About Protected Species Science Branch

PSSB Mission

To advocate for protected species science within and outside NOAA Fisheries by investing in research and development efforts and to communicate and coordinate agency science in support of species conservation and recovery.

Branch Description

The Protected Species Science Branch (PSSB) advocates the use of peer-reviewed science to make protected species management decisions. Protected species includes marine organisms within NOAA Fisheries jurisdiction protected under a variety of US environmental statutes (e.g. Marine Mammal Protection Act, Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act).

The PSSB is housed within the Office of Science and Technology’s (ST) Assessment and Monitoring Division dedicated to advancing the science on living marine resources and fostering an environment where new ideas develop to realize NOAA’s mandates as technologies evolve and new challenges emerge. The Branch functions are principally guided by the ST Director, NOAA Fisheries Chief Science Advisor, Protected Resources (PR) Board, and the Science Board. The core functions of the branch are focused on ocean acoustics, coral recovery, sea turtle and marine mammal assessments, and climate and ecosystem impacts.

The issuance of scientific research permits and incidental take authorizations and other management and regulatory actions are exclusively handled  by the Office of Protected Resources.

Our overarching objective is to promote scientific excellence and advancement by:

  • encouraging internal and external collaboration on research projects;
  • facilitating strategic planning;
  • identifying and operationalizing best practices, such as developing consistent national guidelines and science criteria;
  • operationalizing a fisheries research environmental compliance program,
  • enhancing data collection, access and routine management;
  • promoting ocean science education and outreach and
  • supporting international capacity building in marine science research and conservation.


The four overarching priorities for the branch are 1) Assessments, 2) Ecosystem Science, 3) Research and Development (R&D), and 4) Science Communication and Coordination.

Assessments: Protected species are afforded special conservation status under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and Endangered Species Act (ESA). Protected species by virtue of their distribution, life history, and behavior often overlap with commercial fisheries, coastal development, and energy and defense activities, which are permitted under these and other laws by NOAA Fisheries.  Poor and limited scale assessments of protected species can lead to overly restrictive regulations or uncertain decision-making. Conversely, poor or outdated information can put animals at increased risk of extinction. Further, legislative mandates, ESA status reviews and recovery plans , and Guidelines for Assessing Marine Mammal Stocks (GAMMS) recommend regular data collection and monitoring of protected species populations within the United States Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Implementing these requirements is, therefore, an important function of the Branch.

Ecosystem Science:
As critical members of the marine ecosystem, the assessment and conservation of protected species’ populations are irrevocably tied to the maintenance of healthy oceans. Further, due to the complex life-histories and depleted populations of many protected species, climate change and ocean noise are expected to act as additional stressors affecting the viability of protected species populations. Seabirds, sea turtles, marine mammals, salmon, and corals, for example, are climate and ecosystem change indicators. Therefore, as NOAA Fisheries continues to move towards an ecosystem management framework, the Branch will continue to advocate for the inclusion and consideration of protected species populations as integral components of ecosystem-based assessments, fisheries bycatch analysis, climate impact studies, and vulnerability assessments.

R&D: The Branch periodically monitors protected species population status and trends, and engages in and coordinates diverse R&D activities that will improve information on species abundance, trends, threats, distribution, and recovery. Further, we support comprehensive assessments that include data on life history, behavior, human-caused and natural mortality, stock structure, effects of anthropogenic noise, and climate change impacts as for most species, a lack of understanding of basic biology impedes recovery and prolongs listing. We currently administer two competitive internal funding allocations (IFAs) - Ocean Acoustics and Sea Turtle Assessment. The Ocean Acoustics IFA supports internal NOAA research related to the impacts of noise on marine life and the Sea Turtle Assessment IFA supports internal NOAA Fisheries research related to improving sea turtle population assessments to support species recovery. In addition to these IFAs, from time to time we support short- and long-term funding initiatives to address other critical research priorities that support NOAA Fisheries mandates. Organization of workshops and technical working groups are other ways the branch promotes R&D and scientific exchange.

Science Communication and Coordination: Most protected species are transboundary and highly mobile— so, communication and coordination among local, state, regional, national, and international entities need to occur to help assess and protect these species. Also, the NOAA Fisheries science enterprise is widely spread around the country.  The PSSB facilitates communication and collaboration among the Centers and regularly communicates challenges, issues, or promising research from the Centers to the ST Director, NOAA Fisheries Chief Science Advisor, and the Science Board. The Branch plays a central role in bridging gaps between science and management entities, highlighting scientific accomplishments, and encouraging domestic and international research collaboration (e.g., Protected Species Assessment Workshop (PSAW), Protected Species Toolbox Mini-Symposium).  

Other national programs and activities that intersect with PSSB include ST’s programs on climate science, scheduling time on NOAA ships, strategic planning, budgeting, ecosystem science, integrated ecosystem assessments, international science programs, habitat science (including the Habitat Blueprint), fish stock assessments and management, National Seabird Program, National Observer Program and National Bycatch Report, and the Marine Recreational Information Program (MRIP). We also work closely with the National Ocean Service’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, NOAA International, and several programs within NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources dealing with Marine Mammal Stock Assessments, Marine Mammal Health and Stranding, Permitting and Regulations, and Recovery Plans and Status Reviews. We coordinate with these other programs to advocate for consideration of protected species science needs, ensure alignment with management needs, and to inform them of the agency’s protected species science capabilities and accomplishments.

PSSB Partners

We, at the PSSB, do not do this work alone. In most cases we play a coordinating role and work collaboratively within and outside of NOAA. Our primary partners include:

Outside of the agency, we work with many other federal partners  and non-governmental organizations including: