Federal Court Upholds Protections for Oceans and National Monuments
A federal court on Friday dismissed an industrial fishing group’s challenge to the designation of Northeast Canyons and Seamounts as a national monument, the first marine monument in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean. Earthjustice represented Zack Klyver, head naturalist at Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company in Maine, and the Center for Biological Diversity in the lawsuit to dismiss the case.
Judge Boasberg granted the government’s motion to dismiss the case, agreeing with the government and conservation group intervenors that Northeast Canyons was lawfully created. Invoking the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt, who signed the Antiquities Act into law, the court held: “[J]ust as President Roosevelt had the authority to establish the Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908, … so President Obama could establish the Canyons and Seamounts Monument in 2016.”
The following is a statement from Roger Fleming, Earthjustice attorney:
“We welcome this historic decision from the court. In dismissing industry’s case, the court affirmed that the President has the power under the Antiquities Act to establish national monuments in the ocean, including to protect important ecosystems from destructive activities like commercial fishing and oil and gas drilling. Further, the most recent government data shows that the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts monument has no negative impacts on the commercial fishing industry. As the U.S. Atlantic’s only entanglement-free zone, this monument is a refuge for whales, fish, cold-water corals and countless other wildlife, and provides a buffer for the Northwest Atlantic Ocean against the worst impacts of climate change.”
Background about Northeast Canyons and Seamounts:
Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is located off the coast of New England. The nation’s only ocean monument in the Atlantic, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument protects a vibrant ocean ecosystem stretching across majestic canyons and extinct undersea volcanoes off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The monument is America’s only “entanglement-free zone” for whales in the Atlantic Ocean. Rare and ancient deep-sea corals are found throughout the canyons and seamounts, whose geology send upwellings of cold water with a bounty of nutrients like plankton, squid and other forage fish through this vibrant ecosystem. These nutrients feed the sperm whales, pilot whales, sea turtles, seabirds, and sharks thriving in these waters.
The monument protects recreational access to this biodiversity hotspot for the public, including recreational fishing. The waters of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument hold popular offshore fishing spots for anglers seeking billfish, tuna and mahi mahi.
President Obama designated the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument on September 15, 2016 using the Antiquities Act, a century-old law used by 16 presidents since Theodore Roosevelt to protect some of our nation’s most cherished landscapes, scientific wonders, and cultural heritage. Congress enacted the law in 1906, granting presidents the authority to create national monuments on federal lands and waters to protect significant cultural, historic and scientific treasures. The Antiquities Act does not however grant presidents the authority to diminish or revoke the monument designations of their predecessors.
More than 300,000 citizens, 145 scientists, 100 New England businesses, ten aquariums, as well as dozens of fishermen and fishing groups, marine mammal research groups and whale watch operators, dive groups, and conservation organizations voiced their support for protecting the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in the year-long public engagement process leading up to its designation.
Resources for reporters:
- Read the legal document.
- Read background about this case.
- Read a fact sheet on the marine treasures in the monument.
- Op-ed from Zack Klyver on this “Serengeti of the ocean.”
- Blog post from Brad Sewell, Natural Resources Defense Council, “New England Ocean Monument has not Harmed Commercial Fishing.”
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