Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association v. Ross
NRDC and our partners—the Conservation Law Foundation, the Center for Biological Diversity, and a whale-watch naturalist based in Maine—continue to prevail in our defense of the first and only national marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean: Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.
Roughly 130 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the monument protects 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 60 species of deep-sea cold-water corals living in the monument, as well as numerous other rare and vulnerable marine species.
In 2017, five fishing industry groups filed a lawsuit seeking to abolish the monument and open it to commercial fishing. To protect the monument and the unique marine ecosystem it supports, NRDC and our partners intervened in the litigation, and filed a brief supporting the federal government’s motion to dismiss the groups’ complaint, explaining that the monument was lawfully created. On October 5, 2018, the district court issued a thorough decision upholding the legality of the monument and dismissing the 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 appealed the decision to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. On December 27, 2019, the D.C. Circuit rejected the groups’ challenge, affirmed the district court, and once again upheld the president’s authority to establish monuments to protect special marine areas like this one. The D.C. Circuit also acknowledged the Antiquities Act as “a major part of the legal foundation for archaeological, historic, and natural conservation and preservation in the United States.” The court’s decision helps to ensure that the Antiquities Act will continue to protect fragile ocean ecosystems from industrial exploitation, strengthen their resilience in a changing climate, and preserve them for generations to come.
But the fight to save Northeast Canyons and Seamounts isn’t over. Despite having defended the monument’s legality in court, the Trump administration abruptly reversed course in June 2020, when President Trump signed a proclamation purporting to strip the monument of its core protection and reopen it to commercial fishing. On June 17, 2020, NRDC and our partners filed a lawsuit, Conservation Law Foundation v. Trump, challenging President Trump's proclamation. As with our litigation defending Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, NRDC and our partners in Conservation Law Foundation v. Trump are challenging the president's action as unlawful and seeking to restore monument protections to Northeast Canyons and Seamounts.
WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court unanimously ruled today that presidents have the authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to establish marine national monuments.