Marine Mammal Protection Act
Purpose and Organization
The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) was enacted in 1972 to protect and manage marine mammals and their products (e.g., the use of hides and meat). The primary authority for implementing the act belongs to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The FWS manages walruses; polar bears; sea otters; dugongs; marine otters; and West Indian, Amazonian, and West African manatees. The NMFS manages whales, porpoises, seals, and sea lions. The two agencies may issue permits under MMPA Section 104 (16 U.S.C. 1374) to persons, including federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), that authorize the taking or importing of specific species of marine mammals.
After the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Commerce approves a state's program, the state can take over responsibility for managing one or more marine mammals. Regulations governing the transfer of responsibility were published in May 1983.
The MMPA established a Marine Mammal Commission whose duties include reviewing laws and international conventions relating to marine mammals, studying the condition of these mammals, and recommending steps to federal officials (e.g., listing a species as endangered) that should be taken to protect marine mammals. Federal agencies are directed by MMPA Section 205 (16 U.S.C. 1405) to cooperate with the commission by permitting it to use their facilities or services.
DOE may become involved in complying with the MMPA if the department approves, licenses, or funds an energy project that will be sited in an area that will require or result in the removal, capture, hunting, or killing of marine mammals. In such cases, DOE will need a permit from either the FWS or NMFS specifying how the mammals should be handled. Also, any involvement by DOE in the direct research use of marine mammals (e.g., studies of energy development impacts on these animals) may require a permit.
Marine Mammal Protection Act Amendments of 1994
The MMPA was amended on April 30, 1994, by the Marine Mammal Protection Act Amendments of 1994 (Public Law 103-238). Some of the provisions of the amendments are summarized below.
- Improves the program to reduce the incidental taking of marine mammals during the course of commercial fishing operations. The new program replaces the interim exemption that had been in place since 1988.
- Statutorily defines two levels of harassment. Level A Harassment is defined as any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance that has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild. Level B Harassment is defined as harassment having the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering.
- States that the Secretary shall issue a general authorization and implementing regulations allowing bona fide scientific research that must limit its impacts to Level B harassment of a marine mammal.
- Adds a new category of permits for photography of marine mammals in the wild for educational or commercial purposes.
- Requires the Secretary of Commerce to convene a regional workshop for the Gulf of Maine to assess human-caused factors affecting the health and stability of that marine ecosystem. The goal of the workshop is to identify such factors and to recommend a program of research and management to restore or maintain that marine ecosystem and its key components.
- Encourages cooperative agreements with Alaska Native organizations and federal agencies to conserve marine mammals and provide co-management of subsistence use.
- Reauthorizes the Act until September 30, 1999.
Regulations implementing MMPA are found in Title 50 of the CFR, Parts 13, 18, 216, and 229.