In Alaska, the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA) protects polar bears, Pacific walrus, and sea otters by prohibiting "take" of these animals. Take means to harass, hunt, capture, or kill, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any marine mammal (see the MMPA Glossary for more information). The MMPA provides specific exceptions to the prohibition on taking, including a provision that allows U.S. citizens to take small numbers of marine mammals incidental to specified activities.
More specifically, Sections 101(a)(5)(A) and (D) of the MMPA authorize the Secretary of the Interior to allow, upon request, the incidental, but not intentional, taking of small numbers of marine mammals (including polar bears, Pacific walruses, and sea otters) by U.S. citizens who engage in a specified activity (other than commercial fishing) within a specified geographical region provided the total of such taking will have no more than a negligible impact on these marine mammal species and does not have an unmitigable adverse impact on the availability of these species for subsistence uses. Two types of incidental take authorizations are available: Incidental Take Regulations (ITRs) and Incidental Harassment Authorizations (IHAs).
Permissible methods of taking and other means of affecting the least practicable impact on the species or stock and its habitat, and requirements pertaining to the monitoring and reporting of such takings, are prescribed as part of the authorization process.
Where appropriate, ITRs and IHAs can provide considerable conservation and management benefits to potentially impacted marine mammals. Activities authorized under ITRs and IHAs must adopt measures to minimize any adverse impacts to marine mammals; their habitat, and their availability for Alaska Native subsistence use. ITRs and IHAs also specify monitoring and reporting requirements which provide a basis for evaluating potential impacts of current and future activities on marine mammals. Without incidental take authorizations, commercial activities in most cases could still continue; however, the Service would have no formal means of communicating with Industry or have the ability to require monitoring and mitigation of specific activities and any form of resulting “take” would be a violation of the MMPA.
Incidental Take Regulations
Incidental take regulations (ITRs) may be promulgated by the Service under section 101(a)(5)(A) of the MMPA and regulations at 50 CFR 18.27. ITRs are valid for up to five years, or seven years for military readiness activities. They may cover incidental take associated with multiple projects so long as activities are similar and occur within the same specified area. More information on petitioning for ITRs is provided on our Applicant Instructions page.
Once ITRs are in effect, U.S. citizens conducting activities within their scope may request an associated Letter of Authorization (LOA) for incidental take. LOAs are issued on a project specific basis and include operating restrictions, as well as mitigation and safety measures designed to minimize impacts to marine mammals and maximize human safety in areas of potential interaction with marine mammals. LOAs also specify monitoring and reporting requirements to evaluate the level and impact of any resulting takes. Depending upon the nature, location and timing of the proposed activity, applicants may be required to consult with potentially affected subsistence communities, and develop additional mitigation measures to address potential impacts to subsistence users of marine mammals. See the Letter of Authorization Requests page for more information on LOAs.
Incidental Harassment Authorizations
Incidental harassment authorizations (IHAs) may be issued by the Service under Section 101(a)(5)(D) of the MMPA. IHAs are effective for up to one year and are issued for a single project, like an LOA. They authorize take by harassment only and cannot authorize lethal take. See our Applicant Instructions page for more information on applying for an IHA.
Take Authorizations Open for Public Comment
In accordance with the MMPA, the Service invites public comment on proposed ITRs and IHAs before they are finalized and issued. All proposed incidental take authorizations are published in the Federal Register and have an open public comment period of 30 days or more.
A proposed Incidental Harassment Authorization for the City of Cordova is open for public comment until December 6, 2023. Once the public comment period closes, we will review all submitted comments prior to making a final determination.
More information is available at:
Active Incidental Take Regulations
Issued Letters of Authorization
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service published a Federal Register notice on June 2, 2022, to inform the public of the Letters of Authorization (LOAs) we issued in 2021 under our Incidental Take Regulations for polar bears and Pacific walrus in the Southern Beaufort Sea (50 CFR 18 subpart J) and northern sea otters in Cook Inlet, Alaska (50 CFR subpart K). You may view that notice, as well as the LOAs at http://www.regulations.gov under Docket No. FWS-R7-ES-2021-0171.
See the pages linked below for full lists of proposed and issued incidental take authorizations in Alaska for polar bears, Pacific walrus, and northern sea otters.
List of Incidental Take Regulations
List of Incidental Harassment Authorizations