Despite an Executive Order from President George W. Bush on January 6, 2009, mandating that recreational fishing should be managed as a sustainable activity in future marine protected area (MPA) designations, President Bush designated three areas of the Pacific Ocean as Marine National Monuments, creating the largest MPA on the planet, totaling 195,000 square miles. Though recreational fishing is presently banned in some areas, recreational fishing opponents strongly urged the President to ban fishing in the entire marine monument complex, a proposal that the President rejected. This type of request on the part of some environmental groups sets a dangerous precedent regarding recreational fishing in any federal waters, saltwater or fresh, which the Executive Order and Executive Memo were designed to protect.
In an August 25 Executive Memo to the Secretaries of Defense, Interior and Commerce and the Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), President Bush directed them to study potential MPAs in the central Pacific Ocean. In that memo the President directed the agencies and CEQ to sustain access to recreational fishing as part of their study effort. On September 26, 2008, the President signed an amendment to the 1995 Executive Order on recreational fishing. This amendment mandates that federal agencies must maintain recreational fishing on federal lands and waters, including MPAs:
“ensuring that recreational fishing shall be managed as a sustainable activity in national wildlife refuges, national parks, national monuments, national marine sanctuaries, marine protected areas, or any other relevant conservation or management areas or activities under any Federal authority, consistent with applicable law.”
Although regulated recreational fishing presents no threat to fish stocks in the central Pacific and there is no evidence that recreational fishing is harming area ecosystems, many environmental groups lobbied the White House and federal agencies to adopt their anti-recreational fishing philosophy regarding Pacific Ocean conservation.
These groups mounted a letter writing campaign to convince senior officials in the White House and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that recreational fishing should be banned in thousands of square miles in the Central Pacific. They said: “Unfortunately, the final designation of these areas may allow some fishing…” and that “declaring these monuments as fully-protected no-take reserves is crucial for meaningful stewardship of our imperiled oceans.”
On July 14, Reps. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) and Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) introduced the California Seamounts and Ridges National Marine Conservation Area Designation and Management Act (H.R. 5797) which proposed to create a series of seamounts, ridges and banks in federal waters off the California coastline. The bill was introduced after documents began circulating regarding a similar proposal to designate these areas as a marine monument through use of the Antiquities Act, which can be done by the President without any Congressional oversight or public input. While ASA remains concerned with the marine monument designation process, we recognize and appreciate that recreational fishing will be allowed in these areas under the current proposal. These views were conveyed in a letter ASA submitted to the White House Council on Environmental Quality.On September 3, the Obama Administration announced that it would consider a new marine national monument in New England waters, a plan that was tabled later because of concerns about the designation process voiced by stakeholder groups. The proposed monument was initiated by environmental groups and would have included several deep sea canyons and seamounts, a network of deep water corals which are approximately 100 miles east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. NOAA hosted a town hall meeting in Providence, Rhode Island, and written public input was also accepted. ASA and industry members attended the meeting, expressing the industry’s view that if a monument is designated it should allow for recreational fishing to continue. The Administration acknowledged in a 2014 statement that recreational fishing is a sustainable use of a public resource, which ASA is hoping will drive any potential, future national marine monuments.
The MPA precedent for this and other potential widespread North American recreational fishing closures was set with the establishment of Papahānaumokuākea Hawaiian National Monument. Papahānaumokuākea covers 140,000 square miles of ocean—an area larger than 46 of the 48 continental states. This monument was established by a Presidential action through the Antiquities Act. Although recreational fishing in this area of the Northern Hawaiian Islands was already minimal because of its great distance from Hawaii's main islands, the establishment of the monument included a complete closure to recreational fishing throughout the entire MPA.
The establishment process of Papahānaumokuākea has proven detrimental to the sportfishing community as other MPA proposals have emerged. By closing the monument to sportfishing, a precedent was set that recreational fishing opponents are using in their favor as they lobby for no-take MPAs. The Hawaiian Monument fishing closure was referenced extensively in arguments for full fishing closures in the central Pacific. The MPA philosophy is being aggressively and successfully promoted to government and the public by well funded anti-use or preservation-oriented environmental groups. Their support for MPAs is rooted in ideology rather than science.
Originally intended to protect sensitive habitat or restrict the impacts of destructive commercial fishing on a few species, MPAs have been expanded to now include restrictions on low impact recreational fishing on all species. They are being promoted as the new paradigm for fisheries management—circumventing the regional fishery management councils and proven fishery management measures.