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Editorial: Shut down marine monument in NE now

There are bad ideas.

There are very bad ideas.

And then there’s this.

A current proposal to potentially create a marine national monument off the coast of New England is, in our view, one of the worst ideas ever.

Environmental groups proposed the monument in early September, urging President Barack Obama to use the Antiquities Act to permanently protect almost 5,000 square nautical miles of Atlantic Ocean.

Among the groups behind the proposal, these heavy hitters:  the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice, the Conservation Law Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, and Environment America.  And there were others.

Although details are lean at this point, the area under consideration, starting roughly 100 miles south of Cape Cod, would include at least three canyons – Gilbert, Lydonia, and Oceanographer – and four seamounts south of them.

Reportedly, environmental groups would also like to see two more canyons and Cashes Ledge added to the proposed monument site.

To make it clear, any areas ultimately designated within a marine monument will be utterly and permanently closed to commercial fishing.

NOAA responded by hosting a town hall meeting in Providence in mid-September — the purpose of which was … well, vague.

According to press reports, a NOAA e-mail prior to the meeting said, “NOAA hasn’t proposed anything.  We’re holding this town hall because there’s been interest from a number of groups on many types of protections.  The public meeting is an opportunity for stakeholders to provide input.”

Okay.

So stakeholders did.

Commercial fishermen weighed in with strong opposition. A petition signed by hundreds in the industry said that declaring the area a national monument would shut out stakeholders and prevent “meaningful outside input.”

Furthermore, many in the industry have pointed out that the process for considering the monument designation, which would be put in place through a presidential proclamation, is anything but defined.

The creation of a national monument, it seems, does not require public comment — and under the Antiquities Act the president can unilaterally protect an area without congressional input.

In response, US Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) and Rep. Don Young (R-AK) have recently co-sponsored H.R. 330, the Marine Access and State Transparency (MAST) Act.

The bill would prevent President Obama, or any future president, from unilaterally designating offshore areas as “national monuments” and restricting the public’s ability to fish there.

Instead, the bill would require a president to get the approval of Congress and the legislature of each state within 100 nautical miles of the monument before any “monument” designation could take effect.

Groups like the Fisheries Survival Fund and the Northeast Seafood Coalition have made their opposition to the current proposal in our region well known.  So have Maine Gov. Paul LePage and Gloucester Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken.

Interestingly, recreational fishing groups have seemed less incensed, calling instead for any monument designation to still allow for access by anglers.  Obama made that allowance in the Pacific Remote Islands monument when he expanded its scope last year.

Commercial fishermen have argued that the area in question is already well protected under the auspices of the New England Fishery Management Council.

Not surprisingly, environmentalists have disagreed.

“Even if the council is doing its job perfectly, it has no mandate to consider natural beauty, no mandate to consider scientific value, and no mandate to protect biodiversity or to protect jobs other than fishing jobs,” Conservation Law Foundation President Bradley Campbell reportedly said at the town hall meeting.

With all due respect, we suggest Mr. Campbell shovel his manure in someone else’s barn.

This is the saltwater equivalent of an underhanded, overreaching land grab.

Environmental groups sense a sympathetic ear in Washington and want to move quickly to sew up this monument designation process in the final days of the Obama presidency.  We get that.

Whether it is necessary or prudent is trumped by the fact that it might actually be possible.  For the enviros, that means a victory lap and satisified benefactors.

But for the rest of us, it means valuable and storied fishing grounds, currently already lying fallow as they regenerate, are gone.  Forever.

If that is not a bad idea then we for sure don’t know what is.  This proposal should be stopped in its tracks.  Now.  /cfn/


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