Setting off a legal case that will offer clues as to whether President Trump will revoke some of his predecessor’s most controversial national monuments, a coalition of fishermen on Tuesday sued the administration over a sprawling 5,000-mile marine monument off the East Coast.
The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, designated in September, is one of the most glaring examples of former President Barack Obama expanding presidential authority under the century-old Antiquities Act. He frequently used the national monument designation to protect wilderness or marine areas from development, energy exploration or, in this instance, fishing.
Mr. Trump has come under pressure from conservative lawmakers and others to revoke some of those designations, including the New England monument. On the campaign trail last fall, he suggested that he disapproved of Mr. Obama’s land-and-sea grab, the largest by any president in history.
Against that backdrop, it’s unlikely that this administration is willing to go to court to defend Mr. Obama’s monuments, though the administration would not discuss its strategy Tuesday. The White House did not offer comment, and the Interior Department — which oversees monuments — referred questions to the Justice Department.
The Justice Department did not respond to requests for comment.
In its lawsuit, the coalition says the monument, if it remains, will crush the commercial fishing industry and devastate communities on the New England coast.
“By declaring over 5,000 square miles of ocean — an area the size of Connecticut — to be a national monument, President Obama set this entire area off limits to most fishing immediately, with what remains of fishing opportunities to be phased out over the next few years,” said Jonathan Wood, an attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing the fishermen. “This illegal, unilateral presidential action threatens economic distress for individuals and families who make their living through fishing, and for New England communities that rely on a vibrant fishing industry.”
The Massachusetts Lobsterman’s Association, the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, the Rhode Island Fisherman’s Alliance and other groups joined Tuesday’s lawsuit.
The legal filing comes the same day prominent lawmakers are increasing pressure on Mr. Trump to take executive action to reverse some of Mr. Obama’s monuments.
In a letter to the president Tuesday, Rep. Rob Bishop, Utah Republican and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, cited the economic damage that can result from the large-scale cordoning off of fishing areas.
Mr. Bishop was joined in the letter by Delegate Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen, a Republican who represents American Samoa.
“Using the Antiquities Act to close U.S. waters to domestic fisheries is a clear example of federal overreach and regulatory duplication and obstructs well managed, sustainable U.S. fishing industries in favor of their foreign counterparts,” the lawmakers wrote. “You alone can act quickly to reverse this travesty, improve our national security, and support the U.S. fishing industry that contributes to the U.S. economy while providing healthy, well-managed fish for America’s tables.”
In his statement, Mr. Wood argued there is no environmental justification for the New England designation.
More broadly, he made clear the lawsuit isn’t just about that particular marine monument but also about scaling back presidents’ power under the Antiquities Act.
“Former President Obama was the king of Antiquities Act abuse, invoking it more times than any prior president and including vastly more area within his designations than any predecessor,” he said. “Our lawsuit is intended to rein in abuse of the Antiquities Act and underscore that it is not a blank check allowing presidents to do whatever they want.”