Environmental groups are suing President Trump over a decision to open a national marine monument off the coast of southern New England to commercial fishing, arguing the president’s proclamation violates federal law.

The president announced the decision during a June 5 visit to Maine.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., says that under the U.S. Antiquities Act a president can only create protections for national monuments and does not have the right to remove them – only Congress can.

President Trump speaks during a roundtable discussion with commercial fishermen at Bangor International Airport on June 5. He said, “We are reopening the Northeast Canyon and Seamounts Marine National Monument to commercial fishing. Is that OK? is that what you want? That’s an easy one.” Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

Because of that, the proclamation Trump signed on his visit to Maine opening up the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument should be declared invalid, the lawsuit says. It was filed by the Conservation Law Foundation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity and R. Zack Klyver, a Bar Harbor naturalist and owner of an ecotourism company.

Trump made the announcement at a roundtable event with members of Maine’s fishing industry in Bangor. It would reverse protections put in place by President Barack Obama when he designated the monument in 2016.

The monument, located about 130 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is the only marine monument in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean. The designation in 2016 was intended to preserve and protect a unique area of underwater canyons and the diverse ecosystem they support.

Plaintiffs say the canyons and seamounts area provides critical winter feeding ground for Maine’s breeding population of Atlantic puffins, and that commercial fishing threatens sensitive fauna that serve as the basis for the ocean ecosystem, as well as fish and marine animals that get tangled in fishing lines and gear.

“Northeast Canyons and Seamounts was created to protect a complex web of marine life – including endangered whales, sea turtles and centuries-old deep-sea corals – from extractive activities,” said Kate Desormeau, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement Wednesday.

“President Trump does not have the power to unravel this national monument or any other, and we’re asking the court to stop the administration from opening this unique and fragile ocean area to commercial fishing. Preserving ocean areas like this one will be absolutely key to ensuring the resilience of our oceans in a changing climate.”

The lawsuit names Trump, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross as defendants.

No response had been filed as of Wednesday afternoon. The White House Press Office did not respond to a request for comment. The departments of Commerce and the Interior also did not respond to questions Wednesday.

Klyver, who worked for 30 years as the lead naturalist for the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company, said he first became interested in the monument designation as a way to help increase fish stocks by creating a protected marine area.

“This is an opportunity to use a tool to see how it could result in increasing fish stocks,” Klyver said. “I think it’s important from that perspective. Another piece is that climate change has had an enormous impact on fisheries in the Gulf of Maine. We need to have some places that don’t have lots of fishing pressure so scientists can study them and learn the impacts of climate change on areas that are more pristine.”

Since the 2016 proclamation, scientific research in the area has flourished. The lawsuit also states that government data show the ban on commercial fishing within the monument has not harmed overall landings and revenues among fisheries that had previously operated in the area.

Still, some fishermen have expressed concern about the creation of the monument in the first place and a lack of input in the process.

In a statement Wednesday, Bob Vanasse, executive director of Saving Seafood’s National Coalition for Fishing Communities, a fishing industry advocacy group, noted that the proclamation will still require commercial fishing to be managed under the Magunson-Stevens Act, a federal law governing marine fisheries, and does not modify the monument in any other way.

“(The Conservation Law Foundation) argues that President Trump’s modification of the monument created by President Obama is illegal,” Vanasse said. “But President Obama exercised the power to modify monuments created by his predecessors to expand Pacific marine monuments created by President Bush.

“It would seem that CLF’s position is that it is legal for a president to modify monuments created by a predecessor when CLF agrees with the modification, but illegal when CLF disagrees with the modification.”

A 2017 lawsuit filed by five fishing groups challenged the Atlantic monument’s creation, arguing the Antiquities Act does not apply in the ocean and that the monument is too large. In December, a federal appeals court dismissed the case and upheld Obama’s use of the Antiquities Act to create the monument.

Trump’s announcement was applauded by the eight-member fishing panel he met with in Bangor, though the impact on Maine fishermen is more symbolic then practical.

Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, a nonprofit working to enhance the sustainability of Maine’s fisheries, said there are few Maine fishing businesses that utilize the monument waters.

“For the state of Maine it’s not a very impactful place to open up to give back to the fishing communities,” Martens said. “We have some other things on fire around us within the fishing industry. Our hope is that with some attention on fishing issues some of the other needs of the fishing communities might come to the forefront – seafood markets and getting people to buy local and the marine environment – those pieces that really do have impact on Maine’s fishermen right now.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.