Marine National Monuments should be open to fishermen

Chris-Megan-Headshot-262x300When John Muir, widely recognized as the Father of our National Parks, took President Teddy Roosevelt camping in Yosemite Valley in 1903, the modern conservation movement was born. Surrounded by the giant Sequoia trees of the Mariposa Grove, Muir and Roosevelt talked into the night around the campfire, and Roosevelt’s roots for conserving America’s wilderness took hold.

During his time in office, Roosevelt established federal protection for almost 230 million acres of land, including 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reservations, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments. We owe a debt of gratitude to Roosevelt and Muir not only for preserving much of our natural resources, but more importantly for allowing Americans to enjoy them every day. From hiking and camping to hunting and fishing, outdoorsmen have long benefited from Muir’s vision and Roosevelt’s actions.

One of Roosevelt’s most powerful tools for protecting our natural resources was The Antiquities Act, which he signed into law on June 8, 1906. It gives the President of the United States the authority to, by presidential proclamation, create national monuments from public lands to protect significant natural, cultural or scientific features. Since its passage, the Act has been used over 100 times, often by Presidents on their way out of office looking to leave their own “green footprint” on our country’s landscape.

In 2009, President George W. Bush used The Antiquities Act to set aside over 195,000 square miles of marine habitat in the South Pacific. Fortunately for anglers, President Bush’s proclamations did not limit access for recreational fishermen. In 2014, President Obama expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to 490,000 square miles, and followed President Bush’s lead in allowing access for recreational fishermen.

As President Obama enters his final year in office, he will be looking to add to his legacy of environmental protection. His administration has already identified several marine areas for monument status, including three canyons off the New England coast—Oceanographer, Gilbert, and Lydonia—that are popular with offshore tuna and billfish fishermen.

We hope that President Obama follows the model that has been established in the South Pacific and includes language in his proclamation that allows continued access for recreational fishermen. However, there is reason for concern, as anti-fishing organizations are lobbying to designate future marine monuments to be “fully protected,” closing these vast areas to recreational anglers.

Unfortunately, The Antiquities Act does not require any public process, but that does not mean we have to remain quiet. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is accepting public comment at the email address atlanticconservation@noaa.gov until Friday, September 18, 2015.