Press Release

New England fishermen challenge Obama’s marine national monument

BOSTON, MA;  March 7, 2017: A coalition of New England fishermen organizations filed suit today over former President Barack Obama’s designation of a vast area of ocean as a national monument — a dictate that could sink commercial fishing in New England.

The organizations filing the lawsuit are the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, Atlantic Offshore Lobstermen’s Association, Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, Rhode Island Fisherman’s Alliance, and Garden State Seafood Association.

They are represented, free of charge, by Pacific Legal Foundation, a watchdog organization that litigates nationwide for limited government, property rights, and a balanced approach to environmental regulations.

The lawsuit challenges President Obama’s September 15, 2016, creation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, 130 miles off the coast of Cape Cod.

“By declaring over 5,000 square miles of ocean — an area the size of Connecticut — to be a national monument, President Obama set this entire area off-limits to most fishing immediately, with what remains of fishing opportunities to be phased out over the next few years,” said PLF attorney Jonathan Wood.  “This illegal, unilateral presidential action threatens economic distress for individuals and families who make their living through fishing, and for New England communities that rely on a vibrant fishing industry.”

A monumental abuse of presidential power

President Obama claimed to be relying on the federal Antiquities Act.  But as today’s lawsuit makes clear, his decree far exceeded the authority granted to presidents by that 1906 statute.  The Antiquities Act was enacted to protect ancient antiquities and human relics threatened by looting, giving the president broad powers to declare monuments consistent with that purpose.

However, the statute permits creation of national monuments only on “lands owned or controlled” by the federal government.  Moreover, any designation must be “confined to the smallest area” needed to protect the artifacts or objects that the monument is intended to safeguard.

“President Obama violated both of those core requirements of the law when he created the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument,” Wood noted.  “Most fundamentally, the ocean, where the monument is located, is not ‘land,’ nor is it federally owned or controlled.  The monument designation is also not confined to the smallest necessary area; on the contrary, its sprawling boundaries bear no relation to the underwater canyons and seamounts it is supposed to protect.  In short, the designation of a vast area of ocean as a national monument was a blatant abuse of presidential power.

“Unfortunately, the Antiquities Act has morphed into a favorite tool for presidents to abuse,” Wood continued.  “Today, presidents use it to place vast areas of federal lands off limits to productive use with little input.  Monument designations are particularly common at the end of a chief executive’s term, once the president can no longer be held accountable.

“Former President Obama was the king of Antiquities Act abuse, invoking it more times than any prior president and including vastly more area within his designations than any predecessor,” said Wood.  “Our lawsuit is intended to rein in abuse of the Antiquities Act and underscore that it is not a blank check allowing presidents to do whatever they want.  The creation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is a clear example of a president exceeding his authority, and we are suing to make sure this edict is struck down and the rule of law prevails.”

No environmental justification

“Beyond its violation of the law, the monument designation also threatens to harm the environment by pushing fishermen to other, less sustainable fisheries, and increasing conflicts between their gear and whales,” said Wood.  “The president’s proclamation cites protection of coral as one of the reasons for the monument.  But the corals remain pristine after more than four decades of commercial fishing because fishermen know where the corals are, and carefully avoid them, out of environmental concern and because coral destroys their gear.

“Instead of punishing New England’s fishermen — and shutting down their businesses — federal officials should be acknowledging their positive role as stewards of the ocean’s environmental resources,” Wood added.  “This is shown in their laudable efforts to promote sustainability.  PLF’s clients, for instance, have spent years working to improve their methods and equipment and to retire excess fishing permits, knowing that these costly sacrifices will provide long-term benefits to their industry and the environment.  The monument designation undermines those sustainability efforts, by depriving the fishermen of any reward for their sacrifices.”

With a ‘stroke of the pen,’ Obama’s illegal action ‘puts men and women out of work’

“We are fighting every day to keep the men and women in the commercial fishing industry working, but with one stroke of President Obama’s pen — and his abuse of the Antiquities Act — they are out of work,” said Beth Casoni, executive director of the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association.

“The monument designation will have a negative rippling effect across the region as fishermen will have to search for new fishing grounds — only to find they are already being fished,” she said.  “The shoreside businesses will also feel the impacts, as fishermen have to go further and further to harvest their catch, leaving less funds to reinvest in their businesses.

“We are extremely grateful to have PLF at our side as we fight back against this legal travesty, which is causing so much hardship for the commercial fishing industry here in the Northeast.”

About Pacific Legal Foundation
Pacific Legal Foundation, America’s most powerful ally for justice, litigates in courts nationwide for limited government, property rights, individual liberty, and a balanced approach to environmental regulations.  PLF represents all clients free of charge.

Case Attorneys

Damien M. Schiff

Senior Attorney

Currently a Senior Attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation, Damien joined PLF in 2005.  His practice has focused on federal and state environmental and land-use issues.  Damien was counsel of record … ›

View profile

Jonathan Wood

Attorney

Jonathan Wood is an attorney at PLF’s DC Center, where he litigates environmental, property rights, and constitutional cases. He is passionate about finding constitutional, effective, and fair solutions to environmental … ›

View profile

Todd F. Gaziano

Chief of Legal Policy and Strategic Research, and Director, Center for the Separation of Powers

Todd Gaziano joined PLF in 2014. He is the Chief of Legal Policy and Strategic Research, and he directs PLF’s Center for the Separation of Powers. Todd has served in … ›

View profile

Case Commentary

See all posts
Post

By James S. Burling

Weekly litigation report — May 26, 2018

The Constitution protects property rights from unelected government agencies Holding state administrative agencies accountable to the law Does “land owned or controlled by the Federal Government” include the ocean? PLF … ›

Read more
Video

Pacific Legal Foundation Applauds Administration’s Monument Review

Department of Interior and Secretary Zinke announced the conclusion of an extensive, public review of national monuments August 24, 2017 The agency has not disclosed its recommendations for individual monuments, which will be made public after the President reviews them

But the report leaves no doubt that past Antiquities Act abuse has been a serious problem and that President Trump has the authority to modify existing monument boundaries, including significant reductions in size if necessary or appropriate to comply with the text and purpose of the Act

 

Read more
Post

By Todd F. Gaziano

Are all of Obama’s national monuments permanent? A new AEI paper says no

A few weeks before he left office, President Obama abused the Antiquities Act of 1906 again to proclaim 1.35 million acres in Utah and 300,000 acres in Nevada to be new national monuments. White House officials claimed that both monuments were “permanent” because there was no express authority to reverse them.

Read more