President Barack Obama announced new executive orders Tuesday to make huge swaths of the Pacific Ocean off limits to fishing, energy exploration and other economic activities.
The move would create the world’s largest marine sanctuary, and is part of a broader push to tackle global warming and halt offshore energy development. This effort will be led by Secretary of State John Kerry and White House adviser John Podesta.
Obama’s new executive orders would expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument from 87,000 square miles to 782,000 square miles. All the waters being put off-limits would are located near U.S.-controlled islands and atolls, and the designation includes waters up to 200 nautical miles within U.S. holdings.
The national monument expansion would double the amount of ocean globally under environmental protection, The Washington Post reports. The president will also “direct federal agencies to develop a comprehensive program aimed at combating seafood fraud and the global black-market fish trade.”
The move also comes after the Obama administration finalized a rule “allowing the public to nominate new marine sanctuaries off U.S. coasts and in the Great Lakes,” reports the Post.
“It’s great to see that the Obama administration understands the importance of protecting our oceans and I look forward to seeing them continue this progress by protecting other vital ocean ecosystems,” John Hocevar, Greenpeace’s oceans campaign director, said in a statement.
“In addition to creating sanctuaries in U.S. waters, we hope to see the Obama administration take a leadership role in championing protections for the high seas,” Hocevar added. “There is already wide international support for a new high seas biodiversity agreement; U.S. support may be enough to tip the balance.”
But the move has already gotten intense criticism from those who see this as another power grab by the Obama administration. Obama has already used executive orders to designate 11 national monuments on land.
“This is yet another example of how an imperial president is intent on taking unilateral action, behind closed doors, to impose new regulations and layers of restrictive red tape,” Washington Republican Rep. Doc Hastings said in a statement.
“Oceans, like our federal lands, are intended to be multiple-use and open for a wide range of economic activities that includes fishing, recreation, conservation, and energy production,” Hastings continued. “It appears this administration will use whatever authorities — real or made-up — to close our ocean and coastal areas with blatant disregard for possible economic consequences.”
Hastings said that Obama’s announcement could imperil recent negotiations by the State Department to give U.S. tuna fisherman more access to the South Pacific. He said the national monument expansion would likely “make the U.S. tuna fleet even less viable, meaning in the not-too-distant future all of America’s tuna will be caught by foreign vessels.”
President George W. Bush initially exempted tuna fishermen from fishing restrictions when first designating the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument in 2009, in order to quell opposition. Podesta said the government may modify the plan to allow fishing in the areas it’s deemed necessary.
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