Northeastern fishermen sue over Atlantic protections

New England fishermen are challenging the nation's first Atlantic marine monument, filing a lawsuit today that accuses former President Obama of violating the Antiquities Act because the monument is not on land.

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument protects almost 5,000 square miles of near-pristine deep-sea canyons and seamounts. Obama created the monument in 2016, eliciting cheers from conservation groups and criticism from some commercial fishermen (E&E Daily, Sept. 15, 2016).

Today's lawsuit takes aim at Obama's authority to create a marine monument under the Antiquities Act, a 1906 law that allows the president to unilaterally protect federal lands. The Pacific Legal Foundation, a group that advocates for limited government, filed the lawsuit on behalf of several fishermen's associations.

PLF attorney Jonathan Wood called the monument a "blatant abuse of presidential power."

"Most fundamentally, the ocean, where the monument is located, is not 'land,' nor is it federally owned or controlled," he said in a statement. "The monument designation is also not confined to the smallest necessary area; on the contrary, its sprawling boundaries bear no relation to the underwater canyons and seamounts it is supposed to protect."

The Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association, Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen's Association, Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, Rhode Island Fishermen's Alliance and Garden State Seafood Association are named as parties in the lawsuit, which will be filed today in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The groups say the monument affects the livelihood of fishermen who have long harvested lobster and fish from the area without harming the deep-sea corals and ecosystem.

The Northeast monument is not the first marine area protected under the Antiquities Act. President George W. Bush created four, beginning with the Papah?naumoku?kea Marine National Monument in 2006. Obama expanded two, including one that became the world's largest protected marine area.

But the Pacific monuments were in remote areas. Though fishermen — and the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council — have criticized some as unnecessary and restrictive, the protections were largely applauded.

The Northeast monument is comparatively minuscule in size, but it is far closer to communities that may later profit from its resources. In response to concerns, Obama made the monument smaller, allowed recreational fishing and provided a seven-year grace period for lobster and red crab fishermen to transition their operations to outside the protected area.

But today's lawsuit asserts that Obama did not tailor the monument close enough to the canyons and seamounts he aimed to protect. It cites a provision of the Antiquities Act that calls for a monument to be the "smallest area compatible" with the care and management of objects of scientific interest.

"Between Retriever and Mytilus Seamounts, for instance, the monument encompasses areas that are dozens of miles from the nearest seamount," the lawsuit says. "Yet in other areas, the monument's boundary lies right next to a seamount excluding areas that are at most only several miles away."

By:  Emily Yehle
Source: E&E News