Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association v. Ross


The first and only national monument in the Atlantic Ocean—Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument—is under attack by five fishing industry groups. In 2017, the groups filed a lawsuit seeking to abolish the Monument and reopen it to commercial fishing. To protect the Monument and the unique marine ecosystem it supports, NRDC and our partners (the Conservation Law Foundation, Earthjustice, and the Center for Biological Diversity) have intervened in the lawsuit.

Roughly 130 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the Monument houses a cluster of undersea canyons and seamounts with extraordinary ecological and scientific importance. This biodiversity hotspot offers food, shelter, and nursery habitat to a diverse range of marine life, including puffins, whales, and sea turtles. Scientists have found more than 50 species of deep-sea cold-water corals living in the Monument, as well as numerous other rare and vulnerable marine species.

In 2017, shortly after the fishing industry groups filed their lawsuit seeking to abolish the Monument, President Trump issued two executive orders calling for the “review” and possible dismantling of numerous national monuments, including Northeast Canyons and Seamounts. NRDC and our partners sought to intervene in the litigation to defend the Monument, and in March 2018, the court granted NRDC’s motion to intervene. 

The federal government moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that Northeast Canyons and Seamounts was lawfully created. NRDC and our partners agreed, and we filed a brief detailing the reasons why the court should uphold the monument and dismiss the plaintiffs’ case. Two groups of law professors filed amicus briefs (here and here) supporting our arguments. On October 5, 2018, the district court issued a thorough decision upholding the legality of the monument and dismissing the fishing industry groups’ complaint. Invoking the legacy of Teddy Roosevelt, who signed the Antiquities Act into law, the court held: “Just as President Roosevelt had the authority to establish the Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908 . . . so President Obama could establish the Canyons and Seamounts Monument in 2016.” 

The fishing industry groups have appealed the district court’s decision to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Briefing is underway and will be complete in July 2019.

Last Updated

June 19, 2019

Status

Active

Issue Areas

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