Federal court rules against fishermen in Northeast Canyons monument lawsuit

A federal judge last week dismissed a lawsuit brought by commercial fishing groups that challenged the creation of a marine national monument in 2016.

The organizations, which included the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association and the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, claimed the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama did not have the authority to establish the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.

The monument is the first national marine monument established in the Atlantic Ocean. Because of the designation, commercial fishing – except for certain red crab and lobster fishing – is prohibited in the 5,000-square-mile area. The crab and lobster fishing will continue until their permits expire.

While the administration of current U.S. President Donald Trump has been considering reopening it and other marine monuments for commercial fishing, it did seek the dismissal of the lawsuit, claiming the Antiquities Act gave presidents the right to establish and define such monuments.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg said the Supreme Court has ruled in three separate instances that the Antiquities Act covers the sea floor as well as the waters above them. He also denied an argument plaintiffs made contending the act could not be used to create monument in the country’s exclusive economic zone because that area was not created when Congress first passed the law in 1906.

“(O)nce it gained such control under international and domestic law, it could declare national monuments there,” he said. “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.” 

While plaintiffs consider whether to appeal the ruling they say it will continue to hurt the industry and give future presidents the ability to close access to other waters as well.

“This is not a joke, jobs will be lost and thousands of people’s lives will be impacted through a back-door process that did not require formal federal review,” said Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association in a Facebook post.

Conservation groups hailed the ruling, saying the ecosystem in the seamounts deserves protection.

“As today’s decision recognizes, the Antiquities Act exists to protect special places for all time, and that includes protecting ocean ecosystems from destructive extractive activities like commercial fishing and oil and gas drilling,” says Kate Desormeau, an attorney for NRDC, which joined other conservation groups to intervene in the case.


Want seafood news sent to your inbox?

You may unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. Diversified Communications | 121 Free Street, Portland, ME 04101 | +1 207-842-5500