When President Obama quadrupled the size of a marine national monument off the coast of Hawaii last month, he made history. At 583,000-square-miles, the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is twice the size of Texas and the largest to date.
But there’s a problem. This sweeping expansion was confirmed with virtually no public input, especially not from those who will feel the economic punch the most: fishermen. According to the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, who openly opposed the expansion plans, the designation increased the “no fishing zone” around the Hawaiian Islands from approximately 24 percent to 77 percent.
While radical environmentalists are clapping their hands, an entire local industry risks decimation. It could very well end the tuna and swordfish fisheries in Hawaii which provides nearly 90 percent of U.S. fresh tuna and 60 percent of U.S. fresh swordfish. Both of these fisheries are economic powerhouses, netting more than $110 million in annual revenues according to the Council.
We’ve seen the number of monument designations such as these, on land and sea, rise significantly in the President’s last year in office. He’s building a legacy on unilateral monument expansions under the guise of preservation. Unfortunately, the only thing he will be remembered for is circumventing public input and harming local economies.
Two more marine monuments are expected soon, one on the West Coast, off the coast of Monterey, and another on the East Coast, off the coast of Cape Cod. Much like the expansion in Hawaii, these considerations have been met with staunch opposition from locals, the industry, and elected officials.
The mayors of New Bedford, Massachusetts and Monterey, California recently spoke out against proposals. Their opposition centered around the lack of transparency and public involvement in Antiquities Act designations, as well as the significant economic damage that would be sure to follow if these historic fishing areas are deemed off limits to fishermen.
When I visited New Bedford, Massachusetts, the highest-grossing commercial fishing port in the U.S., earlier this summer, we held a roundtable with local industry leaders whose concerns have been tossed aside by the Obama Administration. They tried to work on a compromise to protect essential habitat while also protecting one of our Nation’s oldest fishing ports, but their efforts have been ignored.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2015-2020 dietary guidelines for Americans put a premium on seafood consumption, advising seafood consumption twice weekly. Yet at the same time, this Administration is pushing for these two marine monuments, which will make it more difficult for Americans to purchase affordable, domestic seafood. They will decimate U.S. seafood production and jobs, which will in turn create dependency on foreign food sources—forget buying local.
The hypocrisy goes further. Last year, commercial fishing vessels operating primarily in the South China Sea sparked public outcry for supporting illegal fishing practices. These horror stories on the high seas prompted the Obama Administration to issue an Executive Order creating a seafood traceability program. While the intent of this program was good, it put an undue burden on domestic importers, retailers and restaurants to combat ill practices of other nations that are entirely out of their control.
Our domestic fishing fleets are widely recognized as some of the most sustainable and responsible in the world. Yet instead of combatting illegal practices by foreign fleets, this Administration is teaming up with environmental groups on a crusade to kill American jobs by locking up traditional fishing grounds from the Atlantic to the West Pacific.
We should be supporting and strengthening the work done by our fishermen and regional fishery management councils, not punishing them. Unilateral monument designations override the current public process of established fisheries management and could be catastrophic to the 1.8 million plus jobs that fishing creates. The United States fishing fleets are world leaders in conservation and sustainable harvest, but as it stands, the President’s legacy will only help our foreign competitors, end sustainable domestic industries and make us more reliant on foreign seafood.
The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.