Fishermen Concerned by Marine Monument Proposals

File image, Papah?naumoku?kea Marine National Monument

Published Jul 8, 2016 9:35 PM by The Maritime Executive

As the Obama administration enters its final months, federal officials are considering the use of the Antiquities Act to designate one or more new areas as marine monuments – a streamlined process permitting the president to create a permanent, protected zone without the review procedures required for other legal designations. 

On the Atlantic seaboard, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission says that it has been informed the administration may create a marine monument to protect deep-sea coral. To date, details of such a plan have not been made publicly available, but a group of scientists and conservationists have called for the administration to use its authority to designate several areas off Maine and Massachussetts for purposes of preserving high-biodiversity marine habitats. The Commission, along with industry representatives, has asked the president to leave the regulation of these areas to regional bodies like the Northeast Fisheries Management Council, which is already working on coral protection measures. 

In California, a group of fishing industry representatives have released what they claim is a copy of an environmental proposal for a new set of areas for marine monument designation; they object to the what they describe as an opaque process, and to the prospect of having these areas withdrawn from fishing. "We're trying to head it off before the president considers nominating these as national monuments," said Mike Conroy of West Coast Fisheries Consultants, the group which released a copy of the proposal. The five page document has no authors listed, and its authenticity could not immediately be confirmed. The consultants group suggested in a letter to the Pacific Fishery Management Council that some commercial and recreational fishing interests felt that they were "kept in the dark" as the proposal took shape. "We are very alarmed that this action is being promoted behind closed doors, without any involvement of those who will be most impacted," the group wrote. 

In Hawaii, Senator Brian Schatz has called for President Obama to enlarge the island's existing Papah?naumoku?kea Marine National Monument, which was created by President George W. Bush ten years ago. The senator's proposal would quadruple the monument's size to nearly 600,000 square miles of ocean – making it the largest marine protected area on earth.  

Sen. Schatz’s plan was developed in consultation with recreational and subsistence fishermen to maintain their access to key areas outside the proposed bounds. All fishing, subsea mining or resource extraction would be prohibited within the expanded area. The environmental advocacy group National Resources Defense Council lauded Sen. Schatz' proposal, and said in a statement that "if we follow the example of Hawaii, hopefully we can extend this stewardship ethic to other special marine places in U.S waters."