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Biden will restore protections to East Coast's only marine national monument

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration photo of corals on Mytilus Seamount off the coast of New England in the North Atlantic Ocean. President Barack Obama is establishing the first national marine monument in the Atlantic. The move is designed to permanently protect nearly 5,000 square miles of underwater canyons and mountains off the coast of New England. White House officials say the designation will ban commercial fishing, mining and drilling, though a seven-year exception will occur for the lobster and red crab industries. The designation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument marks the 27th time Obama has acted to create or expand a national monument. (NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research/AP)
A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration photo of corals on Mytilus Seamount off the coast of New England in the North Atlantic Ocean. (NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research/AP)

President Biden announced that he will restore protections to the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, a nearly 5,000-square-mile area southeast of Cape Cod.

The restored protections, which Biden will sign on Friday, will prohibit commercial fishing in the monument, with fishing for red crab and American lobster phased out by September 15, 2023. Recreational fishing in the monument will still be allowed.

Former President Barack Obama originally established the conservation area in 2016, creating the country's first and only marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean.

Map of Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument (NOAA)
Map of Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument (NOAA)

President Trump re-opened large sections of the area to fishing in June 2020, calling the restrictions "ridiculous," "terrible" and "deeply unfair."

Advocates for the commercial fishing industry expressed dismay at Biden's proclamation, saying they had little input into the decision, and accusing the president of overreach.

“Prohibiting hard-working commercial fisherman from sustainably harvesting while allowing owners of luxury yachts to spear fish for the same species in the same location is hypocritical," said Bob Vanasse of Saving Seafood, a domestic seafood industry advocacy group. "Marine sanctuaries should be created with public input as outlined in the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, not by the stroke of the Presidential pen."

The area contains rare and diverse marine life, including deep sea corals and endangered sea turtles.  A study published in July found that opening the monument to commercial fishing made species in the area more vulnerable, and concluded that "fisheries management policy is insufficient to protect these ecological resources."

Marine scientists and environmental advocates applauded Biden's decision.

"Restoring the Monument’s protection from harmful human activities, including commercial fishing, supports the health of the ocean, which protects our planet from the growing impacts of climate change," said Vikki Spruill, President and CEO of the New England Aquarium, in a statement.

“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 Conservation Law Foundation, in a statement. “With our oceans in peril from human impacts and the climate crisis, it’s time to protect more areas, not less.”

Biden will also sign proclamations restoring the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah, and area totaling over three million acres.

Pictured here: Deep-sea spiral coral on the New England Seamount chain in the North Atlantic Ocean. President Obama created the Atlantic Ocean's first national marine monument called Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. (NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research via AP)
Pictured here: Deep-sea spiral coral on the New England Seamount chain in the North Atlantic Ocean. (NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research via AP)

This article was originally published on October 07, 2021.

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Barbara Moran Twitter Correspondent, Climate and Environment
Barbara Moran is a correspondent on WBUR’s environmental team.

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