It’s something everyone’s talking about, and Frenchman Bay Partners is no exception. Rockweed, or Ascophyllum nodosum, is a seaweed that grows in the intertidal. According to a rockweed fact sheet published by the Maine Sea Grant, rockweed is a valuable resource. It is harvested for use in food, fertilizer, soil conditioners, animal feed, and other products. Coastal Maine began seeing commercial-scale harvesting in the 1970s; rockweed management has been a discussion ever since.
In 2014, the Rockweed Fishery Management Plan was passed by the Maine State legislature. The plan was developed by a committee called the Rockweed Plan Development Team, made up of three academics, three industry representatives, and two conservation representatives. The final management plan did not have the “conservation piece”, i.e., what areas will be considered “no harvest” areas. The plan was conditionally approved by the two conservation representatives, and a Rockweed Working Group was tasked with identifying “no harvest” areas. This process is still underway. You can read a 2015 review by Brian Beal, the Rockweed Working Group’s ecologist, of existing literature pertaining to the effect of rockweed harvesting on marine habitats and invertebrates.
A conservation-oriented group, the Partners realized they needed to discuss rockweed harvesting before it becomes a bigger issue in Frenchman Bay. Other groups up and down the coast are having similar discussions. In September 2015, the town of Lubec, ME set out to answer “who owns the rockweed that grows in the intertidal?”. Within Cobscook Bay, Maine law prohibits commercial rockweed harvesting on all conservation properties (both preserves and easements). This stipulation does not extend beyond Cobscook Bay. Various partners, such as the Frenchman Bay Conservancy, are trying to learn more about the issues before taking a position.
Robin Hadlock Seeley, rockweed expert and Cornell Academic Coordinator for the Shoals Marine Laboratory, briefed the Frenchman Bay Steering Committee on the issue and its history at their September 29 meeting. After listening and discussion, the Partners moved to devote a general meeting to discussing rockweed harvesting and conservation as part of the Frenchman Bay Plan. All present were in favor of the motion. Click here for the meeting minutes.