Fishermen in New England say President Barack Obama needlessly dealt a big blow to their industry when he created the Atlantic Ocean’s first marine national monument and circumvented the existing process for protecting fisheries.
The new Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument consists of nearly 5,000 square miles of underwater canyons and mountains off the New England coast. The designation will close the area to commercial fishermen, who go there primarily for lobster, red crab, squid, whiting, butterfish, swordfish and tuna.
They said the designation process wasn’t transparent and the administration should have let the New England Fishery Management Council, which is charged with regulating the region’s fisheries, finish working on the coral protection measures it’s considering.
“There seems to be a huge misconception that there are limitless areas where displaced fishermen can go,” said Grant Moore, president of the Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen’s Association. “Basically with the stroke of a pen, President Obama put fishermen and their crews out of work and harmed all the shore-side businesses that support the fishing industry.”
The lobstermen’s association and other fishermen wanted the White House to allow fishing in depths of up to 450 meters (1,476 feet), so they could still go there but still protect deep-sea corals. Annually, about 800,000 pounds (362,877 kilograms) of lobster are caught near the canyons, according to the lobstermen’s association.
A lobsterman in Newport, Rhode Island, wants Congress to act. One of Bill Palombo’s three boats catches lobster exclusively in the monument area. If nothing changes within seven years, Palombo said, “I guess you just go out of business.”
“What can you do?” he said. “That’s why we’re so upset.”
Palombo and others questioned why, if the area is considered pristine and fishermen have been going there for decades, can’t fishing continue?
Obama said, “The fishing activities taking place in the monument aren’t compatible with the protection of vulnerable marine life.’
Affected fishermen formed the Southern Georges Bank Fishing Coalition on Wednesday to oppose the monument. Coalition attorney Drew Minkiewicz said the president doesn’t have the authority to use the American Antiquities Act to declare a marine monument far offshore and Congress granted the right to protect these areas to the federally mandated fisheries councils that manage them.
“For people who live and work on the water, this is terrifying,” he said. “This is the government using eminent domain on your workplace.”
Eric Reid, general manager of a seafood processing facility in Rhode Island, knows more than 20 boats that fish in the area covered by the monument.
“If they can’t get fish, I’m not in the processing business,” said Reid, of Seafreeze Shoreside Inc.
Reid said Obama, who leaves office in January, will deal with the intended and unintended consequences of his decision for the rest of his term, while fishermen have to live with them forever.
This month, Barack Obama created the world’s largest marine protected area by expanding an existing ocean reserve off Hawaii to cover 582,578 square miles, an area larger than Texas.
The action was taken despite the fact that Hawaii longline fishery uses ‘responsible and sustainable practices and has resulted in Honolulu’s recognition as one of the nation’s ten most productive fishing ports.
“This decision will have a permanent negative impact on the livelihoods of thousands, the availability of local fresh fish for Hawaii and the United States, and the rights of the State of Hawaii and Native Hawaiians to cultural and economic opportunities in the waters and submerged lands in an area equal in size to the land mass of all of Washington, Oregon, California and Texas combined,” said the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council.