Marine Mammal Authorization Program

The Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits killing or injuring marine mammals except under certain circumstances. The Marine Mammal Authorization Program provides an annual exemption for accidentally killing or injuring marine mammals—referred to as incidental take—during commercial fishing operations. This exemption does not include marine mammal stocks listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act


If you own a commercial fishing vessel or non-vessel gear that operates in a Category I or II fishery, you must obtain a marine mammal authorization certificate each year from NOAA Fisheries or its designated agent. This certificate legally authorizes you to incidentally take a marine mammal in a commercial fishery.

Fisheries Categories

The Marine Mammal Protection Act requires that all commercial fisheries be classified by the level of marine mammal death and serious injury that they cause incidentally:

  • Category I designates fisheries with frequent deaths and serious injuries incidental to commercial fishing.

  • Category II designates fisheries with occasional deaths and serious injuries.

  • Category III designates fisheries with a remote likelihood or no known deaths or serious injuries.

You can find your category in the List of Fisheries on our website and in the Federal Register. The online list is reviewed and revised each year. We keep the current list in place on our website until next year's final rule goes into effect.

*Note that your registration requirement may change from one year to the next.

Current List of Fisheries

Final 2018 List of Fisheries (83 FR 5349)

Effective March 9, 2018

Obtaining a Marine Mammal Authorization Certificate

If you have a state and/or federal fishing license, you are not required to submit a Marine Mammal Authorization Program registration/renewal form. Your registration is automatic, and will be automatically renewed. You should receive an authorization certificate in the mail.

You may also download and print your certificate from your Regional Office:

If you do not receive your authorization certificate, please contact your NOAA Fisheries regional office (see Contacts section below).

If you do not have a state or federal fishing license, you should contact your NOAA Fisheries regional office (see Contacts section below) for more information on how to submit an Marine Mammal Authorization Program registration/renewal form and the $25 processing fee to receive or renew your authorization certificates.

Reporting a Death or Injury of a Marine Mammal During Commercial Fishing Operations

You must, regardless of your category, report every incidental death or injury of marine mammals that results from commercial fishing operations. If you do not report within 48 hours, you may be subject to suspension, revocation, or denial of a marine mammal authorization certificate.

Online Form

Complete and electronically submit the online mortality/injury reporting electronic form.

Printed Form

(1) Complete the mortality/injury reporting paper form:

(2) Return it to NOAA Fisheries by:

      National Marine Fisheries Service

      Office of Protected Resources

      1315 East-West Highway

      Silver Spring, MD 20910

All reports must be completed within 48 hours of the end of a fishing trip in which the death or serious injury occurred. For non-vessel fisheries, reports must be submitted within 48 hours of the death or serious injury itself.

If I am in a Category III fishery, what interactions must I report?

All vessel owners/operators in Category I, II, and III fisheries must report if they incidentally kill or injure a marine mammal while fishing. While you are not required to obtain an authorization certificate for incidental takes if you only participate in a Category III fishery, any incidental take you do have will not be authorized unless you report it.

Am I required to report an interaction if there was a fishery observer on board?

Yes. All vessel owners/operators must report if they incidentally kill or injure a marine mammal while fishing, even if a fishery observer was on board.

How do I know if I've injured a marine mammal?

We have defined a marine mammal injury as a wound or other physical harm. Signs of injury may include:

  • Bleeding.

  • Gear ingestion.

  • Loss of or damage to an appendage or jaw.

  • Inability to use one or more appendages.

  • Asymmetry in the shape of the body or body position.

  • Any swelling or hemorrhage (bruising).

  • Laceration (deep cut).

  • Puncture or rupture of eyeball.

  • Listlessness or inability to defend itself.

  • Inability to swim or dive after release from fishing gear.

  • Signs of equilibrium imbalance.

  • Released trailing gear/gear perforating the body.

All injuries during commercial fishing operations must be reported.

Additional Information for Vessel Owners and Operators


My authorization certificate, in combination with my fishing permit, allows the incidental take of marine mammals. What does “incidental take” mean?

Incidental take under the Marine Mammal Protection Act is non-intentional, accidental death or injury that occurs when you are carrying out an otherwise lawful activity, such as permitted fishing. If you incidentally kill or injure a marine mammal during commercial fishing operations, you must file a report with NOAA Fisheries within 48 hours of the end of the fishing trip—or, for non-vessel fisheries, within 48 hours of the death/injury.

When is it permissible to kill a marine mammal?

Killing a marine mammal, also known as intentional lethal take, is strictly prohibited, and only allowed if imminently necessary for self-defense or to save a person’s life. If a marine mammal is killed in self-defense or to save a person’s life, you must file a mortality/injury report (see above) with NOAA Fisheries.

May I prevent (deter) marine mammals from damaging my fishing gear and catch?

Yes, section 101(a)(4)(A) of the Marine Mammal Protection Act allows you to deter marine mammals from damaging your fishing gear or catch, as long as the measures you take do not result in their death or serious injury. NOAA Fisheries is developing national guidelines, under section 101(a)(4)(B), on safe measures to deter marine mammals. The guidelines will be released for public comment before they are finalized.

Fishery Observers

NOAA Fisheries has the authority to place a fishery observer on any vessel working in a Category I or II fishery, and on vessels participating in Category III under certain circumstances.

Observer programs help us:

  • Get reliable estimates of incidental death and serious injury of marine mammals.

  • Determine the reliability of reports from vessel owners and operators.

  • Identify changes in fishing methods or technology that may increase or decrease incidental death or serious injury.

When an observer is needed, we notify fishing industry representatives and hold public meetings in advance whenever possible. Any vessel notified that it must carry an observer must comply with regulations on:

  • Advance notification of anticipated fishing activity.

  • Cooperation with the observer in the performance of the observer’s duties.

  • When feasible, collecting and keeping marine mammals incidentally killed.

Vessel owners may wish to consider liability insurance to protect themselves if an accident occurs and an observer is ill, disabled, injured, or killed in the course of service.


For more information on the Marine Mammal Authorization Program, or for hard copies of the mortality/injury reporting form, contact the office nearest you:

Headquarters—Washington, D.C., area

NMFS Office of Protected Resources

1315 East-West Highway

Silver Spring, MD 20910

(301) 427-8402


Alaska Region

Alaska Marine Mammal Authorization Program

P.O. Box 21668

709 West 9th Street

Juneau, AK 99802

(907) 586-7240


New England/Mid-Atlantic Region

Greater Atlantic Marine Mammal Authorization Program

55 Great Republic Drive

Gloucester, MA 01930-2298

(978) 282-8462


Southeast Region

Marine Mammal Authorization Program hotline: (727) 209-5952

Southeast Marine Mammal Authorization Program

263 13th Avenue South

St. Petersburg, FL 33701


    West Coast Region

    West Coast Marine Mammal Authorization Program

    7600 Sand Point Way, NE

    Seattle, WA 98115

    (206) 526-6155

    E-mail: (California)

    E-mail: (Washington/Oregon)

    Pacific Islands Region

    Pacific Islands Permit Office

    1845 Wasp Boulevard, Building 176

    Honolulu, HI 98618

    (808) 725-5144


    More Information