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Marine Mammal Protection Act, 1972


Intent & Scope of the Legislation:

by Arpita Cuddapah

The Marine Mammal Protection Act (‘MMPA’) was passed in 1972 as a response to the considerable declines in certain species of marine mammals caused by human activities. The MMPA is hailed as one of U.S.’ most remarkable conservation laws because it shifted the emphasis from conservation of species alone to ecosystems at large.

The provisions of this legislation extend to any mammal which:

a. is morphologically adapted to the marine environment, or
b. primarily inhabits the marine environment (such as the polar bear).

Essential aspects of the MMPA:

1. Moratorium on taking and importing marine mammals and marine mammal products
The MMPA established a moratorium, i.e., a complete cessation, on the taking of marine mammals in the U.S. waters. Additionally, it also established a moratorium on importation of marine mammals and marine mammal products into the United States of America.

The Secretary of Commerce may issue permits which authorize the taking or importation of any marine mammals for purposes of scientific research, public display, photography, enhancing the survival or recovery of a species or stock etc. 

2. Instituted the concept of Optimum Sustainable Population (‘OSP’) 
The MMPA pioneered the concept of OSP which ensures that the marine mammals continue to remain a significant functioning element in the ecosystem of which they are a part. 

3. Stock Assessments
The term “population stock” or “stock” means a group of marine mammals of the same species or smaller taxa in a common spatial arrangement, that interbreed when mature.   

The MMPA was amended in 1994 which led to the introduction of the concept of stock assessment reports. Stock assessment reports offer useful information on population trends, productivity rates, sources of injuries, and more.

4. Dolphin Protection
According to the Act, Congress found that dolphins and other marine mammals are frequently killed in the course of tuna fishing operations in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean and high seas driftnet fishing in other parts of the world. 

The MMPA stipulates a ban on the high seas’ driftnet fishing. Additionally, it also lays down labelling standards to ensure that tuna labeled as ‘dolphin safe’ meets the laid down criteria. 
Pursuant to the amendments to the MMPA from 1984 to 1992, a decline was noted in the number of dolphins caught in the tuna purse seine fishery in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean.

5. Agencies responsible for implementing the provisions of MMPA

The jurisdiction for MMPA is shared by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The Service’s Branch of Permits is responsible for issuing take permits when exceptions are made to MMPA.

1. Under the MMPA, take means “to harass, hunt, capture, or kill, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, or kill.”
2.Under the MMPA, Optimum sustainable population means, with respect to any population stock, the number of animals which will result in the maximum productivity of the population or the species, keeping in mind the carrying capacity of the habitat and the health of the ecosystem of which they form a constituent element.