President Biden on Friday signed a proclamation that reinstated a ban on commercial fishing in nearly 5,000 square miles of federally protected waters southeast of Cape Cod, reversing an effort by the Trump administration to reduce protections in the first marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean.
The proclamation, which was hailed by environmental advocates and criticized by fishing groups, restores protections established by Barack Obama, who in 2016 created the controversial Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument to protect three underwater canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon, four underwater mountains, and a range of unique coral, rare fish, endangered marine mammals, and sea turtles.
Before signing the order outside the White House, Biden called the marine monument’s biodiversity “key to understanding life under the sea.”
“There’s nothing like it in the world,” he said.
In a statement, Biden administration officials said “restoring the monument’s conditions will restore its integrity, expand the opportunity for unique scientific study and exploration, and protect and preserve natural and cultural resources for all Americans.”
While most commercial fishing is banned immediately, crab and lobster fishing will be allowed until Sept. 2023. Recreational fishing is allowed.
For environmental groups that had pushed for years to protect an estimated 54 species of deep-sea coral and hundreds of marine species, including endangered North Atlantic right whales, Biden’s decision was gratifying.
“President Biden’s announcement is a welcome relief after Trump threw science out the window and slashed protections for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts,” said Peter Shelley, senior counsel at the Boston-based Conservation Law Foundation. “Restoring these commonsense safeguards will have an immeasurable impact on species that call the monument home and will result in a healthier ocean overall. With our oceans in peril from human impacts and the climate crisis, it’s time to protect more areas, not less.”
Representatives of the fishing industry called Biden’s decision “unfortunate.”
“There is no scientific justification to prohibit commercial fishing while allowing recreational fishing,” said Bob Vanasse, executive director of Saving Seafood, a Washington-based group that represents commercial fishermen. “While the Biden-Harris administration has claimed decisions will be based on science, and not on who has the stronger lobby, this decision shows otherwise.”
Before the waters were protected, fishermen estimated that as many as 80 boats regularly fished the area for lobster, crab, scallops, swordfish, and tuna. It’s unclear how many resumed fishing there after Trump’s proclamation.
On Friday, Biden also restored protections that Trump had removed from other national monuments. He reinstated and expanded the original 1.3 million-acre borders of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. He also restored the original 1.8 million-acre boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante, also in Utah.
“By restoring these national monuments, which were significantly cut back during the previous administration, President Biden is fulfilling a key promise and upholding the longstanding principle that America’s national parks, monuments, and other protected areas are to be protected for all time and for all people,” White House officials said.
At the signing ceremony, Biden called national monuments a “birthright of every American” and said they shouldn’t be subject to partisan politics.
“Protections of public lands must not become a pendulum that swings back and forth, depending on who’s in office,” he said. “National monuments and parks are … more than national wonders. They’re the birthright we pass from generation to generation.”