Future Of Northeast Marine National Monument Protections Still Uncertain

Dec 7, 2017

Protections of a marine national monument made up of underwater mountains and canyons 130 miles off the coast of Cape Cod could be at risk after President Donald Trump significantly scaled back the boundaries of two national monuments in Utah Monday - the biggest reduction of monument protections in U.S. history.

On Tuesday, U.S. Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke officially released his review of the designations of 27 national monuments, including the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts in the Atlantic Ocean. 

The three-million-acre monument was designated in September 2016 by former-president Barrack Obama under authority granted by the 1906 Antiquities Act. Since then, commercial fishing, with the exception of lobster and red crab fishing, has been banned within the monuments boundaries. 

In Zinke's report, he recommends the authority for regulating fishing in the area be returned to the New England Fishery Management Council, which was established under the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. 

Credit NOAA

Environmentalists worry this move could permit all types of commercial fishing again. 

Priscilla Brooks, director of ocean conservation at Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental advocacy group, said commercial fishing is not compatible with conservation because it harms the natural resources within the marine monument.

"Commercial fishing uses heavy fishing gear and equipment that can entangle marine mammals and other marine life and it can destroy other rare species, such as corals," Brooks said.

Brooks added protecting the monument from commercial fishing allows species a safe space to reproduce, which she said helps replenish fish populations throughout the ocean. 

However, commercial fishermen support Zinke's recommendations for the monument. 

Bob Vanasse, executive director of Saving Seafood, an organization that represents the commercial fishing industry, said the group believes Zinke's recommendations were well though-out, as he spoke to commercial fishermen, scientists, and environmentalists before writing his review. 

"The proposal that he put out doesn’t recommend eliminating the monument, it simply recommends allowing sustainable, nondestructive fishing practices that have been taking place there for years to continue," Vanasse said. 

Vanasse added a program under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act authorizes and controls accidental killings of marine mammal species during commercial fishing operations.

Brooks said the Conservation Law Foundation plans to sue if the recommendations for the marine national monument are approved.