Despite the Obama administration's declaration that Cashes Ledge has been taken off the table as a possible location for a marine national monument, the divisive issue of the monuments continues to percolate nationally between fishermen and conservationists.

From Hawaii to New England, the lines are clearly drawn.

Conservation groups have sustained a steady lobbying campaign to convince President Obama to employ the Antiquities Act to create new marine national monuments in the waters around Cashes Ledge, about 80 miles off Gloucester, and the seamounts off southern New England and Monterey, California.

On Friday, Obama ended a contentious process in the Pacific Ocean when he expanded an existing marine national monument area in the northwest Hawaiian Islands to create the largest protected area on Earth -- 582,578 square miles.

Conservationists insist areas of the Atlantic Ocean are even in more need of protections because of the higher levels of commercial fishing and the expanding volume of commercial uses.

"We're pushing as hard as we can with elected officials and the White House on those areas that have been identified and confirmed by the scientific community as being of great interest," Peter Shelley, interim president and senior counsel at the Conservation Law Foundation, said of two New England areas. "These areas need permanent protection and this is not going to go away as a priority for us."

Fishing stakeholders and fishing communities have countered with their own public campaign that sharply criticizes the collateral impact of closing more areas to commercial and recreational fishing, as well as the method of using the Antiquities Act as an end-run around the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act.

"The Antiquities Act does not require transparency or a robust analysis of the science," the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition said in a statement. "It does not require any socioeconomic considerations be taken into account. No process is required other than an executive action by the president of the United States."

The coalition and others, including several members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation and Gov. Charlie Baker, have tried to drive home the point that the current system of federal ocean management requires fishing businesses and communities to follow the established and intricate regulatory procedures established under Magnuson-Stevens.

To allow the creation of marine national monuments by what amounts to presidential fiat, they say, is unfair to those who have operated under the established rules and makes a mockery of Magnuson-Stevens.

"The New England Fishery Management Council is in charge of carrying out this requirement in our region," the NSC said. "Last year, the council approved Omnibus Habitat Amendment 2 and is presently working on an Omnibus Deep Coral Amendment. These areas include the very areas now proposed and under consideration for a national monument."

Shelley, however, said the issue is not about fishery management, but protecting all of the elements of the ocean.

"This is not going to go away as a priority for us," Shelley said. "It is not going to change with (presidential) administrations."

Instituting protections for Cashes Ledge, he said, remains a priority despite the White House's comments in March that the area of the Atlantic Ocean, already closed to commercial fishing, no longer was under consideration as a site for a marine national monument.

On Wednesday, the mayors of two prominent fishing communities on opposite coasts -- New Bedford and Monterey -- wrote separate letters to Christy Goldfuss, the acting director of the Council for Environmental Quality, with comments mirroring the NSC's criticism.

The letters from New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchel and Monterey Mayor Clyde Robinson opposed the prospect of using the Antiquities Act, citing the lack of transparency and public input.

"We have serious concerns about the impact a monument would have on the commercial fishing industry here in New Bedford, the nation's top grossing fishing port, as well as across the Northeast," Mitchell wrote. "We are also troubled by the possible precedent-setting effect of the contemplated executive action, which has not been subjected to the scrutiny ordinarily reserved for temporary ocean closures."

Mitchell went on to say that the use of the Antiquities Act "could leave ocean management decisions vulnerable to political considerations in the long run."

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT

Trending Video

Recommended for you