The 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act established a Federal responsibility to conserve marine mammals with management vested in the Department of Interior for sea otter, walrus, polar bear, dugong, and manatee. The Department of Commerce is responsible for cetaceans and pinnipeds, other than the walrus.
With certain specified exceptions, the Act establishes a moratorium on the taking and importation of marine mammals as well as products taken from them, and establishes procedures for waiving the moratorium and transferring management responsibility to the States.
The law authorized the establishment of a Marine Mammal Commission with specific advisory and research duties.
Annual reports to Congress by the Departments of Interior and Commerce and the Marine Mammal Commission are mandated.
The 1972 law exempted Indians, Aleut, and Eskimos (who dwell on the coast of the North Pacific Ocean) from the moratorium on taking provided that taking was conducted for the sake of subsistence or for the purpose of creating and selling authentic native articles of handicraft and clothing. In addition, the law stipulated conditions under which the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior could issue permits to take marine mammals for the sake of public display and scientific research.
The 1976 amendments (P.L. 94-265) clarified the offshore jurisdiction of the statute as the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone.
The 1978 amendments (P.L. 95-316) extended the original 5-year authorization through FY 1981.
Amendments enacted in 1981 (P.L. 97-58) established conditions for permits to be granted to take marine mammals "incidentally" in the course of commercial fishing. In addition, the amendments provided additional conditions and procedures for transferring management authority to the States, and authorized appropriations through FY 1984.
The 1984 amendments (P.L. 98-364) established conditions to be satisfied as a basis for importing fish and fish products from nations engaged in harvesting yellowfin tuna with purse seines and other commercial fishing technology, as well as authorized appropriations for agency activities through FY 1988.
The 1986 amendments (P.L. 99-659) amended section 101 of the original statute to allow the incidental take of depleted marine mammals in activities other than commercial fishing, provided that such take does not result in an unmitigable impact on subsistence harvest.
Several additional amendments were enacted in 1988 (P.L.100-711). In addition to reauthorizing activities through FY 1993, the amendments established a process for commercial fishermen to obtain an exemption from the moratorium on incidental take of marine mammals for a five-year period. The Department of Commerce is authorized to conduct specific related tasks including the granting of exemptions, providing for observer coverage, and collecting data on the extent of incidental take.
The Secretary of Commerce is required to consult with the Secretary of Interior prior to taking actions related to species for which the Interior Department has jurisdiction. The California sea otter is explicitly excluded from the exemption process.
The Marine Mammal Commission is required to issue guidelines, by 1990, to govern incidental take associated with commercial fishing after the 5-year period, and the Secretary of Commerce is required to review and transmit recommendations to Congress before January, 1992.
Additional features of the 1988 amendments include:
Public Law 101-627, signed November 28, 1990, establishes conditions for the protection of dolphins by ocean vessels when harvesting tuna with purse seine nets. (See entry for Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act.)
Public Law 102-567, Title III, 306, October 29, 1992, 106 Stat. 4284, directed the Secretary of Commerce to do a study in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico on the effects of feeding noncaptive dolphins by humans.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act Amendments of 1994 (Public Law 103-238, April 30, 1994, 108 Stat. 532) reauthorizes the law for six years through fiscal year 1999 and makes the following updates:
Public Law 105-18, Title V, 5004, June 12, 1997, 111 Stat. 187 and Public Law 105-42, 4(d), August 15, 1997, 111 Stat. 1125 amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act Amendments of 1994 to allow importation of polar bear trophy into the U.S. taken in sport hunts in Canada if the applicant legally harvested the bear before April 30, 1994 or if the bear were taken after that date, the applicant harvested the bear from populations approved as sustainable by the Service.
In addition to the other activities under this Act, the Service comments under the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act on Federal projects and permits and licenses affecting sea otter, walrus, polar bear, dugong, and manatee.
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