If you’ve ever been on a whale watch off Provincetown, Massachusetts, you know the thrill of seeing the water boil around you with the largest mammals on the planet. You remember feeling in awe as a mama whale breaks the surface, followed in fluid rhythm by her baby. Spouts shoot eruptions of water high into the air. It’s breathtaking.
Anyone who has spent time near the seashore knows that crab traps, fishing nets, and lines dangling hooks can harm fish and whales. But, wait — there’s one person who either doesn’t know or doesn’t care, and that’s the US Magician-in-Chief. Shazam! Donald Trump has decreed that the Atlantic Ocean’s only fully protected marine sanctuary is now open to commercial fishing.
Fishing can resume at the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument off the coast of New England, Trump said during a roundtable discussion with commercial fishermen and Maine’s former Republican governor, Paul LePage. “We’re undoing his (Obama’s) executive order. What was his reason? He didn’t have a reason, in my opinion.”
While the frequent presence of humpback whales, finback whales, right whales, and sometimes other endangered whale species no doubt gives the sanctuary its public appeal and worldwide recognition, this marine sanctuary was created in order to protect the great diversity of marine creatures that depend on these waters for all or part of their life cycle.
That’s the reason. Whales, dolphins, fish, birds, seals, and other marine life depend on the sanctuary to survive.
Say goodbye to the nearly 5,000 square miles of ocean that the Obama administration set aside in 2016 to save whales and allow marine life to recover from overfishing. That is, unless a coalition of fishing groups who have already lost in both federal district court and in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals can push the case to the Supreme Court.
Northeast Canyons sits 130 miles off Cape Cod, the nation’s first fully protected area in the Atlantic. Many species of deep-sea coral, sharks, sea turtles, seabirds, and deep-diving marine mammals live along areas along the continental shelf. Towering underwater peaks called seamounts rise 7,700 feet, taller than the Rocky and Appalachian mountains.
The Governor Responds to Trump’s Tirades: “Absent of Reality”
The Trump proclamation took place in a Bangor, Maine warehouse dotted with lobster boats, traps, and buoys. The President said the fishing industry had been wronged by the Obama administration and the fisheries arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Trump declared that Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat who took office last year and who was not invited to the event, is “like a dictator” (beware of glass houses). He’s angry for what he perceives as Mills’ slow reopening of Maine’s economy as a safety measure during the coronavirus pandemic.
Mills’ retort included commentary on the divisive language Trump draws upon to stoke public fear. “What Maine people heard today was largely devoid of fact and absent of reality,” the governor said. “What Maine people saw today was a rambling, confusing, thinly-veiled political rally. I have spent the better part of my career listening to loud men talk tough to disguise their weakness. That’s what I heard today.”
Basking in the sycophantic, if small, crowd of commercial fishermen who surrounded him, Trump claimed, “You’re so lucky I’m president. I don’t even know you, and you’re so lucky.”
No Evidence to Support Fishing Industry Decline due to Sanctuary
The Washington Post initiated a Freedom of Information Act request that revealed commercial fishing operators “generated 5% or less of their annual landings from within the monument.” No evidence exists that the creation of the conservation area of Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument has hurt commercial fishing in New England.
Federal data shows no decline in revenue between the designation of the sanctuary and the onset of COVID-19 commerce shutdowns. In fact, fishermen are struggling during the pandemic and economic downturn to find buyers for what they already catch.
“No one has come forward with any data showing injury,” said Brad Sewell, senior director of oceans for the Natural Resources Defense Council. The New England marine sanctuary belongs “to all Americans, and they are held in trust for future generations.” He added that the industry is now suffering during the pandemic “as are other people,” but the administration’s move will not bolster their income. “There will be zero jobs gained, zero landings increased. It’s a political stunt.”
National Parks Conservation Association President and chief executive Theresa Pierno called the area “a living laboratory” where cod, tuna, sea turtles, sharks, seabirds, and endangered marine mammals like North Atlantic right whales flourish. This monument protects 3 underwater canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon and the only 4 seamounts (underwater mountains) found along the Atlantic Coast.
GreenLatinos, a conservation group, argued that the proclamation is “irresponsible and environmentally egregious. Trump has continued to show disregard for the protection of our environment,” said Jessica Loya, the group’s director of policy and programs. “Trump’s proclamation is yet again an open invitation for corporate profit-driven entities to take advantage of the American people and critically endangering our environment, and endangering marine life.”
It’s All about the Oil, Stupid
To better understand the ocean resources within the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts monument, the Center for American Progress (Cap) worked with a team of scientists at the nonprofit Conservation Science Partners (CSP) in summer 2017 to analyze marine biodiversity, fishing, and offshore energy data within the monument and surrounding area.
Their findings indicate that the Trump administration is committed to putting this extraordinary ocean protected area on the table for Big Oil, having already sought public comment on the “opportunity costs associated with potential energy and mineral exploitation and production from the Outer Continental Shelf.”
After this most recent Trump environmental rollback, less than .1% of the US waters outside the western Pacific Ocean will be protected from commercial fishing, according to an analysis by Cap based on federal data.
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