WASHINGTON, June 5, 2020 – President Trump is expected to issue an executive order this afternoon to strip essential protections from a highly protected ocean area — the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument — by lifting all restrictions on commercial fishing. Designated in 2016, it is the only monument in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean.
Brad Sewell, senior director of Oceans for the Natural Resources Defense Council, made the following statement:
“Once again, President Trump is moving to strip protections for our nation’s public lands and waters and hand them over to industry for private profit.
“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.
“A significant change to the monument or its protections — such as allowing commercial fishing — must be done by Congress, not by the President. The Antiquities Act gives the President power to protect special areas for future generations, not the opposite power to abolish those protections. Fishing poses a range of threats, such as harm to deep-sea corals from heavy fishing gear, and entanglement of bycatch and marine mammals.
“We are prepared to sue the Trump Administration to protect these marine treasures from harm and exploitation by commercial fishing and other extractive industries.”
The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, about 130 miles off the coast of New England was designated in September 2016 after an extensive outreach process that included multiple stakeholder meetings and opportunities for public comment.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recommended opening the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts to commercial fishing, ignoring the input of nearly 3 million Americans who asked the Trump administration to protect — and not roll back — monument designations, including this one.
Even when consistent with fisheries management laws, commercial fishing affects ocean ecosystems, particularly highly vulnerable ones, such as those within the monument. Industrial-scale fishing gear can catch and entangle marine wildlife — including endangered whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, and seabirds — and destroy fragile centuries-old corals. The President and industry have asserted that allowing commercial fishing in a marine national monument boosts jobs or the fishing economy; evidence shows those assertions are false.
The commercial fishing industry, like nearly every other industry, is suffering great hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, fishermen were meeting their quotas and sustaining their communities without having access to the marine monument. Since the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts designation and before the pandemic, government landings and revenues data show no indication that the Canyons and Seamounts monument has caused any economic loss for the commercial fishing industry.
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The Trump administration knows that the economic argument for undermining marine monuments is weak. A Washington Post story revealed that the lead staffer for Interior’s review suggested deleting language from an analysis of monuments that would “undercut[ ] the case for the [commercial fishing] ban being harmful.” The Administration intentionally omitted information showing that fishing vessels near the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts marine national monument “generated 5% or less of their annual landings from within the monument.”
For an illustrated video that gives a glimpse of the undersea life New England’s ocean monument protects, see this video by NRDC’s Perrin Ireland
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.