The Maine Department of Marine Resources will soon expand rockweed harvest all along Maine’s coast, including intertidal shores of private and town property, land trusts, parks, and refuges. Only a few areas are proposed for closure, based on maps of significant bird habitat and known seal pupping areas. In past decades too many fisheries have collapsed or greatly contracted: cod, flounder, other groundfish, Atlantic salmon, sardines, herring, shrimp, scallops, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers. Elvers (American eel) have been proposed for federal protection because of overharvest. Clams and mussels are in decline and are susceptible to ocean acidification. This list represents lost economic opportunities for local residents. Unless we speak up, yet further decline is likely.
Although rockweed is referred to as a “fishery” by the DMR, this marine alga, Ascophyllum nodosum, is attached to rock in the intertidal zone. Its ownership is legally unresolved. Upright waving strands at high tide, and mats lying over the shore at low tide, are habitat for more than 25 species of fishes, crustaceans (including lobster) and mollusks. Biomass sustainability has been estimated in the DMR’s new rockweed management plan, but ecological impacts are unknown. We at Friends of Blue Hill Bay are concerned that other valuable marine resources and ecosystem recovery could be imperiled if rockweed harvest is expanded further.
Friends of Blue Hill Bay would like to see a moratorium on rockweed harvesting until all the ecosystem issues are resolved.
Questions that need to be answered:
Who owns the rockweed? Rockweed harvest on private property could impact property tax values.
How does rockweed removal impact birds, including roseate tern, purple sandpiper, harlequin duck, common eider, and many other rare and common species that rest and feed on long strands of rockweed?
How does rockweed removal impact marine mammals, including seal pups, not only in areas mapped by the state, but in other areas not yet mapped?
How does rockweed removal impact diversity of marine crustaceans (including rock crab) and mollusks (including northern periwinkles, harvested Downeast as a valuable commercial species)?
What are implications of rockweed removal in the face of increasing ocean acidification?