Primary Statutory Mandates

Coast and Geodetic Survey Act of 1947 (33 USC § 883a-i)

The Act mandates that NOAA shall conduct and sponsor applied research to improve surveying and cartographic methods, instruments, and equipments and assure the future availability and usefulness of ocean satellite data to the maritime community. 

It also mandates that NOAA shall conduct investigations and research in geophysical sciences.

Coral Reef Conservation Act (16 U.S.C. §6401; PL 106-562)

The Coral Reef Conservation Act, which served as the Congressional response to Executive Order 13089, Coral Reef Protection, establishes a national program to preserve, sustain, and restore the condition of coral reef ecosystems and to develop sound scientific information on the condition of coral reef ecosystems and the threats to such ecosystems. In addition to creating a National Coral Reef Conservation Grant Program and the Coral Reef Conservation Fund (in partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation), the Act authorizes mapping, monitoring, assessment, restoration and scientific research that benefits the understanding, sustainable use, and long-term conservation of coral reefs and coral reef ecosystems.

Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. §§ 1531-1544; PL 93-205, reauthorized in 1992)

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is a comprehensive attempt to protect identified species and to consider critical habitat protection as an integral part of that effort. NOAA administers ESA's provisions for listed marine mammals, turtles, and other marine species. Species of plants and animals are listed as either "endangered" or "threatened" according to assessments of the extinction risk. Once a species is listed, legal tools are available to aid the recovery of the species and to protect its habitat. These tools include strict, substantive provisions of law provided by Congress that are lacking in other laws such as the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act (MSRA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and withstand most legal challenges to federal actions to conserve and rebuild listed species.

The determination of whether a species should be listed as endangered or threatened must be based on several scientific factors related to a species and threats to its continuance. The ESA expressly states that listing determinations are to be made "solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available" (16 U.S.C. § 1533(a)(1)). Economic factors cannot be taken into account. When a species is listed, critical habitat must also be designated. The preparation of recovery plans for the conservation and survival of listed species is also required (16 U.S.C. § 1531(f)(1)). Congress requires a biennial report on the status of efforts to develop and implement recovery plans for all listed species and on the status of all species for which such plans have been developed.

Executive Order 13112, Invasive Species (Executive Order 13113)

Executive Order 13112 requires, to the extent practicable and permitted by law, that NOAA detect and respond rapidly to control populations of invasive species, conduct research on invasive species, and develop technologies to prevent introduction and provide environmentally sound control of invasive species.

Executive Order 13158, Marine Protected Areas (Executive Order 13158 of May 26, 2000)

Executive Order 13158 establishes the Marine Protected Areas Center and a national system of marine protected areas. It strengthens the management, protection, and conservation of critical marine resources by establishing a national system of marine protected areas (MPA) representing diverse marine ecosystems.

Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act ( 16 U.S.C. § 1451; P.L. 105-383, reauthorized in 2004)

The Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act, originally passed in 1998 to combat the growing threat of harmful algal blooms (HABs), reaffirms and expands the mandate for NOAA to advance the scientific understanding and ability to detect, monitor, assess, and predict HABs and to develop programs for research into methods of prevention, control, and mitigation of HABs. In addition to calling for the reestablishment of the Federal Interagency Task Force on HABs and Hypoxia, the Act enables NOAA to carry out research and assessment activities, including the Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms project; research projects on management measures that can be taken to prevent, reduce, control, and mitigate harmful algal blooms; and carry out federal and state annual monitoring and analysis activities.

Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act (16 U.S.C. §§ 1801-1882; PL 101-627, as amended in 1996 and reauthorized in 2006, PL 109-479)

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act (MSRA) establishes a "national program for the conservation and management of the fishery resources of the United States to prevent overfishing, to rebuild overfished stocks, to insure conservation, and to realize the full potential of the Nation's fishery resources." This law establishes a regulatory system applicable to management of domestic fisheries within the U.S. 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The MSRA gives primary responsibility to eight regional Fishery Management Councils to prepare and implement Fishery Management Plans (FMPs), any subsequent FMP amendments, and fishery regulations, all which are subject to prescribed national standards (16 U.S.C. § 1853, 1852(h), 1851(a)(1)-(7)). FMPs and FMP implementing regulations must "prevent overfishing while achieving, on a continuing basis, the optimum yield from each fishery." The MSRA also defines overfishing as the rate at which mortality "jeopardizes the capacity of a fishery to produce the maximum sustainable yield on a continuing basis" (16 U.S.C. §1802(29)).

The MSRA, signed into law on January 12, 2007, set new requirements to prevent overfishing, including setting new annual catch limits (ACL) and accountability measures (AM) on the basis of best scientific advice for federally-managed fisheries. Ending overfishing of all stocks undergoing overfishing, preventing overfishing of all stocks, and rebuilding overfished stocks back to levels of abundance that can produce maximum sustainable yield (MSY) on a continuing basis are essential to achieving the objectives and goals of the MSRA. Section 104(b) directs that ACL and AM requirements take effect in fishing year 2010 for stocks subject to overfishing.

The MSRA also encourages development of direct fishery management policies and procedures toward a broader ecosystem-based approach. Ecosystem approaches require significantly more information including marine environmental data and information on species that may be the predators or prey of target species. The requirements for the next generation of fish stock assessments will necessitate continued improvements to data and refinements to models to allow managers to emphasize ecosystem considerations, such as multi-species interactions and environmental effects, fisheries oceanography, and spatial and seasonal analyses. Currently there are 530 species nation-wide that are managed under MSRA. At-sea data collection is essential for providing conservation information necessary for management.

Marine Mammal Protection Act (16 U.S.C. §§ 1361-1421h, October 21, 1972, as amended 1973, 1976-1978, 1980-1982, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1992-1994 and 1996)

The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), specifically Section 117, is the legal mandate to "prepare stock assessment reports (SAR) for all marine mammal stocks occurring in U.S. waters…each stock assessment shall estimate potential biological removal (PBR)." PBR is calculated as "…the maximum number of animals, not including those lost to natural mortality that may be removed from a marine mammal stock while allowing that stock to reach or maintain an optimum sustainable population." SARs must be reviewed annually for all strategic stocks and for stocks for which new information is available, and at least triennially for all other stocks (16 U.S.C. §§ 1361-1421; PL 92-522, as amended in 2006).

Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (16 U.S.C. 1431 et seq, as amended through P.L. 106-513)

The Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act authorizes the Secretary of Commerce to designate and manage areas of the marine environment with special national significance due to their conservation, recreational, ecological, historical, scientific, cultural, archeological, educational, or esthetic qualities as national marine sanctuaries. The Act's primary objective is to protect marine resources, such as coral reefs, sunken historical vessels or unique habitats. Implementation of the Act and management of national marine sanctuaries is delegated to NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program (NMSP).

The Act provides several tools for protecting designated national marine sanctuaries. If a federal action is likely to destroy, cause the loss of, or injure a sanctuary resource, the NMSP recommends alternatives that will protect sanctuary resources if implemented by the agency in taking the action. The Act also allows the Secretary to issue regulations for each sanctuary designated and the system as a whole that, among other things, specify the types of activities that can and cannot occur within the sanctuary. The Act requires preparation and updating of management plans that guide day-to-day activities at each sanctuary in furtherance of the goals of that sanctuary. It also provides for the assessment of civil penalties and the assessment of damages against people that injure sanctuary resources.

National Coastal Monitoring Act, Title V of the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (33 U.S.C. 2801-2805)

The Act requires NOAA and EPA to develop and implement a program for the long-term collection, assimilation, and analysis of scientific data designed to measure the environmental quality of the nation's coastal ecosystems. NOAA and the EPA jointly submit a report to Congress, every other year, on the condition of the nation's coastal ecosystems. 

National Environmental Policy Act (42 USC 4321 et seq.)

The NEPA requires each federal agency to assess the impact of alternatives for their actions (including activities conducted, funded or permitted by the agency) on the human environment.  The cumulative impacts of each activity in combination with other natural and anthropogenic phenomena are included among the analyses. It directs NOAA to "prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man." It also requires NOAA to "enrich the understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the Nation."

National Marine Sanctuaries Act ( 16 U.S.C. § 1431)

The NMSA directs NOAA to support, promote, and coordinate scientific research on, and long-term monitoring of, the resources of these marine areas, and evaluate the implementation of each sanctuary's management plan and goals. It mandates NOAA to "prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man."

National Sea Grant College Program Act (33 U.S.C. 1121 et seq, as amended through P.L. 107-299)

The objective of the National Sea Grant College Program Act is "to increase the understanding, assessment, development, utilization, and conservation of the Nation's ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources by providing assistance to promote a strong educational base, responsive research and training activities, broad and prompt dissemination of knowledge and techniques, and multidisciplinary approaches to environmental problems."

The Act requires "extending and strengthening the national sea grant program, initially established in 1966, to promote research, education, training, and advisory service activities in fields related to ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources." The Act funds a national sea grant network with 30 Sea Grant state programs.

Ocean Dumping Act, Title II of the MPRSA (33 U.S.C. § 1401-1445)

The Ocean Dumping Act mandates that NOAA shall to initiate and conduct a comprehensive and continuing program of research with respect to the possible long-range effects of pollution, as well as monitoring programs to assess the health of the marine environment.

Oceans and Human Health Act

The Secretary of Commerce is required to establish an Oceans and Human Health Initiative to coordinate and implement research and activities of the NOAA related to the role of the oceans in human health. The Oceans and Human Health Act requires NOAA to provide support for (1) program and research coordination; (2) an advisory panel; (3) one or more National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration national centers of excellence; (4) research grants; and (5) distinguished scholars and traineeships; and (6) public information and outreach.

Presidential Proclamation 8031 - Establishment of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (71 FR 36443, June 26, 2006), as amended by P.P. 8112 (72 FR 10031, March 5, 2007)

This Presidential Proclamation establishes the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument and ensures the comprehensive protection of the coral reef ecosystem and related marine resources and species, as well as historic resources, of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The Secretary of Commerce and the Secretary of the Interior jointly manage the Monument in accordance with the principal purpose of long-term conservation of historic and scientific objects. Presidential Proclamation 8031 established the Monument, with conservation measures such as fishing prohibitions to take effect in the near future.

Regional Marine Research Program Act (16 USC §1447B)

The Regional Marine Research Program Act requires that NOAA establish regional research programs to set priorities for regional marine and coastal research in support of efforts to safeguard the water quality and ecosystem health of each region. It also mandates that NOAA carry out research through grants and improved coordination.

Water Pollution Prevention and Control Act (33 USC§ 1268)

The Act mandates that NOAA shall conduct, through the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, the National Sea Grant College program, other Federal laboratories, and the private sector, appropriate research and monitoring activities which address priority issues and current needs relating to the Great Lakes.

NOAA is also mandated to identify issues relating to the Great Lakes resources on which research is needed. The Research Office (Ecosystem Research Program) shall submit a report to Congress on such issues before the end of each fiscal year which shall identify any changes in the Great Lakes system with respect to such issues.


Ecosystem Programs

Aquaculture Coastal Marine Resources Enforcement
Fisheries Management Protected Species Ecosystem Observations
Coral Reef Conservation Habitat Ecosystem Research