Two and a half years after illegally slashing Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, the president attempts to roll back protections at sea.
Last Friday, President Trump signed a proclamation opening all 5,000 square miles of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument to industrial commercial fishing — a practice that goes against the very purpose of the monument, which promotes scientific research and protects a diversity of marine wildlife, including corals, fish, sea turtles, seabirds, sharks and whales.
The move could not have come at a less appropriate time, after more than 100,000 Americans have died from a global pandemic that is not yet contained, several states are experiencing spikes in new COVID-19 cases, more than 40 million Americans are unemployed and in need of assistance, and thousands of people are engaging in widespread anti-racism demonstrations across the nation. Even as the United States struggles with these serious crises, the administration is continuing to prioritize its agenda to roll back environmental protections on every imaginable front, including our oceans.
Friday’s illegal move is not just an assault on marine life, it is a tone-deaf attack on American values.
There is no compelling argument the fishing industry needs this access
Last week’s proclamation will allow large-scale commercial fishing to operate within the protected monument, an area that was created to preserve rare underwater geology, encourage scientific exploration and research, and preserve the diverse marine wildlife populations within these important federal waters.
Since the creation of the monument in 2016, the commercial fishing industry has not been restricted in the number of fish it could catch in the region, only the area in which it could fish. Research has shown that ocean reserves with kill-free zones increase fish size and diversity, improving commercial and recreational fishing opportunities outside their boundaries and boosting the tourism economy.
There is no evidence that lack of fishing access in the monument has reduced the seafood harvest or harmed private businesses, including local crab and lobster fisheries, the industries deemed most likely to experience revenue impacts. A recent study of two separate marine monuments in the Pacific Ocean, Papahānaumokuākea and the Pacific Remote Islands, showed that longline fisheries, which catch bigeye tuna and other fish species, had experienced higher catch rates since these monuments were expanded in 2014 and 2016.
Why is the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument important?
The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts is the first and only national monument in the Atlantic Ocean. Its boundaries were narrowly tailored to protect three underwater canyons, each deeper than the Grand Canyon, and the only four underwater mountains (known as seamounts) found along the Atlantic Coast, which rise higher above the seafloor than all the mountains east of the Rockies.
Together, these formations alter the ocean current and facilitate a process called upwelling. Through this process, winds push waters away from the ocean surface, and deeper, nutrient-rich water rises to replace the surface water, feeding the plankton that forms the basis of the entire ocean food chain. This monument supports the vibrant marine biodiversity of the Northeast, including the cod and tuna essential for local fisheries, at least 54 species of deep-sea corals, and endangered marine mammals, such as North Atlantic right whales.
Allowing commercial fishing within monument boundaries damages unique underwater geology, entangle marine wildlife in industrial-scale fishing gear, harm fragile corals, and remove large fish and marine predators, disrupting overall ecological health. Commercial fishing has already harmed the region — the monument was created to stop the industry from causing more damage.
Healthy waters and wildlife at this monument directly support the health of Acadia National Park, Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, and Cape Cod and Fire Island National Seashores.
An easy target
Marine monuments can be an easy target for politicians because so few people get to experience these underwater preserves that advocates can be less aware about the importance of defending them. But the conserving our oceans benefits everyone.
NPCA has been working to defend the public lands under miles of ocean. Here are some of the reasons these hard-to-see places are so special and need protection.See more ›
- Oceans produce 50% of the world’s oxygen.
- A billion people, including millions of Americans, rely on viable, healthy oceans for their food and livelihoods.
- Conserving our oceans is essential for fighting the effects of climate change.
- Coastal national parks are enormous tourist destinations that rely on thriving marine environments, and America’s five marine monuments directly support the health of these national parks.
- Coastal parks generate nearly $7 billion annually in economic benefits to local economies.
- Marine monuments serve as living laboratories for research and education.
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NPCA staff strongly oppose this rollback, as we have opposed the administration’s gutting of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah in 2018 to allow drilling, mining and other extractive industries access to these formerly protected lands. All of these reversals violate the Antiquities Act, which allows presidents to create national monuments, including those in water, but does not allow presidents to remove protections on existing monuments.
NPCA will continue to leverage public advocacy, the support of our congressional champions and the legal measures available to us to defend Northeast Canyons and Seamounts and all of our threatened monuments.
About the author
Sarah Gaines Barmeyer Deputy Vice President, Conservation Programs
Sarah Barmeyer is senior managing director for NPCA’s Conservation Programs where she coordinates priority initiatives for water restoration, landscape conservation, wildlife, and clean air.