Trump Guts Only Atlantic Ocean National Monument — Opens It To Fishing

Eight-tentacled feeding polyps on bubblegum coral in the monument.  Photo: Ivan Agerton, Oceanx Media, via National Geographic

The President traveled to Maine on Friday (World Environment Day) and ordered the elimination of prohibitions on fishing in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, effectively lifting its protected status immediately.  At 5000 square miles (which he hyped as HUGE), the monument encompasses only 1% of the U.S. ocean territory in New England, and it was the only fully protected area in the entire U.S. Atlantic Ocean.  Fishers in New England alleged they needed the monument’s protections lifted not because they actively fish there, but by falsely claiming that if the restrictions remained in place, it would lead to government protection of other ocean areas.

Why This Matters: The Antiquities Act gives the President the power to create monuments and protect them from harm, but not to revoke them or eliminate core protections. His actions are illegal, but what damage will be done to the monument before it’s restored?  This is akin to mining at the Grand Canyon (he wants to do that) and destroying the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (that too).  Not a single fisherman gets a job back either because of this.  It’s just another destructive Trump publicity stunt, this time trampling on a great American tradition of conserving our natural wonders for future generations.

Announcement Met With Anger from the Environmental Leaders

John Kerry, Former Secretary of State: “In 2016, @Barack Obama and I announced the US’s first [Atlantic] marine monument to protect the ocean for future generation. Now with the country distracted and divided, and with @realdonaldtrump doing his demagogic best to keep things that way, he rolls it back and lies to our fishermen…Some ideas to actually help fishermen: Provide relief to fishing families ravaged by COVID, buy American seafood, rebuild working waterfronts, & stop denying climate change. The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99% of the ocean, driving lobster/cod fisheries to cooler waters.”

Dr. Enric Sala, National Geographic Society: “National monuments, by law, are to preserve the integrity of America’s natural and historical sites,” he says. “We need pristine areas set aside so that we can see nature as it was before we overexploited it, and understand the true impact of fishing. If commercial fishing were allowed in a monument, it would become just a name on a map, and no different than any other place in the ocean.”

Priscilla Brooks, Conservation Law Foundation:  “President Trump could have spent this afternoon leading a national dialog on how we collectively heal from centuries of systemic racism. Instead, he used the crises as cover to decimate protections for the Atlantic’s only marine national monument. Abandoning his duty to govern and lead the nation, the President flew to Maine, from where he continued his attack on our public lands, waters, and health.”

Brad Sewell, NRDC: “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 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…Fishing poses a range of threats, such as harm to deep-sea corals from heavy fishing gear, and entanglement of bycatch and marine mammals.”

Kris Sarri, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation: “To help fishers and coastal communities who rely on the ocean and commercial fishing for their livelihoods and value it as part of their culture, we must protect biodiversity in places like Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, end overfishing, and address climate change.  Opening up the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, or other marine monuments, to commercial fishing is not the solution.”

Janis Searles Jones, Ocean Conservancy: “In a time where our nation desperately needs leadership, this Administration is clearly not focused on responding to the national crises of anti-Black racism or a global health pandemic. Instead, the Administration is counting on our national pain and suffering as a distraction to hide its overreach.”

Steve Mashuda, Earth Justice: “We’re also confronting a global extinction crisis that impacts the entire web of life, and this is an assault on an ocean refuge that countless marine wildlife rely on. Claims that the fishing industry will benefit from this action are grossly overstated, as was made clear by government documents in 2017.”

To Go Deeper:  Check out NOAA’s websites that still extoll the wonders of the monument here and here.  For more, check out National Geographic’s beautiful images of it teeming with life.

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