No Evidence Protecting New England Ocean Gem Harmed Fishing

Before the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument was designated in 2016, representatives of the New England commercial fishing industry opposed protecting this unique ocean area approximately 130 miles off the coast, which is home to whales and dolphins, seabirds, deep sea corals, and countless fish species. They claimed that making the area off limits to fishing would devastate their businesses. And they continued to make such claims for years. Then, this past June, President Trump rescinded the Monument’s commercial fishing prohibition, citing significant impacts on commercial fishing.

Based on the available evidence, there is no basis for these claims.

NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Deep Connections 2019

NRDC examined government data on commercial landings and revenues from the Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics Program, a state-federal body charged with compiling this information for fisheries along the Atlantic coast. We specifically compared landings and revenues for the three years before designation (2014-2016) to the three years following designation (2017-2019) for:

  1. the squid, mackerel, and butterfish fishery, and
  2. the Atlantic highly migratory species (HMS) fishery, which targets tuna and swordfish.

The fishing industry identified these as the primary commercial fisheries that had been operating in the Monument area and were prohibited from fishing there starting in November 2016.  (The designation contained a grandfather clause that allows crab and lobster fisheries to operate until 2023.)

We found that, in the three years following the Monument’s designation in 2016, overall landings and revenues actually increased in the squid, mackerel, and butterfish fishery.

Overall tuna and swordfish landings and revenues in the HMS fishery remained essentially the same.

In other words, government data shows no indication that the Monument caused economic loss for the commercial fishing industry while it was closed to commercial fishing. Indeed, the data indicates the opposite for some of these fisheries.

For more details, you can read our analysis here.

About the Authors

Brad Sewell

Senior Director, Oceans Division, Nature Program

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