Plans submitted by six companies and individuals have been approved by the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) for harvesting rockweed in Cobscook Bay this year. The DMR has allocated the sectors in the bay among the different harvesters, but whether the harvesters proceed depends in part on if they will be respecting the wishes of landowners who do not want rockweed cut on their shorefront. Much of the intertidal area is now listed on a voluntary no-harvest registry.
The plans include the sectors that the harvesters are allowed to harvest, with the total tonnage equal to the maximum allowable biomass that can be harvested under state law. The total, 5,378 short tons, is 17% of the total biomass, after conserved areas are removed.
The plan submitted by Acadian Seaplants calls for harvesting 1,149 short tons from nine sectors in the bay, using hand-cutters. Acadian was the only company that conducted a harvest in Cobscook Bay in 2010, although it ended its harvest very early in the season, since it was respecting the no-harvest registry. The number of landowners on the no-cut registry increased by three and a half times, from 90 to 324, in the spring of 2010, following a mailing to all the shorefront landowners around Cobscook Bay from the Rockweed Coalition. That mailing stated the coalition's concerns about the impact of a harvest on other species and the ecosystem.
The coalition's list of landowners who do not want harvesting on their property now includes approximately 470 properties. "The list is continuing to grow, and no one has taken themselves off it," notes Robin Hadlock Seeley, one of three co-directors of the Rockweed Coalition.
While Acadian Seaplants has indicated that it will respect the no-harvest registry, the coalition has not heard from any of the other companies on their position. While state law does not prohibit harvesting on lands that have been placed on the no-harvest registry, the question of who owns the rockweed in the intertidal zone has not been clearly resolved. The DMR believes the ownership question can only be resolved through a court case.
One of the other harvesters, George "Butch" Harris of Eastport, says he did not conduct a harvest last year because he was "worried about getting into a lawsuit" from property owners who did not want rockweed harvested on their shoreland. This year he is trying to find out more information from the DMR and the Marine Patrol on where the property lines run so that harvesters can be sure which property they are on. He's not sure yet if he will be respecting the no-harvest registry.
A joint venture involving Harris and two other harvesters -- Pat Driscoll of Yarmouth and Bob Morse of North American Kelp -- has proposed using a mechanical harvester. Their eventual plans call for having 10 to 20 boats harvesting in the bay and a processing plant at Deep Cove. Harris, though, notes that the processing plant is feasible only if the harvested tonnage can be increased. There would not be sufficient tonnage if the no-harvest registry is followed, Harris points out.
Harris’ plan calls for harvesting 906 short tons of rockweed from six sectors, using both hand-rakes and mechanical harvesters. North American Kelp's plan is to harvest 879 short tons from five sectors, also using mechanical harvesters for the most part. Driscoll is seeking to harvest 931 short tons of rockweed from nine sectors, using both hand-rakes and mechanical harvesters.
Two new harvest plans were also approved this year. James Young of Windham is planning to harvest 730 short tons from four sectors, using mechanical harvesters. Cullen Williams of Holden proposes to harvest 430 short tons in one sector, using both hand-rakes and mechanical harvesters.
Noting that most of the harvesters state that they plan to use mechanical harvesting, Seeley points out that Nova Scotia still does not allow mechanical harvesting, in part because of the overharvest that occurred there in the late 1980s and early 1990s. She's also not aware of any mechanical harvesting in New Brunswick.
Two researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax recently wrote a letter expressing their concern about the possible expansion of mechanized rockweed harvesting in Maine. Dr. Boris Worm and Dr. Heike Lotze, both of the Biology Department, state in their letter that, based on existing scientific knowledge, harvesting rockweed along the open shore "is problematic because this is a very slowly regenerating resources." They also note the impact of harvesting on habitats "that provide essential nursery, breeding and foraging grounds and protection from predators" for a number of commercially and ecologically important marine fish, invertebrate and bird and mammal species. Other effects from nutrient pollution, physical disturbance from coastal development and grazer populations such as periwinkles would be exacerbated by widespread harvesting, they state. "Because of these concerns, we caution against an expansion of rockweed harvesting, particularly using mechanized harvesting techniques."