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Why Gulf of Maine waters won’t be a national monument

Diver in Kelp Forest at Cashes Ledge.
Diver in Kelp Forest at Cashes Ledge. (Brian Skerry)

Despite substantial pressure from environmental groups, Obama administration officials this week said the president won’t declare a national monument in a distinct portion of the Gulf of Maine that features glacier-sculpted mountain ranges and billowy kelp forests.

Over the past year, environmental advocates have lobbied the administration to designate an area known as Cashes Ledge as a national monument, a decision that would have permanently banned fishing around the submerged mountain range.

The ecosystem, about 80 miles off the coast of Gloucester, is home to an abundant array of life, from multicolored anemones to massive cod. Fishermen have opposed the designation and said they were relieved when they learned about the decision in meetings this week with officials with the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

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“Commercial fishermen in New England face continuous regulatory uncertainty, so it is a relief to know that there is one less restriction on fishing to worry about,” said Terry Alexander, president of the Associated Fisheries of Maine.

Environmental advocates called Cashes Ledge “an ocean treasure right here in our backyard.”

“The ocean doesn’t belong to the fishing industry,” said Peter Shelley, senior counsel for the Conservation Law Foundation in Boston. “The certainty that this area will be fished out and devastated by fishing — yet again — makes it even more important to protect it before it’s too late.”

Last month, Cashes Ledge was designated for protection from fishing by the New England Fishery Management Council. But that designation is not permanent. White House officials cited the council’s decision as a reason they chose not to permanently protect Cashes Ledges, according to those who attended this week’s meetings in Boston and New Bedford. Officials from the Council on Environmental Quality confirmed the decision but declined to explain it.

They noted that the Obama administration is still considering whether to designate a national monument in the waters nearby, which would ban fishing along several canyons and mountains of the Gulf of Maine.

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The American Antiquities Act authorizes the president to declare national monuments in public lands or waters to protect significant natural, cultural, or scientific features.


David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.