Rockweed harvesters removed significantly less than the maximum allowable amount of the seaweed from Cobscook Bay during this past season. The 2009 harvested amount totalled about 1,200 short tons or approximately 4% of the available rockweed biomass in the bay, after conservation areas are removed from the biomass estimates. Under a new state law, the maximum allowable amount that can be harvested in any management sector is 17%. Without removing the conserved lands where harvesting is prohibited, the amount removed is 2.4% of the total estimated biomass in the bay.
Acadian Seaplants Ltd. harvested 1,098 short tons of rockweed during the season, and Butch Harris of Eastport harvested 103 short tons. The total estimated biomass in the bay is 50,342 short tons, and 30,266 short tons after conservation areas are removed.
The information was related to the legislature's Marine Resources Committee on January 11 by Department of Marine Resources (DMR) Deputy Commissioner David Etnier in a report on the harvest in the bay. The report to the legislature is required under the new law.
Concerning any violations of state laws during the harvest, Etnier told the committee that the Maine Marine Patrol issued one warning to Acadian Seaplants for harvesting adjacent to a conservation area. After the DMR received an allegation concerning short-cutting at a number of locations, the Marine Patrol and DMR representatives checked the sites and could not find any "substantive violations," Etnier says. He says a couple of places were located in a small area where the seaweed was cut to a height less than the minimum 16", but "we did not feel the allegations were substantiated."
In one area of South Bay where Acadian Seaplants was harvesting, the exploitation rate of 19% was above the maximum allowable rate of 17%, but Etnier says other areas were much less than allowed. "We don't think it constitutes a violation," he says.
Etnier and Linda Mercer, director of the DMR's Bureau of Research Management, also referenced two short-term studies that were conducted in Cobscook Bay to measure the impacts of the harvest. A study by Thomas Trott of Suffolk University's field station in Edmunds and Peter Larsen of the Bigelow Laboratory in West Boothbay, concluded that the cutting of rockweed results in increased biomass. The study, which was commissioned by the DMR, also found that there was no significant impact from harvesting on other species, including periwinkles, in areas that were harvested.
The other study, for which the DMR helped pay, looked at the number of periwinkles that were in any bycatch and the amount of holdfast material in the harvested rockweed. The results of that study, which was conducted by Lonna Perry, a fishery consultant from Steuben, Chris Bartlett, a marine extension associate with Maine Sea Grant, and Raul Ugarte, a scientist with Acadian Seaplants, were not yet available.