The National Marine Fisheries Service is developing an amendment to incorporate the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts ban on commercial fishing into regional fishery management plans.
Originally declared during the Obama administration, partially overturned in the Trump years, and reinstated by President Biden, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument covers nearly 5,000 square miles of sea floor east-southeast of Cape Cod.
The first and only marine monument in Atlantic waters, the Connecticut-sized area includes three submarine canyons and four seamounts, the remanants of ancient volcanos.
“These undersea canyons and seamounts contain fragile and largely pristine deep marine ecosystems and rich biodiversity, including important deep sea corals, endangered whales and sea turtles, other marine mammals and numerous fish species,” according to NMFS.
This planned amendment would incorporate the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument’s area and commercial fishing prohibition into Mid-Atlantic and New England fishery management plans, and ultimately, into fishery regulations.
Former president Barack Obama designated the monument in 2016 using presidential authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906. The monument designation included a prohibition on all commercial fishing with an exception for lobster and Atlantic red crab trap fisheries until Sept. 15, 2023.
The commercial fishing prohibition was dropped by executive order from former president Donald Trump in 2020, but then reinstated by Biden in October 2021.
Commercial fishing advocates’ court challenges to the Northeast Canyons prohibitions have failed so far, even despite some pointed skepticism from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.
Commercial groups, particularly pelagic longline fishermen continue to criticize the prohibition, contending that their gear has no impact on habitats the monument was created to protect.