Protected Species

When developing or amending fishery management plans, it may not always be obvious as to why the Council must consider impacts to protected species. But species such as sea turtles, marine mammals, corals, and sea birds can be negatively impacted by fishing activities in a number of ways including general disturbance, competition for prey, and serious injury or mortality from unintentional capture. There are several federal laws designed to protect and conserve these species including the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Measures within fishery management plans need to be in compliance with these protected species mandates.

Learn more about protected species' management and conservation efforts in the South Atlantic region.


Endangered Species Act

Six marine mammal species are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) (i.e., sperm, sei, fin, blue, humpback, and North Atlantic right whales). In addition to those six marine mammals, five species of sea turtles (green, hawksbill, Kemp's ridley, leatherback, and loggerhead); the smalltooth sawfish; five distinct population segments of Atlantic sturgeon; and elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) and staghorn coral (A. cervicornis) ("Acropora" collectively) are also protected under the ESA. Many seabird species occurring off our shores are also listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA. Section 7 of the ESA, requires all Federal agencies to participate in the conservation and recovery of listed threatened and endangered species. Section 7 states that federal agencies must ensure that any activity they authorize, fund or carry out is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of listed species or result in destruction of designated critical habitat. To facilitate compliance with Section 7, the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council prepares a biological assessment to evaluate the likely effects of proposed action(s) on endangered and threatened species and designated critical habitat(s) occurring within the action area. Biological assessments are included within the Council's fishery management plans or amendments. Learn more about the Endangered Species Act

ESA Status Reviews

Status reviews are comprehensive assessments of a species' biological status and threats, and are the basis for making determinations as to whether a species warrants listing under the Endangered Species Act. NOAA Fisheries conducts status reviews for the following:

  1. Any species which may warrant a listing under the ESA;
  2. Species of Concern for which enough information has been gathered;
  3. Species that have been petitioned for listing under the ESA by any citizen, provided substantial information indicates that listing may be warranted;
  4. Periodic review of species already listed under the ESA to ensure the listing status is appropriate.

Marine Mammal Protection Act

All marine mammals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), which was enacted in 1972. The primary goals of the Act are to maintain marine mammal stocks at their optimum sustainable population level and to restore depleted stocks. The MMPA established a moratorium, with certain exceptions, on the taking of marine mammals in U.S. waters and by U.S. citizens on the high seas. The term "take" is defined to mean "to harass, hunt, capture, kill, or collect or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, kill, or collect any marine mammal". The 1994 reauthorization of the MMPA introduced substantial changes to the Act including a requirement for NOAA Fisheries to develop a long-term strategy for governing interactions between marine mammals and commercial fishing operations (Sections 117 and 118).

MMPA Stock Assessments Reports

To achieve the goals as mandated under the 1994 amendments to the MMPA, NOAA Fisheries must routinely publish marine mammal stock assessment reports. These reports provide the scientific information necessary to administer appropriate management decisions with respect to the incidental take of marine mammals in commercial fisheries. Stock assessment reports include a description of the geographic range of the population, its minimum population estimate and current population trend, and estimate the annual human-caused mortality and serious injury by source.


Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Executive Order 13186

Almost all seabirds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) of 1918. The MBTA prohibits taking any migratory bird except as permitted by regulations issued by the Department of the Interior. Another, more recent mandate regarding the conservation of migratory birds, is Executive Order (E.O.) 13186, signed January 2001, by President Clinton. This E.O. requires every Federal agency that takes action(s) likely to have a measurable negative impact on migratory birds to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who has federal jurisdiction over managing and conserving seabirds. The MOU outlines how an agency will promote the conservation of migratory birds. Additional obligations under E.O. 13186 include supporting other conservation efforts already underway and incorporating bird conservation into agency planning. The latter includes considering impacts on migratory birds while conducting National Environmental Policy Act analyses and reporting annually on the level of take.