Trump Guts Protections for Atlantic Marine Monument – That’s Illegal

As the nation grapples with the pandemics of racism and COVID-19, President Trump attacks our public treasures – again. We won’t let that stand.

Stripping our monument of its protections is illegal and will result in the very opposite of what the President claims: it will harm the economic prospects of our fishing communities and the health of our ocean. Photo: OceanX/Bloomberg

With our country is engulfed in anger over police brutality towards Black Americans – and with COVID-19 infections still raging nationwide – President Trump could have spent this afternoon leading a national dialogue 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. He opened the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument to commercial fishing.

In New England, only 1 percent of our ocean is fully protected: the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts. Stripping the monument of its protections would drop that number to zero – and that’s not going to happen on our watch.

Such a change to a national monument is illegal and will result in the very opposite of what the President claims: it will harm the economic prospects of our fishing communities and the health of our ocean.

We won’t let this stand. CLF and our partners will fight this rollback.

This rollback is illegal

Plain and simple, President Trump is abusing the power of his office, exercising powers he doesn’t have to gut the decisions of a prior president. That is illegal. Our national monuments, whether on lands or in the ocean, are permanent. The Antiquities Act gives the President the power to create them, but not to revoke them or eliminate core protections. President Obama designated the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts a marine national monument in 2016. President Trump has no authority to overturn, roll back, or abolish protections in the monument.

This decision is part of the administration’s shameful pattern of exploiting our public spaces for private profit, weakening critical environmental policies, and harming public health.

CLF will challenge the President’s declaration and protect New England’s waters from this illegal assault. 

Allowing commercial fishing undermines the monument designation

Removing protections and allowing industrial fishing within the boundaries of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts will cause irreparable damage. Industrial-scale fishing gear can catch and entangle marine wildlife — including endangered whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and seabirds — and destroy rare and fragile corals.

These aren’t just hypotheticals: bottom-trawl fishing gear can permanently damage spawning and nursery grounds. Longline fishing gear, using thousands of baited hooks, catches and harms endangered seabirds. These types of fishing gear are what Trump’s announcement would allow back in the monument.

President Trump announced this illegal rollback at a meeting with Maine fishermen that had been carefully curated to include only his supporters. Against the backdrop of Black Lives Matters protesters in Maine, he told his audience that dismantling the monument’s protections would help speed their economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. But removing the monument’s protections won’t help fishermen recover lost revenue. Those recent losses are a demand problem, not a supply problem. There are fish and lobster in the sea, but restaurants aren’t open to buy them. Never mind the fact that few, if any, Maine fishermen travel as far as the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts in the first place.

Ensuring healthy fisheries for future generations means preventing indiscriminate fishing everywhere. We must protect the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts – and more areas in our ocean – so overfished species can rebound and then be fished sustainably.

We need more protected areas – not less – to solve the climate crisis

Protecting our ocean is essential to solving the climate crisis. As humans have continued to pump carbon pollution into the atmosphere, our oceans have borne the brunt. They’ve absorbed the majority of the world’s excess heat and approximately a quarter of the emissions from our relentless burning of fossil fuels. After decades of enduring this abuse, the world’s oceans are warmer, more acidic, and losing oxygen.

New England’s ocean waters are no exception. Already they are suffering warmer temperatures, depleted fish populations, and destroyed underwater habitats. Protected areas like the monument have greater biodiversity, which builds resiliency to the stress of climate change.

We should be creating more protected areas, not rolling back protections on the sole marine monument in the Atlantic. We will fight this illegal attack on our national waters.

Before you go... CLF is working every day to create real, systemic change for New England’s environment. And we can’t solve these big problems without people like you. Will you be a part of this movement by considering a contribution today? If everyone reading our blog gave just $10, we’d have enough money to fund our legal teams for the next year.