Enviros sue to stop Trump changes to Atlantic Ocean monument

Published: Jun. 17, 2020 at 12:16 PM EDT
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A coalition of environmental groups has sued to stop the Trump administration from rolling back Obama-era conservation measures in the Atlantic Ocean.

The groups filed their lawsuit in federal court on Wednesday in an effort to protect Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument.

President Donald Trump signed an order early this month to allow commercial fishing in the area, which comprises some 5,000 square miles east of Cape Cod.

Conservation Law Foundation, Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed the suit.

They said Trump’s action is unauthorized by the Antiquities Act and the Constitution.

Full statement from the The Center for Biological Diversity:

"A federal lawsuit filed today says President Trump’s June 5 executive order allowing commercial fishing in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument was illegal. The lawsuit notes that the Antiquities Act allows presidents to create national monuments to protect objects of historic or scientific interest, but not to revoke protections.

The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in Washington, D.C. by the Conservation Law Foundation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity and Zack Klyver, a marine scientist and naturalist with the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company in Maine.

“Trump’s order was illegal because he can’t just declare commercial fishing is allowed in a protected marine monument,” said Kristen Monsell, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Seamounts monument was created to permanently safeguard this amazing ecosystem and vulnerable species like the endangered sperm whale. Presidents can’t be allowed to gut protections by decree as a favor to commercial fishermen.”

President Obama created the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in 2016 to protect 5,000 square miles of sensitive deep-sea coral reefs and the vulnerable marine life they support. Among those species is the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, whose declining population of about 400 is threatened by entanglement in commercial lobster gear.

Commercial fishing organizations challenged the monument’s designation and ban on fishing, but a federal district court rejected those claims in 2018. That decision was upheld in December by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

“I spend lots of time on the water so I know how important it is to protect this marine monument. My business depends on a healthy ocean,” said Zack Klyver, a marine scientist and naturalist for Bar Harbor Whale Watch and co-founder of Blue Planet Strategies. “Trump’s attack on New England’s prized marine monument is one I take personally. We need to protect our oceans and their abundance of marine life for future generations to experience"

The Trump administration has been trying to roll back protections of national monuments since early 2017 and open them up to mining, fossil fuel, commercial fishing and other extractive industries. Among the targets in that effort were the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument and the Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll Marine National Monuments in the South Pacific.

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is home to unique and incredibly important undersea features and creates an ecologically rich marine environment in which numerous species of marine mammals, sea turtles and fish congregate. It’s also home to cold-water coral species that are thousands of years old, along with other marine species found nowhere else in the world."

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.