President Obama wants to permanently protect underwater canyons and sea mountains off the coast of Cape Cod and a mountain chain in the Gulf of Maine. He would do so by using a law presidents have historically used to establish national monuments, such as the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park. But his proposal got a mixed reception at a town hall meeting hosted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Tuesday night.
Scientists and environmental groups pledged their support, urging the president to use his authority through the Antiquities Act to protect these marine resources. Many supporters of the proposal described these areas as pristine ocean treasures vulnerable to human activities that threaten their health and biodiversity.
John Rumpler, a lawyer with Environment America, said such a designation would protect these areas from future human activities that include oil and gas exploration. The primary law governing fisheries regulations in federal waters doesn’t offer protection for non-fishing activities.
“We need permanent protections for these areas not just for the environment, but so that our fisheries can survive and thrive for generations to come,” said Rumpler.
Fishermen, seafood distributors, and some members of regional fishery management councils disagree with the manner in which the federal government is seeking to protect these areas. They say using the Antiquities Act sidesteps the work of fishery management councils, where the science and economic impacts of fishing quotas and conservation initiatives are reviewed with stakeholders.
Some areas environmental groups are lobbying to protect in the Gulf of Maine are already closed off to fishing and have been closed to commercial fishing for more than 20 years. Off the coast of Cape Cod, fishermen said they’ve been fishing above the canyons for decades without harming those habitats.
“If this monument status comes through, we are getting kicked out and we’re going to get put out of business,” said Jon Williams, commercial fisherman and owner of The Atlantic Red Crab Company in New Bedford, Massachusetts. “So if they are pristine and we’ve been [fishing] there for 40 years, then what’s the problem?”
Federal officials acknowledged the proposal offers few details because it is still seeking public comments to shape its final protections. John Bullard, the NOAA northeast regional head, said he didn’t know if more details would emerge before President Obama decides to proclaim these areas as a national monument.
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