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On Friday, President Joe Biden reinstated protections for three national monuments, including a marine monument off the coast of New England.
The move is a reversal of policy from the Trump administration, which reviewed more than two dozen monument designations and weakened protections and shrank several of them to allow more oil and gas extraction, mining and grazing. Under former President Donald Trump, the Department of the Interior shrank two national monuments in Utah; Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante. Both monuments contained sites that are significant to the region’s indigenous people.
In addition, as a result of the Trump-era review, commercial fishing was resumed in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument, a 5,000 square mile marine preserve — the first in the Atlantic Ocean. Former President Trump signed a proclamation opening the marine monument to commercial fishing during a July 2020 visit to Bangor, during his campaign to seek re-election.
A Trump-era review of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, which was created by then-President Barack Obama in August of 2016, left the monument near Patten intact.
With Friday’s announcement, the Biden administration restored the size and protections of the two Utah monuments. It also resumed a prohibition of most commercial fishing in the New England marine monument, although lobster and crab harvesting will be allowed there until Sept. 15, 2023.
While monuments and national parks on land are mostly about preserving important landscapes that people will visit, marine monuments are about preservation and scientific research. With many fish stocks at low numbers, despite increasing fishing restrictions, and oceans rapidly warming, understanding what is happening underwater is more important than ever.
The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts monument contains three underwater canyons, one of them deeper than the Grand Canyon, and four underwater mountains that were volcanoes. It is home to diverse wildlife, including corals not found anywhere else. Scientists recently discovered that Atlantic puffins use it as a wintering area.
The combination of deep sea and tall mountains provides a breeding and nursing ground for an array of sea life, including lobsters. As the oceans warm — the nearby Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans — research in the monument area can play an important role in crafting policies to address climate change and overfishing.
The marine monument was created by executive order in 2016 by then-President Obama. It’s creation was opposed by commercial fishing interests, even though commercial fishing vessels caught less than 5 percent of their landings from areas within the monument.
A member of the Trump administration monument review team suggested removing this information from its assessment because it “undercut the case for the commercial fishing closure being harmful.” This is one instance of many chronicled by the Washington Post in which the administration downplayed the value of monument protections while emphasizing the value of trees, oil, gas, minerals, fish and other resources that could be extracted from them.
The canyons and seamounts and two Utah historical and geographic landscapes were worthy of protection when former presidents designated them as national monuments and they remain so today.