.

Learn about the Preharvest Shellfish Protection and Marine Biotoxin Monitoring Program.

Learn more about general shellfish sanitation and current ISSC publications and reports here.

California State Water Resource Control Board

If your operation plans to discharge wastewater and/or pollutants into surface waters and ground waters, you may need a permit from your Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) under one or more of the following programs. Find your Region here.

Water Quality Certification
The Water Quality Certification regulates discharges of fill and dredged material when disturbing surface waters and is informed by Section 401 of the Clean Water Act and the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act. Contact RWQCB staff for more information.

National Pollutant Discharge
     Elimination System (NPDES) Permit      
The NPDES Permit Program controls surface water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants into surface waters of the United States. NPDES permits are also referred to as waste discharge requirements (WDRs) that regulate discharges to surface waters and are authorized by the Clean Water Act (CWA). Contact RWQCB Staff for more information.
Waste Discharge Requirements
Program
 

The Land Disposal Waste Discharge Requirements Program controls groundwater pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants into land and ground waters, and authorized by California’s Water Code and Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act. Contact RWQCB Staff for more information.



Tribal Governments

Tribal governments will need to be consulted in order to establish if the proposed project is on or near tribal lands of importance. New CEQA guidelines require communication and consideration from tribes, both federally recognized and not, for all projects. The Office of Aquaculture and the Department of Fish & Wildlife Tribal Liaison will assist in coordinating these consultations. Read more about this topic on the CDFW's website.

United States Coast Guard

The US Coast Guard requires that aquaculture-related structures located in navigable waters be marked to ensure navigational safety. All aquaculture leases shall be clearly marked with a minimum of one buoy anchored on each of the four corners and one buoy, possessing radar reflecting capabilities, anchored in the center of each aquaculture lease.

                     Private Aids to Navigation                        Aquaculture lease areas must apply for approval of the buoys and markings to be established on aquaculture leases.

NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the subdivision of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) will consult on all public land leases, even in state waters, pursuant to several Acts concerned with protected resources. No permits will be issued, but all leases and permits must be in compliance with the provisions of the Acts below.

Endangered Species Act  The ESA requires a Section 7 consultation , which assess the possible harm or take of listed wildlife and plant species, including certain marine species.
Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA)
Interactions with marine mammals are of concern and projects must consult with the Protected Resources division to minimize impact.

        Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and         
    Management Act
Designates and protects essential fish habitat (EFH) via a requirement for interagency consultation. 

 

Find out more about federal developments in Aquaculture on the West Coast.

Local Jurisdictions (Counties, Harbor & Special Districts)

You may be required to submit other permits to local and state agencies concerning other aspects of your aquaculture business, including business licensing and fire prevention. Explore the permitting tool at GoBiz to learn about other permits you may need and remember to contact the Aquaculture Program to discuss your project's specific needs.