Seamounts monument lawsuit appeal rejected by federal court

A lawsuit against a national monument created by U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration has been defeated once again after an appeal to an earlier ruling was denied.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has rejected the appeal of an earlier ruling that dismissed a lawsuit brought by fishermen against the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. The monument, created in 2016, will be 4,913 square miles of ocean roughly 130 miles off of the coast of New England that will be closed to commercial activity, including fishing.

The lawsuit, brought by fishing organizations including the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association and the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, claimed Obama did not have the authority to establish the monument. However, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg said that the Supreme Court has rules multiple times on the Antiquities Act, which gave presidents the right to establish such monuments in a country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

“[O]nce it gained such control under international and domestic law, it could declare national monuments there,” Boasberg said in his ruling in October 2018. “Plaintiffs offer no evidence that Congress would have intended to treat the EEZ and the Virgin Islands any differently – if expansion in U.S. control and ownership can expand the Act’s scope as to one, logically it can expand the Act’s scope as to the other.” 

Because the monument lies entirely in the U.S. EEZ, the appeals court found that the earlier ruling was correct, and that the monument is consistent with the authority granted to the president by the Antiquities Act.

“[T]he Supreme Court has consistently held that the Antiquities Act reaches submerged lands and the waters associated with them,” the court’s ruling states.

The court of appeals also dismantled several other arguments brought by the fishermens’ organizations – including arguments that the monument was not in an area under the federal government’s control, and that permitting ocean-based monuments would cause issues with the Sanctuaries Act – siding with the federal court’s earlier decision.

The decision is being haled by environmental organizations, including the Conservation Law Foundation.

“Today’s decision is a clear victory for our oceans and for the Atlantic’s only marine national monument,” CLF Senior Counsel Peter Shelley said in a release. “This decision upholds protections for one of the most fragile and scientifically important areas in the North Atlantic from destructive activities like oil drilling and industrial fishing. Safeguarding the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts ensures that we are leaving a proud legacy for the people of New England.”

According to a story in the Associated Press, Attorney Jonathan Wood, representing the fishermen, said the matter should be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, but that he would need to consult with his clients before taking any further action.  

Image courtesy of NOAA


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