WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is reinstating commercial fishing restrictions scrapped by former President Donald Trump at a conservation area in the Gulf of Maine and restoring two sprawling national monuments in Utah in a reversal of his predecessor.
The separate actions will restore protections in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument in the Atlantic Ocean, southeast of Cape Cod, and grow the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments back to more than 3.2 million acres.
The monuments were created by Democratic administrations under a century-old law that allows presidents to protect sites considered historic, geographically or culturally important.
The White House announced the changes Thursday night ahead of a White House ceremony Friday afternoon, but Utah Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, expressed disappointment in Biden’s decision to restore the monuments in his state that Trump downsized in 2017.
Trump was running for reelection when he made an official visit to the state last June. In Bangor, he signed a proclamation to allow commercial fishing in a nearly 5,000-square-mile area in the Gulf of Maine. While regional fishing interests supported and Trump touted it as a major step for lobstermen, the area is out of range for most Maine fisherman.
The former president’s move was derided by environmentalists who pushed Biden and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to restore protections against fishing. Protecting the marine monument safeguards “this invaluable area for the fragile species that call it home,” said Jen Felt, ocean campaign director for the Conservation Law Foundation.
But Biden’s decision to restore protections came down to environmental groups having a stronger lobby than fishing advocates, said Bob Vanasse, executive director of Saving Seafood, a domestic seafood industry group.
“Anyone who likes fresh local swordfish, tuna, lobster and crabmeat should be very angry with the Harris-Biden Administration today,” Vanasse said.
The Utah monuments cover vast expanses where red rocks reveal petroglyphs and cliff dwellings and distinctive buttes bulge from a grassy valley. Trump invoked the century-old Antiquities Act to cut 2 million acres from the two monuments, calling restrictions on mining and other energy production a “massive land grab” that “should never have happened.”
Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, also praised the Biden administration in a statement, saying restoring the monuments shows its dedication to “conserving our public lands and respecting the voices of Indigenous Peoples.”
But Utah’s governor called Biden’s decision a “tragic missed opportunity.” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, also criticized Biden, saying in a tweet the president had “squandered the opportunity to build consensus” and find a permanent solution for the monuments.
Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, a conservation group, also applauded Biden’s decision and said she hopes it marks an initial step toward his goal of conserving at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and ocean by 2030.
Haaland, the first Native American Cabinet secretary, traveled to Utah in April to visit the monuments, becoming the latest federal official to step into what has been a yearslong public lands battle. She submitted her recommendations on the monuments in June.
“The historical connection between Indigenous peoples and Bears Ears is undeniable; our Native American ancestors sustained themselves on the landscape since time immemorial, and evidence of their rich lives is everywhere one looks,” said Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico.
Associated Press writers Lindsay Whitehurst and Patrick Whittle and Bangor Daily News writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.