New restrictions on rockweed harvesting in Cobscook Bay, including limits on the amount that can be removed and the establishment of areas where harvesting will not be allowed, have been enacted by the Maine Legislature. The legislation is expected to be signed into law soon by Governor John Baldacci.
Companies planning to harvest in the bay, including Acadian Seaplants Ltd., which conducted a harvest last year, will have to wait to begin any harvesting this season until their harvest plans are approved by the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR). Acadian Seaplants has already submitted a harvest plan to the DMR, as required under the legislation.
Although there will be new restrictions on rockweed harvesting in Maine this year, Linda Theriault, director of public and government relations for Acadian Seaplants, based in Dartmouth, N.S., says "it's business as usual" for the company. "We've always conducted our harvests in a sustainable manner," she says, noting that Acadian has prepared annual harvest plans for the areas in Canada where it is licensed to harvest.
According to Theriault, the company hired 12 workers to harvest rockweed in Cobscook Bay last year. This year there will be six or seven. The company has hired Chouan Strongin of Trescott as the crew leader and Dennis Bryant of Charlotte as the director of its Maine rockweed operations. Also, Acadian Seaplants is leasing the former Johnson's Marine and Recreation building on Route 1 in Pembroke for office and equipment storage space. It will also provide a location for training harvesters.
Butch Harris of Eastport, who has been planning to hire harvesters and set up a rockweed drying plant in Eastport, says his plans now are "all up in the air," with the new legislation being enacted. He has been working with Robert Morse of North American Kelp in Waldoboro to begin a local harvest and had planned to begin harvesting June 1. He hoped the operation would employ 15 to 20 people year-round. Harris says he now won't know for a few weeks about his plans for this season, since it will depend on how many companies will be harvesting and how the management sectors are divided up. The legislation calls for dividing the bay into 14 management sectors that will be allocated among harvesters.
Other restrictions in the new legislation include requirements that harvesters submit to the DMR no later than March 1 annual harvest plans with rockweed biomass estimates in harvest management sectors; that the total biomass removed in a harvest management sector may not exceed 17% of the harvestable biomass; and that harvesters must make a reasonable effort to remove marine organisms harvested with the rockweed. The commissioner of marine resources will identify areas in Cobscook Bay that are closed to rockweed harvesting, including areas around public and private conservation areas, state parks and federally owned lands and lobster nursery areas. Theriault says the company's position on respecting landowner requests to not harvest along their shorefront will be contained in the company's harvest plan. Until that plan is approved by the DMR, the company is declining to release that position.
The legislation also creates a seaweed buyer license, with a fee of $200 for residents and $500 for nonresidents. There is also a provision for the DMR to implement through its rule-making process a surcharge on seaweed landings not to exceed $5 per wet ton.
By next January, the commissioner of marine resources must report to the legislature's Marine Resources Committee on recommendations for a research plan for the Cobscook Bay rockweed resource. He must also report on the 2009 harvest, including harvester compliance with regulations and the Quoddy Regional Land Trust's voluntary no-harvest registry.