Six companies or individuals who submitted plans last year to the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) to harvest rockweed in Cobscook Bay again have submitted plans for 2012. The DMR is presently reviewing the plans, which should be approved this month, according to Peter Thayer, a marine scientist with the DMR.
Although rockweed landings have to be reported to the DMR, the amount that was harvested last year in Cobscook Bay will not be provided to the public, according to DMR landings program scientist Heidi Bray. She says that state law prohibits the release of landings information if there are fewer than three dealers, which was the case for Cobscook Bay in 2011. DMR scientists and the commissioner of marine resources will check that the harvested amount was in compliance with the law, though.
Along with ensuring that the total amount proposed for harvesting this year is no more than 17% of the total harvestable biomass, after conservation areas are removed, as required by state law, the DMR also will check the harvest plans for overlapping sectors that different companies may be proposing to harvest. The proposed plans do include some sector overlap, and it is now up to the companies to work out those issues.
Although the plans have not yet been approved, some harvesting has been occurring in recent weeks in the bay. Thayer says that the DMR considers the harvest period to run from when the plans are approved in March to the following March. Maine law states that harvesters must submit annual harvest plans by March 1 and must notify the commissioner of their intent to harvest before January 1.
Whether the individuals or companies will proceed with a harvest depends in part on if they will be respecting the wishes of landowners who do not want rockweed cut on their shorefront. A total of 524 properties in Washington County are now listed on a voluntary no-harvest registry. The properties are in Addison, Calais, Cutler, Eastport, Edmunds, Jonesport, Lubec, Machiasport, Pembroke, Perry, Robbinston and Trescott. None of the submitted plans indicate whether or not the harvesters will be respecting the registry.
The number of properties on the no-cut registry had increased three and a half times in the spring of 2010, following a mailing to all 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. A recent paper published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, "Sustainable seaweed cutting? The rockweed (Ascophyllum nodosum) industry of Maine and the Maritime Provinces" by Robin Hadlock Seeley, who is one of the directors of the Rockweed Coalition, and William Schlesinger, concludes that rockweed has a critical value as habitat, as food and as a nutrient source, supporting over 150 other organisms in Maine and the Maritimes. The paper also concludes that the current measure for sustainable harvests is too narrow, since it is not based on data from long-term studies of post-harvest recovery of rockweed and of ecosystem impacts. Until such a measurement is developed, commercial-scale rockweed harvesting should not be permitted, the paper states.
The list of property owners who do not want rockweed to be cut on their shorefront has continued to grow, from 470 properties last March to the present 524. While state law does not prohibit harvesting on lands that have been placed on the registry, the question of who owns the rockweed in the intertidal zone has not been clearly resolved. The DMR believes the ownership question only can be resolved through a court case.
According to information provided by the DMR, the total harvestable biomass in Cobscook Bay, once conservation areas are excluded, is 54,654.9 metric tons, so the 17% that is allowed to be harvested per year would be 9,291.3 tons. The total that is proposed for harvesting under the six plans is 8,548 tons, but some harvesters are using short tons for their measurements. A short ton is about 10% less weight than a metric ton.
According to the plans submitted to the DMR, James Young of Eastport proposes to harvest 1,273 short tons in areas around Birch Point and East Bay in Perry, using a mechanical harvester. Cullen Williams of Holden plans to harvest 1,231 tons in an area around Falls Island and in Dennys Bay, near Hallowell Island, using hand rakes and mechanical harvesters. Acadian Seaplants, with Maine headquarters in Pembroke and its main headquarter in Dartmouth, N.S., is proposing to harvest 1,501 short tons in Johnson's Bay and up along Seward's Neck, Mathews and Goose islands, the Birch Point area and East Bay, using hand harvesting with cutter rakes.
George "Butch" Harris of Eastport is planning to harvest 1,160 tons around Treat's Island, Broad and Deep coves, Bar Harbor in Eastport and Dennys Bay, around the Hardscrabble River, using hand rakes and mechanical cutters. Patrick Driscoll of Yarmouth proposes to harvest 2,447 tons in areas of South Bay, Pennamaquan River down to the end of Leighton Point in Pembroke and in the Young's Cove area of Dennys Bay, using hand rakes and mechanical cutters. North American Kelp of Waldoboro plans to harvest 936 short tons in areas of Whiting Bay and off Seward's Neck, around Cooper Island, using mechanical harvesters predominately.