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Environment and Outdoors

President Biden reinstates fishing limits in a Gulf of Maine conservation area

Seamounts Marine National Monument
NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research
via AP
FILE - 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. Environmentalists and fishing groups said Thursday, Aug 24, 2017, that they are prepared for a legal battle in the wake of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's decision to preserve the nation's first Atlantic Ocean marine monument. President Barack Obama designated Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument a little less than a year ago.

President Biden is re-imposing fishing limits in a vast undersea mountain range that conservationists say plays a vital role in the health of North Atlantic ecosystems and fisheries. That reverses efforts by former President Trump to roll back protections there and in two other national monuments in Utah.

President Obama established the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument, the first of its kind in the Atlantic, in 2017. It encompasses nearly 5,000 square miles of ocean in an area about 150 miles east of Cape Cod, and it's considered a hot-bed of species diversity and productivity.

Sean Mahoney directs the Maine chapter of the Conservation Law Foundation, which pushed for the monument's declaration under the century-old federal Antiquities act.

"Canyons as deep as the Grand Canyon, and seamounts far higher than any mountains that are in the New England region. Home to a real vast array of different types of species, from corals to fish to whales and dolphins and the whole nine yards," Mahoney says.

A ban on commercial fishing was supposed to go into effect in 2024

But last year, during a stop in Bangor, President Trump announced he was lifting it. CLF sued to re-establish it, arguing that Trump overstepped his authority. Mahoney says the suit can be dropped, now that Biden has renewed the ban, while also re-establishing the boundaries of monuments in Utah that Trump had reduced.

Few, if any, Maine boats fish in the monument zone. But many Maine fishermen do oppose the ban, and a spokesman for Saving Seafood, a national industry trade group, says there is no scientific justification for barring commercial fishing in the area, while still allowing recreational fishing.