Fishermen support reversing marine monument designation

This undated file photo released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration made during the Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition 2013, shows corals on Mytilus Seamount off the coast of New England in the North Atlantic Ocean. (NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research via AP, File)

There’s a rich fishing ground a couple of hundred miles offshore used by fishermen from all over the East Coast called the Northeast Canyons. All kinds of commercial fish gather in the plankton-rich waters -- from tuna to butterfish, from lobster to squid.

"We have probably half our fleet that does all kinds of fishing out there," said Rich Fuka of the Rhode Island Fishermen’s Alliance.

It’s also a distinctive marine environment, with ancient coral and steep canyons.

Toward the end of the Obama administration, the area was designated a marine monument, putting it off-limit to fishing. Now Trump administration Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is reviewing more than two dozen sites designated by previous presidents as monuments, using economic activity as one of the criteria.

Environmentalists are concerned about reducing the size or even removing the protection of monument status altogether, of any of those sites.

Environment America put out a statement about the marine monument stating "the Monument’s steep canyons and ancient volcanoes are home to a rich array of undersea life, including 73 unique species of coral. The Monument also provides critical habitat for many species of dolphins and endangered whales. Without the protection of the Antiquities Act, this undisturbed underwater ecosystem would once again be exposed to threats from commercial fishing.”

Fuka responded that fishermen are also environmentalists.

"We’ve proven ourselves as the best stewards in the ocean," he said.

Fuka said nets don’t go deep enough to affect coral and that "the fishermen are well-schooled and well-rehearsed and always participate in anything that has to do with migratory species like mammals, whales, they avoid them."

He pointed out the competition for fishing grounds now also includes offshore wind farms that interfere with fishing. He’s hoping the review of the monument status results in it being rescinded.

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