Fehily v. Biden (Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument)

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A Paramuricea coral in Nygren Canyon

Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer/2013 Northeast U.S. Canyons

​​Roughly 130 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument encompasses a cluster of undersea canyons, seamounts (submarine mountains, often extinct volcanoes), and the diverse ocean ecosystems in and around them. This biodiversity hot spot offers food, shelter, and nursery habitat to a wide range of marine life, including puffins, whales, sea turtles, and deep-sea, cold-water corals. Then president Barack Obama established the monument in 2016 to protect these resources from commercial fishing and other extractive activities, keeping them intact for future generations.

In April 2022, two commercial fishermen plaintiffs, represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, filed a lawsuit challenging the monument’s legality: Fehily v. Biden. Their complaint echoed a previous, unsuccessful legal challenge filed in 2017 by five fishing industry groups, also represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation: Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association v. Ross. Like the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association plaintiffs, the Fehily plaintiffs asked the court to abolish the monument and open it to commercial fishing.

NRDC and our partners—Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Law Foundation, and a whale-watch naturalist in Maine—moved to intervene to defend the monument’s legality, and the court granted our motion in July 2022.

In March 2023—after several months of discovery to test the Fehily plaintiffs’ assertions that the monument harmed their economic interests—the plaintiffs chose to voluntarily dismiss their lawsuit, ending the litigation. Although the dismissal is “without prejudice,” both plaintiffs have stipulated that they will not relitigate their claims against the monument, either themselves or through proxies. The end of this litigation is a victory for the monument, which has now survived both attempted legal challenges.

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