As the coronavirus pandemic continues to persist in the U.S., President Trump continues to reverse environmental protections. His latest rollback? He’s opening up the waters of a marine national monument — which are filled with rare and endangered species — to commercial fishing.
On Friday, June 5, Trump shared a proclamation on the White House website announcing that he’s removing fishing restrictions in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. The monument is a 4,913 square mile area of water off the coast of New England.
The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument contains three deep sea canyons (Oceanographer, Lydonia, and Gilbert), four underwater mountains (Bear, Mytilus, Physalia, and Retriever), a wide variety of biodiversity, rare corals, and endangered whales and sea turtles, according to the NOAA. There are even a few rare and native species exclusive to that area, who have never been spotted in any other areas on Earth.
On Sept. 15, 2016, President Obama passed Proclamation 9496, establishing the area as a national monument and prohibiting almost all commercial fishing, with an exception for lobster and crab fishing, which Obama significantly limited. The proclamation still allowed for some recreational fishing.
Trump’s new proclamation completely lifts the ban on commercial fishing, meaning that after nearly four years, commercial fishing boats can return to the area and trawl for fish — a process that results in "bycatch" (aka the death of endangered sea animals), overheating oceans, and plastic pollution.
Why did Trump open the monument up to commercial fishing?
Trump commented on the new law at a forum in Bangor, Maine on Friday, where he said to fishermen: “We’re gonna solve your fishing problem… Basically, they took away your livelihood. It’s ridiculous,” as per National Geographic.
"What reason did [Obama] have for closing 5,000 miles? That’s a lot of miles. Five thousand square miles is a lot. He didn’t have a reason, in my opinion," Trump also said at the forum, as reported by The Maritime Executive. "For me, I can’t even believe they can do a thing like that. That’s a terrible thing. That’s a terrible thing."
Environmentalists strongly disagree with Trump opening the area up to commercial fishing.
“This rollback essentially sells off the future of the ocean and the future of the ecosystem for almost no present economic benefit,” Miriam Goldstein, the director for Ocean Policy at the Center for American Progress, told The Guardian. “[That’s] why it’s so puzzling to do it at all and even more puzzling that the president is doing it now, in the middle of the pandemic and with police riots going on around the country.”
“National monuments, by law, are to preserve the integrity of America’s natural and historical sites,” marine biologist Enric Sala, told National Geographic. “We need pristine areas set aside so that we can see nature as it was before we overexploited it, and understand the true impact of fishing. If commercial fishing were allowed in a monument, it would become just a name on a map, and no different than any other place in the ocean.”
Brad Sewell, the NRDC’s senior director of oceans said in a statement that the organization is “prepared to sue the [Trump] administration to protect these ocean treasures from harm and exploitation by commercial fishing and other extractive industries.” With today being World Oceans Day, there’s no better time to hold leaders accountable for putting our oceans in danger.