July 25,  2008  





Fishermen protest harvesting of rockweed
in Cobscook Bay
by Chessie Johnson                     

Fishermen, wrinklers and lobstermen joined environmental activists on Saturday, July 19, at the Lubec harbor to protest against the harvesting of rockweed in Cobscook Bay. The unlikely allies maintain that the harvesting has and will damage the bay and the Gulf of Maine, into which it empties, and should be significantly limited or banned altogether. Concerns have been raised about the loss of habitat for periwinkles and clams and the removal of nutrients that would otherwise help to sustain the fishery in Cobscook Bay and the Gulf of Maine. Besides the ecological damage, many say that rockweed left floating in large masses by the harvesters has damaged boats and put boaters and fishermen at risk.

"The whole bay is full of seaweed," says Adam Boutin of Trescott, "where they have cut it and left half of it. Some beaches are chock full of seaweed, thick sheets of it, where it has floated ashore. When we leave the Edmunds boat landing, we only get 10 feet before the outboard motor is full of seaweed."

Lobsterman Larry Matthews of Edmunds says, "The rockweed is so thick [in the water] that it is hiding our buoys. There is so much rockweed C a mess C you can't tell if there is something floating in it or not. I think everyone is having problems with it." At least two fishermen from Lubec report having hit logs that they could not see, floating in the large rafts of rockweed. A halibut fisherman from Campobello said, "I cannot look over the side and see down in the water to check my lines, to see if there are fish on the hooks C that's how much seaweed there is floating around out there."

John Seeley of Lubec had another concern. "Once they cut the seaweed, the wrinkles will be gone, which we need to make a living. Once the rockweed is cut, there is nothing for the wrinkles to hide under in the winter and they will freeze to death. It is getting to the point where you can't go down river with an outboard, from Birch Island all the way to Kelly Point C it is just one long stretch of floating seaweed. There is no way to get through it." Julie Keene of Trescott, a clam digger and wrinkle harvester, said, "We went down to Bob Cove and found areas cut to five inches. I have pictures. They are not doing what they are supposed to be doing." Under Maine law, the minimum cutting height is 16 inches. "Their short-term gain could have many years of effect on us," said Keene. "We don't know what is going to come out of this. We don't know the balance we are upsetting by cutting the rockweed."

Others were angry that the harvester, Acadian Seaplants, allegedly is being allowed to harvest at a rate nearly 50% higher than they are allowed in New Brunswick. They say that, in Canadian waters, government spotters monitor the amount of weed harvested, while Maine's Department of Marine Resources has no personnel overseeing the harvesting operations in Cobscook Bay. They do not believe claims that Acadian Seaplants is responsibly cutting the weed. "If their harvesting is so sustainable, like they claim, why is it they have to come down here and rip the weed out of our waters? If it's really sustainable, they should have plenty at home. Of course, they have to follow regulations in Canadian waters," said the Campobello fisherman.

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