A federal appeals court has upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit that challenged President Obama’s designation of a section of submarine land off New England as a national monument.

Groups representing fishermen, lobstermen and crabbers contended that the designation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in 2016 created a hardship because it imposed restrictions on where they could fish. The monument was created to protect about 5,000 square miles of offshore land off the New England coast.

In a ruling handed down Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the lower court ruling that tossed the suit. The courts threw out challenges to Obama’s authority to designate the monument under the Antiquities Act and also dismissed a challenge that argued that the act applies only to dry land, not submarine land.

The court also rejected arguments that the area designated by Obama is not territory controlled by the U.S., even though it lies within the country’s 200-mile economic zone, and that Obama failed to designate the smallest possible area for protection.

The national monument consists of two distinct sections southeast of Cape Cod. One contains three underwater canyons at the edge of the continental shelf and the other covers four dormant underwater volcanoes – scientists say it’s an important spot for biodiversity and also supports rare or endangered species.

Some environmental groups called on the court to uphold the dismissal, including the National Audubon Society, which said the area designated as a monument is an important fishing area for seabirds, including Atlantic puffins, which live off the coast of Maine.


The Natural Resources Defense Council, which filed a brief in support of upholding the monument designation, lauded Friday’s decision.

“Like one of America’s very first national monuments, the Grand Canyon, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts is a natural treasure,” said Kate Desormeau, senior attorney for the NRDC. “It provides habitat for a wide range of species, from endangered whales to Atlantic puffins to centuries-old deep-sea corals. Preserving ocean areas like this one will be absolutely key to ensuring the resilience of our oceans in a changing climate.”

The Conservation Law Foundation also put out a statement supporting the decision, saying it will help protect the area from threats such as oil drilling or industrial fishing.

“Today’s decision is a clear victory for our oceans and for the Atlantic’s only marine national monument,” said Peter Shelley, senior counsel for the CLF. “Safeguarding the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts ensures that we are leaving a proud legacy for the people of New England.”

Environmental groups were concerned early in the Trump Administration when officials said the government was considering whether to allow commercial fishing in the monument area. Such fishing is normally barred in areas designated as a monument.

The current rules allow fishing only for lobster and red crab in the monument area and that permission expires in 2023. The suit was filed by the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, the Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen’s Association, the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, the Rhode Island Fishermen’s Alliance and the Garden State Seafood Association. Calls to various Maine lobster industry representatives Friday afternoon were not returned.

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