PORTLAND – All it takes is a license and a cutting rake to harvest rockweed anytime and anywhere along most of Maine's long coast. Other than in a large bay in far eastern Maine, there's no fisheries management plan for the common seaweed that grows along the shore.
But work is now underway to develop a statewide plan to manage rockweed, which is processed in Maine into fertilizer, animal feed supplements, food and other products with an estimated value of $20 million a year.
A team tasked with developing the plan says rockweed isn't being overharvested, but that it's time to develop a strategy to establish sustainable harvesting guidelines and adopt harvesting practices to minimize habitat and ecosystem impacts as the industry grows. Rockweed landings in Maine have risen from less than 4 million pounds a decade ago to more than 15 million pounds in each of the past two years.
"Rockweed is becoming a much more important commercial species," said Brian Beal, a marine ecology professor at the University of Maine-Machias and a member of the 13-person development team, which held its first meeting last week. "With increased levels of harvest, we want to make sure there's a plan in place to ensure it's sustainably harvested."
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