BANGOR, Maine, June 5, 2020 (ENS) – Today, President Donald Trump traveled to Bangor, Maine to issue a proclamation that opens up the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument to commercial fishing, threatening the destruction of this sensitive, biologically important marine reserve. It’s the latest in a long list of Trump’s environmental attacks launched under cover of national and international crises.

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts off the New England coast was the first national marine monument to be designated in the Atlantic Ocean and is one of just five marine monuments nationwide. It protects 4,913 square miles of pristine ocean ecosystem – an area nearly the size of Connecticut, covering 1.5 percent of U.S. federal waters on the Atlantic Coast.

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President Donald Trump at a roundtable with commercial fishermen and Maine officials at Bangor International Airport, Maine, June 5, 2020 (Photo courtesy The White House)

Trump tried to justify his action by claiming that designation of the monument by President Barack Obama in September 2016 under the Antiquities Act of 1906 was bad for fishing in the region.

But in fact, a 2018 study of data from the region showed that catch and revenue from some species have increased since the designation of the monument, while for other species, such as tuna and swordfish, the numbers have stayed about the same. Overall, revenues for the fishery increased 27 percent in the year after monument designation.

In a roundtable with commercial fishermen and Maine officials at Bangor International Airport today, Trump said, “We are reopening the Northeast Canyons to commercial fishing. We’re opening it today – we’re undoing his executive order.”

Although the Antiquities Act of 1906 does not give the president power to undo a designation, Trump has already has downsized two other national monuments.

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument was created in response to citizens requesting for the area in the Northeast Atlantic to be protected, due to its importance as a biodiversity hotspot, habitat for rare and endangered species, and a valuable scientific and historical site.

Trump’s announcement today raised a storm of outrage from conservation and environmental groups.

Steve Mashuda, Earthjustice Oceans Program Managing Attorney, said, “In the midst of two national crises over systemic racism and a pandemic that rages on, the president has decided to prioritize opening up a national monument to commercial fishing, while weakening bedrock environmental laws that protect people and the environment.”

“It’s unclear if President Trump is aware of the irony of shredding protections for Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument on World Environment Day and during National Oceans Month, but it is nevertheless deeply disturbing he would attempt to do this at all. We’re also confronting a global extinction crisis that impacts the entire web of life, and this is an assault on an ocean refuge that countless marine wildlife rely on,” Mashuda said.

“Claims that the fishing industry will benefit from this action are grossly overstated, as was made clear by government documents in 2017. We condemn this action, amidst all the other destructive policies this president has pursued in these days, and are looking at every tool we have to support the fight against this,” he said.

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An Endangered fin whale, the second-largest species on Earth after the blue whale, swims in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument (Photo courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)

Bob Dreher, senior vice president of Conservation Programs at Defenders of Wildlife, said, “President Trump’s announcement today is complete political posturing. Opening up the nation’s only marine national monument in the Atlantic will help no one but a handful of fishers while risking irreparable damage to the marine wildlife that have no other fully protected areas off our eastern seaboard.”

“Ancient and slow-growing deep sea corals, endangered large whales and sea turtles, and an incredible array of fish, seabirds, sharks, dolphins and other wildlife – these are the species and habitats that will pay the price,” Dreher said.

About 130 miles southeast of Cape Cod, the monument protects irreplaceable habitats for 54 species of deep-sea coral and hundreds of marine species, including seabirds, sharks, whales and dolphins, fish and sea turtles.

The monument hosts endangered whales, including the North Atlantic right, sperm, sei, fin, and blue whales, and endangered sea turtles, including the leatherback, loggerhead, and the Kemp’s ridley, the world’s smallest and most endangered sea turtle.

Trump made his proclamation on World Environment Day, June 5. On this same day the Trump administration also:

• Released a draft environmental assessment that admits reducing protections for migratory birds will harm bird populations, but still recommends moving ahead with a final rule that would not hold companies responsible for birds killed in oil spills and other environmental disasters;

• Announced plans to carve a new hole in the National Environmental Policy Act to allow for logging of dead or dying trees on public lands without considering the impacts on ecosystems and wildlife; and

• Finalized air quality standards on offshore oil rigs that are weaker than the original Obama administration proposal.

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A shortfin squid swims by a large coral during a dive on Kinlan Canyon, by the NOAA expedition Deep Connections, 2019. (Photo courtesy NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research)

The Center for Western Priorities Deputy Director Aaron Weiss commented, “As the country is focused on racial injustice and a public health pandemic, President Trump and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt are accelerating their assault on America’s public lands and waters.”

“It takes a sickening disregard for people, wildlife, air, and water to unleash this many environmental rollbacks in one day,” said Weiss.

“Opening marine national monuments to commercial fishing will leave those areas as monuments in name only, and accelerate the sixth extinction crisis that is unfolding in front of our eyes,” he said.

While the president claims the move will provide much-needed relief to New England’s commercial fishermen, fewer than 10 lobster and red crab vessels fished the 4,913 square mile monument’s waters before the designation.

“At a time when voters and scientists agree we must protect 30 percent of America’s land and water by the end of the decade, President Trump and Secretary Bernhardt are dragging America and the world backwards, removing environmental protections for the benefit of corporate clients and donors,” Weiss warned.

“It may take decades to undo the damage of the Trump administration – and we don’t have that much time.”

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