Conservation Law Foundation sues over rollback of ocean monument protections

The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) has filed a lawsuit against the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump over his decision to reopen the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument to fishing via executive order.

The new executive order revises the national monument – which was created by President Barack Obama in 2016 – granting full rights to commercial fishing companies to fish in the area. Prior to Trump’s order, fishing in the region was gradually being phased out. Other bans, on oil drilling and exploration, are being maintained.

A release by CLF states the organization’s lawsuit asserts that the recent order violates the Antiquities Act, and that Trump did not have the legal authority to make the order.

“Trump has once again eliminated critical natural resource protections on a whim and with no legal authority,” CLF President Brad Campbell said in the release. “This lawless act upends over a century of practice by presidents of both parties and puts all national monuments on the block for the highest political bidder. CLF is going to court to protect this natural treasure, one that provides resilience, refuge, and hope near one of the fastest-warming bodies of water in the world.”

The rollback of protections, according to CLF, 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,” CLF stated. “That is illegal. Our national monuments, whether on lands or in the ocean, are permanent.”

Fishing groups – including the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association and Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association – had previously sued against the establishment of the monument. The lawsuit alleged that Obama did not have the authority to establish the monument – a lawsuit that was later dismissed by a federal judge.  

Those same organizations welcomed the rollback of fishing bans in the monument area.

“Today’s revision restores management of fisheries within the monument area to the regional management councils created under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, once again allowing for the robust debate such impactful policy decisions demand,” trade group Saving Seafood said in a press release.

The group maintains prohibitions against fishing were controversial from the start, and that the appropriate stakeholders were not involved in any of the decision-making.

“The inclusion of prohibitions against commercial fishing was controversial throughout the process of creating the monument,” Bob Vanasse, the executive director of Saving Seafood’s National Coalition for Fishing Communities, said in response to the news of a CLF lawsuit. “A NOAA internal document in 2015 noted that the Atlantic deep-sea red crab and commercial and recreational pelagic fisheries for highly migratory species ‘have a substantial portion of their landings from within the proposed area.’”

Managing the fishing in the area under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, he said, is “not controversial.” He also criticized the process through which the monument was created. According to Vanasse, Saving Seafood, through public records requests, obtained emails from CLF’s Peter Shelley that showcase the organization was trying to keep its advocacy of the monument under wraps to give the seafood industry less time to respond.  

“The environmental community had ample opportunity to create a protected area using the Marine Sanctuaries Act, and they have actively worked with both the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and the New England Fishery Management Council on actions to protect those areas under the Magnuson-Stevens Act,” Vanasse wrote. “But, as NOAA noted, those ‘processes are rigorous and provide for significant public input.’ Instead, they chose the politically expedient route, and used their contacts and clout in the Obama administration to circumvent the scientific and public process. What they are now discovering is that what one president might create with the stroke of a pen, another president might take away.”  

Image courtesy of NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research


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