House lawmakers kicked off their effort to push back against national monuments designations, targeting the large swaths of ocean the Obama administration made off limits to fishing.
“I don’t believe the Antiquities Act should have ever been applied to oceans,” Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young said during a Wednesday hearing on marine monument designations. “There was never intent of that.”
Republicans on the House Committee on Natural Resources have long criticized former President Barack Obama’s use of the Antiquities Act to put millions of square miles off limits to commercial fishing with little to no input from locals.
With President Donald Trump in office and pending legal challenges, Republicans believe they can roll back some of Obama’s marine monuments or at least the restrictions on commercial fishing that were imposed with little to no input from local industries.
Committee chairman Utah Rep. Rob Bishop and American Samoa Rep. Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen sent a letter to Trump in early March urging the removal of restrictions on commercial fishing in marine monuments.
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, who couldn’t attend the hearing due to a snow storm, is a Democrat who represents a Massachusetts community dependent on fishing. Mitchell wants to change how national monuments are designated to include more local input.
Mitchell was not a fan of Obama unilaterally designating the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in September.
Obama put nearly 5,000 square miles of ocean and underwater canyons under stricter federal control. But Obama also made the area off limits to commercial fishing operations, giving them 60 days to “transition from the monument area.”
Obama gave red crab and lobster fisheries seven years to move their operations out of the monument area. The local fishermen claim Obama’s monument has already hurt their business.
“Such an outcome is cause for deep concern no matter one’s position in the current policy debates,” Mitchell said in a statement to the House committee.
Fishing groups argued the monument designation isn’t even legal. The Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) filed suit on behalf of fishing groups to overturn Obama’s Atlantic monument.
“President Obama set this entire area off-limits to most fishing immediately, with what remains of fishing opportunities to be phased out over the next few years,” PLF attorney Jonathan Wood said.
The Antiquities Act applies to only “lands owned or controlled” by the federal government, according to PLF and that designation be “confined to the smallest area” needed.
PLF argues Obama exceeded his statutory authority by designating a monument the size of Connecticut to protect canyons and coral reefs that haven’t been damaged despite four decades of commercial fishing.
“This illegal, unilateral presidential action threatens economic distress for individuals and families who make their living through fishing, and for New England communities that rely on a vibrant fishing industry,” Wood said.
Environmentalists were thrilled with the designations, agreeing with the Obama administration the marine monument was needed to protect “marine ecosystem resilience in the face of climate change,” according to the Obama White House.
“Scientific expeditions to this region have yielded new discoveries including species of coral found nowhere else on Earth and other rare fish and invertebrates,” reads the White House release on the designation.
“Additionally, the canyons and seamounts provide habitat for protected species such as sea turtles and marine mammals, including endangered sperm, fin, and sei whales and Kemp’s ridley turtles,” according to the White House.
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