Fishing Groups Lose Legal Battle Over Marine Monument

WASHINGTON (CN) – The national monument that former President Barack Obama established in the Atlantic Ocean survived a court challenge Friday, with a federal judge finding that the majesty of even underwater lands is worthy of protection.

These rare dandelion siphonophore were photographed in 2014 in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts (NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, via NRDC)

Appropriating words that President Teddy Roosevelt once used to praise the Yosemite Valley, the Canyon of Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg noted that the Canyons and Seamounts of the Northwestern Atlantic Ocean are a “region of great abundance and diversity as well as stark geographic relief.”

“Dating back 100 million years — much older than Yosemite and Yellowstone — they are home to ‘vulnerable ecological communities’ and ‘vibrant ecosystems,’” Boasberg’s 35-page opinion continues. “And, as was true of the hallowed grounds on which Roosevelt waxed poetic, ‘much remains to be discovered about these unique, isolated environments.’”

When Obama created the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in 2016, he relied on a 1906 law passed in Roosevelt’s administration.

A year later, the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association and four other groups filed suit to unravel the 5,000-square-mile designation: They claimed that high seas do not qualify as the small “parcels of land” discussed in the Antiquities Act.

Boasberg disagreed on Friday, dismissing their case.

“Just as President Roosevelt had the authority to establish the Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908, so President Obama could establish the Canyons and Seamounts Monument in 2016,” the ruling states.

A “superpod” of approximately 250 common dolphins spotted in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. (Photo by New England Aquarium, via NRDC)

Representatives of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, one of the five to file suit last year, voiced disappointment in the ruling.

“I believe the public is being led astray in thinking the area in question is fragile and in need of more protection,” said Bonnie Brady, the group’s executive director, in a Facebook message. “It has always been protected while being commercially fished with federal sustainability and essential habitat regulations through the federal Magnuson Stevens Act and the regional fishery management councils.”

Brady warned that Boasberg’s precedent could allow future presidents to unilaterally close off sustainable fishing areas without thorough federal review.

“The ruling was very disappointing, and I thought the flippancy in using lobster lingo and play-on-words to define the ruling, apparently trying to be humorous, was really kind of shocking,” Brady said. “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.”

Brady said the plaintiffs hope to appeal.

Commerce Department representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

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