Obama designates national marine monument off New England

U.S. President Barack Obama has designated a nearly 5,000-square-mile area off the coast of New England as a national monument, making it the first such U.S. monument in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument will encompass a triangular area about 150 miles southeast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The designation of the monument will ban commercial fishing, mining and drilling there, though it made a seven-year exception for the lobster and red crab industries.

The designation, allowed by the Antiquities Act, follows Obama’s decision last month to expand the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, located off the coast of Hawaii, by 442,781 square miles, creating the world’s largest marine protected area.

“By permanently protecting these resources and reducing other threats to their respective ecosystems, these actions will improve ocean resilience in the face of climate change, and help to sustain the ocean ecosystems and fishing economies in these regions for the long run,” a statement from the White House, released Thursday, 15 September, said.

Regional fishing associations had argued against the creation of a national monument, contending the elimination of commercial fishing activities in so vast an area of the ocean would be economically damaging. They pushed instead for a balancing of environmental protections under the umbrella of fisheries management laws already on the books.

The White House said it took into consideration input from commercial marine interests made during a public comment period, and in addition to the exceptions for the lobster and red crab fisheries, would leave the monument open to recreational fishing.

But initial reaction from commercial fishermen to the announcement was highly critical.

“We’ve been fishing out there for 35 years. It’s a big blow to us,” Jon Williams, president of the Atlantic Red Crab Company in New Bedford, Massachusetts, told the Associated Press.

The White House said in its statement the monument’s boundaries were chosen carefully to minimize the impact on commercial fishing, but that environmental concerns, including the conservation of habitat for marine animals and coral found nowhere else on earth, tilted the president in favor of the monument designation.


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