Skip to Highlights
Highlights

Because marine mammals, such as whales and dolphins, often inhabit waters where commercial fishing occurs, they can become entangled in fishing gear, which may injure or kill them--this is referred to as "incidental take." The 1994 amendments to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) require the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to establish take reduction teams for certain marine mammals to develop measures to reduce their incidental takes. GAO was asked to determine the extent to which NMFS (1) can accurately identify the marine mammal stocks--generally a population of animals of the same species located in a common area--that meet the MMPA's requirements for establishing such teams, (2) has established teams for those stocks that meet the requirements, (3) has met the MMPA's deadlines for the teams subject to them, and (4) evaluates the effectiveness of take reduction regulations. GAO reviewed the MMPA, and NMFS data on marine mammals, and take reduction team documents and obtained the views of NMFS officials, scientists, and take reduction team members.

Skip to Recommendations

Recommendations

Matter for Congressional Consideration

Matter Status Comments
To facilitate the oversight of NMFS's progress and capacity to meet the statutory requirements for take reduction teams, Congress may wish to consider directing the Assistant Administrator of NMFS to report on major data, resource, or other limitations that make it difficult for NMFS to accurately determine which marine mammals meet the statutory requirements for establishing take reduction teams; establish teams for stocks that meet these requirements; and meet the statutory deadlines for take reduction teams.
Closed - Not Implemented
On September 27, 2013, GAO's Office of General Counsel confirmed that the Marine Mammal Protection Act was not amended to address this matter for consideration.
To facilitate the oversight of NMFS's progress and capacity to meet the statutory requirements for take reduction teams, Congress may wish to consider amending the statutory requirements for establishing a take reduction team to stipulate that not only must a marine mammal stock be strategic and interacting with a Category I or II fishery, but that the fishery with which the marine mammal stock interacts causes at least occasional incidental mortality or serious injury of that particular marine mammal stock.
Closed - Not Implemented
On September 27, 2013, GAO's Office of General Counsel confirmed that the Marine Mammal Protection Act was not amended to address this matter for consideration.
To facilitate the oversight of NMFS's progress and capacity to meet the statutory requirements for take reduction teams, Congress may wish to consider amending the MMPA to ensure that its deadlines give NMFS adequate time to publish proposed and final take reduction plans and implementing regulations while meeting all the requirements of the federal rulemaking process.
Closed - Not Implemented
On September 27, 2013, GAO's Office of General Counsel confirmed that the Marine Mammal Protection Act was not amended to address this matter for consideration.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
National Marine Fisheries Service 1. The Assistant Administrator of NMFS should develop a comprehensive strategy for assessing the effectiveness of each take reduction plan and implementing regulations, including, among other things, establishing appropriate goals and steps for comprehensively monitoring and analyzing rates of compliance with take reduction measures.
Closed - Implemented
On September 24, 2013, we received documentation from the agency supporting their assertion that they developed comprehensive monitoring strategies for assessing the effectiveness of each take reduction plan and implementing regulations, including, among other things, establishing steps for comprehensively monitoring and analyzing rates of compliance with take reduction measures. Specifically, in January 2009, NMFS developed an audit action plan in response to our recommendation. The audit action plan included several actions needed prior to implementing our recommendation, that is actions that preceded developing comprehensive monitoring strategies to evaluate the effectiveness of each take reduction plan. The agency completed the first monitoring strategy in April 2010 and finalized the last strategy on September 17, 2013, which resulted in full implementation of the recommendation.

Full Report