At a fisheries roundtable discussion in Bangor, Maine, on June 5, President Donald Trump signed a proclamation to allow commercial fishing in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. The change falls short of eliminating the Obama-era designation and will instead be "taking down a no-fishing sign," according to David Bernhardt, Secretary of the Interior, who was at the table for the discussion.
"Under the last administration, commercial fishermen and Maine lobstermen were suddenly informed that nearly 5,000 square miles of ocean off the coast of New England would be closed to commercial fishing without justification," Trump said in his opening remarks. "So we're opening it today. We're undoing [Obama's] executive order."
Trump's opening remarks included reference to his executive order that seeks to review federal fisheries laws, create a seafood trade task force and clamp down on illegally harvested seafood. But retaliating against European Union tariffs became a recurring theme for the president in the discussion.
"I heard that Canada doesn't have to pay a tariff going into Europe, but you do?" Trump asked the panel.
"Two years ago we were sending a lot of product to China," said panelist and former Maine Gov. Paul LePage. "And then China put a tariff on us of 40 percent because of some of the trade issues between the two countries."
"And what happened to the tariff? Is it on now?" Trump asked him.
"Oh it's not gone down," LePage said. "I haven't checked lately, but you're still paying the tariffs, right?" he asked the panel.
The Chinese tariffs are the latest escalation in a trade war that started when the Trump administration levied tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese imports in 2018 in an attempt to bring China to the negotiating table.
"You're saying China charges a 40 percent tariff, and how big is the tariff that the European Union charges?" Trump asked, changing course.
"Twenty, it's 20 or 22," LePage replied.
"OK," Trump replied. "And this country, because of stupidity for years hasn't charged them anything."
"We're gonna charge an equivalent-plus tariff to them if they don't drop their tariff on your lobster and seafood, OK?" Trump added. "And we can do that."
Trump then addressed the press directly: "So Canada, doesn't pay a tariff for the same exact lobster in the same waters. But we pay a tariff. If European Union doesn't drop that tariff, immediately, we're gonna put a tariff on their cars, which will be equivalent coming in... it's going to be the equivalent-plus... watch how fast that tariff comes off."
The conversation then detoured slightly as LePage and Trump discussed broccoli, blueberries, Maine Gov. Janet Mills' reopening plan and unemployment guidelines before Trump opened the floor for the fishing industry panelists to offer their input.
The industry representatives emphasized that the monument's designation was an end-run around the public process. The area was being managed under the purview of the New England Fishery Management Council, which requires public and stakeholder input.
"The process by which this monument was established is a nontransparent process that does not allow for stakeholder input, does not produce any kind of economic impact analysis of the negative impacts and prevents all of us from enjoying the benefits of our healthy marine resources," said Maggie Raymond, executive director of the Associated Fisheries in Maine.
Raymond then noted that she wanted to put the burden of 100 percent industry-paid observer coverage on the president's radar: "We're also looking to a pending action by the New England Fishery Management Council and the National Marine Fisheries Service, which will likely be voted on sometime in the fall, which would establish a requirement for our fishing boats to carry 100 percent of observers or at-sea monitors on all of our trips at our own expense. And this could be as much as $40,000 a year for some of our vessels. This is simply an expense that we cannot afford at this time."
Trump brought the conversation back to tariffs in response.
To which panelist Frank O'Hara Jr., president of O'Hara Fishing Corp., mentioned that his Alaska flatfish boats were facing tariffs on exports to China and that the industry had a Zoom meeting with Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) who was working on the tariff issues and that it's critical that we all pull together to get things done.
"Keeping our nation's fisheries strong is a passion of mine," said panelist Kristan Porter, president of the Maine Lobstermen's Association. "That's why it's great to have this opportunity to talk to you about the process of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts. Rather than work with the constituents who actually fish there and were most knowledgable about the issue... this monument was formed in back rooms with special interests."
President Barack Obama created the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts monument in 2016, by way of the 1906 Antiquities Act, which was traditionally used to declare monuments on land. President George W. Bush was the first to apply the act to the seafloor, when he declared the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaii in 2006.
The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts was the first (and currently only) Atlantic marine monument and the smallest in the nation. The designations were made using the authority of the Antiquities Act, which was created to give presidents the ability to restrict public and private use of federal lands with the stroke of a pen.
"I just want, as a lobsterman, to bring up something that I would be run out of town if I didn't bring it up to you," Porter added. "Our fishery is in great shape, through years and years of good management. But despite our tremendous success, we find our industry at risk of being shut down because of the endangered right whale."
"In the last two decades there's not been an entanglement or a death in Maine waters," LePage noted, referencing an increase in entanglements in Canadian waters, and then blaming NOAA's regulations as the source of the problem.
The fulcrum of the issue at the moment is that a federal judge ruled against NOAA, saying the agency is not being strict enough on the Northeast lobster fleet.
"We just want our voices heard in the process," Porter said.
"As long as we can protect the whale, I'm gonna do it," Trump added.
“American fishermen work hard to support their communities, provide food security to the nation, and protect the environments where they make their livelihoods," added Bob Vanasse of Saving Seafood. "President Obama swept aside a public, science-based fishery management process with the stroke of a pen. That was a mistake. We applaud today’s presidential proclamation on the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Monument for restoring the open, collaborative, and science-based council management process that has made our fisheries a model for the world.”
The fishing industry was represented at the roundtable by Kristan Porter, president of the Maine Lobstermen's Association; Jon Williams, owner of the Atlantic Red Crab Co.; Jim Odlin, longtime Maine groundfish fisherman, who also served on the New England Fishery Management Council; Mary Beth Tooley, government affairs for the O'Hara Corp.; Terry Alexander, a fourth-generation Maine fisherman and current member of the council; Frank O'Hara Jr., president of O'Hara Corp., which runs boats in Maine and Alaska; and Maggie Raymond, executive director of the Associated Fisheries in Maine.
The rest of the roundtable with the president was filled out by Peter Navarro, an adviser to the president and director of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy; former Maine Gov. Paul LePage; and David Bernhardt of the Interior Department.