Protected Seabed Is Now at Risk

Lost amid all the attention to Russia’s election meddling is the fact that the Trump administration is considering reducing the number and scale of the national monuments across the country as well as 55 million acres of Atlantic seabed off the East Coast. Separately, a suit by a coalition of fishing organizations challenging the Obama decision to create the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument is making its way toward trial. If the Trump administration eliminates the seamount monument, their suit would become moot. For those concerned about the long-term health of the marine environment this is a very bad prospect indeed. 

President Obama created the offshore monument in his last year of office. It includes a portion of the Georges Banks, a traditionally productive area for commercial fishing about 180 miles east-southeast of Montauk that is also home to a rare collection of cold-water coral and many species under federal protection. Under the Obama order, the last commercial fishing there would end by 2023. Oil and gas leases would be curtailed.

Environmental groups strongly supported President Obama’s designation of the area as a national monument. Among their arguments was that as climate change threatens fish, shellfish, and marine mammals elsewhere, protected seamounts could serve as a refuge and nursery — a haven for at-risk species not unlike national parks on land. 

The Obama administration said it would provide financial help for the fishing industry economically affected by the monument. A fully funded plan to aid the displaced fishing fleet, while also protecting critical undersea habitat, was the right way to plan for the future. Whether the protections will stand under Mr. Trump remains to be seen. Were the White House to seek to reverse the seamounts monument designation it would be consistent with Mr. Trump’s rhetoric about American jobs. But it would also be a terrible mistake if the reason he did so was to sell the seafloor to special interests.