Apply for an Incidental Take Authorization
Apply for an Incidental Take Authorization
In reviewing the effects of activities, we use the best available information, which may include information from:
- The application
- Monitoring reports for previous, similar activities
- National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents
- Endangered Species Act consultation (when required)
- Additional literature or scientific input
To aid us in making the necessary findings and determinations, we then analyze how your proposed activities may specifically impact:
- The marine mammals in the area
- Their habitats
- The availability of marine mammals for subsistence uses (where relevant)
Submitting an Application
To obtain an Incidental Take Authorization (ITA), you must, by regulation, submit a request for authorization and an application to NOAA Fisheries' Office of Protected Resources. Please submit your request and application in both hard copy and electronically via email to:
Jolie Harrison, Division Chief
Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources,
1315 East-West Highway, F/PR1 Room 13805,
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Sample Letter for Submitting a Request for an Incidental Take Authorization:
Jolie Harrison, Division Chief
Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources,
1315 East-West Highway, F/PR1 Room 13805,
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Dear Ms. Harrison:
Please find the attached request for an incidental take authorization under section 101(a)(5) of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, as amended, for the take of marine mammals incidental to conducting [activity] by [applicant].
The [applicant] plans to conduct [activity] in the [specific areas or ecosystems] to [purpose] from [date range]. Because the [applicant's] activities have the potential to cause [type of taking] of marine mammals, we are requesting [an Incidental Harassment Authorization or regulations and Letters of Authorization].
We look forward to working with you and your staff to answer any questions you may have about this application. Please feel free to contact [applicant's primary contact and contact number/email] with additional questions.
What do I include in my application?
The ITA application must include 14 specific pieces of information, as required by regulation (50 CFR § 216.104(a)). When fully addressed, these 14 pieces of information are designed to provide a narrative that explains, in detail, your action, the nature of the action's anticipated effects on marine mammals, their habitats, and the availability of marine mammals for subsistence uses, and the methods of mitigating, monitoring, and reporting on the effects of the action. Please visit the links at the bottom of this page to see examples of current applications.
Section 1: Description of Specified Activity
“A detailed description of the specific activity or class of activities that can be expected to result in incidental taking of marine mammals.”
This section is, very basically, your opportunity to describe what you plan to do. You should deconstruct the activity into pieces that can be analyzed for their potential impacts to marine mammals. The narrative should include:
- A description of the types of equipment/devices used
- A description of how equipment is used and deployed
- How the equipment interacts with the physical and biological environment
- For acoustic sources, information on the frequency, source level, duty cycle, duration of use within a day of operation, directionality, and other important information about source characteristics and usage (a table is helpful if there are many sources).
- Specifically, ensure that the information needed for NMFS to independently identify auditory injury distances using the optional User Spreadsheet is included, as well.
Which components of the activity may result in take
Which components are not expected to result in take and the reasons why they will not likely result in take
Pictures and/or diagrams of the vessels and/or equipment to be used
Section 2: Dates, Duration, and Specified Geographic Region
"The date(s) and duration of such activity and the specified geographical region where it will occur."
Here, you should describe when and where you will conduct your activities, including duration and frequency of discrete actions within the year or five-year period (daily temporal information is provided in Section 1). The regulations [216.104(a)(2)] require discussion of a specified geographic region where the activities will occur. You should break down the activity by geographic location and duration as much as possible:
- Specify for the different components of your activity
- important seasonal issues
- If certain subsets of the activities conducted in certain areas or times will have notably different impacts than other components of an activity due to density or important behaviors of marine mammals in that area, specify the description of the activities within those areas and times to the degree possible.
- Include a high quality map(s) with the appropriate scale and latitude/longitude markings that clearly show the location of your proposed activity and any environmental aspects important to the analysis (e.g., pinniped haulouts, critical habitat designated under the Endangered Species Act, known feeding areas).
Include a shapefile, Google Earth kmz/kml, or ASCII text file of the project’s location and the footprint of the affected area (e.g., ensonified area or other) with lat/long data and the associated basic metadata with your electronic application submission. Note these data may be made public along with your application. Ask your assigned analyst for more detailed instructions on spatial data.
Section 3: Species and Numbers of Marine Mammals
"The species and numbers of marine mammals likely to be found within the activity area."
At this point, you will have fully described your action and can now begin to provide the information that will be used to analyze impacts to marine mammals. Here, you should describe/list all species or stocks of marine mammals found in the activity area at any time and include the following information:
All species or stocks that may be in or transit near the action area even if they may not be affected by the proposed activities.
If a particular species or stock is not expected to be incidentally taken by the activity, briefly explain that it is because the species may not occur in the action area at the specified time (e.g., seasonal distribution, pelagic or extralimital species, vagrants) or any other appropriate reason, and indicate that they will not be considered further in your application (if applicable).
- Estimates from NMFS Stock Assessment Reports or other literature, as we use this information to make preliminary negligible impact (and small numbers) determinations.
Below is a sample table you can include in this part of your application to quickly summarize the needed information for each marine mammal species, which includes special status under the Marine Mammal Protection Act or Endangered Species Act:
|Common Name||Stock||ESA/MMPA Status||Known Spatially/Temporally Important Areas||Stock Abundance||PBR||Annual M/SI||Stock Status Factors (UMEs, spills, etc.)|
Section 4: Affected Species Status and Distribution
"A description of the status and distribution, including seasonal distribution (when applicable), of the affected species or stocks of marine mammals likely to be affected by such activities."
Here, you provide us with additional information about the species that you expect to be taken (i.e., all species listed in your response to Section 3 and not subsequently ruled out). The additional information needed for each species for which take may occur includes:
- regional and seasonal distribution information
life history information as it relates to likely impacts (e.g., hearing sensitivity, communication ranges, prey sources, dive profiles)
density, where necessary to estimate impacts
- whether the species/stock is stable, decreasing, or increasing, and whether any other known, notable impacts to the species/stock exist (e.g., unusual mortality events (UME), oil spills)
- times and places of important behaviors that may occur during your proposed activities, such as
- hauling out
Section 5: Type of Incidental Taking Authorization Requested
"The type of incidental taking authorization that is being requested (i.e., takes by harassment only; takes by harassment, injury, and/or death) and the method of incidental taking."
You must describe the anticipated type (e.g., Level B harassment) and method (i.e., activity component) of taking.
For example, take could result from the following methods:
- exposure to underwater sound of different sorts
- interaction with gear or equipment
- vessel strikes
- visual disturbance
- other interactions
Types of incidental taking include:
- Level B harassment (i.e., behavioral disturbance or temporary [hearing] threshold shift)
- Level A harassment (i.e., permanent [hearing] threshold shift or other types of non-serious injury)
- serious injury or mortality
Be sure to specifically list if different activity components have the potential to result in different methods of take.
Section 6: Take Estimates for Marine Mammals
"By age, sex, and reproductive condition (if possible), the number of marine mammals (by species) that may be taken by each type of taking identified in Section 5, and the number of times such takings by each type of taking are likely to occur."
This section must specify the number of estimated takes by each type of taking (e.g., Level B harassment, lethal takes) and by activity type. You must provide a detailed description of how you arrived at your take estimates, including any assumptions included in the modeling or calculations. You may have differing amounts of information upon which to base take estimates, and you may use different methods; most important is that the methodology used is defensible and that the take estimate is not arbitrary. Narratives in this section typically consider:
Footprint/extent of activity
Density/abundance of marine mammals in the area, including the references for density information and the methods used to estimate density
Acoustic thresholds used, if applicable
The area(s) and duration(s) marine mammals are likely exposed to the stressor(s) (which for acoustic sources is typically informed by source type, level and other source characteristics, assumptions about the sound propagation qualities of the local environment, hearing capabilities of the exposed marine mammals, acoustic thresholds, and the manner in which the activity is conducted). Maps and/or figures depicting shutdown zones and Level B harassment zones are helpful.
Below is a sample table you can use to briefly summarize the information you used to quantify your take estimates:
|Species||Estimated Density||Level B Harassment||Level A Harassment||Total Take||Stock Abundance||
% of Stock (take / abundance * 100)
Descriptions of take should be context-specific when possible (especially important in situations involving known feeding aggregations or dependent young). For example, if there were an important time/area for calving, you should parse out number of takes that might occur at that time/place.
Also, NMFS may only authorize take of “small numbers” of marine mammals, and this determination is made by comparing the number of takes of individuals of a species or stock against their population abundance. Methods for estimating take typically consider the number of exposures above an acoustic threshold per day, which results in an estimate of the number of instances of take, not individuals. Sometimes this number is also representative of the number of individual marine mammals taken, but often some number of repeat takes of individuals are expected over the course of the activity, which means that the number of individual marine mammals taken is some degree lower than the instances of take. If repeat takes of individuals are expected and there is applicable data to help better quantify the number of individuals taken, that information and estimate should be provided as well.
In 2018, NOAA released updated marine mammal technical acoustic guidance which includes new dual thresholds for onset of permanent threshold shift (Level A harassment). The marine mammal technical acoustic guidance also includes an optional user spreadsheet tool that may be used by applicants to determine relevant isopleths. If you have used the optional spreadsheet tool to calculate take by Level A harassment, a copy of your user spreadsheet should be provided with your application.
Section 7: Anticipated Impact of the Activity
"The anticipated impact of the activity to the species or stock of marine mammal."
Here is where you place the take estimates from Section 6 into a meaningful context. Please make a case for why the predicted future impacts (described in Section 6) constitute a negligible impact to the relevant species or stocks (i.e., will not have an adverse impact on annual rates of recruitment or survival). You should describe how these individual impacts may or may not impact the long-term health and/or fitness of individuals or how the described takes may or may not affect the viability of the population, species, or stocks. To aid us in making a “negligible impact” determination, you should specifically address:
the number of serious injuries or mortalities (if anticipated)
the number and anticipated severity of any Level A harassment takes estimated/requested
the likely impacts of the Level B harassment takes estimated/requested, in consideration of
- number, especially as compared to the best available estimate of stock abundance
- nature and/or intensity of harassment
- duration of disruption, both within a day and the number of days across the year
context of the takes, including whether and how the take will impact important behaviors, such as feeding or reproduction (especially in areas and times where those behaviors are known to occur)
life history, behaviors, and vulnerabilities of the species or stock
status of species or stock
depleted, increasing, decreasing
whether there are UMEs, oil spills, or other stock-wide impacts
small, resident populations
known mortality from other sources in relation to the potential biological removal (PBR) level
- physiological effects
- how mitigation is expected to reduce the number and/or severity of takes or impacts to species or stocks and their habitat
If data do not exist in your precise activity location, please refer to information and data for the same type of activity in other regions.
Section 8: Anticipated Impacts on Subsistence Uses
"The anticipated impact of the activity on the availability of the species or stocks of marine mammals for subsistence uses." (This issue is only applicable in Alaska.)
You must provide support for the second determination we must reach prior to issuing an incidental take authorization: no unmitigable adverse impact on subsistence uses. Similar to in Section 7 above, you should describe why your actions would not constitute an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of marine mammals for subsistence uses. Instead of assessing impacts to the animals (which you have done in your response to Section 7), this Section assesses how your proposed activities have the potential to impact the ability of Alaska Natives to conduct subsistence hunts.
To aid us in making a no "unmitigable adverse impact" determination, please describe the following:
- description of the communities and specific hunts that may be affected
spatial and temporal overlap of your proposed activity with subsistence whaling or sealing areas and hunt
traditional knowledge of the subsistence communities as it relates to understanding the likely impacts of your activity on their hunt
- description of how the activity is or is not likely to:
- cause marine mammals to abandon or avoid typical subsistence whaling or sealing grounds
- displace subsistence users
- place physical barriers between the subsistence users and the marine mammals
Bowhead whale subsistence hunting: The “unmitigable adverse impact” finding is not directly related to an estimate of take and studies have shown that bowhead whales may react to sound below the behavioral harassment threshold for intermittent sound sources (i.e., 160 dB rms) in a manner that we do not consider a take, but which could potentially impact the availability of the animals for subsistence uses (e.g., a minor deflection in migration, which while not likely biologically significant, could increase the difficulty or danger for hunters pursuing the whales). Therefore, we typically assess impacts that could potentially occur to subsistence hunts if sounds down to 120 dB rms are received in the typical hunting grounds for bowhead whales. For that reason, we may ask applicants to provide the 120 dB isopleths for sound sources in applications for activities that occur in locations with active bowhead whale subsistence hunts.
If there are no impacts to subsistence uses: If your activity does not take place in or near a traditional Arctic subsistence hunting area and/or will not affect the availability of a species or stock of marine mammal for subsistence uses, indicate or describe why and conclude that “There are no relevant subsistence uses of marine mammals implicated by this action.”
Section 9: Anticipated Impacts on Habitat
"The anticipated impact of the activity upon the habitat of the marine mammal populations and the likelihood of restoration of the affected habitat."
Please describe what effects your activity may have on marine mammal habitat, including anticipated:
physical damage (whether temporary or permanent) to habitat (e.g., sedimentation, kelp removal, etc.)
impacts to marine mammal prey species (fish or invertebrate death, injury, or displacement)
impacts that will result in marine mammals avoiding or abandoning the area, whether permanently or temporarily
barriers to movement through or within constricted or important areas
any other anticipated impacts to habitat (e.g., chemical, sedimentation, chronic increase of background noise levels)
If you do not anticipate impacts to habitat, please explicitly state and provide appropriate justification as to why.
Section 10: Anticipated Effects of Habitat Impacts on Marine Mammals
"The anticipated impact of the loss or modification of the habitat on the marine mammal populations involved."
Here, you place the impacts to habitat described in the response to Section 9 into meaningful context. That is, what do those impacts to habitat mean for marine mammal populations? You should discuss if:
- part or all of a population is likely to stop using a significant portion of its habitat
- food sources may be permanently affected permanently or long-term (through destruction of substrate, noise, etc.)
This information should be brought together to conclude whether habitat may be negatively affected permanently or long-term and describe the significance (e.g., specific impacts for rookeries, mating grounds, feeding areas, etc.). Further, any impacts on habitat should be considered in the context of how they may affect the fitness of marine mammal species or stocks using them (e.g., inhibiting mating or rearing, removing predator refuge, increasing energetic demands via movement barriers).
Section 11: Mitigation Measures to Protect Marine Mammals and Their Habitat
"The availability and feasibility (economic and technological) of equipment, methods, and manner of conducting such activity or other means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact upon the affected species or stocks, their habitat, and their availability for subsistence uses, paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance."
This Section focuses on the proposed mitigation measures that you will implement to ensure that the effects of your activity are mitigated to the level of least practicable adverse impact, regardless of the nature or intensity of those effects. Our evaluation of potential mitigation measures considers the:
manner and degree to which the measures are expected to minimize the probability or severity of impacts to marine mammal species or stocks and their habitat
proven or likely effectiveness of the measures
practicability of implementation of the measures
You should clearly state and describe which mitigation measures you plan to implement and under what scenarios. Mitigation measures should have a reasonable likelihood of accomplishing or contributing to one or more of these general goals:
- Avoiding or minimizing injury or death of marine mammals
- Reducing the number, duration, and/or severity of marine mammal takes, especially in areas or times of biological importance (e.g., feeding or reproductive areas) and/or to stocks of particular concern
- Avoiding or minimizing adverse effects to marine mammal habitat, paying special attention to the
- food base
- activities that block or limit passage to or from biologically important areas
- permanent destruction of habitat
or temporary destruction/disturbance of habitat during a biologically important time
- For monitoring directly related to mitigation, increasing the probability of detecting marine mammals, thus allowing for more effective implementation of the mitigation
Where additional mitigation measures have been considered, but not proposed because of the impracticability of implementation (i.e., too costly, impractical, unsafe), it is helpful for applicants to include a discussion of the measures considered and why they were not adopted.
Section 12: Mitigation Measures to Protect Subsistence Uses
"Where the proposed activity would take place in or near a traditional Arctic subsistence hunting area and/or may affect the availability of a species or stock of marine mammal for Arctic subsistence uses, you must submit either a plan of cooperation (POC) or information that identifies what measures have been taken and/or will be taken to minimize any adverse effects on the availability of marine mammals for subsistence uses. " (Note that the MMPA requires we must ensure no “unmitigable adverse impacts” occur to any Alaska Native subsistence uses, so mitigation should be identified for any subsistence impacts in Alaska)
If you have concluded in Section 8 that there are no relevant subsistence uses of marine mammals impacted by this action, then indicate so and refer back to that discussion.
Otherwise, a POC, or other information indicating the measures that will be taken to minimize impact, must be included, and should incorporate the following:
- A statement that you have notified and provided the affected subsistence community with a description of your activity and a draft POC
- A schedule for meeting with the affected subsistence communities to discuss proposed activities and to resolve potential conflicts regarding any aspects of either the operation or the POC
- A description of what measures you have taken and/or will take to ensure that your proposed activities will not interfere with subsistence whaling or sealing
- Plans for continuing to meet with the affected communities, both prior to and while conducting the activity, to resolve conflicts and to notify the communities of any changes in the operation
- A description of the substantive input that has been received from the potentially affected communities and how it has been addressed
Section 13: Monitoring and Reporting
"The suggested means of accomplishing the necessary monitoring and reporting that will result in increased knowledge of the species, the level of taking or impacts on populations of marine mammals that are expected to be present while conducting activities and suggested means of minimizing burdens by coordinating such reporting requirements with other schemes already applicable to persons conducting such activity. Monitoring plans should include a description of the survey techniques that would be used to determine the movement and activity of marine mammals near the activity site(s) including migration and other habitat uses, such as feeding."
Your monitoring and reporting measures should increase knowledge of the species and enhance understanding of the level of taking or impacts on populations of marine mammals that are expected to be present while conducting activities.
Note that there are two types of monitoring: mitigation monitoring (i.e., observation/detection) required to implement specific mitigation measures, and general monitoring, which is performed in order to accomplish the objectives above. This Section is relevant to general monitoring.
Specifically, monitoring should improve our understanding of one or more of the following:
- Occurrence of marine mammal species in the area of the action (e.g., presence, abundance, distribution, and/or density of species)
- Nature, scope, or context of the likely exposure of marine mammals to potential stressor(s) (e.g., sound or visual stimuli), through better understanding of one or more of the following:
- action or environment (e.g., sound source characterization, propagation, ambient noise levels)
- affected species (e.g., life history or dive patterns)
- co-occurrence of marine mammals with the action (in whole or part)
- biological or behavioral context of exposure to the stressor(s) (e.g., age of exposed animals or known pupping, calving or feeding areas)
- Response to stressors (behaviorally or physiologically) associated with the action (in specific contexts when possible, e.g., at what distance or received level)
- How anticipated individual responses, to individual stressors or anticipated combinations of stressors, may impact either the long-term fitness and survival of:
- an individual or
- the population, species, or stock (e.g., through effects on annual rates of recruitment or survival)
- Effectiveness of mitigation and monitoring measures
Impacts of the activity on marine mammal habitat
Monitoring typically includes trained biological observers to observe animals, conduct counts, and record behaviors (including behavioral reactions to stimuli) before, during, and after the activity. Acoustic monitoring may also be a component of monitoring plans, for example to better detect submerged marine mammals or to measure source levels. Your monitoring plan should provide enough information about the goals, components, equipment, observers, and timing and spacing for NMFS to assess the nature and reliability of the data that will be produced. For example, following are examples of some of the basic components that should be addressed:
- What is the goal of the monitoring and what information will the results provide
- How many protected species observers will be employed (at minimum) and where and when might they be stationed (e.g., highest point on vessel, shore-based tower, one hour before operations, during, after)
- For acoustic monitoring
- what information is the plan designed to capture
- how many and what type of recorder(s) will be used (what will they be designed to detect)
- how will they be employed if monitoring marine mammals (e.g., moored, towed)
- what sources will they measure if conducting source level verification
Peer review of Monitoring Plans for Arctic activities with subsistence impacts: If your activity will occur in waters north of 60° N and may affect the availability of marine mammals for subsistence uses, the monitoring plan must be independently peer reviewed. A panel of independent scientists will be convened by NMFS to review the proposed action and the monitoring plan to evaluate the objectives and the likely effectiveness and to propose changes or additions to the plan, if appropriate. This requirement typically necessitates some additional time to accomplish, and we recommend that applicants submit applications late in the year preceding the open-water season in which the activity is expected to occur.
Reporting should discuss the implementation of the project (i.e., the activities that were actually conducted), the results of the monitoring program, and the implementation of the mitigation measures, including:
- Summary of the activity (dates, times, and specific locations, project actions, durations and sources actually completed) and any changes from the activities proposed in the application
- Summary of mitigation implementation
- Both detailed monitoring results and a comprehensive summary addressing goals of monitoring plan, including:
- Number, species, and any other relevant information regarding marine mammals observed and estimated exposed/taken during activities (this information is best provided in a table)
- Description of the observed behaviors (in both presence and absence of activities)
- Environmental conditions when observations were made
- Assessment of the implementation and effectiveness of prescribed mitigation and monitoring measures
Section 14: Suggested Means of Coordination
"Suggested means of learning of, encouraging, and coordinating research opportunities, plans, and activities relating to reducing such incidental taking and evaluating its effects."
You should briefly discuss how you intend to coordinate (if practicable) your activities and/or your monitoring, as well as whether and how you intend to share information with other organizations to minimize incidental take of, and increase knowledge of, marine mammals. NMFS’ interactive map can point you to nearby planned or authorized activities, as well as their associated mitigation and monitoring plans and reports.
Paperwork Reduction Act
All documentation, including the application, reports, and any other associated documents are considered public information and as such, are subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Notwithstanding any other provision of the law, no person is required to respond to, nor shall any person be subject to a penalty for failure to comply with, a collection of information subject to the requirements of the Paperwork Reduction Act, unless that collection of information displays a currently valid OMB Control Number.
OMB No. 0648-0151
Expires: June 30, 2017
Pending actions, issued authorizations, and applications for Incidental Take Authorizations can be found on the following pages:
- Explore Incidental Take Authorizations for military readiness activities
- Explore Incidental Take Authorizations for oil and gas activities
- Explore Incidental Take Authorizations for other energy (renewable and LNG) activities
- Explore Incidental Take Authorizations for research and other activities
- Explore Incidental Take Authorizations for construction activities
Read the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Find out more about marine mammal protection.
For more information on applying for authorization, please contact us.