(CN) — The Trump administration is defending an underwater monument established by former President Barack Obama to protect marine life in the Atlantic Ocean and asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit from fishermen trying to eliminate it.
President Obama established the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in September 2016, setting aside a 5,000-square mile are off of New England for protection due to the presence in the area of fragile deep sea corals and vulnerable species of marine life in the area.
The move inspired a lawsuit by fisherman and lobstermen who claimed Obama “exceeded his power under the Antiquities Act” when cordoning off the ocean acreage from commercial use.
But on Monday, the Trump administration filed a lengthy defense of the monument in federal court in Washington.
The filing comes even as the White House continues to review several monuments created by President Trump’s Democratic predecessor.
In the filing, Jeffrey Wood, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, argues the president has clear authority under the federal Antiquities Act to establish national monuments.
To support its contention, the Justice Department points to several marine monuments near Hawaii that have been created by past administrations under the Antiquities Act, and to a Supreme Court decision that that allowed for the creation of the Glacier Bay National Monument in Alaska, which includes submerged lands.
Last year, the Trump administration launched a review of national monuments, national marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments.
That ongoing review includes the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument and Rose Atoll Maine National Monument, which encompasses 13,451 square miles of ocean waters and 10 islands and atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian islands.
Marine national monuments are underwater areas designed to protect unique or vulnerable ecosystems. There are four of them in the Pacific. The Northeast monument, the only one off the East Coast, is also an area where fishermen harvest lobsters, crabs another aquatic commodities.