Marine monument designation undermines Mass. fishermen, says Gov. Baker
BOSTON >> Gov. Charlie Baker is "deeply disappointed" by President Barack Obama's plan to designate an area off the New England coast as the first deep-sea marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean, a move the Republican's administration sees as undermining Massachusetts fishermen.
Obama on Thursday announced the creation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, a 4,913-square-mile area that includes three underwater canyons and four underwater mountains that provide habitats for protected species including sea turtles and endangered whales.
Recreational fishing will be allowed in the protected zone but most commercial fishing operations have 60 days to "transition from the monument area," according to the White House. Red crab and lobster fisheries will be given seven years to cease operations in the area, which is about 150 miles southeast of Cape Cod.
"The Baker-Polito Administration is deeply disappointed by the federal government's unilateral decision to undermine the Commonwealth's commercial and recreational fishermen with this designation," Baker spokesman Brendan Moss said in an email. "The Commonwealth is committed to working with members of the fishing industry and environmental stakeholders through existing management programs to utilize the best science available in order to continue our advocacy for the responsible protection of our state's fishing industry while ensuring the preservation of important ecological areas."
The Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen's Association condemned the declaration, accusing the president of abusing his power and "indiscriminately" drawing a border "without taking into account the complexity of the marine ecosystem and domestic fishing fleet."
Baker in November sent a letter to Obama, outlining what he described as "apprehension" over what was then a potential monument designation. Baker wrote that declaring a protected area could undermine ongoing work to develop marine habitat and ocean plans.
The letter cited plans under development by the New England Fishery Management Council and Northeast Regional Planning Body and the governor said a monument designation could jeopardize "already strained relationships with important stakeholders, including commercial and recreational fishermen."
"The proposed National Marine Monument designation is inconsistent with and contrary to the process and principles of the ongoing regional ocean planning initiative," the governor wrote.
Obama established three Pacific Marine National Monuments in 2009, but the Atlantic Ocean does not yet have similarly protected areas.
The monument plans won praise from environmental groups, including the CLF and the National Wildlife Foundation.
"Permanent monument protection for Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, a first-of-its-kind designation for the Atlantic Ocean, comes at a critical moment for a truly extraordinary place," National Wildlife Federation president and CEO Collin O'Mara said in a statement. "The whales, dolphins, sharks, and the many other species of fish and seabirds that rely on the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts will now have safe haven in a vibrant and globally unique wilderness."
The marine protections will hurt red crab, swordfish, tuna, squid, whiting and offshore lobster fisheries, according to the lobstermen's association, which said industry representatives offered White House aides alternative proposals that would have protected coral habitat while still allowing fishing in some areas.
"We find it deplorable that the government is kicking the domestic fishing fleet out of an area where they sustainably harvest healthy fish stocks," the association said in a statement. "Declaring a monument via Presidential fiat under unilateral authority of the Antiquities Act stands contrary to the principles of open government and transparency espoused by this President."
Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, said the designation "singled out commercial fishing for more punishment" and marked a missed opportunity to "balance conservation and support for commercial fishing."
"In New England, we have one of the most highly regulated fishing industries in the world, and we have had a steady decline in the amount of area available to fish, and it should be a last resort to take away more area as opposed to trying to carefully draw the lines of this monument area," Tarr told the News Service.
Both Baker, in his November letter, and the lobstermen's group raised concerns about what they described as a lack of stakeholder engagement in the process of selecting a monument site.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration held a public meeting on the proposed monument area in Providence, Rhode Island last September, and the White House said that administration officials "have visited the region repeatedly" since then to meet with local elected officials, commercial fishermen and other stakeholders. The boundaries of the area were "narrowly tailored" based on their input, according to the Obama administration.
The New England Fishery Management Council plans to discuss its next steps after the monument designation at a meeting next Thursday at the DoubleTree Boston North Shore Hotel in Danvers.
The council said in a statement that it will now need to "reassess its management strategy" as some of its coral-related proposals "have been superseded by the monument's establishment."
Council Chairman Terry Stockwell said the designated area is smaller than proposals that were discussed earlier, which he said indicated "an effort to at least partly address fishing industry concerns."