BOSTON — Many New England fishermen breathed a sigh of relief last Thursday when the Obama administration announced that Cashes Ledge in the Gulf of Maine would not be designated a Marine National Monument.
The area, about 80 miles offshore from Cape Ann in the Gulf of Maine, includes an underwater mountain and canyons. It boasts abundant and diverse marine life and has been a historic commercial and recreational fishing ground.
A coalition of environmental groups including the Conservation Law Foundation has been pushing for the National Monument designation, which would close the area to any fishing activity.
“Many groups and thousands of people support permanent protection, and they will continue to speak up for this important place,” Peter Shelley of CLF wrote in a blog post Friday.
Fishing industry representatives say they too are concerned with habitat protection, but a presidential executive order to declare a national monument under the 1906 Antiquities Act would have been the wrong way to go about it.
“As stakeholders who participated in a lengthy, thorough and transparent public process to identify and protect important marine habitats such as Cashes Ledge,” Vito Giacalone, chair of governmental affairs for the Northeast Seafood Coalition said in a statement. “We are grateful and pleased to hear that the Magnuson Stevens Act process we all followed has been acknowledged and respected by the Obama Administration.
“We are sincerely grateful that the president, after gathering all pertinent facts, saw that the use of executive order was unnecessary in light of the process that has already taken place through the New England Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC),” he said.
Currently, the Cashes Ledge area is closed to some fishing activity under a NEFMC habitat protection plan in order to protect habitat for certain groundfish species. Lobster traps and other gear including shrimp trawls are still allowed there.
The environmental groups have argued that the NEFMC is only concerned with protection of habitat for commercial fish species to protect future economic interests and not with other species or the ecosystem as a whole.
The Maine Department of Marine Resources is following the issue closely, spokesman Jeff Nichols said.
“We are pleased with the announcement that Cashes Ledge is not under consideration, but we remain concerned about other areas under consideration” for possible National Monument designation.