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Can Smartphones Help Stop Illegal Fishing in California?

The California Department of Fish and Game takes a mobile website listing marine protected areas to the high seas.

When venturing into the waters along California’s 1,100 miles of coastline, at times it can be difficult to determine which areas are protected — where fishing and other recreational activities are restricted or limited.

Now outdoorsmen who carry a mobile device can access a searchable Department of Fish and Game website that maps the locations of the marine protected areas (MPAs).

“In general, whether you’re a hunter or a fisher or anything else, you should be pretty well aware of where you plan to go and what the regulations are that apply for the species you’re trying to take before you ever step out the door,” said Eric Miller, a department staff programmer analyst.

But those who aren’t up to speed, the new website at  has been optimized for iPhone, iPad and Android.

The site allows fishermen, divers, ocean goers and the general public to search for current MPAs by name, county or general area. Officials said the site will be updated if and when new MPAs go into effect.

Through an interactive map, users can locate an MPA and find information about its boundaries and regulations. According to the department, some MPAs prohibit fishing or collecting of any kind — so the mobile site might help users avoid those mistakes.

“One of the cooler features of this website is that you can actually get your location and then see where you are on a map and then see if you are in an MPA, or if any MPAs are around you,” said Aaron Del Monte, a department staff programmer analyst.

For best results, the Department of Fish and Game recommends that the phone’s GPS feature is turned on.

Users who access the site out in the open ocean can track their current location through the site’s map function, with the mobile device’s GPS supporting the mobile site.

But can fishermen actually use the new mobile website in ocean waters?

Miller said the department tested connectivity to the site from various coastal locations and on different mobile devices. “We have a really big coast, so we figured there’s going to be good coverage in some places and no coverage in other places,” Miller said. “But it depends on your carrier.” More than half of those who tested the mobile site at sea were able to use the application and get a connection.

California isn’t the first state to cover its protected coastline with a mobile application. For example, last year the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources launched a text-a-tip program to allow the public to report saltwater fishing violators to the department via text messaging.

The map to the left, from the California Department of Fish and Game’s new mobile site, shows an area of the state’s coastline that contains marine protected areas.

The blue areas show the state marine conservation areas — areas set aside for “research, education and recreational activities, and certain commercial and recreational harvest of marine resources," according to the Department of Fish and Game.

The red areas show protected state marine reserve areas, where recreational and commercial fishing are prohibited, but where access and use (such as walking, swimming, boating and diving) may be allowed.

Editor's note: This story was updated to clarify the red and blue areas mapped on the app.