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.
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.
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
Effective April 20, 2023
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:
- Alaska Authorization Certificate (PDF, 3 pages) and Letter to Permit Holders (PDF, 2 pages)
- New England/Mid-Atlantic Authorization Certificate (PDF, 2 pages)
- Pacific Islands/Hawaii
- Southeast MMAP Authorization Certificate (PDF, 1 page)
- West Coast
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.
*Please note: The New England/Mid-Atlantic region will be transitioning to electronic access for these certificates and will NOT be doing formal certificate mailings. Please download the New England/Mid-Atlantic region certificate above and retain either an accessible electronic or printed copy on your vessel. If you are unable to access these for any reason, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 978-281-9120.
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.
Complete and electronically submit the online mortality/injury reporting electronic form.
(1) Complete the mortality/injury reporting paper form:
(2) Return it to NOAA Fisheries by:
- E-mail to email@example.com as an attachment.
- Fax to (301) 713-0376.
- Mail (postage-paid) to:
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:
- 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 proposed guidelines have been released for public comment.
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
Alaska Marine Mammal Authorization Program
P.O. Box 21668
709 West 9th Street
Juneau, AK 99802
New England/Mid-Atlantic Region
Greater Atlantic Marine Mammal Authorization Program
55 Great Republic Drive
Gloucester, MA 01930-2298
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
Pacific Islands Region
1845 Wasp Boulevard, Building 176
Honolulu, HI 98618
- Current List of Fisheries
- Fishing Gear and Risks to Protected Species
- Fishery Observers
- Summary of the Technical Expert Workshop on Marine Mammal Non-Lethal Deterrents (February 2015) (PDF)
- Marine Mammal Protection Act
- Reporting Form: Death/Injury of a Marine Mammal During Commercial Fishing Operations