PORTLAND, Maine — The Trump administration on Tuesday defended an underwater monument off the coast of New England established by former President Barack Obama to protect marine life in the Atlantic Ocean and asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit from fishermen trying to eliminate it.
The fishing groups sued in federal court in Washington, challenging the creation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument by the Democratic former president in 2016. It's a 5,000-square-mile area that contains fragile deep sea corals and vulnerable species of marine life, such as right whales.
The Commerce Department argues the president has clear authority under the federal Antiquities Act to establish national monuments. The federal government is defending the monument at the same time it's reviewing its creation as part of President Donald Trump's review of several monuments created by Obama.
Trump, a Republican, has ordered drastic reductions to some monuments, saying they were part of a "massive federal land grab" by previous administrations.
Marine national monuments are underwater areas designed to protect unique or vulnerable ecosystems. There are four of them in the Pacific. The Northeast monument, the only one off the East Coast, is also an area where fishermen harvest lobsters, crabs another aquatic commodities.
Obama's proclamation prohibits commercial fishing, excluding fishing for red crabs and American lobsters. Current permits allow fishing for those commodities to continue for seven more years.
Fishing groups said the monument takes too large of an area away from fishermen. They have argued that submerged land doesn't count as federally controlled land.
The government contends the president has broad power to reserve federally controlled land for national monuments and to decide how much land is needed.
The government noted that President Harry Truman in 1949 enlarged the Channel Islands National Monument to include the waters within one nautical mile of the islands. The Supreme Court also has allowed the creation of the Glacier Bay National Monument, which includes submerged lands.
Government attorneys point to several marine monuments near Hawaii and other U.S. Pacific islands that presidents have previously created under the Antiquities Act: the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument and the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument.
Last year, the Trump administration launched a review of national monuments, national marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments.
That ongoing review includes the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument and Rose Atoll Maine National Monument, which encompasses 13,451 square miles of ocean waters and 10 islands and atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian islands.