WASHINGTON — The Republican who chairs the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources has teamed up with a congresswoman from American Samoa to lobby President Donald Trump to open all marine monuments, including those in the Hawaii area, to commercial fishing.
Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah and Rep. Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen of Amercian Samoa wrote to Trump on March 7 asking him to remove all fishing prohibitions from the monuments.
They said the regional fishery management councils — for Hawaii, that is the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council — and the U.S. Department of Commerce can be relied upon to oversee the ocean waters included within the monuments.
Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, one of the world’s most pristine ecological areas, was given monument status in 2006. It was expanded by President Barack Obama in August, becoming the single largest monument in the United States, covering some 583,000 square miles.
The expansion was opposed by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, which has traditionally sided with the fishing industry over environmentalists.
At a hearing in Washington on Wednesday, Radewagen said American Samoa’s economy depends on the fishing industry and the creation of marine monuments is injuring workers because it has become harder to fish in Pacific Ocean waters.
She and other congressional Republicans at the hearing said that the Antiquities Act, a 1906 law that allows the president to create national monuments by proclamation, has been interpreted incorrectly in ways that cause economic hardship. They said the measure was intended to protect “lands,” not water.
Those views were countered by another congressman from the Pacific, Rep. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, a Democrat from the Northern Marianas Islands, who said that conservation efforts should be encouraged, not criticized.
“We should be embracing marine monuments rather than opposing them,” Sablan said.
At the hearing conducted by the House Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans, three advocates for commercial interests were asked to testify, compared to one environmental advocate.
Spokesmen for the fishing and energy industries framed the topic as an issue of economic development and job creation.
John Bruno, a biology professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said that marine monuments help to restore ocean ecosystems and improve fish diversity, preserving apex predators that maintain a proper balance of species.
He said that they also serve as safe harbors for female fish, allowing them to grow large enough to produce more and healthier offspring, which leads to replenishment of fish stock.
Industry spokesmen for the fishing and energy industry said they believed that they had not been given adequate opportunity to participate in the process of determining marine monuments and sanctuaries.
Brian Hallman, executive director of the American Tunaboat Association, said that American Samoa’s economy had been damaged by the creation of marine reserves, and that restrictions on fishing that were being imposed by the United States were not being imposed by other countries on their own fishermen.
Chett Chiasson, executive director of the Greater Lafouche Port Commission in Louisiana, said expansion of the Flower Gardens Banks marine sanctuary could jeopardize the economic recovery in Louisiana, which he said lost 12,000 jobs in the energy slump, causing many in the state to turn to what he called “subsistence fishing.” He also said it would disrupt efforts to exploit offshore oil and gas resources.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration manages 13 marine sanctuaries and five marine national monuments. President George W. Bush designated the first four marine monuments, all in the Pacific Ocean. They include Papahanaumokuakea, Marianas Trench, Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll.
In 2014, President Obama expanded the Pacific Remote Islands monument, and in 2016, he expanded Papahanaumokuakea.
The latter action drew criticism from fishermen in Hawaii and former U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, but was avidly endorsed by environmentalists in Hawaii and many state residents.
“In Hawaii, a very large percentage of the population — not the fishermen — support the monument designation,” Bruno testified at the hearing.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona, said the hearing had nothing to do with fish, and instead was a thinly veiled attack by Republicans on the Antiquities Act, legislation that he said had been “critical to protecting spectacular places on land,” such as the Grand Canyon and Papahanaumokuakea.
He said that Bishop has called the Antiquities Act “one of the most evil acts ever created and suggested that anyone who likes the act should die.”
Grijalva said he hoped the comment was in jest, because, as he said in his written testimony, “I like the Antiquities Act.”
A spokesman for Bishop said the comment was in fact spoken in jest, and has been taken out of context.
“It was a joke,” said A. Lee Lonsberry, a spokesman for Bishop. “Congressman Bishop is a real sarcastic guy.”
He said Bishop hopes to reform the Antiquities Act.
Bishop is a long-standing proponent of efforts to turn federal lands over to state governments for local control and economic development. He and Rep Jason Chaffetz have introduced legislation called the Utah Public Lands Initiative, which would turn public land to state officials “for other purposes.”
Some efforts to convert public lands to other uses have sparked criticism and adamant opposition from environmentalists and outdoors enthusiasts in the Western United States.