Summer Fishing in La Jolla is Underway—Marine Protected Areas Still Off Limits

Valorie Hirsch | July 5, 2023

With the increase in fishing activity off the coast of La Jolla, restrictions remain within the area’s marine protected areas—know before you go.

three commercial fishing boats fishing in La Jolla on a cloudy day in calm waters

Being on the coast of California has its many perks. It is packed with activities, and being out in the open water fishing in La Jolla is a top-tier experience, especially in the summer months. From June to October, saltwater fishing fanatics head out during high fishing season when a greater variety of species of fish roam the waters, making summer fishing in La Jolla an exciting adventure.
Fishing in La Jolla, however, has some limitations that those fishing in La Jolla for the first time should be aware of before setting out for the day. We’ll give you the basics about the marine protected areas in La Jolla, what you need to know to have the best experience and avoid fines, and the kind of fish in season. 

Marine Protected Areas in La Jolla

There are four marine protected areas (MPAs) in La Jolla consisting of two State Marine Reserves (SMRs) and two State Marine Conservation Areas (SMCAs).

Marine protected area” (MPA) means a named, discrete geographic marine or estuarine area seaward of the high tide line or the mouth of a coastal river, including any area of intertidal or subtidal terrain, together with its overlying water and associated flora and fauna that has been designated by law, administrative action, or voter initiative to protect or conserve marine life and habitat.
-California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW)

The Matlahuayl SMR

The Matlahuayl SMR was established in 2012. It is a total of 1.04 square miles with depths up to 330 ft and covers 1.7 miles of shoreline.

Per the CDFW, the identified rationale for the Matlahuayl SMR is that it “Protects a unique sheltered cove and varied reef structure and associated species, kelp forest and contiguous sandy bottom interface at the head of the La Jolla Submarine Canyon’s southern branch. Current home to many large tame specimens of a wide variety of species.”

This area is also home to the La Jolla Underwater Park and Ecological Reserve, which lies within the protected reserve’s boundaries.

San Diego-Scripps Coastal SMCA

The San Diego-Scripps Coastal SMCA is a total of 1.45 square miles with depths up to 366 ft and spans 1.1 miles of shoreline.

The conservation area protects most of the unique Scripps Canyon branch of La Jolla’s submarine canyon system, as well as the marine life that thrives in the nutrient-rich water funneled to the surface from the canyon system.

South La Jolla SMR

The South La Jolla SMR is 5.04 square miles with depths up to 180 ft and spans 2.3 miles of shoreline.

South La Jolla SMR provides protection for more than five square miles of dense kelp forest, rocky and sandy intertidal areas, and rocky reefs. This MPA’s diverse habitats are home to spawning grunion, garibaldi, giant sea bass, and leopard sharks.

South La Jolla SMCA

The South La Jolla SMCA covers 2.46 square miles with depths of 147 to 275 ft.

South La Jolla SMCA provides protection for nearly two and a half square miles of sandy seafloor, dense kelp forests, and rocky reefs. These habitats are home to an array of creatures including abalone, yellowtail, brown pelicans, and California sea lions.

Prohibited activity

In an SMR, all recreational and/or commercial take of all marine resources is prohibited. Per the CDFW, “it is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living, geological, or cultural marine resource, except under a scientific collecting permit issued by the department pursuant to Section 650 or specific authorization from the commission for research, restoration, or monitoring purposes. (CCR T14, Section 632 (a)(1)(A)).”

Within the San Diego-Scripps Coastal SMCA, recreational take of coastal pelagic species, except market squid, are allowed by hook-and-line only per the CDFW. “Coastal pelagic species” (CPS), as defined for purposes of MPA regulations, include the following: northern anchovy, Pacific sardine, Pacific mackerel, jack mackerel, and market squid. 

CPS live in the water column, as opposed to living near the sea floor, at depths from the surface to 1,000 meters (547 fathoms) deep.
-NOAA Fisheries 

In the South La Jolla SMCA, only recreational take of pelagic fish is allowed by hook-and-line. It includes (northern anchovy, barracudas, billfishes, dorado (dolphinfish), Pacific herring, jack mackerel, Pacific mackerel, salmon, Pacific sardine, blue shark, salmon shark, shortfin mako shark, thresher shark, swordfish, tunas, Pacific bonito, and yellowtail).

The public can report poachers and polluters to CALTIP at 1-888-334-2258.

More information about La Jolla’s MPAs can be found here, as well as specific coordinates of the boundaries.

Why MPAs work

University of York’s Professor Callum Roberts calls MPAs “leaky,” meaning “they can leak benefits into the surrounding fishing grounds.” 

He says reserves “in a way starts switching on this kind of fountain of egg production sometimes tens, sometimes a hundredfold or more greater than the production from areas that are open to fishing.” 

Eggs and larvae are then carried by ocean currents, replenishing fishing grounds up to 62 miles away.

When you protect an area from fishing, what happens is that the fish live longer, they grow larger, they produce many many times more offspring.
-Callum Roberts. Professor, University of York.


When fishing in La Jolla, it’s vital that anglers know where they are allowed to fish, otherwise face steep fines. Officials at Wild Coast say that for first-time recreational fishing violators, warnings and education are more likely than a fine. 

However, fines for commercial fishing vessels can range from $5,000 to $40,000 as it’s expected that commercial fisheries understand where the boundaries are for each MPA and the regulations.

Fishing in La Jolla is in high season

Along with the many species of fish that are more abundant in the summer months, La Jolla is also seeing a bounty of market squid responsible for the increase in fishing rigs seen off the coast of La Jolla. 

Marine ecologist Ed Parnell told the La Jolla Light that “the squid are spawning and will be for a few weeks, “an event he says hasn’t happened “since about 2009 to 2012.” 

The proliferation of the market squid in La Jolla is also super attractive to the bigger species of fish that feed on squids, like tuna, cod, and yellowtail, making this a great time for recreational anglers to come out to try their luck.

How to experience fishing in La Jolla

If you don’t have your own vessel to launch, visitors can charter a boat through the many companies located in San Diego.

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