National Organic Standards Board (USDA) votes for increased oversight of wild native seaweed harvests

The algae habitat attached to the rocky coastline of our state today celebrates conservation win! Today the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) committee of the USDA organic program has decided that the harvest of seaweed for fertilizer needs more oversight, and has ruled that a task force must be formed to ensure greater accountability in the harvest of this primary resource. Each species harvested for use in fertilizer used by organic farmers (which is a large percentage of the total harvest) will have a task-force of scientists to evaluate the method, volume, by-catch, and regrowth. Each species, including rockweed, will be evaluated from an ecological function perspective, not from a “percent biomass removed” and the areas of special habitat importance, including marine reserves, conservation lands, conserved bird  This means that the organic industry believes that the habitat qualities of the rockweed forest be protected above and beyond the standards, rules, and oversight provided by Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR). 

In a time when many departments (Interior, EPA, USDA, etc) have seen massive consolidation and layoffs it is affirming to participate in a democratic institution National Organic Standards Board that is functioning well and accountable to its mission and that refers to Indigenous management decisions in the creation of an increase in oversight. The committee in its ruling referred to “constant improvement” in our standard. And that this level of oversight was critical in “maintaining the resource and its community”. 

In this ruling, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) which serves as an advisory board to the USDA; it was decided through the input and research of the committee that the tIming, quantity of removal, methods of removal, by-catch, and frequency of seaweed harvest needed more consideration to ensure that the practice does not permanently degrade the marine ecosystem. This task force will be formed to help elaborate additional guidance and instructions to certifiers. This is a long process, with a  phase-in period is 5 years. But it is a major victory for conservationists concerned that growing demand for the rockweed will result in yet more habitat loss. 

Hundreds of comments were submitted to the committee for evaluation. Commenters from Ireland, Iceland, US Conservation organizations, land trusts, retired marine scientists, retired marine reserve managers, University of Maine biologists. Testimony about the habitat value of the rockweed stands referred as well to the Passamaquoddy tribe’s moratorium on commercial seaweed harvest due to the critical refugia, nursery areas provided by this habitat. This is an 8-10 year process for evaluation of areas of concern, creation of standards, and creating rules that would then have a phase-in. 

 

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