Rhode Island lawmakers urge Trump to protect Northeast Canyons monument designation

Published on
January 7, 2019

Attorneys for fishermen who seek to overturn a marine monument designation – and a subsequent fishing ban – for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts said they plan to file documents in federal court this week that could trigger future hearings on the case.

Jonathan Wood, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, told SeafoodSource through a spokesperson that he expects opening briefs to be due next month, but he added that timeframe could be pushed back if the court issues a stay in the case due to the ongoing shutdown. The foundation represents the Massachusetts Lobstermen Association, who filed the suit in response to President Obama dministration’s declaration of the 5,000-square-mile area off the coast of New England as a national monument, the first such marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean.

The lawsuit is just one way commercial fishermen could regain rights to the canyons. President Trump ordered then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review the monument designation, and in 2017, Zinke recommended reopening it. Trump, however, has yet to act on the recommendation, and Zinke officially resigned last week.

Wood said he has not heard from the White House regarding the issue. 

“At this point, it’s up to the president to decide whether to follow through on any of them,” he said.

Attempts to reach administration officials were unsuccessful.

The lobstermen’s lawsuit claims the federal exceeded its authority when creating the monument. However, the Trump administration continues to hear from lawmakers and environmental advocates, who want to see the designation remain in place.

Last month, a group of Rhode Island state legislators wrote to the president, asking him to preserve restrictions on commercial fishing in the monument area, which is just 100 miles off the state’s coast. When Obama established the monument in late 2016, under the Antiquities Act, he banned commercial fishing in it, with a seven-year exception given to red crab and American lobster fishing.

State Representative Arthur Handy, a Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Energy and Environment, signed the letter, which included the names of 24 other elected officials from the state. Handy said reopening the monument to fishing would not cut into the country’s seafood trade deficit, noting that the monument area generated less than five percent of landings for commercial fishermen and, since the monument designation took effect, there has not been a decline in fishing revenues.

In addition, placing the monument under the Magnuson-Stevens Act instead of the Antiquities Act would be “a grave mistake,” the letter said. “Such an action would harm the monument’s special and vulnerable wildlife and would eliminate the only ocean ecosystems in the U.S. Atlantic protected from commercial extractive uses.”

The letter also states that more than 80 percent of Rhode Island residents support the designation.

“I want our children and their children to witness firsthand the beauty and abundance that the oceans provide, but without efforts to protect it, like the Marine National Monument designation, I fear that vision is in jeopardy,” Handy added in a statement.

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