President Biden has signed an executive order reinstating protected status to the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts. The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument is a section of seafloor about 130 miles south of Cape Cod that hosts some of the most biodiverse and dramatic undersea structures in the Atlantic.
In 2016, President Barack Obama signed an executive order prohibiting commercial fishing in a zone about the size of Connecticut. As part of the largest rollback of protected lands in American history, the Trump Administration attempted to strip protections from the Northeast Canyons area along with some of the most well-preserved historical sites in the United States; Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase National Parks in Utah, slashing their overall size by 85% and 46% respectively.
This was a crucial move according to National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) President and CEO Manish Bapna who said, “Restoring the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts—an extraordinary underwater landscape full of ancient corals and sea creatures—preserves a living laboratory for scientists and will make our ocean more resilient in the face of climate change.”
In response to the Trump administrations attempts to strip protections, NRDC waged multiple years-long legal battles, arguing that presidents do not have the constitutional or statutory authority under the Antiquities Act to roll back national monument designations. NRDC defended the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts’ monument status multiple times, first in a lawsuit brought by commercial fishing industry groups and later in their own challenge to the Trump administration’s rollback.
The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts—named for its dramatic underwater terrain of canyons and steep underwater mountains—is a biodiversity hotspot, teeming with 1,000-year-old corals and unique and rare species, as well as an important nursery area for dolphins and whales. Commercial fishing poses a number of threats, as industrial fishing gear can damage coral reefs, entangle marine mammals, and disrupt food webs. No data has ever demonstrated an economic loss for the commercial fishing industry since the monument’s designation. In addition, under the executive order from President Biden, recreational fishing will still be allowed throughout these protected waters.
“This is a victory for science, for future generations, and for anyone who looks to these special places for solace, education, healing, and inspiration,” Bapna says. Biden signed the executive order into law on October 8th and all commercial fishing operations in the area are scheduled to cease in September of 2023.