California Ballast Water Management

7th March 2019

California’s ballast water management regulations are codified in the Marine Invasive Species Act (“MISA”) which can be found within the California Public Resources Code (“PRC”) and title 2 California Code of Regulations (“CCR”).  These regulations are enforced by the California State Lands Commission.

Applying to all vessels of 300gt and above, the regulations provide that vessels conducting ballast water exchanges must do so at a distance from land dependant upon the vessel’s last port of call:

a) Vessels calling at a California port or place arriving from a port or place located outside of the Pacific Coast Region* (“PCR”), and carrying ballast water sourced outside the PCR, are to conduct ballast water exchange at least 200nm from any land at a depth of at least 2,000m.

b) Vessels arriving at a California port or place from within the PCR, and carrying ballast water sourced from the PCR, are required to conduct ballast water exchange at least 50nm from any land at a depth of at least 200m.




*PCR is defined as all coastal waters on the Pacific Coast of North American east of 154 degrees W longitude and north of 25 degrees N latitude excluding the Gulf of California.

Vessels are requirement to submit a US Coast Guard Ballast Water Management Report to the California State Lands Commission, which is additional to any report submitted to the National Ballast Information Clearinghouse. Further details can be found in the MISP – Reporting and Recordkeeping Requirements. There is also a MISP Annual Vessel Reporting Form which has to be submitted 24 hours in advance of the vessel’s first arrival at a Californian port for each calendar year.

Full details of the requirements can be found in the MISP – California’s Management Requirements for Ballast Water and Biofouling.

The CCR includes a recently revised definition of land, being “material of the earth, whether soil, rock, or other substances that sit landward of, or at an elevation higher than the ocean’s mean high-tide line.  Land includes rock outcroppings or islands located offshore.  Small islands and outcroppings such as Isla Socorro, Isla San Benedicto, Rocas Alijos and Isla Guadalupe therefore fall within the definition of land.  Ballast water exchanges must therefore be conducted in line with the abovementioned distances from these outcroppings to avoid being in breach of MISA.  In some instances, this will require exchanges to take place over 350nm from the coast of Baja California.

Fines for breaching these regulations are levied on a “per tank” basis and therefore can be severe.  Ranging from US$5,000 per tank for a minor violation (exchange taking place between 180-200nm from land) to US$27,500 per tank for a major violation (no exchange taking place).

Vessels calling at California ports should therefore ensure they have prepared a ballast water management plan to comply with the MISA and are advised to carefully consult up-to-date charts to ensure that their plan takes into account the location of rock outcroppings.

California will be introducing ever stricter ballast water discharge performance standards, with interim performance standards scheduled to be implemented on 1st January 2020. The final ballast water discharge performance standard, which will require zero detectable living organisms for all organism size classes, is due to be implemented on 1st January 2030.

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