Marine Mammal Protection Act
Official Citation
16 U.S.C. §§1361-1383b, 1401-1406, 1411-1421h
ELR Citation
ELR STAT. MMPA §§2-410
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Statute Outline


The statute establishes a moratorium on the taking and importation of marine mammals and marine mammal products. [MMPA §101(a)]

During the moratorium, no permits may be issued for taking or importing marine mammals. [MMPA §101(a)]

Exceptions to the moratorium include permits for scientific research, public display, enhancing the survival or recovery of a species or stock, allowable incidental takings, exemptions for subsistence and traditional activities by Alaskan natives, and hardship exemptions. [MMPA §101]

Prohibited acts and permits

Except as specifically allowed under the statute or an international agreement to which the United States is a party, it is unlawful for any person to take, possess, or trade a marine mammal or marine mammal product, or to use any method of commercial fishing in violation of regulations issued under the statute. [MMPA §102(a)]

The statute defines “take” to include harass, hunt, capture, or kill, or to attempt to do any of these things. [MMPA §3(13)]

It is unlawful for any person or vessel to take any species of whale incident to commercial whaling in waters subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. [MMPA §102(f)]

The Secretary of the department in which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is operating or the Secretary of the Interior, depending on their respective functions, shall issue regulations concerning the taking and importation of marine mammals that are necessary and appropriate to ensure that such taking will not be to the disadvantage of the species and population stocks of the animals. [MMPA §103]

The statute establishes the procedures by which the Secretary concerned shall issue and administer permits for taking and importation, including issuing general permits and charging a reasonable fee. [MMPA §104]

The statute establishes civil and criminal penalties for violations, and authorizes searches, seizures of unlawfully taken marine mammals and personal property, and arrests for purposes of enforcement. [MMPA §§105, 106, 107]

The Secretary concerned shall initiate negotiations for the development of international agreements for the protection and conservation of marine mammals. [MMPA §108]

The Secretary concerned shall transfer management authority for a marine mammal species to a state if the state has an adequate program for the conservation and management of the species. No state may enforce any state law or regulation related to the taking of a marine mammal unless the Secretary has transferred management authority to the state. [MMPA §109]

Interim exemption for commercial fisheries

The owner of each vessel holding a temporary exemption from the statute’s limitations on incidental takings of marine mammals in the course of commercial fishing shall regularly report to the Secretary concerned on the vessel’s incidental takings. [MMPA §114(c)] On the basis of this and other information, the Secretary shall submit to Congress recommendations for a regime to govern incidental takings after April 1, 1994. [MMPA §114(l)(4)]

Conservation plans

The Secretary concerned shall prepare conservation plans for any species or stock of marine mammal that he or she designates as depleted, unless he or she determines that the development of a plan will not promote the conservation of the species or stock. [MMPA §115(b)(1)(C)]

Marine Mammal Commission

The statute establishes the Marine Mammal Commission to study and report on the condition of marine mammal stocks, methods for their protection and conservation, humane means of taking marine mammals, and all applications for permits for scientific research, public display, or enhancing the survival or recovery of a species or stock. [MMPA §§201, 202]

Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program

The statute authorizes the Secretary concerned to enter into stranding response agreements with any person to take marine mammals in response to a “stranding.” [MMPA §303]

The Secretary concerned shall establish a working group and develop a contingency plan to deal with marine mammal unusual mortality events. [MMPA §304]

Moratorium on certain tuna harvesting practices

The statute makes it unlawful for any person to sell, purchase, or transport in the United States any tuna or tuna product that is not “dolphin safe.” [MMPA §307]

The Secretary of State may enter into international agreements to establish a global moratorium to prohibit harvesting tuna with purse seine nets deployed in or to encircle dolphins or other marine mammals. [MMPA §302] The statute authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to ban the importation of one or more fish or fish products from a country that fails to live up to its obligation under such agreements. [MMPA §305(b)]

Full Statute

The statute is available from the U.S. Government Publishing Office: