As the United States questions how to deal with the impacts of climate and biodiversity crises, policymakers should consider ways to ensure the protection of ocean ecosystems and wildlife. The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument, which then-President Barack Obama established in 2016 in recognition of the region’s impressive biodiversity and “objects of historical interest. or scientist ”is the only marine national monument in the continental United States. Located about 130 miles southeast of Cape Cod, it protects three deep-water canyons and four underwater mountains, and it’s teeming with wildlife – whales, dolphins, seabirds, turtles, sharks and rays, octopus and squid, fish, cold-water corals, and starfish and sponges, all of which are relatively safe foraging and breeding refuge from human interference.
The proclamation President Obama signed to establish the monument closed the area to all commercial fishing, mining, and oil and gas drilling. Shortly after designation, however, the federal government was sued by commercial fishing interests who claimed that the Antiquities Act did not grant the president the power to designate monuments in submerged lands. This paved the way for former President Donald Trump to reopen the monument to commercial fishing in 2020, claiming – without proof or legal authority – that “a properly managed commercial fishery would not endanger objects of interest. science and history that the monument protects. “While its proclamation did not lift mining and drilling restrictions, it allows the New England Fishery Management Council to use its authority under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) to manage commercial fishing inside the monument.
Decades of evidence shows that commercial fishing gear seriously damages and degrades ocean habitats, from the seabed to the surface. The delicate corals and sponges that support the food chain and provide refuge for other animals cannot withstand damage from the heavy chains and dredges used to catch fish and crustaceans from the seabed, and when this habitat is destroyed, fish and shellfish no longer have the area they need to reproduce. Fishing in the water column can entangle and kill non-target species, including those protected by federal law. Regardless, many players in the commercial fishing industry are convinced that fishing regulations are sufficient to achieve the same conservation results as the comprehensive protections provided by the Antiquities Act, while still allowing the Peach.
Allowing commercial fishing in the monument puts ocean habitats and wildlife at risk
In a recently published article, the author and other researchers compare the level of protection that the Antiquities Act has provided to the monument of commercial fishing with the level of protection offered by the MSA. The MSA allows fisheries managers to implement measures that reduce the impacts of fishing on sensitive habitats, but these measures are not mandatory and, if implemented, are not permanent either. While protections under the Antiquities Act retain sites as containing “objects of scientific and historical interest” and are granted in perpetuity on behalf of all Americans, the MSA empowers fisheries managers to protect the habitat only when “possible”.
The document revealed that as part of the MSA, wildlife on the sea surface and in the water column is threatened by pelagic gear in 100 percent of the monument, and wildlife on the ocean floor is threatened by bottom fishing gear in more than 50 percent of the Canyons unit — the unit most easily accessible from shore. The latter figure looks somewhat better when the seamount unit is included in the analysis, with 11 percent of the entire monument exposed to mobile bottom gear and 13 percent exposed to fixed gear from below. background. This is somewhat misleading, however, as all bottom gear is currently prohibited in the Seamount Unit, which is more difficult to access due to its location further offshore.
Before Trump lifted fishing restrictions at the monument, it was protected by the Antiquities Act from all commercial fishing gear on the surface, in the water column and on the seabed, except for a seven-year moratorium on red crab and the American commercial lobster fishery. Fishing gear deployed on the surface or in the water column unintentionally captures and entangles non-target species, including whales, dolphins, seabirds, turtles, sharks, rays, fish and other wildlife, many of which are protected by federal laws, including the Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the Migratory Birds Treaty Act. These gears include longlines, in which several kilometers of baited hooks are pulled behind a boat, and midwater trawls, in which large nets are dragged through the water column. Government of Hawaii data for the 10-year period 2007 to 2017 shows that nearly 50 percent of the state’s total longline catch was discarded and more than 30 percent of discarded animals were dead or injured, or nearly 65,000 animals. Since the monument’s protections were removed in 2020, New England fisheries managers have refused to restore protections against this type of gear, despite its known risks.
Gear that damages the seabed includes both mobile bottom gear, such as trawls and dredges that are dragged along the bottom, and fixed bottom gear, including lobster and crab pots. In New England, this gear is known to damage a high percentage of the seabed, and the ecosystems it comes into contact with take several years to recover. In highly sensitive and vulnerable deep-water coral habitats, the recovery time increases up to thousands of years. Even though the New England Fishery Management Council has just finalized protections for the region’s deep-sea corals, these protections only extend up to 600 meters of water depth. According to the author’s article, this leaves 59% of the Canyons unit at risk of mobile bottom gear and 69% at risk of fixed bottom gear. Tellingly, the action balances conservation interests with those of the industry, saying that “management measures are intended to reduce, to the extent possible, the impacts of fishing gear on deep-sea corals by New England while balancing their costs for commercial fishing “.
Aside from the direct effects of bycatch and entanglement of commercial fishing gear, commercial fishing removes food upon which the species in the monument depend. Important prey, such as squid, mackerel and butterfish, are targeted not only by commercial fishing, but also by marine mammals, seabirds, sharks, billfish and tunas. The spectacular wildlife of the monument depends on abundant and available food and should be granted this place of refuge.
President Biden should restore all protections to the monument
The scientific evidence is clear: The protections under the Antiquities Act are far stronger than the conservation measures New England fisheries managers can implement under the MSA. This is not surprising, as the two laws have very different mandates.
President Biden’s national goal of conserving at least 30 percent of US land and water by 2030 is a necessary step towards addressing the climate crisis and global biodiversity loss. This case study of the Northeast Canyons and Seamount Marine National Monument quantifies the differences between the protections afforded to the monument under the Antiquities Act and the MSA, showing that fisheries management protections are not sufficient to protect the fauna of the monument from foreseeable, albeit unintentional, damage. President Biden is expected to restore all protections under the Antiquities Act to protect this spectacular place for future generations.
Kelly Kryc is a senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Center for American Progress.