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Fishermen from Mass., N.J., sue federal government to block ban on fishing near Gulf of Maine

This undated file photo released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration made during the Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition 2013, shows corals on Mytilus Seamount off the coast of New England in the North Atlantic Ocean.NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research

Two fishermen, one from Massachusetts and one from New Jersey, filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging a Biden administration ban on commercial fishing in the Georges Bank area of the North Atlantic Ocean.

David T. Malley of Massachusetts and Patrick Fehily of New Jersey are commercial fisherman who work near the Gulf of Maine, within the roughly 5,000 square miles that President Biden designated in October as the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, according to court documents.

Malley, a fisherman for more than 50 years, and Fehily, a fisherman for more than a decade, name Biden, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, and Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland as defendants in the suit, filed in US District Court in New Jersey, according to court documents.


“The creation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument violated the core requirements of the Antiquities Act to limit protections to specific monuments,” Frank Garrison, an attorney for Malley and Fehily, said in a statement released by the plaintiffs.

“Most fundamentally, the Act gives the president authority to create monuments on federally owned or controlled land,” Garrison continued. “The ocean is not land. Presidential action that goes beyond laws passed by Congress undermines the democratic process and the Constitution’s separation of powers.”

The ban was first imposed by then-president Barack Obama in 2016 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. It was later rescinded by then-president Donald J. Trump in 2017.

The fishermen argue in their 41-page court filing that Biden’s revival of the ban violates the constitutional separation of powers. They also contend that it exceeds the president’s authority under the act used to authorize the designation, the 1906 Antiquities Act, which provides “limited authority to designate national monuments on ‘land’ owned or controlled by the Federal Government,” according to court documents.


They ask the court to block the ban, enter a permanent injunction against enforcing it, and to require the federal government to pay their attorneys fees, court costs, and “any further relief this Court deems just and proper,” according to the filing.

David Abel of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at Follow him @jeremycfox.