‘Selling off the future’: Trump allows fishing in marine monument

Donald Trump is easing protections for a large marine monument off the coast of New England, opening it to commercial fishing.

But ocean experts caution that the rollback to the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine national monument will hurt the environment and won’t help fishermen who are struggling during the Covid-19 pandemic and economic downturn to find buyers for what they already catch.

“This rollback essentially sells off the future of the ocean and the future of the ecosystem for almost no present economic benefit,” said Miriam Goldstein, the ocean policy director at the Center for American Progress (Cap). “[That’s] why it’s so puzzling to do it at all and even more puzzling that the president is doing it now, in the middle of the pandemic and with police riots going on around the country.”

Trump’s announcement follows several others by the administration to weaken environment rules during the pandemic, including an executive order he signed yesterday to bypass reviews of big infrastructure projects that could threaten public health.

The president unveiled the decision in Bangor, Maine, at a roundtable discussion with commercial fisheries companies. The White House said Trump’s proclamation would allow commercial fishing within the monument but would not alter its boundaries.

The protected area is about 130 miles from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and it contains endangered right whales and sensitive deep sea corals. It is one of five marine monuments in the country. The other four are in the western Pacific Ocean. After this rollback, less than .1% of the US waters outside the western Pacific Ocean will be protected from commercial fishing, according to an analysis by Cap based on federal data.

“Even fishing done well still has an impact, so for that reason it’s important to have special areas of the ocean set aside. And this has been shown through a lot of science, that it is beneficial to ocean ecosystems, to biodiversity, to threatened and endangered species – and beneficial to those fisheries themselves,” Goldstein said.

Environment groups quickly responded that they plan to sue. The Natural Resources Defense Council is undertaking a similar lawsuit against the administration for opening up two Utah monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, to mining. The Utah monuments and the marine monument were established at the end of the Barack Obama administration.

Goldstein acknowledged that fishermen and aquaculture growers in coastal communities have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn, but she said there are other actions the administration could take that would help.

The US Regional Fishery Management Councils on 29 May sent a letter to the commerce department arguing that “the ban on commercial fishing within Marine national monument waters is a regulatory burden on domestic fisheries”. The group had been making that same argument since 2016.

Rip Cunningham, the conservation editor at Saltwater Sportsman and former chair of the New England Fishery Management Council, criticized the move.

“As a recreational fisherman, it troubles me to see the monument opened to commercial fishing,” Cunningham said. “These are fragile and vulnerable resources, and I am concerned for their future health.”

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