ELLSWORTH – Just in time for the 100th anniversary celebration of the National Park Service, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-Maine) heard complaints from some three dozen worm diggers, clammers and seaweed harvesters about what appears to be a new policy at Acadia National Park to ban the traditional harvest of marine resources from the mudflats along the park’s shoreline.
Also on hand for the “roundtable” organized by Poliquin, held last Wednesday evening in Ellsworth City Hall, were State Sen. Brian Langley, Department of Marine Resources Deputy Commissioner Meredith Mendelson, aquaculturists and elected and appointed officials from several towns in which the park owns property or conservation easements.
Over the past few months, harvesters, Acadia administrators and the DMR have held at least two meetings to discuss stepped up enforcement of longstanding federal rules that prohibit the removal of living organisms from park lands and the waters controlled by the park. According to the park service, that control extends to the intertidal zone – the mudflats – where wormers, clammers and seaweed harvesters earn their livings.
At the most recent of those meetings, Fred Johnson, president of the Down East chapter of the Independent Maine Marine Worm Harvesters Association, told Poliquin that Acadia administrators agreed orally that there would be “no enforcement for the foreseeable future” of the controversial regulations, but how long that would be was left unclear.
According to Mendelson, the park service is examining the deeds to all of the parcels of land it holds in Acadia to determine which, if any, describe property as bounded by the low-tide mark. That process is likely to take some time.
Complaints about Acadia’s enforcement policies have heated up recently, in part because the park acquired more than 1,400 acres on the Schoodic Peninsula last year in addition to the land it owns at Schoodic Point.
“The park is restricting use by restricting access,” Winter Harbor Selectman Billy Bob Faulkingham said, referring to a recently imposed ban on parking along the shoulders of the roads that run down the peninsula and that prevents harvesters from reaching the shore and flats. Part of the peninsula lies in Winter Harbor, the rest is in Gouldsboro.
If complaints about the park have intensified over the past several months, they are not new.
Andrea DeFrancesco began harvesting seaweed off the shore of Acadia National Park in 1982. She never had a problem with the park until three years ago, she told Poliquin. She had carried a load of seaweed from the shore to her car when a park ranger stopped her and ordered her to put the seaweed back in the water.
Mike Pinkham, a former Marine Patrol officer and now the Gouldsboro town shellfish warden, said his “first inkling” of a problem with harvesters working on the flats off Schoodic Point came last October, when a new park ranger cited a digger for having more than one peck of clams – the recreational harvest limit – in his possession.
“He told him [the clammer] he could dig recreationally,” Pinkham said.
And last winter, a ranger forced an Ellsworth harvester to return to the mud the worms he’d collected from the flats off Schoodic during a day’s worth of digging.
Poliquin heard that the park’s policies could impact fisheries other than those for worms and clams.
In addition to seaweed, the flats off Schoodic are a plentiful source of periwinkles, an important source of income for many people with few economic options.
It is even possible, mussel farmer Fiona de Koning told Poliquin, that Acadia authorities might try to ban collection of wild mussel spat from the waters around the park, even though they are harvested when the flats are covered. That could mean an end to mussel farming.
“They don’t care if we make a living,” Gouldsboro wormer Jonathan Renwick told Poliquin.
That struck a chord.
Poliquin said his staff would stay in touch with the DMR and monitor the park situation closely. While he agreed that a local solution would be best, he promised that he would introduce federal legislation, if necessary, to keep the flats off Acadia open to harvesting.
“The wormers, clammers and seaweed harvesters are hardworking people,” Poliquin said after the meeting. “They need to keep making a living.”