(CN) — President Donald Trump on Friday opened 5,000 square miles of ocean off the New England coast to commercial fishing, reversing an order signed by President Barack Obama shortly before he left office.
“I’m a believer in conservation, but they’ve gone crazy,” he said before an audience of Maine lobstermen, fishermen and crabbers.
The Obama order that declared the area a national monument “was deeply unfair to Maine lobstermen, threatened to cripple family businesses and cost American fishermen millions of dollars,” Trump said. He separately vowed to fight foreign tariffs that hurt the Maine seafood industry.
The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, which is larger than the state of Connecticut, is one of just five marine monuments and the first in the Atlantic Ocean. It is home to endangered right whales, sea turtles, puffins and rare deep-sea cold-water corals.
“This is an assault on an ocean refuge that countless marine wildlife rely on,” the environmental group Earthjustice said in a statement. Trump’s action is “threatening the destruction of this sensitive and biologically important marine reserve by resource extraction activities, such as bottom-scouring fishing,” the statement said.
But Trump called the Obama order “ridiculous” and “terrible” and added, “He didn’t have a reason, in my opinion.”
“America is blessed with some of the richest ocean resources anywhere in the world except when they close it up. And yet we have a $16.6 billion seafood trade deficit and import over 85% of the fish we consume,” Trump said. “Today I am signing a proclamation to reverse that injustice.”
He added, “I like scallops. Good. We’ll have plenty of scallops to eat.”
Trump vowed to lift other Obama-era regulations that restrict Maine fishermen.
Former Governor Paul LePage, who was present at the event in Bangor, Maine, told Trump that there were “a lot of bureaucrats in NOAA who really put some hurtful regulations on American fishermen.”
“It was particularly bad under the Obama administration. They just kept piling it on. It was a political stunt,” LePage said, adding that the regulations were often “so burdensome that you can’t afford to fish.”
LePage, a Republican, left office last year but plans to run again in 2022.
Trump replied, “I think of Maine as a great fishing state, but you’re so restricted, it keeps you from being a great fishing state.”
The conversation then turned to tariffs and Trump vowed to help Maine fishermen on that front.
The European Union imposes a 20% tariff on U.S. seafood but not on Canadian seafood, Trump said, which is “stupidity” because “it’s the same exact lobster in the same water.”
“The European Union has ripped this country off so much, it’s unbelievable,” Trump said. “They’ve been almost as bad over the years as China in terms of trade, but nobody talks about it.”
“If they don’t change,” he threatened, “we’re going to put a tariff on their cars until they change, and they’ll change right away … Watch how fast that tariff comes off.”
Trump also threatened Canada.
“Canada has been very tough. You know why? Because they got away with it,” Trump said, noting that he had previously fought America’s northern neighbor over its 287% tariff on dairy products from Wisconsin.
LePage said that “in some respects Canada has been our worst enemy.”
Trump further threatened to crack down on foreign countries that are illegally harvesting seafood in U.S. waters.
The president then went out of his way to attack Maine’s Democratic Governor Janet Mills over her coronavirus-related shutdown orders.
“You have a governor who doesn’t know what she’s doing, and she’s like a dictator,” Trump said. “She’s going to get rid of all your wealth and you’ll never recover.”
The creation of the 5,000-square-mile national monument had previously been the subject of a lawsuit; the D.C. Circuit rejected a case challenging the Obama order in December 2019.
“The centuries-old coral and the endangered whales, dolphins and other ocean life protected by this monument are fragile and irreplaceable,” said Kelsey Lamp, a spokesperson for Environment America, in a statement.
“To allow commercial fishing in this vital marine monument would put so many remarkable species at further risk. As the public has shown over and over, this is not what the vast majority of Americans want.”