Science for Everyone


DMR's Rockweed Harvesting Working Group Meets to Designate No-Cut Areas

Ascophyllum nodosum  is a common type of brown alga found on Hurricane. It is commonly found with the red alga epiphyte  Polysiphonia lanosa.

Ascophyllum nodosum is a common type of brown alga found on Hurricane. It is commonly found with the red alga epiphyte Polysiphonia lanosa.

On December 18th, 2014, the Maine Department of Marine Resources Rockweed Working Group met to discuss locations that should be designated as "no-cut areas" where commercial harvest of Ascophyllum nodosum (known both as Knotted wrack and Rockweed - common names can be confusing...) will be prohibited. 

Thirteen coastal and island field stations and marine labs submitted a brief letter to the working group requesting that the intertidal zone at their facilities be designated as no-cut areas in order to maintain the ecological integrity of the intertidal community and habitat. The only exception to this no-cut designation would be for removing seaweed biomass for scientific sampling as part of research or for educational activities. Rockweed plays an important part in the ecology of the intertidal because it helps improve water quality by removing nutrients and metals from the water column, it is a source of food for a variety of grazing mollusks and crustaceans, and it provides shelter from predation and desiccation for other organisms at low tide. The list of stations and labs, in addition to the Hurricane Island Foundation's Center for Science and Leadership, includes:

This group of field stations and marine labs will provide boundaries of the areas that they would like to protect for education and research prior to the DMR working group's next meeting in January.

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Paperwork - the not-so-fun side of research...

Phoebe and I prior to one of our dives on the Muscle Ridge closed area in the fall of 2013.

Phoebe and I prior to one of our dives on the Muscle Ridge closed area in the fall of 2013.

This month (June 2014), we have been making incremental progress towards getting into the field for the second year survey effort for the Lower Muscle Ridge scallop closed area. Basically, overcoming barriers to collaborative research takes time. Some organizations, like the Maine Department of Marine Resources and the University of Maine already have systems in place to allow their divers to do field work off of commercial fishing vessels while, others have not yet ventured into that realm. I am in the process of putting those systems in place for the Hurricane Island Foundation so our staff will be able to conduct research dives from commercial fishing vessels as well as our own. Doing so can take some time, but it's all in the name of having a safe SCUBA diving operation which is of the utmost importance if we want to continue doing research-related diving in the future. This process involves creating documents that outline the potential risks of participating in field work on a boat and underwater, as well as identifying ways we plan to mitigate those risks by being prepared with safety equipment and identifying the closest medical facilities to our field site. We are also developing a project dive plan that outlines our anticipated diving activity.  Diver conduct will adhere to the University of Maine's diving safety manual until we create one specific to the Hurricane Island Foundation. Eventually, we will create a diving control board made up of experienced scientific divers who will review our dive plans to ensure we are operating safely. We are also considering pursuing an organizational membership with the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS), an organization that specializes in establishing and maintaining scientific diving standards. 

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License to Kill... in the Name of Scallop Research!

Atlantic Sea Scallop (  Placopecten magellanicus)

Atlantic Sea Scallop (Placopecten magellanicus)

We were recently approved for our 2014 special license through the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR). We are required to file a special license application for our research because we are asking for an exception from existing legislation that prohibits collecting undersized scallops, tissue and shell samples. The tissue samples are being saved for genetic analysis which will help us understand the connectivity between different scallop population locations, and we will also keep the shells from each individual collected for aging and growth rate analysis. 

The DMR Application describes the purpose of our project, how project findings might be useful in future management decisions, the specific activities we will be carrying out as part of the project, and gear types used to collect samples. For this application, we worked with Kevin Rousseau, who is part of the regulations, hearings, and special licenses division of the DMR.

Special license applications are reviewed and voted for approval by the Department's Advisory Council, which is made up of 16 members: five commercial harvesters who each represent a different fishery, four people who hold a non-harvesting-related license, a recreational fishing representative, a member of the public, and an aquaculture industry representative. The chair of the Lobster Advisory Council, the chair of the Sea Run Fisheries and Habitat Advisory, the chair of the Sea Urchin Zone Council, and the chair of the Shellfish Advisory Council are ex officio members of the council. 

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DMR hearing in Bucksport

A fisherman from Bucksport expresses his concern about the lack of data on mercury levels in crabs. 

A fisherman from Bucksport expresses his concern about the lack of data on mercury levels in crabs. 

On Monday night (March 17, 2014), I attended the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) hearing held in Bucksport regarding the two-year closure to lobster and crab harvesting. The closure is located at the mouth of the Penobscot River and extends approximately 7 square miles. The hearing was an opportunity for the public to voice concerns about or support for the implementation of the closure. 

DMR officials summarized the data they had reviewed and their process for making this decision. DMR believes that an area closure is the appropriate measure to protect the public from the levels of mercury recorded in lobster samples collected at the mouth of the river. Sampling in other areas of Penobscot Bay revealed that high mercury levels seemed contained to a small area, and the closure is estimated to affect approximately 10 lobster and crab harvesters. DMR acknowledged that those harvesters will have to shift some of their gear outside of the closed area and hopes that other fishermen will understand and accommodate the shift. 

Harvesters raised concerns about how lobsters and crabs take up methylmercury. It’s commonly believed that lobsters take up methylmercury from the sediment and from what they eat (more info on bioaccumulation here), but there is a lack of understanding on how quickly lobsters take it up directly from water.... so the question remains: will harvested lobsters stored in the closed area waters take up mercury from the surrounding water while they are waiting to be sold?

Going forward, the DMR will work with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. These agencies plan to undertake additional data collection year round over the next two years. To ensure their ability to compare data sets, the state agencies will follow the same protocol used to collect data for the independent study carried out in 2006 - 2013. 

The mercury is believed to have come from HoltraChem plant in Orrington which is now closed, but operated from 1967-1982. A 2002 court ruling initiated the study on mercury levels in the area. For more background on the issue, please see the following articles from: The Working Waterfront  and the PenBay Pilot

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Scallops certified "sustainable" by the Marine Stewardship Council


Maine's Scallop season opened December 2, 2013, and shortly after the first scallops appeared on dinner plates the fishery was certified "sustainable" in accordance with the Marine Stewardship Council's standards for sustainable, well-managed fisheries.  You can read more about this decision here. 

This certification was granted despite an objection filed by Togue Brawn of Maine Dayboat Scallops, Inc., with the support of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. The objection is in response to a management loophole that exempts the Northern Gulf of Maine management area from regulations aimed at rebuilding and protecting the scallop resource. The objection argues that the management area has no real measures to prevent overfishing, which could make the "sustainable" designation for the whole fishery artificial and short-sighted.

The state's scallop fishery is managed by the Department of Marine Resources, which is a great source of information if you want to learn more about how the fishery works.

If you are interested in different fisheries that may or may not be "ocean-friendly" you can check out Seafood Watch, a program of the Monterey Bay Aquarium that makes purchasing recommendations for different species of fish and shellfish.

Do you think the scallop fishery is sustainable? Does the sustainability of a fishery affect your decision to consume different types of seafood? Post your comments!

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