ACADIA NAT’L PARK — Congress might be asked to pass a law permitting commercial clamming and worming in the intertidal zone in Acadia.
People engaged in those activities claim they already have that right because of Colonial-era ordinances that say property ownership in Maine extends only to the mean high-tide line in many cases and does not include the intertidal zone.
But according to the National Park Service (NPS), the park’s ownership of coastal lands extends through the intertidal zone to the mean low-tide line. And commercial fishing, as well as the taking of other resources from park lands or waters, is prohibited.
The need to resolve the conflicting claims became clear last fall when a park ranger on the Schoodic Peninsula ordered a clam digger to dump out his day’s work. Subsequently, there were two other incidents in which rangers confronted diggers.
Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider said those incidents prompted his staff to start working with both the NPS solicitor’s office and the Maine Department of Marine Resources to try to resolve the question of jurisdiction.
“It’s a very complicated set of laws and regulations that we’re trying to navigate through,” Schneider told the Acadia Advisory Commission last week.
He said park officials also have met with people involved in clamming and worming to get their perspective and learn more about the history of those activities.
“Obviously, they have been occurring for quite some time here, probably as long as there have been humans at Acadia,” he said. “We’re really just trying to understand all the implications and dynamics of these issues. So, right now, we’re not enforcing the regulations [against commercial harvesting in the intertidal zone] while we work through those questions.”
Schneider said that if the NPS solicitors rule that the park does have jurisdiction in the intertidal zone, “then an act of Congress may be required … to authorize commercial fishing.”
Chris Rector, regional representative for Maine Sen. Angus King, attended the Acadia Advisory Commission meeting and indicated that congressional action might, indeed, be needed to preserve the “traditional use” of the intertidal zone.
“We’re highly cognizant of what’s going on and will work with the park service in whatever way we can to do this as cooperatively and collaboratively as possible,” Rector said. “But Senator King is aware of the issue and wants to make sure we get it addressed if we need to.”
Advisory Commission member Lee Worcester asked Schneider why the ranger in the Schoodic section of the park last fall told the clam digger to dump his harvest on the shore.
“After 100 years [of the park being in existence], why all of a sudden did this occur?”
Schneider responded that the ranger “was doing what he thought was right.”
Advisory Commission member Ben Emory noted that, because of the colonial ordinances, most land deeds are to low tide, but some are to high tide.
“Maine has a very unique situation, I think, that probably is not a fit with national regulations,” he said. “And the [NPS] solicitor’s office probably has quite a challenge going through this.”
Emory said the Advisory Commission should keep a very close eye on this issue, particularly in light of the controversy over the park service’s acceptance of the donation of 1,441 acres last year to extend the boundary of Acadia on the Schoodic Peninsula. That annexation was based on the NPS solicitor’s ruling that it was legal under a 1929 law and did not require congressional approval. Many, including the Advisory Commission, disagreed with that interpretation, and King has introduced legislation to ensure that any future expansion of the park must be authorized by Congress.
“We’ve seen in the last year a situation where the solicitor’s office kind of got off in left field, and the [Advisory] Commission wasn’t well briefed until almost too late,” Emory said.
Commission members voted unanimously to request that Acadia officials keep them informed of all developments related to the issue of activities in the intertidal zone.