Elected representatives in Congress and industry groups are appealing to the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump to investigate the potential of removing marine monument designations made by Trump’s predecessors, Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Rep. Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-American Samoa) sent a letter to Trump earlier this week requesting the removal of fishing restrictions and the reinstatement of fisheries management under federal law, according to a letter released by the committee.
“Using the Antiquities Act to close U.S. waters to domestic fisheries is a clear example of federal overreach and regulatory duplication and obstructs well-managed, sustainable U.S. fishing industries in favor of their foreign counterparts,” the letter said. “You alone can act quickly to reverse this travesty, improve our national security, and support the U.S. fishing industry that contributes to the U.S. economy while providing healthy, well-managed fish for America’s tables.”
The letter attributes the closure of the Tri Marine’s Samoa Tuna Processors canning factory in American Samoa in December 2016 to the U.S. purse-seining tuna fleet’s loss of access to fishing areas in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument designated in 2009 by President George W. Bush. It also criticizes the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument – created by Bush and expanded by Obama – for removing fishing territory from the Hawaii longline fleet.
“[The monument designations] exemplify how a president and government bureaucracies can dispassionately decimate U.S. fishing industries,” the letter said.
In their letter, Bishop and Radewagen urge Trump to “act swiftly and effectively to remove all marine monument fishing prohibitions,” but do not clarify what specific actions they are asking Trump to take to undo the marine monument designations made under the powers of the Antiquities Act.
In related news, a coalition of New England fishermen organizations have filed suit challenging Obama’s September 2016 creation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in the waters off New England.
The organizations filing the lawsuit are the Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association, Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen's Association, Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, Rhode Island Fisherman's Alliance, and Garden State Seafood Association, and they are represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF).
The suit challenges the validity of the use of the Antiquities Act to protect a vast, underwater marine area. According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue that the Antiquities Act permits creation of national monuments only on "lands owned or controlled" by the federal government and that any designation must be "confined to the smallest area" needed to protect the artifacts or objects that the monument is intended to safeguard.
“[Obama’s] decree far exceeded the authority granted to presidents by that 1906 statute,” PLF attorney Jonathan Wood said in a press release. "By declaring over 5,000 square miles of ocean – an area the size of Connecticut – to be a national monument, President Obama set this entire area off-limits to most fishing immediately, with what remains of fishing opportunities to be phased out over the next few years. This illegal, unilateral presidential action threatens economic distress for individuals and families who make their living through fishing, and for New England communities that rely on a vibrant fishing industry."
The Obama administration said the monument’s boundaries were chosen carefully to minimize the impact on commercial fishing, but conservation of habitat found nowhere else on earth tilted the president in favor of the monument designation, which included a seven-year exception for the lobster and red crab industries. The groups suing the federal government argue that exception doesn’t go far enough in protecting commercial interests.
“"The monument designation will have a negative rippling effect across the region as fishermen will have to search for new fishing grounds – only to find they are already being fished," Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association Executive Director Beth Casoni said. "The shoreside businesses will also feel the impacts, as fishermen have to go further and further to harvest their catch, leaving less funds to reinvest in their businesses.
The lawsuit challenges both the creation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument specifically and the presidential use of the Antiquities Act more broadly.
"The ocean, where the monument is located, is not 'land,' nor is it federally owned or controlled. The monument designation is also not confined to the smallest necessary area; on the contrary, its sprawling boundaries bear no relation to the underwater canyons and seamounts it is supposed to protect. In short, the designation of a vast area of ocean as a national monument was a blatant abuse of presidential power,” Wood said. "Our lawsuit is intended to rein in abuse of the Antiquities Act and underscore that it is not a blank check allowing presidents to do whatever they want. The creation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is a clear example of a president exceeding his authority, and we are suing to make sure this edict is struck down and the rule of law prevails."
Since Trump’s election, state and federal lawmakers and commercial groups have also appealed to the White House to rescind designations of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine and Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.
However, there is no legal precedent for overturning an Antiquities Act designation, and environmental organizations and the outdoors industry have opposed any change in the monuments’ designation.
“The president has the authority to declare national monuments, and we believe he did so properly here,” Brad Sewell, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the Associated Press.
The White House, in response to questions from The Washington Times, had no comment, while the Interior Department, which oversees monuments, referred questions to the Justice Department, which did not respond to requests for comment.