Incidental Take Authorizations Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act
Take of marine mammals is prohibited under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, with certain exceptions. Provided certain findings are made, NOAA Fisheries may issue incidental take authorizations allowing the unintentional “take” of marine mammals incidental to specified activities, including construction projects, scientific research projects, oil and gas development, and military exercises.
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.
Further, we must prescribe the permissible methods of taking and other means of effecting the least practicable adverse impact on the affected species or stocks and their habitat (i.e., mitigation), paying particular attention to rookeries, mating grounds, and areas of similar significance, and on the availability of such species or stocks for taking for certain subsistence uses; and requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such takings.
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.
- Other energy (renewable and LNG) activities.
- 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 5-8 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 9 months, preferably 15 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 (see details of adequacy and completeness determination)||3-7 weeks*|
|Preparation of proposed IHA, initiation of NEPA and ESA processes as necessary||1-2 months|
|Publication of proposed IHA in Federal Register for public comment period||30 calendar days|
|Review and addressing of public comments, finalization of ESA and NEPA compliance, making final determinations, and issuance or denial of IHA||1-2 months|
|Actions in the Rulemaking/LOA Process||Time|
|Review of application for adequacy and completeness (see details of adequacy and completeness determination)||4-9 weeks*|
|Publication of Notice of Receipt of Application in the Federal Register for public comment period||30 calendar days|
|Review and addressing of public comments, preparation of proposed rule, initiation of NEPA and ESA processes as necessary||2-5 months|
|Publication of proposed rule in Federal Register for public comment period||30-60 calendar days|
|Review and addressing of public comments, finalization of ESA and NEPA compliance, making final determinations, and publication of notice of issuance or denial of final rule||2-5 months|
|Issuance of 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.
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).
Incidental Harassment Authorization Renewals
NOAA Fisheries is now implementing an expedited process (approximately 60 days) whereby the agency may, on a case-by-case basis, issue a one-time, one-year Renewal IHA, following notice to the public and an additional 15-day public comment period, provided certain conditions are met and the activities covered by the proposed Renewal consist of either:
- up to another year of identical, or nearly identical, activities as were covered by the initial IHA (or subset of those activities) or
- a subset of the activities covered by the initial IHA because the originally planned activities were not completed within the effective dates of the initial IHA and are planned for completion under the proposed Renewal.
This expedited process is designed for application to simple, relatively low-impact projects with little to no uncertainty regarding the impacts of the activity on marine mammals, including type and amount of expected take. Please consult with NOAA Fisheries prior to submitting a request for a Renewal to ensure the activity qualifies, as the process to obtain authorization will take longer if a Renewal is not appropriate.
NOAA Fisheries’ purpose in providing for Renewals is two-fold. First and foremost, the efficiencies in dealing with these simple, low-impact projects (which have already been fully described and analyzed in the initial IHA) frees up limited staff resources to increase focus on more complex and impactful projects and improve our ability to conserve and protect marine mammals by even better evaluating and utilizing new science, evolving technologies, and potential new mitigation measures. In addition, while the agency has always striven for efficiency in regulatory processes, recent directives have called for agencies to put processes in place that reduce regulatory timelines and the regulatory burden on the public. The Renewal process reduces the effort needed by both applicants and NOAA Fisheries' staff for simple, relatively low impact projects with little to no uncertainty regarding effects that have already been fully analyzed by the agency and considered by the public – with no reduction in protection to marine mammals.
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.