This week fishermen from New Jersey and Massachusetts filed a lawsuit challenging a proclamation from the Biden administration banning commercial fishing in the Georges Bank area of the North Atlantic Ocean.

“The creation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument violated the core requirements of the Antiquities Act to limit protections to specific monuments,” said Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Frank Garrison. “Most fundamentally, the Act gives the president authority to create monuments on federally owned or controlled land. The ocean is not land. Presidential action that goes beyond laws passed by Congress undermines the democratic process and the Constitution’s separation of powers.”

With the stroke of a pen, President Biden banned all commercial fishing in a 3.2-million-acre swath of ocean that fishermen like Pat Fehily of New Jersey and Tim Malley of Massachusetts have relied on to supply the bulk of their catch for decades. Fishermen already abide by a host of federal laws and regulations that exist to protect the marine ecosystems that New England fishermen rely on for their livelihoods. But the Biden administration seems to believe these provisions to be insufficient.

In 2016, President Obama created the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument and banned commercial fishing in it. In 2017, President Trump rescinded the provision of the designation that prohibited commercial fishing. Now, President Biden has reinstated the ban.

To justify this sweeping action, the administration relied on an expansive reading of the century-old Antiquities Act. That act authorized the president to protect historic or scientific monuments, but the designation must be limited to the protection of the monument itself. The president does not have the authority to prohibit commercial fishing across 5,000 square miles of ocean.

The case is Fehily et al. v. Biden et al., filed in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.


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