Conservation Law Foundation v. Trump (Northeast Canyons and Seamounts)

An octopus on the seafloor at Physalia Seamount in Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument

NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program

On June 5, 2020, President Trump signed a proclamation purporting to roll back protections for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument—the only marine national monument located entirely in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean.

Roughly 130 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, the monument encompasses a cluster of undersea canyons and seamounts and the exceptionally diverse ocean ecosystems in and around them. This biodiversity hot spot offers food, shelter, and nursery habitat to a diverse range of marine life, including puffins, whales, sea turtles, and numerous species of rare deep-sea cold-water corals. President Obama established the monument in 2016 to protect these ecosystems from damage by commercial fishing and other extractive activities, keeping them intact for future generations.

President Trump’s proclamation purported to reopen this special area to commercial fishing. Within two weeks of its issuance, NRDC and our partners—the Conservation Law Foundation, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Zack Klyver, a whale-watch naturalist based in Maine—filed a lawsuit challenging President Trump’s action as unlawful. Like our lawsuits that challenge President Trump’s 2017 proclamations dismantling Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, our lawsuit in Conservation Law Foundation v. Trump asserts that President Trump had no statutory or constitutional authority to abolish protections for an existing national monument.

This follows on the heels of related litigation, Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association v. Ross, in which NRDC and our partners intervened to defend the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts against a fishing industry challenge. The federal district court rejected the industry plaintiffs’ claims, and in December 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously affirmed and upheld the president’s authority under the Antiquities Act to establish marine national monuments.

Despite having defended the monument’s legality before the district court and appeals court in Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association, the Trump administration has now abolished the monument’s core protection. We are suing to restore the ban on commercial fishing in the monument so that these fragile ocean ecosystems will continue to be safe from industrial exploitation, strengthen their resilience in a changing climate, and be preserved for generations to come.

Last Updated

June 17, 2020



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