(Emily Larsen, Liberty Headlines) The legality of President Obama’s “marine monument,” the first of its kind, is in question.
A coalition of commercial fishing groups filed a lawsuit which challenges the designation of the area as a national monument. Fishing is not allowed on the monument. The fishermen, represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, say that the Antiquities Act only gives the President power to designate land as a national monument, and argue the ocean isn’t land.
Obama used the Antiquities Act to declare the area in question – the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument – in September 2016. Nearly 5,000 square miles of ocean and underwater canyons 130 miles off the coast of New England make up the disputed monument. The area is roughly the size of Connecticut.
“This critical marine area, which serves as important habitat for pelagic fish species, corals, whales, sea turtles, sea birds and other species, will now be protected and preserved for future generations, serving as an important natural laboratory for research and enhanced understanding of the impacts of climate change on our oceans,” former Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said in a press release when the monument was first designated.
The North Atlantic right whale population is of particular concern to many marine biologists. There are only 524 whales left in the population. There were only three whale births this year during calving season, and there were four mortalities due to entanglements and ship strikes last year.
But the Pacific Legal Foundation says the monument could hurt the marine life it seeks to help.
“Beyond its violation of the law, the monument designation also threatens to harm the environment by pushing fishermen to other, less sustainable fisheries, and increasing conflicts between their gear and whales,” said attorney Jonathan Wood in a press release.
At issue is whether it’s legal to designate a marine zone as a monument under the Antiquities Act, and if the area designated meets the requirements to be the smallest area possible. The Pacific Legal Foundation argues the answer to both of these questions is no.
“[T]he ocean, where the monument is located, is not ‘land,’ nor is it federally owned or controlled,” said Wood. “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. In short, the designation of a vast area of ocean as a national monument was a blatant abuse of presidential power.”
The monument could be detrimental to the fishing industry and other potential industrial development in the area, although the exact economic impact is unclear.
When Sweden introduced a proposal to ban American lobster imports in the European Union, lobstermen would have seen a $125 million loss in exports in Massachusetts alone. The proposal was dropped in October.
Maine Gov. Paul LePage asked President Trump to intervene and reverse the monument designation. However, the Antiquities Act doesn’t give the President the power to reverse the designation, only to declare one. Rep. Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican and the chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, also urged President Trump to remove the fishing ban on the marine monument, calling the prohibitions a “clear example of federal overreach.”
President Obama designated 29 areas as monuments under the Antiquities Act during his time in office. President George W. Bush designated six areas as monuments, and President Bill Clinton designated 19 areas, during their terms as president.