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Policy

On Friday, June 5th, Donald Trump signed an order to open nearly 5,000 square miles of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument off the coast of New England, to commercial fishing. The Obama administration designated this stretch of ocean a National Monument in 2016, to protect the endangered species that live in this ecosystem “from harmful intrusion and permanent damage by commercial interests.” The original Proclamation 9496 of September 15, 2016 from the Obama administration, identified a number of canyons and seamounts in the area as “objects of historic and scientific interest,” and even writes, “these canyons and seamounts, and the ecosystem they compose, have long been of intense scientific interest,” with “scientists from government and academic oceanographic institutions” studying “the canyons and seamounts using research vessels, submarines, and remotely operated underwater vehicles for important deep-sea expeditions.” According to Bob Dreher, senior vice president of Conservation Programs at Defenders of Wildlife, these deep canyons and large seamounts are home to “Ancient and slow-growing deep sea corals, endangered large whales and sea turtles, and an incredible array of fish, seabirds, sharks, dolphins, and other wildlife.” The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is the only marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean. The designation as a National Monument was challenged by interests of the fishing industry in 2017 but was quickly rejected in federal court.

According to the Proclamation Modification signed by Donald Trump this month, it is not necessary to prohibit commercial fishing within the Monument’s boundaries, because current commercial fishing regulations and other laws, such as the Endangered Species Act, already protect the at-risk species in the area. The modification writes, “I find that a prohibition on commercial fishing is not, at this time, necessary for the proper care and management of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, or the objects of historic or scientific interest therein.” It continues, “WHEREAS, I find that removing the restrictions on commercial fishing set forth in Proclamation 9496 to allow for well-regulated commercial fishing use is in the public interest and that the objects in the monument can be, and are currently, protected pursuant to carefully tailored regulation and management under existing Federal law.”

Analysis

Many view this move as another attempt on the part of the Trump administration to continue limiting environmental regulation while the nation is distracted with the looming Covid-19 pandemic and nation-wide protests. Bob Dreher with Defenders of Wildlife says, “Opening up the nation’s only marine national monument in the Atlantic will help no one but a handful of fishers while risking irreparable damage to the marine wildlife that have no other fully protected areas off our eastern seaboard.” According to Brad Sewell, senior director of oceans for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), commercial fishing, even with its regulations, “poses a range of threats, such as harm to deep-sea corals from heavy fishing gear, and entanglement of marine mammals and fish in thick lines and nets.” He warns that “These fragile, extraordinary ocean areas are full of thousand-year-old corals, endangered whales, and other precious marine life. They belong to all Americans, and they are held in trust for future generations.”

According to a report by the Washington Post, the ban on commercial fishing has not even had a significant negative effect on the fishing industry. Most of the commercial fishing vessels that fish near the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument had “generated 5% or less of their annual landings from within the monument.” In fact, government data shows that revenues and catch for those same fisheries, has gone up or stayed the same since the National Monument’s designation. Randall Bowman of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under Trump, the lead staff member for reviewing the legitimacy of the marine region’s National Monument status, was actually found in 2017, to have recommended leaving those facts out of the report, because it “undercuts the case for the ban being harmful [to commercial fishing].”

Brad Sewell says. “The Antiquities Act gives the president power to protect special areas for future generations, not the opposite power to abolish those protections.” He claims that the President does not have the authority to modify the Proclamation, and that “A significant change to the monument or its protections, such as allowing commercial fishing, must be done by Congress, not by the president.” Sewell says the NRDC will fight the Trump administration in court, and that “We are prepared to sue the administration to protect these ocean treasures from harm and exploitation by commercial fishing and other extractive industries.”

Resistance Resources

Natural Resources Defense Council

  • works to safeguard the earth – its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. combining the power of more than three million members and online activists with the expertise of some 700 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild. https://www.nrdc.org/

 

Defenders of Wildlife

  • Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. Founded in 1947, Defenders of Wildlife is the premier U.S.-based national conservation organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of imperiled species and their habitats in North America. https://defenders.org/

 

National Wildlife Federation

  • America’s largest and most trusted conservation organization, works across the country to unite Americans from all walks of life in giving wildlife a voice. We’ve been on the front lines for wildlife since 1936, fighting for the conservation values that are woven into the fabric of our nation’s collective heritage. https://www.nwf.org/

 

Environmental Defense Fund

  • One of the world’s largest environmental organizations and a 501(c)(3) non-profit. Preserving the natural systems on which all life depends. https://www.edf.org/

 

Learn More:

Eilperin, J. (2018, July 23). Trump administration officials dismissed benefits of national monuments. The Washington Post. Retrieved June 11, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/trump-administration-officials-dismissed-benefits-of-national-monuments/2018/07/23/5b8b1666-8b9a-11e8-a345-a1bf7847b375_story.html?wpisrc=al_news__alert-hse–alert-national&wpmk=1

Johnson, J. (2020, June 06). Quietly Putting Hundreds of Species at Risk,’ Trump Opens 5,000 Square Miles of Atlantic Ocean to Commercial Fishing. Common Dreams. Retrieved June 11, 2020, from https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/06/06/quietly-putting-hundreds-species-risk-trump-opens-5000-square-miles-atlantic-ocean

Natural Resources Defense Council. (2020, June 05). Trump Illegally Eliminates Protections for First and Only Monument in the Atlantic Ocean [Web log post]. Retrieved June 11, 2020, from https://www.nrdc.org/experts/nrdc/trump-illegally-eliminates-protections-first-and-only-monument-atlantic-ocean

Proclamation on Modifying The Northeast Canyons And Seamounts Marine National Monument. (2020, June 05). Retrieved June 11, 2020, from https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/proclamation-modifying-northeast-canyons-seamounts-marine-national-monument/

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