Fishing industry moves to head off Northeast canyons monument reversal

Fishing advocates mobilized as U.S. President Joe Biden moved fast in the beginning days of his administration to reverse former President Donald Trump's executive orders – possibly including Trump’s move to back off fishing restrictions in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument.

Biden ordered a broad review of more than 100 actions by the Trump administration on environmental issues, including Trump's alterations of a mandate from then-President Barack Obama that created the national monument. Fishing advocates have been making efforts to persuade the new administration that the U.S. fisheries management system that’s been in place for more than 40 years can handle protecting the Northeast offshore habitat without executive intervention.

“We kind of saw it coming, and we sent letters off to politicians,” Jim Budi, who owns a swordfish and tuna longline vessel that works out of New Bedford, Massachusetts, said. “We had great fishing there this year. If it wasn’t for that, we’d be in the red.”

Environmental groups pushed Biden on 20 January, Inauguration Day, to reinstate the Obama administration’s creation of the offshore monument, which is located at the edge of the continental shelf.

“Last summer, we watched in dismay as President Trump effectively nullified the monument status of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts by opening it to commercial fishing,” Conservation Law Foundation President Bradley Campbell said. “Defending the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts is critical for protecting valuable species, confronting the climate crisis, and leaving a healthy ocean for future generations. We urge the new administration to move quickly from reviewing the monuments Trump desecrated to restoring them.”

But so far, said Budi, the Biden administration seems to be taking it slow.

“He said he’s going to seek input from the Secretary of Interior,” Budi said.

“We appreciate that President Biden has requested a review of the Trump administration’s actions on the monument rather than issuing an immediate reversal,” the industry advocacy group Saving Seafood said in a 22 January statement. “Our members look forward to discussing these issues with [U.S.] Representative Deb Haaland as soon as she is confirmed as Interior Secretary, just as we met with [Trump’s] Secretary Ryan Zinke and Secretary David Bernhardt.”

The Obama administration’s original monument declaration allowed for a seven-year grace period for the offshore lobster and crab fisheries to phase out operations inside the monument's borders. But longliners were excluded by the order, and Trump’s own executive order allowed them to resume fishing without limitations last summer.

“The Trump administration action last June did nothing more than create parity between recreational and commercial fishing in the monument, allowing both recreational and commercial fishermen to harvest sustainably in accordance with the Magnuson-Stevens Act,” Saving Seafood said. “Sustainable fishing has taken place in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts area for decades. There is no evidence that commercial fishing has ever damaged these canyons and seamounts or the corals and other marine life that exist there.”

Biden’s transition is heading for other broad reversals of Trump’s dramatic moves on natural resources, the environment, and energy. In the final weeks of his reelection effort, Trump declared a new moratorium on offshore energy development off the U.S. Southeast coast.

That move to reassure prosperous coastal communities from Florida to the Carolinas about potential oil exploration also appeared to foreclose new offshore wind energy planning. So far, South Carolina drilling opponents have applauded Biden’s move to limit fossil fuel development.

The prospect of dueling executive orders will echo Trump’s own moves to reverse Obama administration orders one-by-one.

“It’s like this ‘destroy everything the last guy did’ thing,” Budi said.

Reporting by Kirk Moore

Photo courtesy of NOAA


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