Incidental Take Authorizations Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act
The Marine Mammal Protection Act requires that an incidental take authorization be obtained for the unintentional “take” of marine mammals incidental to activities including construction projects, scientific research projects, oil and gas development, and military excercises.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act, and its implementing regulations, allows, upon request, the incidental take of small numbers of marine mammals by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified geographic region. Incidental take is an unintentional, but not unexpected, "take". Taking is prohibited, with certain exceptions, under the MMPA.
The NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources authorizes the incidental take of marine mammals under the MMPA to U.S. citizens and U.S.-based entities, if we find that the taking would:
- Be of small numbers;
- Have no more than a "negligible impact" on those marine mammal species or stocks; and
- Not have an "unmitigable adverse impact" on the availability of the species or stock for subsistence uses.
Most incidental take authorizations have been issued for activities that produce underwater sound. Some of these activities include:
- Military sonar and training exercises.
- Oil and gas development, exploration, and production activities.
- Renewable energy.
- Scientific research projects.
- Construction projects.
**Note that the incidental take of marine mammals during commercial fishing operations is covered separately under the Marine Mammal Authorization Program.
What You Will Need
There are two types of incidental take authorizations: Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) and Letter of Authorization (LOA). You will need to determine which type of authorization is appropriate for your planned activity.
|If your action has potential to:||Then you should:|
|Result in "harassment" only (i.e., injury or disturbance)||Apply for an IHA (effective up to 1 year)|
|Result in harassment only (i.e., injury or disturbance)
AND is planned for multiple years
|Apply for an LOA* (effective up to 5 years)|
|Result in "serious injury" or mortality||Apply for an LOA* (effective up to 5 years)|
* For a Letter of Authorization, NOAA Fisheries must issue regulations. Regulations with an associated LOA may be issued for multi-year activities. These proposed actions must be well-planned with enough detailed information to allow for a robust analysis of the entire duration of your planned activity. Because LOAs can be valid for up to 5 consecutive years while an IHA can only be valid for 1 year, the rulemaking/LOA is often beneficial in reducing the administrative burden even when serious injury or mortality is not anticipated.
Please contact us for further info on determining which type of authorization is appropriate for your planned activity.
How to Apply
For more information on applying, please see the detailed application instructions. The collection of this information has been approved by the Office of Management and Budget, OMB Control Number 0648-0151.
Time frames for application:
For IHAs: apply 6-9 months in advance of the intended project start date. Some IHAs may take longer to process. Contact us for more project specific recommendations.
For rulemakings/LOAs: apply at least 1 year, preferably 18 months, in advance of the intended project start date. Some rules and LOAs may take longer to process. Contact us for more project specific recommendations.
What Happens After You Submit
We will contact you within 5 business days of receipt of your application. The following tables outline the main steps and key time frames of the authorization process. These timelines are approximations only, the time of issuance for a given authorization may vary.
|Actions in the IHA Process||Time|
|Review of application for adequacy and completeness||2-6 weeks*|
|Initial analysis, review draft NEPA (if available), preliminary determinations, and prepare proposed IHA package||1-3 months|
|Proposed IHA publishes in Federal Register for public comment period||30 calendar days|
|Review public comments, ESA/NEPA findings, final determinations, issuance or denial of IHA||1-3 months|
|Actions in the Rulemaking/LOA Process||Time|
|Review of application for adequacy and completeness||1-2 months*|
|Publish Notice of Receipt of Application in the Federal Register for public comment period||30 calendar days|
|Review public comments, review draft NEPA document, preliminary determinations, and prepare proposed rule||1-6 months|
|Proposed rule publishes in Federal Register for public comment period||30-60 calendar days|
|Review public comments, ESA/NEPA findings, final findings, and publish final rule||3-6 months|
|Issue LOA||30 calendar days after date of publication of final rule in the Federal Register|
*If your application is incomplete, it will be returned to you with an explanation. The formal processing of the request does not begin until the application is deemed adequate and complete (with enough information for us to analyze the potential impacts on marine mammals, their habitats, and on the availability of marine mammals for subsistence uses).
For activities that occur in Arctic waters where the activity has the potential to affect the availability of a species or stock of marine mammals for subsistence uses, your monitoring plan must be peer reviewed. We will typically conduct the peer review immediately before or during the public comment period for the proposed IHA or proposed rule (for LOAs).
For more information on applying, please see the detailed application instructions.
An Interactive Map can be viewed that shows recent and in process authorizations.
Pending actions, issued authorizations, and other relevant documents related to Incidental Take Authorizations can be found on the following pages:
- Incidental Take Authorizations for military readiness activities
- Incidental Take Authorizations for oil and gas activities
- Incidental Take Authorizations for other energy (renewable and LNG) activities
- Incidental Take Authorizations for research and other activities
- Incidental Take Authorizations for construction activities
Read the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Find out more about marine mammal protection.
For more information on issued authorizations or applying for authorization, please contact us.