National Organic Standards Board Ruling
The algae habitat attached to the rocky coastline of our state celebrates a conservation win!
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. 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 the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR).
NOSB member Dave Mortensen commented:
“ ....the boundaries we place around sustainable organic production cannot end at the field or at the farm when we’re relying on harvesting inputs from the ocean…” “Us moving forward on ecosystem service thinking.”
Emily Oakley commented:
“This is a move to maintain the process of continuous improvement in the organic standard” and to “Return biomass and architecture of the habitat to pre-harvest conditions.”
NOSB member A-dae Romero-Briones commented:
“tribal people where I live have been consistently ringing alarms about the overharvesting of seaweed and the commodification of seaweed that’s being sold in organic markets and higher-end restaurants and it’s causing a lot of havoc. One, when COVID hit, many of the tribal communities who rely on the seaweed harvesting found that their seaweed beds have been depleted” “there is a great need right now to protect these resources, not only for the benefit of the tribal people who rely on them but for the entire ocean ecosystem.”
The proposed harvest parameters are:
- Prohibited harvest areas: established conservation areas under federal, state, or local ownership, public or private, including parks, preserves, sanctuaries, refuges, or areas identified as important or high-value habitats at the state or federal level.
- Prohibited harvest methods: bottom trawling and harvest practices that prevent reproduction and diminish the regeneration of natural populations. Harvest practices should ensure that sufficient propagules10, holdfasts, and reproductive structures are available to maintain the abundance and size structure of the population and its ecosystem functions.
- Harvest timing: repeat harvest is prohibited until biomass and architecture (density and height) of the targeted species approaches the biomass and architecture of undisturbed natural stands of the targeted species in that area.
- Bycatch: must be monitored and prevented, or eliminated in the case of special status species protected by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service."
There is still a long way to go before these new annotations make it into the regulations. A scientific task force will be assembled to figure out how these annotations would be interpreted in the harvest of each of the primary seaweed species used for fertilizer. Then there is rule-making and public comment before they become (hopefully) law. But we have passed the first step - a step 5 years in the making.