President Trump, last week on June 5th, hosted a roundtable in Bangor, Maine to discuss commercial fishing in the Northeast. Specifically, this discussion was in regard to removing the commercial fishing prohibition in the Northeast Canyons Marine National Monument. Surrounding the table, was a one-minded group of people who fervently opposed the Monument’s 2016 designation. President Trump ended the chat by signing the executive order, which opened up 5,000 square miles to commercial fishing–harming the hundreds of species that frequent the Monument.

Paul LePage, the controversial former Governor of Maine, was the most vocal at the table. LePage focused on the harmful effect Chinese tariffs are having on Maine lobstermen. “Two years ago, we were sending a lot of product [lobster] to China and then China put a tariff on us for 40 percent because of some of the trade issues between the two countries,” LePage said. What LePage failed to mention explicitly was that this tariff was in response to President Trump’s trade war with China.

President Trump opened the roundtable by highlighting the good May job numbers and touting the successes of his administration. More than anything, it resembled a campaign event. Eventually, the discussion transitioned to the issue at hand. President Trump said, “under the last administration, commercial fishermen and Maine lobstermen were suddenly informed that nearly 5,000 square miles of ocean off the coast of New England would be closed to commercial fishing, without justification.”

In the end of his second term, President Obama created the 5,000 square mile Northeast Canyons National Marine Monument to protect the vibrant biodiversity in the threatened area. Commercial fishing–excluding the gradual phase out of several fisheries–was prohibited; recreational fishing, however, was still permitted. Certain commercial fishing practices can be very intrusive and harmful to ecosystems and the species within them. For example, the fishing gear most commonly used in commercial fishing can indiscriminately kill or harm marine life.

Former President Obama’s Monument designation withstood a legal challenge by five commercial fishing associations. “In all, plaintiffs offer no factual allegations explaining why the entire monument, including not just the seamounts and canyons but also their ecosystems, is too large,” wrote the presiding district court judge for the District of Columbia.

And now, President Trump’s decision to open up the Monument will be challenged. The Antiquities Act, which was used to designate the area as a National Monument, “gives the president power to protect special areas for future generations, not the opposite power to abolish those protections,” said Natural Resources Defense Council’s Brad Sewell.

Ocean Conservancy’s CEO Janis Searles Jones had this to say: “President Trump is stripping essential protections from one of our nation’s most special ocean places. This decision is a dangerous and deliberate step forward in the Administration’s larger plan to rob Americans’ of their shared public resources.”

Earlier in May, President Trump published an Executive Order to promote the competitiveness of American seafood, by easing regulations and streamlining aquaculture. Both of those initiatives are riddled with controversy due to the possible harmful environmental impacts. The fact remains though: American fishermen have struggled for years due to changing economic conditions and an increasingly globalized supply chain. The past four months or so amid the effects of COVID-19, however, have absolutely killed demand for seafood.

It is unclear exactly how many fishermen this proclamation will help, because “government landings and revenues data show no indication that the Canyons and Seamounts monument has caused any economic loss for the commercial fishing industry.” But one thing is for sure: this will be met with strong opposition and legal challenges. The Natural Resources Defense Council is “prepared to sue the Trump Administration to protect these marine treasures from harm and exploitation by commercial fishing and other extractive industries.” The Trump administration’s mission of opening up protected environments and rolling back environmental protections just keeps on chugging along.

Cover picture courtesy of US Fish & Wildlife Service, Zach Klyver.

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