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Environment and Outdoors

Cashes Ledge Won’t Get National Monument Status ‘At This Time’

The White House says a request to permanently protect an underwater mountain in the Gulf of Maine is not under consideration.

The request to designate Cashes Ledge a national monument came from environmental groups, but the region’s fishing industry is strongly opposed.

Cashes Ledge lies in the middle of the Gulf of Maine, about 80 miles due east of Cape Anne, Massachusetts. It’s home to the Atlantic Seaboard’s largest cold-water kelp forest as well as a dense and diverse array of other plant, coral, fish and marine mammal species. It’s prized by fishermen and biologists alike for its function as a nursery for at-risk fish such as cod, tuna and shark.

Environmental groups last year asked President Barack Obama to designate the area a national monument, which would give it broad protections. But in an email to Maine Public Radio, a spokeswoman for the White House Office on Environmental Quality says that such a designation is not under consideration “at this time.”

The White House would not elaborate, but fishing industry representatives say they were told at a meeting in Boston that the monument designation was “off the table.”

Maggie Raymond, who directs the Associated Fisheries of Maine trade group, says a national monument designation would be bad news for most fishermen.

“For lobstermen, for groundfishermen, for recreational fishermen, for tuna fishermen for lots of different fisheries,” she says.

Raymond says that the New England Fisheries Management Council already places gear-specific limitations on fishing in the Cashes Ledge area, and the industry was worried that the process for a monument designation would be arbitrary and not based on science.

“There were no specific guidelines for that because monuments in the ocean are very rare,” she says. “But I think it in general has to be a very specific unique place and vulnerable to some kind of threat. And I believe that given the existing regulations there it was felt there was no existing threat to that area.”

“Without protections for all the animals and all the wildlife it’s going to be inevitable that it’s going to be reopened and going to be damaged,” says Peter Shelley, a senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, which is part of a broad coalition of environmental groups that were seeking the national monument designation for Cashes Ledge.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBs1XyIPQuw

(Cod swim through the extensive kelp forests on Cashes Ledge in this video shot in June 2015 by Brown University graduate student Robert Lamb.)

Shelley says the New England Fisheries Management Council has placed some restrictions that protect much of the Cashes Ledge habitat. But the council can’t be counted on, he says.

“People have to remember that the council is in the business of producing seafood,” he says. “That’s its mission in life. It’s not out there protecting the environment. It’s not there conserving wildlife and whales and seabirds, or even fish species it doesn’t have a commercial interest in.”

Shelley says the coalition will continue to push for the monument designation.

At the state level, Jeff Nichols, a spokesman for the Department of Marine Fisheries, says the agency opposed the designation largely because the process provides little opportunity for public input.

“We’re pleased with the announcement that Cashes Ledge is not under consideration,” he says. “But we do remain concerned about other areas under consideration and we’re going to continue to follow this issue closely.”

Another Atlantic marine ecosystem known as the offshore canyon areas of southern New England is still being considered for national monument status, industry sources say.