Updated September 2017
The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorizes the President to protect areas on federal lands and waters by designating them as “national monuments.” While originally intended to protect areas that contain historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures or other objects of historic or scientific interest, the act has been used more broadly to swiftly designate areas for preservation purposes without Congressional involvement or legislative approval.
Because traditional public land designation rulemaking processes that require environmental review and public participation do not apply, Antiquities Act designations can be made very quickly and without scientific, economic and public input. Presidents have proclaimed over 100 monuments, the vast majority being terrestrial. There are currently five marine monuments: four concentrated in the Pacific Islands region and one off the New England Coast. These monuments were established under President George W. Bush and President Obama.
Currently the American Sportfishing Association (ASA) is monitoring one additional proposal for a protected area off the coast of California, which could be designated through legislation or the Antiquities Act process. A bill originally introduced in July 2016 by Reps. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) and Ted Lieu (D-Calif.)—the California Seamounts and Ridges National Marine Conservation Area Designation and Management Act (H.R. 5797)—may be reintroduced in this session of Congress.
ASA has concerns about the rapid process used to designate marine monuments and the basis for these decisions. ASA believes monument designations should include a planning process with heavy stakeholder outreach and engagement.
ASA also does not view national monument designation as an effective fisheries management tool. ASA strongly advocates for recreational fishing to be allowed in marine monuments unless it has been scientifically determined to conflict with protecting natural resources. This has been reflected in recent marine monument designations.
In an August 2008 Executive Memo to the Secretaries of Defense, Interior and Commerce and the Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), President Bush directed the departments to study potential Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the central Pacific Ocean. In that memo, the President directed the agencies and CEQ to maintain access to recreational fishing as part of their study effort.
In September 2008, President Bush signed an amendment to the 1995 Executive Order on recreational fishing mandating that federal agencies 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 fisheries in the central Pacific, there is no evidence that recreational fishing is harming area ecosystems. Environmental groups lobbied the White House and federal agencies to adopt no fishing zones 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 (NOAA) 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.”
In January 2009, President Bush signed another Executive Order mandating that recreational fishing should be managed as a sustainable activity in future MPA designations. However, 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 was banned in some areas, the groups that initiated the no fishing initiative strongly urged the President to go even further and ban fishing in the entire marine monument complex, a proposal that the President rejected.
Since then, these groups have continued to push for broad bans on recreational fishing in MPAs and other protected waters, even when there is no scientific basis for such extreme restrictions.
The following is information on each of the existing marine national monuments:
The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument was established in June 2006 and a year later was given its Hawaiian name. Papahānaumokuākea originally covered 140,000 square miles of ocean. Although recreational fishing in this area 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 Hawaiian monument fishing closure was referenced extensively in arguments for full fishing closures in the central Pacific. The MPA philosophy was aggressively and successfully promoted to government officials and the public by well-funded environmental groups that believe that fisheries management is attainable only through bans on fishing.
In August 2016, following a proposal put forward by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Hawaiian state officials and Native Hawaiian leaders, President Obama announced a vast expansion of Papahanaumokuakea, out to 200 miles, or the limits of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone.
This created the world’s largest marine protected area—encompassing 582,578 square miles of the Pacific Ocean—an area larger than all the country's national parks combined. All commercial resource extraction activities including commercial fishing, oil exploration and mineral extraction are prohibited in the expanded areas.
ASA continues to support regulations that allow non-commercial fishing, including recreational fishing and resources for Native Hawaiian cultural practices, in the expanded area between 50 and 200 miles off the coast. NOAA and the Department of the Interior are responsible for managing the expanded marine monument and were given three years to put forward implementing regulations.
In January 2009, President Bush designated the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument, incorporating nearly 87,000 square miles. Although human activity in these areas was minimal to begin with, commercial activities were prohibited. Recreational fishing was not allowed until the Secretaries of the Interior and Commerce completed a lengthy rulemaking process to permit recreational fishing. These management plans went into effect in 2013 and allow for recreational fishing under a permit and logbook requirement.
In September 2014, President Obama signed a proclamation expanding the existing Pacific Remote Islands Monument by approximately 300,000 square miles. The proclamation bans commercial fishing, deep-sea mining and other commercial extraction methods. As for recreational fishing, the proclamation reads, “(t)he Secretaries shall provide a process to ensure that recreational fishing continues to be managed as a sustainable activity in the Monument and Monument Expansion.” ASA was encouraged by the acknowledgment that recreational fishing is a sustainable use of a public resource and therefore will be allowed.
In September 2015, the Obama Administration announced it would consider a new marine national monument in New England waters, a plan that was tabled because of stakeholders’ concerns about the designation process.
The proposed monument would include several deep sea canyons and seamounts, a network of deep water corals about 100 miles east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. NOAA hosted a town hall meeting in Providence, Rhode Island, and invited written public input. ASA and recreational fishing industry members attended the meeting, expressing the view that if a monument is designated it should allow for recreational fishing to continue.
In September 2016, President Obama announced the creation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, covering 4,913 square miles located 150 miles off the Massachusetts Coast. It contains deep sea corals and other unique and fragile marine habitats, as well as popular offshore fishing spots for anglers who target billfish, tuna and Mahi Mahi near the ocean surface.
During the marine monument designation discussions, the recreational fishing and boating community advocated that recreational fishing should be allowed because, among other reasons, the type of recreational fishing that occurred in these areas has no interaction with the bottom habitats that are being protected.
In the designation, the Obama Administration made the distinction between recreational and commercial fishing and again recognized the former as a sustainable activity.
In July 2016, 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), proposing a protected area of seamounts, ridges and banks in federal waters off the California coastline.
The bill was introduced after the Congressmen learned of a similar proposal to designate these areas as a marine monument through use of the Antiquities Act. While ASA remains concerned with the marine monument designation process, we recognize and appreciate that recreational fishing would be allowed in these areas under the current proposal.
In July 2016, ASA conveyed these views in a letter to the White House Council on Environmental Quality. This legislation did not pass in the last session of Congress but may be re-introduced.