Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke may have decided Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument in northern Maine should be left as it is, but he’s proposing major changes to another monument established just last year in the Atlantic ocean, on the far side of the Gulf of Maine.

Zinke has recommended that commercial fishing activity resume in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument and two other marine monuments in the Pacific.

The marine monument, which encompasses nearly 5,000 square miles, lies outside the Gulf of Maine, roughly 100 to 200 nautical miles southeast of Cape Cod along the edge of the continental shelf. It was created by then-President Barack Obama in September 2016.

Since President Donald Trump ordered a review this past spring, Zinke has been reviewing the status of 27 monuments, five of them marine monuments, that were created by prior presidents.

Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument in northern Maine, also created last year by Obama, was among those under review. Last week, Zinke recommended that no changes be made to the northern Maine monument.

As part of the same report, which was released Dec. 5, Zinke recommended that fisheries in the three marine monuments should be subject to the same federal laws that apply to fisheries nationwide.

He wrote that Obama’s proclamation that established the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts monument in 2016 should be amended to allow the New England Fishery Management Council “to make fishery-management decisions as authorized by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.”

The south slope of Georges Bank, where the monument is located, is well outside the range of the vast majority of Maine fishermen, who generally go out on day trips to fish for lobster, scallops or other fish and then return home each night.

But the area is home to many species found in the Gulf of Maine, such as herring and deep sea corals, and is viewed by environmentalists as worthy of protecting in order to preserve biodiversity in the gulf.

The creation of the marine monument last year was praised by several environmental groups, but also was criticized by several commercial fishing groups, who countered that it hampered their livelihoods and was established without adequate input from fishermen.

Plus, they argued, the Magnuson-Stevens Act already has enough regulatory teeth in it to to ensure that fish are harvested sustainably.

In a prepared statement released the same day as Zinke’s report, Oceana Campaign Director Lora Snyder said the protections put in place for the Northeast Canyons monument and for the Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll marine monuments should be retained.

“Secretary Zinke proposes to throw protections for three marine national monuments overboard and to allow commercial fishing to resume. Yet, research has found that permanently protecting parts of the ocean allows fish populations to replenish, food webs to rebuild, and delicate corals to remain intact—resulting in an increase in the abundance and diversity of ocean life both inside and outside the protected area and providing more opportunities for fishing and nature-based tourism,” Snyder said.

Saving Seafood’s National Coalition for Fishing Communities released a statement in support of Zinke’s position.

“There seems to be a huge misconception that there are limitless areas where displaced fishermen can go,” Grant Moore, president of the Rhode Island-based Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen’s Association, said in a prepared statement from Saving Seafood. “Basically with the stroke of a pen, President Obama put fishermen and their crews out of work and harmed all the shore-side businesses that support the fishing industry.”

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A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....