Naysayers ignore monument’s enormous value to region

The designation of Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument off the coast of Cape Cod is a crucial step in ensuring that New England’s fisheries will thrive, along with coastal residents whose livelihood depends on a healthy and productive ocean.

Safeguarding this biologically critical area of ocean 150 miles offshore establishes a safe haven for fish populations to increase and mature, providing an important hedge against overfishing and other impacts. And by doing so, this new monument will have a positive and stabilizing influence on fish stocks well beyond its boundaries.

One might think the opposite is true if they listen to the short-sighted rabble-rousers who tried to stir up opposition to the monument.

Like any decision to change the way public resources are managed, monument designations should be preceded by outreach, input and constructive dialogue, but there is a big difference between that type of productive inquiry and the reactionary, agenda-driven opposition we too often see accompanying this, or any other, monument designation.

The Antiquities Act, the 110-year old that gives our presidents the authority to designate national monuments, is a Republican invention that was signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt to help safeguard America’s natural and cultural treasures from exploitation. Roosevelt used it to protect icons like the Grand Canyon, Muir Woods and the Petrified Forest.

It was no accident that the act gave monument designation authority to both the president and Congress. Roosevelt (TR) and the act’s authors had witnessed firsthand how the influence of special interests and Congress’ penchant for gridlock too often conspired to delay or block necessary protection of our natural and cultural assets. Presidential authority was the fail-safe.

Today, Congress is just as beset by influence peddling and gridlock as it was back in TR’s day.

Whereas TR pledged to never let our natural resources “be exploited by the few against the interests of the many,” zealous conservation opponents pursue a different ethic entirely — one where near-term advantage of special interests trumps the long-term good of everyone else.

Most everyone — from fishermen to marine biologists — acknowledges that this ecologically significant area of deep water canyons, seamounts and corals deserves special protection because it is crucial to the health and resilience of New England’s ocean fish and marine mammal populations.

And despite the good work of the New England Fishery Management Council, whose job it is to maximize fishing yield and prevent unsustainable harvest, this designation of the Atlantic’s first marine national monument offers broader, more certain long-term protection.

With the livelihood of so many, along with the culture and heritage of our coastal communities, hinging on responsible ocean stewardship, we simply cannot afford to leave the fate of this miraculous place vulnerable to short-sighted exploitation and damage.

Monument opponents, especially those who have been hard at work peddling fear within the fishing community, have allowed immediate self-interest or partisan zeal to blind them to the designation’s enormous value to the region.

The words that TR spoke when he first gazed upon the Grand Canyon are equally fitting for America’s newest national monument. He wisely advised, “Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.”

This piece was originally printed on September 22, 2016, in South Coast Today.