On June 17, President Obama announced plans to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument from 87,000 square miles to 782,000. The Monument surrounds several uninhabited atolls and islands southwest of Hawaii and protects what has been described as a pristine marine wildlife habitat. President Obama’s announcement was met with only a slight ruffling of feathers.
The worst was from Representative Doc Hastings (R) who said, “This is yet another example of how an imperial president is intent on taking unilateral action, behind closed doors, to impose new regulations and layers of restrictive red-tape.”
Of course, Hastings’ penchant for melodrama has impressed no one, so the topic has received little attention. Which is interesting, because it’s actually a very big deal. The plan, which was announced during an oceans conference in Washington, would also task federal agencies to take on pollution, overfishing, and acidification of ocean water.
In fact, much of the conversation surrounding Obama’s announcement has been about his use of the 1906 Antiquities Act, which allows the executive branch to protect federal territory without the rigmarole of nicely asking Congress. In 2008, President George W. Bush created the Marine National Monument using the same method.
“Like Presidents Clinton and Bush before me I am going to use my authority as president to protect some of our most precious marine landscapes, just like we do for mountains and rivers and forests,” Obama said.
According to The Washington Post, “it would also end tuna fishing and provide shelter for nearly two dozen species of marine mammals, five types of threatened sea turtles, and a variety of sharks and other predatory fish species.”
Obama’s plan also seeks to combat illegal fishing and the import of mislabeled and illegal seafood. (Think that’s snapper you’re eating? Nope, 87% of the time it’s tuna.) A report in the Marine Policy journal found that one-third to one-fifth of imported wild-caught seafood was illegal in 2011.
Why is it that Americans on either side of the aisle seem indifferent to environmental issues, good or bad, when they’re very far away? Whether it’s toxic pollution in the Yangtze River or the expansion of protected ocean, we should care more. Not that we shouldn’t be up in arms about the Keystone XL pipeline or the de-listing of wolves from the endangered species list, but unless the issue is in our backyard, or is intolerably cute (sorry fish), it’s more than likely not going to get much attention.
Which is a shame, because the recent expansions to the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument could easily slip away without anyone noticing. In classic cliched fashion, the U.S. fishing industry is opposed to the new regulations. The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council recently stated it will oppose the new fishing limitations.
The statement read, “U.S. fishermen, including those in the Pacific, already abide by the strictest fishing regulations in the world, and this plan further inhibits their economic survival.”
Bologna. Or dare I say, *cough* abalone.
There will be a comment period over the summer, and if all goes well, President Obama’s new marine legislation will go into effect.