David Etnier, deputy commissioner for the Department of Marine Resources (DMR), announced at the Cobscook Fisheries Forum in Eastport on October 18 that the agency has begun discussion of possible new regulations governing rockweed harvesting in Maine. He said an "in-house" meeting on October 15 included Commissioner George Lapointe, biologist Peter Thayer, Resource Management Director Linda Mercer, Landings Specialist Heidi Bray and himself.
While he described the session as very preliminary, he did list the areas discussed that might be addressed in new law and rule-making. At present, DMR regulations on rockweed harvesting are limited to a single restriction that specifies cutting must leave a minimum of 16" above the holdfast. A number of individuals, conservation groups, and several town and county boards have petitioned the department, asking for a harvest moratorium while a scientific study is conducted to determine if current harvesting methods are detrimental to the ecosystem of Cobscook Bay.
A moratorium would have no support in the department, Etnier said, and he encouraged the groups with competing interests to "work together to improve the current situation." He noted that legislation might be drafted that would create a seaweed buyer's license category. Such a licensee would be required to submit a plan for harvests that exceed a certain minimum tonnage. The plan would include specifics of the activity, such as days and dates, poundage, ports to be landed in, and similar data.
While DMR doesn't have the human power to do an assessment of a resource in an area, he said, the agency should have some information on the level and frequency of assessment conducted by the buyer. A quota could be established, based on a percentage of biomass, of rockweed to be extracted. With a seaweed buyer license, there could be mandatory reporting on a weekly basis of the poundage landed.
Asked if the discussion included restricting harvesting during the seaweed's reproductive stage, Etnier responded that that was not addressed, but the issue of identifying such a time period would be posed to DMR biologists.
Referring again to the lack of support within DMR for a moratorium on the rockweed harvest, Etnier noted the agency takes a similar stand on all other fisheries as well. "We don't have the resources and could never prove what impact harvesting any resource would have on the bay," he said. More expansively, he added: "Mankind never has the data we need to say something has a negative impact on the ecosystem."