Protecting Ocean Ecosystems

Leaked Report Reveals Recommendations to Allow Commercial Fishing in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Monument

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument protects thriving deep-sea coral communities. Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke submitted his report on the review of 27 of America’s national monuments to President Trump on August 24th. The report had been kept hidden from the public until it was leaked to the media on Sunday, revealing recommendations for drastic changes to ten national monuments, including the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.

Secretary Zinke recommends opening the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Monument – the first and only permanently protected ocean area in the U.S. Atlantic – to commercial fishing as well as allowing for “active timber management” in Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, New England’s only land monument. Secretary Zinke’s recommendations are inconsistent with what the public wants and President Trump would be making a big mistake to follow the Secretary’s bad advice.

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Monument was originally designated for its scientific and ecological importance. The 4,913 square mile area, located about 150 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, features three underwater canyons (Oceanographer, Gilbert, Lydonia) deeper than the Grand Canyon and four seamounts (Bear, Physalia Retriever, Mytilus) that rise from the seafloor higher than any mountain east of the Rockies.

This dynamic seascape supports vibrant communities of marine life. As many as 73 deep-sea coral species have been identified in the area, along with endangered whales, sea turtles, and seabirds, including Atlantic puffins. Myriad fish species are also attracted to the area, such as sharks, mackerel, tuna, and billfish. Allowing commercial fishing among extremely sensitive corals and gatherings of whales goes against public interest and the purpose of the monument.

A red crab pot on a coral covered ledge. Image via Peter Auster.

Furthermore, the important marine habitats found within the monument boundaries not only support vast marine life, but also tourism, recreational fishing, and other sectors that depend on abundant fish and wildlife. Altering our national monuments, both land and marine, and eliminating any protections against commercial fishing, drilling, and deep-sea mining is a major blow for local communities, business, and precious wildlife.

Zinke’s recommendations follow a 120-day review, including a 60-day public comment period during which the majority of American commenters overwhelming supported maintaining current protections for our public lands and waters. It’s evident now that these public comments were largely ignored in favor of industry and a handful of vocal fishermen. But for what benefit? Just as the monument has had so little impact on the fishing industry, opening it back up to commercial fishing will have virtually no impact on jobs or business activity. It will, however, risk damage to the vulnerable marine ecosystem and wildlife.

It’s important to keep in mind that Zinke’s report still only contains recommendations and no action has been taken yet. Hopefully, President Trump will see through this bad advice and reaffirm that the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts should be protected and enjoyed only for recreational purposes.


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