Park jurisdiction over mud flats is questioned

A clam digger's basket

The legality of harvesting of clams and worms in Acadia National Park mudflats is up in the air as park officials and state regulators sort out the issues.

BAR HARBOR – The dispute over whether licensed wormers and clammers may pursue their prey on the mudflats of Acadia National Park is on hold while state and federal lawyers sort out who controls the intertidal zone.

Several weeks ago, according to John Renwick of the Independent Maine Marine Worm Harvesters Association, park rangers ordered a wormer to dump a bucket of blood worms harvested from flats inside the park or be summonsed for violating ANP rules.

Last week, Kohl Kanwit, director of public health at the Department of Marine Resources, said that one of the agency’s area biologists recently “reported a similar issue with clammers.”

At the request of DMR Commisioner Patrick Keliher, Kanwit contacted ANP Superintendent Sheridan Steele to discuss the issue.

“He was concerned,” Kanwit said.

Kanwit then spoke with ANP Chief Ranger Stuart West about the issue.

“We both agreed this probably had to be handled by the respective lawyers,” he said. “I passed it up to the commissioner and the Attorney General’s Office got involved.”

The legal issues are complex.

ANP has implemented extensive regulations governing use of park property and conduct within its borders. One regulation prohibits “gathering shellfish for commercial purposes.”

Putting aside the question of whether marine worms fall within any definition of shellfish, the bigger issue is whether the park has the legal authority to regulate commercial shellfishing on flats that lie within its boundaries.

In Maine, unless the deed to the property says otherwise, private ownership of shorefront property generally extends to the low water line, subject to the right of the public to use the intertidal lands for “fishing, fowling and navigation.” The courts treat harvesting marine organisms — including clams and worms — as fishing.

Outside the park, there is no question that the state regulates clamming, worming and other harvesting activities in the intertidal zone. Nothing in the text of the 1986 Federal legislation that formally established the park boundaries appears to give ANP authority to regulate the flats.

“We’re in the very early stages of looking at their regulations and having discussions with the park and trying to understand the full scope of the issues,” DMR Deputy Commissioner Meredith Mendelson said last week.

In the meantime, according to Kanwit, ANP Chief Ranger West “said he’d ask his rangers not to enforce the rule” while state and federal lawyers figure out who controls the mud.

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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