A June 5 presidential proclamation ended a prohibition on commercial fishing in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts marine national monument and returned management of the area to the New England Fishery Management Council.

“We’ve said from the beginning that fishery management councils are best suited to address the complicated tradeoffs involved in managing fisheries, and we appreciate regaining our control to do so in the monument area,” said Council Chairman Dr. John Quinn.

The nearly 5,000-square-mile Atlantic monument southeast of Cape Cod was established in 2016 by President Barack Obama. It was the first (and is currently the only) Atlantic monument. Before the designation, key areas were managed as essential fish habitat through the New England council.

On June 17, the council laid out its management of the area and announced the pending implementation of its Omnibus Deep-Sea Coral Amendment, which will expand fishing restrictions in the canyons area.

"To the best of our knowledge, zero fishing activity takes place on the seamounts," said Janice Plante, public affairs officer for the council. "We're not aware of any real groundfish fishing activity in the canyons portion of the monument area either."

Tilefish, monkfish and squid fisheries are restricted around Oceanographer and Lydonia canyons. The coral amendment will restrict all fishing — except for deep-sea red crab pots — between those canyons south of the black line at roughly 600 meters (about 330 fathoms) and deeper out to the 200-mile limit.

Some press coverage and public responses to the news indicated that the policy reversal would blow the area wide open to unregulated commercial fishing, leading to destruction of long-protected habitat.

“This is not true at all,” said Tom Nies, the council’s executive director. “The monument area will not be ‘wide open to industrial fishing.’”

All eight regional fishery management councils submitted a letter opposing commercial fishing bans in monument areas, stating that the designations work in opposition to sound fishery management practices.

"Marine National Monument designations in their present form hinder the councils’ ability to sustainably manage fisheries throughout their range," said the letter signed by representatives of the nation's eight councils, "and they restrict the councils and the National Marine Fisheries Service from acquiring invaluable knowledge about the stocks and the marine ecosystem made available through catch-and-effort and observer data."

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Jessica Hathaway is the former editor in chief of National Fisherman.

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