ELLSWORTH — Lost in the furor earlier this month over President Donald Trump’s downsizing of two vast national monuments in Utah and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s plan to allow logging in the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in eastern Maine was Zinke’s recommendation that the president allow commercial fishing to resume in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument off the coast of New England.
Using his authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act, President Barack Obama established the monument a little more than a year ago, in September 2016. The monument includes more than 4,900 square miles and is located about 130 miles southeast of the Massachusetts coast.
Part of the rationale for creating the monument was to protect deep-sea corals that grow far below the ocean surface. All kinds of mining and drilling of oil or gas were prohibited in the monument area.
Despite opposition from the New England fishing industry, the monument declaration also prohibited all fishing in the area except for trapping lobsters and red crab. Those fisheries were allowed to continue for seven years after the monument was established.
The monument covers two distinct areas: three submarine canyons (Oceanographer, Gilbert, Lydonia) and four seamounts (Bear, Physalia, Retriever and Mytilus).
Closer inshore but also off the New England coast, deep-sea corals in the Gulf of Maine and around Georges Bank are being considered for protection by the New England Fishery Management Council. The council has recommended adoption of a new amendment to its coral protection plan that would ban the use of mobile gear such as scallop trawls or clam dredges in small areas around Mount Desert Rock and Outer Schoodic Ridge off the Downeast coast but allow lobster fishing to continue.
The council also has recommended restrictions for certain parts of the offshore Gulf of Maine that would prohibit bottom-tending mobile gear but allow the continued use of lobster traps and gillnets.
Zinke’s recommendations earlier this month do not call for reducing the size of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument or for lifting the drilling ban. If adopted, though, fishing would again be allowed in the monument area subject to control by the NEFMC.