Towards a seaweed commons in Maine
Our explicit goal is a Maine seaweed economy that exemplifies sustainable community-based resource management.
- Abundant coastline and forested uplands.
- Cold, clean water, coupled with low industrial pollution relative to the eastern seaboard with upwellings.
- Strong community commitment to working waterfronts.
- Close proximity to urban centers and a marketplace of eager consumers willing to try new foods.
- Existing fisheries infrastructure, organizational resources, and supply chain or trucking infrastructure (much cheaper than Alaska).
- Proximity to waterways and boat transport result in reduced fuel costs and additional freshness.
We envision Maine's seaweed future to be:
- Driven by stakeholder participation in governance
- Conservation minded
- Comprised of native species, without sprays or additives
- Suitably sited and scaled
- In accordance with Sterling environmental record and pure product
- Locally owned and controlled
- Economically diverse
- Contributing to value-added products and infrastructure in rural towns
- Suitability localized through participatory mapping
Seaweed is touted as a miracle product. The trouble is that the seaweed has to come from someplace, and our coast is one of those places. Right now, it's a lot cheaper to supply these markets by over-harvesting from the wild with few, if any, ecological guardrails in place. Where we have no structures for protecting the commons, we will find those commons are unprotected—to tragic ends. Such has been the case with Rockweed up until 2019. There is a growing pile of evidence suggesting precautionary approach is critical in order to ensure the health of places like the Gulf of Maine.
Farmed seaweed can be ecologically suitable in many places, but this is by no means guaranteed. And if we are to grow the seaweed, we must do it ethically, at an appropriately scaled site, with local ownership and control. Constraining and directing the shape of the Maine seaweed commons is within our power as citizens as the Department of Marine Resources updates their regulation of seaweed harvest and aquaculture. Our coastal conservation organizations and farm associations need to drive forward a small farm agenda: conservation-minded, locally-owned, suitably-sited and scaled, that suit the coastline and the cultural fabric of this beautiful state. Not, as has been the case lately, an “all aquaculture is good aquaculture” approach. Already, land-based salmon aquaculture projects are in final permitting stages around the state, threatening to pump millions of gallons of fresh water and dump thousands of pounds of nitrogen and potential pollution into our beautiful Penobscot Bay. Despite these foreign-owned CAFO fish operations’ pledge to ‘clean up’ their tailpipes with kelp farms.