“The sacred cod.” On March 17th, 1784, Mr. John Rowe of Boston arose from his seat in the Hall of Representatives at the Old State House, and offered the following motion: “That leave might be given to hang up the representation of a cod fish in the room where the House sit[s], as a memorial of the importance of the Cod-Fishery to the welfare of the Commonwealth….”
A symbolic cod was placed in the hall, and was later moved to the new State House building in 1798. There it has remained ever since.
Fishermen and seafood-dependent communities in New England are battening down the hatches, fearing that an Obama administration move to create a giant Atlantic Marine Monument will spell the end to their way of life.
Led by Earthjustice, the Conservation Law Center, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Geographic Society, and the Pew Charitable Trust, environmentalists are urging the White House to use the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate a 6,000-square-mile area in the Gulf of Maine and off the coast of Massachusetts as a National Monument. The area is home to spectacular geological formations, including Cashes Ledge, an underwater mountain system, and the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts, an undersea chain of formations about 150 miles off the Massachusetts coast.
“We have an opportunity to permanently protect two of our nation’s greatest ocean treasures, right off our coast,” Priscilla Brooks, the Conservation Law Foundation’s director of ocean conservation, told the Associated Press (September 13, 2015).
National monument designations come with severe land- and, in this case, sea-use restrictions. For over four hundred years, the area targeted by green activists and the Obama administration has been one of the richest fishing grounds in North America.. The region’s fishermen fear that the monument could spell the end of their industry and they suspect that this is the ultimate goal of environmentalists, in and out of government.
“Excluding Commercial Fishing Activity from Certain Segments of the Ocean”
This view is shared by Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R). “These National Marine Monuments serve only one purpose – excluding commercial fishing activity from certain segments of the ocean,” he wrote in a letter to Obama in August. Fishermen are particularly concerned about being denied access to the seafood-rich Cashes Ledge. Robert Vanasse, executive director of the fishing advocacy group Saving Seafood, told the AP that the monument proposal ignores protections already in place in Cashes Ledge, including a prohibition on dredging and bottom trawling.
Marine monuments – there are currently four in the Pacific, and none in the Atlantic – are under the jurisdiction of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA typically bans commercial fishing, mining, and dredging in marine monuments.
Every bit as troubling as the monument designation itself is the use of the Antiquities Act to bring it about. Originally crafted to protect Native American sites of historical and cultural significance, the Antiquities Act has been used by the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations to declare an area a National Monument for environmental reason via executive action, with little if any local input. “There shouldn’t be a couple of people sitting around a table in the West Wing deciding this kind of thing,” Saving Seafood’s Vanasse told the AP.
A decision on the monument designation is expected in early 2016. Entering his last year in office, and determined to leave behind an environmental “legacy” to augment his unilateral, anti-fossil fuel action on climate change, Obama can be counted on to give NOAA the go ahead to designate the Atlantic Marine Monument.