Reducing Marine Mammal Bycatch by Developing Model Legislation (2020-2021)


Scientists estimate that 650,000 marine mammals are caught annually as bycatch. Bycatch, the incidental capture of non-target species in fisheries, is the largest threat to marine mammals globally, but the global policy response lags behind the enormity of the issue. For example, regional fishery management organizations are widely criticized for their lackluster performance in addressing marine mammal bycatch. The Food and Agricultural Organization is finalizing bycatch guidelines for the international community, but these guidelines will be voluntary. Some countries have statutes in place to address marine mammal conservation, but many do not.

One promising legal response is the recent U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act Import Provisions Rule. Countries importing seafood into the United States must demonstrate that their seafood was captured in a manner that reduces marine mammal bycatch via standards comparable to those in the U.S. The rule was finalized in 2017, but countries have until 2021 to demonstrate that they have promulgated their own regulations to comply with it.

Project Description

The overarching goal of this project is to fill a gap in global bycatch policy by developing an exemplary model of legislation for countries to comply with the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act Import Provisions Rule. The project team’s research will center on the interlaced legal, policy and scientific components that are necessary to fill this critical management gap.

The legal stream will lay the groundwork for the rest of the project by establishing baseline information about the status of global marine mammal legislation. The team will research the existing legislation for over 80 countries that have to comply with the Import Provisions Rule, describing the scope of relevant laws, funding and enforceability.

The scientific stream will investigate the spatiotemporal extent of global marine mammal bycatch, the biological factors that make certain species more susceptible to incidental capture than others and current best practices in bycatch legislation. The team will conduct a literature review that provides the best practices for the team to frames its model legislation. Additionally, the team will create bycatch hotspot maps to identify areas of high marine mammal bycatch to present to managers as areas that require focused attention.

Another portion of the project will involve conducting interviews with key global experts on their views of the composition of model marine mammal bycatch legislation. This work stream will be shared between the legal and scientific teams.

The project team’s research will culminate in a draft of model marine mammal bycatch legislation. This component will include a full draft of a model law as well as a report with recommendations on enforcement, implementation and key recommendations in drafting or enhancing domestic marine mammal policy and legal action.

Anticipated Outputs

White paper; draft legislation; policy memos; two scientific articles


Summer 2020 – Spring 2021

  • Summer 2020 (optional): Conduct expert interviews
  • Fall 2020: Conduct scientific research and legal research; begin to write report
  • Spring 2021: Finish report; present and share results

This Team in the News

Meet the Students Who Won the 2021 DUCIGS Awards

Duke Law Faculty, Students Tackling Diverse Interdisciplinary Research Projects through Bass Connections


Image from NOAA Fisheries website 


Team Leaders

  • Brianna Elliott, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation
  • Andrew Read, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation
  • Stephen Roady, Duke Law

/graduate Team Members

  • Janet Bering, Juris Doctor
  • Brianna Elliott, Marine Sci & Conservation-PHD
  • Henry Gargan, Juris Doctor
  • Jessica Kuesel, Juris Doctor
  • Claire Mullaney, Master of Environmental Management, Coastal Environmental Management

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Maria Morrison
  • Addyson Rowe, Environmental Sci/Policy (AB)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Meagan Dunphy-Daly, Nicholas School of the Environment-Marine Science and Conservation

/zcommunity Team Members

  • World Wildlife Fund