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Maine DMR

Rockweed Working Group update

I attended the Rockweed Working Group's meeting on Wednesday, April 1, 2015 in Bangor, ME. The Rockweed Working Group is made up of 5 scientists who are volunteering their time help determine how this brown algae should be managed within the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) fisheries management plans before rockweed harvesting takes off as a larger commercial industry. The group has been charged with providing recommendations to DMR about areas that should be designated as closures and prohibit rockweed harvesting. Portions of the coast or islands can only be designated as closures if doing so protects "sensitive" wildlife areas, as determined and justified by scientific evidence. The group has already reviewed the justification for restricting harvesting in specific areas along the coast of Maine during certain times of year to protect declining populations of shore birds. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife tracks changes in bird populations along the coast, and provided data to help the working group determine timing and location of these closures.

Smooth periwinkle snails often hang out on clumps of rockweed where they can be easily mistaken for the air bladders that help the brown algae float in the ocean for maximum photosynthesis.

Smooth periwinkle snails often hang out on clumps of rockweed where they can be easily mistaken for the air bladders that help the brown algae float in the ocean for maximum photosynthesis.

At Wednesday's meeting, the discussion focused on whether Harbor and Gray seals should be classified as sensitive species, and if yes, whether their habitat should be considered for closure. Populations of seals seem to be doing well and so it was challenging to determine whether or not pupping ledges should be closed to rockweed harvesting during pupping season. The Marine Mammal Protection Act  does prohibit individuals from changing the behavior of a marine mammal and so, in a sense, the Federal MMPA would already prohibit rockweed harvesting in any areas that are close enough to disrupts seals. Dr. Brian Beal also presented a literature review of the impact of rockweed harvesting on invertebrates. He concluded that the current evidence from research does not show a major impact of harvesting on intertidal invertebrates; however, more studies need to be done. 

A segment of the meeting was dedicated to figuring out how the Working Group will address intertidal habitat that is owned by or adjacent to conserved lands. A resolution on this issue was not reached. I used this agenda item as an opportunity to follow up on a letter I had submitted last week on behalf of Hurricane Island (see the letter here) and asked that the Working Group consider the intertidal habitat owned or used by field stations and marine labs for educational and scientific purposes to be closed to commercial harvest. The members of the group were extremely receptive to this idea and so I am working to gather the latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates for the areas that should be closed. Once this information has been gathered, I will submit it to DMR for consideration along with the Working Group's recommendations. 

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The Height of Our Scallop Research Season

This summer has been not only busy on-island with student programs, but also a busy field season collecting data for our collaborative scallop research project. In July 2014, we were awarded a grant administered by Maine Sea Grant with funding from the Maine Community Foundation and the Broad Reach Fund. In early August, we started conducting our second year of dive surveys on Muscle Ridge and Ocean Point.  So far we have completed a total of 16 dive surveys on the Ocean Point scallop closure (you can read more about how this project has been set up here), and surrounding area to assess scallop abundance and to collect samples. These surveys have been conducted with the help of scientists from the Maine Department of Marine Resources and from our HIF science advisor, Dr. Rick Wahle's Lab based at the University of Maine's School of Marine Sciences. I've also been able to work alongside Susie Arnold, the Island Institute's marine scientist, to dive on Muscle Ridge. We've completed 8 sites so far and are hoping to get a few more days of diving in before fall officially arrives!

On September 11, 2014, a crew from Dr. Kevin Stokesbury's lab based at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth arrived in Maine and set up their drop camera rig on Tad Miller's dragger, F/V Julie Ann in Tenants Harbor. We then did three days of drop camera surveys on Muscle Ridge. To identify the sampling stations, we laid a 200 m x 200 m grid over the survey area and marked the center of each cell. We would then steam to the latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates of that center point and drop the camera to the bottom to take footage of the life below.  Fortunately, we did not have any major technical difficulties and were able to increase the number of sites we sampled this year as compared to October 2013 where we lost a cable which limited our ability to sample deeper sites. 

This weekend (September 19 - 21, 2014), I will work with one of our industry partners to set the spat bags out which will then be collected and processed next June. I hope we are able to wrap up the field work by the end of October then on to analysis and preparing for the 2015 field season!

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