Acadia National Park may well have the law on its side in banning worm and clam harvesting on the intertidal zone flats bordering park lands.
And the rangers were within their rights last February when they issued a summons to an Otter Creek man for gathering dead and down wood in the park.
And maybe they were on solid ground several years ago when, for a short time, they were issuing speeding tickets on Eagle Lake Road in Bar Harbor – a state road that cuts across the park.
But each of these enforcement actions, legitimate as it may be, damages a relationship. In the current case of the wormers and clammers, the application of a law that negates generations of traditional practices is not necessarily prudent policy. The rigidity of legal interpretation was too much for Mr. Bumble, the unhappy spouse in “Oliver Twist,” when he learned that, under law, his wife answered to him.
“If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble, squeezing his hat emphatically in both hands, “the law is a ass.”
In any case, this is the wrong time and the wrong state to risk the perception of federal government overreach. The North Woods national monument battle is a clear enough indication of how many Mainers feel about the federal government throwing its weight around. It’s always good to have the regulations on your side, but having your neighbors on your side is every bit as valuable.
The park already had opened itself up to the perception it is being pushy by using questionable legal justification for the acquisition of land at Schoodic. All agree it’s a good thing, but the method left a bad taste.
So did the report of rangers chasing wormers and clam diggers off park land on MDI and Schoodic. This spring, a ranger forced a worm harvester to dump his day’s take of bloodworms and leave the flats or face a summons. Bear in mind that many of those who harvest worms, clams and periwinkles are on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. Being forced to dump a day’s work was painful.
The Department of Marine Resources has spoken up for the harvesters.
“We have communicated to the park service that we are deeply concerned about the park service’s position that commercial harvest of shellfish and any harvest of marine worms is prohibited within the park’s boundaries and potentially, on lands where they hold an ownership interest,” Deputy DMR Commissioner Meredith Mendelson said. “We believe this represents a fundamental change from how the park has previously enforced their regulations, if not in how they interpret them.”
The park’s information office recognizes that the question of who controls the flats is complicated. Though federal regulations state that the park controls whatever falls within its boundaries and that no commercial fishing of any kind is allowed within the park, those boundaries are fluid and subject to interpretation. “The language is not always clear,” the park’s information officer said, “so our jurisdiction is a question of determining what we own.”
And there’s still the issue of determining the relationship between federal and state laws relating to the intertidal zone.
Fed up, the worm diggers have agreed to bring their dispute with the park to public attention, declaring that the park’s actions “affect families’ ability to put food on the table.”
“This will be a public relations disaster for the park,” said Jonathan Renwick, a digger from Gouldsboro.
In a time when park service administrators are complaining that budgets are tight and they are being forced to do more with less, devoting scarce resources to expand enforcement into areas that traditionally have not been a problem runs counter to their lament. The park should add negotiation and compromise to its enforcement tool box.