Access to clam flats near the Schoodic section of Acadia National Park is the subject of federal legislation. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Harvesters wary of bill change

GOULDSBORO — Marine worm diggers are happy that Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) and Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-Maine) have filed legislation to preserve the “traditional” harvesting of marine organisms from the intertidal zone mudflats. But they are worried that the Acadia National Park Advisory Commission, and the park’s administration, could derail the effort.

Last week, commission members expressed concerns about the proposed legislation and agreed to ask King and Poliquin to amend their bill. That drew immediate attention from worm diggers and shellfish harvesters.

“My concern,” said Jonathan Renwick, a fisherman and harvester from Gouldsboro, is “it looks like they’re trying to take control in the intertidal zone.”

Renwick is an officer of the statewide Independent Maine Marine Worm Harvesters Association. With legislation on the table in both Washington, D.C. and Augusta, the diggers have plenty to be concerned about, Renwick said.

While most of the doubts expressed by the Advisory Commission were directed towards the possibility that the proposed federal legislation would allow the mechanical harvesting of rockweed on the park’s flats, Renwick said there is a broader issue.

While “the wave of the future is going to be in managing the ecosystem,” he said, “Acadia National Park is a landowner in the state of Maine” and is “restricted to the rights and privileges it acquired when they acquired their land,” so the intertidal zone would be subject to state management.

Renwick isn’t the only harvester concerned about the broader issues.

Victor Doyle, chairman of the town of Mount Desert Shellfish Committee, recently expressed his views on the on the Maine Tidal Harvesters Facebook page.

“(T)his issue sets a precedent of maintained governance over the zone,” he wrote.

Rockweed harvesting is an explosive issue in Maine. Currently, the courts are considering whether rockweed growing in the intertidal zone belongs, like timber, to the owner of the upland shore, or whether, like clams and worms, it is subject to harvest by anyone with appropriate permission from the state.

The worm harvesters association recently voted to support the Canadian rockweed harvesting company involved in that case, because it’s “important that all stakeholders in the tidal zone stick together,” Renwick said. Although there has yet been no vote on the issue, he added, the worm harvesters might support a prohibition on mechanical harvesting of rockweed in favor of “traditional” hand harvesting methods.

While protection of traditional harvesting of marine organisms in addition to worms on the Acadia has the support of the worm diggers, there also is some worry about the limitations that might impose.

“We are fishermen that need to be able to adapt to environmental changes in order to stay in business, whether it be a market for a previously unmarketable species or a different harvest technique,” Doyle wrote on the Tidal Harvesters page.

Monday’s storm postponed a Marine Resources Committee hearing on a bill submitted by Rep. Robert Alley (D-Beals) that would ban mussel dragging in Washington County rivers and establish a four-month closed season on worm harvesting.

Renwick said he opposes the bill because it pits the interests of two fisheries against one another.

“I think all the stakeholders should be together,” he said. “I’m against anything the divides the fisheries.”

There also is little apparent support for the four-month closed season. Many harvesters and worm buyers believe the closure would result in Maine losing important European bait markets during the winter closure and that those markets would not come back when digging resumed in the spring.

Stephen Rappaport

Stephen Rappaport

Waterfront Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Rappaport has lived in Maine for nearly 30 years. A lifelong sailor, he spends as much time as possible messing about in boats. [email protected]

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