Seaweed may be protected as value rises

Maine regulators are drawing up the first management plan to protect rockweed, a common seaweed on the Maine coast that supported a $20 million industry in 2012 and is likely to attract even more intensive harvesting as global markets expand.
 
The number of licensed rockweed harvesters in Maine climbed from 29 to 59 between 2004 and 2012, when harvesters gathered about 14 million pounds of the marine plant. Rockweed, which clings to rocks in the intertidal zone, sells for only 3 cents a pound at the dock. But the harvest was worth $20 million after it was processed for use in a range of products: Pharmaceuticals, nutritional supplements, cosmetics, fertilizers, animal feed and horticultural additives.
 
“We’re a young fishery … but we have a big bright future in seaweed harvesting,” said Bob Morse, founder of Atlantic Laboratories Inc. of Waldoboro, the parent company of North American Kelp, which processes rockweed. “If this was China or Japan, we’d have a $3 billion seaweed industry here.”
 
A 13-member team assembled by the Department of Marine Resources will take a final look at the proposed management plan on Jan. 7, before sending it on to the Legislature’s Committee on Marine Resources for additional comment. The rockweed harvest is one of about 20 marine fisheries or industries the department plans to review for possible regulation and oversight.
 
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