Zinke: US marine monuments will remain, but fishing rights may be restored

Published on
August 25, 2017

Five controversial marine monuments in U.S. waters will not be eliminated, according to a report from U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke – but the Trump administration will consider whether to shrink their borders and change management rules to allow for more commercial fishing.

Zinke delivered his report, which was mandated by an executive order in April, on Thursday, 24 August. Zinke reviewed the status of federal protection of land and waters in the United States and investigated whether U.S. national monuments created under the statute of the 1906 Antiquities Act should be eliminated, reduced in size, or otherwise altered.

The report itself was not publicly released. Instead, the Interior Department published a two-page summary of the review process.

In the summary, Zinke said he recommended against eliminating any monuments, but said some could be altered. He also called for changing the management rules for several sites, including allowing fishing in marine monuments where it is currently prohibited, according to The Washington Post.

Currently, the marine monuments encompass more than 340,000 square miles and include four sites in the Pacific Ocean the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument off New England.

In his statement, Zinke defended those who claimed their traditional use of the areas where newly created monuments now stand has been impinged.

“There’s an expectation we need to look out 100 years from now to keep the public land experience alive in this country,” Zinke told the Associated Press. “You can protect the monument by keeping public access to traditional uses.”

Zinke said in a statement that his recommendations about the monuments will "provide a much needed change for the local communities who border and rely on these lands for hunting and fishing."

Jacqueline Savitz, senior vice president of conservation nonprofit Oceana, told AP her organization wanted more information about Zinke’s recommendations to President Trump.

 “A change can be a small tweak or near annihilation,” Savitz said. “The public has a right to know.”

The AP also reported that environmental and fishing groups are preparing for a legal fight over the fate of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument. 

Fishing groups, including the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, the Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen’s Association, the Long Island Commercials Fishing Association, the Rhode Island Fishermen’s Alliance, and the Garden State Seafood Association, have already filed a lawsuit against the federal government, arguing the 5,000-square-mile monument was created through an illegal use of the Antiquities Act and that it jeopardizes the livelihoods of their members.

"I'm sure fishermen will appreciate any relief they get from the administration, but unless the monument is revoked it won't cure the legal problem that we highlight in the lawsuit," said Jonathan Wood, an attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing the fishing groups.

One other factor potentially affecting the lawsuit and President Trump’s decision on the fate of the marine monuments is a separate review being undertaken by the U.S. Department of Commerce. A spokeswoman for the department told the AP that a public comment period recently ended and no decisions have yet been made by the department in regard to the monuments.

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