Science for Everyone

Rockweed Working Group

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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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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