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Trump moves to allow commercial fishing in conservation area

Patrick Whittle and Ellen Knickmeyer
Associated Press

Bangor, Maine – President Donald Trump took action Friday to allow commercial fishing at a marine conservation area off the New England coast.

“We are reopening the Northeast Canyons to commercial fishing,” Trump told a roundtable meeting with fishing industry representatives and Maine officials. “We’re opening it today – we’re undoing his executive order.”

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts off the New England coast was the first national marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean, and one of just five marine monuments nationwide.

President Donald Trump gestures as he boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Friday, June 5, 2020, en route to Maine to attend a roundtable discussion with commercial fishermen and tour a medical swab manufacturing facility.

The conservation area comprises 5,000 square miles (8,000 square kilometers) east of Cape Cod, which contains vulnerable species of marine life such as right whales and fragile deep sea corals.

It’s also a place fishermen have long harvested lobsters and crabs, and its creation drew the ire of commercial fishing groups, some of whom sued.

Trump said former President Barack Obama’s order establishing the area and banning fishing “was deeply unfair to Maine lobstermen.”

“We want conservation and good environmental practices – that’s very important – but we also want something that’s fair to you,” he told the fishermen.

Environmental groups vowed to push back against the president’s actions.

Trump’s decision will devastate protections for the underwater world along that stretch off New England, and threatens the end for right whales and other endangered marine animals, said Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity environmental group.

“Gutting these safeguards attacks the very idea of marine monuments,” she said.

The area has withstood legal challenges so far. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit challenging its creation in 2018, and the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the decision in December.

The Trump administration has reviewed a number of national monument designations used by Obama to protect land and water. One of them, Katahdin Woods and Waters Act, is in Maine.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 doesn’t give the president power to undo a designation, but Trump has downsized two monuments and opened lands previously off-limits to energy development in Utah.

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Associated Press writer David Sharp in Maine contributed to this report.