The Latest Move in the Trump Administration’s Efforts to Plunder Areas Protected by President Obama
The Trump administration could harm the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, a protected area of the Atlantic Ocean about 130 miles southeast of Cape Cod, Mass., by allowing commercial fishing.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has recommended that commercial fishing resume in the 4,913-square-mile Atlantic Ocean monument, home to the endangered sperm whale and 9-foot-tall cold-water corals, and two protected areas in the Pacific Ocean.
Former President Barack Obama designated the area a marine monument in September 2016, prohibiting commercial fishing except for lobster and red crab which were supposed to be phased out within seven years. About one-third larger than Yellowstone National Park, the 4,900 square-mile marine monument has three underwater canyons and four extinct undersea volcanoes, or seamounts, that rise up to 7,000 feet above the ocean floor, higher than any mountain east of the Rockies.
In June, Tim Gallaudet, the acting administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, suggested approving fishing in marine monuments.
Trump has also tried to shrink two national monuments in Utah, reducing Bears Ears from 1.35 million acres to 228,784 acres and shrinking the 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante to 1,006,341 acres, breaking it into three different pieces.
Native American tribes and conservation groups have sued to block Trump’s decision to shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase.
A 2017 study estimated only minor losses from banning commercial fishing in Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, at most an annual loss of $85,000 for lobster fishers or less than 0.015% of the $618 million lobster fishery. Fishers of red crabs could have net losses of $34,000 to $188,000 a year.
Both Democratic and Republican presidents have created marine monuments. In 1938, Franklin Roosevelt designated California’s Channel Islands National Monument as the first marine national monument.
Constitutional attorney Bruce Fein wrote that presidents don’t have the power to undo national monuments.
“Suppose Congress authorized the president to build 400 F-16 fighter aircraft for the U.S. Air Force,” Fein wrote. “It would be absurd to interpret the authorization to build as authorization for a succeeding president to destroy the F-16s.” Fein wrote.
Featured image: An octopus on the Physalia Seamount in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. (Photo: NOAA)