Skip to main content

Defending The Atlantic’s Only Marine National Park From Commercial Fishing

Earthjustice, representing the Center for Biological Diversity and Naturalist Zack Klyver, files motion to defend the designation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument
Paramuriceid seafan (octocoral) in Oceanographer Canyon.

Paramuriceid seafan (octocoral) in Oceanographer Canyon, Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.

NOAA OKEANOS Explorer Program, 2013 Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition
March 29, 2017
Washington, D.C. —

Today, Earthjustice—representing the Center for Biological Diversity and Zack Klyver, Head Naturalist for the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company—along with the Natural Resources Defense Council and Conservation Law Foundation filed a Motion to Intervene in a case brought by the Pacific Legal Foundation. On March 7, 2017, the Foundation brought the case on behalf of several commercial fishing organizations to challenge President Obama's designation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument under the Antiquities Act in September 2016. 

Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument: The protected area, encompassing 4,913 square miles, encompasses three canyons (Oceanographer, Gilbert, or Lydonia) and four seamounts (Bear, Physalia, Mytilus and Retriever).
The Pew Charitable Trusts
The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument: The protected area, encompassing 4,913 square miles, encompasses three canyons (Oceanographer, Gilbert, or Lydonia) and four seamounts (Bear, Physalia, Mytilus and Retriever). View larger map.

Located approximately 130 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the monument protects a cluster of four extinct undersea volcanoes (known as seamounts) and three undersea canyons, each one deeper than the Grand Canyon. The dramatic terrain of these canyons and seamounts forms a unique biologic hotspot, offering food, shelter and nursery habitat to a diverse range of endemic and migratory sea life in an otherwise austere environment. So far, scientists have found many different species of cold-water corals living here, including species that have been found nowhere else on earth. 

All five plaintiffs represented by the Foundation are commercial fishing industry groups that allege their members' business interests have been or will be harmed by the creation of the Monument. The data do not support these claims and only show small economic impacts to a relatively few fishermen. The industry plaintiffs seek a declaration that the Antiquities Act does not authorize the President to establish ocean monuments and that the Monument is consequently unlawful. They further seek an injunction forbidding the federal government from enforcing any of the proclamation's fishing prohibitions.  

If successful, the industry lawsuit would re-open this area to commercial fishing and other extractive activities such as oil and gas production, exposing the unique underwater land formations and the fragile ecosystems found there—including habitat for threatened sperm and beaked whales and deep-sea corals found nowhere else in the world—to irreversible damage.  

A sperm whale. The inset map illustrates total numbers of whales and dolphins found in the Coral Canyons and Seamounts, from 1963 to 2014. Hot spots for concentrations of whales and dolphins dot the shelf-edge.
Photo by Barry Gutradt / Bar Harbor Whale Watch. Map courtesy of Scott Kraus and Brooke Wikgren / New England Aquarium
A sperm whale. The inset map illustrates total numbers of whales and dolphins found in the Coral Canyons and Seamounts, from 1963 to 2014. Hot spots for concentrations of whales and dolphins dot the shelf-edge. View larger map.

Earthjustice, representing the Center for Biological Diversity and Zack Klyver, in cooperation with the Natural Resources Defense Council and Conservation Law Foundation, will defend the designation, and help prevent any settlement with the Trump Administration that would revoke or undermine the protections provided by the monument. We will argue that the seabed within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone is controlled and managed by the U.S. We will also demonstrate that the monument boundaries were carefully tailored through a lengthy public process to protect the canyons and seamount ecosystems while minimizing the socio-economic impacts to fishermen who use the area.

The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and has been assigned to Judge James E. Boasberg.  After Earthjustice’s intervention motion is ruled on by the Court, we anticipate a briefing schedule for the case will be set and briefing should be concluded this summer. 

Read the Motion to Intervene.

Read the Memorandum on the motion 

Visit our Marine National Monument explainer page.

QUOTES:

Roger Fleming, Earthjustice attorney who helped draft the Motion to Intervene
"There is no question that President Obama met all legal requirements in carefully designing this monument to protect its rare deep sea canyons and seamounts, and that he appropriately exercised the authority provided to him by Congress to protect and preserve this national treasure for generations to come. We will vigorously defend the Atlantic Ocean's only Marine National Park against this frivolous attack."

Kristen Monsell, Staff Attorney, Center For Biological Diversity
"These biologically rich seamounts and canyons need protection from overfishing and oil drilling. The Atlantic’s only national monument helps safeguard corals, sea turtles, sperm whales and other species struggling to adapt to warming oceans. President Obama's designation of the monument was legally and scientifically sound. We're intervening to defend these crucial protections from this self-serving attack."

Zack Klyver, Naturalist for the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company, who grew up in a coastal Maine fishing family
“This Monument will help fishing communities. The science shows that protected ocean areas have resulted in more abundant fish populations that spill over the boundaries where they can be caught by fishermen. The Northeast Canyons Monument will also protect vital wintering and foraging habitat for endangered Atlantic puffins and many resident and migrating marine mammals.”