- Associated Press - Friday, March 25, 2016

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - President Barack Obama will not to pursue a proposal to create the first underwater national monument in the Atlantic Ocean, a decision that thrilled commercial fisherman but frustrated environmentalists.

Environmental groups want Obama to permanently protect Cashes Ledge, an underwater mountain range and offshore ecosystem in the Gulf of Maine. They tried, over months of campaigning, to make the case that the mountain chain, with its kelp forest and peaks that reach close to the surface, deserves to be the first monument of its kind in the Atlantic.

But Cashes Ledge is “not under consideration for a designation at this time,” a spokesperson for the White House Council on Environmental Quality said Friday.

The proposal to protect Cashes Ledge drew heavy opposition from commercial fishing groups that saw the move as an attack on their industry and the livelihood of their members. Obama’s decision not to consider Cashes for protection was motivated by “a lack of scientific information to support such a designation,” said Associated Fisheries of Maine president Terry Alexander.

“Commercial fishermen in New England face continuous regulatory uncertainty, so it is a relief to know that there is one less restriction on fishing to worry about,” Alexander said.

Marine monument status is reserved for areas of outstanding scientific, cultural, conservation and aesthetic value. President George W. Bush established four and Obama expanded one, the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

Cashes Ledge, about 80 miles off the coast of Cape Ann, Massachusetts, is home to sharks, dolphins and sea turtles and provides habitat to endangered North Atlantic right whales. Much of it is restricted from fishing, though environmentalists made the case that it should be subject to permanent protections.

Conservation advocates will continue pushing for preservation of the area, said Peter Shelley, senior counselor with the Conservation Law Foundation.

“The extensive science on Cashes Ledge demonstrates how ecologically diverse and abundant the area is. Many groups and people support permanent protection and will continue to speak up for this important place,” he said.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Maine Gov. Paul LePage, who are Republicans, both expressed reservations about the monument designation. Baker said his state will “continue to be actively engaged in efforts to responsibly protect our state’s vital fishing industry while ensuring the preservation of important ecological areas.”

Environmentalists also seek to protect the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts, a chain of undersea formations about 150 miles off the coast of Massachusetts. That proposal appeared to remain in play on Friday.

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