ACADIA NAT’L PARK — A proposed federal law that would legalize the commercial digging of clams and worms in the intertidal zone around Acadia should be amended to make clear that it does not apply to the harvesting of seaweed, the Acadia Advisory Commission said Monday.
Commission members voted unanimously to ask Maine’s congressional delegation to change the wording of the bill that Sen. Angus King and 2nd District Rep. Bruce Poliquin introduced last week.
The intertidal harvesting provision is part of the bill that also would validate Acadia’s 2015 annexation of 1,441 acres of land on the Schoodic Peninsula.
People who have been harvesting clams and worms around Acadia claim they already have the legal right to do so because of Maine’s Colonial-era “public trust doctrine,” which allows public use of property between the mean high water and low water marks. But the National Park Service has claimed ownership of coastal lands including the intertidal zone.
Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider told the Advisory Commission that a recently completed review by the National Park Service solicitor’s office “indicates that we own to the low water mark on the vast majority of the park’s deeds.”
The issue came to a head in the fall of 2015 when a park ranger on the Schoodic Peninsula ordered a clam digger to dump out his day’s harvest. Schneider said last fall that the park would suspend enforcement of the ban on clam and worm harvesting in the intertidal zone until the issue was resolved.
Clearing up the confusion is one of the goals of the King and Poliquin bill, which also makes other minor changes to the permanent boundary law passed in 1986. But Advisory Commission member Ben Emory said the bill should not keep the park from exercising “appropriate management” of the intertidal zone.
Noting that the lawmakers have said they want to preserve “traditional uses” of the intertidal zone, Emory said their bill potentially could permit harmful nontraditional activities.
He suggested that the bill be reworded to permit “continued harvesting of sea creatures where it has traditionally been done … but does not extend such permission within Acadia National Park to include rockweed harvesting, aquaculture or mechanical harvesting [of clams or worms].”
Emory said he has seen the “aggressive” harvesting of rockweed along parts of the Down East coast.
“I can’t imagine a national park would want rockweed harvesting going on on land that the park owns,” he said. “It’s just too industrial.”
As part of Acadia’s overall resource protection planning effort, Rebecca Cole-Will, the park’s chief of resource management, last fall brought together clam and worm harvesters, park staff, research scientists and federal and state marine resources officials for a two-day discussion of issues related to the intertidal zone around the park.
Schneider said the consensus of that group was that “the traditional harvesting of clams and worms – the fellow with the bucket and rake – is a very low threat to the park’s resources.”
However, he said, “The large-scale harvesting of rockweed is a different order of magnitude in terms of its potential threat to the intertidal area.”
Advisory Commission members agreed with Chairman Jackie Johnston that the intertidal harvesting provision of the King and Poliquin bill “definitely needs to be tightened up.”
She said she would express the commission’s concerns in a letter to all four of Maine’s members of Congress.