The controversy over the establishment of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Monument has highlighted a series of questions, the least of which is why a “review” is needed in the first place.
That the seafloor is covered with water does not exempt it from the Antiquities Act. Neither is creating an ocean monument precedent setting. The Antiquities Act was established to help create our national parks and stop destruction of our landscapes. The same now is happening to our oceans. Beyond President Trump’s primary objective of opening more lands to oil and gas drilling, his “review” has reveled another issue involving the fishing industry’s objection to creating marine protected areas. At stake is the importance of national values over that of industry profit. All presidents have used the act to set aside special places that define us as a nation. Though limited in size to the “smallest area compatible with care and management” of the resource, monuments can be millions of acres or square miles in area to protect large ecosystems encompassing whole landscapes such as deep-sea canyons and seamounts.
The ocean is the nation’s largest public domain and should be managed as a public trust. The submerged lands of the United States, whether they are under state or federal jurisdiction, are public lands held in trust by the government with attendant public trust responsibilities. Nationally designated areas belong to the people, not the users or extractors. A trustee resource, including our commercial fisheries, that is being irreversibly or irreparably damaged or depleted, in my opinion, is criminal action. Failure to take affirmative action in setting aside permanently protected areas or a reasonable percentage of the ocean area that will ensure the sustainability of the human population is irresponsible and shortsighted. Both fishermen and politicians are avoiding the reality of the situation.